During the past two years, evangelical and charismatic pastors have been using Jewish prayer shawls as a means to foster private prayer among their members, according to the new book God-Talk in America (Crossroad, $24.95), by Phyllis Tickle.
In reporting on the Christian retailing and book trade, Tickle, the religion editor of Publisher’s Weekly, found an unexpected interest among conservative Protestants in buying prayer shawls — called “talits” by Jews. It seems that the trend became visible by 1995 as talit sales started to show a strange sales pattern, peaking in the weeks before Easter, Pentecost and Christmas.
One Israeli talit seller (who relocated to the U.S. for access to the Christian market) told Tickle that the shift to prayer shawls among Christians was due to a number of prominent preachers who had begun to suggest that their congregations begin the discipline of routinized, scheduled, deliberate prayer is the foundation of a spiritual life.
Tickle finds it noteworthy that these pastors view the use of the prayer shawl as a way of carrying out Jesus’ call for his followers to “enter into their closets when they pray.” The prayer shawl, in effect, acts as a “closet,” encouraging the practice of solitary prayer. She concludes that these pastors may have caught the signals that such a solitary spirituality will have an important role to play as religious life becomes increasingly disestablished and decentralized.