1. The challenge
Jews, Christians and Muslims all address prayer to
the one God whom Abraham worshipped. All three religious traditions also contain strict warnings against worshipping other gods. Christian prayer is made specifically “through Jesus Christ our Lord”, the Son of God.
Hindus address prayer either each to their ‘chosen deity’ or to none, for the various Hindus traditions view Ultimate Reality differently, some in personal terms, others impersonally. Buddhists, at some levels of tradition, may address prayer to the Buddha as to a god, but more typically the Ultimate Reality is Void or totally beyond words. Thus, the term ‘prayer’ in its usual sense may be ambiguous or inappropriate.
If there is no common understanding of what prayer is or in what circumstances it is appropriate, is it possible to pray together?
2. A solution?
When Christians gather together with people of different faiths, they do so with the presumption – at once both humble and daring – that God may speak to them in and through those whose beliefs are not necessarily shared.
In 1986, Pope John Paul II invited the world’s religious leaders to Assisi for a gathering that would “certainly not be religious syncretism but a sincere attitude of prayer to God in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”10 On that occasion he gave an example of ways in which Christians and those of other faiths may legitimately “be together in order to pray”.
In such gatherings, the sacred texts of each other’s faith are heard with deep respect, acknowledging that in them, somehow, God has spoken. Even if we disagree with what is said, we can still hear God speaking through what may seem uncertain and imprecise, for we are all novices and beginners.
In this way we “manifest our respect for the prayer
of others and for the attitude of others before the Divinity; at the same time we offer them the humble and sincere witness of our faith in Christ, the Lord of the Universe.”11
As a result of such listening we sense their faith and observe that God’s Word is also at work in them. And so we are caught up in the Word of God together.
The purpose of the interfaith gathering then consists primarily not in speaking but in attending silently to the God who has spoken and still speaks. Indeed, many spiritual traditions agree that, as prayer deepens, it enters further into silence.
If we cannot say the same prayer formulas together, let us at least gather together in the profound and evocative silence which is attentive to the One who transcends all.12