Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

More on public prayer

On each of the past two weekends, here, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, Pontheolla and I have had the pleasure of hosting and housing a bride, her maid of honor and her bridesmaids.

On both occasions, on Saturday morning, in the serving of breakfast, whilst expeditiously ushering hot plates of freshly and lovingly (that is, Pontheolla-) prepared culinary fare to the table, I was brought to an abrupt and dutiful halt by the voice of prayer – the bride and her entourage, with hands joined and heads bowed, sharing in supplications to God…

On each occasion, though different the groups in nearly every ostensible social category, in their eloquent prayers, I found, I heard a striking similitude – if I had to (and I will!) characterize – of praise to God for being God, of thanksgiving to God, the Giver of all gifts, especially life and love, and of oblation to God in the offering of themselves in service to glorify God and to edify all whose lives they touched.

As both groups were 20-and-30-somethings, I offered to God a silent prayer of gratitude for the gift of renewed hope for the next generation, which these women, to a person, embodied.

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Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

On public prayer

In South Carolina, folks pray publicly (hence, doubtlessly, I imagine, privately). Saying grace at mealtimes, oft joining hands in a physical and psychic circle of union. Giving audible air to petitions and intercessions at events of commemoration and celebration, moments of tribulation and tranquility, instances extraordinary and mundane. And alway expressing thanksgiving to the God in whose hands abide all times and from whose hands all blessings flow.

Now, with sincerity’s speed, I neither suppose nor suggest that inhabitants of other regions of America do not pray, privately or publicly (or even that the discipline of prayer, given my sense of the manifold individual and, at times, wholly self-serving intentions of those and I who pray, necessarily makes one a better person). I do contend that, here in South Carolina, I have observed more people on more (most!) occasions praying.[1] In a word, in my view prayer is an inherent and ineffaceable part of the sitz im leben, the social context or life setting of the South.

 

Footnote:

[1] Honesty compels my confession that prior to coming South my public profession of prayer usually was restricted to those circumstances when I functioned in a clerical role, whether within the church on Sunday mornings, officiating at weddings, presiding at funerals or other ecclesiastical rites or in the world offering an invocation or benediction at some community gathering. On reflection, I think my reticence stemmed from my desire not to discomfit others – or myself in the company of others – who, consonant with their beliefs, either eschewed devotional practices or reserved them for their individual and familial moments.

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

An Opening Word

It would be more accurate to employ the title: Of my life in the still-Christian South Carolina

As I believe that no two people ever mean precisely the same thing when using the same words,[1] I favor self-definition.

To wit…

By my life, always speaking only for myself, my observations are my own.

By South Carolina, I write of my experience in the 8th state of the Union; and, specifically in the mid-to-upstate region where I live and move and have my being.

By still-Christian, I do not mean that no other region nationally or globally bears a Christian character, whether understood by its past or current existential ethos. Nor do I mean to infer that Christianity is the only philosophical/theological-ethical framework.

Speaking in broad historical terms, I do think that the Enlightenment period’s elevation of human reason to an exalted state of influence and the developing concept of the self, over time, has led to a greater reliance on individual authority and accountability and a lesser confidence in overarching principles of belief and behavior.

Concerning these “overarching principles”, as a Christian, I think of the existence of God as revealed in Jesus Christ as embedded in scripture and embodied in two millennia and counting of tradition, and, yes, as viewed through the lens of human reason (though guided by the Holy Spirit) and as refracted through the prism of human experience.

As these things I continue to behold, in manifold forms and in myriad ways, in the active, daily consciousness of the lives and labors of the folk of South Carolina, in posts to come under Of life in the still-Christian South, I will share what I observe.

 

Footnote:

[1] To put this another way, I believe that given our individual experiences and observations, histories and memories, perspectives and opinions, no matter how similar, whenever two people seek to communicate, there always is difference between what is said and what is meant, what is intended and what is understood; thus, the constant individual necessity of defining one’s terms.