Continuing with our unofficial guest-palooza this week, BCC is pleased to have this guest post from frequent commenter Chris Gordon.
A few years back, Kristine related George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” to some of the linguistic traps we can fall into within the church. Along the same vein, I’d like to suggest that some of those very trappings can, if we’re not careful, cause us to miss an opportunity for better communion with the Spirit and greater shared experience in prayer and testimony. Consider the following phrases, oft heard in prayer and testimony:
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to be here today; and we’re grateful for the opportunity to hear the speakers and for the opportunity to take the sacrament. Please bless those who didn’t have the opportunity to be here today.”
I’m willing to entertain the idea that there may be a doctrinal truth behind the over-use of “the opportunity” and other such phrases in prayer and testimony. In the case of “the opportunity,” perhaps it’s some kind of subconscious assertion that the only thing God really gives us are “opportunities” to exercise our agency. That might be giving most of us too much credit, but there might be a lesson or talk with that as a premise if given the opportunity.
Most likely, we’re just using filler words, perhaps as a way of avoiding silence as we collect our thoughts and decide what to offer. Just as likely, we’re not thinking much about it as all and are merely speaking tribally (what Kristine/Orwell refer to as “Meaningless Words), using ‘Mormon words and phrases’ that are a part of our culture.
Neither explanation need inherently be a negative one, but contrast the “opportunity”-filled version with a more direct one:
“We’re grateful to be here to day and for the speakers. We’re grateful that we can take the sacrament. Please be with those who aren’t here today.”
Even better, consider the last time you heard an investigator or a recent convert offer a prayer or share their testimony. It’s always impactful to hear that sincerity (and yes, anxiety) come out unaffected by “prayer voice” or Mormon phraseology.
Unfettered by any words and phrases that realistically don’t add much meaning or clarity to the thought, the simple words and phrases transform in at least two ways: 1) The meaning of the statement itself is clearer; and 2) The speaker gives more room for the individuals participating passively to actively contribute their own thoughts and feelings within themselves.
By resorting to habitual/tribal phrasing, tone, and wording, we miss an opportunity to really personalize our interaction with God and share something meaningful with a group that we’re leading in prayer or with whom we’re sharing testimony. Were we to eliminate “the opportunity to” and re-think how we’d have to phrase even our standard, un-vain repetitions, the difference would be subtle yet drastic.
In my own experience, some of my more meaningful personal prayers have come when I’ve reduced my more formal tone to something that I’m sure (to some) would border on the irreverent. Now, I’m not suggesting that such a tone would necessarily be appropriate in a public setting, and it’s probably time for my personal pendulum to swing back towards the reverent with my newly rediscovered friendship with Heavenly Father, but a middle ground between casual and formal extremes may be more beneficial.
Perhaps best of all, this simpler language doesn’t exclude anyone: Everyone is capable of meaningful, heartfelt prayer sans “Mormon style” language. Investigators, new converts, children, the shy, and the veteran alike can and should feel comfortable finding ways to “just talk” with a Father who misses us and is so pleased at our efforts to connect.