You may be already aware that this year, the Christian Easter season of Lent falls within the same relative time frame as the Muslim celebration of Ramadan. Since Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, it lands in a different time each year, of course. Apparently, due to the Islamic calendar, in the year 2030 Ramadan will occur TWICE… you can look it up!
Out of respect for our Muslim Family Center neighbors in our Owen Brown Interfaith Center, each year we make special accommodations for their evening Ramadan services and prayers. This April, your Chalice Choir is adjusting its Thursday evening rehearsal times to allow for set-up for these services in our sanctuary, and our congregation sometimes needs to shift our events to accommodate Ramadan services as well.
During this introspective time of prayer and reflection, I find I gravitate towards my own individual interior look within, even though as an Agnostic, I don’t fervently celebrate Easter or Lent in any formal way. Still, a couple times during the year (typically early fall and spring), I find myself becoming a little more measured, attempting to slow down and even question my usual routines and thought processes by meditating a bit more, paying closer attention to what I feed my body, and even consciously denying myself some of the usual treats and rewards in which I often indulge without thinking. I also find myself wanting to consider a softer, more patient approach toward others — and appreciating a deeper sense of peace that can come with avoiding escapist tendencies, as we are all bound to do from time-to-time. While I have fasted a few times in my life, I certainly don’t do it as any form of religious practice, leaning more towards a type of intermittent fasting during these interior intervals, and enjoying the health benefits as a result.
I admire the commitment and dedication however, of those who choose to make conscious choices of devotional patterns, new routines, fasting, prayer, penitence, sacrifice, etc… I am especially drawn to the Muslim tradition of communal daily prayer, and am convinced of the deep power of group meditation, even though I do not participate in it myself.
Almost 10 years ago now, in December of 2013, I was fortunate to take an unforgettable trip to Istanbul, Turkey, as part of a group invitation with my piano colleagues from the Washington Conservatory of Music to perform at a special fundraising event at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. The year prior, a presenter at a Washington, DC Kennedy Center medical TED Talk conference had an idea to get a group of pianists together to choreograph a piece around a single piano… a kind of musical representation for what collaboration in a hospital ER might be like. It turned out to be a somewhat silly experience, in all honesty. However, as a result of this performance, our YouTube video went viral within a couple months, and we began to receive invitations to reprise our performance at various locations. The most prestigious invites came from Hong Kong and Istanbul. Unfortunately, due to Christmas holidays, we were not able to follow thru on the Hong Kong invite. But, in just a matter of a couple months, the trip to Istanbul became a reality!
Because we were special guests of the art museum, we were fortunate enough to have private tour guides during our trip. So, in addition to our brief performance at the Museum Gala, we got to experience many of the tourist sights and sounds of the incredible city of Istanbul. At the time, it was the furthest East I had ever traveled, and the difference in culture was at once stimulating, eye-opening and edifying. I hope to be able to go again at some point in my lifetime. Not only did we visit the famous Grand Bazaar (think spices, nuts, and beautiful handmade goods), but also had guided tours of well-known religious temples and mosques, including the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
One of the most gripping, moving and unexpected sound experiences I encountered in Istanbul was the Muslim call to prayer, which happened several times daily over loud speakers who were positioned at various places all over the city. As a musician, I experienced shivers when I heard these daily chants, which were so unlike anything in my own personal religious experience growing up in the US. I will never forget that trip; it was definitely one of the most awe-inspiring travel experiences of my life thus far.
For those of you who may be curious about the original TED Talk video that inspired the Istanbul trip, here it is:
I shudder with slight embarrassment at the “non-musical” shenanigans, and we even used a transcription of a violin piece, for Pete’s sake! While I remember that it was a lot of tedious rehearsal to choreograph-put together, I suppose it was mostly good, clean fun in the end. You can enjoy watching ‘yours truly’ make silly and over-theatrical gestures with his pianist colleagues! I hope you all can experience Holy Week (and the season of Lent) as an invitation to approach life with a more gentle and inner mindfulness… for both yourself and for others.