Public Prayer and the Power of Ritual

4 Jul

I belong to a small block association that, as often as not, ends its meetings with a prayer. We stand, join hands, and one person will say the prayer—there’s two or three lay ministers in the group.

Though I don’t entertain any conventional religious belief, I like this little ritual. It feels good.

If a loaded gun were put to my head and my life depended on it, I might say I was an atheist. Might. Otherwise I’d just as soon not say any such thing. Nor even agnostic. Too damn rational.

And yet this Christian prayer, uttered by a devout Christian among other devout Christians, that doesn’t make me feel at all uncomfortable. As I said, I like it.

Question: Could this ritual be done without religious belief?

Ah, son, you ARE doing it without religious belief.

True enough. But I don’t think I could offer the prayer myself. For one thing, I don’t have the words and phrases ready to hand, couldn’t improvise one at all.

Getting back to the issue: If there is no religious belief, then to whom do you address the prayer? Certainly not to the mayor, nor to the CEO of Walmart, nor to Beyoncé, nor to the Japanese Emperor. Perhaps to some abstract entity such as the powers of abundance and fecundity throughout the universe? That’s edging up on a deity, no?

And there’s the hand-holding. Intimate, but not personal. Without that address to WHATEVER intimate hand-holding could be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Without the intimacy the hand-holding would be meaningless.

How do you engineer a way to have public intimacy that enlarges and enriches the group without being embarrassing?


5 Responses to “Public Prayer and the Power of Ritual”

  1. Charlie Keil July 5, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Yia Hara Kubla!
    (Health and Joy Bill — translated from the Greek and Zoroaster lingo)
    You’ve joined @@ and 100+ other 12 step programs. All the best slogans from American Anarchism apply to your piece on prayer and ritual: Turn it Over, Take it Easy, One Day @ a Time, Let Go and Let Gaia, Out of Self Feeling Better, Identify don’t Compare, etc. etc. etc. and in @@ down your way they say — call– God is Good! response- ALL the time!!!
    Kubla, get yourself a ‘big book’ as soon as possible by going to any nearby meeting of @@, introducing yourself as “I’m Bill, a visitor” and see if they have a big book to spare or borrow and pass on to someone, check out Chap. 4 “We Agnostics” and Ch. 5 “How it Works” before going to Appendix 2. Spiritual Experience where William James and Herbert Spencer will set you straight on the value of regular praying, gratitude lists, and an amused tolerance of those Christians who are actually trying to practice humility, meekness, turn the other cheek, serve the people daily practices. @@ is the largest and most successful anarchist group in the history of humanity since we were forced out of classless societies by the earliest “Empires of Insanity.”
    P.S. Had an inspiring conversation with Nat Hentoff yesterday. He’s still arguing for the freedom of jazz and still hoping that the shreds of the Constitution that are left after Bush/Chainey and O’Bomber can be knitted back together again.

    • Bill Benzon July 5, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      Didn’t Bateson have some good words for @@ in Steps?

      • Charlie Keil July 5, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

        Bateson writes a lot about @@ successes in Steps to an Ecology of Mind. But other chapters, e.g. the one that begins on page 128 on the four kinds of unconscious and the grace of arts, are my all time favorites and fit with the @@ agenda as well.

    • Bill Benzon July 5, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      Oh, and, as you know the “how do we explain religion?” business is going great guns these days, having gotten a boost from evolutionary psychology and cognitive psychology. As far as I can tell — I don’t bother reading much of that stuff — is that they’re mostly concerned about the irrationality of it all, the myths and tales. They don’t think about the social engineering at all, and that’s where the real action is.

      • Charlie Keil July 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm #

        One of the big lessons for me from the dialogues I did with Steve Feld in Music Grooves was: “participation” (sacramental thinking, con-substantial thinking/feeling ) is very rational in that it dissolves mind/body dualism, reveals spirit and matter as two aspects of the same reality, can put ‘the alienated person’ back into the miracle of the Creation, the Open Miind, the Originating Mystery, Olde Mothernature. . . . . . OM.

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