Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Prayer: A Faithful Community

On a typical Saturday morning anywhere around the world, you will be able to find a congregation of Jewish people inside of any synagogue. You will enter a sanctuary of any size or style and experience a unique service filled with Torah reading, d’vrei Torah, or sermons, and chanting. Depending which community you choose to spend Shabbat with, you may see modestly dressed families walking to synagogues, and the local kosher supermarket will be closed. You’ll find yourself surrounded with tallitot, or prayer shawls, and ardent Jews gathering to learn all afternoon. No matter where you choose to go, you will be immersed in a faithful community.
The following morning, you’ll see a somewhat different experience. Sunday mornings across the globe affect Christians of all denominations. All church doors are unlocked in order to welcome large communities that gather for worship services, masses, or bible studies. You will enter a spirited sanctuary of any size or style and be enlightened by the sense of both devotion and passion felt all around you. Depending on which Christian community you choose to experience this day with, you may see a contemporary band on stage or a white-collard priest standing before you. You may see a Gospel choir singing harmoniously or hear an organ echoing throughout gothic cathedrals.  All the local “Chik-Fil-A’s” will be closed, but inside every church community, there is overflowing energy that can satisfy any hunger for spirituality.
No matter which day you choose, which community you choose, or which service you choose to attend, these two dominant religions share a common practice: prayer.  
Prayer, derived from the Latin term meaning “to beg,” is a universal idea that unites people of all faiths. For thousands of years, prayer has been expressed through various styles and practices. Though styles of prayer have certainly evolved since the biblical days of our patriarchs, the significance of prayer has remained enduring nonetheless.
In Judaism, most of our daily prayers have already been written. Jewish congregants form daily minyanim , or quorums of at least ten Jewish adults, and chant Hebrew prayers in an organized service. There are set times at which we pray (Berachos 4:1) along with formulated tunes (nusachim) and movements. Covering every spectrum of life, the average prayer book (siddur) contains various psalms and prayers that are recited three times a day. While tunes and selected prayers are subject to change every so often, the core aspects of this prayer service have been preserved since the formation of Rabbinic Judaism. During each Shabbat service, there is a general feeling of holiness that engulfs a Jewish community; the unwavering commitment that Jews have in Shabbat is exuded through these weekly gatherings.
Within the more liberal sects of Christianity, prayer is explored in more of a contemporary style. During church services, (Evangelical, Baptist, Methodist, etc.) prayers are recited entirely on impulse. Pastors lead congregations in communal prayer and speak the first things that come to mind. Preaching to crowds ranging from ten congregants to thousands of congregants, church leaders speak eloquently and passionately, igniting their inner faiths to shine. Praise bands lead hundreds in impactful worship services, filled with religious music, singing, and even dancing. (Hebrews 10:25) Every Sunday morning seems as though a new element of spirit is being added to the Christian faith; one cannot help but smile when watching a room filled with faithful people spring into life. During the jovial moments in life, we can rely on our faiths for a dependable and inspiring service each week.
 Some weeks, however, are not as incredible. All religions in life face the tragedies and horrifying circumstances that deter the average person from praying. All clergymen are approached with life-altering events that threaten the faiths of their congregants. The religious institutions that we consider to be spiritual havens have always opened their doors during the times of dire need and despair; they even remain open as we grieve for reasons that are sometimes beyond our understanding. During these times of pain and suffering, every religious group is posed with the ultimate question that can sustain or eradicate one’s faith: Why do we pray?
Some people take prayer as an opportunity to praise God without any justification. Others use this outlet of faith as a chance to yell and be angered with theology. Some take the concept of prayer and modernize it; the organized time during weekly services to pray is merely for having “catch up” conversations with God. I realized, however, that no matter how people choose to pray, they are still committed to organized prayer at their respective religious services. Perhaps there is truly one, unbreakable aspect of organized prayer—one that we cannot circumvent even if we tried: community.
Through both the positive moments in life and the heartbreaking, there has always been a faithful community to support us. When we jubilantly celebrate our blessings, we have always been surrounded by a smiling community, one for which to be unconditionally grateful. We may not realize this until today, but that same tight- knit family stands behind us during times of personal struggle. We have always been supported and comforted during the moments in life that shake us and leave us feeling emptier than words can describe. Our loved ones in that community may not necessarily offer theological advice, but have always guaranteed a shoulder on which to lean through the rough patches in life. Through both our smiling and tear-filled eyes, we have seen our communities beside us and continue to stand beside us in our faith journeys. This is the same community that takes part in our organized prayer. So, despite the theological struggles and phases of doubt, why not immerse yourself in a providing community for as long as you possibly can?   
Prayer helps us find an everlasting community. Faith may be a personal journey, but certainly not one to experience alone. Perhaps that is why Jewish minyanim require at least ten congregants in order to begin praying together. Perhaps that is why Sunday morning church services will not commence without at least one family present. While prayer may be one of the fundamental values of religion, it is a strong community that is the ultimate backbone of faith. Faithful people are meant to share faith together.
To one struggling person, your faith could mean the world. Your presence could begin a long healing process for a grieving family. Your religious group’s service that one week could impact another’s life forever. By praying beside someone, however, you will be ensuring that person that no one in life must face faith alone. You will be alleviating the fears and doubts people may have, and replacing those feelings with inner peace of mind.

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