Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Are We Too Reverent?

There's a scene in Monty Python & The Search for the Holy Grail, where Arthur and his knights see God in a vision. They, keeling and bowing before him, are told that He's tired of everyone groveling all the time. Now, I don't think that's how God feels at all, and I think we should do all we can do show proper reverence and respect to him.
However, I do sometime feel that we take reverence to an innappropriate extreme... or rather, in the wrong direction. Frequently (ok, maybe occasionally is more correct) we get counseled in conference (most recently, this weekend by Elder Nelson, if I remember correctly) about the proper form of prayer. (Maybe I'll update this with some quotes once the transcripts are available) He talked about the importance of using the respectful words of Thee, Thy, and Thou in place of You and Your.
Now I'm sure this is something that's been pointed out around the Blogernacle before, but I don't get it. In every other language I'm aware of, prayer is done in the familiar, not formal conjugations of verbs. We don't teach the Spanish-speaking members to pray in Usted. And my understanding is that Thee, Thy, and Thou were once to the English language what "tu" is to Spanish. We English-speakers started praying that way because that's how everyone prayed. Now, the familiar conjugation is virtually absent in English, so it has come to seem very old-fashioned, which we moderns seem to interpret as formal. But it's not. The reason for saying Thee and Thou should be to develop a closer relationship with Diety... not create distance.
The question is further complicated by the fact that 99.999% of english speakers haven't the foggiest idea how to conjugate their verbs appropriately to use Thee/Thy properly. Even in the church (myself included) we don't know how to do it with the exception of a few common verbs (didst, wouldst, hast, doest, etc). So how is that showing respect to use a gramatically innappropriate (and familiar) pronoun for the verb I'm using, or even switching between Thou and You in the same sentence? It's partly because of this that for me, years after my mission, I still do all my private prayer in my mission language... it's more intimate, and I can just talk, without thinking about the proper way to say "you wanted" in thou (thou wantedest?)
In another talk this weekend, we heard from Sister Liffert(?) of the Primary General Presidency. She encouraged us to teach are children proper respect by teaching them to call the members "Brother Smith" and "Sister Anderson" rather than Jack and Jill. Again, we miss the point of the titles brother and sister. They are intended (or iriginally did) to put us on the same level... not to put them on a pedestal of respect. So what do I call Dr. Smith, MD, DDS, MD, JD, PhD? I call him Brother Smith. What do I call Mr. Anderson, with no formal schooling past 3rd grade. Brother Anderson. It's not about respect. It's about the opposite of respect. That's why we read of the Saints talking of Brother Joseph, or Brigham... because they weren't demanding respect.
They were trying to be one... Sure, I'm the prophet, but that doesn't mean I'm better than everyone. Which brings up the question as to why do we Mormons tend to get a bit cranky when someone decides to call one of the Brethren by something other than the full name with middle initial. Why can't we say Gordon Hinkley, or Brother Monson? It just sounds so strange. (the one exception is to include only their title and last name... i.e. Pres. Hinkley) But since when was calling someone by their given name "evil speaking of the Lord's annointed"? Or is there some other reason we do that?
Basically, I think reverence and awe have their place. That place is Deity, not each other. And even then, I think we need to be careful that we're not creating artificial barriers, or creatin new distance between us and God by our "reverence," worrying too much about the words of our prayers, than our prayers themselves.

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