Not long ago I joined a Daughters of Abraham book group. This group, made up of women from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faith traditions, meets every month or so to discuss books we are reading on our three faith traditions. I knew going in that this would be a good and growing experience for me, but I did not anticipate the many blessings that have come to me through this group.
There is a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and I have found that to be very true. I have learned so much from the books we have read together. Before joining this group I did not know much of the history of Islam and though I had studied the history of the ancient Jewish people as part of my seminary education, I only had only disjointed knowledge of more recent Jewish history. In our group conversations around these books, my sisters have shared their lived experience of their faith traditions with me, in ways that have captivated and educated me. For instance it is one thing for me to understand what the month of Ramadan is, it is another to hear personal stories from my Muslim sister about the spiritual riches that accrue in her life and the life of her family as they observe this sacred month in their religious calendar.
In the past I was fond of saying, “There is so much more that unites us than divides us- so much more we hold in common than is different among us.” What I realize now is that while in an overarching way that statement is true, it is also true that our religious traditions are quite distinctive and unique in their themes and the practices they have developed to draw their members into the presence of God. To focus only on what we have in common is like focusing only on the words that various languages have in common – it is to lose the rich nuance and beauty of the distinctive whole. The daughters of Abraham from traditions other than my own have shown me that. There is amazing freedom in not having to think that there is only one right way to be a person of faith.
I am grateful for the opportunity this sisterhood offers me to be reflective about my own Christian heritage and tradition, in which I am firmly rooted, and whose beauties I am grateful to be able to share through my ministry. Thanks to the Daughters of Abraham I am also much more aware of ways my religious tradition has contributed to a complex history of mistrust and violence in the human family. I find myself now engaged in ardent prayer that goes like this:
Gracious and All Loving God, lead me and guide me as a person of faith in ways of thinking, listening, speaking and acting that honor your image in each person I meet. Help me to draw on the riches of my religious tradition to bless others in your name. Thank you for the understanding and love that is taking root in our small group of your daughters and in many places around our globe. May it be, that movements of love, respect and interwoven existence overtake and transform the strife and violence done in your name. Amen
I invite you to join me in this prayer this summer. Summer is a season of growth. May you be blessed with your own opportunities to grow and stretch as you dare to reach out across lines of difference. I believe God rejoices, and our world is a better place whenever we do!
The Rev. Martha Hubbard is Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newburyport, MA