Rabbi Larry Milder of Beth Emek in Pleasanton is participating in an Interfaith Prayer service for his community for Thanksgiving. In his invitation he addresses a critical question: Can people of different faiths pray together? And to my mind a more critical question: Do we all really believe the same thing(s)? Please read his well articulated answer.
P.S. Yes, you’re all invited.
Can people of different faiths pray together?
When we offer our own individual prayers, like the line in A Chorus Line, “Please, God, I really need this job,” the language we use doesn’t really matter.
The moment we pray together, we rely on a shared vocabulary, a shared set of symbols. Were it not for these things, there would be no shared prayer, just parallel pray.
That makes interfaith prayer a unique challenge.
Nor is it as simple as, “Well, we all really believe the same thing, anyway.” We don’t, and that claim never does justice to what makes our respective faiths unique, distinctive, and even holy, each in its own way.
Something in us longs to be able to reach spiritually across boundaries. Not to compromise our own spiritual integrity by saying something we don’t believe, but rather to find language that helps us recognize one another’s dignity and our common humanity. We want to do that spiritually, not simply through some civic exercise. Indeed, for Jews, the affirmation that we are all one human family is central to our theology.
There is no better moment on the calendar to make that spiritual leap than Thanksgiving. Here, in the Tri-Valley, we have a wonderful tradition of an Interfaith Thanksgiving service on the Sunday preceding Thanksgiving.
You might imagine that this service simply happens, but there is nothing easy about finding the right words, the right sacred songs, even the choreography of worship that speaks to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians in all their many denominations, and those who are spiritually inclined but of no faith at all. Every attempt is bound to fall short in some way, miss some clue, but what a beautiful thing it is to behold. Interfaith Thanksgiving worship is a model of what the world could be: respect for our differences, embracing what unites us, and affirming that gratitude is a virtue in every spiritual tradition.
I want to invite you to join me at this year’s Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, which will take place on Sunday, November 20 at 3:30 pm at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church 1315 Lomitas Avenue, Livermore. Clergy and representatives from many faiths will lead worship, which is always wonderful to see. The service is appropriate for adults and children, and is followed by refreshments and time to meet one another.
Mark your calendars now for a beautiful experience of meaningful interfaith prayer.
Rabbi Larry Milder
If you have questions you can contact Rabbi Milder at firstname.lastname@example.org