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The Lenten Prayer Experiment

04/07/2015

How was Lent for you?  Did you participate in the Eid.Pray.Love Muslims 4 Lent Interfaith movement at all?  Remember back on March 5th when I told you about my plan to not really give anything up, but to focus on meaningful prayer and dialogue with God?

Well, this is where I tell you how it went.

I noticed a marked difference in my conversations with God.  Instead of praying randomly in the car or in the shower whenever I felt the pull to communicate, I began each morning thanking God for my restful sleep, thanking him for the health and happiness of my family.  I thanked him for the day that I had before and the day that I will have today.

Then I after the thanking was completed, I began the asking.

I asked for Strength, Wisdom, Courage and Patience for the day.  To meet every challenge wisely and to stay centered.  I asked for Peace in my heart and in my mind.  I also asked for the ability to find some Joy in each day.  I wanted to be able to laugh.

Then, I named each of the people on my list.  I asked for God to hold them in a bath of warm, loving light and to give them strength, wisdom, courage and patience.  I asked for them to have peace in their hearts and joy in their lives.

I don’t have active communication with most of the people on my list.  There is only one person who I communicate with on a personal level.  The others are acquaintances.  So, I don’t know how this time has effected them, if at all.  I guess time will tell. I read the responses on the 40 Days of Prayer and they seem so huge, so life-changing.  I don’t know if my prayer is powerful enough to help someone that way.  But, I did this small thing.  Maybe my small thing will join with other people’s small thing and make a bigger difference.  Its still too soon to tell.

I never was able to figure out my Big Ask.  The Big Ask was something that you were afraid to voice out-loud.  Something that was so big, so scary and so huge that you had never been able to tell someone else.  I don’t have something that big.  I have big visions.  Dreams about how I want my life to change, things I want to be able to accomplish someday.  But I’ve not been afraid to tell someone.  I feel like my life is in God’s hands.  I listen very carefully to what I’m being told and make every effort to DO what it is that I’m being told to do.  I feel like, if I do what God is telling me to do…then I must be doing God’s work.  If I’m doing God’s work, then I am fulfilling my purpose here.  I will not stop talking and asking because if I talk and ask…then someone who hears me might be in a position to help me fulfill my purpose.

The thing that I had the most difficulty with was keeping my journal.  I’ve never been very good at keeping a daily journal.  I am not good at keeping a writing schedule.  That’s why my posts here are soo erratic.  I’ve read all the books on how to be a great writer.  They all say you must write something every day.  I cannot.  I go along with my life and when something gets stuck in my head, I can’t let it go until I write about it.  And after 25 or so days, I started skipping the journal entries.  I’d skip a few days and then feel guilty.  Then I’d write a catch-up entry.  After I did this a few times, I realized that this was detracting from the purpose of my commitment.  I was still praying every day.  I was still thanking and asking and focusing and remembering.  I was being deliberate in my praying for those people on my list, but the guilt I was feeling about the journal entries was taking away from the peace and joy that I was working towards during my 40 Days of Prayer.  It was negating my efforts.

So, I let it go.

I’ve not completely given up on the idea of writing prayers down in a journal, in my super-special faux leather Hogwarts journal with the really pretty paper, using my heirloom fountain pen.  But I will continue to approach it much like I do here.  When I get something stuck in my mind.  Something I really need to focus in on and pray about that is more than my usual.  Its more than just a deep heartfelt conversation between me and God, but something that I need to write down to be able to fully communicate, I will write it down and commit it to paper.

I think about this sometimes.  Y’no, when you die and people go through your stuff.  Do I want my kids to read my mental wanderings and my prayers?  I don’t know.  I guess I’ll keep writing and then decide later.

I did this during my highschool years.  I kept journals of my angst.  The tumultuous times of my teenage rollercoaster life filled with big emotions and big decisions; the happiness and the tears.  I wrote and wrote because there was just So Much.  Then at about age 25, I took those journals and shredded them.  Those big emotions were too raw and too painful to keep around.  I never wanted anyone to stumble across them.  Without me there to explain what I was writing about, it was just, well…it was no ones business.  I made peace with all of that stuff that I never wanted to relive and let it all go.

