I would agree about not getting grief for not joining in. With my wife it's not hard. She knows where I stand on this, although she has serious disagreement. So far, I've been able to avoid issues with the in-laws. I know a day is coming where it's going to get pretty unconfortable. They're Kansas bible thumpers of the type where every topic of conversation somehow has a connection to god or the bible. Drives me nuts but if I have faith in anything it's that they won't come visit more than once a year or so. Besides, it's like practicing for the day when they have alzheimers.
As I've mentioned before, we do "thank U's" in our house before dinner so that seems to deflect the issue. We go around the table with everybody expressing their appreciation for something. It could be an act of kindness by one of us, a neighbor or anyone else they know. It could be an appreciation for something as simple as the weather. My son, 7 years old, once thanked the company that made the Skylanders video game. I thought that was somehow appropriate. None of it is religious...that comes in the end, with my wife leading the kids in their catholic type whatnots. I have a lot of practice at appearing respectful. The more I do it, the less I feel my manhood or dignity has been sacrificed. I think it's a sign of personal strength that a person can be firm in their beliefs yet accept others in theirs. Of course that assumes they make no significant demands upon us.
Usually I will just not pray, nor pretend to. Have a look around. See who else isn't praying. It's a great way to figure out who in your group isn't afraid to buck the norm, even if they may still be theists. If the prayer drones on and on, I might read or look at my phone, but that doesn't happen too often.
The exception is when visiting my mother's parents. Though they know I don't attend church, I've never talked much with them about it, and my grandfather will often ask me to "ask the blessing". Not having it in myself to say no, instead I *give* a blessing. Consider it the humanist version of prayer. It turns out, group prayer was never about communicating with god. It's all about the people who hear you. Translating it to my new-found "faith" wasn't hard at all.
Thought you all might find that compromise interesting. It always makes me giggle when my mom rolls her eyes after my un-prayer.
I used to go to 12-step meetings for abuse survivors. The idea is that people share something they need to talk about - their feelings, their struggles - while others listened without comment.
This felt to me - both talking and listening - like a spiritual thing. Like the sharing was about asking for some kind of help and the listening was about giving love - being on the God-end of things.
After the meeting people would continue sharing in conversations with others, stimulated by what had happened in the meeting.
That's a very nice story. I've had similar feelings in the past, especially in conversations with others that required exposing vulnerabilities and possibly appearing weak. There is something about experiencing empathy and expressing compassion that somehow feels spiritual. I've come to believe this is probably the best part of how we are wired as humans. At the same time, I've also wondered if it played a part in the creation of religions. I'd much rather think this than that it was created by opportunists to exploit others.
And so it goes, all my thoughts lead to rambling speculation...
It seemed to me that religion was tinselly by comparison, with the bad smell of craziness.
As Yeats wrote, "Love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement, for nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent"
Of course the experience had its warts too ...
After years of my ridiculous early practice of splitting the difference (bowing my head but keeping my eyes open!), I finally decided to do about what Steph S said, that is, head up, eyes open, glancing around the room, but trying not to appear as if 'sneaking a peak,' so to speak, by staring at persons who are genuinly praying.