Usually when your age reaches more than “three score and ten,” you don’t run into a lot of new experiences; just a lot of old ones repeated with an occasional twist. But I ran into one the other day. I’m still trying to figure what to make of it.
I was asked to say an opening prayer at a service club meeting. While most people outside of the clergy aren’t used to praying in public, it’s something I’ve done many times. Usually, pretty straightforward.
On this day, among other things, I chose to offer apologies to God for fouling His beautiful and irreplaceable environment around the Gulf of Mexico and prayed for wisdom and courage for those trying to figure out what to do. Seemed to me nothing else had worked at that time. And my life experience has been, when we are powerless and ineffective at something, it’s a good time to ask the Almighty to give us a hand.
Following the meeting, a local “ leading citizen” came up behind me as I was engaged in conversation with someone else, gripped my left arm tightly and said to the back of my head, “Your prayer was inappropriate.” Before I could turn and respond, he was gone.
In all my public life, no one had ever said that within the range of my hearing; much less to me personally. I was shocked for a bit. Needless to say, the “leading citizen” went to the end of the line in my view. Maybe started a new, lower one.
But it got me thinking: when is something said in prayer not appropriate? When, in conversation with the Almighty, is something deemed “inappropriate?” My guess is He’s heard it all. In my mind, He’s wise enough to figure what is and what isn’t. Appropriate.
I do remember a few instances when I felt what was being prayed for was wrong. When I heard a Kansas “minister” pray for “death for all homosexuals and others of their kind.” Minister is written in quotes because I can’t believe someone who believes in the God the rest of us do could truly be ordained, yet pray for such a thing.
Another was a guy in California who called himself a “minister” praying publically for the death of President Obama. Same quotes; same reason.
Though prayer hasn’t been a regular part of my whole life, it has been for a long time; long enough I find myself repeating things to a God who has an awfully good memory and doesn’t need reminding. I’ve offered many apologies for sins of commission and omission; asked for help for myself and others for many things; promised to live a better life probably a thousand times; tried to make deals if God would do this or that; prayed for loved ones and strangers who needed help. When prayers number into the thousands you’ve likely covered a lot of subjects. Prayerfully, certainly. Appropriately, I hope.
Prayer to me is a like a private telephone conversation. Just God and you. When praying in public, it becomes a party line with others listening in. I don’t mind the listening. But listener critique seems a bit arrogant.
I realizing each of us has different outlooks and values and, for the most part, that’s O.K. So I suppose it’s possible for someone to think something is inappropriate to him or her. I’ve seen clothes on some people (or almost on) in public places where I thought they were inappropriate. But I’ve never gone up to someone and said so. Hey, to each his … or her … own.
I know people who pray they’ll find a deer during hunting season. Now, not being a hunter, that seems a questionable prayer to me. Maybe even inappropriate given all the other truly important things God has on His plate. Still, even if the request was made at a public gathering, I don’t think I’d criticize it.
But when I apologized to God for yet another of our manmade disasters and asked for forgiveness and help putting things right, I must have crossed some line of appropriateness in this guy’s mind. So he made it a point of telling me behind my back and when I couldn’t respond.
I don’t think I’ll offer an apology. I think it’s best just to pass it along to the One who hears all things. Let Him decide. I can live with that.