Praying in Public

There’s the debate about prayer in school in America, whilst here in the UK, a council was taken to court and told that it couldn’t include Christian prayer at the start of meetings. There are noises about changing the law to accommodate the council. Time for me to dust off the soap-box I think.

I have no problem with anyone praying any time they get the urge. I see prayer as something inherently private, between you and whatever you’re trying to talk to. However, collective prayer has some rather different functions. If we’re all chanting along together, all intoning the same lines following the lead of the (usually) man at the front, we’re not entering into personal relationship with the divine. We’re undertaking ritual, sure. We may even find meaning and resonance in those words. But we are not creating anything, expressing anything of ourselves, or, I suspect, being open to hearing anything that might come back to us.

Shared prayers in a druid context have the effect, I find, of reinforcing bonds of community. We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand in hand… I wouldn’t use them in a situation where there might be people who didn’t feel that way. I’ve shared them with people who did not subsequently honour that ideal at all, and I’m afraid that comes to mind now any time I do share prayers. But mostly I don’t go for the shared, scripted variety. I like prayer better when it flows in the moment, crafted by individual contributions from all those present, when we aren’t one clear voice, but a multitude of different voices, sharing, overlapping, contradicting.

I’m wary of anything that smacks of conformity or for that matter, indoctrination. If we get children to intone words where they do not fully understand the meaning, that’s troubling. For prayer to be spiritually meaningful, it has to be felt, and meant. If a person is repeating what they’ve learned by rote, it’s not about spirit, it’s about doing what you’re told. Tom has a lovely story about being at a Catholic school, as a very young human, and not really knowing the words, and starting each day with “Hail Mary, full of grace, hubada, hubada, fruit of the loom Jesus,” being his best guess. Which is no more or less meaningful than anything else we regurgitate without understanding it.

The solution seems so obvious to me. Allow a little time for prayer, be that at the start of a meeting, the school day, or wherever else you want it. Invite people to take a few moments to clear their minds, consider what is before them and what they are called upon to do, and to have a few moments to address that in any way they see fit. Spiritually or not-spiritually. With prayer, or meditation, or just gazing out of the window. It’s good to give people time and spaces in which to contemplate. A little more thinking and a little less talking would improve a good many meetings, I suspect. Anyone who does want to pray in a formal way, can mutter to themselves as required, free from the influence of what anyone else feels the urge to mutter. A moment to draw breath. A moment to think, to seek perspective, asses priorities. We could all use a bit more of that. Bother a god at the same time if you like!

But that would be a lot like freedom of expression, and I suspect that for those who want to enforce prayer, this was never a priority. It’s not about whether you want to pray, it’s about whether someone else wants the power to tell you when and how, and to make you mouth along with the words.

Hubada hubada

Fruit of the loom…

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

One response to “Praying in Public

  • Athelia Nihtscada

    I recall my ten years in Catholic school here in Canada. In elementary school, when we got to school in the morning, we had to say 2 prayers (Our Father and Hail Mary). Then we said one prayer before lunch (Hail Mary), two prayers (Hail Mary and Glory Be) after lunch and two before going home (Our Father and Glory Be, again). In Junior High, we had the prayer in the morning, before and after lunch and just before going home. When I got to High School, many of the teachers would expect us to say a prayer before each class, so we all got lots of praying in public in!

    Sure, I’d stand all straight and tall by my desk and say the prayer out loud with the others, but I got nothing out of it. I was not even of that faith to begin with! (My parents sent me there because it was the closest education to what they got in England that they could afford.)

    I switched to a public school in grade 11 and it was kind of weird not saying prayers, but I was relieved. I could finally say prayers the way I wanted to: privately and to whom I wanted! No one else had to know. I got much more meaning out of my own private prayers than I ever did with 10 years of Catholic school praying.

    I’m not sure why kids have to say prayers as part of public school curriculum anyway. If their parents are that insistent, why don’t they lead their own children in prayer before they go to school? I would think that would mean more to the children and the parents. It’s a great way to bond with family, in my opinion. (That is, until the kids grow up and rebel!)

    Thanks again for a meaningful post!

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