The Heart of the Black Madonna

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Public Nature of Prayer

In the grand tradition of the adversarial spiritual powers, a case is before the Supreme Court of the United States arguing the permissibility of a town hall meeting in New York to begin with Prayer. An atheist and a Jewish person brought the suit, complaining that the prayers uttered before the meetings were "Too Christian." 

The Town tried to be more inclusive in the prayers, inviting representatives of other faiths, even a Wiccan priestess, to begin the meetings with prayers from different traditions, but this was not enough. So the arguments were heard today, and a decision will be rendered next Summer. 

For those who wish to ban the prayers, their main argument is that religious practices are divisive. My question to them would be, is it unifying to forbid someone from publicly professing the foundations of their soul? I have traveled throughout the world, attending services in all manner of Churches, Synagogues, Temples and Mosques. I have witnessed Native American ceremonies. Never once did I feel that another's expression of their understanding of the Divine, diminished mine, even when I disagreed with the tenants of their faith. Reverence is universal when it comes to spiritual practice, can we not appreciate Reverence in all traditions, while silently adhering to our own traditions? 

My family suffered deeply under communism, medical treatment was withheld, jobs denied, property confiscated due to overt expressions of Christianity. For decades, Baptisms had to be done in secret for fear of retribution. When you look at the history of early Christianity and the persecutions, I often wonder if I would be strong enough to incur the wrath of Rome to publicly profess my faith. The subsequent history of the persecution of Muslims and Jews in Europe by Christians is a tragic and violent one, and the current state of affairs amongst different Islamic sects, Christians, Jews and Hindus, there is enough bloodshed, cruelty and ignorance to make the current spat over prayers at a town hall meeting seem arbitrary.

How can we respect different approaches to reverence and tradition, while still evangelizing the healing message of Christ? Our Islamic and Jewish brethren have centuries of pain and exclusion at the hand of Christians, how do we honor this past while healing the present? And to our atheist community members, how is it that we can respect their orientation, while being welcoming and inclusive of them as well?

While bringing a case to the Supreme Court is a civilized way to resolve conflict, the body is an earthly one. I do not need a court to give me permission to pray in public. I do so all the time, as God and I are in a continuous conversation, he trying to convey his intent, and me trying to understand while giving constant questions, petitions and thanks throughout the day and night.

I think St Francis of Assisi said it the most eloquently, "Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary, use words." He gave this charge to missionaries on their way to the Holy Land, and started the tradition of evangelization through hospitality.

I fear the decision on prayer to be released this Summer will only be used to further divide our community, and silence Christian expressions of peace. Some group will feel invalidated with the decision. For me, I do not need permission to pray publicly, but I will keep pondering and asking God, how can we be more inclusive and loving, so that when a Christian prayer is uttered, it is an occasion for peace, harmony and an invitation to experience the greatest of all loves.

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