I find these to be among the most annoying phrases that I hear in church. They are both asking permission, which is almost never appropriate when they are used. For example…
Let us pray. O God may we live as your people. etc…
Let us. Seriously? How about “I invite you to pray” or “I invite you to join with me in prayer”. I think that these are far more accurate than asking that some one “let” us pray together. I find that “may we” used in prayer is completely passive and isn’t really asking God for anything. I believe that when we pray it should be active. How about “help us live as your people, empower us to live as your people, strengthen us. I do not believe that we need to ask God’s permission to live as God’s people or most of the other things that we ask when we use the words “may we” in prayer.
What do you think? I would enjoy hearing why you agree or disagree.
11 replies on “Maywe Lettuce”
“Let us” is an invitational question. IIRC, it is a perfectly polite and grammatically correct way to ask someone to join in something.
It is a polite invitation to say, “We need to do this now…”
“May we” don’t get me started. No English speaker in the US apparently still understands conditional and subjunctive tenses.
MOREOVER, why do churches still speak in this manner!?! Why use archaic paradigms that only grammar crazy people (like myself) enjoy? Why not use “Let’s pray!”
I’m more bothered when someone comes down with a case of the “lordwejusts.”
I hadn’t thought of it until I read your entry. I’m inclined to agree. The moments of prayer in which I have personally felt most connected to God have been in the language of action. The most compelling invitations to join in prayer have been spoken in modern english (eg. “Pray With Me, Won’t You?”). I understand the grammatic uses of may we and let us, but it seems to me that something as simple as changing the lexicon that we use in prayer will make it a more organic part of our daily lives. It is an important discussion, as this will certainly make non and nominally religious people more comfortable with prayer, furthering the renewal of the mainline church.
I wonder how strong the connection is between use of such language and typically low attendance by men? My guess would be at least on some subconcious level it’s higher than we’d expect. Probably because it’s less active language.
Andrew, The first thing I thought when I read this post was, “Someone has obviously taken Dr. Larry Stookey’s Corporate Worship class!”
I think your sentiments are good ones for church leaders to think about.
We should throw in Stookey’s pet peeve of TakeEat in the Eucharist. By all means, insert “and” before “take” and “eat” if you need to slow yourself down…
Mark – While being grammatically correct, I still am not a big fan of the use of “let us” I agree with you – “Let’s Pray” is great.
Dogblogger – Right on! I had forgotten about that one…
ddbub74 – I appreciate your perspective from both personal prayer and for renewal. Great stuff!
Dan – Interesting – a connection that I had not thought about, but I think that you may be right on here.
Kevin – I actually did not have Stookey for corporate worship, but have read his book on prayer. Good addition to the list.
How is “let’s pray,” different? It’s just the contraction of “let us.”
Anyway, great questions. It made me think of cultural differences in prayer. I have prayed in worship a couple of times in Spanish, and enlisted the aid of my sister-in-law, who has a graduate degree in Latin American studies, is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, and has lived in South America, to help me translate prayers from English to Spanish. She explained to me that for authenticity, she did not simply translate the prayer as literally as possible, but rewrote it in a way that a Spanish prayer would most likely be written. She said that in Latin culture, they are much more polite and less direct when they speak to God. The way I had written the prayer in English, though appropriate for an English-speaking American culture, would be considered abrupt, maybe even rude, in another culture.
So, with culture in mind, how many different cultures are represented in our weekly worship services? I think of generational cultures, socio-economic cultures, ethnic cultures, family of origin…. What seems odd, weak, too strong, lofty, crass, to one, may be perfectly appropriate for another. I wonder what would happen if we asked congregation members, “how do you pray when no one but God is listening?”
Dagney – Ouch you are right on. Let’s is the same as let us… I’ll change that.
Thanks for the perspective on prayers from different cultures. I had not considered that. I know that there is a difference between the type of prayer that is appropriate at each of the worship venues. Although adjusting for each representative culture would be a trick.
I cringe at every “in this place”
nobody ever says that outside of church.
Language doesn’t have to be fussy to be holy.
Great post and great conversation. I often use, and don’t have a problem with let us pray, to me it says, “now is the time for us to do this.” It isn’t permission seeking in my mind, it is directive – we are now going to pray.
I am, however, greatly bothered with “just.”
Amy – Ooh. That is bad. Nice use of the word “fussy”
Jeff – Good perspective. I might use, “We are going to pray now” this weekend.