February 3, 2015: What Language Does God Pray In?

Posted on : Feb 5th, 2015 | By | Category: Still Speaking

What language does God pray in? Some of my Spanish speaking friends have told me numerous times that Spanish is the language of prayer. I know when they say this, they are only half kidding. Obviously, the woman who dropped in on our UCC “Hispanic Heritage Worship Celebration” at our denominational headquarters in Cleveland, OH, didn’t think so!

Our UCC national offices are located in a building in Cleveland called “The Church House.” The first floor of the church house is a beautiful chapel, called “Amistad Chapel.” Amistad Chapel was built in the early 1990s to transform 4,800 square feet of steel support beams and brick walls on the street level of the denomination’s national headquarters into a vibrant center for faith, worship and culture. After an update in 2000, the chapel now features wood from Sierra Leone, Africa, where captives were taken and put aboard the Spanish slave ship Amistad, which was headed for Cuba before the captives mutinied for control of the ship. The captives lost (temporarily) and the ship landed in the United States filled with Africans who were shackled and ready to be sold. Members of the UCC believed the enslavement of any individual was sinful and took the case of the Amistad slaves all the way to the US Supreme Court. They (we) won the release of the slaves. The UCC’ers then raised enough money to pay for the ship’s return to Africa – only on the way home, the former slaves traveled as free persons.

Just recently the Amistad Chapel became a local congregation in addition to being a worship center for the staff and visiting members of the UCC. The word Amistad is Spanish for “friendship,” something Rev Kathryn Matthews Huey, the church’s new pastor and Dean of Amistad Chapel, said will be a key part of welcoming the surrounding community. The story below however, highlights how difficult it is to be inclusive and welcoming.

Kathryn tells the story of a woman who came to the Church House for worship and was so upset that portions of the service were in Spanish, that she got up and left. She was absolutely sure God only speaks English, at least her “American God.”

Oh dear, it is difficult for all of us to give up our cultural and religious biases, even when they are dead wrong. But at that same service, God sent two more visitors, a wife and husband from Cairo, Egypt. These folks spoke Arabic. They did something no one had ever done before in Amistad Chapel. I’ll let you read the story for yourself.

Next Sunday we will welcome Narma Ahmady Ali, the Muslim Chaplain at UCLA Medical Center, as our guest speaker. Narma will be here to help us understand the Muslim or Islamic faith. As a hospital chaplain, Narma prays a lot with her Muslim patients. She prays in both English and Arabic, and she brings to life the love of Allah (the Islamic name of God) in beautiful and caring ways. I hope and pray the same will be true for us this coming Sunday.

Blessings, as we listen for God in our many languages, cultures and traditions,

Dan

 

Stillspeaking Weekly

Those who are far off, and those who are near

Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey

Our Hispanic Heritage Month observance at the Church House included a special “Worship on Wednesday” service in Amistad Chapel, with all elements reflecting appreciation for the cultural and spiritual gifts of those in our midst who claim Hispanic heritage. Amanda Powell, a gifted world musician, led the Llamamiento a la adoración (Call to Worship): “O Dios, que nos llamas de los diferentes confines del mundo para sentarnos juntos y juntas para cantar tu gloria.” “Come and be with us today,” we responded.

Dámaris Vélez, of Local Church Ministries, shared a poem, “Why Am I So Brown?” by Trinidad Sanchez Jr.; Scripture was read in English and Spanish; the Rev. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, preached on “Friendship Bridges,” and we sang Sois la semilla from The New Century Hymnal.

A sign out front invites passersby to join us for worship; as I greeted folks, a woman approached and asked to talk. Pointing to the worship bulletin, she questioned the use of Spanish in our service, especially in the Scripture readings, because after all, “The Bible was written in English.” She reminded me that God gave us different languages to confound us, but that didn’t make it right to use them in worship. I couldn’t address her questions right then but tried to lift up the celebration of our beautiful diversity and to offer warm hospitality, which she accepted as she took her seat. (She did leave during the service.)

Afterward, my heart was heavy as I put out the candles, when I noticed that two more visitors were touring the chapel on their own, whispering to each other. I approached to welcome them and realized that they spoke very little English. As we chatted the best we could, they said they were from Cairo, Egypt, visiting their son in Cleveland. With some pride, I took them to the wall hanging of the Prayer of Our Savior in Arabic, made by a Muslim artist in the Tentmakers District of Old Cairo.

As we stood there, the woman and I managed to talk about our shared experiences as grandmothers, while her husband stood behind her, gazing at the hanging and speaking quietly. She turned and smiled and explained, “He’s reading it in Arabic.”

For all of the times I’ve shown that hanging, I had never once heard the words read out loud. I stood in silence, listening to him and watching her smile. For a moment, our different languages didn’t represent obstacles to understanding and relationship; we all three stood there in a quiet and sacred moment of prayer.

“Help us to see the beauty of the mosaic of your people,” we had prayed during worship. Indeed, a beautiful mosaic, hearing peace proclaimed to those who were far off, and those who were near, “for through Christ both of us have access in one Spirit to our God … un Espíritu de nuestro Dios” (Eph 2). Amen!

“O God, who calls us from different corners of the world together to sit together and sing your glory.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey, Dean of Amistad Chapel, enjoys sharing the beauty and the lessons of that place of prayer with all who come through our doors.
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