Praying with the Generations

I go to a Baptist church, and while we are more liturgical than the average Baptist church, we’re still pretty Baptist. We don’t, for example, say the Lord’s Prayer every week.

But sometimes we do, and we did on Sunday.

I like reciting prayers and creeds and Scripture passages, for the same reason I like to sing old songs.

I like to feel the weight of generations past hovering around us. I like to think about the great cloud of witnesses joining along, reminding us of our place in a long line of faithful folks struggling to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. I like to breath the it-is-well-with-my-souls, the Jesus-Christ-his-only-son-our-Lords, the give-us-this-day-our-daily-breads deeply, absorbing those patterns of speech and the poetry of my tradition so far down into my subconscious that, as happened with my grandmother who suffered from Alzheimers, those words will remain even if other pieces of my life fall away.

Saying the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday reminded me of all these things and made me grateful for my community, a church that senses that the words we say, pray, and pass on are important.

You don’t have to be part of a church that recites creeds in unison, that writes prayers out in the bulletin, that uses a pipe organ, to be part of this tradition, though.

What I mean is, you can join in with generations of those early saints on your own, sitting in a room by yourself or while you’re at the sink washing dishes. You can welcome your child who is playing on the floor into a community of believers by praying or singing aloud as you rock in a chair nearby. And you can certainly do this with your family, before a meal.

It’s easy. Say the Lord’s Prayer. Sing Amazing Grace. Recite the Apostles Creed.

(You don’t know those? Well then, there’s a good place to start.)

On Sunday, as our church prayed out loud together, I heard something that really warmed my heart. A half beat behind the rest of us, a little girl’s voice called out each line. She was maybe 5 or 6 years old.

Our Father, who art in heaven—heaven…

Hallowed be thy name—thy name…

Forgive us our trespasses—passes…

She was across the sanctuary from me, and I couldn’t see her, but I could hear that precious, confident voice, joining with the generations.

She probably didn’t know what “hallowed” or “trespasses” meant, but she prayed with the rest of us, we adults who are so careful to line up our breaths and pauses with one another when we read or pray in unison. We don’t want our own voices to rise above the crowd, to single ourselves out. But she didn’t care in the least, happy as she was to simply join in.

She prayed with us.

And she prayed with the generations who’ve gone before us.

And she might have prayed with you, too.

12 comments on “Praying with the Generations

  1. Ashley says:

    This is great! That’s why we chose the traditional wedding vows too, it’s nice to think of all of the great marriages that have used the same ones. I truly love the creeds and prayers, they just touch my heart.

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Ashley. I hadn’t thought about the marriage vows, but that’s definitely a good point about the generations of marriages that have gone before ours. Thanks for bringing that up.

      My Baptist church in Texas always said the Nicene Creed in unison before baptisms (which were outside, since the weather was pretty much always nice). I loved the symbolism of that.

  2. Karen says:

    Thanks for saying what I feel!

  3. Sara says:

    That was absolutely beautiful! While I attend a large community church and so enjoy the new music as we praise our Heavenly Father, it seems to be that whether I am truly blessed or very discouraged, it is the old hymns that I listened to as a child that come back to me and lift or comfort me as nothing else. You reminded me that it is so important to carry on the traditions that helped to make us, as those who have gone before us, who we are today.

    Thanks you so much!

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Sara. The old hymns really do move me. There’s something meaningful about them even apart from their literal meaning–which is profound as well.

      I like singing harmonies, too, like my mom always did when I was little.

  4. Eric R says:

    Hey Elizabeth,

    I think you’ve said something really true and important. In the name of staying relevant, we too often feel like we need to reinvent everything. I agree with you, to recite the really old things connects us with the old and deep tradition of our faith. New stuff has its place, but the old reminds us of who we are.

    • elizabeth says:

      Thanks, Eric, for joining in. It is always tempting to want to reinvent! I think if we are more willing to talk about why we do what we do, we can make the old stuff relevant and meaningful. But we also can’t cling to the old simply because we’ve always done it that way. It’s a fine line, as I know you know.

      I wish it weren’t the case that older, traditional services (mine included) tend to feel like they lack passion and a sincere desire to seek after God. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but it often is in my experience. (On the flip side, I’m unwilling to say that a contemporary, more upbeat service necessarily means there is more passion for God there.)

      Thanks again.

  5. Mom says:

    Ditto to all of the above! I’m not too much of a fan of repeated prayers and creeds (didn’t do it growing up) but you gave me a different perspective and I will think of this every time our church (Methodist) recites and Lord’s Prayer or Apostles Creed. Love the newer worship songs but so miss the old hymns and feel bad for the new generation who won’t know Amazing Grace, Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow, etc. (PS, we did say ‘God is Great’ for grace as a child and still do it occasionally for family gatherings!!!!)

    • elizabeth says:

      I really like singing the Doxology after the offering is collected. Our church didn’t used to do that but we do now. I think I mostly knew it from going to Immanuel with you and Ty!

      “God is Great” as a meal prayer fits in with this, too! I’m glad you brought it up. It seems like such a simple little mantra but it gives children an opportunity to join in with adults and it gives adults an opportunity to turn back to their simple faith of childhood. While it can be a good practice to just let kids pray in a free-flowing manner while the adults sit and chuckle, it is also healthy to keep them reigned in as part of a community that prays together, in unison.

      Love you.

  6. Mary Lou White says:

    I love this post. In times of spiritual emptiness, these prayers can bring great comfort when my mind/heart/soul is unable to form its own words.
    The last part of your post reminded me of a parish we used to belong to in eastern KY. There was a girl with Downs syndrome who was a member. She prayed fervently with the congregation, just always a few words behind most everybody else. But we all loved hearing her voice ring out!

    • elizabeth says:

      Mary Lou, thanks for sharing this story. What a blessing her participation in worship was to the community. That’s lovely.

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