I am spending 5 weeks writing about some things I have learned from Islam. Last week we looked at humility before God, especially as experienced through the physical humility of Islamic prayer and fasting. Already, the series paid off for me, I purchased the book The Seven Sacred Pauses, as recommended in the comments, and read it while flying to the US. On an airplane is exactly the place I need to lean into the grace for each hour.
“I am steeped in the spirituality of Jesus, deeply rooted in Christianity. This is where my home is. I believe that when roots go deep enough, eventually they entangle with other roots…I want to wrap my prayer shawl around our entangled and entwined roots in the lovely gesture of a blessing so that we may continue our spiritual quest together and learn from each other’s sacred practices.” Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses
This week I want to look at community, specifically community intimacy through shared practice, community accountability, and global community. The word in Islam for community is ummah and it could be loosely compared to the fellowship of believers, like what I read about in the book of Acts where the believers meet together, worship together, and share food and possessions.
Again I am struck by how much liturgical traditions have in common with aspects of Islam, and how far outside these traditions the practice of many evangelicals (myself prime among them) falls.
I remember the first time I was asked to participate in a corporate fast. It was at a college conference with a Christian group and I held so tightly to ‘do not fast to be seen by others,’ that I believed the fast would be rendered null and void, pointless because other people knew about it. I thought the conference directors were leading hundreds of students into sin.
How did a faith that commands us to encourage one another daily morph into a tradition that turns talking about and sharing our spiritual disciplines into a sin? Or, at the very least, how did I come to think that? My guess is that it has something to do with the American quest for individuality.
Yes, beware of pride, comparison, boasting, judgment. Yes, fast and pray and worship and meet with God in private. Our spirituality is deeply personal and precious, a treasure to cherish, not a treasure to hide away. But also do it with the body of believers, the ummah.
As with fasting, in prayer my attempt to ‘go into my room, close the door and pray to my Father,’ made me adept at hiding my faith and isolated in my practice rather than developing and deepening fellowship with other believers.
I have prayed the salat a few times, welcomed by friends at a pizza party, during a language lesson, during Egyptian soap opera commercials. Each time there was an intimacy with God and with these women as we touched shoulders, as I mumbled my own English words and they mumbled Arabic, as we moved in unison, as we finished and returned to our work.
Praying with a community is powerful and promotes intimacy. Lifting voices together in adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and in making requests brings an intense unity. I am working on incorporating this into my relationship with other believers, and not just over a meal. When a friend shares a struggle or a joy, I want to be community and pray for her right there, together.
There is also accountability in the community of the ummah. I was once at a dance party and when the call to prayer came, the loudest and most influential woman in the room started ordering everyone to pray. She grabbed their arms and their scarves, pulled them to their feet, and made the music stop. Not all accountability needs to be (or should be) so aggressive but simply knowing that others are fasting or praying can be a powerful motivation to participate.
There is a global community of Islam as well and this also brings a unifying power. An American college student will fast the same month as a nomadic Somali camel herder. They will pray at the same hours of the day as a Bahraini businessman and will experience the same traditions when they go on hajj as a Chinese housewife.
Community is both a high local value in Djibouti and a high religious value in Islam. I do experience community with fellow Christians but want to grow in my shared spiritual practices, accountability, and sense of inclusion in a global faith.
Muslims, do you find life in community or do you wish you could be more individual in your practice? Christians, what do you do to encourage community with other believers?