I think I’ll always remember this moment: Laurie and I were traveling across Sumatra in Indonesia (I don’t mean for that to sound more exotic or romantic than it really was. Traveling in that part of the world is not easy, and on our budget at the time, definitely not comfortable). We were enroute to catch a ferry to a small island that would be our home for the next few days. It was a long journey to even get to this point; we were tired. At this particular moment we found ourselves traveling in a little side car on a local’s motorcycle; it was also raining sporadically. I don’t recall being very happy. I remember feeling tired and dirty. Much of the landscape from that day is a blur in my memory; it was all around me, volcanic mountains and rainforest with the occasional village. But there is one moment that will not leave me: Just as it looked as though the sky was going to open up once again this sound filled the air. It was beautiful and, and a little haunting. I knew what it was but I couldn’t see the mosque, at least not yet. We finally came around a corner and there it was, this small, modest concrete village mosque. The adhan, or call to prayer, filled the air around us. Ever since I first heard it in Israel I have always thought it was beautiful. I don’t mean to tell you that the sun suddenly began shining or that some Mercedes Benz arrived to take us on to our final destination, but I will say that suddenly I realized that God was all around me. I forgot about my discomfort and my desire to “just get there already”. It was probably only a matter of seconds as we continued to drive on, but that moment feels in my memory as if it lasted the rest of the day’s journey. It was invitation even for me to pray.
I love my faith and the beauty and mystery of our Christian rituals. They remind me always of God’s beauty and transcendence all the while teaching me that I have a place in God’s story of salvation too. But I am ever grateful of being reminded of God’s presence through the faith of others.
I had gotten to the cell phone lot at Dulles International early in the evening. Laurie was flying home that night from a trip to England to visit a friend. I of course was not alone in the cell phone lot, it was a busy place. As I sat there and people watched, waiting for the call to tell me that Laurie had made it through customs, I saw two taxi drivers standing by their cars talking. Almost in tandem they stopped their conversation and walked to their trunks where they pulled out their own prayer rugs. Right there in the parking lot with not a care of who was watching, they laid out their rugs with care and began their prayers. Their action again invited me into prayer, albeit my more modest, Anglo/Protestant form praying; which is another way of saying that if you had looked at me in my car you would have thought I was just sitting in my car.
On Ash Wednesday we’ll hear again Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus speaks some about prayer. He tells us that “whenever we pray” we’re to do so in a way that does not promote our own righteousness. I think too often us protestants can take that as an excuse to be too modest in our prayer and too private about it. I think Jesus’ point in Matthew 6 is that we’re to practice prayer in such a way that prayer itself becomes the point of our prayers, not some sense of compulsion or sense that we ought to, but as a natural extension of who we are as created, as natural as breathing; we are to pray because in our prayer we discover the source of our life and acknowledge that it is God who sustains us. I for one think there is real beauty in such faith, in such real practices of faith. I think there is beauty in a faith that invites others in and reminds us that God is all around us. During Lent this year I pray that you and I find many reminders of this truth by our own prayer lives and of others.