Inclusive Prayer and Ritual
The Next Step ... We Must Pray Together
by Marcus Braybrooke
Recently a Muslim was invited to give an Oxford University sermon. The invitation attracted a number of protests. “He does not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ!” some declared. The Muslim in question, Imam Monowar Hussein, is a good friend, the founder of the Oxford Foundation, an educational charity that promotes interfaith understanding among young people. Such protests have a long history.
Thirty years ago, I invited a distinguished imam to preach at my church in Bath – then too, there were protests. And when I invited a rabbi, the Bishop said he would have to speak before the reading of the Gospel – an instruction I ignored.
The Advantages of Praying Together
“Prayer is the shortest route between two people.” These are words of Pierre-François Béthune, a leading member of Monastic Interfaith Dialogue. “When two people pray,” he continues, “God is not a third: he is the First, welcoming the one and the other … Set in the presence of the Absolute, at the heart of reality, all recognise each other as brothers and sisters.”
Swami Abhishiktananda, a Catholic monk who was deeply versed in the teaching of Advaita Hinduism, said the same: “A restricted Eucharist is false … Whoever ‘loves’ his brother has a right to the Eucharist.” Similarly, in the recent anthology, Ritual Participation and Interreligious Dialogue, Maria Reis Habito, a Catholic, asks her Buddhist teacher whether she is permitted to make prostrations before the Buddha. He replies, “You are not taking refuge in a being out there, but to you own mind of enlightenment, to the Buddha in your heart.”
Sharing Spiritual Practice
To be invited to share in the worship of another tradition is to enter into the heart of that faith in a way that takes one beyond reading and conversation. It was a special moment for me when I was invited to be with Muslim friends at the time of prayer. In bowing to the ground, I felt in a new way the greatness of God, which is sometimes forgotten in the coziness of singing familiar hymns. Joining with Sikh friends for early morning worship as the Guru Granth Sahib, their sacred text, was brought into the Golden Temple at Amritsar, taught me a new reverence for scripture.
In the same way, being asked to take part in a Shinto ritual gave me a new sense of our interdependence with Nature. Marianne Moyaret, in the introduction to Ritual Participation says, rightly in my opinion, that ritual sharing, despite the risks, may penetrate deeper than any other form of interreligious dialogue. “Ritual sharing holds the promise of gaining access to the beating heart of another religion: it may touch people at a deep emotional level.”
Divided by Tradition
Yet so often ritual may be divisive, even on family occasions. Years ago, I was invited by a Jewish lady to take the funeral service of her husband, who was Christian. She asked whether I would mind if her rabbi said a prayer. Afterwards she expressed her gratitude and added, sadly, “I only wish one or another religion had been willing to bless our marriage.”
Anya Topolsiki’s contribution to Ritual Participation highlights the pain that can be caused by a refusal to cross boundaries. Anya is Jewish and her husband is a practicing Catholic. They had an interfaith wedding. Their ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) included their promise “to strengthen each other in our respective faiths and to raise our children as both Jews and Christians.” When, tragically, their young daughter died, they wanted an interfaith funeral. But within 12 hours of the child’s death, Anya’s local rabbi told her, “In principle, I am opposed to officiating at an interfaith ceremony.” A visiting rabbi was more sympathetic and the funeral was “a moment of beauty and peace.” She was pained, however, that later on her non-Jewish husband was not counted as part of the minyam (the minimum of ten people needed to say kaddish, (the mourner’s prayer).
Engendering Spiritual Hospitality
It was a great surprise was when I got a call from someone I did not know, who asked, “Would you take a cosmic baptism for my baby son?” She was married to a Muslim and they were about to return to Malaysia: but she wanted some ceremony to which she could invite her devout Christian parents. There were Hindus and Jews among her friends. None of my large collection of prayer books had any suggestions. Then I realized that new birth is celebrated everywhere, so we shared prayers and poems from many traditions. In similar ways, Christians can affirm that marriage is a gift of God in creation. It is savoring the distinctiveness of each tradition as well as discovering what they share that enriches such occasions.
Besides the personal enrichment inclusive religious hospitality offers, it may also be an expression of our shared humanity, so much distorted by prejudice and violence in our world today. For instance, consider how almost all people of faith deplore attacks on any holy building.
The Muslim-American community has raised tens of thousands of dollars in a crowdfunding effort to help the victims of the tragic Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that left at least 11 people dead and six wounded. In Cairo, after a suicide bombing, Muslims guarded Coptic churches while Christians prayed, and on Friday, Christians were guarding the mosques against Islamic extremists, while Muslims prayed. Though seldom noticed by major media, these practices are being repeated in sparks of light around the world.
Interfaith Worship and Prayer, to be published July 2019, shows how religions can be a powerful means of unity and compassion and promote peace, hope, and co-operation. Religious believers can be sincere and committed to their own faith, while recognizing the need to stand firmly together with members of other religious traditions. The book’s subtitle insists “We must pray together.”
Ritual Participation and Interreligious Dialogue: Boundaries, Transgressions and Innovations (2016), edited Marianne Moyaert and Joris Geldhof
Interfaith Worship and Prayer: We Must Pray Together (2019), edited by Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Christopher Lewis (pre-order at Amazon)
By Faith and Hospitality (2003), by Pierre-François Béthune