A friend recently said her husband did not like the idea of changing the words of the Lord’s Prayer. “The Lord’s Prayer is the Lord’s Prayer,” he had said, defending his sense that this part of the service, at least, should be held sacrosanct. He is certainly not alone in his desire to preserve this beloved prayer in the form in which generations of English speakers have learned it since the 17th century.

It’s a common sentiment, and wholly understandable, particularly if one was brought up in the church. We hold tightly to what we loved as children — sometimes even to what we didn’t love, but has become familiar. And anyone who has been going to church for a few decades has seen enough changes to want to hold onto what’s left of the familiar.

Everyone has favorite prayers, hymns, poems that have special meaning; however, sometimes it takes hearing familiar ideas expressed in new language to wake us up and make us hear those ideas afresh. It’s natural to be comfortable with the prayers we have said by heart since we were children, but putting those prayers into different words can compel us to pay attention to them in a way we haven’t done for years.

After all, when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he didn’t respond to them in English, much less the English of King James I. The prayer Jesus taught (if indeed the original words were Jesus’) must have been translated from Aramaic into Greek (the language of the gospels), then into Latin, and only after that into the English of four centuries ago. To say that the version familiar to us is the definitive form of the prayer is to attempt to cast a moment of time in concrete.

We may assume that Jesus’ phrasing was meaningful to the people of his time; likewise, the language of James I was natural to the people of 17th-century England, and there is nothing wrong or disrespectful about recasting the prayer’s ideas in language that speaks more directly to our own time.

So, for example, instead of “Our father, who art in heaven,” we might say, “Holy One of love, the home of all our hearts.” We might continue, “May your name be kept holy. May your Holy Spirit come to cleanse us, may everything done on earth harmonize with your will, as also in heaven. Feed us for today, and teach us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Let us lean upon your strength when we are tempted, and do not abandon us to our selfishness. For all in heaven and on earth is yours and is in your care, now and forever. Amen.”

For me, these words bring God closer, make God more like a father or mother I can believe in, while the “thou,” “thy” and “art” of the King James version of the prayer keep God at a distance. I don’t believe that God would ever lead us “into temptation,” so it makes more sense to me to pray that God will support us in doing right and stay with us, even when we get on the wrong path.

The language of kings and kingdoms is too imperial, too disconnected from daily life to be meaningful to me, so I prefer to emphasize divine mercy, forgiveness and strength, rather than “kingdom, power and glory,” but it comes to much the same thing in the end: God is in charge, and we are dependent on God for everything.

As much as those who prefer the older language extol its beauty — and in some cases, I agree — there are some modern prayers that are equally beautiful, and have the ability to awaken our ears and our minds so that we hear familiar ideas as if for the first time. That quickening of the senses and the understanding is a precious gift that is worth the occasional discomfort of missing the familiar.

For example, here is the version of the Lord’s Prayer from the prayer book of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand (“Aotearoa” is the Maori word for “New Zealand”):

“Eternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and for ever. Amen.”

May we remain open to fresh expressions of faith, even as we cherish the old.