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Column: Learning by heart

I grew up in a very non-liturgical church. We rarely recited the Lord’s Prayer, and I’d never even heard of the Apostles’ Creed until I moved away. Even the Doxology seemed suspicious when a new pastor wanted us to sing it every Communion Sunday.

After growing up in such an environment, it came as a huge shock when we moved to West Berlin, Germany, and began to attend a military chapel at the closest U.S. Army base.

(Let’s face it — everything was a huge shock to me after growing up on a 60-square mile island in Washington state and then moving to a foreign country where millions of people spoke a language in which I could only say, “Ich liebe dich” which wasn’t very helpful unless I wanted to go around telling people I loved them. And in a bad accent, to boot.)

We sat down in chapel that first Sunday, and I opened the bulletin and found all sorts of things that I was supposed to be able to recite.

I found this very odd.

My mother, sitting beside me, informed me that this wasn’t odd at all, and I could read along if I needed to.

Well, I did read along when it came to The Apostles’ Creed (something I still need to do on the rare occasions we say it in church) but then it was time to say The Lord’s Prayer.

“I’ve got this,” I thought. “I know The Lord’s Prayer.” And, other than the fact that they used “trespasses” instead of “debtors,” I made it through with flying colors.

The next Sunday I opened the bulletin and saw that, once again, we’d be reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

And the next Sunday. And the next Sunday. And the next Sunday.

Well, I admit it: I got bored.

So I began to say it in a British accent.

To this day, I can’t recite The Lord’s Prayer without a little lilt at, “lead us not into temptation.”

My Scottish grandparents would be so proud.

Or not.

All I know is that I don’t do it anymore because I’m bored. Or to be irreverent —  which was never my intention —  I just do it out of habit.

Which leads me to the question: Do we recite things in church out of rote habit, not thinking about what we’re saying? Or do we let the well-known words sink into our hearts as we repeat them week after week, offering them to God as part of our worship?

I am often guilty of the former mind-set. But I strive to be party to the latter.

With or without a Scottish lilt, I pray that the next time I say The Lord’s Prayer I will say it from the heart.

“Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name ...” Matthew 6:9

Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in rural Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, runs monthly.