"Moisture" and Other Words That Are Pseudo-Sacred

On Sunday morning, it surprisingly snowed several inches in Provo. On our way to Church, I mentioned to my wife that I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody thanked the Lord for “the moisture” in their prayer. (Honestly, these quirky things are not all I think about.)

I was right. Twice.

And in talking with my friend Joe yesterday about this, he said (perhaps exaggerating) that this term was used 5 times in his ward.

Now, I’m not sure how culturally situated (e.g., in Utah and Idaho) thanking the Lord for “the moisture” is, but at any rate I can’t help but wonder: What is it about this word that makes it so commonly used in prayers?

Obviously, this is somewhat of a chicken-egg problem, in that a clear reason for the word’s continual usage is its prevalence in previous vocal prayers. So regardless of the term’s origin, the word “moisture” somehow took on a pseudo-sacred quality. By pseudo-sacred, I mean words that are commonly acceptable words to use in prayers or other public speaking of a highly pious nature, but that make little sense, or are downright silly, in ordinary discourse. (I’ll place thees and thous and other common scriptural prayer terms in the purely “sacred” category.)

For example, it would be odd to say to a friend after a snowfall, “Look! There’s moisture outside!” or “I’m so grateful the Lord gave us moisture last night!” But in a prayer, “moisture” somehow becomes acceptable — perhaps preferable.

My wife had the insight that by saying “moisture” we isolate ourselves from the badness of something like “snow” and “rain,” leaving only the positive fruits of the product. I think this is an interesting explanation.

What are some other common pseudo-sacred terms and phrases in Mormonism?

Here’s a few I can think of right now:

  • “nourish and strengthen”
  • “befall,” as in “that no harm or accident may befall them”
  • “fiber of my being”
  • “I say these things,” just before closing a prayer
  • “the hands that prepared this meal”
  • “apply these things in our daily lives”
  • “thankful for the opportunity” (not exactly pseudo-sacred, but nonetheless a phrase that is used way too often in prayers)

Any others that anyone can think of?

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29 Responses

  1. I’m not familiar with the “fiber of my being” one. My favorite is the “hands” that prepared a meal. I always laugh at that one (and then Marilyn smacks me and says “be nice!”) Are we honestly interested in blessing just the cook’s hands? Perhaps this one originated when an arthritic person cooked the food for a ward activity?

    I need to work on some of these because, at least for me, I use them as vain repetitions rather than really meaning them. I really like how one of the families that I home teach says their prayers–almost just like they would talk to anybody else. Obviously you don’t pray to God like He is your “buddy”, but vain and rote repetition can only have the effect of distancing us from God.

  2. Dan,

    “I know the Church is true with every fiber of my being.”

    You’ve never heard that?

  3. “this day” instead of plain ol’ “today.”

    “truly”…as in “truly humble” or “truly grateful.”

    also, i really hate the word “moisture.” just wanted to put that out there.

  4. Dennis,

    I guess I have heard that in testimony meetings before.

    “fiber”–Do you think this could be a reference to superstring theory?

  5. As an Eastern bred member, I can confirm that giving thanks for “moisture” is a uniquely western Mormon thing.

    And it’s weird.

  6. Divine Comedy (BYU sketch comedy) actually did a whole sketch about ridiculous prayerisms. I know my husband and I can’t help but snicker from the pews in the back of the chapel when we hear these terms. One of my favorites is, “is true.” Basically everything is true: the gospel (which is proper usage), but also prophets and even roommates!

  7. One qwerk I’ve noticed is people using too many adjectives for God. Example…

    “Our gracious, loving, merciful, all mighty Heavenly Father..”

    There’s nothing wrong with this, besides being a bit redundant. I suppose God may like the extra compliments.

  8. let us remember that some members of the chruch are actually very sincere even when they use langauge that is problematic and undesirable.

  9. I suspect that the “bless the hands that prepared it” is a way of avoiding listing off all the names of people involved… or the person praying doesn’t know their names (I have been guilty of this).

  10. “Opportunity” is my favorite. Nobody ever has to give a lesson; they have the opportunity to give a lesson. They also had the opportunity to serve as a bishop, and they had the opportunity to sleep on the ground in negative temperatures without a shower or decent food for a week as girl’s camp counselors.

