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Enochscion

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Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« on: March 19, 2017, 10:46:57 pm »
I've heard some references to President Eyring's comments on prayer in a Face to Face Youth thing, presented basically as encouraging a more formal attitude towards God.

I wanted to see for myself what he actually was saying, so I looked it up. You can watch it here:

https://www.lds.org/broadcasts/face-to-face/eyring-holland?lang=eng

and the relevant section starts at about 37:45ish.

First, I think it's awesome to see Elder Holland and President Eyring interact in an unscripted conversational situation like that. You've got to love them.

Second, I wonder how much of President Eyring's thoughts are universal, and how much are customized for him. I find my own experiences differing, almost being opposite.

I'm a casual person. I prefer my first name. I think "Brother" and "Sister" in the church are a step up from Mr and Mrs, but not by much in the way we actually use them (at least in the USA). To my mind, formality is an enemy to intimacy. They are pretty much a spectrum in my mind, with formality on one end and closeness on the other.

I find myself in complete agreement with the brethren about how there are different types of prayers in different situations. I have no problem with thees and thous, and I often use them in even my personal prayers. I also find value in occasionally making a prayer very formal, in that it orients and focuses the mind on the task at hand, so to speak.

However, I find the strongest spiritual experiences I've had with prayer involve the more familiar attitudes, the "Abba", while the more formal, the "Lord" is preparatory rather than consummatory. By spiritual experiences with prayer, I mean the times I've most closely felt his presence, perhaps ideas enlighten my mind, or even just feeling that he is spending time with me. These times, or sometimes the triggering prayers, often involve normal language from me. The very "real" sort of speech you can use to best express struggles and frustrations. "I mean, what the crap is with that?" has probably been said by me, for example, and definitely things along the lines of, "I just don't know what I'm supposed to do", rather than more formal things like, "I find this struggle difficult and confusing, and knoweth not what you would have me do."

On occasion, I've felt a spiritual presence simply come to me unbidden, and put me into that state of feeling communion, even when there isn't anything much that needs to be said. There is very little that I would consider formal in it, and very much that I would consider intimate.

I've felt his presence through the Spirit, and it inspires a casual attitude like I would have with my closest friends and family, rather than a head of state or even a bishop.

My gut tells me that I'm just a different person with different needs and that our Heavenly Father knows how to talk with his children in the way that best suits them individually, but I'd like to hear other thoughts about the idea of familiar and formality in prayers, preferably personal experiences.

 
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dyany

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #1 on: March 20, 2017, 12:39:04 am »
I am similar to you, in that I find that the informal brings me closer to God, though I also find that I must then be careful not to slip into anything remotely disrespectful--not rude, per se, but kind of like seeing God as a peer, which I should not do.

As a student of language, I find the reasoning behind using super formal Biblical-type language weak at best.  Yes, in ancient times and in some modern languages, there are different words depending on the class relation/formality of the person you are addressing.  And I understand and respect that.  But in modern English, we don't have that.  We just don't.  To require using ancient terms that most people don't even really understand is not so much respectful to me as pedantic.  I guess if people grow up feeling that those terms are simply more respectful, without any knowledge or understanding of their origin or actual meaning, and it actually helps them be more respectful, then it works.  But when I DO understand where the terms came from, and recognize that most people just use them because they are 'Bible words' and that's ONLY because the most common version of the Bible we use was translated 500 years ago when that language was the common tongue, well, I find it unnecessarily pharisaic.

When it comes right down to it, I don't think the problem is language or can be solved with language.  I think that the problem is that our modern society is working so hard to abolish any kind of class system and eliminate any perceived differences in people that we don't know how to respect anymore.  We don't have 'betters' -- even to say such a thing today sounds classist and derisive.  But the bottom line is, there are people out there who know a lot more, who do and have done a lot more good, and who are just further along the path than we are, and we need to acknowledge and respect that.  Does that make them our 'betters?'  Perhaps.  That doesn't have to be a bad thing.  I have been studying a lot of Regency and Victorian era language and class system.  Ignoring the corruption and poor implementation of ideals, the standard that aristocracy was held to was that they were better, but that included the RESPONSIBILITY FOR TAKING CARE OF those 'beneath' them.  They were not to be disrespectful, but knew their place, as those 'beneath' them were expected to know theirs.  This was the original meaning of the term 'condescension' -- to behave to your lessers in a kindly way that maintained class structure.  And this, of course, was the meaning that Joseph Smith knew when he translated the verse "knowest thou the condescension of God?" in 1 Nephi 11:16, which was what the Holy Spirit asked Nephi.  Nephi's response was, "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things."  Which says to me, "I know that God, who is better than I am, loves me and takes care of me.  That comprises condescension--that God knows His place, as do I, and in His place he takes care of us, even though I don't always know or understand the particulars."

