I wasn’t sure what the Thanksgiving holiday would be like.
One thing I might’ve guessed is that I would get asked to say the prayer before the meal. I often times am asked to serve in this way, perhaps because people know that I have a religious education or because I’m relatively comfortable in front of a group of people.
Or maybe it’s because I have such a nice sounding, loud voice.
Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that my prayers sound so good.
No, seriously, having offered a prayer aloud in front of a group, I often have people say to me, “That was such a beautiful prayer” or “Very nice” or even “Good job.”
I’m never quite certain how to respond to this, and frankly, sometimes it worries me–on a number of levels.
We talked recently about the idea of prayer being a form of entertainment. Apparently, prayer can also be thought of as performance art, like oratory, drama, or maybe even slam poetry. So, by being asked to say a prayer before the meal, was I just another item on the evening’s entertainment agenda, sandwiched between televised NFL and some rousing rounds of Balderdash?
Even worse, if people were prepared to offer me a compliment after the prayer, were they actually praying, or were they just interested in hearing some obligatory words offered with a bit of elegance?
After the number of compliments I’ve received over the years, perhaps I should consider entering myself into competition on American Idol, X Factor, or maybe even Dancing with the Stars.
Can prayer be a thing of beauty? Absolutely. Just as love letters and poems (and also prayers) from history have come down to us as works that we enjoy, that move us, I think a conversation with our heavenly Father can be a beautiful thing. But it is not, at its core, a thing of beauty: it is not a work of art to be refined, honed, and put on display for public critique (or enjoyment).
My marriage is a beautiful thing, but I do not advertise it as such and sell tickets to others to witness its beauty. At times, others do offer compliments or encouraging words about how they perceive our marriage, but we do not pursue a deeper connection of mutual love and service with one another in hopes of receiving these compliments. The joy of marriage goes much deeper than public perception.
And so I wonder about public prayer. Truly, there must be a check in my own heart, to make sure that I’m not simply offering up words that will sound nice to others, not just offering up a speech that will display my powers of extemporaneous oration.
But then I wonder about those with me. Does my praying aloud lead them into a place of greater personal intimacy with God? Or do I just fulfill a ritualistic holiday duty: saying grace before the meal? Am I an entertainer? Though some may see me as especially qualified to pray in public, I really have no such expertise.
Just willingness…and a desire to dialogue with my heavenly Father, both in public and in private.
I do not know what other think, what they experience when I pray aloud. But for my part, I must keep asking myself: are these words of authenticity and relationship, or words of beauty merely?