Thursday, January 22, 2009

Public Prayer

As I’ve mentioned before our class discussion on prayer has really caused me to really reflect on what I believe about corporate prayer and to ask some hard questions. While the class is asking us to think through our theology of prayer at civic functions (such as an inauguration but also at Rotary or Habitat, or most anywhere outside the worship setting), I find that the questions equally apply to worship.

As I reflect, I would really love to hear from you (I know there are a handful of you out there reading this).

What do you think is happening when someone prays aloud before a group of people? Is that person representing the congregation or audience to God or vice versa? Should the prayer reflect the feelings, emotions, and struggles of the group present? Should the prayer challenge their thinking?

And what about those civic occasions? Should the person praying pray from their own tradition and their own authentic relationship with God? (Both Lowery and Warren were preaching from their tradition and beliefs. Although several of the more conservative folks in our class were harder on Warren for what they felt was his attempt to be something he is not) Or should the prayer reflect the traditions (or lack thereof) and understanding of God of the people gathered? And if so, should it be that of the majority or something that is could somehow be claimed by all?

And what about humor? Joe Lowery started his prayer by quoting from the great hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which prompted no criticism but then he ended with lines that played with the words of the blues song, "Black, Brown And White." Now the controversy has been about whether or not those words were racist. My question is what do you think about the humor and playfulness in the prayer? Is it appropriate?

I have some opinions on all of this that I will share later. But I really want to hear from some other folks. (Think of it as helping me with my project for this class.) Preachers--as you prepare for your next public prayer, how would you answer these questions? Lay folks—when someone prays before you (whether a pastor or someone else)—what do you believe is happening?

The picture above is actually not from the inauguaration. All the pictures I found from it were of the person praying and not the audience. Is that symbolic of the focus being on the wrong person(s)? (Granted the ultimate focus of prayer is God--but no picture is available at this time!)

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

1 comment:

JB said...

I think in worship the one praying can take both the characteristic of representing the people to God and challenging the people. In fact, I think I've done both, in the same prayer. Although I still couched the challenge as a request. So that could be a little different.

I do think the person praying should represent the view of the community, unless those views need to be challenged. I've always been drawn to the Jewish tradition where it seems more appropriate to accuse God at times. The movie Defiance has a great example of this.

The civic question is harder. I've heard from various people at interfaith meetings that they're disappointed when Christians completely water down their prayers. But that's still among people of faith.

Humor can also depend on the tradition. Several people I watched the inauguration with explained that humor is a large part of Lowry's tradition. However, as it's not part of mine, I doubt I would use it.