How Do We, Of Different Faiths, Pray Together?

Prayer

I was walking along Manhattan Beach today,  in appreciation of all the good that has come out of the many  relationships I’ve formed or been invited into, and I decided I was going to write a blog entry.  It was either going to be about God or Uber.  OK, Uber will be the next one.  I know how to put things in order of importance, so today I write about God, but not with authority.  I write today hoping to find an answer.  A legitimate answer to a very real question.

I’ll start by explaining from whence this question came. Not often do I get to use the word whence . . . which is a sort of a homonym of the last name of the bass player of Fall Out Boy, but I digress . . .

I have a unique and incredible working relationship with an outstanding organization of very very good people with very very good hearts.  We are all believers, although our beliefs may not follow the same clear lines.  We all believe in God, we all believe in the importance of fulfilling whatever we were put here to do or achieve, and we all believe in the power of prayer.  My question is, while some are devout Christians, others are Jewish, and when we connect in prayer, there’s a separation.  We pray anyway, and it feels both fulfilling and important, but I wonder if there’s a way to pray together in unity.

Jewish prayers speak to Adonai Echad (one God) and Christians pray “in Jesus’ name.”  My question isn’t one of right or wrong, but rather a question that comes out of a desire to unify, not necessarily in specific beliefs, but in prayer.  As soon as “In Jesus’ name” is spoken it changes the level of connection for those raised in Judaism, yet if its omitted Christians feel we have fallen short in our obligation.  As I understand it, the Christian belief is that a prayer spoken in Jesus’ name asks God the Father to act upon it because the congregation comes in the name of His Son.  I know this is supported by scripture, but I also know the same supporting words are interpreted differently among Judaic scholars.

Suffice it to say, our beliefs are different.  Some believe we should pray to the Son of God, others believe there is only one and feel obliged to pray direcly to the Creator.  I’m asking those reading this not to respond with the insistence that their beliefs are correct.  Perhaps that’s a different dialogue for another time, likely to be moderated by someone for more theologically trained than I.  I ask herein only for suggestions, suggestions not for belief change, but for interfaith group prayer that resonates with everyone.

WE ALL PRAY OUR OWN WAY . . . WHEN WE’RE ALONE

Prayer is personal.  I know it is.  I’ve spoken to many people about it.  Pastors.  Rabbis.  Ministers.  Buddhists.  Addicts in recovery.  Those who are infirm or unwell.  Athletes.  Celebrities.  Law breakers.  Law defenders. I’ve even had admitted atheists tell me, in times of fear or perceived danger, they pray.

Perhaps prayer is inherently human . . . or maybe its learned.  Regardless of its origin, it appears to be a human need tied in with faith in something bigger. Based on my own limited exposure to individuals of varied faiths, I think it’s fair to say, there is alignment in that at some point we all look to a greater power for guidance, protection, clarity, aid, or mercy.

Despite the individuality of “the relationship with the Creator,” we societally section off based on the intricacies of faith, heritage, and belief.  Observant Jews attend Shabbat services Friday at sundown at the synagogue, Christians gather in Jesus’ name on Sundays.  Our Holy Days are different, our relationships with the books of the bible are different, and our ceremonies, although at their core quite similar, separate in baptism, circumcision, communion, and Bar or Bat Mitzvah.  Funerals are different, healing services are different, and weddings are different, even though we all believe in God.

I was born into a Jewish family, my mother’s parents coming from an Orthodox background.  They were not only observant, they were good, realizing that underlying all of the tradition was a genuine passion for human connection.  Growing up, the Holidays were more family gatherings than they were religious ceremonies, and while we read about Moses freeing the slaves at the Passover seder, what we most connect with is food, conversation, laughter, and bonding.  It’s easy to bond when you can all read from the same book, all say the same prayers, and all accept the blessings that are ingrained into a shared culture.

