A Call to Prayer

Praying Together

Dear Will:

It’s not every day you get invited to hang out at the local mosque. Not if you’re a Christian like me anyway. I wasn’t even sure there was a local mosque, and it turns out there are four or five within 15 minutes of my house. So when Dana and I heard about “Open Mosque Days,” we were all over it. I hadn’t been inside a mosque since high school, and the only thing I remember from that visit was a large room with a beautiful rug. (I was such a deep thinker at 17.) I can tell you already that our visit to the Islamic Center of Yorba Linda will prove to have a more meaningful, lasting impact.

As we arrived we were greeted enthusiastically, given a brief tour, and then joined a handful of others for a brief overview of the basic tenets of the faith, including the Five Pillars of Islam. As if on cue, soon we heard the call to prayer, which gave us the opportunity to witness one of those five pillars: Salat. We thought of Moses as we removed our shoes and were welcomed into the prayer hall. I was especially moved by the simple motions performed by each person prior to beginning their prayers as they signaled a casting off of worldly things and an opening up to God.

After prayers, our new friends sat patiently answering our questions about what they believe and why, and it shouldn’t surprise you that we saw more meaningful similarities than differences in our beliefs. Dana and I left the mosque with a variety of homemade treats, our own copy in of the Quran (in English), and an invitation to return to join in a typical Friday afternoon worship service. We were so touched by the warmth and kindness extended to us that, as we embraced our Muslim neighbors and said our goodbyes, we knew that we will certainly find opportunity to return.

Later that same day, we met Dana’s brother David and his wife Annette for dinner. The two of them are currently presiding over the California Arcadia Mission for our church, so it’s a treat for us when a window opens up in their crazy schedule and we can rendezvous for dinner somewhere. As we settled in to eat, David’s phone buzzed. It was, it turned out, an electronic call to prayer. At 4:55 pm every day, everyone in the Arcadia Mission (and, I presume, their families around the world) pause to pray together, wherever they may be. And so in that restaurant we bowed and gave thanks to God for food and family and life itself, praying also that their young missionaries might be protected and inspired in their work; that those they meet and teach might come to understand and believe the truths that they share; that God might watch over and uplift all who live within the area, especially guiding the pure in heart to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and that the families of those missionaries might be sustained and comforted as well. Such a simple, powerful act of faith and unity. I felt a pang of regret that we had not done something similar with our son throughout the time he served as a missionary in Argentina and Paraguay.

In that public setting, our prayer may have lacked the ritual and ambient reverence of what we had experienced in the Islamic Center. But the chance to pause and commune with God was no less meaningful. I felt something especially powerful about the collective nature of such prayer. There was something about knowing that, at that very moment, others were making similar pleas to the Almighty, something that helped me feel a oneness with brothers and sisters around the world.

Muslims have a chance to feel that sense of extended community five times a day, at specific intervals dictated by the position of the sun in the sky. That suggests that at any given moment of any given day, thousands or even millions of Muslims are facing Mecca and worshiping God together. And it makes me wonder: How might our individual lives be different (and the world for that matter), if all of us—Christians, Muslims, Jews, God-fearing people of every race and religion—paused at a designated time each day to give thanks and praise to our Creator, to solicit together greater peace and harmony throughout our troubled world? What if every day at the same time we poured out our hearts as one on behalf of the poor and the afflicted and offered our mutual commitment to be a bit less selfish and a lot more kind, more generous with what we have and more humble about all that we lack? What if we united daily in collective supplication, appealing for less contention and more generosity of spirit while pledging our personal commitment to make these things possible in our own remote corner of this vast and varied world? Imagine how such a prayer of brother-and-sisterhood, offered in faith and hope, might begin to change the way we think and interact with one another. It would not be enough to make all of that actually happen, but it would be a start.

I think that’s an experiment worth trying. Perhaps we could even start tomorrow. Say maybe around 4:55 pm?

PW

What I Wrote Then. How I’m Doing Now.

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Dear Will:

In less than a month my son Seth will finish his service as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s been nearly two years since he began devoting all day, every day to the people of Argentina and Paraguay. An all-consuming focus on things of God is transformative—I can’t express to you how proud I am of his choice to tithe His life in this way.

