On Gratitude during Ramadan: a desire for unity


What I believe about Jesus, but don’t understand at all, is that He loved us before we loved Him. He’s not just loving us back. He’s loving us first.

Last night I stepped my first time through doors with a sign for those allowed there. “Women’s Entrance” it said, and so we entered there and took off our shoes, my friend having been invited to break the Ramadan fast in a local mosque. It was my first time to be separated like that from men. It was my first time to enter the worship place for a religion with which I do not subscribe.

I wore shiny lipgloss, all my flashy jewelry, and a little perfume to cover the okra I had attempted to fry earlier in the evening. I’m southern, American, and I do indeed love Jesus. I don’t know much better, and I don’t plan to be convinced otherwise, but  I was nervous, wanting to show love and be liked, a sore white thumb, a smiling doter of all the beautiful children.

The upper room was full of gorgeous women lining their native dishes on a fold-out table. It had all the workings of any fellowship supper I’ve known, plus aromatic potatoes and cinnamon, dates and lemonade. Over every dish, the gentle sound of laughter, many kisses from cheek to cheek, head coverings draping, hands uncovering then serving.

Then a sound, a call I didn’t understand pulled them from their greetings, and they rushed to face Mecca in a perfectly straight row. My friend and I sat in the back in what felt like a held breath, deep-to-deep prayers of our own, and also wonder. Then it started, whatever it is the man sings, the call to pray, to bow the face to the floor, to devote the whole body, and then to stand in pin-drop silence before Allah.

I had to breathe funny not to cry, not to feel overwhelming pain and honor and shame all at once.

“You are guests. You are guests,” they said when finished and pushed us through the line sure to let us grab spoon handles before they reached for a turn. Humility is believable, I thought to myself. Then we sat, all of us together in the floor, we women from so so many tribes, tongues, and nations – and there was unity there. And it hurt.

So I am jaw-dropped today at how I loved those women and would honestly like to know them without pretense. Just women, mothers, fellow humans in need of love – could that happen?

I imagine a room of believers in Christ, all lands and skins and languages gathering up to a great silence, but then bursting in shouts of Praise to our King. Do we have to wait for Heaven for that?

Oh Peacemakers, could you come out with some truth for our broken body?

He loved me first, and then I loved Him back. He invited me to the table, and then I ate. He prayed that we would be united, and then I stopped and stared at Him with big sheep eyes and blinked my dumb lashes. When will I learn about unity? When will I learn to boast alone in Christ and him crucified?

Christ, who sits at the back of the bus with the dirtiest kids

Christ, who gives away his lunch

Christ, who came down to the lowest pit and took on every kind of sick to sympathize with us –

I really want to learn Him.

So how is Unity in your world? How is it for you to be like Jesus?

amberhaines
About me

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28 Comments

Bridget
Reply August 17, 2010

This is beautiful in so many ways...so beautiful.

deb
Reply August 17, 2010

I was thinking of you so deeply today.
( a little worried still that you took my honesty wrong)

this . this that you do.
it is priceless.

and my table has seen women of this and that , those and none.
it's all beautiful.

To Think Is To Create
Reply August 17, 2010

I can feel the hurt. I live it everyday in a family who, in my estimation, thinks only certain types of people deserve love. And especially not the kind you describe here.

I cry for the lack of love and unity, literally I do. And I get words thrown like stones that are not meant as compliments...hippie, idealist, naive, irrational, unrealistic...

But I imagine Jesus was described a similar and that comforts...

I ramble, but just had to spill out initial thoughts after this piece of lovely from you. I saw you there, I held breath with you and I ached too.

<3
Ari

Kelly Langner Sauer
Reply August 17, 2010

oh. when I sat at the back of the bus, I was the dirtest kid? oh my. I knew, but I didn't know, even when they called me names and made fun of me...

I'm not good at unity, but oh, I want to learn.

misty
Reply August 17, 2010

amber, i'm still such a stranger to you, yet i read your words. i ache in the pit of my belly in this. i'm not as brave as you (i don't think) but i want so similarly. i want to love and laugh and live in a unified way, with all my sisters. my boys, too, i want this for them most.

Adventures In Babywearing
Reply August 17, 2010

Oh, this gets to me. One one hand because Friday night I befriended a man- a chef that had been cooking all day in HEAT around FOOD and he was fasting for Ramadan. His eyes. I saw it.

And then, also, today I was thinking us Christians in our uniforms and I want to be naked, I want to be seen without the uniform and want others to see me like that, too, so they feel like they can be loved by me, and I by them.

Steph

Bridget
Reply August 17, 2010

I don't think I've ever commented more than once on a post, but I have come back several times today to read this. My soul needed this. My soul aches for this kind of unity and understanding, and yet there is comfort in knowing that I am not alone. I am not the only one yearning for this.

