The Lord’s Prayer – an Aramaic transliteration in surface embroidery: 1- Introduction

Usually, when I write about embroidery projects on this blog, I write as I’m stitching the item, so that anyone reading the blog is as far ahead with it as I am. But with the project that I want to share over the next few weeks, I have had to do things a little differently. This is because the panel I have been working on since the summer was made as a gift, so it had to be kept ‘under wraps’ until it was received by the relevant person! Now that they have taken possession of it, I can write about it  🙂

The panel is an unusual one, even for me. It is the Lord’s Prayer, written as a transliteration from the original Aramaic. That is, the panel is written in a phonetic version of Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus spoke. It is the ‘bridging’ language that was spoken in the Middle East between about 400BC and 600AD, linking Hebrew with Arabic. It is still spoken in some parts of the world (particularly Syria and parts of Iraq), by about 2 million people altogether. Aramaic-speaking Christians still use it in their religious services. It is a really beautiful language when spoken aloud. Each word has several layers of meaning, so it is a very poetic language.

I wouldn’t describe myself as Christian, although I am sympathetic to Christian ideas. I follow the Universal Sufi spiritual path, which honours all the religious traditions of the world, and is often described as ‘the religion of the heart’. I have a Sufi teacher, Neil Douglas-Klotz, who is an independent Biblical scholar, and this embroidered panel was made as a gift for him. This was because he has spent many years of his professional life translating the words of Jesus from their original language of Aramaic, and then teaching these ‘new’ (original?) meanings to people all over the world. Even if you are not of a religious or spiritual persuasion, I hope you’ll be interested in this project, as it’s still embroidery, after all!

This is what the Lord’s Prayer (or what I would call ‘the Prayer of Jesus’), looks like when written in Aramaic script:

The Lord's Prayer written in Aramaic. See abwoon.com for more information

The Lord’s Prayer written in Aramaic. See abwoon.com for more information

Although I have created embroidery before which uses Aramaic script itself (see the series of blog posts on the ‘Shlama bag’), for this panel, I wanted to use the transliteration of the Aramaic. This was because a major part of Neil Douglas-Klotz’s work for the past 30 years has been to popularise the Aramaic version of the Prayer by making it accessible through the transliteration so that it is possible for people who do not speak Aramaic to say the Prayer, and so speak it in a similar way to the way that Jesus would have done, uniting people worldwide in their spiritual practice.

His transliteration, and expanded poetic translations, make it clear that what we take to be ‘the’ translation of the Prayer (taken from Greek versions) is actually quite a poor translation in places, and seriously inaccurate in others. The version I learned as a child was this:

Our Father, which art in Heaven

Hallowed be Thy name.

Thy kingdom come

Thy will be done

On earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory

For ever and ever,

Amen.

From Neil Douglas-Klotz’s work, one possible translation from the Aramaic can be written like this:

O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos,

Focus your light within us – make it useful:

Create your reign of unity now –

Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms.

Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.

Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.

Don’t let surface things delude us,

But free us from what holds us back.

From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews.

Truly – power to these statements – may they be the ground from which all my actions grow: Amen.

If you’d like to find out more about Neil’s work, then visit his website. He has written several books, but the one which explains in detail his work on the Aramaic words of Jesus (the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, mainly),  is called ‘Prayers of the Cosmos’.

So, getting back to my embroidery…… first of all I felt I had to write the words out in a font that gave a ‘feel’ of the Aramaic/Arabic-type scripts. These kinds of fonts are called ‘Arabic simulation fonts’. They kind of look a bit Middle Eastern-y (to Westerners, anyway!).

An example of a word written in Arabic simulation font. This is the word that is usually translated (wrongly) as 'evil' - it actually means 'unripe'.

An example of a word written in Arabic simulation font. This is the word that is usually translated (wrongly) as ‘evil’ – it actually means ‘unripe’.

Getting the lettering positioned in exactly the right place for each line of the prayer, and leaving the correct amount of spacing for the decorative pieces around the lettering took five solid days (and an awful lot of assistance from my husband, who is far better at using computer programs than I am)! When I was happy with the layout, I printed the design out at actual size onto two pieces of A4 paper and taped them together so that I had an exact sized printout of the design. I chose a piece of sunny yellow shot silk, with a backing of undyed muslin, to help prevent stretching of the silk, as some parts of the design would be densely stitched, and I didn’t want the fabric to pull out of shape. I used a long piece of fabric so that I could roll a lot around the rollers on my frame, so that it would be comfortable to stitch the top and bottom of the design without having those parts right up close to the rollers.

Abwoon01

It looks a bit strange in black and white, so I had to have a good imagination to picture what it would eventually turn out like, at this stage! I knew I wanted it to have lots of bright red, deep blue, and gold thread, but other than that, ideas were quite vague at this point.

Abwoon02

I taped the paper design to the window in my conservatory, and then taped the yellow fabric carefully over the top.

Abwoon03

Then I spent HOURS carefully drawing over every line with a mechanical pencil, to transfer the design to the fabric. I do have a light box, but it is quite small, and I felt that if I used that to transfer this design, then if the fabric shifted,  the design would be off kilter.

Abwoon04

The yellow silk itself is quite diaphanous, so the muslin backing, as well as helping support the silk, made it look more ‘substantial’.

Abwoon05

Once the design had been drawn on, I tacked the muslin and the yellow silk together, and then attached the fabrics to the bars of the roller frame with DMC no. 12 perle cotton, which I find is good for this, as it’s so strong.

Next stage is to get started on the stitching…..

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