Can We Pray Together? A Practicum

I have pondered the idea of faithful people of different traditions praying together for many years. I am aware of the obstacles and still have hope that genuine interfaith prayer is possible. Over a year ago, I wrote a post for State of Formation titled “Prayers of the Faithful.” I suggested that interfaith community worship and civic events might be enriched by including the Muslim Al-fatiha, the Jewish Kaddish, and the Christian Lord’s Prayer as a united voice of connection with God, addressing themes of creation, salvation, praise, love, guidance, forgiveness and adoration. The assembly would be invited to join in the prayers as they felt moved and able, and the prayers would be followed by a moment of silence and reflection. This is an idea that has not let go of me.

In April, Ellie Anders wrote a post titled “Do You Need Prayer Room at School?” which got me thinking about the use of an interfaith prayer room at the public university where I teach part-time. As I responded to her then, my university does have a prayer room that is used by Muslim students for daily prayer and also by the Catholic chaplain for a weekly bible study.

I am pleased to report that as of September 2014 my university (Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts) has allocated resources for a Center for Spiritual Life with a full-time director whose mandate is to coordinate the programs of the Catholic chaplaincy, the Protestant Chaplaincy, the Muslim Student Association and the Hillel Society.

After a long germination period, Prayers of the Faithful is about to become a reality in two venues.

The first is a service of morning prayer at Episcopal Divinity School where I am a seminarian. On Tuesday mornings, we have “free prayer” service. Students may volunteer to lead a prayer service of their own choice or design. I’ve planned to open my interfaith prayer service with recorded Buddhist chant from Han Shan temple as the worshippers gather, then read Zhang Ji’s “Night Mooring at Maple Bridge.” After some opening words about interfaith hospitality, we’ll read together a prayer from the Jewish Tradition, followed by silence. Then a prayer from the Christian Tradition. Silence. A prayer from the Muslim Tradition. Silence. Chant a psalm: O Taste and See. A Prayer from the Buddhist Tradition (from the Metta Sutra). The Lord’s Prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book. Then intercessions from the WCC ecumenical cycle of prayer, invite prayers and intercessions from the assembly. Close with a Taize chant: Bless the Lord my Soul. My fervent hope is that the theme of universal praise will shine through and fill the space with joy and adoration. My worst fear is a chaotic jumble. I’ll let you know how it works as a worship service.

The second is a half-day prayer workshop in the interfaith prayer room at my university, under the auspices of the Center for Spiritual Life. The planned workshop is centered around a theme of interfaith hospitality and prayer. After the students have been gathered, welcomed and introduced themselves, I will say a few words about interfaith hospitality and themes of praise, thanksgiving, humility and the desire for peace. Then I will have the students say each prayer together (as they wish) with silence for meditation between the prayers. The Kaddish. The traditional Lord’s Prayer. The Al-fatiha. A selection from the Metta Sutra. Quiet time with writing and drawing materials to create our own prayers, and a time of sharing and conversation. Then closing words about hospitality. My hope is that in the workshop setting students will feel safe and open to listening.

Marjorie Thompson writes in Soul Feast, “When we intercede for others in prayer, we welcome them into our inmost sanctuary of compassion. We participate in the spacious hospitality of God’s grace for each person.” Interfaith hospitality includes receiving the other, from the heart, into one’s own dwelling place and the desire to encounter and get to know other believers precisely as different, with the acknowledgement that one’s own faith will be nourished in the process. And importantly, hospitality does not require us to agree with one another; it requires that we offer space for speaking and listening. This is the message I hope to impart through both the interfaith hospitality and prayer workshop at the university Center for Spiritual Life and the service of morning prayer at EDS.

Image is the logo of the Prays Well With Others initiative.

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5 thoughts on “Can We Pray Together? A Practicum

  1. Hello Susan,

    I read your post and I have got to say that your interfaith prayer service sounds fantastic! By the time I finished reading this, I found myself wishing I could be a part of it! I look forward to hearing how it went.

    I understand your fears that it may sound like a “chaotic jumble” but I just want to encourage you that while it may sound like this to us; perhaps consider instead how it will sound to God. How does it sound…from above?

    While these diverse prayer languages may appear as difference, as bedlam to us; to the God who created us, it will be a beautiful symphony. Try to imagine those voices rising up and blending together as one magnificent celestial chorus.

    1. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment! Yes, the whole point is how it sounds to God, a symphony of praise. Added a Tagore poem from the Hindu tradition and printed out my order of service. I am really looking forward to Tuesday. Then I hope to adapt and fine tune for a town-wide interfaith Thanksgiving service that it is my home parish’s turn to host.

  2. Susan,
    Thank you for the read. I believe when a person prays to God, they are sharing their hopes, wishes, failures, worries, joy, sorrow, and everything else a human can experience. They are sharing their purest of truths. To me, this is extremely powerful and even as a non-religious person I would be honored to witness someone else’s prayer. If people of different faiths can come together with open hearts and listen to the prayers of others, I believe that good things will come. I am inspired by your effort for peace. I am currently taking a religious studies class at Southern Oregon University and I’m looking forward to sharing this article with my class!

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