In the aftermath of the Trump election, friends of mine were posting online that if a Muslim registry gets set up, they would register as Muslims. Others questioned whether this was a meaningful gesture. Would such registrations be compared against who actually goes to mosque or even has Muslim friends? Instead, they suggested, attend a mosque or at least an inter-faith event. Get to know some Muslims.
With this in mind, together with my own journey of trying to figure out what God wants of me, when a friend of mine who is a Muslim chaplain invited me to the Seventh Annual Shura and In-Service Training for Chaplains and Imams and Other Service Providers to the Muslim Community sponsored by the Association of Muslim Chaplains, I decided to attend the event.
I am not an Imam nor a chaplain, but I am exploring if chaplaincy might be part of my journey. Likewise, I don’t currently provide services to the Muslim community, but that may also be part of my journey.
As I headed to the event, I wondered how I would be received. What it would be like, for me, a white Christian male to attend a Muslim event which would also probably have more people of color than white people?
One of the first breakout session I attended was about Building Diverse Allies in Post-Presidential Election America. It was a great session. One of the things that was talked about was cultural appropriation. Being mindful of this, I am seeking respectful and considerate ways of joining with the struggle of Muslims in describing myself as a Muslim Episcopalian.
Muslim means, one who submits to God. We might use the Arabic word for God, Allah. We might speak of God in terms of the Abrahamic traditions, the God of Abraham. We might speak of God as Creator. While I might have some minor differences in my understanding of who God compared to my Muslim or Jewish brothers and sisters, I do believe we are all worshiping the same God, and that if we take our faith seriously, we are all called to submit to the same God. Likewise, there are probably minor differences in understanding and practices of how we submit to God.
While those who are afraid of Muslims might say, but that’s not what we mean, and talk about Muslims from other countries that might threaten us, I would suggest that this real meaning of Muslim is, in fact, much more threatening to the powers of the world. In submitting to God, we are recognizing a power that is greater than the presidency, than nations, than even consumer product brands. The power of God is frightening to the powers of this world.
So, as I seek to submit to God within the traditions and understandings of the Episcopal Church, I feel it is appropriate to call myself a Muslim Episcopalian. I feel it is appropriate to learn from my brothers and sisters in the Islamic tradition of submitting to Allah. I feel it is appropriate to acknowledge those things that we have in common and celebrate our differences instead of letting those differences separate us or create fear.
There is a lot more to say about the conference, and I hope I’ll have energy to write more later. Until then, I invite my Christian friends to consider in what ways they are, or should be Muslim.
It is still dark when I rise,
a late winter storm
a heavy blanket
on the driveway.
I normally spend this hour
in contemplation and study
but I know
it will take me
The waning gibbous moon
hangs low in the western sky
flanked by two bright stars,
by the planets
I lean on my shovel,
I can feel each muscle
in my body.
What is your body telling you?
I feel my heart pounding
within my chest.
It is telling me
to go slowly
to pace myself;
The scape of my shovel
and the scrape
of a distant plow
by the wind chime
in the post storm
In the online course I’m currently taking, we have been asked to reflect on the question, “How am I Called to Embody Love in the World?” As I listened to the guided meditation for the week, the question came to me in a different form, what sort of light are you?
We were asked to think about where we feel called to show God’s love. My thoughts drifted among the homeless, the immigrants, the refugees, and those seeking asylum. I thought of those who are strangers among us because of differences in sexual orientation, expression, or gender identity. I thought of those who are strangers among us because they come from different cultures or look different from ourselves.
The reflective exercise invited us to
Take a few minutes to look through the newspapers or magazines and notice if any picture attracts you or stands out for you.
Yet even that question reflects different cultures. I often write about Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants by Marc Prensky. The exercise seems written for the digital immigrants, still reading the newspapers of the old world. Those of us who identify as digital natives, or, if you are like me, a digital aborigine, may find a different formulation of the question resonates more.
Look through your Facebook feed. What articles or pictures catch your attention? What did you chose to share on your feed?
I’ve written about this in the past and I’ll take a quick view of my Facebook feed today, trying to put it into the context of the course.
Sunday was the final service of the priest at the church I attend. She has been a wonderful priest for our parish and will be greatly missed. Her departure was met with the combination of sadness at her departure as well as joy for her and her family in her new adventure as well as for the church that is so fortunate to have her as their new priest. A friend shared a meditation from Henri Nouwen about “Bringing the Spirit Through Leaving” that I reshared with best wishes for our priest. I also reshared various posts from church and from the going away party for the priest.
There are posts from an automated feed about connected learning. There are posts about some of the inane comments by members of the current administration. There are posts about health care, racism, visiting detainees, and local politics.