    As for moisture, I think I’ll start saying “precipitation.” If it’s snow, I’ll say “frozen precipitation.” That way I don’t have to mention the dirty “snow” word.

  11. Oh, and most of the “opportunities” end up having been “very humbling” experiences, for which I am “indeed grateful.”

  12. Clayton: Yes, you are very right. I have used all of these pseudo-sacred terms hundreds of times in the past, and probably will continue to occasionally use some of them. Moreover, what people mean is more important than what they say. It’s funny to laugh at these things, but not to see ourselves as somehow more spiritual than others because we don’t use these terms…

    Rutkowski: That’s interesting. I know that it rains more where you’re from. Do the members there often pray with gratitude for precipitation or rain?

    RD: I have a couple interesting stories about using “opportunity” too much. I took a couple BYU religion classes from Stephen E. Robinson, and one time, after a student did NOT say he was grateful for the opportunity to take the class (in a prayer), but simply that he was grateful to take the class, Dr. Robinson thanked him and took the time to talk about how it’s perhaps a problem that we always pray for opportunities for things, but not the things themselves. The other interesting story is concerned with when I worked as a tutor at the BYU Writing Center. I often worked with students on letters of application for dental, medical, and law school. On several occasions, students would talk about having “the opportunity” to work with Dr. So-and-so, or “the opportunity” to do humanitarian work in some foreign place. I would have to help the student to understand that outside of Mormon culture, people typically stress having the opportunity to do something when they DON’T ACTUALLY DO IT.

    On this note, I think it would be funny for someone to bear their testimony and talk about something they had “the opportunity” to do, but then say, “but I didn’t do it.”

    (Also, RD, I have had the opportunity to respond to your latest response to me on your blog — but I have yet to do it. Things are fairly chaotic right now — I will try to respond soon.

  13. I like those stories.

    Take your time responding; we’re all busy and we have until November.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on a discussion I’ve been having here, if you get a few minutes.

  14. RD,

    I’m assuming you’re interested in my thoughts on the threadjack, not the actual topic of the post?

  15. Yeah. Great insight, thanks.

  16. not to take too far a tangent, but…

    rutkowski? as in michael rutkowski? “sister” michale rutkowski?!?

    it’s me, sister miller! except not anymore! gah! please oh please click to my blog and leave me a comment. i’ve missed you!

  17. Great topic – being from Detroit and going to school in Idaho (with a wife from Payson, UT), the concept of “moisture” was just strange for me.

    rd – you got it right – I think I am going to start using “precipitation.”

    There’s some obviously contradictory terms that have been totally overdone in humorous situations – doughnuts being blessed to “strengthen and nourish,” the story of the church service in a jail that had a prayer with the words “Bless those who aren’t here today that they will make it here next week,” etc etc.

    I served in Korea, and they LOVED using flowery adjectives describing God in their prayers – “Our all knowing, loving, gracious, omniscient, all powerful, giving, deserving of adoration, Heavenly Father who Lives in Heaven……” They would give a 5 minute description of God, and then get into the prayer

  18. Dennis – Nope. While we are indeed grateful for rain (not so much the snow) back in my hometown, we do not express that gratitude very often in public prayers. Or call it “moisture,” ever. It’s possible the usage may not be as geography driven as occupation driven though. For example, I’m a city guy, my ward is in a city, we never used it, but visiting my wife’s grandparents that far in Idaho, yeah, we hear “moisture” up there.

    Lanada – This is Michael Rutkowski.

  19. A ha ha ha! Until now, I’ve only ever heard of one other person who thought saying “moisture” in prayers was weird (I grew up in So. Cal, and the other person is from the UK, and we both noticed it while in Utah.)
    “Moisture” is the first psuedo-spiritual term that comes to my mind, but I’m trying to think of others: “Bless that we may all return home safely”, “might, mind and strength” (well, OK, that last one is more of a testimony-ism.) I’ll come back with some better ones after church sometime.

  20. Yes, there are many classics in prayer language. See also: this and this.

  21. Jacob,

    Thanks for those links. Hilarious.

