In the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don't remember the first time I said these words. I've said variations of them so many times that it all blends together. And in some ways, saying them is just habit. When I pray Morning Prayer, that's just how I start. So if nothing else, these words are a marker. "You're praying now," they say, "And you're praying to God."
There are things I don't like about that fact. As a writer, I'm a firm believer that words are supposed to mean something and that these particular words are important. After all, I don't think Western Christendom would have started so many prayers that way if they weren't.
There's a lot of truth, a lot of deep theology behind these words. They denote a triune God, and one with the persons we've come to label as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They mark the equality of each of these persons, and yet hint at order in their relationships because they're always referred to in the same order. While we tend to take all of these concepts for granted now, I know that many Christians did hard theological, psychological, and interpersonal work for years in order to hammer out these doctrines in ways that were as true as possible to Scripture. I know that people still work on them, refining them and nuancing them, to help Christianity as a whole have a better picture of who God is.
These words also say that this is the God in whose name we pray. It's this God who has the characteristics we go on to delineate, this God who cares for use enough to listen to our words, this God who allows us to come close enough to say anything at all.
And maybe it's here where words-as-marker becomes acceptable. In the hustle and bustle of my days, it's easy to forget to pray altogether or to make my prayer time as crazy as the rest of my hours. But when I say these words, I remember who I'm talking to and the gift it is that I have the ability to talk to him. I don't always think about Trinitarian theology, but I do begin to think about God. And the theology is there, somewhere in my thoughts. Maybe that's the true power of words: to take us to a place beyond words, to bring about a state of mind that's different from the usual, even if we don't consciously know how and why it's different.
In the end, there's nothing wrong with words-as-marker. We all need to see the way laid out before us, sometimes. And these words function like the cairns that mark the way on a confusing trail. They help us (or at least, they help me!) stop and remember where I am and who I'm talking to. They denote sacred space and time, especially when they're used to do that time and time again.