Interfaith Prayer

Q. I am wondering if you are able to direct me to research materials that specifically address the topic of the use of prayer, in terms of interfaith prayer settings, as a particular tool in conflict resolution. A lot of the information I come across discusses interfaith dialogue with regard to sharing information about praying and rituals, but I have found less that specifically addresses situations in which conflicting groups have come together to pray together. Any information you can offer to point me in the right direction would be appreciated.

R. Praying together in conflict situations takes a lot of trust. I remember when we (International Interfaith Centre, Northern Ireland Interfaith Forum, Religions for Peace and Action for Children in Conflict) organised the first ever international interfaith conference in Northern Ireland and had to face this difficulty. We had been used at the IIC to always begin and conclude meetings with some moments of shared silence but in Northern Ireland at that time (1998) we found even this was not possible. Who was being prayed to in that silence? There was not enough trust. I do believe that by the end of the days everyone spent together there might have been sufficient trust but we’ll never know. For some of the NI participants even engaging in interfaith dialogue, let alone, prayer was dangerous for them. It was not familiar then and the tensions between Protestants and Catholics was so high that adding an extra dimension – other faiths – was not usual. I remember also, at a conference IIC arranged in Oxford in 2001, that our gathering began with a young Palestinian Muslim and a young Orthodox Israeli Jew standing beside each other opening the event with prayers. In their own countries, even though just a short distance apart (Bethlehem / Jerusalem) they had not been able to meet due to the intifada so it was in Oxford that they were able to display the faith they had in each other and the process of enagging with the ‘other. Also at the meeting and in dialogue together were a young Croatian and a young Serb, both willing to explore and move beyond the tensions that challenged their countries.

I have personally attended many inter faith prayer meetings, most of which are rather bland – people from different faiths offering a reading from one of their sacred texts. This link on the Inter Faith Network UK is a to a Milllennium event that functioned at a level most people feel comfortable with: www.interfaith.org.uk/publications/brochure3100.htm In a different publication on the IFN site this quote from a young person reinforces the gentle approach: “If you plan an event which features prayers or readings from different faiths, it is important to remember that not everyone is comfortable joining in a prayer of a different religion. Instead you could organise the event so that each faith makes a contribution in turn without expecting everyone to join in.” When he was alive, Br Daniel Faivre of Westminster Interfaith in London engaged participants at a much more experiential and spiritual level but you have to be ready for this and not everyone is. Another way in which people meet and pray or meditate together is by completely immersing themselves in the tradition of another, for example by spending some hours or a retreat with Zen Buddhists where nothing is changed to accommodate those of other traditions. This can be a powerful experience. There have also been a few books suggesting ways in which people from different faiths and belief systems can pray together. One of these was All in Good Faith: A Resource book for Multi-faith prayer, eds. Jean Potter and Marcus Braybrooke, published by the World Congress of Faiths ( www.worldfaiths.org ) but I’m not sure if it’s still in print. Copies may be available here and there. The Guidelines detailed below might be of special interest to you.

Guidelines for Designing a Multifaith Prayer Service: Scarboro Missions is proud to announce this new resource for designing multifaith prayer services. Multifaith prayer is a growing international phenomenon that yields many spiritual, social and cultural benefits for the various faith groups and individuals involved. But there are a number of religious, cultural and practical challenges involved in organizing multifaith prayer services. This set of comprehensive guidelines provides an abundance of information, resources and guidelines for designing and implementing a multifaith spiritual service in your community. This document can be downloaded free of charge from:
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Yehuda Stolov of Interfaith Encounter Association in Israel offers this information: The retreats of the Interfaith Encounter Association ( www.interfaith-encounter.org ) usually include a prayer session. It is not a joint prayer but an opportunity for participants to witness each other's traditional prayers. Participants usually refer to this session as a very strong experience, both from the perspective of getting the chance for the first time to watch the prayer of the other and from the perspective of the symbolic acknowledgement that in the respectful watching by the other. See for example: http://www.interfaith-encounter.org/Reports/IPD-120408.htm

