PRAYING ACROSS THE SPACES THAT DIVIDE US
When Christians, Jews and Muslims Join in Worship, A Bridge Is Built
Written by Mary Dickey
Breaking New Ground in the Shadow of 9/11
September 16, 2001. I am standing with fellow members of Christ Church Summit as we break ground for a new version of our Barnwell Hall wing. It will replace the old structure that served as the center of our community activities for decades. The mood, which should have been jubilant, is somber. Just 5 days before—on September 11—the world as we knew it had been transformed by the attack on the Twin Towers. Eight of our neighbors were missing and presumed dead. The death toll would eventually reach 60 for our county alone. Many of us had narrowly escaped the destruction and had lost friends and colleagues. Our collective mood mirrors the fear, doubt and confusion spreading across our nation.
Should we proceed with our plans, we wonder? In the face of so much uncertainty, is an expansion of our presence a good idea? We decide to let faith lead us, to move forward in the hope that we can create a new gathering place where uncertainty can be dispelled, where diverse people can find harmony. Our vision is a place that will help us realize our mission: whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey you are welcome here.
Standing in the Same Space, Connecting with Our Sisters
On a late spring evening, almost 15 years later after that groundbreaking, I am standing in a room of Barnwell Hall. Around me are the women of my Daughters of Abraham group (sponsored by Interweave, Christ Church and Peace Islands Institute)—Christian, Muslim and Jewish women, meeting to explore our shared heritage and to build bridges of understanding across the gaps that divide us. No matter what topic we choose, 9/11 always seems to enter the discussion: how our lives changed in its wake, how the lives of Muslims in America grew darker. It is perhaps the great historical marker of our time, a moment that ushered in a new tumultuous era around the world.
Prayer Transcends Language and Style
Tonight’s gathering is winding down when our Muslim sisters tell us that it is time for Salat al-Isha, the night prayer—one of five that devout Muslims say at precise times each day. They ask if they may pray here in our meeting room.
We agree and give them space as they establish the proper direction (toward the Ka’ba in Mecca). We watch somewhat awkwardly as they begin their ritual, positioning their small rugs on the floor and beginning to flow through the various postures, murmuring the Arabic words of their prayer. Our shyness ebbs and a few of us step into the back of the group. We can’t join in the words but we follow the motions, creating our own prayers in our hearts.
It is a unifying moment, the essence of what we women of faith have been trying to achieve in our small group. How fitting that it happened in Barnwell Halll, the building that began in the shadow of 9/11.