Friday, September 12, 2008

Muslims and Mary

Tina Beattie in this week's Tablet, reports on working at Lourdes:

This year, I worked as a volunteer for an afternoon at the baths. It felt like taking part in a carefully choreographed ballet, as we coordinated our movements to ensure that the woman going through the water was held and comforted, that her dignity was assured and her prayers were assisted. I had a sense of the world's women flowing through my hands, so much vulnerability, so much diversity, so much trust. I heard no prayers for miraculous healings. I just heard wave upon wave of prayers for support, for courage, for understanding, for loved ones, for children, for husbands, for hope. Again, I had that sense of an immense maternal presence, holding, consoling, being there for all of us.

Afterwards, as we were putting on our outdoor clothes, I spoke to the woman I'd been on duty with. I asked her what parish she came from in the UK. She smiled. "I don't have a parish. I'm a Muslim," she said. She had visited Lourdes when her son was ill, and she had been going back ever since. She explained that Mary is honoured by Muslims, and she had no difficulty taking part in the ritual of the baths. Liminality can create spaces of human encounter and recognition by which we see beyond the confines of our daily lives, and discover different ways of being together across the boundaries.

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