How much change is too much? I ask myself that almost every Sunday. When I look around the United church I attend, I see that the majority are seniors like me. And I wonder if they also grieve the loss of our traditions.
During my school years in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, we recited the Lord’s Prayer each morning. Through thousands of repetitions, the words “Our Father” became a part of me. I never wondered why or resented that God was addressed as “Our Father” and not “Our Mother” or “Father Mother God.” I simply accepted it. And I loved the archaic language — “which art in heaven,” “thy” and “thine.” It reminded me that we speak of God in a special way. I also went to Sunday school, where I memorized the Bible verses (using the King James Version) that became part of my spiritual foundation.
As I got older, I left the church. But I returned later, married and with young children. When I came back, I found the King James translation had been replaced by several new ones, and the Lord’s Prayer was slightly different. I understood the need for more inclusive language, such as “Our Creator” or “Blessed One” instead of “Our Father.” But ever since those first small changes, the prayer has continued to be updated to the point of it becoming unrecognizable. The most recent paraphrase I’ve heard at church starts with “O Breathing Light, O Name that shines.” I’m mystified as to how this could be considered the Lord’s Prayer anymore.
More on Broadview: Grieving at my own pace
New musical settings also seem to be in vogue. Different tunes keep getting introduced, and words are tweaked to accommodate rhyme. I once even heard a catchy version with a calypso beat.
One of the things I used to love about the Lord’s Prayer was hearing it spoken in unison by the entire congregation, knowing that around the world on a Sunday morning, thousands and thousands of people were reciting the same prayer, even if it was in different languages. But recently, my church recited the prayer with hand actions (hands up, hands down, arms crossed, hands cupped), and we were all invited to use whatever version we knew best. No unison, just lonely voices.
I miss the old language that was so familiar. The respectful and reverent quality seems absent from the modern versions. I once had a powerful and profound connection to this prayer, but the church has changed it again and again and made it into something completely ordinary. Now, the Lord’s Prayer has become a weekly irritation, an unpleasant distraction, the source of an unholy internal rant about why we have to keep changing it.
Has all this change made the church any stronger? Or is the loss of “Our Father” just another casualty as we seek to be more relevant?
This column first appeared in Broadview’s June 2020 issue with the title “Longing for tradition.”
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