April 26, 2010

Prayer and Meditation

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:28 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Last week federal judge, the Honorable Barbara Crabb, declared the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

According to an Associated Press article by Todd Richmond, Crabb wrote.

““It is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray,” Crabb wrote that her ruling was not a judgment on the value of prayer. She noted government involvement in prayer may be constitutional if the conduct serves a “significant secular purpose” and doesn’t amount to a call for religious action. But the National Day of Prayer crosses that line, she wrote.”It goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgment’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context,” she wrote. “In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience.””

Some people say she was just being crabby (pun intended.) Some crazy people have proclaimed that all prayer has been made illegal in the United States; what is true that government establishment of religion has been against the constitution since the Bill of Rights was adopted.  Religious fear-mongers paint this as an anti-religious attack, but there are very good religious reasons for questioning the practice of a national day of prayer.

Several years ago Muncie, IN,  had a civic ceremony on the National Day of Prayer.   The Mayor, the Police Chief, Fire Chief and other publicly elected officials participated. However, the ceremony’s explicit purpose, stated by its local organizer and by the national organization that inspired him, was to assert that the U.S.A. was and is a “Christian” nation. This was not obvious until a group of local Christian pastors, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Disciples, as well as the Unitarian Universalists, expressed a discomfort with the ceremony and asked that all citizens of our city, of all religious preferences or none, be included.   Of course the people on the side of inclusion and tolerance won.  But then the question arose, “is this good religious practice?” Most Christians who read the Gospels of Matthew, 6:5-13, and Luke, 18:9-14, became uncomfortable with the whole idea of a civic prayer ceremony, and so the civic recognition has fallen by the wayside.

A second problem arose in answering the question, what is prayer? For many prayer is simply talking to God, some it is a communion with God and for yet others prayer includes working with devotion. Is meditation a form of prayer, or an alternative to prayer? Psalm 19:14 does not clarify the distinction.  Can creating artwork, or dancing, be a form of prayer?  Is belief in God, or gods, required for prayer?

If prayer is “speaking to a personal deity” then we must live up the standard set by our President, at his inauguration.  He said, “We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

Perhaps a National Day of Prayer,  Meditation, and Contemplation on the well-being of our nation would pass constitutional muster?


  1. jacqueline said,

    I have really been struggling with this. Our community has a National Day of Prayer observance/celebration and it is not an inclusive event in the terms that I think it could be – it is for Christians. If we are going to state sponsor religious observance then it has to be interfaith. Living as an Atheist in the South I have my doubts that they would understand what I mean – which makes me silent. So much to ponder… thank you for the post.

  2. […] and Luke, 18:9-14, became uncomfortable with the whole idea of a civic prayer ceremony, and so the civic recognition has fallen by the wayside. (“Rev. Thomas Perchlik’s Weblog,” April […]

    • V. Alphonse Corbin said,

      The use of Luke 18:9-14 has no correlation to the current subject. On the contrary it is in reference to a tax gatherer recognizing is sin while praying in the temple. This has nothing to do with public or civic prayer. Can you clarify why you’d go too Luke for your blog, it doesn’t make any sense.

      Mathew is clearly a reference to the Scribe and Pharisees of his day who wanted men to see that they were righteous in the eyes of men. It’s is no different then those who claim tolerance in public of those they view as rejected. Religion is blinding and quite self righteous without recognition of the peace of God that comes with a clear understanding of Grace.

      I assume the rejection of sin in the UU movement? we are our own saviors and god making salvation mute and we save ourselves simply based on our own definition of what our god requires for righteousness. I also assume Christ was simply a man.

      Last why reference the bible? Please don’t misunderstand it is your choice “free will” to believe as you do and I’m not writing to convince you other wise. It in my opinion is void of hope and remains more complex then a blind religious man reading the canon of text having no comprehension of the purpose of God. Meaning the mixing of several eastern views along with any other religious positions in your church.

      • The point of my use of Luke 18:9-14 is, as it says in vs. 9, to correct those who “who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.” Some of those Christians who organized exclusive prayer events in my town were trying to say to other people “We pray to God using the right words and the right name, unlike those sinners who we have excluded from this event.” They wanted to say, “God, thank you for loving us because we are righteous, unlike people of other religions.” They were acting in a self-righteous manner. That is why I referred to the parable. It is also implied in the parable that the Pharisee is speaking out loud in front of everyone, whereas the Tax collector is off by himself, harder to be heard by other people. So that is also why I used it.

        I am not clear what you are asking or saying in your last three paragraphs, but I do value the power of Grace. I draw on the Bible because it is an important and foundational text for Unitarian Universalism and it is the most important foundational text for Christians. I want to show that my thinking is not just secular or off the top of my head, but grounded in traditional sources of authority.

  3. V. Alphonse Corbin said,

    Thanks you for your response: My point was in reference to the national day of prayer and these scriptures would not in any way discourage us in praying either in private or in the temple “church” or in public. It’s judged by God based on the individuals heart not what others hear and judge the persons motives or heart.

    Last three paragraphs are a reference of the lack of depth of religion under any name. It lacks Grace as defined in scripture as being unmerited favor. This is in reference to salvation and has nothing to do with any works I do but it is on the “faith of Christ”.

    The idea that Christians would not want to share in prayer with none Christians is false, I’m not taking away an attempt to bring others into a understanding of the gospel. But to assume this is an exclusive club “national day of prayer” when it came to prayer is a poor position to take. Most who claim the name of Christ and the gift of eternal life by his sacrifice are not in the business of locking others out to are more then happy to share with others who are able to listen. I assume you believe in prayer? Either in solitude or with a small group sharing to build up the parishioners who put there faith in god under any name they chose?

    Your final comment “grounded in traditional sources of authority” is a bit confusing can you explain what you mean? Please understand before you answer I’m what can be referred too as a “hyper dispensationalism” this a bit odd in the current church seeing I rightly divide the word of God. My understanding of the canon is not what is currently being taught in any seminary and can easily put people with a traditional view of salvation and how the bible explains salvation. Meaning water baptism, the one saved having to be the one held to faith and what can be traditional probationary salvation that has been going on for almost 2 thousand years.

    I guess the use of the bible is good but I can’t use other secular positions to support my Christian beliefs found in the Pauline scriptures.

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