Saturday, May 09, 2009

National Day of Prayer -- Interfaith

I know there's been lots of fuss this year about the National Day of Prayer. I know that Christians feel they own it. President Obama has chosen not to honor it in the White House this year, which I think is the correct response. Americans United in particular has campaigned against it.

That said, however, for the past several years I've had a most positive experience attending the Marin Interfaith Prayer Breakfast sponsored by Marin Interfaith Council. The only year I missed it was when the first Thursday of May was Beltane. I wouldn't miss it for any other reason.

Held in a large meeting room* at Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael (reformed), this year we had three speakers from three different traditions offering prayers as they traditionally do them. Dominican Sister Marion Irving (whom I've frequently mentioned) opened the gathering, asking people to speak of what they prayed for: peace, shelter for the homeless, end to the troubles in Darfur, President Obama, food for the hungry, ease for those giving birth, ease for those passing from life, healing for the sick, the well-being and healing of inmates, pure drinking water, etc. Who could argue with those goals? Cantor David Margules sang the opening prayer in Hebrew.

I'm comfortable enough now with my colleagues at MIC that it didn't bother me as much that they spoke of God, the Creator and Jesus. They don't overdo it. Plus, the people at our table were very interested to learn from me more about Paganism. Several others who'd attended Carol** and Chris' wedding the previous Saturday told me how they enjoyed the spiral dance and song.

In my experience, when prayer gatherings are made in good faith by caring people in the context of inter-religious dialogue and understanding, with open hearts and minds aspiring towards a commonweal, only good can come from it. If prayers, spells, desires, wishes, goals, outcomes are reinforced by such activities, so much the better. If not, what harm can it do?

The food was healthy and plentiful. The room was nearly full, probably the largest attendance we've had. We dined at round tables, where we discussed two questions: "What role does meditation or prayer play in your faith tradition, or in your own spiritual practice?" and "How do you experience individual and communal prayers/meditation in your religious community?" I was a table captain this year, to keep the conversation on topic and to be sure that everyone had a chance to express her/himself. Among the others at our table was a Protestant (she defined herself that way loosely), two Friends, and a young woman who is seeking, and also taking a priestess training with the Fellowship of Isis at Isis Oasis. Fortuitously, she sat next to me.

We heard three speakers, beginning with Swami Vedandanda of the Vedanta Society (Hindu). Swami Vedandanda co-taught one of MIC's quarterly retreats, with a Buddhist practitioner, at their retreat in Olema, so I had some familiarity with his tradition's teachings.

Rabbi Chai Levy of Congregation Kol Shofar (conservative) seems to be a woman of accomplishment. In addition to promoting the inclusion of praise for the foremothers of Judaism, she espouses s form of consumption called "ecokosher," meaning that animals are raised humanely (free range chickens, for instance), slaughtered humanely, and not wrapped in toxic, non-biodegradable plastics.

Father Stephan Meholick of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (Christian) explained some of the history, belief and practices of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In addressing the need for community, Fr. Meholick quoted one of his church's elders when he stated, "Personal prayer is possible only in community."

This inherent need for community is something I've been giving a lot of thought in relation to our growing Pagan population. I've been comparing my own experiences with community, in my childhood churches, in my adult involvement in various communities, religious and otherwise, and in communities around me. Some seem healthy. Most experience disagreement, internal strife, breakdown, collapse, schism, renewal, restructuring and/or revival at various points in their existence. How can these lessons from other groups help nascent Pagan communities? Can they be avoided? What binds us? Well, I leave my pondering for another time. In the meantime, maybe we Pagans could learn something from the Eastern Orthodox traditions that seem to get along; talk about various orthodoxies -- Moscow Patriarchate, Carpatho Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Antiochan Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Jerusalem Patriarchate, Bulgarian Orthodox, Macedonian, Romanian, Indian, International, Non-Chalcedonian -- whew!

Father Meholick and a colleague of his from a related tradition sang polyphonic prayers. He said they're practices were similar and that their prayers were close enough that they could enhance the prayers by singing them together. They really sounded beautiful.

Fr. Meholick mentioned that in his tradition they use rosaries, but that the beads are made of wool or leather instead of wood, stone, glass, bone or plastic, so that when you go into one of their sanctuaries, you don't hear the clicking often heard in Roman Catholic churches. He told us that the (Serbian? Latvian?) word they use for rosary means "ladder." I know of liberal Protestant churches that say and use rosaries based on the Maiden-Mother-Crone concept found in much of Paganism. I know of at least two Pagan rosarian traditions, one being that of the Church of Asphodel, and another created by Donald L. Engstrom-Reese. I've seriously considered using a rosary, most likely with Bridget as my focus. I've gone so far as to acquire 39 beads in three colors for three aspects in sets of 13, but haven't settled on exact prayer(s) nor found the right separator/goddess beads.

When I went to greet and say goodbye to Sister Marion, she wanted me to refresh her memory of the song we sang at the wedding. She said she'd had it running through her head ever since. It's not a well known Pagan chant, but I'll offer it here in case you're curious. The author of the lyrics is that old prolific Anonymous; the music is by Bone Blossom. She wrote it back when we were Holy Terrors together.

There's a part of the Sun in an apple,
There's a part of the Moon in a rose,
A part of the flaming Pleiades in every leaf that grows.

Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has recorded it on one of their albums, if you want to hear it sung.

* It's worth mentioning that the room in which we met was offered as a shelter one night a week, and at other times for dining, to homeless men and women of Marin during the cold winter months. Governor Schwarzenegger opened the Armory for one month only this winter. Thereafter, various congregations, from the most fundamentalist Christian to the most liberal religious congregations, rotated opening their buildings until April 30. MIC has been urging the County Board of Supervisors for permanent shelter for the homeless.

** The Rev. Carol Hovis, M.Div., Director of Marin Interfaith Council


Vicki Solomon said...

I couldn't find those lyrics at the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel site. Which album is it on?

Scylla said...

Thank you for making this post. You've gotten me interested, once more, in prayer beads.
My Tradition wears them almost like a belt, and because of that a lot of the meaning somehow got put out of my mind.

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