On a recent Sunday evening, I participated in a lovely experience that combined spirituality, fellowship, learning, and peace. Sandy Kolb planned a gathering of Muslim men and women who wanted to share their Iftar meal with us at St. Alban’s. The Iftar meal is the daily evening meal during Ramadan that breaks the fast that the Muslims hold between sunrise and sunset each day until the end of the 30 day period of Ramadan. This Muslim group brought to St. Alban’s and our parishioners a delicious dinner. But even more important, they brought their friendship and their faith to share with us. It was an inviting opportunity to learn about Ramadan and to talk about Ramadan and Islam with Muslims from many parts of the world, not just the United States.
The discussions in which I participated were very interactive, with all of us sharing our experiences with religion, personal and community spirituality, as well as culture. In one conversation group, we talked about the concept of fasting and the special month of Ramadan as a time to break routine. Breaking the routine of our normal, daily lives can open spaces to encounter God. Increasing spiritual awareness through this break and through fasting can raise awareness of our connections with God. This concept is a familiar one to Christianity from the ascetics of the early Christian era to the monks and nuns of the medieval Christian period to the spiritual retreats of today. We talked about the theological concept of submission to God’s will. Doing what would not be our habit nor for our own pleasure for a month awakens the soul. It can bring us closer to God. We as Christians also value submission to the will of God as distinguished from our own, possibly selfish, wills. In the arguably most well-known Christian prayer, we ask God that “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I also thought of C. S. Lewis as we discussed the concept of submission to God. He talks about the illusion of human self-sufficiency in The Problem of Pain. “They [Adam and Eve] wanted, as we say, to “call their souls their own.” But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives.” He conveys the thought of submission to our potential and to our destiny as children of God so much more eloquently than I could.
In another group, Margie Delaney and I talked with people about their experiences in the their native countries and in United States as Muslims in this era of disquietude and our experiences in the predominantly Muslim areas we had visited. I have vivid memories of the calls to prayer in Tunisia. The call to prayer five times a day that pervaded the ambiance of Tunisia each day was inspiring to me. The earliest morning call was a bit disconcerting to me at first—not being a morning person. But I came to appreciate even that call to connect with God. As a result of the time in Tunisia 20 years ago, I found a commitment to the daily office tradition of the monastic Christian orders. It has been a part of my prayer life since that time. I keep Christian books of hours and books on daily liturgical seasonal prayer, at my bedside, in my car, and in secular offices, as well as web sites on my computer that include daily offices complete with instrumental music, hymns and chants. My encounter with the Muslim call to prayer as a daily connection with God has enriched my life as a Christian. It has also brought me closer to my Muslim brothers and sisters.
I include a YouTube clip of the traditional evening call to prayer—the same call to prayer one young man chanted Sunday night during our time together—the same call to prayer that is heard all over the world every day.
May the peace and fellowship in the one God be with all of us now and always.