Love Story #13: The Hungry Heart

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In my reflections on the wedding at Cana I’ve told several stories of people’s faith journeys and the resistance to God often experienced as part of that journey. Sometimes, however, people respond to the good news of God’s Kingdom, not with resistance, but with a hungry heart. This is one of those instances.

Carl Medearis is an American who works for reconciliation between Muslims, Jews and Christians, particularly in the Middle East. He spends a lot of time with Muslims and has many stories of their interest in Jesus Christ (called “Isa” in the Qur’an and acknowledged to be the Messiah/Christ – the Anointed One). On one occasion he describes [1] going with a friend, whom he calls Frank (not his real name), to visit a Saudi princess. They met at her home and the princess entertained them to tea. There were a number of people present, and, as often happens in that context, the talk turned to politics.

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The princess was a journalist. She was highly educated and very articulate. She had much to say – in perfect English – about the points of tension between the Middle East and the West, about women’s rights and Islamic tradition. As the conversation developed it became painfully clear that for her this was more than an intellectual discussion. This was personal: she carried a profound feeling of offence towards the West in general and the USA in particular. Sensing how much this mattered to the princess, Frank spoke up and said how sorry he was for her hurt.

She was taken aback by this and asked what he meant. He said he could see that what she was saying truly came from her heart. As Frank spoke, Carl could see tears in his eyes. He was feeling her pain. Somehow Frank’s understanding broke through the princess’s defences and she began to cry. Recovering a little, she admitted her hurt and her frustration at being trapped in religion, politics and culture; she was unable to find a way out, unable to find hope for herself or her people.

At this point Carl began to talk to her about a Kingdom bigger than America, Saudi Arabia or Europe and richer than the religious institutions of either Christianity or Islam. Would she be interested in that kind of Kingdom? She turned and looked at her uncle who was standing nearby to check if this was OK to talk about. He nodded.

The conversation developed into a discussion of what it meant to the princess to be a Muslim. The two men suggested to her that it was perfectly possible to be a good Muslim (someone who, as the word means, is “submitted” to God) and belong to the Kingdom they were talking about. Where is this Kingdom, she wanted to know: was it in Paradise after death? No, it’s here and now, they said. Again she checked with her uncle that it was all right to proceed and he nodded.

How could she belong to this Kingdom? Carl explained that Allah (which is Arabic for “God”) had sent a prophet called Isa who, according to the Qur’an, is the word of God. He is close to Allah. Carl said that they had spent their lives belonging to this Kingdom; they believed Isa could open the door to this Kingdom for her because he is close to Allah. Again she looked to her uncle and again he gave his consent. Then she asked if they could pray to Allah and ask him to speak to them about this Kingdom.

So they did. As they prayed the presence of God became tangible in the room. Soon they were all in tears. Then she prayed for God’s Kingdom to come into her heart through Isa the Anointed One.

The story raises lots of questions, of course; but what strikes me is that, like the disciples at the wedding at Cana, the princess caught a glimpse of the glory of Jesus and that was enough to bring her to faith. Neither she nor they could have given a theological account of Jesus or what it might mean to believe in him. They knew next to nothing about forgiveness, the cross or any of the great gospel themes. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that both she and they saw something of who Jesus really was and is and gladly gave themselves to him in response.

[1] See Carl Medearis, Muslims, Christians and Jews: Gaining Understanding and Building Relationships (Bethany House, 2008), pp. 92ff.

Published by markphilps

Came to faith at university while studying Russian. Brief career with the BBC. Married to Caroline. Ordained in the Church of England. Thirty-five years in parish ministry. Now retired and doing some writing.

4 thoughts on “Love Story #13: The Hungry Heart

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