So, maybe my prayer book will be like that.  Maybe it won’t.

I’m glad I participated in Muslims 4 Lent this year.  I’m glad I participated in the 40 Days of Prayer because now it will give me another meaningful way to connect with God.  I don’t know that I will change my prayer now that Easter has come and gone. Easter was the story of Jesus’ death and that is a whole other issue to ponder.  I’m choosing to continue to pray each day just like I have for the last 40. I’m choosing to be quiet and still and listen.

I hope you have learned something new this Lent.  I have.

The First 14 Days of Lent

03/05/2015

I always wanted the comfort of routine tradition.  Not the tradition that locks you into a power struggle, but the tradition that comes from loving something so much that you do it regularly.

I would look at the people in my life growing up and see them having a routine tradition.  I would be invited to sample their lives and when immersed in the activity, I could feel that thing that I really wanted.  But that thing that I was searching for wasn’t the routine.  It wasn’t the tradition.  It was the feeling you get from being in an environment where everyone gets it.  They love each other, they like each other, they just get each other and they share the love of the thing that they are doing so much, they do it together in a routine way.

I look at the routine tradition of Ramadan and I really want that thing that I see happening in my family.  I can see it in my children and I can see it in my husband as he shares Ramadan with them.  It’s that peaceful, knowing, “we are in this together” kind of thing.  They look forward to Ramadan.  They do!  I don’t understand how they do it, but when Ramadan is approaching, they get all excited and start talking about their plans.  During the fasting, they don’t complain often.  They know that they are in solidarity with millions of other people doing the exact same thing.

I think I was in high school when I started realizing that people did something in the months leading up to Easter.  My family didn’t.  The only thing we did was color eggs and my mom would buy a truckload of candy.  We would get new clothes and go to my grandma’s house.  Sometimes we would go to the Lutheran church down the block, but most often not.

My cousins are Catholic, just like my grandparents and my aunts and uncles.  I don’t know if they ever did anything different during Lent.

One year when we were still traveling to Egypt, we went in the Spring.  We took stuff to color eggs and some jelly beans.  A small bit of chocolate and some Easter grass.  Khaled lived near some Coptic Christians and while he was growing up, he would color eggs like the neighbors.  So, when we were at Naina’s house coloring eggs, it was no big deal.  But then they turned on the tv for me so I could see the head of the Coptic church wish everyone a Happy Easter and I cried.  It was so meaningful to me that Naina made sure to let me know that she accepted this part of my life.  Maged wished me a Happy Easter.  I cried because I soo wanted a deep emotional connection with this event in Christianity but it was a hollow, empty tradition filled with egg colors and candy baskets.

The last few years, I’ve learned more about the routine traditions that take place in the lives of my friends.  Also, because I have a teenage boy in my house, when paczki are being sold during February, we buy the boxes in triplicate every trip to the grocery store.  This year, my friend did an experiment and asked people if they ate something special before Ash Wednesday.  A lot of people ate pancakes on the Tuesday before.  Some traditionally ate paczki.  We found that it was a regional thing that centered around nationality.

About that same time, when everyone was talking about Lent starting, that same friend invited us to participate in an observation of the 40 days.  It was more than just giving up chocolate or swearing, it was a mindful, routine prayer.  Every day, for the next 40 days, you would pray for 5 people.  Morning, Afternoon and Evening, you would pray for these same 5 people.  It didn’t have to be someone you were close to, or someone particularly religious.  You also would pray for something that was inconceivable, but something you dared to dream.  It had to be so big that you were afraid to voice it in prayer.  She said that it was a modified version of the 40 Days of Prayer that she participated in at her church in New York. I immediately thought that this was something I could do.

It doesn’t require me to attend church.  It doesn’t require me to inconvenience my family in any way.  Basically its a win-win.  I could attend church if I had a church to go to, but I don’t. If I needed to do something that was really important but inconvenient, my family would figure it out. But this is more private, so if I screwed it up my kids wouldn’t notice.  I like to screw up as little as possible in front of them. The thing is, I needed to make myself accountable.  So, when I stumbled across the Eid.Pray.Love community on twitter, I knew that was the way to make a promise to myself and something bigger.  That way, if it got difficult and didn’t feel good, I wouldn’t give up.