Brian Walker of Religions for Peace shares these thoughts: There are places in the world where people of different faiths come together and share prayers. In war-torn Sierra Leone, Muslim prayers and Christian prayers are shared in Parliament and before community meetings. This has not been my normal experience in the UK. Religions for Peace (UK) shares a silence for peace at the start and end of every meeting, whether in a conflict situation or not, where individuals from different faiths can share that time in their own traditional way. Prayers from different religions are also shared before shared meals. Shared silence is often a powerful contribution towards conflict resolution. Interreligious Insight: A journal of dialogue and engagement, published quarterly by World Congress of Faiths, normally includes prayers and meditations from different faiths and there are publications, such as one god shared hope (Maggie Oman Shannon, Red Wheel, Boston, 2003) that seeks to bridge cultures and cultivate peace by sharing common threads from the sacred texts of the three Abrahamic faiths.
There are also Interfaith Ministers who aim 'to encourage people to re-connect with their inner strength, wisdom, authentic spirituality and inherent wholeness. In addition to traditional counselling, silence, prayer, meditation and healing may all form part of spiritual counselling, if appropriate to a persons needs and beliefs'. There is An Interfaith Minister's Manual (Revd Angela Plum, Roberts, North Carolina, 2001). It is fair to say that Interfaith Ministry is not accepted by all religious advocates or communities.

Robert Traer, former General Secretary, International Association for Religious Freedom, reminds us of the attitude we must bring to interfaith work of this delicate kind: I am not aware of research materials that address this question, but the following paragraph from my book Quest for Truth (1999) expresses one lesson I learned in interfaith work. "If we want to further interfaith understanding and cooperation, rather than simply be recognized for our good efforts, we have to confess the barriers within ourselves and within our communities. We need to identify and challenge our intellectual and emotional prejudices, acknowledge our complicity in the history of our religious communities and the suffering caused to others by some of those who have promoted our tradition, and confess that our own motives are often self-serving. To be instruments of reconciliation among religious communities, we have to enter into interfaith work with humility."

Philip M. Hellmich, Director of Individual Giving, Search for Common Ground ( www.sfcg.org ) found these links which might be helpful: John Davies is a professor at the University of Maryland who is exploring conflict resolution and prayer. Here is an article by John Davies: http://outbeyondideas.org/index.php?page=about I did a google search and came up with this link too: www.archive.org/details/PrayingForConflictResolution . Also, Brother Bhaktananda (of Self-Realization Fellowship, www.yogananda-srf.org ) had a wonderful prayer he recommended that I have used successfully. When in a conflict with someone, visualize them in the 3rd eye...imagine they are being surrounded and filled with white light and then inwardly affirm: "____ is filled with peace and harmony, peace and harmony, peace and harmony...." for a full minute. Afterwards, visualize yourself in white light and say the same affirmation for 15 seconds. Repeat several times a day as needed. I have found this prayer/visualization dramatically shifts my own consciousness as well as the dynamics with the other person. Also, I have found it powerful to sit in silence with people from other traditions, each of us praying and/or meditating in our own way. Together, our individual love and devotion creates a collective vibratory field that transcends language and helps us experience our oneness with each other and the Divine. Also, The Aspen Grove Project ( www.aspengroveproject.org ), Dr. Rick Levy & others are exploring ways for groups of contemplatives / meditators to create a collective field of consciousness that can be used for sending healing energies and/or tapping into insights from the collective field. In my experience with Aspen Grove and in small groups is that we go into silence using our own methods, usually some type of meditation techniques. (Dr. Levy offers methods a group can use together.) Our intention is the same: to form a group consciousness while tapping into our ‘individual super conscious’ minds or possibly the ‘universal super conscious’ mind - another way to say it is we tap into our deepest soul awareness and/or a direct relationship with an aspect of Spirit/God. The key is we get beyond conscious and subconscious minds and access what some scientists call the quantum field. The silence is key, as is having techniques that help a person calm his/her mind and direct his/her lifeforce energy or prana to the super conscious mind or Spirit. Once the collective field is created, the group can send healing energies to individuals, countries or the world at large (Self Realization Fellowship does this at the end of meditations). This collective group consciousness is also a way of harnessing creative ideas that are inspired by the super conscious mind or Spirit, something that will be useful in addressing the global complex problems as well as immediate organizational or community challenges.

