In the “dog days” – the time before the arrival of horses and guns – the Pikunii people (one branch of the Blackfeet nation served by our sister parish in Montana) used fire carriers made of hollowed-out bison horns to carry burning coals from one camp to the next in order to once again enkindle fire at the new campsite. The persons chosen to carry the fire for the tribe were well respected members of the tribe who were known to be both mature and responsible. To carry the coals was a critically important task because in many ways the life of the tribe (fire for warmth and for cooking) depended on these coals being safely transferred from camp to camp. The coals had to be both protected as well as kept burning just enough through the journey so as not to go out.
In the coals was also seen a connection to the past as the coals being carried were seen as coming from and connected to all of the campfires at all the campsites the people had made throughout their history. The fire journeyed with the people.
The tribes carried these coals with the greatest of care.
How do we view the “Our Father”? Is it just some interesting words, a nice part of our worship, nice thoughts given us by Jesus to think about or do we see it for what it truly is – fire.
The “Our Father” is fire.
It is a fire that we could not get on our own. Tertullian wrote, “The expression God the Father had never been revealed to anyone. When Moses himself asked God who he was, he heard another name. The Father’s name has been revealed to us in the Son, for the name ‘Son’ implies the new name ‘Father’.” (CCC #2779) Jesus alone brings this name to us and he gives this name and his prayer to us now through our adoption as sons and daughters of God. Jesus entrusts this fire to each of us and he invites us into this relationship that is now – through grace – our common patrimony. Now, we each must carry this fire throughout the journey of our lives. We must cherish this fire, tend it, protect it and allow it to protect and nourish us.
In the very beginning of the Church, Christians would stop and pray the “Our Father” three times each day. They recognized that this fire that they held (which we now hold) pushes back the darkness of evil, sin and lies. It overcomes the great deceiver and his lies. It nourishes and brings refreshment to our weary and thirsting souls and it warms and protects us from the cold pain of injustices endured in our world.
The Pikunii chose only those persons who were mature and responsible enough to carry the fire for the tribe. This fire given to us by Christ both matures us and is received by us more fully as we mature in the journey of faith and discipleship. The words of the Our Father are the same today that I first learned when I was five years old but the fire that I carry in those words today is very different – it has now been tended through all of the experiences, joys and struggles of fifty-four years of life. It is the same for each of us, if we tend this fire that has been given us and if we also allow this fire to warm, nurture and mature us.
How do we view the “Our Father”? It is fire. A fire given to each of us through our baptisms to carry and protect throughout the journey of our lives.