What Is Prayer in Unitarian Universalism?
Within our faith, prayer has a wide range of functions, meanings and practices. Find eight contemporary UU ministers' diverse perspectives in the pamphlet, "UU Views of Prayer," edited by Catherine Bowers (Boston: UUA, 1999). Read the text or order the pamphlet online.
From "What to tell young people about Unitarian Universalism," by Charles Scot Giles, in the loose-leaf resource Unitarian Universalism in the Home, edited by Ellen Johnson-Fay, Roberta Nelson and Elizabeth B. Stevens, published in 1965 and reprinted in 1981.
Do Unitarian Universalists Pray?
Prayer means many things to many different people. To some people prayer is a way of asking God for special favors. It's safe to say that Unitarian Unviersalists do not believe that this is possible. Whatever powers and principles run the universe, they certainly can't be bribed and forced to do errands an odd jobs for people! Unitarian Universalists think that this sort of prayer is probably misguided.
However, there is another sort of prayer that many Unitarian Universalists do practice. This is the sort of prayer which helps each of us look inside of themselves and decide on what part of our personalities and lives need attention, rethinking and working on. This sort of prayer is often called "meditation" and may be silent (which I like to call "the social silence") or spoken, and the word prayer and the word "meditation" are really almost the same. Sometimes a private form of this kind of prayer is called "sitting for ideas" and there are many people who keep a journal of the insights they get during such times of quiet.
Prayer in a Secular, Pluralistic Society
Find interfaith guidelines for public prayers such as invocations, in an article by Vern Barnet, a Unitarian Universalist minister and minister emeritus of the Center for Religious Experience and Study in Kansas City, Missouri . He considers these questions:
How can we honor diversity at moments of public reverence? While it is easy to enjoy friends of many religions in our neighborhoods and workplaces, how can we embrace people of different faiths when we are asked to offer an invocation or blessing at a public event, or when we select someone to offer such remarks?
The Roche Sisters' "Zero Church" Prayer Project
In 2002, musicians Suzzy and Maggie Roche released a CD of prayers set to music, based on work they did with the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue founded by Anna Deavere Smith at Harvard University. Artists Ysaye Barnwell and others contributed arrangements and vocals. "Zero Church" refers to the address of The First Church in Cambridge Unitarian Universalist, where the Roches worked on the CD project. Hear samples from "Zero Church" online.
The website, Awakenings, provided the finger labyrinth in this session and contains abundant information about labyrinths: "At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are." Daniel Johnston's essay on this site, "The Labyrinth Map," begins:
A labyrinth looks like a maze but is not. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists and turns and dead ends. You have to think and think and be alert for any clues you may find. A maze can be frustrating, frightening, or challenging. You can get lost in a maze.
A labyrinth, unlike a maze, has no dead ends. There is only one path, and while it does have twists and turns, you can't get lost. The same path takes you into the labyrinth and out again. With a labyrinth you don't have to think, or analyze, or solve a problem. With a labyrinth you just trust that the path will lead you to where you need to be.