Santa Confused By Menorah

There was at least a bit of confusion in sorting through the differences as a child.  It seemed a bit odd that I’d sit on Santa’s lap in Macy’s and he promised to get me electric football for Hannukah.  I didn’t at the time understand why we celebrated two New Years and my non-Jewish friends only had one, and I never understood why, depending upon the dates Passover fell, we’d eat matzah before the collective egg hunt and some friends would go home and eat a big ham for Easter dinner, a non-option in my home.  I’ll admit I’ve always wondered what the Easter Bunny had to do with eggs, but for the most part, I never saw conflict in interfaith discussions, just difference.

I have spent a fair amount of time with studied Kabbalists and marvel at their depth of knowledge in the Torah, the Talmud, and the underlying meaning of many of the words we read and letters we scan over in prayer.  I have spent a fair amount of time with strongly committed Christians who have respectfully preached the importance of accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I have deep friendships with Messianic Jews who preserve the Old Testament borne traditions but include the New Testament in the formation of their beliefs and rituals.  I again ask, anyone responding, refrain from attempting to convince any other reader that change in belief is necessary.  I wonder, seriously wonder, if within those guidelines, within a respect for what may be a belief system that doesn’t fully align with yours, anyone can shed light on how, organizationally, we can pray.

I’d like to incorporate daily prayer into the start of our day, into the pre-game ritual of conferences and events, and in stating and reminding of our vision and our mission, and if we simply continue as has been the course, so we connect.  I sense, however, there is a way to create a deeper connection, a human connection as we speak to God.  Individually, we all will continue to praise God, to speak to God, and to listen for God.  I just believe there’s a way to “connect” as a minion does in the early hours in a synagogue, and as a Christian prayer group does when they gather.  In unity.

Thoughts?

 

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11 thoughts on “How Do We, Of Different Faiths, Pray Together?

  1. Phil, wow what a great blog and a true heartfelt question to ask. Let me introduce myself, David Ashley the Pastor of Pump living in the beautiful city of Scottsdale, AZ. Been a personal fitness professional for 30 years, spent 6 weeks at your place in Florida as your fitness director about 8 or 9 years ago but a family crisis caused me to relocate. I am a evangelist finishing my 3rd masters degree at seminary to obtain my Masters of Divinity, I say this not out of pride or ego but to show that response to you is not arbitrary but does stem from much study of the facts, the truth and most of all the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God.
    First we must ask what is the purpose of this prayer you seek? Is it to worship? To seek favor? To ask for something? To invoke a blessing? Because unless you pray to the Trinitarian God of the Bible you are just wasting your breath. You see all other deities are dead and buried and can’t do anything for you, it is only Jesus Christ who is alive, the God-man who lives seated in heaven at the right hand of God the Father and he makes intercession for those of us who call Him Lord. It is only when praying to the God of the Bible that your petitions are heard. Jesus said, “I am the (only) Way, the (absolute) Truth, and the (eternal) Life, no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Exclusive? Yes, but not arrogance because it represents truth, not because it is believed by Christians but because it is truth. Whether you choose to believe in Jesus and God’s Word affects your salvation. It does not change the validity of King Jesus or God’s Word.
    You see Jesus Christ is the Name above all names, the King of kings and “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” So praying to anyone or anything else is just futile it is just words in the wind. Don’t you think since God created the universe and He makes the rules, He is the one we should be petitioning, He and He alone is Lord and sovereign, that is pretty exclusive. But biblical Christianity is so very inclusive that anyone, no matter what you have done, who you are, or where you have been, can come and have fellowship with their Creator and have their prayers heard.

  2. There’s no right or wrong answer, but only what one feels works for them and their own personal beliefs, which makes it an individual choice. I tend to lean towards inclusivity.

    I do pray for everyone before I teach anything. I don’t say that I am, nor do I acknowledge that I am, I just do it. I don’t pretend that they’re there for me, but for whatever I’ve been made a vessel for them to receive. If they choose not to receive it (even unknowingly), then they are protected by their choice.

    I am a Christian and believe in Jesus Christ, and I am respectful and open to those that choose to lead with their good hearts and pray for those that may not be connected to the goodness in their hearts yet. You certainly don’t have to be a Christian for me to bond with you, but you do have to be respectful.

    In the end we are all people and long to be connected to others and sometimes our religious tendencies may interfere and maybe serve to separate, but only if we let it; that’s a choice.

