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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When to pray in French

Louange et gloire à toi

Dieu de Jésus-Christ!

Louange et gloire à toi

Source de la vie! The fact that I didn’t know what ‘louange” means didn’t matter at all. I knew what we were doing and why we were doing it - singing to God, giving him glory and lots of louange. Last Sunday morning Jacqui and I found ourselves in the splendid Norman town of Domfront. We were on the way home from our family holiday in Brittany, taking the scenic route over several days. We always aim to attend church when away, even (especially) when it is inconvenient. It honours God, supports the local believers and adds to our experience of the Kingdom of God. There were no evangelical churches in the area and so we went to the local RC church, Paroisse Saint Saveur en Domfrontais. I despair at my ability in French, despite (maybe, because of) five years of solid teaching at Waterloo Grammar School as well as going to France more or less each year since we were married. Most of the time I have no idea of what is being spoken. It can be embarrassing. In some ways it would be equivalent to the experience of someone coming to Christ Church for the first time who had no understanding of how we do things in church. We might as well be speaking a foreign language.

But going to church is more, much more than language – you pick up, as the French would say, the ambiance. And the ambiance in Domfront was excellent in this congregation of about 200. The priest, an older man who clearly cared for his flock, shared much of the liturgy with his congregation. The intercessions, for example, were taken by a group of five, including some young people. We shared the peace; afterwards people stayed to chat outside in the sunshine. I do enjoy hearing the scriptures - especially familiar passages - read in French. Somehow you hear them in new way. This Wednesday I mentioned this during our Bible study on Galatians – the apostle Paul in the NIV translation can come across as a somewhat severe academic rather than a passionate pastor as in the Message translation. There is always the danger of the English bringing in something which isn't actually there in the original text.

So on Sunday the epistle came from Hebrews 12. In verse 6 the NIV reads: “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.’ However, what we heard read on Sunday was “Quand le Seigneur aime quelqu'un, il lui donne de bonnes leçons ; il corrige tous ceux qu'il reconnaît comme ses fils.” At the time I thought given the choice between being disciplined and receiving bonnes leçons, I’d go for the bon leçon each time. In other words, discipline, the English word, imports a context which is simply not in the original Greek word paideuó. This simply means bringing up a child, a pais. Not a Sergeant Major in sight. That’s why we need to use several translations rather than rigidly stick to the one. Above all, I love praying in French for the simple reason I address God using the intimate ‘tu’ rather than the usual ‘vous’. The French must have strict rules for when you can address someone as ‘tu’ and refer to them as ‘toi’. It assumes a degree of intimacy, a close relationship. There is simply no equivalent in English, not since “thou” was phased out. Delightfully, God is the only person I speak to as tu, very precious.

This must be the reason why Paul, in writing to the Galatians, takes the Aramaic word Abba and inserts it into the Greek text: “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Galatians 4:6). There is no record of anyone other than Jesus addressing God as Abba. Again, it assumes a level of intimacy, of close relationship, which the word “Father” simply does not have. For the incredible news, the wonderful privilege that we have as Christians, as children of God, entrusted with his Spirit, is to address him as Abba. That makes all the difference as we share our lives with him.

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