Spiritual Practice

Learning from One Another

Reverend J. Dana Trent

The rural town in which I grew up had little religious diversity. Baptist and Methodist churches lined the busiest streets, and one Catholic church sat on the outskirts of town. There were no temples, synagogues, or mosques.

Mosque window FTR TSP 491210449In middle school, I met Jameela, a young Muslim girl. We had every class together, and we became good friends. Over time, I noticed that Jameela celebrated religious holidays that were different from mine. For example, Jameela and her family observed Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, a time when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day for a month. During Ramadan, Jameela would not eat lunch with us in the school cafeteria. This concerned me. I did not understand why she would put herself through such a difficult challenge.

One day I gathered the courage to ask her why. Jameela explained that she and her family loved God so much that they adhered to the strict teachings of her tradition’s scripture, including the observance of Ramadan. Fasting, for Jameela, was more than simply obeying the rules; it also helped Jameela to be in solidarity with people who were hungry all the time and to build a much deeper relationship with God.

Seeking to Understand

Not many of us have a spiritual practice as physically rigorous as Jameela’s. Depriving our bodies of food for religious reasons may seem strange. But being critical of others’ traditions makes understanding and acceptance difficult. We are sometimes wary of another person’s faith because we are afraid of what we don’t understand. When I first encountered Jameela’s fasting, I felt uncomfortable. I ddin’t know the theological meaning behind it, and I thought it was extreme. Now, I realize that avoiding interaction with people who are different or putting others down because of their beliefs is a form of discrimination.

metal cross2 TSP 469549267When I was open to learning about Ramadan, Jameela shed light on its significance. Her explanation reminded me of the liturgical seasons in which Christians make sacrifices in order to become closer to God. During Lent, we remember Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. We often take up an additional practice, such as daily scripture reading or praying, as we prepare to receive the risen Christ. In Advent, Christians around the world prepare their hearts for Jesus’ birth. Like the weeks of Ramadan, Advent draws us closer to God.

I was surprised that Jameela’s Islamic practice helped me to reflect on and to go deepr in my Christian walk. Do you know someone who practices another faith? How can you bridge the gap between the two of you? Be courageous enough to ask questions in order to gain a greater understanding of their faith and your own.

Be an Instrument

Jesus commanded us to love one another. We are all unique. Our faith journeys are as special as we are. Instead of mocking or criticizing one another’s beliefs, what would happen if we took the time to understand?

St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”  Friendships with those who are different offer us opportunities to follow Jesus’ commandment to love one another. In my friendship with Jameela, I pushed through my initial discomfort and chose to open my heart to learning about my friend’s faith. We can all choose to sow love, which in turn will help us to reflect on and to deepn our relationship with Christ.



How is God calling you to be an instrument of peace and love? Consider attending a worship service with a friend who practices a religion that is different from yours. Afterward, write about what happened and how you experienced God during the service. What did you learn about the other person’s faith? How did the experience deepen your faith?

—from devozine (July/August 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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