Every morning I, David, pray with Jews,
my brothers, my sisters. Their scripture
fallen into my hands, fills my mind,
names me. I take their prayers,
the longing of their psalms,
I hear their pain, share their dreams,
my amen I join to theirs.
And I regret every morning
I can’t pray with more distant relatives,
my brothers, my sisters, children of Hagar.
A step too far. What are their longings,
what are their dreams?
I pray, that as I pray, they pray,
with me, for me, amen.
The photo is by mrehan, found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrehan00/3455167464
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I am grateful to Ivonprefontaine for reminding me about Rumi’s wonderful poem, The Guest House. It seems perfect for Lent in that it explores an important dimension of hospitality in a way that reminds me of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness.
Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet. He was a Sunni Muslim, theologian and Sufi mystic. He was the “father” of the Whirling Dervishes (founded by his son, Sultan Walad).
The image of the poem is freely available through Pixabay
“Consider these facts. In Italy the right to worship, without discrimination, is enshrined within the constitution. There are 1.35 million Muslims in Italy and yet only eight official mosques in the whole country. … This shortage of places to worship is particularly acute in North East Italy as the right wing Lega Nord party campaigns on an anti-Islamic platform. this region, consent to build a new mosque is never granted.”
That is how Martin Parr introduces a wonderful book that documents the places of worship improvised by the Muslim population of NE Italy, a large proportion of whom are migrant workers. The book is called Hidden Islam and is made up of a series of photographs by Nicolo Degiorgis of the places of worship housed in lockups, garages, shops, warehouses and old factories.
The book’s design is intriguing. Each page is folded. On the outside of the fold is a simple black and white photo of a shop, warehouse etc together with the building’s postcode. There is no clue on the outside of what goes on in the inside. To find that out, we have to go to the inside of the fold – and there we find vibrant photos of Friday Prayers. For example, the stark exterior photo of a garage (postcode V136015)
opens to this
A wonderful book which tells a disgraceful story in a disarmingly simple way.
My own morning prayers took me to Ezra 6 in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). That situation offers such a contrast to what is happening in Italy and in so many other places where the rights and needs of religious minorities are ignored. The scene there is the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem with the support of the imperial government. Royal revenues were to be used to provide whatever was necessary “so that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his children.” (Ezra 6:10).
It seems obvious to me that religious people need to gather to pray, to pray even for those who persecute them, and to pray for the welfare of the city. Religious landmarks in our cities and on our skylines are reminders of our vocation as children of God. They should be there for all our citizens.
14th century poet Hafiz suggests two ways of playing God at chess.
What is the difference
Between your Existence
And that of a Saint?
The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the beloved
Has just made such a fantastic move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over joy
And bursting out in laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”
Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.
Photo from Gabork
>I have been following Riazat Butt’s pilgrimage to Mecca. It sounds a wonderful experience – millions of people moving together in worship of God. One of the principles of Haj, and one of the beauties of Islam is the practice of equality – we are all equal in the eyes of God. In prayer Muslims stand shoulder to shoulder. (No fancy hats, private pews or deferential behaviour!) However, it seems that it is hard to keep differences out of even the Haj, as this clip shows.
The Christian practice of hospitality is also inspired by the insight that the poor are and have a particular blessing. It is the rich who go empty away from God. It is the poor who are raised up. God can even swim against the tide of world power, even if we find it impossible to resist.
>Maggi Dawn’s blog led me to Charles Strohmer‘s excellent piece on the contorversy surrounding this year’s 9/11 anniversary. News coverage has been centred on the threatened Qur’an burnings – which has taken over from this solemn time of remembrance.
Elsewhere, Strohmer draws attention to Greek theatre and the development of theory. he writes:
“in the theatrical culture of ancient Greece, … their words for theater and theory meant very nearly the same thing. Theatron (our theater) meant “the seeing place,” or the “place for seeing” or “viewing” the performing arts. (Similar meanings are found in the Latin and French for theater.) Theoria (our theory) meant “looking at,” “seeing,” “viewing,” which for us today has come to indicate speculation or contemplation as opposed to action.”
This is a good way to look at learning. When we see “interplay” and “interaction” we draw conclusions – or formulate theories – which then inform our responses. In the UK we have a strong tradition of “Remembrance” to remember those who have lost their lives in war. There is great theatre attached to Remembrance, with veterans parading and showing their respect, the wearing of poppies, and the re-play of wartime experiences. This helps us “to see” and “find meaning” and shapes our responses.
The media have been sucked in by Rev Terry Jones’s stunt for his planned Qur’an burning. The real action for spotlighting is the thing that Jones is complaining about. He has missed the plot – and the reality is summed up by Strohmer who describes the real purpose of the project Jones is re-acting against. That purpose seems to me to be a really faithful attempt to make sense of what is happening based on the theory that “a broad multifaith coalition can help to repair the damage that has been done to Muslim-American relations over the past fifty years.” (from What’s right with Islam by Imam Rauf)
Here’s what Strohmer says:
The Park51 project is somewhat modeled after the famous multi-use 92nd Street Y. The wide-ranging programs for their proposed community center would include recreational facilities, such as a swimming pool and gym; exhibition space; conference rooms for education and forums, such as about empowering Muslim women; space for weddings and parties; day care and a senior center; areas for interfaith activity and prayer spaces for Jews, Christians, and people of other faiths; and cultural spaces, including a 500 seat theater for the performing arts. In other words, the center will be open to everyone and anyone.
We have heard it said “beware of strangers” – usually because of what they are liable to take – our jobs, our women, our money.
The Bible encourages us to welcome the stranger. Many are mentioned in the Bible as people who are welcomed as gifts from God (like Melchizedek, Pharoah, Ruth, Queen of Sheba, the Canaanite woman – and many others). Jesus himself is seen as a stranger and sees himself as a stranger – he sees himself in the outsider, the poor, the prisoner and the sick and teaches his disciples to recognise him in the stranger and outsider. (Matthew 25)
We have much to learn about entertaining strangers. Here’s one story which Sam Wells tells in his book, God’s Companions. It is about a couple who go on holiday and take a lift to a scenic viewpoint. They had a Muslim guide. They rushed off to take some photographs, and then realised that they had not seen their guide for some time. Walking around a corner they saw him, semi-prostrate, praying to God. They were humbled realising how they and he had spent the last 15 minutes. They talked about this when they got home and shared this prayer with their congregation:
“If I love thee for hope of heaven, then deny me heaven;
If I love thee for fear of hell, then deny me hell;
But if I love thee for thyself alone, then give me thyself alone.”
People were confused when they discovered it was a Muslim prayer, but the couple who had been on the holiday pointed out that just as the guide had been a gift to them in jolting their spiritual complacency, so this prayer could also be a gift – perhaps dispelling some ignorance and prejudice about Islam.