I can count on one hand the number of times I have been in church.
While I am not a Christian, I can say that I have – for the most part – enjoyed my experiences at church. That doesn’t mean, however, that being there wasn’t strange, but the visits retained that special aura religious venues usually possess, which ultimately made it easier for me to be there.
My first time going into a church, I didn’t know what to expect. I have never been inside a church in Jordan – and there are plenty – so all I knew about churches was what I saw on television. Knowing that I would be going into a place of worship that isn’t my own was intimidating, but also gave me a sense of awe.
The first church I went in was grand and huge. The windows were made of colored glass carved into shapes of all kinds, there were paintings on the wall and the whole place sent a message of glamor. It was breathtaking.
The Mass itself was the strangest part of the whole experience. Seeing priests and sermons on television was completely different from participating in one in real life. The sermon was long compared to Friday sermons at the mosque, which usually last from 20-30 minutes.
I was also a little confused by the priest-worshipper interaction part of the Mass. What I understood was that there are specific responses the worshippers respond with to certain prayers by the priests. In Islam, we only say “Amen” whenever the Imam leads the group in prayer. The songs were beautiful; they were, in fact, my favorite part of the whole thing.
One thing I found common between both of my experiences in churches and mosques was the way people pray. Both religions seem to practice raising hands in the air with their palms facing up during prayer. I honestly don’t know what that symbolizes in either religion, but I found the commonality of it interesting.
My entire experience at church was enlightening and eye-opening. I first found it a bit intimidating to go to an unfamiliar holy place of worship because I believed the sermons and prayers would be about things I don’t necessarily believe in. While that may have been true, I recognized I was thinking about this in a single-minded way.
Putting what both religions call for aside, I realized that despite all the differences between people and religions, prayer is universal. It doesn’t matter who or what a people worship or what religion they do or don’t practice.
The words may be different, but the message remains the same.
We are all asking for peace, both internal and external. We are all asking for justice – to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, protect the vulnerable and right the wrong. If I had realized that earlier on, perhaps my reluctance to go to unfamiliar places of worship would have vanished and I would have embraced the experiences a bit more openly.