Word of the Week

One Weekend, Three Religions

I have to say that I'm a bit tired this morning. Not just because Sundays are the most intense day of the week for ministers and it's the day after, but because of all the adventures Kevin and I had this weekend. We experienced God in three unique expressions and were quite the blessed as a result.

On Friday night, we were invited to attend the installation service of my cousin's partner and our dear friend, Jessy, who is the rabbi at Beth Chaverivm Reform Congregation in Asburn, VA. We sang and listened to prayers in Hebrew and listened to Jesse's mentors and teachers say really nice things about calling and hopes for his ministry in the future. The mood of the congregation was quite celebratory and made me excited about a similar service Washington Plaza will have on March 1st for me.

The funny part was that we got caught in traffic on the Toll Road and were 15 minutes late. We hoped we'd sit in the back and no one would notice our tardiness. But, not so much . . .

We walked in just as the ENTIRE congregation was doing some sort of four corners of the room prayer so that right as we opened the doors everyone was turning to face us! I quickly tried to hide Kevin behind the door hoping they would finish soon. Luckily, we didn't have to stay behind the doors for long but soon learned that Jessy wanted us to be on the front row with the family so we quickly made a processional to the front. We were glad to be there and sink into our seats a little after the embarrassment. . . .

Then, Saturday morning, we were up before 7 am to meet up with several of our friends to carpool to Roanoke, VA. Our dear friend, Bhavik's mom died on Monday evening and her funeral was on Saturday afternoon. Bhavik's religious tradition is Hindu.

None of us really knew what to expect at all but quickly did a lot of research last week about the funeral rites associated with Hundu cultures and India. We learned that white, not black is the color of mourning and that funeral rituals take place over several days instead of in just one event like the Christian tradition.

When we entered the funeral home, we were soon asked to take off our shoes and to enter the chapel respectfully. Around 40 or more family members and friends were already there (even though we were 25 minutes early this time!) chanting and singing.

By 2 pm when the service was to begin, the room was full, even with all the family members sitting on the floor. The chanting contined with none of us "Americans" having any idea what was being said. . . It was hard not to zone out (as much as I wanted to really be engaged in the moment) and get really sleepy.

But, after maybe 20 more minutes of chanting, the eulogies were said in English by our friend Bhavik, the eldest son, Mr. Patel, the husband, and Bhavik's younger brother. They were moving accounts of how much Mrs. Patel had meant to this family as a woman of great hospitality and love. We were all in tears seeing our usually unemotional friend, Bhavik in great pain.

The most touching part of the service came at the end. As funeral rites were performed on Mrs. Patel, the master of ceremonies (who I think was a family friend) explained to everyone in English what was occurring. (The priest continued to chant and do things to the body to prepare it for the next life). It would have been so easy for the funeral service to proceed without paying the non-Indians in the room any attention. It showed signs of great hospitality to me for the translation to occur out of such a gracious spirit. It was the definition of respect for religious traditions is about.

We all left the experience very sad for the Patel family but so rich in having the opportunity to share in such sacred moments with our friend.

But, I have to say that I was happy to go to a Christian church on Sunday. It was great to sing hymns that I knew and loved and to pray in English. It was good to celebrate the faith tradition that means to much to me and to lead others in the hearing of the word and taking of communion. But, I'm also happy that I am in a place that respectfully acknowledges other faith expressions too as we work with our neighbors to meet the needs God has given all of us to address in our community. I'm in the exact place I belong. Thanks be to God for this and some a good night's sleep.