I spent thanksgiving at a massive get-together, and before we dug in to a really rather delightful meal, my uncle gave a blessing on the food. I’m generally respectful of my family during prayers and try to bow my head and close my eyes for them. However, I was stifling a laugh when the prayer came to this point:

We are so thankful to be members of thy church…

It was a good thing I was in the very corner of the room and no one heard me. I laughed at how silly it sounded. Then I started to get a little ticked off. There were several of people there who were not members of the mormon church. Yet he still said that. Did that mean those who weren’t mormon would soon be, or that he just wasn’t including those who chose to worship at a different altar? It seemed kind of arrogant, but I know my uncle, and more appropriately, I know what mormon prayer is.

From an early age, mormons are taught to say their prayers in a very specific way: by repeating what their parents say. When very small, it is literally a case of “repeat after me,” not only when praying but when “bearing testimony” (which is when a mormon explains their feelings about the church in a church meeting, usually on the first sunday of the month). As the child grows, the parent doesn’t need to prompt them: they’ve pretty much memorised the gist of those initial prayers. Keep in mind, this isn’t supposed to be rote, recited prayer, like you may find in other religions. In fact, mormon doctrine is strongly against rote prayers (with a few exceptions, such as blessing the sacrament of the lord’s supper), but people tend to (at least in public prayers) say nearly identical prayers. There is a reason: language.

Mormons use the King James translation of the Bible, and the Book of Mormon follows largely the same style (since modern english translations weren’t really around when J. Smith started hawking copies of his book). Thus, it is a mormon teaching (I’m not just implying that… it really is a teaching in the lessons missionaries give) that when you pray, you need to use the flowery, archaic prose of the KJV bible. Thus giving a prayer turns from expressing your thoughts to your maker into something akin to writing a paper for your really grammatically-strict english teacher. People get confused over thy/thou/thine (I was always rather good at it, but I’m quite obviously an english nerd), and tend to fall back on the phrases and words they are used to hearing. You hear a lot about being grateful for “thy church” and “all our many blessings” and asking that everyone may “travel home in safety, that no harm or accident my befall us.” And pretty much any meal will be blessed so that “it will be nourishing and strengthening for our bodies, and do us the good we need.” I used to challenge my brother to not say that phrase when he’d pray before a meal, and he’d try so hard that you could hear him catching himself and searching for a different word. Those prayers generally ended in all of us laughing.

But my family is like that. The thought of us all trying to control our laughter during a prayer gives me hope that one day, the remaining half of my family that is mormon will wise up and get out. Cross your fingers.