The National Day of Prayer, observed on May 5, celebrates the principle of religious liberty here at home, and promotes religious freedoms around the world. This week’s clergy discuss ways of making the most of a prayerful day.
The Rev. Christopher D. Hofer
Rector, The Church of St. Jude, Wantagh
As long as I can remember, I was taught to pray. Whether my prayer is through “adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, or petition” (Book of Common Prayer, 856), my life has been one prayer to God. As St. Paul commanded, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The cynic in me scoffs at the idea of a Day of Prayer. Why set aside one day to pray when we should be praying daily? In today’s political climate, couldn’t a Day of Prayer be manipulated for gain? However, the priest in me supports any effort to encourage individuals to pray. On this National Day of Prayer, let us ask God to forgive us for the neglect of our planet and the dehumanizing of our fellow human beings, especially the immigrants in our midst. Let us pray for the leaders of our nation to have the wisdom of Solomon and to seek ways to unite instead of divide. Let us remember the outcasts, especially the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and all who are oppressed. Finally, let us heed the words of the Prophet Micah (6:8) to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Of course prayer without action is often empty words. Instead of simply praying, let us act to give rise to the Realm of God where the lion will lie down with the lamb and where swords will be turned into ploughshares.
The Rev. Paul S. Johnson
Senior minister, Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, Manhasset
For me, prayer is about opening up to life’s possibilities. On National Prayer Day, why not take a walk through nature and attend to the beauties you experience, or listen to a beautiful piece of music, or attend to the beauty of the faces of the people you see. Take time to smell the roses, because if you are so concerned about the exigencies of making a living and meeting the demands of life, if you don’t take time to appreciate beauty, you’re missing out on one of the key aspects of life. I suggest reciting and meditating upon the poem “Salutation to the Dawn,” attributed to the ancient Hindu poet, Kalidasa. It begins, “Look to this day for it is life, the very life of life/In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence/ The Bliss of Growth/The Glory of Action/The Splendor of Beauty.” Kalidasa beautifully highlights the fact that we live life day by day. I have found this poem helpful in planning my day to include attention to how I feel prodded or lured to grow in spirit, how I might take action in terms of my highest values, and how I might look for opportunities to experience beauty. That’s a prayerful attitude to me, or receptivity to the possibilities of the day.
Rabbi Gadi Capela
Congregation Tifereth Israel, Greenport
The most important question we just asked on Passover was “Ma Nishtana” — how is this night different? One of the ways to understand this question is, How are we different? It is a beautiful thing that we can all come together once a year and examine our new reflection in light of the communal mirror. Similarly, the National Day of Prayer is a blessed opportunity, which allows all faiths to come together and pray for the pressing issue of the day. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and ask ourselves, how did we change and how did we change the world? This year the National Day of Prayer and the Holocaust Memorial Day fall on the same date. Growing up in Israel, the most memorable moments I had were when we all stopped for two minutes of silence, bowed our heads down to remember the millions who perished, lifted our hearts up to heaven and asked, “Is the world different now?” Silence is the essence of the Jewish prayer, and easy to share with all humanity. This year, as we see the continuing of wars, ethnic cleansings, and genocides, I would like to share a quote from the Prayer for our Country, which we say every Shabbat: “May this land, under Your providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom — helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet (Siddur Sim Shalom p. 148). “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they experience war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). And let us say: Amen.