Monday, 11 June 2007

Waste of space

There is a fluttering question going on about Parliamentary prayers at the moment. The local paper's question of the day is "Are prayers before Parliament a waste of time?"
This question has many interesting dimensions.
The three Vox Pops were interesting: One said...If you believe it then it is not a waste of time, I'm a Catholic so that's OK...another said...If you don't believe there is not much point, I do so that would be OK for me...and the final one said...People believe a lot of different things, so if you have prayers for Christians you should have other prayers as well
These points are true enough on a naive level, though I find it interesting that people in praying to God think that it matters that they believe, as if God might be powerless to act unless we beleive that it is so.
Research shows that though remarkably few Australians are regular church goers any more, a surpisingly high number still pray and believe in God. Recently I noted that our beloved PM had exhorted us all to pray for rain (here...and by the way it seems to have worked!!) and some of the questions that that raises.
My recent peregrinations have caused me to reflect quite a bit on the way religious practice conveys not only spiritual value but also cultural identity. (This is sooooooo Sociology IA)
In Italy there is not a moment when you escape overt religionism, and yet the culture is remarkably untroubled by it. In France to be religious is to be different, it was best characterised by the 400 or so people who were at Mass at the Sacre Coeur at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night, a quiet mysterious event which contrasted markedly with the drunken busking that was going on on the steps outside...the two crowds remarkably similar in social makeup.
In England there was the driest of the dry Eucharist at the Abbey, which although it was tres Anglican, seemed to connect little with the spiritual.
This latter aspect best typifies what happens in the Australian Parliaments, prayers rattled off correctly but without any passion. The words are often those of the past from which the Church has moved on decades ago and are filled with anachronisms (thee and thy) and gender bias (assuming the masculine includes the feminine) . Often it seems that the saying of these prayers is about asserting the Parliament's continuation with tradition rather than the Parliament's reliance on God's grace. This is less than satisfactory to me.
Personally, I think there needs to be something about prayer that is a waste of time.
Whether it be Parliamentary or personal.
When we pray, however badly or well, there should seem to be some sense of the fact that we are relying on God, not that we are manipulating God through our belief or unbelief. This is more than just saying well "It doesn't do any harm!" It is an attitude about a cultural value that says not everything is or can be under our control.
But it's a pretty brave thing to say or do.

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