So often(here in the South, and I would venture to say far beyond the Mason-Dixon line) all I hear and see is division and disgust from *Christians*. I am a Christian, but I am at a point in my life that I am somewhat ashamed of being one. Not ashamed of Christ, mind you, but ashamed of the stereotype of this group I so want to call my own.

Thank you, Amber, for reminding me that I'm not alone. We are not alone. And (forgive the cheesiness) but together, in one accord we can make a difference.

Ann Voskamp
Reply August 17, 2010

i have missed you.

is this unity? -- when you look into eyes, all eyes, and realize this -- this human being --
is who you've been missing.

hearing your voice here makes me feel like a lost piece has been found.

Aimee
Reply August 17, 2010

These words are rain drops to my sun parched heart, reminding me of bigger things on a day when I've wallowed in the mud, looking at how I'm being treated and acting like a toddler having a tantrum.

THIS is what it's about. THIS, right here.

Thank you, thank you, sweet soul, for sharing your heart and your beautiful words with us. Oh how I would love to meet you in person, hear the drawl in your accent as you read this words yourself.

Jennifer@GDWJ
Reply August 17, 2010

"He’s not just loving us back. He’s loving us first."

It's that, which you say so eloquently,
and it's so much more.
It's all God's children singing glory, glory, Alleluia, He reigns.

And it's Heaven.

And ... I don't know what to say here, with this jaw dropped in wonder.

Can I just whisper thanks?

bekah
Reply August 18, 2010

I spent a semester in Turkey. Living with my host family there, seeing their lives, going to the mosque with them, teaching their children, hugging them goodnight, sitting on the prayer mat listening to the grandma recite prayers, teach me about Allah, it was all so close... all so blindingly close to what is Truth. Only, it isn't. Its heartbreakingly different, and they don't see.
But the love, the sharing, the community, the look after each other and fellowshiping together... I've never seen that better displayed. Despite their not knowing Him, it was so obvious He knows them for they could only act out of Jesus type of love.... without even knowing it.
Love.
Its the only mark of Him I know. Know to bear. Fail to bear.
Beautiful, Amber...

emily freeman
Reply August 18, 2010

There is so much fear in unity that it almost paralyzes. Not fear of what it will be when we get there, more fear of what it will take . . . the letting go, the surrender, the sacrifice, the love.

thank you for your voice, Amber. More people need to hear it.

Shauna
Reply August 18, 2010

Amber,
I am new to your world, but am absolutely loving getting to "know" you through your words.
There is something of the divine within each of us that cries out for the unity of community. It seems visible in all of the above comments. Our hearts long for it, yet it remains intangible, an enigma of sorts. There is a hazy picture of what it could look like, yet we are so weighed down by rights and barriers and pride that the sacrifice that it takes to get there often remains too large of an obstacle to overcome.
I have lived in Muslim communities here in Africa, and have learned much from their communal hearts. I have sat with 2nd and 3rd wives and admired their hearts of humility and honor.
That unity is possible, because our Teacher said it was, and all things are possible through Him, yes?
This post, your words, your heart to show us what you have seen, you have built into that unity. And as your sister, I concur with amen.

Megan@SortaCrunchy
Reply August 18, 2010

"There is a Name I love to hear, I love to sing its worth,
It sounds like music in my ear, the sweetest Name on earth.
Oh, how I love Jesus, Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus, because He first loved me."

I've been singing it all day. I don't know what inspired it, but I can't shake it.

I think . . . I think where there isn't unity, there isn't love. You know what I mean? I think Jesus said if we love Him, we'll obey Him. And I think He prayed for us, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." And I think our lack of unity reveals a stunning lack of understanding of how He loves.

But.

A quiet revolution stirs, and some are discontent with hearts half-loving and some are loving in spirit and in truth and in word and in deed. And His word does not return to Him void but accomplishes the purposes for which He sends it. And like Arianne, I bear the brand of hippie naive idealist of the irrational and unrealistic variety, but His Name - it is music. And it invites me to move.

Sarah@EmergingMummy
Reply August 18, 2010

When I was just 16 years old, I spent a day in a Sikh temple, then another day in a Buddhist temple and another day in a mosque. It was a profoundly shaping time in my life, helping me, a new Christian kid, wildly in love with Jesus, to remember unity and love, see the person behind the politics and rhetoric. Unity comes through relationship, through reaching out to The Other. Sometimes it starts because we recognise a similarity, a "you too? Me too!" in the eyes of another and then our friends meet them and next thing you know, you have friends. Thank you for having the eyes to see, Jesus-girl.

monica
Reply August 18, 2010

((silence))

thank you.

Laure
Reply August 19, 2010

I read your words and alternately read the dawn forest thick with pines. I tell myself, no one taught those silent sentinels how to stand together ... how to make room for one another so that their individual beauty becomes more so in community. No one taught them how to so utterly forget themselves in order to be a testament to glory. What grace they have been given to live without grasping after somebody's notice ... and yet this morning ... it is all I can do not to notice.

