Can I Watch you Pray?

By |2018-08-13T15:45:46+00:00March 5th, 2015|Categories: Anglican Life|20 Comments

I remember so clearly the day that my neighbor Asha walked in to my entry way, depositing her headscarf on one of the long, yellow cushions lining the floor that served as my couch and asked what I wanted her to do.

She had approached me the very first night I had arrived in my new home in a tiny Muslim country in Africa, jet-lagged, overwhelmed, and exceedingly hot. Would I hire her for help with housework? I had no personal experience with how ridiculously difficult it would be to wash my husband’s jeans by hand but it seemed wise at the time that I have Asha next to me while I learned. Quickly apparent to both of us that she was strong and I was weak in the ways of daily living in this context, she started coming three days a week, to tackle laundry, mopping and language lessons while I shopped, cooked, washed dishes and studied.

This particular day, after I told her what part of the never-ending housework we’d work on, I said, “First I’m going to go in my room and pray.” In truth, I was probably seeking a few solitary moments–a strange luxury for an introvert in an extroverted community.

The question that followed changed how I lived for the next several years overseas and also began my journey to Anglicanism.

She looked at me and said, “Can I watch you pray?”

Thankfully I was new at the local language so she probably had no idea from my stammering that she had caught me off guard. I ran through the possibilities of answers, none of which seemed ideal. I had been praying and seeking ways to share my faith in Jesus with the people around me. But sitting, semi-reclined, on my bed with a journal and a Bible, silently, while someone watched wasn’t what I had in mind. Yet that was exactly what I was intending to do when I said I was going to go pray.

Instead I said yes and we both went into my bedroom. I kneeled down and closed my eyes. Asha got comfortable on my bed and watched me. She watched me and watched me and watched me. I prayed and mumbled and wondered what else I could do with integrity. I peeked out of one eye to see if she was still watching. She was. I couldn’t bow down, Islamic-style, because I had never done that in my prayer life before. I didn’t want to perform. Although I was at the beginning of my journey of sharing Jesus cross-culturally, I intuitively knew that my Muslim friend, steeped in the forms and rhythms of Islam, was looking for more than the freeform, evangelical, ahistoric faith I could offer her. In that moment, we were both looking for more.

I first crossed 8 time zones to East Africa when I was 19, a few short months after I was baptized at an InterVarsity chapter camp in New Hampshire. That summer, spent in Uganda and Kenya, completely changed the trajectory of my life. I returned home alive in a way I had never before experienced. Crossing cultures, experiencing a new story, participating in it, although my participation was so hampered by a lack of experience and language, brought the focus of my life into view. For the first time, I stumbled upon the thing that made me say, “This is what I was made for.” So I came home, dropped out of college, became a breakfast waitress and waited to go back. I thought it might take a few months; instead it took five years, three colleges and life in two states before I moved to Africa. Two years after that first move, I did it all over again, only this time with a husband.

As Joel and I lived for the next 5 years in the Muslim world, we felt more and more deeply our need for a faith that could be watched, could be contained in forms that we could share. Many friends and colleagues looked sideways at our host culture and adopted Islamic forms. They fasted Ramadan, prayed salat, some even called themselves “Muslims” as they were submitted to God in Christ. Borrowing the forms of Islam while infusing them with Christian meaning didn’t satisfy us. Instead of looking sideways, we began to look backwards. If we were truly part of a historic faith, surely there were fasts and feasts and forms that the Church used to contain the Christian story of the world and her inhabitants. We didn’t need to plagiarize, did we?

Like our Muslim cousins, we had distinct ways of marking time in a religious calendar, didn’t we? Our faith could be lived in community in ways beyond game nights and potluck dinners, couldn’t it? With these formative questions pushing us, my husband and I began to dream about what it would look like to live in the Muslim world as followers of Jesus with a historical expression of our faith.

