We all need prayers

  • February 21, 2008

{mosimage}It’s actually kind of surprising that the Ontario legislature’s practice of starting off the day with the Lord’s Prayer had escaped notice for so long. Most legislatures in Canada changed the custom some years back, adopting non-sectarian prayers, or moments of reflection, or something similar to reflect Canada’s evolving religious diversity.

It’s also a sad statement about the role of prayer in the lives of Ontario politicians that Premier Dalton McGuinty has decided to institute a change in the practice almost as an afterthought. There had been no outcry for dropping the Lord’s Prayer. Rather, he thought, while the legislature was updating its customary hours of operation, it would be a good time to replace the prayer. Almost like repainting the walls or rearranging the pictures. “I think it’s a reflection of the times,” McGuinty is reported as saying in the National Post.

Ah yes, times change. Out with the old, in with the new, whatever it is. But before the provincial legislators drop the Lord’s Prayer, they should give careful consideration to exactly what they are doing, and why. Not all change is for the better. Thankfully, the premier has asked for an all-party committee to seek input from the public before deciding what to do. It offers a moment for sober second thought.

Such a moment is sorely needed. As New Democrat MPP Peter Kormos observed, opening up this debate offers opportunities for some to insist there be no prayer whatsoever. Some people who don’t believe in God are bound to be offended by whatever prayer is on offer. And whose prayers will be chosen? Does Wicca get its day? There will likely be pressure to avoid the conflicting demands by simply jettisoning the whole practice.

And that would be highly unfortunate. The Lord’s Prayer — or at least some manner of recognizing the transcendent — does several important things. First, for all believers, it calls upon God to guide the legislators in their work. As we know, they need all the help they can get. Secondly, each day it forces legislators to recognize there is a higher power than the state, that human beings have a relationship with the Divine (whether or not they recognize it) that supersedes their relationship to the state, and that political power is not ultimate authority. Thirdly, it reminds politicians of the many beliefs of the people they serve. This is well worth humble reflection before politicians go about their daily business.

All the world’s major religions insist that prayer is essential to nurture the entire human being. Daily prayer puts us in touch with the larger reality of the universe, of a Truth far bigger than our eyes can see or our ears hear. Prayer invoked in public life underlines this dimension of our existence for all of us, uniting us as fellow human beings who are all in need of redemption, whatever form it takes.

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