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.
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.