Interfaith panel highlights prayer among different religious traditions

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Leaders from different religious traditions sit down for an interfaith panel on prayer on BYU campus Oct. 19. Each panelist had the opportunity to answer questions from students. (Bryan Barba Salazar)

The BYU Interfaith Student Association, the university chaplain and the Office of Belonging hosted an interfaith panel centered around prayer on campus Thursday, Oct. 19.

According to Leah Marett, a grad student employee for the university chaplain, the goal of the event was to expose the student population to perspectives they may not have heard before in a way that is accessible to them.

“The panel is a really good way to introduce students to new ideas and give them deep thoughts about those ideas,” Marett said.

Members of the panel included Rabbi Chaim Zippel from the Chabad of Utah County, Pastor David Gaskins from the Mosaic Church, Friar Gabriel Mosher from the Catholic Newman Center and Imam Shuaib Din from Utah Islamic Center.

Andrew Reed from BYU’s religious education department represented the perspective of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reed opened the event by talking about the importance of prayer in general and in the Church of Jesus Christ’s tradition, as well as the importance of interfaith interaction for BYU and Latter-day Saint audiences.

After Reed’s brief remarks, those who attended had the opportunity to submit their questions to the panel using a QR code. Marett, who acted as the moderator for the panel, would pull a question from the submission bank and pose it to the panelists.

When asked to describe how people in their faith traditions pray, each panelist had an opportunity to respond.

According to Friar Gabriel Mosher, there are several types of prayer within the Catholic tradition, each with a different purpose. Although these prayers may appear different, Mosher explained they share some common ground.

“It’s all sort of this very personal, very intimate, deeply tied up with the affective work of the person, uniting the mind or heart,” Mosher said.

One submitted question asked the panelists how they would counsel someone who feels their prayers are not being answered. In response, Pastor David Gaskins shared one of his favorite Bible verses found in Lamentations 3:21-24.

Using this scripture, Gaskins invited those who attended to follow Jeremiah’s example and turn to the Lord in the midst of despair.

“Trust in the character of the Lord, even when you can’t see what His hands are doing,” Gaskins said.

Zippel answers a question at the interfaith panel event. He encouraged attendees to continue praying even when answers don’t come. (Bryan Barba Salazar)

Rabbi Chaim Zippel shared a friend’s experience who was supposed to go on a business trip but could not get on the plane because it was overbooked. His friend returned home just in time to discover he needed emergency surgery.

Zippel used this experience to demonstrate how God is looking out for everyone’s best interests, even if those individuals are unaware at the time.

“The goal is to try to recognize that there’s something, someone running the world, and they’re not forgetting about us, we’re not on our own. We’re all part of the plan, even if it doesn’t feel convenient at this moment,” Zippel said.

As the conversation continued, different speakers highlighted the similarities among the various religious traditions. They emphasized how all religious people are engaged in the same pursuit of reaching toward and connecting with God. As a result of this shared purpose, panelists explained participating in interfaith prayer should not be an issue.

“There’s so much similarity. One is to recognize that we are all praying to the same one God, whether we call them a God, Yahweh, Allah, the source of life,” Imam Shuaib Din said.

The panelists answered these and other questions regarding personal experiences with prayers, body posture and language, as well as vulnerability in prayers.

Grace Christensen, a BYU junior studying public health from Boston, Massachusetts, shared attending the event was timely because she had recently been thinking about prayer.

Christensen explained seeing others’ devotion to their faith helped her ponder her own connection to God. For her, Din’s insights regarding sincerity in prayer were particularly meaningful.

“That really stuck with me that when we are sincere and vulnerable, that’s when we can really connect with Him and reconnect with our core beliefs,” Christensen said.

For Christensen, the event sparked a rededication in her commitment to make prayer a more central part of her life.

A student takes notes at Thursday’s interfaith panel. Some students attended the event as part of an assignment. (Bryan Barba Salazar)

Elaina Hall, a senior in strategic management from Pocatello, Idaho, attended the event in hopes to learn how to pray better. She explained she could see in the panelists’ responses and tone how much prayer meant to them.

Hall stayed after the panel ended to personally talk with and thank every panelist member. She lingered with Mosher because, according to her, something he said was an answer to her prayer.

Because of the event, Hall wanted to try to put into practice what she learned.

“I want to try and channel what the four of them seem to channel, which is prayer is complete submission to God and an alignment with his will,” Hall said.

The event also inspired Hall to connect more deeply with her community and gain more compassion and understanding for people around her from different religious traditions.

“If everyone is truly a child of God, which I believe that they are, then everyone has something good to offer. Every single person can teach you something new about your own life and about where you are on your trajectory to God,” Hall said.

Joseph Blanchard was another student who attended the event. Blanchard, a BYU junior from Brigham City, studies interdisciplinary humanities with a special interest in religion.

Blanchard shared the event was especially powerful because of how the various faith traditions found common ground surrounding prayer.

“They said, ultimately, it’s about your heart,” Blanchard said.

Marett, who helped organize the interfaith panel event, was happy with the attendance and response from the panel’s audience. For her, even if just one student learned something from the discussion, the event was worthwhile.

Attendees clapping at the end of the interfaith panel event. The attendees offered a standing ovation for the panelists. (Bryan Barba Salazar)
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