I was sitting in a presbytery meeting a month ago—one of those meetings that ranges from heated and passionate debate at one moment to dreaded, deadly boring reports at other moments. In the midst of it we paused for a short bit of worship. In the midst of the liturgy we found ourselves repeating the familiar leader/people response:
L: Bless the Lord, O my soul;
P: And all that is within me, bless God’s holy name.
As I repeated those words I felt my soul enjoying this brief moment of reminding me what was essentially sacred. It surprised me. As one who resonates with many of my contemporaries who have abandoned the Church, I often shy away from liturgies that sound overly religious in tone. I often write my own liturgical responses when leading worship to make them feel fresh and new.But, I appreciated this moment. I have repeated those words probably hundreds of times since my introduction to the Presbyterian Church as a seven year old (nearly 50 years ago. Geez!). Rather than being bored with yet another rote religious recitation, I actually found comfort in the words—more so than I had in the recent past.
I wonder if my heart was more prepared for this moment because of my experiences in Muslim Turkey. Still resounding someplace deep in my heart and soul is the sound of the five times a day calls to prayer that ring out all over Turkey from the loudspeakers of the minarets. It is so pervasive that from the moment I entered Turkey (actually, even a day or two beforehand) to the day my plane took off three weeks later from Istanbul, my day was marked by the rhythm of these calls to prayer.
It didn’t matter where I was. In the cities, sometimes three and four calls were competing with each other as each mosque broadcast their prayers within seconds of each other. In the countryside when I was cycling between villages, the calls floated out over the softly rolling terrain and I was personally invited to prayer several kilometers away from the calling mosque. I still can feel the sacredness of those moments riding through golden hills while the prayers caressed me like a gentle breeze.
During the first few days I was overwhelmed by their presence. My only introduction to them had been seeing newscasts, usually related to violence and war, with the calls to prayer ringing in the background. It was unnerving while I slowly separated my Western perceptions from the actual reality on the ground.
By the third week I had come to appreciate and look forward to the calls to prayer. They provided a rhythm to the day. More than that, they served as reminders that my deepest identity was rooted in Allah (or God or the Sacred Presence). In America we are reminded at least five times a day (more like 500 times!) that we are essentially consumers—TV ads, billboards, signs, etc. constantly blaring, “You are a consumer! You are a consumer! Buy! Buy! Buy!” I appreciated the physical and auditory reminders that at my core I belonged to God and that the advertisement from the minarets exclaimed, “You are a child of God. Love! Serve! Live!”
I am back on American soil now. I can tell you this. I will never become a Muslim. I will never become a Turkish citizen. But, I miss the calls to prayer. I miss the daily reminders that my deepest identity is rooted in God or the source of the soul. I miss standing with strangers at a crosswalk where we all are bound together by the same call and voice in the air. I miss that waking sacred moment when both the sun peeks above the horizon and the imam sings his first note like a bird welcoming the day. I miss the sacred rhythm of Turkish life.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me; bless God’s holy name.” I am not sure what that means. But, I do like how it feels. Amen.