Today, such an idea receives mockery and derision.  We should be powerful and self-governing!  Everyone is equal at birth, so that somehow translates to everyone being of equal value/potential in every area of life all the time.  But that's overly idealistic, and the actual behavior of 98% of the people in the world says that is not how most people work.  Even in America, where we are a democracy (or really, a democratic republic), most people refuse to actually take the responsibility of being involved with local government or community or even researching issues enough to vote well.  They just listen to the soundbites for the BIG election (usually just president, as though a single leader, like a king, would control everything) and vote for whomever they think will take control the way they want and magically make everything perfect with little to no effort from the masses.  Because we NEED leaders with more respectful 'condescension' to help us.  And we, in turn, need to support them.  But we've lost this, and as such, we have lost the understanding of an important part of our relationship with God.  Changing what word we use to address him doesn't fix this.
 
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Patty Rain

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #2 on: March 20, 2017, 02:53:08 am »
I think I feel pretty much like Elder Eyring described. Pretty much.

The thing is he seems to have a different defintion of what conversational is than I do. He keeps equating it with chatty which is far different to me.  I don't feel prayers should be chatty.  I do feel prayers should be more conversational usually, but in the way he describes them, not the way he feels about the word.
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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2017, 10:06:53 am »
Warning:  Stream-of-consciousness ahead.

Thanks for the language lesson, Dyany.

I have not read the Eyring piece, and maybe I should before I comment.  My youngest attends a private religious school.  Prayer is part of the day.  Every Wednesday they hold Chapel, which I attend most if the time.  It's a combination Primary Sharing Time/Rah-Rah-God-is-Awesome kind of thing.  And only because we are in the Lenten season am I finally feeling any reverence at all, in song.  Not prayer.  That hasn't changed.  I get informal, an almost "hey, dude" attitude.  I get "Dear Jesus, we just thank you.../we just ask you.../in your name we pray". There is no teaching of having a relationship with a real Person at the other end.  He died for your sins, but something is missing.  Even my girls feel/felt it.

For me, using archaic language makes me pause, makes me think, makes me couch my thoughts, and gives me a way to think about the condescension of God, as Dyany defined it.  It establishes that relationship.  Even after a year and a half, the prayers I hear are still jarring to my spirit.  I understand that believers pray/bear testimonies the way they know how.  It's just that they come across like God/Jesus is a nice idea, and that's about it.  As the Christian Studies teacher actually wondered about the reality of the Resurrection last year, i don't think I'm far off.  And I find that sad.

I've heard people use informal language, and it is different, but that is not necessarily a problem.  In Spanish, the informal "tú" is used in place of the more formal "usted".  I try to keep a running, constant prayer in my heart, which might be referred to as chatty.  I remember when I thought I would run to hug my Saviour when He came again, and wonder if I still would.  He is real.  He is my brother.  He is my Saviour and God and Intermediary with my Father.  He is my Friend.  The language I use has been an exercise in helping me establish a relationship that reflects and respects all of this. 
Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.
-Ray Bradbury
 
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Roper

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #4 on: March 21, 2017, 11:31:23 am »
Language is a human invention. I think God understands us despite our limited ability to communicate with Him through words. The only time I really use words in prayer anymore is when I'm required to pray out loud--when I'm the "voice" during family prayers or during classes or meetings. My personal prayers have a lot of communication without words.  When I'm having difficulty communicating in prayer, I sometimes go back to language, because it provides a way to structure my thoughts and feelings.  I don't know that I should be too concerned about grammar at that point.  Worrying about grammar puts up another barrier and creates cognitive distance, in my view.

As a parent of adult children who live on their own, now, I just want to communicate with my kids.  I don't care about grammar when they call to talk with me.  I'm just happy they called.  I think our Heavenly Father feels the same way about our prayers.
 
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cook

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #5 on: March 21, 2017, 12:14:29 pm »
I listened to the talk with my teens and it made me think also. It is not a new issue to me, other people have spoken about it too, so I've thought about it once in a while.

I live in a very informal country. Teachers go by first name (and have for decades), the title for Stake, Primary etc presidents is not president, because it just feels too much, too arrogant (it's a leader we use instead of president)... Even if you some of the time hear from the pulpit someone announced as sister so and so, often just first and last name, in conversations you rarely hear people referring to others that way.