    I think anyone who is open to your kind-hearted attempt to bond and unify people together before whatever your delivery may be, will embrace it as such. Those that don’t are choosing what is right for them.

    Much love to you! XO!

  3. Phil, thanks for your post. In order to have earthly unity,
    you could have someone (in your gatherings) come up and pray on behalf of the Jewish believers and then someone pray on behalf of those Christians present? Or just engage in minutes of silent prayer, since everyone can pray in his or her own heart/mind differently. Obviously, people understand that there will always be differences of beliefs, but the unifying object has to be God Himself. Although we are different, our God is a God of Unity. And He hears us from our genuine hearts. Find the common ground and stand on it! NOTE:: I do totally concur with Pastor of Pump— you may have MINOR differences in some doctrinal beliefs, but common to all must be that “Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life” if you are going to have TRUE unity. Without Him everything else is a mirage, and only temporary.

  4. Phil,
    . That’s a great question.
    I have two answers. I defended the position of prayer in school in a college debate years ago.
    Long story short, I was able to get my opponent to agree that a moment of silence would be acceptable.
    I then had the room participate in a moment of silence for about 15 seconds, and when done asked how many prayed during that moment… All hands raised. A moment of silence in a group is powerful and communal, yet allows the individuals to commune in their own way and brings us all together in the experience.
    Secondly: I have been taking philosophy classes where we, as a group, connect to our senses to begin and end the glass. We are also asked to do this at least 2ce a day..and to take pauses (quicky concentrate on one sense) between tasks to help us become ‘present, or ‘be in the moment’.
    This also helps me when I exercise (when I am able to anyway).. If my mind is in a hundred other places I dont do nearly as well as when I am ‘present’.
    It you are interested I will email you the ‘exercise’ we do. It has helped me in everything I do.

  5. It’s been said that there are 10,000 ways to God and that heaven and hell are a 10th of an inch apart. To pray in unity, a change in belief isn’t necessary.

    What seems to be necessary is an acknowledgement that we are ALL seeking ultimate truth. Whether we’re conscious of it or not. We’re all on the same Path. Humility and compassion open the doorway. Devotion to the truth for its own sake; miraculous.

    On the highway to truth, you can find Suzy in the Agnostic lane, Johnny in the Christian lane and Bob in the Jewish lane. Look out! Bob’s switching to the Buddhist lane. Wait, now he’s over into the Atheist lane (didn’t use his turn signal that time). Now He’s in the Mormon lane!

    And then there’s uncle Benny in the addiction lane broke down on the side of the road with flat tire, smoke pouring from the hood and Miller Lite in hand. Let’s go help him. Oh, he doesn’t want it. God bless denial. Maybe he’ll find AA. We love you anyway Uncle Benny.

    Hey jihadi John, you’re taking the LOOOOOOONG LONG LONG way you dummy!

    And the wolves in sheeps’ clothing travel in all lanes at all times. From Ford Pinto to Mercedes Benz. Good folks can be seen following them off the exit ramps. Where are they going? Who knows…

    We could begin prayer by saying, “We ask thee o’ Lord in the name of the highest good that (fill in the blank) and if it is thy Will we ask it to be done.”

    No need to insist God do it or not do it. Listen to your heart and mind and let go of wanting your mother-in-law to suddenly drop dead without prior warning, or the supplement companies to stop lying and tell the truth, or little Jimmy to recover from his broken leg before tomorrow.

    Relinquish the personal will to Divine Will. God is in little need of reminders.

    Good things usually happen when conditions are appropriate.

    See what happens.

    Thanks Phil for all you do and the profound impact you’ve had on my life.

    May God Bless You,

    -David Otto

  6. First I just want to say that I truly appreciate your heart and desire for a deeper communion with your people. Also based on you expressed desires I won’t launch into an evangelical effort to “change or convert” anyone’s beliefs. It is refreshing having someone in our field who has credibility and respect openly expressing their faith as there are many who fall into the skeptic/atheist worldview camp who tend to go out of their way to make fun of those who call themselves “believers”.

