Written words

I was raised in a tradition of extempore prayer: prayer was freely said in acts of worship without following a formula. I still use it: I value the (sometimes) raw nature of that. Also: to be able to say ‘can I pray with you?’ and then do so is essential.

I used to find traditions that used written prayers somehow ‘wooden’ or ‘not real’. When I used the words, they seemed awkward as they were not my own.

However, I have started to use this form more myself and a little more in public. I think there are several reasons:-

(1) I am sometimes tired of reinvention and cautious of gimmick. To have words that have stood the test of time is more nourishing to the soul.

(2) I speak a lot. I can stand up in front of most audiences- sometimes with no or minimal preparation and talk. I am wary of this: it is hugely flattering to the ego to be able to do this and to see people respond. To pause and let someone else’s words be used is a way of standing back and putting the ‘pause’ button on your own ego.

(3) I value tradition more. If I am going to improvise a lot (and I do), I want to do so from a bedrock of tradition and ‘faithfully improvise. I metaphorically buried my head in my hands recently when someone got people to sing ‘The Hokey Cokey’ in an act of worship, but I am sure I have done worse (I am trying to think if I have…can’t think yet...)…. This struck me as one of the weaknesses of my tradition; we can improvise so much that we forget what we have improvised from.

(4) I was starting to overuse cliche and became aware of the ‘thinness’ of my words and the excessive number of them.

I am not, I hope, idolising this approach, for most images/approaches to God are idols that need to be smashed-at least periodically, but this is just where I am at the moment.

Thanks for reading.

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