Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that praying at government meetings was permissible. In my experience prayers in public settings are complicated. Either they are so ceremonial they are empty of meaning and power or they become subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) attempts to cover political positions with quasi-religious authority. Justice Kennedy’s advice for atheists and others who object to such prayers is “just leave the room.” My initial response is that anyone who takes their faith seriously and takes prayer seriously should also consider leaving the room.
At its best, prayer is either a deep listening for the promptings of God which we discern when we are quiet long enough and listen carefully enough or it is the collective concerns of a gathered community yearning to be faithful which means that our prayers move from words to actions, and from concern to compassion and kindness and caring. Using public prayer as a cover or a club only erodes our religious voice in a culture where that voice is barely being heard as it is.
If we decide to stay and to not leave the room maybe what those of us who are asked to pray are to do is to use that moment to thank elected officials for their service and remind them of their responsibility to be leaders and to care for all in the community, especially those who are too easily overlooked and too often without a voice.