Today, I should like to be a silent tree in God's forest ... not exerting my presence into the hours ... just standing and forgetting everything but to please Him.

    Amber
    Reply August 19, 2010

    Well, so beautifully said, Laure.

Cheryl Smith
Reply August 19, 2010

Just catching up on some reading and love how God opened the door for you to be there. To love. Humbly.

Last week we spent two days at an amusement park. On several occasions we saw Muslim women in full dress (and it was 100+ degrees). One time I actually made eye contact with a young girl, eyes only showing. And I prayed for the love of Jesus to penetrate her heart. For Jesus to speak to her and others, even in their dreams.

Today, I'm praying that God will continue whatever it is He has started through your journey with these women.

Blessings!

Emily
Reply August 20, 2010

Hi Amber, I'm one of those you don't know yet... been reading your blog for a while without commenting. I stumbled upon it and then felt drawn to you out of the similarities I see in both of us. I initially began reading because of your adoption. We are also in the process of adoption, our first, a little girl named Esther from Haiti.
Anyway, instead of rambling, I wanted to tell you that I had an experience similar to yours. As a project for school several years ago, one of my friends took me to her mosque with her family to experience her form of worship, which obviously is different from mine.
I felt many of the same emotions you described, but one that stood out over all of them was the deep love I felt for these women. I was amazed at their depth and beauty, heart squeezed tight out of desire for unity.
They took me out to eat and treated me like family. I met all of them, so beautiful and lively...both men and women. It still tugs at my heart and lives with me to this day.
I'll stop here, but want to say this...I had hope after that experience because I saw a common spirit there... a common human fire inside of them. The same one I see in my believer friends. And I think, no matter the differences or traps of Satan, they are still God-made, God-breathed, filled and covered in His fingerprints. This gives me hope...that maybe, just maybe there is something stronger inside all of us. It can break down all barriers and create unity.

Elizabeth @claritychaos
Reply August 20, 2010

This reminds me of when I traveled in the Middle East in college. One Friday evening I stood on a roof top in the Old City of Jerusalem overlooking the wailing wall. All at once, the Muslim call to prayer blared out through the city's speakers, the Jews at the wall chanted and sang their own prayers, and I stood there in the middle of my own spiritual crisis, feeling like I was witnessing the ultimate Battle of the Bands. Machine guns, bigotry, hatred in the name of God. All I could do was offer up my own little humble prayer and head back to my hostel in silence.

Stephanie
Reply August 24, 2010

Amber, this is beautifully written. I want to "learn Him" too.

Cindy
Reply August 30, 2010

Amber,

I don't know if this

"I imagine a room of believers in Christ, all lands and skins and languages gathering up to a great silence, but then bursting in shouts of Praise to our King. Do we have to wait for Heaven for that?"

is in reference to religious conversion, even a little, that the world might be turned to Christianity...which I don't believe in coaxing upon people.

The rest of this is breathtaking - as I understand it, it is breathtaking. If only all of us folks could find ways to drop our fears stemming from discomfort and lack of understanding, perhaps Unity, Acceptance and Respect for the religion of others, that they might be fully respected for peaceful worshipping out of personal resonation and not deemed inferior or misguided even, might be.

That is a wonderful thought for me today - Unity, Acceptance, Respect - and it sends me.

I envy that you went to break bread and lemons with them.

Thanks for this beautiful piece of writing.

    Amber
    Reply September 3, 2010

    Cindy, thank you for this comment. I really love you. Of course I'm a Christian, and that means that I believe that Jesus is the way, but when I wrote that line I was referring to the God-worship that Christians profess as compared to how they really seem to do it. It's hard when Jesus' last prayer for us was for unity, but then believers in Him can seem to be the most divisive bunch. I think what broke my heart about seeing the women in the mosque was their enviable unity. I just long to see that kind of unity among followers of Christ.

    Thank you for loving me even when we don't believe the same way. Your friendship is one of our greatest treasures.

thesavingmom
Reply August 30, 2010

WOW...I just found your blog through (in)courage tonight and have been reading different posts to get to know you. I was thrilled to read this one. I look forward to soaking in more of your heart. Thanks for sharing!
~Jessica

Stephanie
Reply September 2, 2010

Thanks for writing, it made me cry as well. It's wonderful you went to mosque. I've never been invited but I have several muslim friends. It's difficult during this season for me to watch the muslim kids at school. I know they're hungry watching the other kids eat lunch. I know they're thirsty after they play on the playground. Whew, religion is a difficult taskmaster. Jesus, please reveal Your love and freedom to our precious friends, these beautiful people.

Christine
Reply September 9, 2010

For however much hate and spite exists towards Muslims from the so-called Christian right, or however much the media distorts to imply that all Jesus followers are so inclined, I am thankful for small anecdotes like yours, that talk about Ramadan and entering into praise of God in a Muslim place of worship, sitting alongside, with gentleness, sharing, openness. Your post is a reminder to me of some of the things I've forgotten about my childhood faith.

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