Traditions sometimes have a powerful momentum. The practice of giving a religious invocation before meetings of the Huntington Beach City Council rolled right over the idea of substituting a moment of silence at Tuesday’s meeting.
Personally, my thoughts on public prayer track with Matthew 6:5-15. You could look it up.
But I also have some sympathy for the folks who figured that silent reflection might not be the equivalent of a full-strength out-loud offering.
As Philip Roth wrote in “The Great American Novel” and Penny Marshall in “A League of their Own,” silent prayer sometimes leads to petitions to The Almighty more selfish than altrustic.
Baseball players in those works prayed for home runs, strikeouts and strength in wobbly aging knees. And any little kid exiled – with good reason, probably – to right field secretly implores Heaven to “Please don’t let them hit the ball to me.”
As one speaker pointed out, a moment of silence often leads to wandering attention, especially when the moment extends to minutes. You can tell when that happens. Feet start to shift. Folks glance at their watches. Throats are cleared. I tend to rotate my neck.
I sometimes find myself with non-pious thoughts like, “Did I forget to lock the front door? What’s for lunch? The Angels really need a better bullpen. That lady’s perfume is really strong!”
And finally, another argument in favor of public prayer is that when you take a look at the hijinks in Congress and certain (unnamed) city councils and school boards, it’s hard to not come to the conclusion that nothing short of Divine Intervention would get them to raise their standard of public service a few notches higher than that of the Marx Brothers.
That’s Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx. Not Karl.
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