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Oh My God: Prayer in Mixed Company

What are the social rules on prayer in mixed company?

I hope I’m not opening a can of worms when I ask. I recently moved from an extremely diverse city to an extremely homogenous one. In Orlando, Mickey Mouse was my Lord and Savior. I can’t remember the last time someone truly prayed at a meal. Religion was a private matter and even hinting about it got you a main dish of suspicion accompanied by the occasional side order of HR sauce.

This worked out well for me, because religion is something that happens to other people. I’m not an Angry Angry Atheist nor do I have much in the way of starry-eyed faith, but I think it’s cool when other people do. I think religion is great in theory but I view it much the same way as I do stories about the Greek Gods: entertaining, culturally historical, and utterly inapplicable to me. However, given that my current workplace and the neighbors that we dine with pray before every group meal, I’m at a loss as to what I’m supposed to do. I want to respect their choice while not lying to them and fake-praying alongside them. Is that even possible?

Clearly, I don’t eat before or while they pray. I’ve got that part down. But should I bow my head? Close my eyes? Is that leading them on? I don’t want to give the impression that I’m religious when I’m not. On the flipside, I don’t want to be distractingly and obviously Not Praying, because that’s disrespectful and “HEY LOOK AT ME; I’M A GODLESS HEATHEN. ASK ME HOW”. But my hand is getting forced here.  What’s the best response when the group around me is praying that won’t disrupt the proceedings and damage my reputation? Do I have more or less personal leeway when I dine with my neighbors versus dining with my coworkers? I don’t want to make anyone mad, but I definitely don’t want to give off the wrong impression, because eventually, they’re going to figure out that prayer ain’t my bag.

Maybe I should just be a hunter/gatherer.



4 thoughts on “Oh My God: Prayer in Mixed Company

  1. In my opinion as a more-or-less religious person, if praying before a meal isn’t your thing, that’s okay. I basically don’t pray before a meal. I pray when I need to talk to my Higher Authority, and it’s really no one else’s business but mine and God’s when that is.

    That being said, I guess I would just sit quietly until the others are through praying. But that begs the question: are you deceiving them if you do that? I have a feeling that southeastern Ohio is way less religious than Alabama, so I don’t know if I even have a solution. One would hope that by being respectful of their customs would lead to their being respectful of yours, but I also know that tends to not always be the case.

    So. I don’t actually have an answer. I have some words, though.

    • I’m so glad you replied, because I wanted the opinions of religious people. The last thing I want to do is be offensive. ❤

      Thank you for your opinion, though. Sitting quietly with a bowed head and open eyes has been what I'm doing; it's a little Awkward Turtle but I'd rather that than the alternative.

  2. So I’ve been thinking about this, and even as a practicing Christian I totally get where you’re coming from on this. I don’t generally pray when eating out at restaurants, so it always catches me off guard when I’m out with the rare friend that does…and then they usually start it without warning and do it silently. Not criticizing, just pointing out that even as a religious person I have experienced this awkwardness.

    I had never really thought about it from the non-religious person’s perspective, but here’s what I’ve concluded: I don’t have a good recommendation for your body language during times like this, but if you won’t join me in prayer I would hope that as a fellow human you would take the time to be grateful for the meal we’re about to enjoy together since there are so many people in the world who face a serious battle with hunger. That’s my two cents, anyway.

    • Dude, I will totally be right with you and being grateful for the meal. I think my challenge is that I never know if that’s what the other people are praying for. It’s like being yanked into a play that I haven’t learned the lines. I think I’d be better prepared with a thought to dwell on if I can predict when this situation happens, but it’s like you said – when people just sit down and DO it, I feel like I’m playing catch up and it’s awkward.

      Thank you so much for your helpful perspective!

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