The first Thursday in May is the National Day of Prayer in the United States. Calls for prayer from national leaders have been issued periodically since the days of George Washington, and in 1952 the National Day of Prayer became an annual event.
Although official proclamations have been pluralistic (though with monotheistic assumptions), since the Reagan years the National Day of Prayer has primarily been associated with Evangelical Christians who organize large public events and restrict prayer to those in their own traditions, perhaps inviting conservative Jews. While these people certainly have the right to conduct their own services in the ways they feel appropriate, it flies in the face of the spirit of the National Day of Prayer and of President Reagan’s request to pray “for unity of the hearts of all mankind” to exclude other religious traditions.
And so there are two National Day of Prayer services in Denton. There is a restricted service at noon on the courthouse square, and there is an interfaith service in the evening. This year the interfaith service was hosted by Trinity Presbyterian Church, long known as a home for progressive and inclusive Christianity. The Denton Record-Chronicle has photos from both services on their website.
The interfaith service featured prayers from many traditions: Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Unitarian Universalist, Cheyenne-Arapaho, Buddhist, and Pagan. There was music from an interfaith children’s choir and from Vocal Magic, a choir that includes Pagans and Christians.
Public prayer is always a balancing act, particularly for Pagans: how do you honor your Gods and your tradition and still remain accessible to a mostly-Christian audience who knows little if anything about Paganism? A successful public prayer requires more than saying the proper words to the proper deity in the proper manner.
This was my prayer.
Tonight I pray to the many Goddesses and Gods. Mighty ones, you are many and diverse, and since the dawn of humanity you have called many diverse people to worship you in many diverse ways. Grant us your compassion, we ask, that we may live together in peace with those whose Gods are different from our own.
Tonight I pray to the spirits of Nature; to the Land, the Sky, and the Sea; to all those with whom we share this world. Grant us your wisdom, we ask, that we may honor and respect all our Good Neighbors, and that we may reverently care for the Earth who is the Mother of us all.
Tonight I pray to our ancestors: those we knew in this life, those we know through stories and pictures, those we know only by names and dates, and those whose names are lost to us forever. Beloved ancestors, you lived through famine and plague, war and enslavement, ice age and flood. Grant us your resilience, we ask, that we may face the great challenges of our time. Grant us your courage that we may live virtuously and heroically, so that when we become ancestors ourselves we may be worthy of the honor of those who come after us.
Bíodh sé amhlaidh – may it be so!