A Year of Multifaithfulness

by Andrew Ramer

Some simple guidelines:

For the year 2010 I vowed to God that I would pray once a week in a religion other than my own. As someone who is very active in my synagogue, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, there were weeks when I prayed there and also in three or four other places. The only week I missed was when I had the flu – but I did find mass in Latin on the radio.

Over the course of the year I prayed in mosques and churches, with Buddhists and Wiccans, with Hindus and Baha’i worshippers. I organized a Jewish/Christian interfaith service, gave one church sermon, was invited to be on one church committee – “Many Lights” at MCC, and organized an amazing day of Muslim/Jewish prayer and conversation at Sha’ar Zahav that was one of the high points of my life.

In truth, 2010 was the best year of my life, because of my vow. That I was able to make and keep it had much to do with my good fortune as a single, self-supporting writer. I think it might be a challenge for people who have full-time jobs, relationships, families, and other obligations to do what I did.

Therefore, instead of praying once a week as I did, I am inviting you to take a vow to pray with others once a month instead.

If this idea has captured your attention, and if this seems like something that you could devote yourself to in the coming year – take a deep breath and say the following words:

I vow to pray once a month for all of 2011
                in a religion other than my own.

If vow doesn’t work for you, consider pledge, affirm, commit, agree. If pray doesn’t feel right, consider meditate, worship, or attend services. If religion seems limiting, how about faith, faith tradition, spiritual practice? Then there’s denomination. For me, an Orthodox synagogue is still Jewish. For a Catholic, a Baptist church might be another religion. Feel free to interpret these words for yourself. Walking on the beach, a yoga class, doing tai chi, dancing, cooking, working in your garden, can all be forms of spiritual practice.

I made my vow to That which I call God, but you may make yours to Goddess, All That Is, the Universe, the Great Mystery, your higher self, your higher power, or to humanity, to nothing at all, or to Nothing in particular.

I made my vow with the intention of building bridges between people and cultures by praying in faith traditions other than my own. Your intentions may be very different than mine. What are they? Notice how they unfold during the course of your year.

Some people assumed that I prayed each week in a completely different religion. I didn’t. My vow wasn’t anthropological or journalistic, but yours could be. Instead of a making a broad survey of different religions, I allowed myself to be guided to places that called to me, and I returned to some of them over and over again. I found the Yellow Pages a great resource. You can do online searches. I suggest that you begin by exploring the houses of worship in your neighborhood, and I invite you to ask friends to join you on your quest.

My one resource was How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, by Stuart Matlin and Arthur Magida. It will give you the basics. For example, can you arrive late, do women and men sit separately, do visitors actively participate in prayers? It’s never a mistake to dress modestly, or to leave your camera and cellphone at home. This book will help you with many of these questions, but always feel free to call in advance anywhere that you are thinking of going to.

Entering into another prayer space, be open to what you find there. If the music, images, or beliefs push your buttons, or are incomprehensible, can you allow them to engage you emotionally, or view them as metaphors? Notice your edges, judgments, resistance, and pay attention to how they change/don’t change in the course of your year of prayer.

At some services you will be invited to introduce yourself. Don’t be shy. In my experience people welcome visitors, want to share their faiths. Even if there isn’t a time to introduce yourself during the service, do so afterwards, let your hosts know where you come from and why you’ve joined them. You aren’t there to change people’s beliefs, or debate about faith. It’s always wise to be open, to say as little as possible, to thank your hosts, and to consider returning if you were moved, to learn more and meet new people.

We will gather together three more times during the course of the year, to talk about our adventures, and share what we’ve discovered. Our next meeting will be held in San Francisco on Sunday the 6th of March at 3 in the afternoon. Please email here to let us know if you would like to join us.

Thank you for participating in this journey. I wish you a year of joy, community, and spiritual growth.  Andrew Ramer

The Many Lights Team
Mendl Bokser, Barbara Buckley, Aidan Dunn, Andrew Ramer