Prayer & jargon

prayersquigOliver Pritchett of the Telegraph knocks it out of the park in satirizing Christian Aid’s Pocket Prayers for Peace and Justice. The one example Pritchett cites from Pocket Prayers is quite enough: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” becomes “Even if a full-scale violent confrontation breaks out I will not be afraid, Lord.”

Instead of translating other familiar passages into jargon, Pritchett takes on a greater challenge: Translating concise signs into heavily ornamented King James. A few examples:

° “Rejoice and clap your hands, O ye daughters of Nuneaton, and be glad, ye sons of Tring, and ye who drive the latest top-of-the-range BMW, for in three miles I have prepared for you a service area, so that you may refresh yourselves in its clear waters and your babes and sucklings may have snacks in abundance and there shall be toilet facilities, yea also for the disabled.”

° “Put not thy trust in bags that are unattended, for it may be the work of thine enemies who seek to devour thee. Go forth first and find a man who travaileth in the terminal and speak unto him, saying, ‘Behold, this suitcase standeth alone like a rock in the desert.’ Then shall the man seek out the forgetful person who left the suitcase there and he shall chastise him.”

° “This the area of the vigilant neighbour and the burglar shall not prosper.”

To mess around with long-standing prayers is to play with dynamite. Some people do it well — consider the contemporary Lord’s Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer. Some people do it less well, as in this version of the Lord’s Prayer from a New Zealand Prayer Book [Anglican]:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever. Amen

How about you, readers? Do you have any entertaining horror stories about misguided attempts at updating the language of prayer? Any examples of elegant success?

Send them on down, prithee.

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  • Will Linden

    Lewis relates the time the Church of England decided to “clarify” the Prayer for Our Magistrates, “that they may truly and indifferently render justice”, by changing it to “impartially”. An Oxford vicar, not knowing what to make of it all, turned to ask his sexton “Can you tell me what ‘indifferent’ means?” “It means making no difference between one chap and another chap.” “And what about ‘imparital’?” “I wouldn’t know about that, sir.”

  • http://nope Mary S

    I once saw a prayer book directed towards feminist urgings, about ten or twenty years ago.

    The most treasured petition in it (to me) was the one reading

    “O God, you hover over us like a big bird.”

    If that wasn’t the wording, it was very, very close.

  • John S. Bell

    A Catholic friend told me that in the early days of the Latin-English transition he was at a service that concluded thusly:

    Priest: The Mass is over.

    The People: Thank God!

    It’s a touchy issue. Even if you are not trying to consciously change the faith while updating your liturgical language, the whole process is always fraught with unintended consequences. In this regard I think with sympathy of the old fellow who was reputed to have said that “The Holy Spirit is telling people to do a lot of things that the Holy Ghost would have never allowed!”

  • http://http// Jeff Miller

    The USCCB New American Bible has this translation which people refer to as the “Cow Translation.”

    Psalm 23

    The LORD is my shepherd;

    there is nothing I lack.

    In green pastures you let me graze;

    to safe waters you lead me;

    I can just picture King David grazing and chewing his cud.

  • ralphg

    We used to attend a church where the pastoral elder heavily censored songs and the Bible for sexism. The worst was:

    “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlepersons”

    (I wondered about “Frosty the Snowhuman.”)

    He (oh, no a “he”!) would lead us in self-deprecating prayers, like:

    “Forgive us for assuming we are superior to the rest of creation. We celebrate our relationship with the earth and the web of life.”

    After trying for a half-year to talk about these and other issues (like preaching evolution from the pulpit), we left.

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