In Finnish we don't have thee and thou. But the word for you is sinä and in spoken language most of the people either say sä or another dialectic form. I have always felt my relationship with God is very familiar, like a child and a father. I have never been good at sharing my feelings and thoughts with other people (at times when it matters) so I have been very familiar with God in sharing what I think and how I feel. And I feel that's a thing that brings me closer to him. In a discussion with the president of the country, I would call him sä. In prayer I would never call God sä, always Sinä. It's not the same distinction as in Thee, because sinä is the form you have to write anything in school. It's the proper form. Yet I do feel out of respect I just could not call God, as familiar as I feel with him, sä. It has translated to the English prayers as well. Since it is a taught prayer language, I actually feel closer by saying thee than you.

In my own personal life as much as I do enjoy my familiarity with God, I do feel if I truly would understand His greatness, my prayers would be different. They would still be very personal, very familiar in the sense that I would feel close and know that He knows me and loves me and all that. But it would change my attitude and content, I would pray about things that matter most and in ways that would truly show my willingness to give my will to God and be a tool in his hand no matter what he asks me to do. The focus would be sifted from me wanting, needing, asking and even thanking etc to my abilities to bless others. It would be that instead of me coming to tell I would be coming to find out his will. At times I have had those experiences when my prayers have been guided by the Holy Ghost. At those times I have been automatically the most correct and reverent in my language.

So I do believe in what he said, even though at first I felt that I do disagree really. I believe that when we get to the point where he is we'll understand exactly what he means and can only agree.
 

dyany

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #6 on: March 21, 2017, 11:33:53 pm »
Roper, I LOVE that you can speak with God not using words.  As someone who loves communication and epistemology in general, I have often pondered what thoughts actually consist of.  For instance, people often speak lightly of having the ability to 'read minds,' as though the process inside anyone's head could EVER be a linear, clear, verbal sort of narrative.  I believe that most people at the very least have a mix of things associated with every 'word'--visible memory, feelings, audio of words or of something represented by the word, etc., etc.  I think it probably varies somewhat from person to person.
Me, I have realized that my thoughts center around written forms of words.  This can make me very good at spelling, but I find it hinders me greatly if I hear a word and I visualize a homonym of the actual word used, because it's very hard to fix that in my head to the proper meaning.  It also gives me grief when people misspell things because I get confused as to what they meant.  But it gives me a slight advantage, for instance, when going between British and American texts--if I see the British spellings, that puts the accents and context immediately in my mind. 

TL;DR: we all parse thoughts differently and I find that fascinating, and it's cool to me that you can do that without words because I simply cannot. 
« Last Edit: March 22, 2017, 06:41:47 pm by dyany »
 

AndrewR

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2017, 05:45:40 am »
The language of prayer is actually Church Policy and as such I don't believe that the Apostles could avoid the issue.

https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/meetings-in-the-church?lang=eng#185

Quote
Members should express respect for Heavenly Father by using the special language of prayer that is appropriate for the language they are speaking. The language of prayer has different forms in different languages. In some languages, the intimate or familiar words are used only in addressing family and very close friends. Other languages have forms of address that express great respect. The principle, however, is the same: members should pray in words that speakers of the language associate with love, respect, reverence, and closeness. In English, for example, members should use the pronouns Thee, Thy, Thine, and Thou when addressing Heavenly Father.

I personally love this language. It flows very easily for me, and I have a completely different experience in talking with my Heavenly Father in "our" language. I cringe at the way "you" had slipped into usage in almost all Church prayers. I don't believe the Missionaries teach the above, and parents don't seem to bother either.
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Roper

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2017, 08:08:29 am »
The above guidance from the handbook is for prayers in church meetings. I completely agree that when one is praying aloud on behalf of others, one should use language which is respectful and reverent.

As for personal prayer:  The Holy Spirit communicates to our mind and our heart.  It's interesting that the communication comes in many forms.  Sometimes it comes in very clear words, as if someone were speaking. Sometimes it comes in images. Sometimes it comes as an intellectual connection among ideas or concepts which didn't seem connected before. Sometimes it comes in prompts to action.  Sometimes it comes as a feeling of comfort.  Sometimes it comes as a feeling of conviction.  Sometimes it comes as a vague sense of "direction," and grows stronger as we go forward in faith.  Throughout our lives, we learn the language of the Spirit. I believe as we become more adept at "hearing" all the different ways the Spirit communicates to us, we should also seek to "speak" in that same language.  I believe that communication with God is not only wonderfully differentiated for each individual, but also constantly changing with our own spiritual development and our own individual needs.
 

