A new report this week says more and more Americans are pursuing their spirituality outside of a church. Maybe there’s something to it.
On a midday walk through uptown, I’ve come across an unusual prayer service. Unusual because it’s both public and private. Unusual because my prayer partner is a cat.
Unusual, too, because prayer flags are not an everyday occurrence in Fourth Ward.
The pieces of cloth, rippling in a light breeze, hang along Pine Street, tied between a maple and a light pole.
The cat moves beneath them, flicking jabs at the string that hold the flags in place. It has a question mark for a tail.
I have questions, too.
What are these pleas being picked up by the wind and sent tumbling over the city?
And given the amped-up sound stage that spiritual life has become, can God still hear them?
God hears every word
I made my first confession at 7 and it scared me to death. Just me, the priest and my sins, which I carried into the confessional like a stained white shirt. We whispered. God heard every word.
My mother took a different approach. She made more noise during confession than an “American Idol” contestant down to her last song. The entire world had no choice but to bear witness to her unworthiness. I covered my ears.
She was clearly ahead of her time. So much of prayer life has become public and loud. I see it on my walks: Street preachers armed with biblical certainty firing away at passers-by; believers, often with microphones, arguing conflicting sides of religious freedom, marriage and life.
Last week, I watched a news report on a group of Texas high school cheerleaders suing to continue their tradition of creating banners with Bible verses for the football team to burst through on Friday nights. And why not? Spiritual debate these days begs for a whistle and a rule book.
Not in Fourth Ward, though. Here, the ancient Tibetan tradition of stringing up prayers is quietly going about its business.
I knocked on the door of the home. The owner didn’t know much about what was hanging in his yard. Some group had asked permission. After more than a week he had thought about taking the flags down.
For some reason he hadn’t gotten around to it.
By now, some of the prayers from the flags must have reached the mountains, maybe even the coast. So I take a closer look to see what Pine Street is sending out to the world.
Prayers for love – and curiosity
“Love all families,” one says.
When I unfurl another, it reveals a mantra – Peace, Love, Unity, Respect – covering both sides.
My favorite has a secular slant. “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity,” it reads.
There is even a short poem.
“From those who dwell below the skies, let songs of hope and faith arise.
Let peace, good will on Earth be sung, in every land, on every tongue.”
I say a silent Amen and imagine it floating after the other prayers. Maybe the cat will give chase.