This past Lent we took a decidedly different approach to Wednesday evening worship services. We invited guest speakers to join us asking them to reflect on our Christian faith through the lens of our Muslim brothers and sisters. We heard from two Luther Seminary professors, the Program Director of Refugee Services at Lutheran Social Services, and from Sheik Jamel and friends at the Al-Amaan center in Minnetonka. Each of them brought a unique and important voice to the series.
I know this was not everyone’s idea of what Lent is supposed to be. I know that some decided not to attend. I also know that there were a number of new participants who came specifically because they were glad to be part of a family of faith that was seeking to learn from and listen to our Muslim neighbors. I also know people invited their friends, family and neighbors to join us.
Personally, I found it exceptionally refreshing and helpful. A number of years ago I made a conscious decision to focus on my study of Christianity. My rationale was simple… I am not able to learn or grasp all that the Christian faith has to offer, and I have limited time. I was never opposed to other faith perspectives, but rather felt my own humble limitation to understand my own. This Lent has provided me with an opportunity to contemplate my faith with different eyes.
My insight or discovery has been significant. The Muslim faith, in my understanding, depicts a God that is almost entirely other. My perception is that for Islam God is holy, pure, self-sufficient and personally removed from the human condition. This is not the case for us as Christians. My appreciation and sense of connection to God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus grew deeply by envisioning and imagining a faith without such an incarnate act. I felt, and continue to feel that God’s full entry into our own human experience, as Jesus is an intimate connection that I suddenly couldn’t live without. God personally knows betrayal. God in Jesus knows pain and sorrow. God in Jesus knows the temptation of power, the human desire for relationship and the universally felt human need for love. God has walked in my shoes.
By having the opportunity to imagine living inside a different faith perspective, my appreciation for my own faith grew immeasurably. This sense alone would have made what we did for Lent, for me, greatly beneficial. However, I also gained a sense of connection to my Muslim neighbors. I felt their sincere humility. I felt their deep faith and love for all people. I felt like I made new friends. This too is what made Lent a helpful and important experience.
Maybe it wasn’t a traditional approach to Lent. But maybe when we take a few different twists and turns both in life and faith we ultimately circle back to what was always the most important, something we had just forgotten. At the very least, my eyes were opened, and I see my own faith through a new lens.
Thanks be to God!