Four Fridays now, I have observed midday prayers with my Muslim brothers and sisters.
A month ago, EEC reached out to MAS and they reached back. That is, my parish Emmanuel Episcopal Church (post the infamous seven country travel ban), reached out in friendship to the Muslim American Society Community Center.
I called their office and left a message:
“We are with you. May we come to Friday prayers? We want to stand with you and support you as a mutual sign of our faith in God.”
Merehan Elhady (Mimi), the Outreach Director, called me right back. Little did I know, their mosque and school had been threatened with violence, with arson, and heinously, even threatened with the kidnapping of their children. This first Friday we shared prayers, the Fairfax County Chief of Police came to speak in support of the Muslim community’s safety and security.
At the end of the talk, I turned to our hosts. “We are with you,” was all that I could manage to say.
“You are courageous, to come,” they told us. “Heavens no! All we did was show up. You are a blessing to us and we will be back.”
Half a dozen of us, each week, have observed prayers at MAS. And now our Muslim brothers and sisters are becoming our friends: Thoraia, Mimi, and Aseel. Now on a first name basis, each Friday we greet one another with hugs.
I cover my hair haphazardly with a scarf. I leave my shoes in the cubbies outside the worship space. I take a seat on the floor. The first two weeks, I sit behind the women. These past two weeks, we sit side by side.
Like we Episcopalians in the pews, we listen to the preacher share a message of love and compassion. And a bit like Episcopal aerobics, we bow, we kneel, we fold our hands over our hearts in prayer. Three times we touch our foreheads to the floor.
The chanted Arabic is haunting and beautiful. Though I do not understand a word, the prayers resonate with my soul. Happily I discern and learn, their meaning hews closely to the words of our own.
Muslims prepare for prayer with the cleansing of hands and feet and face, as they turn their thoughts to God. Just as in the BCP we pray:
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
At the mosque, at midday prayers, the worshippers raise their hands and proclaim the greatness of the Lord: “Allahu Akbar.”
And at church, for five Sundays in Lent, we will begin with the summary of the law:
“Jesus said, ‘The first commandment is this: Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
And this heart of the Gospel, is echoed in the heart of the Qur’an:
“Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone do we worship and from you alone do we seek aid. Show us the Straight Way, the way upon those you have bestowed your grace not of those who have earned your wrath and gone astray.” Qur’an 1: 2-6
This faith strengthens my faith. These prayers redouble mine. Like Najashi, a Christian king of Ethiopia, proclaimed: the difference between their faith and mine is as thin as a line in the sand.
No. I am not about to convert to Islam. Jesus is the Eternal Word, for ever, the Human Face of God for me — and always will be.
But for forty days this Lent, I will be a Muslim.
Five times a day, I will pray my Anglican rosary with my Roman Catholic prayers. Kneeling. Standing. Sitting. Walking. I will praise my God body and soul. Daybreak. Midday. Afternoon. Sunset. Night.
Through Muslim eyes, I will try to draw closer to Jesus. Isa, he is called in the Qur’an. Named and proclaimed as: Messiah. Messenger. Prophet. Parable. Word. Witness. Sign. Spirit. Servant. All that is missing is ‘Lord’.
A bibliophile, I will do this by reading books, of course.
Holy books: the Gospels, the Surah.
A history book of faith: “Islam: a Short Introduction” by Karen Armstrong.
And the story of a Sufi Muslim writer and novelist, Mazhar Mallouhi: “A Pilgrim of Christ on the Muslim Road” by P-G Chandler.
And Friday prayers 1:15 PM at MAS, of course.(Check the schedule for other times!)
And Friday Stations of the Cross, 7:00 PM at EEC.
Join with me these 40 days of Lent, if you please.
The difference between us and them is as thin as a line in the sand.
This time last year, I was feeling “Bookish”.
Having met Meredith Maslich, at the Story District rebrand bash, I was psyched to learn that she heads – Possibilities Publishing – a unique, boutique, partnership approach to the book trade.
Maybe I could turn Unorthodox & Unhinged into a book? A radically manic idea! Meredith and I met over coffee to discuss the possibility. But the journey, from blogger to author, is in reality a gargantuan leap.
Long story short: U&U has not morphed into a book.
But short story long: U&U has made into a book.
A reflective piece I wrote, Make New Friends and…, is the opening chapter in Besties, Bromances & Soulmates, this year’s Possibilities Publishing anthology. Between its covers, half a dozen writers explore “pivotal relationships” and the gift of friendship through short story, essay, fiction and non.
So is it any wonder that”Thank you for being my friend”, the old Golden Girls’ theme song, is ringing in my ears. And this post election week, it rings all the more dearly and resonates all the more deeply.
Our country has just come “through the great ordeal”. Well, we are not actually through anything.
Post election, I am experiencing waves of grief. I am stumbling, disoriented as if awoken from a bad dream. My bleeding heart liberal sensibilities have been overwhelmed. Knocked down and beneath these waves, I struggle to come up for air.
How about you?
As a coping mechanism, I have poured myself into my work. In just two days, I plowed through two week’s worth. I have stayed up later and gotten up earlier, cramming 27 plus hours into my day. Possibly by abandoning sleep, my busyness will belay my fears.
Mania, for a day or two or three, is awesome.
Mania, for a week or two or three, not so much.
So how do I – do we – rein in the mania when we are feeling so unmoored?
Well, very simply, by tightening the ties that bind.
By calling friends,
talking with friends,
having coffee with friends, dinner with friends,
walking with friends,
hiking with friends,
biking with friends,
Netflix/Hulu binge watching with friends,
cocktail partying with friends,
road tripping with friends,
book clubbing with friends,
bar hopping with friends,
pew sitting with friends,
praying with friends,
couch surfing with friends,
shooting the breeze or catching a movie with friends,
cooking with friends,
baking with friends,
crafting with friends,
board gaming with friends,
protesting with friends,
witnessing with friends,
volunteering with friends,
peace making with friends,
reconciling with friends.
Common ground, mutual support, trust, concern and compassion.
Love, respect, and admiration.
Friends restore one another’s souls and revive one another’s spirits.
This art of “befriending” is fueled by our tending to our friendships. Befriending the other, the new, the stranger, in this post-election season, is desperately what we need. Not rushing to an easy or happy-clappy reconciliation, but working towards deep, honest, life affirming connections.
Working towards a radical “we”.
Which brings me back to Besties, Bromances & Soulmate, a perfect little book to honor a friend or tuck into a Christmas stocking (or for Chanukah, Kwanzaa, etc.). These half a dozen stories celebrate the pivotal relationships in our lives.
Friendship begets friendship.
Love begets love.
December 11th at 4:00 PM, this little book is going to be launched. Its a friendly affair with author readings, book signings, and refreshments at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 1608 Russell Rd in Alexandria, VA.
Bring a friend, a family member, an acquaintance, a coworker. Invite a Muslim friend, a Mormon friend, a Jewish friend, a Buddhist friend, an agnostic friend, an immigrant friend, an LGBTQ friend, an African American friend, a Hispanic friend, an old friend, your BFF, your next door neighbor, or the new guy who just moved in from across the street.
Ask a Hillary voter or a Trump supporter to come along.
It’s the Christian thing to do.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.