I went to #Muslims4Lent on Facebook and posted my pledge on February 19th.

I was a day late to the game, but I wanted to make sure I was committed.  I invited everyone on my Facebook to pledge, and I shared it on twitter.  Now that this was out there in the world and I was holding myself accountable, I had to figure out a way to make this happen.  Kind of like how I have to make myself leave the house to exercise and I have to force myself to get to know the instructor of my class.  So, I feel accountable.  Otherwise, I’ll take the easy path and do something that feels good at the moment.  Like reading a book, or vacuuming.  I got out the super special “leather” journal I bought last year at Hogwarts (Universal Studios) that I had been saving for something really important and my heirloom fountain pen and made a plan.

I would write in this journal at least 1 time a day.  I would write down my prayer each day so I had something physical to do to feel more grounded to this…it would feel more special, and I wouldn’t forget to do it.

That first day, I listened for the names of the people who I needed to pray for and I had 3 names.  The second day I added the 4th.  It wasn’t until the 6th day I had all 4 names of the people I needed, and now I’m not sure if I have the correct last names, but I know I have the right first names.  Odd isn’t it?  I also still don’t know my Big Ask.  I asked for some guidance and my friend said that she chooses something that will set off a domino effect.  I’m not sure what mine will be yet.  I’m still listening.

Today makes the 14th day of my commitment.  I don’t know how long you need to do something before it becomes an ingrained part of your life, but I can tell you that I already feel different.

This week in my islamic life.

02/13/2015
still mourning

On Tuesday this week, I was planning for my meeting with Mr. Fox’s school counselor.  Its time to make the schedule for next year.  I was looking up information on what he should take for his field of study.  I looked at the admission guidelines for the Top Colleges in the US.  I also looked at the admission guidelines for his first choice school.  We’d been discussing all of this since last week.

And then when I woke up on Wednesday, I had found that 3 bright, hopeful college students had been executed in a hate crime because they were Muslim.

Ever since then, I have been swinging in and out of sobbing.  I AM TERRIFIED that my children are Muslim.  I’m trying to keep everything going but I am so scared.  I talked to Mr. Fox about what had happened, and I share with him the updated info as I have it because I don’t want him to be caught off guard if someone asks him about it.

No one ever makes a big deal about him being Muslim.  His friends are all cool with it.  He has Muslim friends in his circle.  He tells me everything is all good.

And then today, the Islamic Center in Houston is up in flames.  It may be just a coincidence.  I doubt it.

After the last year and a half I was hoping and praying things would take a turn for the better.  I was hoping for some respite from the death and destruction of Muslims.  I was praying that there would be some sort of enlightenment.  People would stop seeing All Muslims as the Evil Other.  I was praying that goodness would prevail.  But it’s not happening.  Not yet.

I tried to take a break yesterday and just tune out from the news, turn on my music and get stuff done.  This song came on my playlist a few times, and now its playing a loop in my head.  I know the song is about twisted relationships and drugs, but today it’s describing my relationship with God and Islam.

“Just Like A Pill”

By Pink

I’m lyin’ here on the floor where you left me
I think I took too much
I’m crying here, what have you done?
I thought it would be fun

I can’t stay on your life support,
There’s a shortage in the switch,
I can’t stay on your morphine,
‘Cause it’s making me itch
I said I tried to call the nurse again
But she’s being a little bitch,
I think I’ll get outta here, where I can

Run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear you’re just like a pill
Instead of makin’ me better,
You keep makin’ me ill
You keep makin’ me ill

I haven’t moved from the spot where you left me
This must be a bad trip
All of the other pills, they were different
Maybe I should get some help

I can’t stay on your life support,
There’s a shortage in the switch,
I can’t stay on your morphine,
‘Cause it’s making me itch
I said I tried to call the nurse again
But she’s being a little bitch,
I think I’ll get outta here, where I can

