ART (Our Father, Word by Word)

March 17, 2011 | 11 comments

By Brandon Vogt

When I was younger, I used to believe God lived in outer space. I just knew he dwelled on some distant, undiscovered asteroid in the far reaches of the Milky Way. And I figured that one day, a group of astronauts exploring the solar system would accidentally discover God’s hidden heaven. “Aw shucks, ” God would bristle, snapping his fingers in frustration, “you found me.”

Now that I’m (slightly) older, I see how unlikely this scenario is. We will never completely find God deep in outer space, nor in an African cave, nor on a Brazilian mountaintop. God’s fullness simply won’t be discovered in our galaxy — not because he isn’t real, but because he is beyond our categories of space and time.

When Jesus prays to God who “art” in heaven, he isn’t providing clues to find God’s secret lair. Instead, he’s hinting at a foundational fact of the cosmos: “God is. He is the ground of all being, and wherever ‘he is’, there is heaven.” Or as the Catechism more clearly states, the prayer’s opening expression does not refer to “a place, but a way of being.”

God’s being is unique. He isn’t one being among billions and he doesn’t live in one place amidst many. So to the atheist who begs for evidence of God’s existence — a crater from God’s heavenly asteroid or a hair from his dangling beard—the Church says, “Impossible!” It can’t happen — not because God doesn’t exist, but because he transcends all of our earthly categories — all labels, all boxes, all definitions. He can’t be grasped, he can’t be measured and probed; he can’t be “bigger”, “closer”, “wiser”, or “older” than anything else in our world: he simply “is”; Our Father who “art.”

Which of course brings us to the book of Exodus. For there, after being charged with delivering a message to his people, Moses asks God’s name in exchange. God, who can never lie, replies bluntly, “I AM.” Later, when Jesus’ own identity is questioned, he too adopts the same puzzling name: “before Abraham was, I AM.” The title is confusing, especially when we try to fit it into our own understanding of identity: “You are what? No, seriously, who are you? Where are you?” But when placed next to the opening words of Jesus’ prayer, the answer makes more sense: God just…is.

Which finally takes us to the people who best understood this identity: the saints. Note how almost all the saints are known not only by their names, but also by their locations. St. Clement of Rome, St. Francis de Sales, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Therese of Lisieux all find their names intimately tied to their places of being. The saints show us that, at least here on earth, your “where” is wrapped up in your “who.”

And it’s the same with you and me: right now we’re known as Brandon from Casselberry, Jonathan who lives in Albany, or Cindy from down the street. But as St. Paul says — and here’s what the saint know best — we must always remember that ‘heaven’ is our true homeland, the place ultimately connected to our identity and the land our souls longs for. We were made not to be “Joe who art in Albuquerque” but “Joe who art in heaven.”

St. John Chrysostom says it this way: Jesus describes God as the one “who art in heaven” not to “limit God to the heavens, ” but to lift us from the earth. The “art” doesn’t so much point to where God is right now, but to where we eventually will be.

So as we pray to “Our Father who art, ” may we ponder the startling reality that God simply is, but may we also sail onward to our true homeland. As we draw closer to “Our Father, ” the One “who is, ” we near the day when we too will forever be him or her who “art” in heaven.

“Heaven, the Father’s house, is the true homeland toward which we are heading and to which, already, we belong.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2802)


What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “Art”?

Brandon Vogt is a 24-year old Catholic writer who blogs at The Thin Veil. He is also the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops who Tweet, which will be released in August 2011 by Our Sunday Visitor. Brandon and his wonderful wife Kathleen live in Florida where they are attempting to raise two saints: the prophetic Isaiah and the contemplative Teresa.

Click here to see all the posts in this series


  1. caitie rose

    I am looooving this series, Jen! And love Brandon’s thoughts. You’re only on word-4 and I’m already praying the “Our Father” differently. Way to go!

  2. Colleen

    According to my four kids, the word is “wart”, not art 🙂

  3. Lisa @ Cheerfully Chaotic

    Agree with the first commenter– loving this series!

    The idea of being tied to your place resonates with me, especially, as a Texan. Interestingly, my husband most closely identifies himself as a West Texan, based on the family ranch and heritage, despite the fact that he’s never actually lived there. Perhaps that how it should be with Heaven– we can long so ardently to be identified with a place that we make it our reality, in hopes of that longing becoming our reality.

  4. Jackie

    My sister used to think the word was “aren’t.” She couldn’t figure out why we would pray to God about not being in heaven.

  5. Christine

    You are just the best writer Jen…I “art” jealous!

  6. Christine

    OK….how embarrassing. I just popped in and started reading this one. I did not realize these were guest writers. anyhoo…you are still a great writer to me!

  7. Elizabeth

    Thanks – that was beautiful. It strikes me that God’s being – his “is”- is a piece of supreme art – to be present to his creation as the transcendent and the immanent/incarnate God. To call us out of ourselves and into ourselves at the same time that we might become our true selves in the complete unfolding of ourselves in love.

  8. Keystone

    It takes a telescope to view the Cosmos you refer to in the beginning.
    Yet, if one look through the wrong end of this device, all that is seen is diminished. Looking through the proper end magnifies, and allows us to SEE.

    You have taken the Our Father from a former atheist’ view
    (looking through the wrong end to seek) and transformed it to truth.

    HE IS!

    I love your description here on this word, for it is true to scripture, and has the true ring of a bell.

    Many years ago, when I could still hear, I went to a performance by a dad and his son, singing “He Is”. They wrote the song and gave a magnificent concert. Aaron Jeoffrey declared “He Is” and noted it from the Books of Scripture.

    I have located a YouTube of this song for you to enjoy with this series and this word. Unfortunately, I can’t hear anymore (hereditary malady) and I do not know if this link provides the sound/music.
    If I have failed, go to YouTube and place – He Is Aaron Jeoffrey –
    and follow to an appropriate version with the son and dad singing.

    It is as good as “How Great Thou ART!” 😀
    God be with you always.

    be patient; it loads a tad slowly, but is worth the wait to buffer

  9. SusanE

    I am struck by the idea that Jesus used the plural form of the verb. Not our father who IS in heaven. It reminds me that God is plural–three persons in one God, Trinity. God the father is in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. And since we are made in God’s image, we are made in relationship–to God and to each other.

  10. Elaine T

    I like what you say. There is so much richness in this prayer. I have been thinking along somewhat different lines since leading a study of Exodus last year. For that study I used both Catholic and Jewish sources. I forget if this particular piece of info came from the Robert Alter translation (which had *wonderful* notes), or the Jewish Study Bible, but one of them discussed God’s naming of himself there, to Moses. It said as I recall, the Hebrew means something closer to “I am what I do.” Which my mind immediately connected to the First Commandment: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” I am what I do. I bring all who follow my will out of slavery. I save. I redeem.

    FWIW, throwing it out because I found it illuminating.

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