Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prayer Habits

Will recently confessed using the word "continue" too often in pastoral prayers while making visits. I agree with a comment he received noting that "continue" is an appropriate word in prayer as it acknowledges God's work before we've vocalized the prayer.

However, like anything that is repeated, Will is right that any recycled word or phrase begins to make unwanted impressions. I notice in the news media certain words that become trends. During the 2006 political cycle, it seemed that someone was always being "slammed" by one person or another. As we head into another intense cycle, I will be looking for new verbs and adjectives that come up. One I have heard talked about already is the phrase "thrown under the bus."

It has occurred to me that in addition to the potential wear a repeated word may cause, it is equally possible that the same form of prayer may become a bad habit.

For instance, I don't like long prayers, so I typically get right to the point--for grace before a meal, I might say, "Thank you God." That is all we really mean to say at a mealtime grace, isn't it? I am cautious that if I say more, particularly in a formal setting, I may be praying in such a way that I will be heard by others rather than speaking a prayer to God. The problem is, ever since seminary, I have somehow become the designated grace-sayer at almost every meal I eat. How many times can you pray "Thanks, amen." before some come to believe that you are insincere in your prayer?

Perhaps the real question for me is whether or not being the spiritual leader of a community requires a change in prayer style. I have always been fairly informal in my prayer habits, and yet it seems my role calls for times of more formal prayer. My fear is that if I, an informal prayer, work to hard at offering more formal prayers, do I sound disingenuous, or worse, become disingenuous?

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