The call came from the president’s office asking me to pray before the Distinguished Professor’s luncheon. Reynolds Price, the distinguished novelist and member of the English department at Duke, was to give the presentation that day. Since I have harshly and repeatedly criticized civil religion, I at first turned down the opportunity to pray to a vague God who cannot be named as the Father of Jesus Christ. I knew such a “public” occasion, involving people of many faiths, would have people expecting just such a civil religious address of God. But then I reconsidered and called back saying I would do it. It took me all morning to write the prayer.
God, you alone know how we are to pray to you on occasions like this. We do not fear you, since we prefer to fear one another. Accordingly, our prayers are not to you but to some “ultimate vagueness.” You have, of course, tried to scare the hell out of some of us through the creation of your people Israel and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But we are a subtle, crafty and stiff-necked people who prefer to be damned into vagueness. So we thank you for giving us common gifts such as food, friendship and good works that remind us our lives are gifts made possible by sacrifice. We are particularly grateful for your servant Reynolds Price, who graces our lives with your grace. Through such gifts may our desire for status and the envy status breeds be transformed into service that glorifies you. AMEN.
A vague God vaguely prayed to serves no one well. I can report that because of my intervention (and perhaps, prayer) we no longer have a prayer at this event at my university. Instead we have a moment of silence.
From Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), pp. 47-48, 17.