I attended a clergy meeting in Belmont this morning—a group of us get together once a month. It is a multi-faith group encompassing a wonderful array of traditions–we were joined for the first time today by the pastor of a Church of God congregation.
Each session opens and closes with a prayer, usually giving thanks for our time together—our time of transcending difference. These prayers almost always use the traditional language of the Jewish or Christian heritage of those present. This can be a difficult moment for some Unitarian Universalists, especially those from the Humanist wing of our movement. Some of us who are Humanists do not have the Theological Maturity to be able to join a group in prayer. Words like “God” and “Grace” can drive us to distraction. (We are joined in our discomfort by some others—like our Jewish brothers and sisters–when prayers in multi-faith settings include words like “Christ”.)
Part of me believes that multi-faith prayers ought to be just that, and that the failure on the part of someone to use more generic language is an insult to those who do not share that person’s faith tradition. And so part of me want to scold them.
And, part of me believes that this “failure” opens the door for teaching moments, it opens the opportunity for sharing another viewpoint that—in a kindly way–challenges their limited prayers.
But I also recognize how difficult it is for some of our fellow travelers on the spiritual path to transcend their own language, to express their gratitude with truly multi-faith words. And why should they? When they open their mouths in praise of our time of sharing together, our coming together from varied traditions, filled with respect for each others’ traditions, why should they not sing the songs of praise they know, the songs that rise from deep within their hearts?
As a Spiritual Humanist and as a Unitarian Universalist I seek to see and hear the underlying emotions and spirits that give rise to the words of the prayers that each of us use. Theological Maturity means, in part, not rejecting the terminology or the prayers and praise songs of others. Theological or Spiritual Maturity means that sometimes, in some circumstances, we pass up the “teaching moment” and accept the words as they are, finding our own “translation” for them that fits with our personal theology; or it means moving beyond even that interpretive process and letting the words of others be what they are and still fill us with their meaning. They may not be the words we would use, they may not arise from the same theological construct that we have, but they express the same feelings we have deep within.
And may we do that among ourselves as well.