This past Thursday evening I went with my friends, Yakir and Annika, to an interfaith prayer gathering hosted by Dialogue to Action, a branch of Kids4Peace, in partnership with other interfaith leaders in Jerusalem. We joined about 70 people at Jaffa Gate in the Old City and processed through the congested alleys of the market to a rooftop between the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters. Upon reaching the top of our climb we could see a marvelous panoramic view of half the city stretching from the infamous Holy Sepulcher Church in the Northwest, on our left, to the glowing golden Dome of the Rock before us, and spread wide in the distance to our right, the Mount of Olives.
For the prayers we grouped off based on our faith tradition and those of no practicing religion gathered together. Once each group had finished their prayers we regathered in a circle and sang songs in Hebrew and Arabic. At first, as we split off into our groups I wondered why we were not all praying together the entire time, considering we claimed to be praying to one and the same God. I would have thought that better. After the fact, I realized the great value in praying as we did. I found I was able to immerse myself more deeply in prayer, perhaps even more vulnerably, being among only Christians and worshiping in familiar Christian ways. I was accustomed to the flow of our prayer practices: with a call and response confession, a hymn I cherished, scripture I knew, intercessory prayer with words and silence I was familiar with, and the Lord's Prayer I had memorized. I can only hope and imagine the other groups had similar experiences. As I prayed I felt regrounded. I was able to put my heart for the unity of all people into action.
While engaging in an entirely interfaith prayer service certainly has merit and impact, it can also dilute the experience in trying to accommodate each tradition. I noticed by gathering together, but praying with our own groups of faith we were able to engage in our distinct and comfortable forms of prayer which enabled us to pray more fully and freely. This honored and celebrated our diversity. By joining together at the end to pray and sing we acknowledged our unity amidst our diversity. We were like "one body with many parts", to use a well-known Christian image, all gathered together for a like purpose on that glorious rooftop at dusk while standing in our own particular groups. It was extraordinary.
Knowing I was in the company of brothers and sisters of other faiths and practices, all praying or meditating together, I felt I was living into my dream for the world. For unity and community. It was a sign of hope. It is a sign of hope.
I encourage you to read Yakir's powerful post which touches on the backstory of this event. It will help you more fully understand the significance of this small, but impactful prayer gathering: https://www.facebook.com/yakir.englander/posts/10157398536540234
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