This is the 4th blog which explores the experience of sharing in Life cycle events and rites of passage with our Muslim friends in the light of activity which Cathy Ross has written and spoken of as descriptive of woman’s missiology (1).
Through the experience of grieving with my Muslim friends for the loss of a husband of one of them, suddenly taken, I have learnt so much from them and I continue to ponder on God’s surprising ways (2). Could it be that God has been evidencing Himself to us through our joint contributions as we have attended our friend, who has sat on the boundary of life and death? It has certainly felt, at times, that we were on sacred ground. I have seen the value of sitting in vulnerability and emptiness, allowing others to step in and organize, cook and serve so that the whole is best served. I have been reminded of the mutual blessing and flourishing which comes with sight, embrace and touch. I have been challenged and inspired to offer my different, and yet graciously accepted form of consolation. And my conviction of the power of living cross-culturally in deep relationship, and the implications this has for all in experiencing the Hospitality of God is strengthened.
“Western people are ritually starved people, and in this are different than most of human history” (3). I believe that a recognition of the truth of this statement has implications for the way the church in the west, welcoming first generation new believers from the Muslim diaspora thinks about what richness can be found in rediscovering the power of ritual in our life together. There are the obvious and major faith defining rituals such as baptism, confirmation and communion which denote a new allegiance and a belonging but are there additional practices we could adopt where known rituals from diverse cultural backgrounds are imbued with new meaning? Nau Roz, the spring festival of new life in Persia, is an obvious example and one which some groups are beginning to explore. Elements of new dress, dance and wine would chime with the Great Feast we are invited to share in within Scripture (Isaiah 55 Revelation 19).
What about being more intentional about our greetings and leave takings when we gather each week either on a Sunday or in our small groups? Can we make the transition from being overly casual to taking a little more time to stop and look into our new brother or sister’s eyes, to shake their hand or to embrace them; to ask how we can pray for them this week, and to offer a word of blessing from Scripture to take with them into the challenges they may face?
And our community life together, outside the church walls? I have felt immensely privileged to be invited by my Muslim friends in the celebration or marking of some life events. There have been mehndis to celebrate engagements, wedding parties where women have been free to dance wildly, the aqiqah which occurs from 6 weeks after the child’s birth, and the sombre sitting and mourning together of a loved one. In each situation I have been deeply challenged both by the width of the connected network and the depth of commitment and availability to each other to be called on for hours of practical help and the expectation of either a monetary contribution or a significant contribution in kind. I ask myself, in the light of the fact that many of our new brothers and sisters have left family behind in their answering the call to follow Jesus, how prepared we are, as church community, their new family, to give of ourselves, our time and our money to enable and join with our new brothers and sisters in Christ to celebrate such life events?
As we welcome new disciples of Jesus coming out of Islam and from a range of cultural backgrounds let’s embrace the opportunity to rediscover that we are indeed created as ritualistic beings. In so doing our understanding of Scripture will be enriched and our relationships will be deeply authentic as we “do life” together and find the joy of synchronicity as the physical embodies the spiritual and the spiritual imbues our physical practice.
(1) “Without Faces”: Women’s Perspectives on Contextual Missiology. Dr Cathy Ross. See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hVHTZpN2D0
(2) The Lord invites us to adopt an approach of humble listening and waiting meekly because God’s grace often presents itself to us in surprising ways that do not match our expectations,” he added. Pope Francis July 8th 2018
(3) Richard Rohr. p44 Falling upward
(C) When Women Speak … October 2019
Miriam Williams: Miriam has settled in the UK but has a long experience of cross-cultural living and interaction in a range of contexts. Knowledge gained from these experiences have been brought to bear on her current work and interest in enabling faith conversations between Muslim and Christian women at grass-roots level. She is passionate about seeking to ensure inclusion and accessibility to the things that matter so that transformative spaces are open to all; and sees links here to the way we do discipling.