After the jihadist terrorist attack in Paris, a number of my friends and correspondents are sharing reflections about Muslims being terrorists, Syrian refugees bringing in clandestine terrorists, and American security being so defective. The mood of twitters is fear. It is not my mood and the reason goes back to the beginning of the pilgrimage I am writing about.
It began at DFWairport on Friday, 16 October. Almost two dozen of us checked in and went through security and then gathered at 1:45 outside the airport chapel. That chapel is what I am now remembering.
First, it is a simple room with simple chairs and a simple altar table. The impression it leaves you with, the one that stays in my mind, is that it is wood throughout, which is probably not the case. But it is simple. I remember vividly what was going on when I opened the door. A couple of the 20 men glanced over their shoulders at me, then all of them sat up, bowed forward, and put their foreheads to the floor. They held the position for a little while and then sat back. They were worshipping Allah, the One True God.
They were dressed in various uniforms and un-uniforms: janitors, ticket agents, security police, TSA workers. Most of them were big men; some were not. They were alike in one thing: they were Muslims who were doing the same thing: worshipping the One True God.
Every time I remember those men doing that fine act of worship of the true God, I feel consoled. I belong to the first generation of ordinary Christians who do not feel that we have to defend our faith in Jesus Christ. We do not have to try our best to impose that faith on other peoples. For four and a half centuries, the Church in Europe argued and fought. I was taught the tired scholastic philosophy and theology that escaped, anemic and weak-kneed, to fall exhausted on our shores (well, desks).
My cohort in studies let it lie, abandoning the modern rationalism and embracing what we finally learned to call discernment. We just moved on into scripture and the early Church, which scholars had been trying to call to Catholics’ attention for two or three generations, unsuccessfully. Then the Holy Spirit pulled Vatican II out of her historical hat.
Now in this postmodern church, we are free to see the deep dignity of The People of the Covenant, the People of the Koran, and those whose understanding of God differs so utterly that naming conveys nothing to us. Finally, we can see that the “others” are just as much God’s work of art as our saints and scholars.
Now I can gladly and gratefully greet Muslim men as they get up off their rugs and push the chairs back in place so Catholics can worship the Father and celebrate the memorial of the Son. Moved by the Spirit of God, the Muslim men put order into the wooden room readily and courteously: Inshallah, for God so wills. As-salamu alaykum, the peace of Allah be with you.
It was so much better than inimical stares. Et cum spiritu tuo. Amen, alleluia.