Monday, November 19, 2012

Visiting friends…

Not infrequently does worship begin at Plymouth Creek with people still filing in the seats or pulling in the parking lot. It used to concern me, until I remembered that occurs at basically every Christian church! Now, I simply smile and wave when someone arrives after the opening song. Many, of course, prefer coming early, taking time to pause and reflect and prepare for worship. Or maybe they enjoy several minutes before service to say hi to friends or greet visitors (shouldn’t we all be excited to greet visitors!). But others would rather squeeze every extra minute of sleep possible, a stance I wholly understand. Or perhaps they’ve other things to do Sunday morning, like finish some work or chores or get kids dressed. The point is, I don’t believe there’s “one way” of coming to worship. Come early, come late, just come and be joyful!

Still, for those who grow concerned when another enters after service begins, they ought do what I did last Friday. I was invited with several others to attend noontime Friday prayers at the Northwestern Islamic Community Center, which in Islamic tradition is much like Sunday mornings for Christians. Muslims, of course, (are supposed to…) pray five times daily at specific times, which is often done alone or with few others. But the Friday noon prayer is when the broader community tries to gather, pray together, hear a sermon, make plans, fellowship. It’s that way throughout the world, I’m told. And in Muslim majority countries, civic society has organized to accommodate the faithful. Many businesses close after Friday morning, or all day, allowing workers and bosses opportunity to attend local Mosques. It’s a different “weekend” than our country, with our historically different religious influences. And because of that, American Muslims find ways to adapt. When your “holy day” isn’t Sunday or Saturday- typical American days off- it’s extra challenging to attend worship while being productive in society.

Which, I suspect, significantly contributed to a distinct feature of last Friday’s prayer service. When it began with a young man singing the traditional Arabic “call to prayer”, the worship space felt barely half-full. A scripture was chanted. The acting imam preached. He stopped to pray, then continued his message, which he told me was typical practice. And all the while, a steady flow of new worshipers entered the room. One by one, they’d remove their shoes then line up beside others. Often, they’d perform two prayer cycles (Muslim prayer involves cycling through several postures, including standing, kneeling and prostrating), before settling in to listen to the speaker. And the service culminated in two communal cycles of prayer, by which point enough had arrived to nearly fill the space.

To this observer, what felt remarkable was how normal that all felt. No one seemed agitated when someone arrived five, ten, twenty minutes after worship began. That person simply slipped into the room, addressed God briefly and personally, then seamlessly joined the community’s activity. What appeared to matter more was that s/he made time during a busy Friday to attend prayers and show support to this faith community.

I don’t know if it’s getting more difficult for all people of faith to carve out time to gather for worship, but sometimes it feels so. Many American Christians (though certainly not all!) are privileged with fewer pressures on Sunday than Muslims on Fridays. But often things arise- sports, work, family- that remind us that taking time for God isn’t always easy. As a pastor, I think it matters. Obviously! But I understand that it can feel like adding to that ever-expanding To-Do List.

So, as a pastor who watched this dynamic play out differently than my normal before my eyes last week, just a few days before Thanksgiving, let me take today simply to say, “Thank You”. To you who weekly, monthly or in your own way regularly pause to acknowledge God and God’s people. I pray you find as much power and refreshment in that experience as I hope. But however you do it, for whatever reason, you have my thanks. And I dare presume God thinks rather fondly on it too.

Grace and Peace,


No comments:

Post a Comment