Tumbling in the Sand
* The featured image: Christian Franciscan monks and nuns hold a candle procession on 21 December 2007 through an Armenian section in the Church of the Nativity as they walk from Saint Catherine’s Church into the Nativity Church and then down into the ‘Grotto,’ where they pray before the silver star in a niche marking the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ on Christmas day, in the town of Bethlehem, on the West Bank. EPA/Jim Hollander
“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” – Isaiah 56:7c
While in seminary, I was able to attend a “cultural immersion” trip to India. One of the many things that we did in India was visit many, many holy sites, including churches, a mosque, Hindu temples, an ancient Jain temple, and more. One such place that we visited was a Hindu temple dedicated primarily to the deity Gokarnanatha (Shiva). It was a beautiful temple—the open court yard and interior were paved with solid, polished marble and the buildings were ornately decorated with gold and wood carving and much beautiful, brightly coloured painting. In India, people take of their shoes to enter any holy space (churches included), and so we were walking on smooth, cool marble, exploring this space in bare feet.
At one point in the exploration of this very large temple, our guide led us up to the roof top of one of the buildings so that we could survey the lay out of the whole temple. While we were standing there, enjoying the view, the caress of a gentle breeze, the pleasant cooling of the late afternoon and the freedom of a moment unconfined in a van (we did a lot of driving around), there arose the sound of the call to prayer from the near by mosque. It is a beautiful sound—the rise and fall of a strong male voice singing. If you have not heard it, listen here. This strong voice, projected over the whole valley where we were, called all the faithful to prayer. Suddenly, in that moment, in the company of Christians standing in a Hindu temple listening to the sound of Muslim prayer, I found myself thinking of a song by Loreena McKennitt, called Full Circle in which the singer reflects upon hearing the exact prayer call that I did that day, her experience of the sun rising over the desert in Egypt, and then an experience of the prayer of brothers at a local abbey in Quebec. She asks, in the rather haunting refrain: “In your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there?” attempting, I suppose, to connect the experiences of the divine together.
I have often reflected on that experience of so many different faith traditions converging in one place. I have often wondered about their differences and their similarities, wondering if we all do worship the same God in the end. I have often marveled at the beauty of the forms of the different worship practices and thought what a shame it would be to lose those practices of diversity.
I’m not sure in the end that I’ve come to any answers, but I have come to this: