Sunday, September 5, 2010

Lights from Other Lamps

I used to attend a church that included during worship a segment called Lights from Other Lamps. During this segment, some lesson or text from another faith would be shared. What usually struck me was how much different faiths have in common.

There is much in the news now about faith as we approach the anniversary of a tragedy that shook America’s soul and set our country on a path of war. A proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York has set not only Christian against Muslim, but also Christian against Christian. A cabdriver was stabbed for being Muslim. My heart feels so heavy.

When I lived in West Africa, a man who worked for us as a gardener was a devout Muslim. At the appointed times, he would put down his tools, wash himself, and pray. My son was just two years old, but he adored Nofu and would imitate him. I would look out the window and see Nofu bowing on his prayer mat with James right next to him, forehead to the ground. And while some Christian friends might have been appalled, I was moved to see Nofu’s deep faith calling to James’s little spirit.

My own spirit has responded when I have heard the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. I don’t understand the words, but I understand the invitation to stop in the middle of our busy day and bring our attention back to God, to take a deep breath and enter the holy instant of our lives.

I have tried to incorporate a similar practice in my own life. I say a prayer when I wake up and when I go to bed. It might not be elaborate. A simple “Thank you for the day” is enough to turn my attention to gratitude for the present moment. In addition, I set my phone to vibrate at 10am, 2pm, and 6pm. As I push the button, I say a silent “Thank you.” It lacks the ritual of more formal prayers, but five times a day, I am at least momentarily connected to God. (The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we use other reminders to bring us back to the present moment as we go through our day – stoplights, for example!)

May the light from many lamps illumine our common ground.

1 comment:

  1. Just as little James warmed to Nofu's commitment to prayer, a practice that you and I see as positive, children can adopt ugly practices as well. I recently read an article about three adults who were raised in the U.S. by White Supremacists. In their cases, they chose to shake off the shackles of hate, but only after having lived for years as racists themselves. The question becomes: How can we venture beyond the influences of our immediate environment and act on our own well thought-through beliefs rather than just blindly accept what is in front of us? My own observations, as well as those shared by the three adult children featured in the article, show me how important it is that our children have a multitude of experiences as they grow up, and not be restricted to the beliefs of those around them. Furthermore, our children need to be raised as critical thinkers, ones who absorb a myriad of perspectives, but can filter and weigh them in order to determine what they themselves will believe in. There is no doubt that some cultural practices can be continued without much analysis (for example, who doesn't like singing silly songs around the camp fire about itsy bitty spiders), but the majority of practices warrant attention. The ringleader of the attacks on 9/11 had clear motives for what he and the other 18 hijackers did. Different perspectives provide different semantics; what some would call terrorism, others call freedom fighting. Who is right? In all decent societies, those of us who are parents, teachers, community leaders and public figures, must be the ones to guarantee that our children get exposed to a variety of views and that they have a strong basis for interpreting those practices which they may want to emulate. Those of us worldwide who condemn the actions of those who planned and executed the attacks on 9/11, must force ourselves to consider the perspectives of those who condone them - not so we can accept them but, rather, so we can try to understand why others might. Finally, in order to determine what is right and just, we need to have a foundation from which to argue for our beliefs and oppose those of others which we find harmful. All the mainstream religions of the world provide excellent frameworks for being decent and loving individuals and the teachings of none of them condone what happened on 9/11, thus making little James' gravitation towards Nofu a precious step in the right direction for any child. --Diedre


Your comment is valuable and valued. Comment moderation is enabled to block spam, so please excuse the brief delay until your comment appears on the blog.