WASHINGTON — In a case that could determine restrictions on expressions of faith in the public square, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider religious prayers that convene government meetings.
At issue in Greece v. Galloway is whether such invocations pass constitutional muster, even when government officials are not purposefully proselytizing or discriminating.
Can a town council, for example, open its meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, as happened repeatedly in the town of Greece, N.Y.?
“There’s a whole lot at stake here,” said Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses.
“This case is about first principles: whether the government of a town, acting through its town board, can advance a particular brand of Christianity or any other faith,” said Lupu.
On the other side of the question, Jeff Mateer of the Texas-based Liberty Institute invokes free speech rights and hopes the court will reason that government has no business parsing the words of those who wish to pray in a public forum.
Reversals of power play through many stories and poems of Scripture. The sacred texts foundational to Jewish and Christian identity are insistent in their efforts to reconfigure our understanding of what counts as valuable and holy. Daring leaders in every age have responded with their own bold visions regarding what makes for faithful community — something we can see in the unusually humble ministry of the new Bishop of Rome. Pope Francis clearly knows his Scripture!
Featured prominently in Old Testament stories are flawed ancestors, unexpected heroes, surprising protagonists whose vital roles in the purposes of God reframe the community’s perspective on faith lived out in the paradoxes of history. The trickster who overcomes stronger antagonists (Jacob), the leader whose capacity for greatness develops from a compromised start (Moses), marginalized women whose very vulnerability becomes the source of their power (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth), the prophet whose witness is initially scorned but whose authority endures for generations (the Suffering Servant in Isaiah): such figures delight the reader seeking to understand how community should be deconstructed and rebuilt according to the purposes of God. In the New Testament, and particularly in Luke, we see sustained attention to those on the margins of social power: women, the poor, those with catastrophic illness. Christ himself surrenders his status and power (John 13:1-15; Philippians 2:5-11) in order to serve others in love. His abjection invites them, and us, into a new understanding of community.
During a sunrise vigil at the U.S. Capitol this morning, three senators unexpectedly joined us. They were all women, all Republican and, it turns out, all Catholic. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are part of a new 14-senator bipartisan, women-led group engaged in their own kind of vigil: trying to end the government shutdown and prevent the nation from going into debt default.
A chuckling comment from a male colleague in the Senate perhaps expresses a hope in the midst of this incredibly dangerous political crisis: “The women are taking over.” This morning, the senators walked over to thank us for praying for them and the government at this critical moment and told us how much they felt the need for our prayers right now. The looks on their faces showed us the seriousness of their plea for prayers.
People of faith are instructed to pray for their political leaders, and their need has never been more evident in this completely dysfunctional Capitol City. For the seventh day now, faith leaders, pastors, young people, and passersby lifted up prayers for the common good across from the Capitol. Until this morning, there was no response from our elected officials or the national media pundits.
But the #FaithfulFilibuster has taken off across the country through word of mouth and social media — our prayers are trending.
One morning each week, I ascend the outdoor staircase on the side of our little church and enter the Upper Room – a cozy, loftlike space above the pastors’ offices set apart for prayer.
Once inside, I turn up the volume on my phone, choose “Taize” or “Gregorian Chants” from the iTunes playlists, pull out my knitting and begin to pray.
The subject of my silent prayers is usually the person for whom I’m making the scarf or blanket or shawl. The prayers are as simple as the stitches and after a minute or two, they become as steady and unconscious as my breathing:
“Lord, I lift to you your child.” And then I say his or her name.
JERUSALEM — In a stunning reversal, a feminist Jewish prayer group said it will consider a government proposal to allow a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall — but only after the government agrees to their conditions.
For 25 years, Women of the Wall has demanded access to pray at the sacred site that is home to the remnants of the Jewish Temple and is overseen by the Orthodox religious establishment. The group objects to the restrictions placed on them when they pray in the women’s section. They want to continue to pray in that section but will consider a compromise.
After a “comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process,” the group’s executive board on Monday overwhelmingly decided “to create a future in which, under the right conditions,” its members will pray “in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel,” the Hebrew word for the Western Wall.
Women of the Wall has demanded the right to pray directly from a Torah scroll, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries — practices and rituals that strict Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.
After reciting what we call the Lord’s prayer one Sunday, I got to thinking about how many times I’d said those words. Thousands? But how many times have I actually thought about what the words mean?
