Tonight I found myself engaged in thought about the benefits of school prayer. My friend Carina had sent out a comment she received on her blog espousing the wonders of school prayer. This all got me to thinking about the nature ouf our country and what it is we really want.
First off, I think think prayer is great. Prayer as a form of meditation is incredibly important. As a Christian, prayer as a form of communication with God is vitally important to my faith. As a teacher in a parochial school, I pray several times a day with my students. Prayer has been shown to heal wounds, physical and emotional, as well as spiritual. Prayer is great.
Not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim? That's okay. You don't have to pray to God to get prayer's benefits. Prayer to, or meditation on, whatever your "higher power" may be is helpful and great too. Study upon study shows this to be true, or as true as anything intangible can be. The point is, prayer, spiritual reflection, or meditation helps us in a vareity of ways. At the most basic level, even enjoying a few minutes of real silence in this world of noise, constant stimulation, and activity can have wonderful benefits. People live longer, healthier lives, and students do better in school when they pray or meditate. So why no school prayer?
Well the catch is that mandated school prayer, or even a group sort of "you can pray with the rest of us if you want" kind of thing violates separation of church and state. Publicly funded schools can't acknowledge any one religion without allowing for them all. You can't force a Judeo-Christian God on Bobby the Driuid (as much as you might like to). Can you imagine the morning Our Father, prayer to Mecca, tree hugging, chanting, or moment of silence option? It just can't work in a public school. While prayer may very well do a lot of good (and I believe it does), it's not going to solve the many problems and skewed values many Americans hold. It won't save us from violence in an impoverished inner-city school. It's not going to make parents pay any more attention to their kids than before. Prayer won't make us stop wanting, wanting, wanting anything and everything the television and media advertises. Not by iteself, anyway.
No, prayer is not the answer for public education. Perhaps we should instead look at what it is within us that makes some yearn for it. Maybe we should look at what we hope to accomplish by introducing faith and spirituality back into schools. Why do we think prayer will help? What is it we lack that that we think prayer may provide? What else can we do, besides violate the constitution, that will aid us in our quest for better children and healthier spiritual lives? I think many of us can guess at far more effective answers than mandated school prayer, but no one wants to accept them. Dollars don't come from a culture that favors love of fellow man over that latest fashion. The fact is, unless we as an entire society, as an entire culture, or group of sub-cultures, change our values and desires, and try to agree on what it is we want our country to be, then we are sunk. We'll just keep on attaching dollar signs to happiness and calibers to power. Let's work on changing ourselves before we try to force sentimental memories on a generation in need of role models, not new rules. Let's change our kids with love and attention and good examples, not some new political fight that further divides our already crumbling nation. Then, and only then, can a universal American spirituality surface. Then it won't be a question of why, but of how.