Run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear you’re just like a pill
Instead of makin’ me better,
You keep makin’ me ill
You keep makin’ me ill

Run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear you’re just like a pill
Instead of makin’ me better,
You keep makin’ me ill
You keep makin’ me ill

I can’t stay on your life support,
There’s a shortage in the switch,
I can’t stay on your morphine,
‘Cause it’s making me itch
I said I tried to call the nurse again
But she’s being a little bitch,
I think I’ll get outta here, where I can

Run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears
And I swear you’re just like a pill
Instead of makin’ me better,
You keep makin’ me ill
You keep makin’ me ill

Tending Babies During Prayer

02/01/2015

Did I tell you about that time when a mom asked me to watch her baby during prayer?

When my children were very young, we didn’t go to the mosque.  When Mr. Fox was 3, Khaled began taking him to the Eid prayers, but not to Jummah.  Then, as he got older, they would go to Jummah when Khaled had time to come and pick him up beforehand.  The ladies didn’t really start going to the mosque for Jummah until they started doing it at school.  I didn’t go regularly until Mr. Fox reached the age of requirement.  Now, we go every Friday.

When we started attending Jummah on a fairly regular basis, I noticed that during the prayer part of the service, the babies and toddlers were almost community property. At first, I thought that all the women must know each other so, when one lady’s baby is crying while their mama was in prayer, then the friend who wasn’t praying would take care of the child.  But then I noticed that the mom often didn’t know who was holding their child.  They would approach the woman, and thank them, introduce themselves and then retrieve their baby.  I would watch this in awe.  It happened over and over again.

Living in America my whole life, personal space and privacy is something I take for granted.  Having strangers touch my child was something that would cause me great anxiety.  I remember the first time we went to Egypt.  Random people would come up to Mr. Fox and touch his hair, tweak his cheek and tell me how handsome and smart he was, they would often whisper something in his ears.  Khaled didn’t think anything about it.  I would freak out.  After the first time it happened and the person walked away, I was in a panic and Khaled explained to me that it was something normal in Egypt.  People didn’t want to cause harm to the children, they just wanted to enjoy the tiny life and offer blessings to us for his life.  I never really got used to it, but I understood that it was a cultural thing.

When we would go to the mosque for weekend school or for Eid, it would happen there, but to a lesser extent.  Usually it would be people we knew, but sometimes it would be people who knew Khaled and I hadn’t met them before.  They would come up to the car carrier and look at the baby.  They would touch without asking.  They would exclaim at the beauty or the intelligence of the baby.  I would tense up and even though I tried to relax because there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent this exchange.  It would happen when I wore the ladies in the front carrier, someone would touch their hand, their foot or their head. I tried to relax, but often I came across as standoffish.

So, when I would watch these women at the mosque, who clearly didn’t know each other, tending to a crying baby or a wandering toddler, I thought it was just a cultural thing.  I would not try to calm a fussy child.  Not because I didn’t think I could, and not because I didn’t care, but because I was the thing that didn’t belong.  Like one of those children’s games of same and different.  I was the thing that was different.  I never wanted to cause the mother distress by touching their child.  I didn’t want to risk being ostracized further by taking liberties, under the guise of help.

So, I was stunned when we were at English Jummah one Friday and I was asked to watch an infant during prayer.  Of course I said yes.  How could I not?  I wasn’t doing anything except waiting for the ladies to finish praying, tweeting about the subject of #EnglishJummah.  I sat with the little man in his car carrier next to me.  He was silent the entire time, eyes wide and sucking on his tongue.  I talked to him a little but his expression never wavered.  At the end, his mother told me that she has seen me at Jummah many times, and she thanked me over and over for looking after her child.

I told her I was happy to help, but I felt like I should have thanked her.

Missing Egypt

01/19/2015
Citadel

Back when I was dating Khaled, traveling to Egypt and the Middle East wasn’t on my radar.  I was super excited that I had already travelled to Europe and wanted to plan on doing it again.  I love traveling to Europe and want to go as often as possible.

