Lily Constantine Kakish on the Arabic Lord’s Prayer Song
Lily Constantine Kakish created the Arabic Lord’s Prayer song that nearly every Arab Christian knows. Now an English language version is helping more people pray with, and on behalf of, suffering Christians.
Lily Constantine Kakish is a Christian songwriter, entrepreneur and philanthropist. She has composed more than 50 songs. In this edited conversation, she talks about the genesis of her best-known song, the evocative “Abana Alathi Fi Ssama (Abana in Heaven).”
Where did your life journey begin?
I was born as Lily Constantine in 1959 in Bikfaya, a suburb of Beirut, Lebanon. I was brought up as a Baptist PK (pastor's kid) and came to Christ at the age of 10 in one of my father's services. We moved to the US in the mid-1970s, due to the civil war in Lebanon. Now my family and I live in Mobile, Alabama.
When and why did you write your Abana song?
I wrote the music to the Abana when I was in my early teenage years. I had never studied music or had any training. But one day I sat at my old organ, and it just flowed. I taped it on a home cassette tape recorder. The way God inspired this song proves to me that God can use anyone at any time.
How did the song spread?
One of my dad's friends was a pastor from Jordan who had written many Christian songs. He heard it and started spreading it. I think it was first published in Jordan and then in Egypt. In 2007, SAT-7, a Christian TV station in the Middle East, along with Better Life Team, a popular Christian worship band in Egypt, recorded an Abana music video. It shows Protestant, Coptic and Catholic Christians singing the Abana throughout the Middle East. You can watch it on YouTube in Arabic only or Arabic with English subtitles.
Is there an English-language version?
Yes. Anne Emile Zaki, who teaches theology in Cairo, Egypt, and Emily R. Brink, a global music expert, translated it into English. Greg Scheer arranged my tune to fit that text, and the English language version still retains the Arabic word Abana, which means our Father. All three are also on the staff of CICW.
Why do you think this song appeals to people?
Indeed, this song is what Christianity is all about. The way the melody soars on “those who have sinned against us” captures something we all feel. It speaks to Christians being persecuted in the Middle East as well as those of us who feel the day-to-day pain that we cause each other, whether we intend to or not. We all need the forgiveness that only our Lord can give—so that we can forgive others.
Also, the music of Abana has a sense of worship to it. When I see people singing it with eyes closed and hands lifted up, I feel a sense of brokenness, a sense of surrender, a sense of awe and a sense of reverence. It is simple and basic; yet even the most sophisticated can see that there is sometimes beauty in simplicity. Of course, what really makes this song so great is the words! These blessed words came out of our Lord's mouth, and we have the honor to utter them, with or without music.
What else can you say about your musical career?
In 2010, Dar Manhal Al Hayat (Source of Life), a Christian publishing group in Lebanon, produced my book-CD package of 36 devotional songs. It’s all in Arabic, but in English the title would be “We Believe and Testify.” I’ll be bringing copies to the 2017 Calvin Symposium on Worship. During 2010, I also had a life-threatening tumor and needed an esophagectomy. Because of it, I lost my vocal cords and thus am not able to sing (outwardly anyways), but the song within my heart remains.
Music was never my main career, though. I have an MBA in healthcare administration and run the Center for Clinical Trials, a private clinical research facility with locations in Saraland, Alabama, and Biloxi, Mississippi.
Sign up for the 2017 Calvin Symposium on Worship so you can sing the Abana and hear Lily Constantine Kakish discuss singing and praying with the suffering church. Learn more about the fully bilingual Arab/English version of “Abana Alathi Fi Ssama (Abana in Heaven),” listen to Greg Scheer’s piano arrangement for congregational singing or order his choral arrangement.