As I get older, I’ve move farther and farther away from organized religion. I’ve evolved into an agnostic. I will never be an atheist.
But one part of religion I do enjoy is group prayer. Not the prayers of institutional religion, but group prayer in unique locations with friends (both old and new).
On a January 2013 trip to Uganda, we were hosted for two days by a young charismatic Anglican Bishop living in a rural area. After we had spent time in his parish, we sat down for a “goodbye” conversation. After this debriefing, I asked if we could have a group prayer? We all held hands, Ugandans and Americans, and the Bishop offered a wonderful prayer. For me, it was inspirational and I think it helped bring the group closer together. But did it bring me closer to God? I don’t think so.
We have a group from work (members of a variety of religions) that occasionally goes out into the Utah desert. We have visited earthwork art, the remains of a WWII Japanese internment camp, the remains of an Hawaiian settlement, etc. At each site, we always try to do something that’s inspirational, that brings the group closer together. Occasionally it involves us all holding hands and having a prayer.
For a short period of time, one of our Mormon home teachers was a Frenchman. After he and his companion got through with their message, it was always great to hear the Frenchman give a prayer in his native language (I served in the Franco-Belgian Mission). I always like to hear prayers in other languages. In the historic cathedral at Chartres, in western France, friends and I tried to pray in French. One friend did very well, but I didn’t do so well.
I understand prayer as a group activity more than I do as a personal activity. When my wife and I visit our children and grandchildren, it’s great to have family prayer. It makes me feel like we are still connected in some very important way. It helps bring us together as a family.
But a solo prayer to a God I don’t understand seems alien and uncomfortable. It seems almost egotistical. I wonder if meditation isn’t a better way to go?