Tag Archives: prayer

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?