Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Christmas & end-of-the-year reflection on understanding and dialogue.

Another Christmas abroad.  This time, in Senegal!  Christmas is one of my most favorite holidays, mainly because of the delicious food and the time to gather with those we love.  I am beyond blessed to have a close-knit family and friends from all walks of life, so the Christmas season is one of gratitude for me.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, and end with a reflection I posted on Facebook that really highlights our need for more understanding and dialogue, particularly in a world that seems to be constantly divided. 

Kaylin and I ended up checking out the Midnight Mass at the Cathedrale downtown.  It was packed, and for a country that is majority Muslim, very interesting.  The music was on point!  

 FaceTimed with my de Leon cousins (Mom's side) first.  It's amazing how technology has advanced and how we can communicate from halfway across the world.  It was fun to partake in our normal "cousin shots," despite the distance.  This was on Christmas Eve. 

 Christmas Day dinner with some of my Fulbright favorites!  

 FaceTimed with my cousins on my Dad's side as well! 

All in all, a wonderful Christmas spent away from home.  Nothing beats being home for the holidays, but I think Pico Iver says it best in his TEDTalk on home where he says, "My home would have to be whatever I carried inside of me."  Shoutout and huge thanks to one of my close friends from grad school, Weggy, who shared this with me.

As I mentioned above, I'll end this with a reflection on understanding and dialogue, particularly amongst Muslims and Christians.  The rhetoric I've been hearing on the news against Muslims is just downright disgusting.  We're better than that.  And I've become more cognizant of that living in Senegal, a country that is 95% Muslim.  Below are two pictures where Ibrahim wanted to come to church with Kaylin and I the Sunday after Christmas, as well as the reflection.  A very (belated) Happy Holiday season to you all, and a very Happy New Year 2016!

Rewind to Christmas Eve this past Thursday night: Kaylin and I were coming back from a revitalizing Midnight Mass at the Cathedral downtown (the music was on point!) and were impressed with the turnout, especially given that Senegal is a country that is 95% Muslim. Naturally, we were craving a snack after and didn’t find anything open in our neighborhood…with the exception of the boutique/corner store.
Ibrahim, the store owner, asked why we were all dressed up and we explained that we were coming from Midnight Mass. Genuinely curious, he kept asking us questions and suddenly wanted to know if he could join us for mass on Sunday. I’ll be honest; at first, I thought he was joking. He’s a younger guy (in his 30s), Muslim, always working, so I didn’t think his request was real. Until he kept pressing…so we gladly invited him to join and check it out for himself.
Come yesterday (Sunday), we all walked together to a church that has mass in the early evening. Ibrahim seemed initially apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect. Rightfully so. But as we entered the church, he displayed a sense of true reverence and respect. During the mass, I would occasionally explain what exactly was happening and why. Afterward, the Nativity Scene was in the front of the church, and Kaylin described the significance.
Walking back, I felt this sudden sense of calm. A different kind of calm that hit me spiritually, which, to be honest, has been lacking as of late. We talked more about his beliefs and practices as a Muslim, particularly the five daily prayers and heading to the mosque on Fridays. And just as we turned to our neighborhood, the now routine call for evening prayer played and Ibrahim bid us adieu as he headed to the mosque. Simple and seemingly fleeting as that.
I often wonder if those that spread this divisive and unfounded rhetoric on Islam have themselves met someone that is Muslim, inquired at their local mosque, or have made an effort to truly understand Islam. What good is it to stereotype and alienate an entire group of people based on the actions of a select few? We oftentimes are so inclined to stay within our bubble, both physically and through social media (myself included), that we forget that we can agree to disagree but still remain civil with one another and attempt to understand. We’re all human, after all.
Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, etc., we can all agree to respect each other’s beliefs and highlight the things that connect all of us together. Only light can dispel darkness, and true dialogue (accompanied by well-intentioned action) is a start.

Just some thoughts as we end this year, and try to mend a world that is becoming more and more disconnected. We’re all part of the solution, and our efforts to interact with and learn from others different from ourselves are what will make the collective that much stronger.

 Walking towards the altar after mass and explaining the different parts of the church. 

Discussing the Nativity scene and the Christian belief that, Jesus, a king in his own right, was born in the most unlikely of places -- a stable where animals lived.