Patty Rain

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2017, 11:06:46 am »
The language of prayer is actually Church Policy and as such I don't believe that the Apostles could avoid the issue.

https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/meetings-in-the-church?lang=eng#185

Quote
Members should express respect for Heavenly Father by using the special language of prayer that is appropriate for the language they are speaking. The language of prayer has different forms in different languages. In some languages, the intimate or familiar words are used only in addressing family and very close friends. Other languages have forms of address that express great respect. The principle, however, is the same: members should pray in words that speakers of the language associate with love, respect, reverence, and closeness. In English, for example, members should use the pronouns Thee, Thy, Thine, and Thou when addressing Heavenly Father.

I personally love this language. It flows very easily for me, and I have a completely different experience in talking with my Heavenly Father in "our" language. I cringe at the way "you" had slipped into usage in almost all Church prayers. I don't believe the Missionaries teach the above, and parents don't seem to bother either.

The problem that I see with that is that many English speakers do not associate Thee and Thou with love, closeness and respect. They  associate them with stiffness, arms length, formailty. Twenty years ago I might have agreed with it. The connotation with words change though over time quite often. Though thinking about it it must be more than twenty years ago. It has been more than 30 years since I learned in my Spanish class about praying with the familiar form. I remember it just made so much more sense to me.
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cook

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2017, 03:22:18 pm »
It depends how you learn the words. My first association with them was with things like Shakespeare (early teens) and that those are 'old language'. I think most phrases were like 'oh, how I love thee'. So after that learning to use those words on prayer actually did mean love, closenesd and respect, and on my mind also virtue and sincerity was added to the feelings those words arouse.

 Many may not have my experience, but If you're taught the words and why they're used, most likely those words will bring you feelings you have been told they represent.

And we certainly taught investigators to use them in England. Never heard anyone wonder or complain about it. Maybe the Brits are so much closer to history, that it's not that weird?
« Last Edit: March 22, 2017, 04:03:13 pm by cook »
 

Roper

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #11 on: March 22, 2017, 05:22:52 pm »
I think it's interesting that in the centuries leading up to the publication of the King James version of the Bible, the words "thee" and "thou" expressed familiarity and were most often used in intimate relationships and friendships. Various translations of the bible, including the KJV, of the account of Jesus teaching disciples how to pray (Matt 6) indicate that the language of prayer was familiar and intimate. In English, "ye" and "you" were used as formal expressions at the time.

By the time of Joseph Smith, "thee" and "thou" had fallen out of common use and had become associated primarily with the KJV, where they received an air of solemnity in the religious traditions of the time.
 

Jana at Jade House

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #12 on: March 22, 2017, 06:26:59 pm »
Dutch has the U form and thats what i use when voice for a meeting of saints or a group. but alone?   sometimes i begin with ok God, what do you want me to do.  sometimes i start with father God I thank Thee. in any event my personal prayer is between me and my eternal parent so not really anyones business.    honestly sometimes my prayers a like a weather ballon sent up with all kinds of unspoken nebulous thoughts inside. i dont even knoe whats in there  but yhen it gets an answer.
 

kazbert

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2017, 01:09:17 am »
A bit of a tangent, but I hardly ever refer to our Heavenly Father or our Savior by the name "God."  For me the word "God" is too loaded and distances me from my Father.  I much prefer to think of Elohim as my Heavenly Father than as "God," and much prefer to refer to Jehovah as "Savior," "Advocate," "Friend."

As for "Thee" and "Thou," I generally find all the Old English terms awkward/stilted/distancing.  However, using "You" in reference to our Heavenly Father just doesn't sit right with me so I use "Thee" and "Thou."  I just doesn't sound right otherwise. 

Guess it's a different experience for each of us.
If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.
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Patty Rain

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Re: Familiarity and Formality in Prayer
« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2017, 01:41:49 am »
It depends how you learn the words. My first association with them was with things like Shakespeare (early teens) and that those are 'old language'. I think most phrases were like 'oh, how I love thee'. So after that learning to use those words on prayer actually did mean love, closenesd and respect, and on my mind also virtue and sincerity was added to the feelings those words arouse.

 Many may not have my experience, but If you're taught the words and why they're used, most likely those words will bring you feelings you have been told they represent.

And we certainly taught investigators to use them in England. Never heard anyone wonder or complain about it. Maybe the Brits are so much closer to history, that it's not that weird?

I was definitely raised with them. And maybe that is part of my problem. I don't remember specifically my dad talking about this,  but it was the kind of thing that was important to him.  My communication with my dad has not been the greatest.  Nor has it been with my siblings or my mom. Perhaps this is why Thee is too formal for me.
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