Who cared if there was really any Being to pray to? What mattered was the sense of giving thanks and praise, the feeling of a humble and grateful heart. — Oliver Sacks
This session introduces faith, hope and prayer as tools that can help us discern the path of goodness and justice. Participants will hear a story in which a shah decides to test a poor Jewish man's faith and creates challenges for him to face. Through prayer, the Jew expresses his trust in God and finds answers to each dilemma created by the shah. Ultimately, the poor man teaches the shah the value of a faithful life.
Participants will learn about prayer as a spiritual practice that is shared by people of all major world religions. They will create prayer bead necklaces with each bead representing a different type of prayer: gratitude, petition (asking for something), confession (admitting shortcomings and seeking forgiveness), and intercession (prayer on someone else's behalf). Connected with the necklace-making is an activity that guides participants to give voice their own prayers.
As the quote from Oliver Sacks (A Leg to Stand On ( New York : Summit Books, 1984) suggests, to whom or to what one prays matters less than the content or the context of one's prayer experience. Prayer is an expression of faith, but the specific theology that may be part of any one person's faith are not part of this session.
It is important to state that although prayer is often associated with theism, the activities and discussions in this session do not assume any particular beliefs in God, Goddess, or gods and goddesses. In this session, prayer is understood simply as the two-fold action of naming what is in your heart and engaging in deep listening. This session is based on an assumption that whether or not one believes in God, there is value in bringing attention to one's heart and naming what it holds, including questions, and then listening for answers.
Finally, participants will consider prayer as a tool in discernment. When we face moral dilemmas, the path that leads to justice and goodness is not always clear. At these times it can be helpful to engage in the deep listening that is part of prayer: listening for the wisdom of the universe, listening to one's own inner light or conscience, or listening for God/dess.
It is especially important for the leaders of this session to model respect for a variety of practices and beliefs. This group of Unitarian Universalist children may include some who have never been introduced to the idea or practice of prayer. The group may include some whose parents participate in another faith tradition outside your Unitarian Universalist congregation or bring a specific, personal theology to their worship and community experiences. This session aims to make prayer accessible to all participants, in the context of wide theological diversity.
This session will:
- Introduce prayer as a powerful, optional spiritual practice
- Establish the importance of — and demonstrate how to give and receive — respect for all expressions of personal faith, regardless of personal beliefs or religious practices
- Engage participants in experiencing different types of prayer
- Explore the idea that actions can bring our prayers and wishes closer to reality
- Introduce and explicate a prayer bead necklace
- Highlight the third Unitarian Universalist Principle, acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations
- Learn about the role of faith, hope and prayer in cultivating justice and goodness
- Gain knowledge about different types of prayer through personal experience
- Experience gratitude by articulating something for which they are grateful
- Give voice to a wish or hope and hear the wishes of others
- Experience accepting responsibility by naming something they are sorry for
- Consider the needs of others and the Earth and experiencing using prayer to articulate hopes
- Make a commitment to a specific act of goodness or justice to advance one of their own prayers