Although I attended a Congregational church growing up, I didn’t pay much attention to Christian faith or practice until college. Through InterVarsity, a vague notion of being Christian became a clear vision of following Jesus. For more than a decade, I worshipped in evangelical, non-denominational churches or lived in a Muslim country. My husband and I found a church home in an intentionally interracial, non-denominational church that met only a few miles from the site of South Carolina’s vote to secede from the Union. The relationships I made there shaped me more than any other influence of my early 20s; the church itself, we taught the children to sing, is the people. And that is true. At this church I learned to love the church as individual members and I learned what it meant for them to love me. What made me seek a more historic expression of Christianity in my early 30s was an appetite that had been whetted in this earlier church experience: the love I soaked up from an individual church family created desire for a deeper rootedness and a wider communion with the universal Body of Christ.

When it became clear that we were going to return to the States for a season while my husband went to seminary, we began looking at seminary communities that followed the church year and celebrated the sacraments and joined into the greater Christian traditions of the centuries and even millennia. We found ourselves at Asbury Theological Seminary, living out faith with Methodist and Orthodox and Wesleyan neighbors, from whom we have learned so much.

Yet more essential to us than finding an academic community of faith was finding a local church living as the Body of Christ in ways that would form us, shape us and allow us to serve Jesus, both right where we were and in the world. For that we actually turned to Google.

On a hot, August Sunday afternoon in 2012, at 4 pm, we walked into the service of St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Lexington, KY. Thankfully we received a very clear worship guide so we could join in the liturgy easily. We followed along and read the notes explaining why we were doing what we were doing. I managed to sit, stand and kneel without being out of step, although it took months for me to manage to cross myself at the right time. The priest did the one thing that mattered to me more than anything else: he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly, compellingly, in a way that both grew my love for Jesus and assured me deeply about His love for me. So we found a home in the Anglican Communion and since then, we’ve been making our home there. It’s a home that welcomes me as an evangelical follower of Jesus—yes, the sermon preached may not be the center of the service for Anglicans but it is central to how I grow as a disciple. Yet we’ve also found a home that has changed us—the thought of coming to the Table and receiving communion once a month or even once a year (about as often as one team we were a part of partook of the Lord’s Supper) is no longer tenable for me.

My husband’s time at seminary is more than halfway done and now we are looking ahead more and more to what it might look like to take these Anglican ways of being followers of Christ and live them in communities with little or no awareness of Jesus. This new place to land we’ve found in Anglicanism feels like a healthy and helpful springboard from which we can move into ministry, much more prepared when people ask us, “Can we watch you be a Christian?”

 

Elizabeth currently lives and loves in Kentucky, where her husband Joel recently graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary. She spent most of her adult life until 2011 living in 3 different countries in Muslim Africa. Living as a follower of Jesus among Muslims has radically shaped how she understands and writes about her faith and her life. She is the mother of three young children. She loves to paint, write, go to public libraries after living without them for far too long, engage with women from other places and other faiths and dream about what life after seminary might look like. She has a Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Intercultural Studies and an undergrad degree in Bible and Biblical Languages.

20 Comments

  1. Hannah March 5, 2015 at 9:58 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your journey. Our approaches to St. Pats were from such different trajectories, but I’m glad we found the community there together. I’m thankful for you.

    • Elizabeth Peterson March 5, 2015 at 11:32 am - Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to read, Hannah. I’m grateful for you too and the community at St. Pat’s.

  2. Katie March 5, 2015 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Can I watch you be a Christian…like Asha I found myself asking this of my Jewish friend in Atlanta. Can I watch you be Jewish? Observing that amazing woman in her day to day life that is entirely devoted to practices and prayers meant to worship and thus, point ALWAYS, to God…a deep desire formed in me to seek out practices and traditions Christianity has at its roots!! Anglicanism has become just the answer I’ve been looking for, deeply rooted in disinclines and ceremony…I have found a home in the richness of its history. I’m so very glad that we found St. Pats during the same season of life, we are so very blessed to have you and Joel!! Thank you for sharing!!

    • Elizabeth Peterson March 5, 2015 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      Katie, I’m so thankful for you. Thanks for reading and commenting and sharing life together, during the rare times that one of our children aren’t sick. I’m thankful we found St. Pat’s during this season and that we have a chance to know you and Jeremiah.

