one of the many gifts i received being mia's mom was the ability and permission to be openly and kindly curious.
as a child, mia would walk right up to a stranger and start asking them questions about random stuff that interested her. sometimes this would be embarrassing, but one encounter changed this. one day when she was five-ish, we got on the bus and i was chatting briefly with the driver as mia made her way to a seat. when i caught up with her, she was deep in conversation with a sikh man about his bright orange "hat". i sat mortified as he was kindly and patiently telling her why he wore a turban. i apologized for her impoliteness. he smiled warmly at me and said, "there is no reason to be sorry for a child full of wonder and love."
(then she asked him if she could try it on, but i'll leave that part of the story out.)
in that same spirit of wonder and love, a few friends and i visited our local mosque on friday to meet our muslim neighbors and learn about their faith. my heart is broken at the increasing hate talk and very real threats pointed broadly at the faith and specifically toward muslim people. but just expressing my solidarity felt a bit hollow because i really didn't know that much about the faith and culture. i am always telling my students that being truly interested in people and staying open to hearing their experiences will build empathy and genuine relationships, so i really felt i needed to walk my talk.
we were welcomed to the small meeting place to observe noon prayers and service. afterwards we had the opportunity to talk more casually with the members over pizza and then had a more formal orientation to the origins of the faith and its customs. i was captivated at the manner in which they expressed their devotion in calm ritual. there were beautiful moments i wished for my camera, like when a dad was showing his preschool-aged son the sequence of the prayer and the boy followed the movement in such a sweet and clumsy manner, checking in with tentative eye contact to make sure he was doing it right.
i learned so much in such a short period of time. i do have more questions for future conversations, but here are some things i came away with:
- just like every other spiritual gathering i have ever attended, there were yawning distracted children, passionate elders with lots of stories they wanted to share, and someone who forgot to silence their cell.
- in other words, humans.
- it is a deep and focused faith (especially in contrast to the casual and inconsistent mishmash of religious and spiritual practices that i engage in).
- all moms (muslim, christian, buddhist, whatever) worry about their children, but some moms experience true fear on a regular basis for their children's safety. i heard that fear. i met those children. this is not okay.
- there is a recognition and reverence for mary, the mother of jesus (jesus and moses and other biblical figures as well).
- we have a vast misunderstanding of jihad in the broader american culture. my new friend defined it as a struggle, a challenge in life (very similar to buddhist samsara), adding, "sometimes broccoli is my jihad".
- i have an affinity for the shapes and lines of the mosques and wearing a headscarf.
- i was warmly hugged by a woman and the energy of the connection spoke the words, "i am with you." from both sides. human connection, sister connection, friendship...amazing everyday magic.
i returned home with a sense of peace and a full heart.
and remain committed, in these days when we are celebrating the birth of a child full of wonder and love, to more fully embody these gifts of baby jesus, of mia, of the sweet boys and girls at the mosque, of children everywhere.
have a beautiful season of wonder and love.