Starting Point
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Issue Date:  July 29, 2005

Starting Point


I was invited a short time ago to attend Friday prayer at a local mosque. It was my first time in a mosque, so I was particularly interested in observing those who came to pray. Being a non-Muslim, I was not permitted to join the prayer line. So I sat quietly off to the side, watching men and women take off their shoes, enter the prayer room, and put themselves in God’s presence with bows, prostrations and prayers recited softly to themselves. After a short while, a muezzin called the community to prayer with a long and sonorous invocation.

Later that day I was driving home from work listening to a favorite radio station. At sunset on Friday evenings, this station stops playing music and goes live to a New York synagogue for Sabbath services. A cantor there calls the community to prayer with song before they offer a series of praises, thanks and petitions to God. I imagined observant Jews gathering around a table for the Shabbat dinner, putting themselves in God’s presence by the lighting of candles and the blessing of bread.

Two days later, I was sitting in church waiting for Sunday Mass to begin. I watched as parishioners entered the church, dipped their fingers in holy water and blessed themselves with the sign of the cross. To put themselves more fully in God’s presence, they knelt, fingered rosary beads or meditated in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The chiming of church bells then called us to gather as one body for prayer.

The call to prayer. The call to respond in some manner -- with praise, thanksgiving, lamentations, silence -- to the mysteries that permeate our lives. An opportunity to pause and acknowledge how small we are before all that is.

I was out walking recently in the early morning. Although the day was beginning to break, the evening’s stillness remained. The colors of midsummer flowerbeds were just becoming visible through the lingering darkness. A chorus of birdsong, recognizing no religion, but perhaps chirping for them all, was welcoming the dawn. A call to prayer I thought, just as surely as those emanating from our houses of worship.

Mark Graceffo is a librarian at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, N.J.

National Catholic Reporter, July 29, 2005

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