Coveting my neighbor’s religion

We know we are not supposed to covet – yearn to possess or have – other people’s belongings.  But what about coveting other people’s faith? Or their faith practices?

I have been a Congregationalist all my life, but I am inspired by the experiences and practices of other traditions and faiths.  I have to admit to a bit of “religious envy” when I think of observances not included in my own.

It isn’t that I want to convert to another faith.

I just want to learn from and maybe occasionally borrow some of the religious practices of others.

Here are some traditions that inspire me:

Namaste – when I go to my yoga practice, we begin and end by greeting one another and honoring the holy within.  We Christians have gotten away from recognizing the Christ, the divine, the Spirit that dwells in each one of us.  When we “pass the peace of Christ” on a Sunday morning, it is an attempt to share the holy with each other, but somehow it not as deeply satisfying as clasping my hands at my heart space, looking into another’s eyes to say “Namaste,” the holy in my greets the holy in you.

Crossing oneself. The Catholics do it. So do Episcopalians. It is a small gesture that somehow offers both a punctuation to prayer and a physical reminder of God’s presence. I find myself doing this at home sometimes when I yearn for a literal “hands on” expression of God’s presence.

Mezuzah – We have a mezuzah on our doorway, a small wooden box containing a tiny scroll with the Shema prayer: Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources.   Mezuzah

The mezuzah honors my husband’s Jewish upbringing but also reminds me that God’s presence goes with me as I enter into the world in the morning and arrive back home at night.  I  love the idea of praying as I go out and as I come in, that physical reminder that God goes with me

 Praying five times/day.  If you take the time to listen to the haunting and beautiful call to Muslim prayer  you will hear the words,

  • “God is the greatest,” sings the imman,
  • “I bear witness that there is no other deity beside God.”
  • “Make haste toward prayer.”

I love the idea of interrupting my busy day with the reminder of God’s presence and the invitation to pause and receive the refreshing Spirit of God.  It is too easy to allow an entire day – or even days – go by, filled with tasks and to-do lists, but not with the awareness of God.  If listening to a call to prayer from a minaret is not part of my Christian tradition, what method can I use to remind myself to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16)?

Shabbat at home – another powerful Jewish practice, bringing our faith into the home with prayers, lighting candles, songs, and sharing.  What a powerful way to share faith and to pass along traditions, values, and learning to our children.

The season of Lent invites us to develop and deepen our spiritual practices by celebrating our own while also honoring others. I can learn from others even as I honor my own Christian tradition.

What spiritual practices will you incorporate into your life to remind yourself of God’s presence with you, every day?




God is in the Forgiving Business

What are your childhood memories about Ash Wednesday?

I grew up in the Congregational tradition and don’t have remember anyone talking about Ash Wednesday or even Lent – at church or at home.

I was vaguely jealous of my Catholic friends who seemed to spend hours discussing what they might “give up” for Lent – candy? Ice cream? TV?  What would be an acceptable – but also sustainable for 40 long days – sacrifice? They talked about the challenge of abstaining from meat on Fridays. And then of course there were the ashes – more than slightly embarrassing to the middle school crowd. It was agreed that going to church after school was much preferred than walking around the halls with a dark smudge on your forehead.

But for this bland Protestant, Ash Wednesday came and went – no church service, no sacrifices, no ashes.

These days as a Congregational (UCC) pastor, it is my privilege to help lead a community Ash Wednesday service with two other congregations. It is a pleasure to worship with one’s neighbors but honestly, we also come together out of the realization that this particular service is often not well-attended. It is one of those days when we are grateful for Jesus’ reminder that where even two or three are gathered in his name, he promises to be present.

Why do so few people carve out time for this mid-week service? Partly it’s logistics. Society does not mark this occasion.  No one gets time off for Ash Wednesday. Families’ hectic pace of juggling sports and after-school activities does not slow down for this religious observance.

Partly I think it’s the ashes. Who wants to be reminded that “from dust you came and to dust you will return”?  The season of Lent has gained the reputation of being a dreary requirement that one must grudgingly endure in order to finally reach the glorious celebration of Easter.

And yet – what if we tried to re-set our attitude about this season of reflection and penitence? What if instead of regarding Ash Wednesday as a guilt-inducing reminder of all we have done wrong, we come with gratitude to God who can free us from our mistakes and release from the burden of remorse?

God is in the forgiving business.  Ash Wednesday, even in its quiet solemnity, can be a celebration and recognition of that.

Ash Wednesday reflects a simple truth. We all sin. We hurt others and we hurt ourselves.  We damage the earth.  We waste time. We get caught up in mindless activities while people close by and far away suffer.  We do things we shouldn’t and don’t do things that we should.

Here is the Ash Wednesday response to that.

  • Don’t wallow in guilt. Wallowing never did anyone any good.
  • Instead, give those sins, mistakes, and regrets to God.
  • Together, we can pray the words of the psalmist

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51)


Psalm 51

The burdens that weigh us down can crumble like ashes and blow away in the wind. Our past mistakes are absorbed by God’s love so something new can grow.

So this year, maybe you’ll want to try an Ash Wednesday service. Dare to be vulnerable enough to confront your need for forgiveness. Rejoice that God wants to hear our prayers. God welcomes each one of us just as we are today.

Ash Wednesday offers the relief of forgiveness, the promise of being able to start over, and the possibilities implied by a clean slate.

What a gift.Psalm 51 12