Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Christian Season, a Muslim Practice, and Living in the Shift

I am carrying my Lenten practice in my body this year. Instead of giving up caffeine, television or eating animal products (as I have done in some Lenten seasons), I am taking something on: the wearing of hijab, the headscarf most commonly worn by Muslim women.

Other than the times I am serving as a chaplain, my head and neck are covered by a scarf whenever I am out of my house, and my body is covered to wrists and ankles in modest clothing. That’s it. No special clothing,  no special actions, really just a scarf around my head.

I have chosen this as my spiritual practice this Lent partly because I want to stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters, simply to honor them and their experience. This practice of covering is in a very small way a “giving up” in the traditional Lenten sense: for a small amount of time and in a very small way, I am giving up just a bit of the enormous amount of privilege that I have as an attractive, educated, middle-class American woman. We all make assumptions all the time, but the assumptions made about me change a little when I have the scarf on. I do not say that they change for the better or the worse, just that they shift. I want to understand more about what it means to live in the midst of this shift.

I am wearing hijab; what I am not doing is attempting to live as a Muslim. The spiritual practices of Islam are beautiful, but that is not what I have undertaken here. I am simply wearing the scarf.

Some of my friends have challenged my practice, asking me to consider on the one hand whether I am misappropriating an important symbol of Islamic culture without accepting the practices that go with it, and on the other whether I am supporting a cultural symbol that is used to suppress women. I am grateful for their thoughtful comments that help me see viewpoints other than my own. I seek to honor my Muslim sisters with my headscarf, and I know that some women choose hijab or other forms of covering and some are not given the choice. At the end of the day, though, I am simply wearing the scarf. I seek to understand, to learn, and to grow in love and compassion.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I woke up the other morning, did a bit of yoga, got some coffee and sat down at the computer. I went to a newspage and saw it there, the same thing that’s always there: Terrorism. Corruption. Lies. Threats. The million ways people think to hurt and kill each other. And the thought, the one that has hovered at the edge of my consciousness for more years than I can count, came unbidden to my head: “I’m supposed to want to live in this world? Why would I ever choose that? With all this suffering and death, why would I ever want anything except not to be here?”

Despite the many benefits of my privileged, white, Western, middle class, educated status and my relatively easy life, I have never found the act of living an easy thing to do. It’s not that my life is too difficult, but that I look around and sometimes all I see are the sorrows and cares and pains of a world that is hurting. Hurting all the time. Without respite, without end. We struggle and we strive and we try to help, and we go on because we have to, but why, I think, why would anyone want to?

I sat down the coffee cup and got up from my computer – time to wake up the 10-year-old for school. He giggled and laughed; the dog licked his nose, causing him to roll around snorting, trying to get out the dog breath smell; and he gave me a hug. “Hey Mom, come watch this!” “Hey Mom, did I tell you about this?” Thus our morning went, all laughter and smiles. And I remembered that in the midst of the struggle and the striving, alongside the sorrows and cares, there is laughter and love and joy. After I got my son to school, I went and helped my mom with some things, where I remembered that what we do matters, that our actions can bring something good into someone else’s life, even if only in the smallest of ways.

My son and my mother gave me great gifts that day, although they didn’t realize it. They helped me remember the balance of the world, it’s beauty and goodness alongside its pain and suffering. In the most ordinary of ways, they showed me the extraordinary depth and richness in which we live every day. And I do so very much thank them for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dancing and Amen

The night was clear and dark, only the lights from camps nearby and those adorning the people walking through the fragrant fall evening dotting the darkness like bright flowers in a deepening field. In front of me the glow of one particular set of lights cast their spell – those from the DJ’s booth, a few small steady streams and some lasers dancing patterns around the 30 or 40 people gathered in the forest clearing. The trance music was opening a mind-state more than a mood, where the dancers moved with a gladness and ease beyond conscious thought. The music thumped and thrilled as bodies and the souls inhabiting them twisted and twirled in the ribbons of light bouncing off the trees.

My friend pulled me to the side, pointed to the twirling bodies and swirling lights, and asked, “You say you like church; have you ever seen worship like this?” Suddenly my perception shifted and I realized that he was speaking a deep truth. No one was reading sacred texts, holding out holy bread or engaging in solemn reflection, but this was worship of the most primal kind. This was joy in action, the homily of sound, the liturgy of movement. No one needed to go anywhere, to do any action, to believe any creed; all they – all we – needed was to be, celebrating this grace-filled moment with our bodies, dancing with all the joy that filled our hearts.