Monday, July 28, 2008

A Recital and Religion

A few weeks ago, my oldest son participated in his annual piano recital. His teacher organizes her students into recitals from their earliest lessons—in fact, this year a kid who had had only one or two lessons participated: he bowed to the audience.

As always, the recital was at a nursing home. This provides a change of routine for residents who choose to attend. There was a piano in the dining room, and members of the audience pulled chairs back from the tables and turned them toward the front. There was a decent turnout of residents who occupied the forward rows while parents of piano and voice students sat every which where around the room.

While listening to the performers, I couldn’t help but notice that the four-seat dining table in front of me had a tent card on it printed with three dinner blessings. One was titled Protestant, another was titled Roman Catholic, and the other was titled Jewish.

First of all: I’m certain that by the time you move into a nursing home, you’re going to know a blessing appropriate to your religious affiliation. I puzzled over this for a bit, and decided that the intent of the card was, perhaps, to promote understanding—a Jew could see the blessing of a Catholic or Protestant, a Catholic could see blessings of Jews and Protestants, and a Protestant could see blessings of Catholics and Jews. Sharing insights into faith, I believe, shows good moral fiber.

Then, I wondered: How rigid are these religions? The Catholic blessing on the tent card was familiar, but the Jewish and Protestant blessings were news to me. It’s hard to believe that Catholics everywhere say this particular blessing before dining… but maybe they all do. With Judaism having so many branches, it’s even harder to believe that there is one proper dinner blessing for all of them. Most certainly, the blessing labeled Protestant is arbitrary: even if it originated from a Protestant church, there are so many dozens of Protestant religions that no one dinner blessing could satisfy all of them. What’s more, the very designation of Protestant suggests a follower would question the validity of one blessing over the validity of any other; a good protestant wouldn’t let a nursing home administrator dictate how to give thanks at dinner.

Finally, I thought: Is this all there is? No Hindu prayer? No Islamic prayer? No Native American prayer? Nothing Buddhist, Confucius, Tao, or Zen? Of course not; not in Lewisburg. Prayers on the tables were as underrepresented as the religions of the world are in our community.

Anyway, the prayer tent cards really challenged me. There were also name cards at each seat, so apparently the same people eat in the nursing home dining room meal-after-meal. With that understanding, and all my musing about the specific prayers, I came full circle back to “first of all…” I’m not about to enter a nursing home, but I know how to pray before a meal. If I last long enough to check into a nursing home, it’ll be one that doesn’t have semi-eclectic prayer cards on the dining tables.

Oh. I enjoyed the recital.

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