Then we became engaged, all of a sudden Egypt became somewhere on my menu of travel options.  We went overseas together a few months before we married for the first time.  It was a stressful, nerve-wracking but exciting time.  I was able to share some of my favorite places in Europe with Khaled, and I was introduced to a Middle Eastern country for the first time.

In preparation for my first trip there, I got travel guides.  The Lonely Planet and Fodor’s Guide to Egypt.  I worried about appropriate clothing choices and if I would be able to get a decent cup of coffee.  I worried that his family wouldn’t accept me. This was before Skype or Facetime and the only way we could talk to his family was to pay $3.00 a minute.  As I prepared for my trip overseas, I settled into a comfortable acknowledgement that this trip was going to be part of my life, for the rest of my life.  Friends and family members were in awe of the trip we had planned.  They kept asking me why I wasn’t completely giddy with excitement.  They shamed me because I was taking it in stride.  Why I wasn’t a gushy, over the top worshipful mess for this ‘Once in a Lifetime Trip?’ For me, this was just the first time of many, many times I would make the trip to Egypt to see my new family.

In my eyes, the differences would include where we would stay, where we would layover, what we would bring home, what we would take with us.  I envisioned different excursions in and around Egypt.  Of course, all of this would depend on if Khaled’s family liked me, if I was accepted, if I could handle the culture shock.

My first time in Egypt was a life changing event for me, and even though I was more than ready to return to the United States, I wasn’t ready to leave my new family.

In those early years of our marriage, we were able to take my brother and sister-in-law with us on a trip.  We were able to buy an apartment and decorate it in a way that helped us to feel like we had a little bit of The States there with us.  We were able to take all 3 of the children to visit our family and to see where Khaled grew up.  We planned to visit every 2 years.  We planned on making our Egyptian home and our US home equally as comfortable for the whole family.  We left clothes in the closets there. Toiletries. Shoes.  We planned on not having to take suitcases with us when we went to visit.  We had PLANS.

But now it has been 9 years since I’ve been to Egypt.  The children do not remember what the air smells like in Egypt.  They don’t know the sounds of the men selling bread from the streets or hearing the call to prayer echoing through the landscape. They don’t remember what the cars look like or the noises of traffic along The Nile.  Memories are refreshed with photos, but they don’t know deep in their hearts the Egypt that is half of their blood. I don’t know if we will ever be able to return to the home where Khaled grew up and this makes me very sad.

Through the grief that has settled over us like a fine layer of dust, is the fear and longing to return to Egypt.  Khaled and I discussed traveling to the Middle East recently and I will admit that I have no desire to go.  I can’t consider taking the children to any country where there is the possibility I couldn’t protect them like I can at home.   I can’t consider traveling to a country where I could be targeted because of the way I look, or because of the way I pray or even the color of my passport.  I won’t consider traveling to a country where I cannot understand what is being said around me.  How can I protect myself and my children when I don’t know what people’s intentions are? I can read body language, but that is not enough sometimes.

Even saying this smacks of privilege.  I can see it in my words, and I recognize it in my actions.  I know that there are people in my city who are treated differently because of how they look and how they pray.  I interact with people every day that don’t understand my words, just like I don’t understand theirs.  But I am not surrounded by it all, and this is my home court.  I’m just not that brave.  Not yet.

Merry Christmas 2014

12/27/2014

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Where Do I Go From Here?

11/23/2014

Sometimes, there is stuff you don’t want to talk about.  Its too private, or too painful, or too powerful.  Sometimes you don’t know what is happening or how to explain yourself.  I didn’t even realize it was happening until a few weeks ago, and since then I’ve been trying to figure out a way not to talk about it.

Ever since Naina died, I have been unable to invest any time in attempting to fit into the community here.  I just don’t have it in me.  I have stopped caring if the Muslim mamas in the community or Kate’s school like me.  I don’t go out of my way to try and get them to like me anymore.  I just don’t care.  I haven’t put in much effort in reading about Islam or what is happening in Egypt these days because it is all about people dying, people getting tortured and murdered for praying the way they pray. Women being raped by people who call themselves true believers.  Good people being targets for the new wave of McCarthyism.  People being placed on Most Wanted Lists because they believe in Freedom of Speech and Expression.

