Even so, Come Lord Jesus

” A new way of understanding other religions implies a new way of understanding Christianity. Christians do indeed face both problems and promises when they honestly and lovingly face the reality of other religions. ”                                                                                                           – Paul F. Knitter (Introducing Theologies of Religions)

Wow. Never have I felt like there is more at stake in my faith than I have in my Muslim-Christian relations class. Just one question, “Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?” can make my palms and neck sweat immediately. There seems to be something heavy attached to me when I am asked to share my theology or what I think about an Islamic thought. A weight that I’ve never felt feel so dense before. My mind is full of questions like, what do Christians do in a more pluralistic society? What does it mean to be inclusive in a religion that preaches of exclusive salvation? How can Muslims and Christians get along when their beliefs are seemingly so contradictory? Oy. Loaded concepts, difficult, heart throbbing, heat rising. So many questions with individual and communal implications. Implications for the church and for my future. Yikes, that’s a lot!

Let me explain. For my next paper, I have to write about my personal theology of religions in reference to Paul Knitter’s book Introducing Theologies of Religions. In other words, how should/do Christians relate to other religions theologically and in practice? The hardest part is knowing that this question is what I should be asking myself anyway. This essay isn’t just for a homework assignment, it is crucial to my hopes for now and for the future. Especially, if I’m going to head to seminary after undergrad, or even just for my personal relationship with God. Studying abroad, learning about new cultures and meeting people who are very different than you — especially if you’re in a country that centers on a whole different religion than your own— makes you ask huge questions of yourself, of others, of the world and even of God. Even writing this my forehead is damp and my heartbeat has spiked because I know these aren’t small things to ponder.

Books I’m reading for my Muslim-Christian relations course: A Muslim and Christian in Dialogue by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk, Theologies of Religions by Paul F. Knitter A History of Christian-Muslim Relations by High Goddard

When faith, when salvation, when the religion I center most, if not all of my actions on is questioned or pushed, it can be scary and overwhelming. Sometimes, I catch myself wondering if I’m a good enough Christian as I see the devotion of Muslims heading to prayer or hear the conviction that seems to be greater than my own in the voices of my peers. Other times, I find myself questioning if there are beautiful parts of Islam that I wish were more emphasized on in Christianity such as reserving judgment or to strive for peace between “people of the book” (Muslims, Christians and Jews). This is not to say that these elements are not in other religions, they just seem clearer to me in Islam.

Yet, God’s voice has been so present in helping me. When questions get uncomfortable, I find comfort in scripture and prayer. When I feel overwhelmed with not knowing what to think, he reminds me that I am known, and he is all-knowing. He listens to the struggle. At one point I asked our program director and professor Justin how he handles it all living in Oman as a Christian and interacting with so many Muslims. He said he doesn’t always know what to do, or when he feels useless or like he is not reaching people, he remembers to think “even so, come Lord Jesus”. I’ve since written that phrase on the back of my notebook as a reminder.

I’m searching for and questioning Truth in every class, and I’m still only confident in the fact that faith has to be had because I simply won’t ever know all the answers. I might share about my faith with my Muslim neighbors purely as a witness to what I have learned in the gospel and not to convert (conversion of any kind, not just to Christianity, is illegal in Oman), and not quite do it justice. “Even so… come Lord Jesus”. I can mess up my words and not truly say what I mean or even say something that is wrong altogether, “even so… come Lord Jesus”. I may have a moment of doubt in faith, “even so… come Lord Jesus”.

Just one of the many mosques in Muscat, Oman. They line streets like churches in Holland, Michigan, form the intersections of community. I love seeing all the colorful minarets.

So, back to this essay. I’ve realized that the weight I feel when I read the prompt is simply just passion. The question of how I relate as a Christian, as a person of faith, to people of different belief systems is so, so important to me. I am passionate about caring for people of different faiths. I am passionate about preventing violence with religious values that only promote peace. I am passionate about interfaith dialogue and action. If so, then why do I feel like a weight is holding me back? Why do I need a three-hour nap after every class as if I’m defeated by the conversation?

A lot is at stake when I’m not sure what the answers are.  So, I give them over. God is the all-knowing. If I don’t know all the answers, it’s okay. Shway, Shway (Arabic for “little by little”—it’s becoming one of my favorite phrases). I will learn. When I realize that, the heavy weight of passion turns into a light, lofty sail, and it pulls me to where I can question again. It propels me to keep learning, reading, writing about interreligious relations and cooperation. I’m so happy and lucky to have this opportunity to learn in an active, dynamic, “high stakes” environment. Being in Oman, at the Al Amana Center is sometimes difficult and at times anxiety driving. But it is so, so worth it as my passion is renewed and pulling me onwards. In fact, it is crucial to my growth as an individual, as a Christian and for my part in community. I’m feeling excited, enthusiastic and renewed and still, I say, “Come Lord Jesus”!

Covered in Prayer

This morning, for the third time since I arrived here, I woke up to the sound of Arabic voices radiating from giraffe like towers rising across the city. The unified melody is curious and unfamiliar as the language is unknown to me. Yet, the strength of devotion they emulate is becoming one of my favorite components of living in Oman. I am a white Christian woman who grew up on hymns and contemporary tunes. Still, the energy of the Muslim call to prayer is affecting me deeply and I am excited to see where the discovery of a new religion and culture will take me.

Homesickness has come haunting a bit more than normal this trip. I don’t miss my bed or my cell phone data or even my carefully cared for succulent plants. I don’t miss my Netflix account or my favorite sushi place (yet). I simply miss the company of those I spend my days with and the empty spots they fill are most obvious in those times when the sun hibernates.

Coincidentally, sunrise and sunset are two of the six times a day that Muslims are called to prayer. This Call to Prayer known as Adhan (“to listen”) is a purposeful act and spiritual commitment to Allah and a reminder of surrender to him. In my tradition, I also spend time in prayer but not often out loud with others.

On the first day here, I woke up around 4:00am due to a severe case of jetlag. As a result, the dark, eerie essence of unfamiliarity and emptiness reminded me of my loved ones at home. I twisted and turned in my sheets thinking too much and questioning my reasons for being so far away in a foreign place. As the clock ticked away in the corner I breathed and concentrated on a spot on the ceiling hoping I’d drift back to sleep.

Suddenly, a song arose out of the air and in through my windows. The morning prayer. A sound that normally would be a backdrop for an Iraqi war film nestled over my body and ironically my heart was instantly at ease. A shaky, uneasy morning was met with an easy, confident voice of prayers. It reminded me that a community of students at Hope is praying for my group and that those I am missing at home are rooting for me and wishing me well. More importantly, it confirmed that God is indeed here in this place.

I am always going to wish those I love most are here on this journey with me. But, I am even more encouraged now that I will meet future loved ones here in this community of Omanis. In fact, I am confident that relationships within this new culture will change my heart and the hearts of those I share stories with at home and on this blog.

I hope you will stay tuned!