Contents: UU World Back Issue

This time, I'll pray without ceasing

by Tom Goldsmith

My experiences with public prayer began when I was a 26-year-old starry-eyed minister hoping to change the world with my invocation at a town meeting in Scituate, Massachusetts. We were gathered in the Scituate High School gym and, never having attended a town meeting before, I carefully crafted a homily in lieu of the hoped-for thirty-second mumble necessary to start the real business at hand.

I dared to glance up from my lengthy prepared text only to find a puzzled expression on the faces of everyone around me. I knew it would be good for them to hear my wise words, but felt instinctively it would prove better for me if I found a quick exit. I hastily built a bridge to the concluding paragraph and sat down. A member of my church who was so proud initially to have his minister deliver the invocation put his arm around me and said, with a hint of a Maine accent: “Good words, but a little more than we needed.”

Invocations have continued to vex me. When asked to invoke the spirit at a University of Utah Founder's Day dinner, President Chase Peterson said to me afterwards, “Is that what Unitarians call a prayer?” And after an invocation at a fundraising dinner for Choice, with Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden as master of ceremonies, I was advised by Frank to pray for his players, who could use such a “stern talking-to.”

I was asked to bless the fleet at the Salt Lake Yacht Club years ago. This is a benign ritual to begin their season, and as I stood at the edge of the rocks with a walkie-talkie in hand so all the yachtsmen out on the lake could hear my sacred words, some spirit possessed me. I berated them all for a lack of social conscience and warned them to be mindful of the rest of us who have neither yacht nor canoe to navigate the lap of luxury. When I was done I was told that they usually had Catholic priests bless the yachts, a custom to which I think they have gratefully returned.

I am writing this on the day before delivering an invocation to the Utah State Senate, an honor I have held for too many years. By now I know the desired length, the vapid mumble necessary preceding the legislative business, but every year I still receive curious glances from our august legislative body. I am obviously missing the right formula. When I stand before (arguably) the most conservative body of legislators in the country, ostensibly delivering God's word to the State House, can you blame me for my penchant to reform them all . . . in a single invocation?

I shared my dilemma with the crowd at the Sunday night Folk Vespers at the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake the other night and asked them for recommendations for my prayer. One guy suggested that, in a state where the Mormons consider themselves “the house of Israel,” I pray for “no Gentile left behind.”

I still might incorporate that. In fact, I might well incorporate everything because my intention now is to filibuster. I will pray tirelessly to the end of the legislative session so that none of the insane bills will pass. Are they going to throw out a minister?

So, in order to keep the United States in the United Nations and to prevent the legislators' homophobia from making laws barring gay marriage and to limit the legislature from embarrassing us all further, I'm just going to pray there for a couple of weeks and bring the ultra-right agenda to a grinding halt . . . in the name of God. This may well be my last public prayer, or the last time I'll be asked. I pray that's the case.

 Contents: UU World Back Issue
: 19-20

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