If we pay attention, it’s a prayer that makes us very uncomfortable.* These words of a peasant Jewish rabbi from 2,000 years ago challenge so much about the way we live — all of us, regardless of what religion we follow. If we’re honest, most of us don’t like it and have no intention of living by what it says.
Which presents a question: Isn’t it a problem if we pray one way and live another? Shouldn’t our prayers reflect how we actually try to live?
Along those lines, perhaps we should rewrite the Lord’s prayer and make it conform to what we really believe. In that spirit, here’s a rough draft of what it might sound like if the Lord‘s prayer was actually our prayer.
Wading into ongoing debates over religion and politics, Pope Francis on Sunday gently chided Christians to pray for politicians, saying “a Christian who does not pray for his leaders is not a good Christian.”
The pope’s remarks during a two-hour closed-door meeting of Roman clergy did not touch on more controversial issues like the separation between church and state, abortion, or refusing Communion to Catholic politicians who are not in sync with church teachings.
Instead, Francis quoted St. Paul, who urged prayer “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life.”
On my first Patriots’ Day in Boston, I was enjoying lunch with several colleagues when someone rushed into the restaurant: There had been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Moments later, caravans of ambulances and police cars raced, and the reports of casualties rolled in.
In the hours and days that followed, social media became for me, and many others, a sacred space to share our prayers and words of disbelief.
Pope Francis on Thursday told world leaders gathered in Russia for the G-20 summit that a military intervention in Syria would be “futile,” urging them to focus instead on dialogue and reconciliation to bring peace to the war-torn country.
The Argentine pontiff’s first major foray onto the global stage comes as the U.S. Congress prepares to vote on a military strike against Syria in response to a reported chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
For Francis, just six months on the job, the Syria question will test his ability to summon the power of his global bully pulpit and could play a major role in shaping the global image of a man who’s drawn more attention for his down-to-earth pastoral appeal.
One week after unveiling an expanded prayer platform near the Western Wall, Israel’s Minister of Religious Affairs reached out to Reform and Conservative Jews in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, which begins Wednesday evening.
But while the non-Orthodox leaders welcomed the new platform that can accommodate up to 450 worshippers, a group of Jewish feminists called it nothing more than “a sun deck” designed to marginalize anyone who is not Ultra-Orthodox from praying at the Wall.
Every now and again I have to stop and take stock of my prayer life. And when I do that, sometimes I have to share what it's like to realize that how I pray has somehow managed to change without my conscious intention to do so. This is one of those times.
My prayer life has slipped away from me again in that I seldom if ever sit down with The Hours or my breviary and pray. It just doesn't happen. I arise in the morning and work begins. I move about my day from task to task, moment to moment, until the day is done. Idle time comes upon occasion, but not with any regularity. And Lord knows this summer's travel schedule has kept me hopping. Such a schedule keeps my brain busy as well. So, right. Explicit time for prayer is in great shortage.
When I want to remind myself of the power of prayer, I go to the Astor Place Kmart on the lower east side of Manhattan. Sure, I could read Kierkegaard or Augustine, but I prefer the Kmart. Specifically I favor an area in the far back corner of the basement. It is devoid of windows or natural light with a back wall of clear glass that faces the dungeon-like dark tunnel of the Number 6 subway train. There, you will find the most unexpected of things — like a plant nursery.
Sprouting out of this dreary prison are tender green leaves of ficus trees and the vibrant gold blossoms of marigolds. A tiny plastic tab peeks out of each pot with an image of what that particular plant could grow into if it received proper light and care; a cruel irony, as there is little hope in this place that such care or light will be offered. Even amid the bleak circumstances, these tiny members of creation still struggle, every moment of every day, to tap into the energy around them so that they might grow into that potential.
In short, they pray.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, a pastor who is a foster mother to a four year-old African American boy, wrote this hymn after George Zimmerman was found not guilty for his shooting of Trayvon Martin. She had read Jim Wallis’ “Lament from a White Father” and heard the Rev. Otis Moss of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ interviewed for the NPR report, “For The Boys Who See Themselves In Trayvon Martin.”
We Pray for Youth We Dearly Love
O WALY WALY LM (“Though I May Speak”)
Solo (optional young voice):
“If I should die before I wake,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take....
And if I die on violent streets,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep."
(Continued at the jump)
He’s best known for his iconic 1980s feel-good hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” but Grammy-award winning artist Bobby McFerrin explores a deeper side of life in a new album.
Titled spirityouall, the recording includes his adaptations of traditional African-American spirituals and devotional songs that he composed.
McFerrin believes music has a transcendent spiritual power.