Prayer ended, and we were dismissed for the night. When class met again, our professor stood at the front of the room with his hands tightly clasped. He was clearly attempting to find the right words to say… words that would draw us out of our comfort zones into a meaningful discussion of the previous week’s events.
“What did you feel when you were observing prayer at the mosque last Thursday night?” One by one, the students in the room began to share.
“I felt as though I was among people who really loved God,” one student said sheepishly. She was among the first to speak out, and was obviously afraid of how her comments would be perceived by our more conservative classmates. Other students began to express similar sentiments despite the tension in the room. “I wanted to participate,” someone said, causing some people to giggle nervously. Then, a man at the back of the class said boldly: “I felt as though the Holy Spirit was there.”
A hush fell over the room. The professor’s eyes opened wide. “Let’s go with that. I want to talk about this. You said ‘the Holy Spirit.’ Did anyone else sense– even for just a second– something similar?” I raised my hand and looked around me. I quickly learned that I was not alone. Soon there were two more hands… then four… and finally, nearly one third of the people in the room had raised their hands. I felt myself becoming emotional. My eyes were welling up and I couldn’t stop it. A hot flow of tears rushed down my cheeks. Embarrassed by my lack of composure, I tried to hide my face in the collar of my jacket.
The professor continued… “Tell me: When those men were praying and you felt a spirit in the room, whose spirit was it? In other words: When their children are sick and they call out in prayer, who shows up?”
There was no answer. The students in my World Religions class didn’t want to touch that one with a ten foot pole. My heart began to sink– until a faint voice in the corner of the room spoke…
“Hear, O’ Israel… the Lord your God is One. There’s only one God… but uh… we’re just a handful of the world’s religious people. We can’t have a monopoly on God. It’s just impossible.” His comments were met with overwhelming approbation from the other students. “I think about this all the time,” another student said, “but I don’t know how to get past everything else I’ve learned until now.”
The professor smiled, clearly pleased to be among so many hopeful students. “That’s the purpose of this course. We’re going to talk about things like this without fear.” At that, several of my classmates also became emotional. Soon, the more conservative students began to open up. We all wanted the same things: Answers, understanding, and a way to live committed spiritual lives without dismissing the experiences of others.
|Christians protecting Muslims in Egypt during prayer.|
Our class came to an end and I went home. I wondered if the hope that existed inside those of us who reacted so emotionally was enough to make an impact on mainstream Christianity. I thought about the other people who feel the way we do, but have no outlet for their feelings. I realized that there are plenty of us out here who are contending with the faith as it is while dreaming with hope about what it can be. I thought about my responsibility as a person of faith and a citizen of our global community, and I wondered how I could contribute more. I prayed for more understanding, and went to bed. It was a night I’ll always remember.