Friday was a cultural day for me. I took a day off from work to prepare for my church’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. Dia de los Muertos is not a tradition I celebrated as a child. If an event didn’t have to do with the Oklahoma Sooners or the Green Bay Packers … it was not a tradition in my family.
My first experience with Dia de los Muertos was a year ago. I remember preparing for the party and being nervous. “Will I be sad? Will it be uncomfortable for me to talk about my family members who have died? Will there be traditions I am not comfortable participating in?” But as we showed up to the potluck holding my late grandfather’s favorite dish, my nerves were calmed. My church family was supportive and welcoming, teaching us the ways of this rich Mexican tradition. We laughed all night sharing stories of our loved ones who have gone before us. Well, we didn’t laugh all night (am sure that we would have if we were truly authentic)!
Dia de los Muertos was not the only cultural ritual I celebrated on Friday. I also attended a Friday mid-day prayer service at the Muslim Community Center with my friend Sarah (thanks for letting me tag along!).
Similar to last year’s Dia de los Muertos celebration, I was nervous. I borrowed a bandana to cover my head, wore long pants and a long-sleeved shirt and covered my feet with slip-off shoes for an easy transition when entering the mosque. I wondered, “Should I wear a skirt? Socks? I didn’t think about covering my head … is this last-minute bandana too informal?” But just like with Dia de los Muertos, I had to take a deep breath and enter this new culture with humility.
In the parking lot, Sarah and I met Joy. Thank God (Allah in today’s case) for Joy. Dressed in a long grey dress with a pink and grey scarf, Joy was a bright eyed, outgoing, African-American Muslim woman. She was funny and honest and helpful. Just as my Texas church family taught me about Dia de los Muertos, I knew Joy would help us out.
Since I was having a cultural day, I decided to pray five times on that Friday just as in the Muslim tradition. I woke up in the morning, cleansed myself, then prayed the Lord’s prayer (Jesus in this case) while kneeling. Taking time to declare intent, cleansing yourself and adding specific actions to your prayers takes a lot of work, but it also made my prayers more thoughtful. My prayers at the Mosque were to be my second prayers that day. Sarah and I went with Joy to perform the ablutions.
Being with Joy during the ritual cleansing made me realize how much I had rushed my ablutions that morning! Joy even apologized for “being in a hurry,” but she was so thoughtful with each motion. Each motion was not a step to hurry and complete, but a somber, beautiful preparation for God. I had been treating it as a “step before prayers.” But to Joy, this ritual was as holy as kneeling before the altar or clearing your mind before receiving Holy Communion.
Inside the mosque, I observed as the women lined up and joined in the prayers. Toddlers ran amuck the minute the line formed … they know when Mom isn’t paying attention! As the Muslim women carried out their prayers, I prayed the Lord’s prayer again.
The most striking part of the Muslim prayer experience was the community aspect. The women stood in a line close enough that there was “no room between them for the devil.” It was beautiful to see them so close to each other while experiencing something very personal. Experiencing this new kind of prayer makes me excited to attend church Sunday. I might get really cozy if you stand next to me. Consider this your fair warning.