All this has me reflecting on my own missionary service in Uruguay almost (can it be?) 40 years ago. When my two years came to an end, I set down “my resolutions, goals, and personal standards” in my journal. I thought I’d look back and see how I’m doing. Here’s what I wrote on August 1, 1981:

  1. Time Is Everything: Organize it. Use it all and use it well. Keep sleeping to a minimum. Set and maintain time priorities. “You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.” How you use your time is the key to success. (I’m about half as productive as my wife, so I’d give myself a 5 or 6 here.)
  2. Set Weekly Goals: And meet them. You must keep progressing. If you don’t lose sight of where you want to go you’ll eventually get there. Each week you should progress spiritually, physically, intellectually, and socially (Luke 2:52). Remember, your goal is perfection. Magnify yourself. (Yeah, I stopped doing this a long time ago. You can probably tell.)
  3. Keep Yourself Spiritually in Tune: Read the scriptures daily. Pray always. Stay active in church. Remember your covenants. Attend the temple regularly. (I think I’m a solid 9 here. Or maybe 8.)
  4. Serve: Love is the key. Touch lives. Make people feel special and know that they are. (I try. Usually.)
  5. Magnify All of Your Callings: Magnify means make it bigger. Always go the extra mile. Do more than is asked or expected. Remember #4. (For the most part, I do my best.)
  6. Do the Missionary Work: Look for opportunities. Make opportunities. Be bold but not overbearing (Alma 38:12). Practice what you’ve been preaching to the members for two years. (Not so good. Maybe a 2 or 3 on this one. Elder Peter Watkins would be very disappointed. So would Seth.)
  7. Don’t Lose Your Spanish: You should not misuse a gift from God. Practice it. Read it. Bless other people by your ability. (Except for reading Spanish, I do look for opportunities to hablar. We’re going to Argentina to pick up Seth in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how I do. Vamos a ver.)
  8. Do What the Prophet Says: And do it now. God knows what’s best for you. Don’t make exceptions. All of the commandments are for you. (Ugh. I make exceptions for myself all the time. I’d have to give myself a 6 or 7 on this one.)
  9. You Are the Light of the World: You’re different. You should be. Others should recognize it, and recognize it as something positive. Remember who you are and why you are that way. (I have no idea on this one. You tell me.)
  10. Fellowship: If somebody is new, welcome them, befriend them, and make them feel at home. If somebody is missing, notice, and let them know that you’ve noticed. Give people a reason to want to go to church and stay there. (Trying. Always. Even in this very letter.)

Well, that review was painful. And in about a month I’ll be living with a guy filled with the same fire and lofty ideals. I’m really going to have to step up my game. . . . Isn’t it great?

PW

This Is Who They Are

Volunteers Park Here

Dear Will:

Let me tell you about the people I go to church with. This story is typical:

Several years ago I was vacationing with Dana on the California coast when I received a desperate email from a friend who lives in Silverado Canyon. Wildfires had been followed by rains which inevitably led to flooding and mudslides. Many homes had filled with muck, and people were desperate. She said: “I know the Mormons sometimes help out in situations like this. Do you think anyone from your church would be willing to help us?”

There I was, hundreds of miles away and in no position to lend a hand. What was I to do? Well, I made just one phone call . . . and dozens showed up to help. Most of those volunteers didn’t know me, and I’m pretty sure that none of them knew her. And yet they turned out in force—with gloves and shovels and the pure love of Christ.

This is who they are. This is what they do.

They are quick to welcome a stranger, eager to expand their circles, kind and loving and generous, willing to set aside their own needs to respond to someone else’s. They show up and stay late and do the dirty work. They take the late-night phone calls. When others are suffering, they mourn with them, comfort them, and take on as much of their burden as their willing shoulders can bare (Mosiah 18:8-9). They run and run and run and run to raise money for their friends and their life-affirming causes. They volunteer at the schools and coach the teams. They love and teach and nurture our children. They bake the brownies—so many brownies! They visit the sick and the elderly week after week after week. I have seen that their loaves and fishes are always available to share. They are among the very best people I know.

This is what happens when anyone tries to become like Jesus—when ordinary people choose to make the teachings of Christ the by-laws by which they govern their daily activities. These are the fruits that grow from the gospel tree.

I think of the time when Bryn was about to move to New Zealand. We spoke to the Broederlows, whom we hardly knew, who in turn called their friends the Brunts, whom we knew not at all, and in about the amount of time that it has taken me to type this sentence the Brunts decided to pick her up at the Wellington airport and put her up in their home. Within days of her arrival, Peter and Leoni Brunt were begging Bryn to stay with them indefinitely—rent-free.

Who does that?

Ordinary followers of the Master do this sort of thing every day. As Christians we are not asked to be extraordinary people. We are simply asked to live each day as if we truly believe and embrace the gospel we preach on Sundays. To be not just hearers of the word, but doers also (James 1:22). To be like Nephi, who when asked to do a hard thing said: “I will go” (1 Nephi 3:7). To be like Isaiah, who echoed the words of the Savior when he said: “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8). To make a difference in whatever small way we can.

Of course they have their issues. But in spite of those issues, they seek day after day to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. They continue to light the world in small and simple ways. Like Peter and John, they may not have much, but they give “such as they have” (Acts 3:6). As I see them share the love of Christ with others, they cause me to feel His love as well. They consistently let their light shine in such a way that my world—our world—is brighter because they are in it.

PW