The Prayer That Doesn’t Say Anything

I went back to Ontario this weekend to attend a wedding. The night before the wedding, shop I was asked if I would say the blessing at the reception, advice with one caveat: no God stuff. “This is a civil wedding” I was told by the groom. Well, now how the heck am I supposed to pray without referencing God?

I love this couple very much, and the fact that I was asked to say the blessing was an honour. But, how do I do this? I spent Friday night going through one of my prayer books, googling and writing several dozen drafts.

I eventually came up with this:

We are thankful for the vows that have been spoken, and the love in which [bride] and [groom] are now united.
We are thankful for the love, guidance and support they will continue to receive from family and friends.
We are thankful for this beautiful evening, and we bless those that have worked hard to make this day a success.
We are thankful for the food we share tonight in celebration of this marriage.

But I still wasn’t comfortable with it. How can I, as a Christian, not pray to God? How can I not pray in the name of Jesus? Now of course, some would say that I can be praying to God and in Jesus’ name in my head and not aloud. Likewise those in attendance can pray to whoever they pray to, be it God, Allah, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the universe, whatever.

I struggled and prayed, and kept telling myself, this is what the bride and groom want, and it is their day. They are having a civil/secular ceremony with no God stuff.

The wedding was at 6pm in a little outdoor garden area of a restaurant. The bride was gorgeous, and the groom smiled adoringly as his bride walked down the aisle toward him. The officiant they had hired was the one provided by the restaurant. He wore a clerical collar. He prayed. He read from Scripture. He talked of covenant. He prayed in the name of Jesus and in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was a Christian ceremony!

How did the officiant do that? It’s not like the bride and groom didn’t know what they were getting. There had been a rehearsal and everything. So how come he gets to pray in Jesus name and give them a wedding ceremony that points to God’s grand covenant with humanity, while I have to give this fluffy little non-offensive prayer?

During the cocktail hour, I got a chance to talk with him. I briefly explained my dilemma. His advice: Pray how you want to pray. Most people, he said, will not be offended if you pray to your God to bless the couple. And then he winked at me, and said, “And whether they want him or not, whether they like him or not, God has shown up at this wedding, and the Holy Spirit has bound the bride and groom together. Nothing they say can change that. God moves where He chooses.”

And so, at the reception, the emcee invited me up to say the blessing. I asked the guests to bow their heads, and then I said:

Heavenly Father,
We are thankful for the vows that have been spoken, and the love in which [bride] and [groom] are now united.
We are thankful for the love, guidance and support they will continue to receive from family and friends.
We are thankful for this beautiful evening, and we bless those that have worked hard to make this day a success.
We are thankful for the food we share tonight in celebration of this marriage.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Later in the evening, several guests came up to me, and thanked me for giving the grace. Two different people even said to me, “It’s so nice to know that the bride and groom will always have someone praying for them, especially someone who is training to be a pastor.”

And so, the wedding may be over. The blessing at the reception has been spoken. But the praying continues. And it will continue all the days that the bride and groom are joined together — until death do them part.

Vacation is Over…

…Now back to our regular routine.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in our house. Family came down to visit from Fairbanks, health Alaska. They left on Wednesday, sovaldi and now Chuck and I are attempting to get into a new rhythm in our house. One that includes me becoming a nighthawk. Oh joy. Oh bliss. (Are there actually people in the world who can function on less than four hours sleep? How do you do it?)

Blogging has been light while on vacation, pharm but should be better now. I will also be resuming my contributions over at Political Jesus. My plan is to blog every Monday on Horton’s new systematic theology. So pop on over to PJ and check that out.

And I have three papers to write. Prayers would be appreciated.

Some Days My Emotions Need Manipulating

In the last couple of weeks, capsule I’ve had more than one person say something to this effect:
Contemporary worship music is emotionally manipulative.

And it’s true. The question is whether or not manipulation is necessarily a bad thing.

As many of you know, stuff I’ve been attending an Anglican church in this last academic school year (see my posts on my Adventures in Anglicanism). Through this, I’ve come to reorient myself to speak of worship as the entire service, rather than just the music portion. So, in what follows, I’m going to try to be careful to say ‘worship music’ and not ‘worship.’

This particular church is fairly traditional in its choice of songs, though it has attempted on several occasions to bring in some more contemporary hymns.
I’m not anti-hymn. Hymns, when done well, are extremely powerful. But there has been more than one occasion in which I can’t help but wonder if they’re so concerned with being ‘reverent’ in how they play the songs that they lose the emotion and feel of the hymn. On several occasions, the solemnity with which they have played the processional hymn, for example, has managed to turn it into a funeral dirge.

But at least they’re not being emotionally manipulative.

I popped into seminary chapel last week. There, they were doing some fairly standard ‘evangelical’ praise music. It started with just the guitar and lead vocal. By the chorus, the keyboard and backup vocalists had joined in. At the end of the song, the instruments dropped off, and only the voices sang. There was movement in the music, and the team created a sense of awe of wonder and excitement. I was emotionally manipulated. My hands were raised. My eyes were closed. In that moment, my emotions were driving my worship.

And it was a good thing. I hadn’t realized how dry I was. I hadn’t realized how, in the last couple of months, my worship had become all about my head. There had been no heart in my worship.

25 years ago, Les Miserables opened in London, and was roundly panned by critics for being ’emotional drivel.’ The producers, upon hearing the reviews, were gearing up to pull the plug. They called the box office to find out how many refunds were being issued for tickets. They couldn’t get through. Finally, they got through. The entire run was sold out! The audiences had loved it. The ’emotional drivel’ was, for the audience, an ’emotional connection.’ In a short time, the production moved to the West End, and then around the world. 25 years later, a sold-out concert at the O2, broadcast on PBS and available on DVD, continues to evoke a strong emotional response from viewers. Fans know that, when that final round of “Do You Hear the People Sing” starts, their hearts swell, and they leave the theatre with a song on their lips and their toes tapping. It doesn’t matter that the play ends with most of the heroes dead, and the revolution squashed. For a brief time, the audience entered into a story, connected with characters, and were changed by the experience.

So it is with worship music. For a brief time, we enter into the story of redemption, and are transported into the throne room of God, joining the saints and angels in praising and proclaiming the awesomeness of the Lamb. The music lifts us out of our day to day busyness and compels us to be changed, even if only for a little while.

I left the seminary chapel with a song in my heart, and found myself spontaneously worshiping God throughout the rest of the day, singing snippets of different praise songs and hymns at the most random of times.

So did the contemporary worship music emotionally manipulate me? Yep. And that was a good thing.