    A few thoughts that came to mind while reading your post:

    There are several references made to the goodness of various individuals and that may in fact be the main stumbling block for what you are seeking to achieve. At the very core of our prayer life and faith as Christians is the understanding that at our very best our “goodness” is still deserving of the ultimate penalty – death, both physical and spiritual – and that only through the imputed “goodness” of Jesus that we receive as a gift through our faith in Him alone as both our savior and lord do we then have a right standing – the ability to even approach God in prayer – to access an eternity with God. A kind person who approaches their prayers to Allah or a monotheistic god or any other sort of deity is not praying to the one true God and quite frankly our God is a jealous God – there really isn’t anyway around that understanding as you read through His entire word to us in both the old and new testament.

    Even as you study through how Christ teaches His disciples to pray we see this modeled.

    Also when Scripture speaks on the topic of unity it is specifically speaking to followers of Christ – believers – not to a broader group of people who are disciples of other gods at that time. There really is no place found in either the Old or New Testament that you see God – as Father, Son, or Spirit – encouraging this. Now of course the unity of believers is not the same as loving God and loving others – the two most important commandments of course – and love for a Christian is most often expressed by Christ to his disciples as obedience to his commands most importantly his command to go and make disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Several places in Scripture this obedience is linked to our love for our God and the corresponding fruitfulness of our lives.

    My summation/belief would simply be that developing a strong team based on shared core beliefs is fantastic but using prayer – unless there is a clear and specific agreement on exactly who you are praying to – is not going to be something that God finds pleasing as he makes it more than clear – as in the need for his own son to die and then be resurrected – that there is only one God for us to pray to. Anything else would be perhaps an exercise in meditation but you can’t bring glory to God through encouraging others to pray to false gods for the purpose of developing a deeper earthly relationship with each other.

  7. Loved your blog…it captures the essence of human evolution in the spiritual sense…we all came from one place and we are heading to the same place but at different speeds and via different paths but all roads lead to our one collective home with God. As we evolve lifetime after lifetime – we eventually find a path that resonates with our soul and we can rest assured that God chose us for that path specifically…I say to all those out there questions what’s right what’s wrong? Well, it’s all from God and at the end of the day, as you said, Phil, is all about our connection with others and ultimately with God…

    There’s a beautiful Kabbalistic story…a Rabbi goes to another Rabbi and asks him to recite the entire Torah standing on one leg. The Rabbi stands on one leg and recites “Love thy neighbor as thyself” and says the rest is just commentary.

    We all have our own process – and the true test of our character is if and to what degree we can accept the process of others and let others be themselves in all their glory…the good, the bad and the ugly…

    Thanks Phil – as always you open our eyes and our hearts to grow in our love for others…

  8. Thanks for all of the fantastic insights and for the most part, for respecting my request to steer away from a debate as to who’s right and who’s wrong. The opinions clearly vary, but I appreciate every one as it plays into what Sarah called evolution in the spiritual sense. At least 25 of my subscribers were so appalled or offended by my step into what for many may be a taboo topic, they unsubscribed, not without flinging some criticism my way. I understand. I not only wouldn’t have thought to broach this subject a decade ago, but I wouldn’t have even entered the dialogue. Today I find myself heavily immersed in speaking of “forces we cannot see,” “life-force,” and spiritual energy but remain a student, especially regarding the tie-ins (or distance) between religious beliefs and personal connections with God. This has been an evolution and it continues. I do find it interesting that many of my Jewish friends opted to respond privately, but didn’t post their thoughts here. I think every opinion plays into a heightened sense of understanding and enlightenment and those of you who are reading this who hesitated, I’d ask you to step in. There is nothing adversarial here. I really sought and continue to seek greater spiritual unity among the group(s) I’m connected with spreading the word of truth, health, and power. I realize many hold their own perceptions of truth, and I dare not challenge any of them, but I believe we often get closer to our own truths through experience and conversation. It is in that spirit that I again ask you to post your thoughts.

  9. Hi Phil,
    A big change from the Wild and Innocent days!Maybe we need to change our opinions of what prayer is. If we all have God or a higher power in us, what a wonderful prayer it would be to be accepting and kind to one another.

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