Day 1 – Symbols of Faith
In building bridges and communicating meaningfully to those of another faith, identifying their important symbols (as well as ours), is vitally important. But identifying a symbol, and not knowing the meaning represented, is like hearing a foreign language and expecting to communicate in it.
Culture, as well as religious faith (often overlapping), is full of symbols. According to Clifford Geertz, culture is “a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols”, a system of “inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which people communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge”. (Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures, (1973), pg. 89) Beneath symbols, are meanings. Beneath those meanings are values. These are “the values by which a community understands itself, from which it takes its aims.” (Edward Farley, Deep Symbols (1996), pg. 3)
If it sounds complex, it is.
A religious faith, like Christianity or Islam, and the people who follow it, are not one-dimensional. It is not that we have to understand fully the levels of symbols, meaning and values before we communicate in love, or before we pray for our Muslim friends and neighbors. But love involves a willingness to ask questions, desiring to learn not only what the “other” believes doctrinally, but to understand deeper levels as well. This loving engagement comes because of belief in a still deeper foundation of shared longings.
These shared longings help understanding how a symbol for Muslims like washing before prayer can represent more than the surface, to a deeper meaning of cleansing and a value of presenting oneself righteous before Allah. How do followers of Jesus bring His cleansing blood as a bridge of understanding and revelation?
How to Pray
Pray for Christians to have revelations about key symbols, meanings and values to use in communicating the Gospel.
Pray for repentance where Christians have been quick to judge our Muslim neighbors’ practices, not seeing the opportunities to share redemptive grace.
Ask God for further insight as we pray over the next 30 days.