I am currently taking a class that is quite enlightening to me. It is Intercultural and Interpersonal Communication.
I love it. I love that while our teacher is Dutch, the students are from Ukraine, Portugal, and Denmark (talk about intercultural communication!). I love that our textbooks are incredibly interesting and written in a way the reader can relate. I love that finally I know I wasn’t the weird one noticing random things – the differences I have observed during the years of hanging out with people from everywhere really exist.
Last week, I have been thinking about the way we pray.
When I think about it, the fact that people throughout the history of humanity have believed in God / gods shows that people wanted communication. They have felt there is someone bigger who is in charge, but besides simply believing in that someone bigger, people needed to talk with that being – hence, the prayer.
I have observed various approaches to prayer in various religions. Even within the Christian faith, there are different approaches. While I have always been a member of the Nazarene Church, the vast majority of Ukrainians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. Mostly it is because Orthodox Christianity is considered the primary religion of Ukraine and therefore, most people think they are Orthodox just by the virtue of being a Ukrainian. In the US, the Protestants are more numerous than the Orthodox.
However, back to prayer. In Orthodoxy, as well as in Catholicism, you cannot simply approach God with your requests. You have to go through a mediator – usually a saint or Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Nazarene Church, which is a part of Protestant branch, you are welcome to come to God “as you are.”
I have often wondered why the approaches are so different even though it is the same faith.
Both Slavic and the US cultures are very familiar for me. Slavic culture is familiar because I am Ukrainian by birth and have lived my entire life in Ukraine. North-American culture is familiar to me because I have hung out with Americans quite a lot while I was growing up. This experience has given me a chance to observe two cultures from within.
Different communication models.
In Orthodoxy / Catholicism, prayer is more or less an impersonal communication. You ask something of God through someone else and you get your answer through someone else. In Protestant Christianity, however, the prayer is more interpersonal because there is more freedom in communication and less strict rules on how to pray. As I mentioned above, there is also freedom to come before God yourself, without any human mediators.
Power Distance differences.
What I have noticed, when I observed myself, is that when I pray in Russian / Ukrainian, my prayers tend to be more timid than when I am praying in English. The change is subconscious and I never really notice it because it is a part of me, but it is there. The reason for it, I think, is subconscious high and low power distances.
When I am in my “Slavic mode,” my mind acts on the ideas planted in school and elsewhere, that there is a person of authority and unless you are clearly given permission to speak, you should remain quiet until asked. When I am around my English-speaking friends, I switch into low-power-distance mode and can be quite outspoken and don’t mind leading the conversation whereas in Russian / Ukrainian, I would think several times before saying something (or anything at all).
Protestantism thrives in Western countries where power distance level is lower and people generally feel more open and free, where people can speak their mind. Orthodoxy thrives here in CIS because of the high power distance level and the idea that there still are respected modern-day “High Priests” who are in charge and who have the power to dictate how everything should be done.
Whatever the approach we take to pray, it is a natural desire to communicate – and we do it how we know best. However, it is quite useful to identify these trends in our communication and know how to adapt to various styles of worship in different settings.
How do you pray?
Do you claim promises or do you take a more “whatever Your will for me be” approach?
Do you find yourself speaking more officially when you pray or relaxed as if you’re taking to a friend?
Seriously, I am curious.