See, the thing is, I’m not really in communion with anyone. I have friends, I believe in Jesus, but still, still, at this moment I’m not in communion with anyone. It’s true – it’s been so long since I was a regular member of anything that I am essentially drifting along now.
I say this because the disputed question of interfaith prayer has once again impinged upon my life.
To be brief and blunt, there is no such thing as ‘interfaith prayer.’ Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, et al, may gather together, they may say the same prayers conjured for the gathering, but it will be a performance signifying nothing. To whom are they praying? The Christians ostensibly pray to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Jews of course pray to YHWH as well, though they know not what they do. Is Allah the same God? I rather doubt it. What of the various Buddhists, many of whom don’t much care about the ‘whom’? Their apotropaic brethren, of course, recognize varies autochthonous deities. What of our Hindu brethren? Vishnu is not Kali is not Geneesha…oh, wait, yes, they are all one as are we all one in Brahma’s dream on his lotus.
Indeed, only in a Hindu context does ‘interfaith prayer’ begin to make sense. Don’t tell actual Hindus from India, however, as they might not care for such openness.
All of these differences in belief are manifest in a bewildering riot of practices. Only a thorough Idealist could hold them under a univocal concept like ‘religion’. In any case, these differences are irreducible and intractable, and I for one prefer it that way.
We may talk to one another, try to understand one another, and even as occasion allows grow to respect one another. We can pray in our various ways for one another. But we can never truly pray with one another (as opposed to variously praying while in the same room or whatever).
Then too, there is the small matter of the supremacy and uniqueness of Jesus. Many of our erstwhile religions are predicated on hostility either to Jesus himself as the supreme Lord, Judge, and Savior of all, as, in short, the God-Man – consider Islam, for instance, or contemporary mainline American Christianity – or to what he represents, that is, the goodness of matter and the unique and irreplaceable embodied human person. Now, this does not make the world an unrelieved darkness – all these various, what…all of them are human, and so express much that is good, beautiful, and true. We are not after all demons, even when we flirt with the demonic. Still, a Christian must not pray with them, or in any way pretend that there is unity where none exists. That is a lie, and to my ear an insult as well to all those *others* in their difference.
Which brings me of course to my problem. Since I am not in communion right now, with whom can I pray? I suppose I can still pray with any group who truly confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God according to scripture. But where is that, I mean within a fifty mile radius of my house?
Yet a difference remains, for I am a baptized Christian, however lapsed, and only seek to pray with other Christians in anticipation of full communion (in fact, most classic liturgies include prayers for idiots like me).
That’s the rub. Those others are not Christian even in name only. Still, they should be welcome to stop by the Church at prayer, and they should be free to say those prayers as they are able, and they should be free to remain silent as they are not. That is to say, as they sense some inchoate longing, they should say the words; though they are just trying to be polite, they should say the words. But make no mistake, it will be the Church’s prayer to her Lord and God, or it is nothing at all. Indeed, this is the only way they might come to the true faith.
So my problem now is really a problem shared with anyone who wants to join the Church at prayer; who wants to be taught what to pray, how to pray, when to pray; who desires communion – where in the name of God do we find that if all around us is heresy and the wrong kind of foolishness?
As for all those who neither have that problem nor care to wonder about it, let us join them for friendship where we can, knowing that it is a worldly friendship that might just change that world. Where we cannot so join them, however, let us kick the dust from our feet. After all, Islamist militias in Nigeria, say, or Hindu Nationalists in India, might not care to join the party.*
*I choose two of the most egregious persecutors of Christians in the hope of being incendiary. Add yours as an exercise – the North Korean State, perhaps, or the ECUSA, or the US Justice Department, or the ELCA, or the Missouri Synod, or the Chinese Communist Party, or the…