Each month in our UU congregation, we have a theme that guides our discussion. Sermons revolve around the theme and it’s the focus of all Small Group Ministry activity. Some concepts are engaging but easy to discuss, such as this month’s topic “Heretics”. UUs have a great time embracing this one.
But, last month’s topic of “Prayer” filled many of us with dread. It was clear on March first, when the topic turned over, that many church members appeared at services with their proverbial ten-foot pole clearly visible. They then poked at the topic, as if they had unearthed something rotten on a soggy spring lawn. I don’t have a problem with prayer. The word doesn’t challenge me and I have been known to ‘say a few”. That doesn’t make me better or more evolved. It actually makes me an oddity at our church and until recently, I may have stayed in the closet about it.
During the month of March, I watched with deep interest as we danced around the notion of prayer. In one small group I attend, we looked it up in the dictionary to get a clear meaning, searching back into the origins to know the intentions of the ancients. In that group many expressed their deep discomfort, and I wondered at the strength of their aversion. Was it reactionary, based on years of “other religion” indoctrination? Had some promise of “getting what we want” fallen short? Were we angry because, when a prayer doesn’t produce the desired result, we are told, “God has another plan” and we shrink back into our inherent powerlessness? Whatever the reasons, it certainly made many of us squirm.
So even though it was a topic dear to me, and a part of my daily spiritual practice, I hesitated to be honest. But then this is a year of soul deepening for me, and being out in the open about my beliefs is part of the deal, so I said it out loud. I pray. I have even been known to carry a rosary around in my pocket when life brings me to my knees and I need to carry some tangible sign of solace. And on the night my mother died, I am convinced it was my whispering “The Hail Mary” repeatedly into her ear that allowed her the peace to let go.
I pray, but as the words came out of my mouth, I looked around and realized the true ‘prayer’ of this faith is reverence and respect. The members of my small group didn’t judge or try to convince me to “mend my ways”. They sat with interest and listened. Another member also admitted to praying and with simple words and eagerness to understand, the door was opened. Maybe after all that’s what prayer is, a way to open the door to our own inner wisdom, to each other and to letting the god we know into our hearts.
Check out the sermons from our ministers at the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, NY to explore further questions and thoughts about prayer or read an engaging 1999 Sermon by Carol Nichols from the Unitarian Church of Quincy, Illinois