I am terrified to my core that this will never end.

I have no tolerance for attending Jummah in a mosque where I don’t feel comfortable.  For many years, we attended Jummah at one mosque in town because the Imam delivered his sermon predominantly in English.  When he got really passionate about his topic, he would revert to his dialect of Arabic that is a little different than the community of Syrian/Egyptian/Palestinian audience speaks.  This was the best of all of the options, because the women prayed in the back of the room or in the balcony space and the sermon was (for the most part) in English.  Then, when the balcony became another classroom, and the lockers for storing the burial cloths multiplied, the women were squeezed out of the upstairs space and the 1/3 of allotted space for the women downstairs decreased even more.  The balcony was where the students sat and now the students and the women had to share that 1/3.

For the last year, we’ve attended Jummah at the mosque down the street when Mr. Fox had Fridays free.  There would be headphones for English translation, and the women sat in the library and watched the Khutbah on the television.  This became increasingly a source of contention for me because I know enough Arabic to know I was getting the filtered, edited version of the sermon.  Not only was I pissed that I had to sit in the ‘library’ and watch on a television, now I wasn’t even getting the message that was intended.

Then, there was enough of a demand for an English Jummah.  In the beginning, there were only a handful of people.  But, we kept going because it was nice to be able to understand.  Then, we discovered that we could sit in the main prayer hall because there was enough room at the back for the women to be included in the main space.  Every Friday we would attend, we would sit together with no barriers between us and the speaker.  I could see my son and often, Khaled.  It wasn’t the best arrangement, but it was better than it had ever been.

Now, the prayer times have changed and the English Jummah is at a time we cannot attend.  I feel Unmosqued.  We are back to attending the mosque where the Imam is difficult to understand.  Three weeks ago I didn’t even bother to go inside.  Last week I tried to attend, but I couldn’t deal with people looking at me, questioning why I’m there, being squished amongst judgy people, and then have them look at me out of the corner of their eye when they realized I didn’t pray.  I went upstairs where the girls on their period went to listen to the sermon, amongst the folding chairs and the burial clothes.  It was sad and lonely.

I felt so empty when I left and I just don’t care enough any more to try to make that empty feeling go away.

A few weeks ago, I went to church.  It really effected me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.  After I came home, I shared this with a group of women that I trust with my spiritual journey.  Now, I can’t not share it with you, because I think it has some purpose.

I just want to share this. Today I went to church. I went because it was Mamama’s funeral. I wasn’t sure I could go because my daughter was home from school today. I didn’t know how I would feel, and I didn’t know how it would go for her. Then, this morning, I couldn’t NOT go. I got dressed in clothing that I knew would be appropriate for a funeral and for church and on the way, I prepped Pea on what to expect. Once we got there, we chatted with my friend (who explained about the open casket and invited Pea to take a look if she wanted.) Then we took a program and sat in the pews. I went through the program with her, explained about the book of worship and The Bible and the singing and answered her questions.

I was not prepared to feel the way I felt. I was comfortable. It felt good to be in a familiar environment. I knew the songs. I knew what would happen every step of the way. I knew all the stuff. The only thing that bothered me was the heavy emphasis on Jesus as Lord. I also wasn’t comfortable participating until they started reciting the Apostle’s Creed…and it just started coming out. Then the Lord’s Prayer. It felt really good. Also, there was a woman as the minister. I really liked her. I loved listening to all the voices mingled together singing.

The thing is, is that for as comfortable as it was being in the familiar environment where everyone said hello, and the men and women sat side-by-side, and there were little cards in each pew asking people “is this your first time here?” “Would you like us to pray for you?” “Can we call you?” It felt so welcoming.  But they prayed to Jesus, and that left no room for Prophet Muhammed.  It left no room for my children and my husband.  And I knew that no matter how comfortable it was for me, it wouldn’t work because I can’t ignore that the biggest part of my life is lived Islamically.  I can’t hide that.
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