  3. Doug March 5, 2015 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    Great stuff Bis! Keep writing! I love it.

  4. Carol Roberts March 5, 2015 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    I loved reading your story. I too spent some time in Lexington, working toward an M.Div. at LTS. My husband and I had spent a year in England where I was the minister, but he got cancer. I was going to school while he was visiting cancer doctors at the hospital across the street. He wanted to spend the rest of his time in ministry together, but the supervising minister said “I know of no churches that will take a woman” [in Kentucky]. The Brits took us back, thankfully, where he died three months later. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that now I, too, am an Anglican.

    • Elizabeth Peterson March 5, 2015 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Carol, for taking the time to read, comment and share some of your own journey. I’m sorry for the loss of your husband and the challenge of not initially having a place you could minister but glad you were welcomed by the Brits!

  5. Hilary Hartman March 5, 2015 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    What an amazing story. Your journey is a remarkable one, Elizabeth!

    • Elizabeth Peterson March 5, 2015 at 8:35 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading, Hilary. And for taking the time to comment! I appreciate it.

  6. Katherine March 6, 2015 at 10:17 am - Reply

    I love reading of your journey to St. Pats and Anglicanism! Now I just need to figure out how to fasten you and your family to us and not leave!!!

  7. Josh March 6, 2015 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Thank you for an amazing story. I too have a similar story – about moving from an ahistorical faith to the Great Tradition. And I too attend Asbury! I am a student pastor who lives off campus and comes up every so often for classes. I too am thinking about exploring ordination in the ACNA. I love my Methodist heritage but the UMC is really a mess right now in almost every aspect. My main question with the Anglicans is whether I would be welcome to practice the spiritual formation techniques of Wesley – classes, bands, etc. – not necessarily with the same names or in the exact ways. I have come to be such a strong believer in the power of intentional spiritual formation. I just started “bands” (small groups of 3-4 people who hold each other accountable for prayer, service, and mission; who pray for each other; and a place where you can safely talk about spiritual things)in my own life and my churches and it’s amazing how everyone’s spiritual life has just been super blessed (for no better a word). I also am a little charismatic in that I believe that the gifts of the Spirit are available for all and should be used for all. And I do enjoy contemporary worship at times. I love liturgy but I also love to sing Spirit songs as the apostle Paul calls them. Would I fit in?

    • Elizabeth Peterson March 7, 2015 at 10:19 am - Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Josh. Our family has found a broad and orthodox landing place in Anglicanism. I’d honestly be shocked if you couldn’t find room for the kinds of formation you mentioned but I’m by no means an expert on Anglicanism! If you’d like, drop me an email at eafp.peterson at gmail dot com. Maybe next time you’re in Wilmore, I could help you connect with some people much more equipped to answer your questions. Thanks!

      • Josh March 7, 2015 at 10:32 am - Reply

        Thanks Elizabeth, I’ll do that.
        Blessings on you and your family

  8. Regina March 23, 2015 at 10:18 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m thankful (that word doesn’t seem strong enough for my feelings) that our family has been a part of your faith-journey community. I admire your perseverance and joy on mission with God.

  9. Zim August 19, 2015 at 3:38 am - Reply

    As a cradle Anglican, like most cradle Anglicans, we tend to take for granted the expression of faith that we have received. This post is pointing me back to the liturgical prayers of the church and i intend to teach my children how to cross and when to cross. My ADHD son can benefit immensely from a prayer discipline that is accompanied by action as well. I always fear for his spiritual formation since he has learning disabilities. I think I have found this post and blog for a reason. Thank you and thank God for it!!

  10. Alice C. Linsley October 22, 2015 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Elizabeth, My journey to Anglicanism also began in a Muslim country, in Isfahan Iran. God works powerfully when we are out of our comfort zones.

    Thanks for sharing your story. God bless you and your husband.

  11. John Weed May 10, 2016 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Great article. On the same journey after spending 25 + years in the Muslim World. Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan. Would love to know what your familys future plans are in the Muslim World.
    Blessings
    John

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