Thursday, April 11, 2013

Travels of a Turkish Prayer Rug

Once I had a friend who went to Turkey to teach English at a university.  Once, I knew lots of people who were creating all kinds of lives not constrained by mortgages and middle-class expectations.  Of course, back then, we all wanted houses and good jobs and security.

Now we see the shaky side of those dreams.  But that's not what I want to write about today.  Today I want to think about the travels of my Turkish prayer rug.

My friend who went to Turkey brought me back the prayer rug.  At the time, I found it curious and pondered why of all the things he could bring me from Turkey, he chose a rug used for Muslim prayer. 

I haven't ever known exactly what to do with it.  Obviously, I couldn't use it as a place to wipe my feet, and it isn't big enough to use as a carpet, even if that didn't feel disrespectful too.  There have been years when I didn't want it, but it seemed disrespectful to throw it away. 

When I got the rug, I wasn't praying much.  Through the years, I've added prayer to my daily spiritual discipline, but I don't kneel.  Even if I did, would it be O.K. to use a Muslim rug?  I'm a big believer in ecumenical connections, but would Muslims be offended?

So, it's stayed in closets, in South Carolina and South Florida.  And then, we planned the worship service for Create in Me.

I doubt that my Turkish prayer rug imagined it would end up here:

For our Friday night worship service at Create in Me, we transformed the chapel that's at the top of the mountain at camp.  We moved the seating to the back of the chapel and arranged it so that two sides faced each other.

At the front of the chapel, we had several worship stations, which I'll write more about tomorrow.  In the middle, between the seating and the stations, was a table, set up as an altar, with the communion elements on it.

My Turkish prayer rug was part of a station where people removed their shoes and knelt to pray, as you can see in the picture.  The chapel floor is hard stone, and the prayer rug was a nice effect.

I took great joy in the ecumenical nature of having a Muslim prayer rug as part of our service.  I prayed for love and understanding between all religions, and that that love and understanding would spread to all, regardless of belief or lack of it.

Let me hasten to add that I did wrestle with the question of whether or not it's appropriate to have a Muslim prayer rug in this context.  I consulted several people with advanced degrees in Christian theology.  We agreed that it would be O.K.

If we were having an Interfaith event, I'd have also consulted Muslim experts.  Since we weren't, and since I don't know any Muslim experts, I decided not to seek out that advice.

I also decided not to turn the Turkish prayer rug into a Big Deal.  Most of the worshippers probably didn't realize that they prayed on top of a Muslim artifact.  Most of the people at that retreat probably wouldn't care.  They had more problems with the issue of shoe removal than ecumenism.

It also occurred to me to wonder if my friend really brought me an authentic rug or if he just told me he did, knowing that I'd have no way of checking.

In the end, I'm glad that I volunteered the use of the prayer rug.  I thought it added a lovely touch to the prayer station at the front of the chapel--not just lovely, but meaningful on various levels.

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