The Mystical Poetry of the Lord’s Prayer in its Original Aramaic
The shimmering sound that touches us.
Given all the uncertainties we’re facing right now as a nation and as a planet, one of the key spiritual tools we can call upon is prayer.
Some people pray spontaneously flowing words from their hearts. Some people find great comfort at times like these with traditional prayers that have stood the test of time.
One of the most beloved is the Lord’s Prayer. It has a familiar cadence that many of us can recite by rote without focusing on the meaning. But given this was one of Jesus’ main teachings about our relationship to God, perhaps it’s worth a deeper look.
Let’s start with the language. Jesus spoke the ancient language of Aramaic, a “cousin” of Hebrew. By the time the New Testament got recorded, it was in Greek, then Latin, and much later, English.
Within English, there are many different versions as well. Given the particulars of different languages, their cultures, and the passage of time, is it possible things changed in the process of multiple translations?
Enter an Aramaic scholar with a Sufi bent
Neil Douglas-Klotz would answer this with a resounding YES! He is a religious studies, spirituality, and psychology scholar, who is also the Cochair of the Mysticism Group of the American Academy of Religion.
Douglas-Klotz went back to the original Aramaic to see what we can learn from the original version of this and many other prayers and teachings. What he found not only deepens, enriches and clarifies the meaning of the prayers, but shows them for the metaphysical, mystical experiences they were intended to be.
Aramaic is a language with layers of meaning. One word or phrase has several possible literal translations. So rather than limit them, Douglas-Klotz, in his book, Prayers of the Cosmos: Reflections on the Original Meaning of Jesus’ Words, allowed the words to expand on the page in their shimmering, mystical beauty.
Each line of the prayer expands into a longer verse that sounds more like Sufi poetry than contemporary supplication. In his book, you get to see each line in its full expansion of meaning before he synthesizes them for the version you see below.
Divine Parent who art in…
The English version begins, Our father who art in heaven. The word abwoon means ‘Divine Parent.’ Like God, it’s genderless. But it also means: “the Oneness, Creative flow of Blessing, the breath or Holy Spirit, and the vibration from the Holy Spirit as it touches and interpenetrates form.” Heaven in Aramaic presents the image of “light and sound shining through all of creation.” Hence: “O Thou! The Breathing Life of all, Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.”
Hallowed by Thy Name becomes: “Help us breathe one holy breath feeling only you-this creates a shrine inside, in wholeness.” Here Jesus reminds us of our Divine nature — that God resides inside of us. Therein lies our wholeness, no matter what the body’s eyes see.
Thy Kingdom come is the next line. In Aramaic: “Desire with and through us the rule of universal fruitfulness onto the earth.” He could just as easily have said: “Come into the bedroom of our hearts, prepare us for the marriage of power and beauty.”
Either way, we are looking at how we co-create — and pro-create! — in partnership with God. God gives us the vision and brings it to fruitfulness through the desire placed in our hearts.
Next: Thy will be done in earth; as it is in heaven. In Aramaic: “Create in me a divine cooperation-from many selves, one voice, one action.” This also translates, quite poetically as: “Let all wills move together in your vortex, as stars and planets swirl through the sky.” We get the sense of both the unity and diversity in the Oneness of all God’s creation.
Give us this day our daily bread expands into: “Grant what we need each day in bread and insight; substance for the call of growing life.” But it just as easily could be: “Animate the earth within us: we then feel the Wisdom underneath supporting all.” This is why it doesn’t stop at daily bread; we get wisdom and insight as well.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors translates into: “Erase the inner marks our failures make, just as we scrub our hearts of others’ faults.” I love the image of scrubbing our hearts of other’s faults. Notice the subtlety here. Sin also translates as “accidental offenses” or “tangled threads.”
The bigger harm is the judging of actions and forgetting the divinity of ourselves and others. In our Oneness, there is no us vs. them. In our Oneness, there is just one Heart.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil becomes: “Deceived neither by the outer nor the inner-free us to walk your path with joy.” In the Aramaic, no one leads us into temptation, least of all, God. The word temptation becomes the much less charged, distraction. The point is to get back, not to self-righteous piety, but to a joyous partnership with God.
The prayer ends: For Thine is the kingdom, & the power, & the glory, forever. Amen. In Aramaic, it’s: “From you is born all ruling will, the power and life to do, the song that beautifies all-from age to age it renews.”
To this we could add or substitute: “Truly — power to these statements — -may they be the ground from which all my actions grow: Sealed in trust and faith, Amen.”
What I love here is the ability to choose the meaning I most need to hear when I pray. That the mystical meaning is expressed in mystical poetry feels just right.
The prayer moves from my head to my heart where I encounter the Holy Spirit within my very breath. Buoyed aloft by these words, I come to have an experience words alone cannot describe.
Here is a summary from Prayers of the Cosmos by Neil Douglas-Klotz:
Lord’s Prayer — Aramaic to English Translation:
Bible: KJV: (Our Father which art in heaven)
Aramaic: Abwoon d’bwashmaya
Translation: O Thou! The Breathing Life of all, Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.
Bible: KJV: (Hallowed be thy name.)
Aramaic: Nethqadash shmakh
Translation: Help us breathe one holy breath feeling only you-this creates a shrine inside, in wholeness.
Bible: KJV: (Thy kingdom come)
Aramaic: Teytey malkuthakh
Translation: Desire with and through us the rule of universal fruitfulness onto the earth.
Bible: KJV: (Thy will be done in earth; as it is in heaven.)
Aramaic: Nehwey tzevyananch aykanna d’bwahmaya aph b’arha
Translation: Create in me a divine cooperation-from many selves, one voice, one action.
Bible: KJV: (Give us this day our daily bread.)
Aramaic: Hawvlan lachma d’sunqanan yaomana
Translation: Grant what we need each day in bread and insight; substance for the call of growing life.
Bible: KJV: (And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.)
Aramaic: Wahboqlan khaubayn (wakhtahayn) aykanna daph khnan shbwoqan I’khayyabayn.
Translation: Erase the inner marks our failures make, just as we scrub our hearts of others’ faults.
Bible: KJV: (And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.)
Aramaic: Wela tahlan l’nesyuna Ela patzan min bisha
Translation: Deceived neither by the outer nor the inner-free us to walk your path with joy.
Bible: KJV: (For Thine is the kingdom, & the power, & the glory, forever. Amen)
Aramaic: Metol dilakhie malkutha wahayla wateshbukhta l’ahlam almin. Ameyn
Translation: From you is born all ruling will, the power and life to do, the song that beautifies all-from age to age it renews. (Prayers of the Cosmos by Neil Douglas-Klotz, 1990, p. 41)
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Marilyn Flower writes political humor and satire to delight socially and spiritually conscious folks. She’s a regular columnist for the prison newsletter, Freedom Anywhere, where she writes about faith and prayer. Five of her short plays have been produced in San Francisco. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times. Stay in touch!