Let us pray?
Lincs FM 22.2.12
A recent trip to the Far East, to Thailand, allowed me to indulge my interest in oriental religions: specifically Buddhism. A venerable faith, or ‘way’ as its adherents would prefer to call it, Buddhism gives meaning and purpose to the lives of millions of people. In Thailand, there are beautiful temples-akin to our own cathedrals-which dominate townscapes, and in them people silently bow and contemplate the blessings on them of the life of Gautama Buddha before gold statues or beautifully carved and decorated images. Strangely, in a land dominated by this most rational and acceptable of religions, you will also find at every street corner, in every garden and on every field, a standing shrine bedecked with colourful garlands and holding offerings from the people of fizzy drinks, cakes and rice curries. These are houses and offerings of the spirits which inhabit the land. So, to ensure the goodwill of the spirits, gifts are brought to them and prayers for blessing and prosperity are said before them. Some would see this as raw superstition, but other eyes might see that the shrines are a daily and constant reminder that there is more to life than what we can immediately touch and see and that there are greater, more spiritual and eternal qualities to life which play into our world of ‘get and gain’ and of rushing after material well-being. The shrines daily remind the Thai people of the realm of values and meaning.
Recently, it has been judged that it is illegal to begin Council sessions with prayer. This has been seen as the thin edge of a secularist wedge. Strangely, I have some sympathy with the ruling for I cannot see the purpose, in any situation, of forcing those who do not share faith, or see the point, to endure offerings to a deity they cannot believe in. However, an alternate view might say that such prayers are part of our own system of ‘shrines’ which are a constant and daily reminder that there are higher values and greater realities in life-what people of faith call ‘eternal’ values-such as justice, the quest for peace, compassion and love and selflessness. The prayers before a meeting are a reminder that it is these values that must inhabit our dealings with each other and not selfishness, self-seeking and personal gain. Well, the prayers may be on their way out…but I do wonder if the values they represent will go with them?
~ by Tim Ellis on February 27, 2012.