The Global Peace Initiative of Women is bringing together the contemplatives/mystics of various traditions to begin harnessing their collective wisdom and abilities to go deeply into relationship with Spirit. Periods of silence is a part of their gatherings. Bringing together the contemplatives/mystics from countries in conflict, and having periods of deep silence together, offers a potentially powerful way to use prayer and meditation for the purpose of peacebuilding. See www.gpiw.org

Elijah Interfaith Institute: In response to the crisis in Gaza the steering committee of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders ( www.elijah-interfaith.org ) came up with this prayer that could be used in many situations:

Source of all grace, love and compassion

We, the leaders and faithful of all World Religions, are pained at the situation of our humanity,

We are pained by our global conflicts,

We are pained, in particular today, by the suffering experienced by the Israeli and Palestinian people, who are caught in a violent conflict in Gaza and Southern Israel.

We offer our pain in prayer and in aspiration, appealing to the goodness of humanity, without taking sides,

We recognize we are powerless to change events on the ground, yet we believe in the power of prayer to change hearts, to effect a spiritual change that can ultimately bring about peace in the world.

For this we pray:

Inspire us with your divine mercy so that our hearts may be full of compassion, not of anger and the desire for retaliation, that our hearts may be instruments of forgiveness, not of revenge, that we may experience genuine love, not hate.

Whatever action we undertake, let it not be guided by hate or revenge, but by concern for the greater good of all.

May we always recall the preciousness of every life and minimize unneeded hurt May we always appreciate our deep interconnectedness, as common citizens of one earth.

May we always recall the unity of the family of humankind and realize that in some way every attack on the other is an attack on our very selves.

We ask for protection for all. We ask that women, children and non-combatants not be drawn into the conflict, through the wilful or unwilful actions of either side

We ask for protection for our hearts, lest they become hardened at the sight of suffering,

In all our actions, we ask for compassion for the suffering that surrounds us.

We pray that all are endowed with wise judgment and a compassionate heart, as they undertake their duties.

We pray that those who hold powerful tools in their hands have the wisdom when to use them and when to refrain from using them.

We pray that we may have the wisdom to use the opportunities provided by technology for human welfare and wellbeing Grant us leaders who may be inspired by you to lead us towards love and peace, and not increase hate and violence.

May our own words, as leaders of the faithful, arise from the depth of prayer.

May they never incite or be the source of suffering and violence.

May our words have the power to heal and soothe rather than to incite and inflame.

Source of grace, love and compassion, grant us, here on earth, your peace, your Salam, your Shalom.

Monica Willard, United Religions Initiative and United Nations NGO Representative: The first thing that came to mind for me was the Interfaith prayer service held at Yankee Stadium for the victims of 9/11. However, to me it now seems much more like praying before you go to war than for reconciliation. It was this public display of prayer that also showed a side of Lutherans I did not know. I believe it was the Missouri Synod Lutherans who voted out their minister after his participation in this event. They don't pray with other denominations or faiths. At an Interfaith gathering in Geneva a very dedicated Christian "read" the prayer of St. Francis. After talking with people I realized that whatever orthodox tradition was present also does not pray together with others unless it is inside their church. So anyone can pray with them, they are restricted from praying with others. To answer your question better, I encourage you to find the role of the churches during the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. Everyone I know who lives in South Africa, and I have to admit they come from religious or spiritual perspectives and we met at the Parliament of World's Religions or the WSSD around spiritual activities, credits the churches and prayers for a peaceful transition from apartheid. Jean Paul Samputu from Rwanda did a major event in Rwanda in February on Forgiveness and Reconciliation. He is a converted Christian musician who found life and personal healing from prayer. He brings people from every tradition together for reconciliation and forgiveness, not for the other but for oneself. One of the people who went there for the event was Fr. Lyndon Harris, the priest from St. Paul's Chapel who used the chapel as a place for all the relief workers at ground zero. His passion is now forgiveness and planting Gardens of Forgiveness. I am also aware of the power of prayer in the struggle for justice in Nicaragua. This is a fabulous question for 2009 as it is declared by the UN as the International Year of Reconciliation.