You are the light of the world,
but what sort of light are you?
Are you the campfire
that everyone gathers around
for warmth and companionship,
perhaps to share some sweet food?
Are you the lighthouse
casting a light
for out o’er the sea
of nearby dangers?
Are you the spotlight
find something important
or focusing on
an actor on stage?
Are you the lights
at a party or concert
to all who see it?
Are you the flashlight
after the power has gone out?
Are you moonlight;
a reflection of some greater light?
The following is written in the tradition of an Ember letter, but without any specific audience in mind. I am sharing this in that it will help others in their own journeys as those walking with me in my journey.
Over the past few months, I continue to become more and more sure of God’s call to me, and less and less sure about the details of that call. I have spent time with my spiritual director, my priest, and other friends, both lay and clergy in discernment. This coming Sunday, I will say good bye to my priest as she heads off to a new ministry, and I will continue my search to better understand what God is calling me to and who should walk alongside me during this part of my journey.
I have taken a great course in English Spirituality and Mysticism, attended a conference on Pastoral Counseling: Moral Stress and Spiritual Struggles, and started an online course on discernment. I have been on silent retreat, explored new spiritual practices, and gone on a pilgrimage for one of the courses. I have participated in ecumenical and interfaith activities, including dinners, bible studies, worship services, and ministries. I have taken up, again for this year, a Lenten Discipline of writing a poem each day, and have spent much time in reading, prayer, and contemplation.
I recognize that all of this is written from my personal perspective, what I have been experiencing, what I have been doing. It is the only context I have; the only context any of us really have. It is how we understand and speak about our experiences of and relationship with God. Yet it is that relationship with God which is the true focus.
As I’ve written about in the past, this is more about a spiritual journey than it is about a career or ecclesiastical journey. I recognize that these different aspects of the journey overlap, but for now I am focusing on the spiritual side. Because of this, some of the more contemporary books on discernment that have been suggested to me feel like they don’t offer me much right now.
One of the first books I read, which I thinks provides a great starting point is Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. A section from the second conversation particularly jumped out at me:
He was pleased when he could take up a straw from the ground for the love of God, seeking Him only, and nothing else, not even His gifts.
It seems like this is a great starting point a spiritual journey such as mine. I found this idea echoed in Walter Hilton’s Scale of Perfection, “I am nothing, I have nothing; … I covet nothing, but one, and that is Jesus.”
This of course, leads to the question of what we are supposed to do in our love of God. This is the question I am grappling with. It is put nicely in the end of Teresa of Avlia’s poem, “In the Hands of God”,
Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me?
I continue to explore my desires. Are they good and from God? How do they relate to God’s desires for me?
When I’ve written about this in the past, I usually refer back to the Catechism in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer:
Q. What is the mission of the Church?
A. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
I often think of this restoration with each other in Christ as being very social justice oriented, feeding the hungry, offering shelter to the homeless. At times, I think about it in terms of addressing the structural issues that lead to homelessness, hunger, and oppression. Yet as I read this in the context of my recent studies, I cannot help but relate the idea of unity with God with unitive life that the mystics write about. How much of the structural issues we face come from a lack of unitive experiences?
Recently, on Facebook I shared a link to an article, ”59 Percent of Millennials Raised in a Church Have Dropped Out—And They’re Trying to Tell Us Why”. It is a thought provoking article that we need to be reading and discussing in the church.
What was more thought provoking was the comments I received.
Though not quite a millennial, I was once a youth that wanted with all her heart to believe, and was completely disillusioned by Bible College. I equate my time at a church-centric institution as seeing the smoke and mirrors of a magic show -- and the glamour was forever lost. Christians are 100% the reason I don't believe in gods -- any of them….
Living a good life because it's the right thing to do does feel far more genuine than only behaving good for fear of hell or reward of heaven….
If houses of worship treated adherents like thinking beings seeking inspiration, solace and fellowship rather than as potential sources of income and political clout whose lot is to pray, pay and obey, they'd have fewer empty pews….
How do we embrace the spiritual experience, the relationship to a loving God that calls us to go out and show that love in a way that millennials can hear?
It seems like another one of the authors I’ve been reading may offer a clue. One of the texts for the Spirituality and Mysticism course I’ve been taking is Aelred of Riveaux’s “Spiritual Friendship”. How does the church encourage spiritual friendships, not only for the clergy, but the laity, no matter what their spiritual journey or level of engagement is? This feels like an important unanswered question for me right now.
Whatever the path ahead of me, another the quote from Julian of Norwich comes to mind. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”