I've been thinking of a post on spiritual journey for a couple of weeks now but I didn't know how to approach it. This being the day of worship in Islamic countries, those of us of other faiths worship on Friday as well. My ritual is becoming that Thursday nights I go for a long walk and listen to Dr. Craig Barnes' sermons from Shadyside Presbyterian Church on my ipod while I'm walking, then on Friday morning I get up, have breakfast at my place with Darbi, and then off to the Grace Fellowship. By Friday noon, we've observed Sabbath and are off to the rest of the weekend activities - this is a routine that I'm still working to embrace since the pattern is so different than the pattern of the rest of my life.
The question of pattern in this is key. I regret to say that during the last two years I was in the U.S.A., Diane and I did not attend church. When I was in Luxembourg in the fall of 2005, I became increasingly disenfranchised from the routine of worship in Oxford. While there are many good people who I'm sure find spiritual fulfillment in ways that became mundane for me, I just couldn't deal with it anymore and we simply didn't know where to turn for a more vital and engaged spiritual community. Then, the surprise of my life - I moved to Qatar.
Soon after arriving, Darbi and I joined together to attend the Grace Fellowship, a meeting that is not called church because the idea of Christian "church" is not accepted here yet. The group meets in a modest ville on the outskirts of Doha. At first the spiritual community felt strange - a bit evangelical and more contemporary than the worship of Shadyside, which I love. However, over the weeks, and with the coming of a 4-month visiting pastor, the service has become vital and important in my life. Part of it is the fact that we're worshiping in a place that at least to this point has not grown to accept multiple spiritual perspectives; this causes us to have an almost 1st-century feel of being Christians in a hostile place (although, truly, there is no threat here!). Another part is that the visiting minister is really very gifted in providing thought-provoking messages. Another is the contemporary music, which most attendees know well and sing with great conviction. Lastly, this worship works because it is genuine and it embraces so many people - like the church that Christ said we should be.
Every Friday, visitors are asked to introduce themselves. They are always from all over the world so that has become a familiar part of getting acquainted. This morning's visitors were from the U.S.A., Canada, South Africa, Germany, and Kenya (there will likely more but this is all I caught). The Kenyan visitor was the father of a new-born who, when unrest broke out in Nairobi, fled the country with his wife to Doha so that she could have the baby in a more secure setting. Umh... sound familiar? How ironic! The fact is the members and visitors come from everywhere around the globe and they worship in deep and sincere ways that have brought my faith journey back to a place that is extremely fulfilling.
Who would have thought - that I'd come 8,000 miles to find a faith community that believes deeply in the message of Christianity. Some are probably very evangelical and single-minded. Others are probably like me - embracing Christianity but believing that a merciful and loving God has to embrace the paths of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and many others. Even though my own faith is firm and getting stronger, I know that I have no right to judge the adequacy of others' faith. As Craig Barnes' November 25, 2007, sermon (available at Shadyside) proposed, our responsibility is to work on our own faith and the rest of humanity will take care of themselves.
I've heard people say before that they felt the spirit of faith more strongly away from North America. I never really bought that - until now. Oh, that the routine of "church" in the comfortable spaces of America could become vital and growing communities where people take their faith, and the call to respond to the message of genuine love of others, seriously again.