    Although I do think that some (in the By Common Consent discussion) are too flippant of certain common prayer patterns, especially the “portion of the spirit” criticism (especially considering Alma uses this phrase). I also don’t like the criticisms regarding those who will say something like, “We are gathered as thy children…” or “as holders of the priesthood.” Or even (within reason) some adjectives concerning God’s greatness. For me, prayer is often a way of striving to be in proper relationship to God, and then to say things which reflect that relationship. This might even mean a long statement in which a person sorts out his/her struggle in coming before God, such as the Brother of Jared’s wonderful prayer before he saw the Lord.

  22. Dennis,

    As a rule, not everything posted at BCC can be fully endorsed. However, don’t some of the things you are jumping in to defend fit your definition in the post:

    By pseudo-sacred, I mean words that are commonly acceptable words to use in prayers or other public speaking of a highly pious nature, but that make little sense, or are downright silly, in ordinary discourse.

    Actually, I think there is an interesting problem illustrated by your last comment. Once one starts poking fun at some prayer language how does one draw the line?

  23. Jacob,

    Good points.

    Of course, I explained that scriptural terms fall into the “sacred” category. But, you’re right, the “we are gathered as thy children” doesn’t exactly fit this designation. I think we would have to say that there is a certain category of “proclamatory” (not sure if that’s a word, but I love to invent words anyway) statements that would sound word in “ordinary” discourse, but not in formal public speaking discourse. For example, no one would think it strange to hear a politician say, “We are gathered hear today …” Doing so is a mark of formality, soberness, and community. However, it would be awfully strange for that politician to say, in that same talk, “moisture” when referring to rain or snow. Unless, of course, he was being poetic, which changes the story entirely.

    So, I suppose one thing I am poking a little fun at is when words like moisture are used as if they are simply replacing other (more pedestrian) words like “rain” or “snow.” But how this relates to some of the other terms (listed in my post) is perhaps a little messier in terms of a pseudo-sacred designation.

    So that leaves us with more questions: Where is the line between sacred and pseudo-sacred? Is there a point in which the pseudo-sacred becomes informally coronated? Could this happen with a term like “moisture”?

    More to think about …

    btw Jacob, I’ve wanted to respond to you about the whole brain-computer thing, but haven’t had the time.

  24. One other thing about this. There certainly is a problem if I cannot take someone else’s sincere prayer seriously when they use a word like “moisture.” A sign of maturity, I think, is to be able to critically evaluate, or even poke fun of, such a term, and yet hardly bat an eye when it is used by well-meaning Church members. To not be able to do so, I think, is understandable but immature.

  25. I dont understand, what dose pseudo-sacred mean?

  26. From the discussion, I gather “pseudo-sacred” to mean 1) oft-repeated words or phrases that some think give extra “oomph” to a prayer and 2) any objectors to such wording would get scolded by anoyne within earshot.

    Maybe it’s not “psuedo-sacred”, but I crings a little when people end a Fast Sunday testimony with “in the name of Thy Son…” Yeah, THAT’s not rote repetition.

  27. Someone may have already said this, but I didn’t have the patience to read ALL the comments (sorry, sorry).

    I think part of it is that when people are expressing testimony or publicly praying, they are searching for language which sounds more formal to them–language which they wouldn’t use in normal, every day conversation.
    I think that’s where “this day” and “befall” and other such semi-archaic usages come from. As for the others–the “moisture” has always boggled me, even being FROM the Wasatch Mountain area.

  28. “Moisture” aside (o.0…), those aren’t exclusive to Mormons. I’ve definitely heard some of those from other Protestants at prayer and I never could bring myself to use pseudo-sacred speech aloud. It’s good to use when praying in a group because it’s more respectful but it’s not really suited for one-on-one because it’s not as personal, you know?

  29. Funny! I wandered in here randomly, and I’m not a Mormon, I’m a Christian, but I recognise “pseudo-sacred” prayer words!

    The one that makes me laugh is the overuse of “just” in evangelical Christian churches in the UK. “Oh, Lord, I just pray that you would just bless us today as we just gather together and just pray to you.”

    I don’t know where it comes from, but like you say, it’s probably self-perpetuating – everyone does it because everyone else does it. We have to assume God will understand what we’re getting at whatever words we use.

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