It was late in the afternoon and I had stepped into a dark hallway in the office building and encountered a Muslim co-worker kneeling on a prayer mat. Embarrassed at having interrupted what I considered an intimate act of worship, I tiptoed back to my office and waited another few minutes before leaving for home. I had another couple of emails to send, after all.
Later, I told a friend from church about the incident and she shook her head.
“That makes me so uncomfortable,” she said, almost angrily.
“Why?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just so weird with the five times a day thing. And the pointing toward Mecca.”
I didn’t respond. Instead, I thought of all the times in years’ past, before I returned to the “organized” church, that I’d found myself in a restaurant and seen people at a neighboring table join hands and pray before their meal. Since then, I’ve done it a few times myself, but I’ve been aware of the discomfort of some around me–people I know I’ve seen in church.
In every Christian church I know of, the Lord’s Prayer is a mainstay. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we repeat every Sunday. In the Episcopal church, we’re even “bold” to say it.
Apparently not enough to say it unless we’re standing in a gothic cathedral or a prayer group. Not as bold as that Muslim fellow I saw, who five times a day, knelt and prayed to Allah.
What are we afraid of? That somebody may find out we’re Christian?
Chances are pretty good, though there is no mention of it in the Gospels, that the day the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, was not on a Sunday or a Saturday. Might’ve been a Monday. I’ll bet, too, that the “Sermon on the Mount” happened on a Tuesday morning or something. Or maybe it was a “lunch and learn.” But we can’t pray boldly except on Sunday or Wednesday or in the presence of other Christians.
Can’t stop at prayer, though. Jesus didn’t command us just to pray. And he said, “Go and teach, not go and tell.” We need to do something, to be so bold as to do what Jesus told us to do. You know…oh, my gosh, look around and make sure no one sees…to be so bold as to…I don’t know, this could be tough now so get ready…LOVE our neighbors and ourselves. On Monday and Tuesday and Thursday and Friday and not just on Sunday.
It’s been at least 15 years since I stepped into that hallway. Maybe I should have asked him if I could share his mat, and knelt down right there and prayed the Lord’s Prayer alongside him. It would have been a bold thing to do.
But, I didn’t.
And yet we wonder why the message of the church today isn’t compelling.