Love is Never Carried Alone

Suzanne Gross, NEM Interim Worker

I am sitting in the warm-up room at Al Rashid Mosque, volunteering to welcome anyone in need of food and company.  Al Rashid is one of the partners with the City of Edmonton that offers emergency shelter during cold spells.  When I learned they were in need of volunteers, I offered to take a shift.  

Salwa, the volunteer coordinator at Al Rashid and I had a beautiful exchange about the heart of our respective faith traditions.  We agreed that Islam is one thing and how we as humans behave as Muslims is another.  And, similarly, Christianity, or the Jesus Way is one thing, and how we as humans behave as Christians is another.  We agreed that in both traditions, there are people who distort the beautiful and clear message of both of our traditions both of which call us to show love for each other.  Our faith traditions both teach us that it is not only for ourselves, but for, as one Sheikh puts it, "the uplifting of the human race. As believers, this is our job, to care for all of humanity."  That sounds familiar, especially during this time of Christmas when we pray for hope, peace, joy, and love in our broken world.  It is in this shared spirit that Al Rashid opened up its doors to our under-housed neighbours during the recent cold spell that reached down to -30 degrees.  

In the book by Omar Mouallem "Praying to the West", one story that demonstrates this love for humanity is the Muslim community that has taken root in Inuvik, NWT.  Because there is significant food insecurity in the Inuvik community, the Muslim members set up a food bank that is available 24/7.  The person in charge is ready at any time to respond to a fellow community member in need.  This story demonstrates the deep love for humanity captured in the conversation Salwa and I had.  I call it 24/7 love.

A story that came to mind when I read this was a time 11 years ago when the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers was looking for a new Executive Director.  As a staff member in a leadership position at that time, the board of directors asked me to organize focus groups across the agency staff to pull together a profile for a new ED.  I was not sure what I would hear back from the 70+ staff at that time.  To my surprise, it was my Muslim colleagues who said things like, "we want someone who understands the Mennonite-style peacemaking."  These were colleagues who had experienced people like Anne Falk, and Don Baergen who modelled so well the tireless advocacy for justice through patient and peaceful means.  More importantly, the advocacy was rooted in relationship that nurtured both the person offering dignifying ways of supporting human needs, and those receiving the support. These Muslim colleagues valued working for an agency that championed 24/7 love, and clearly resonated with these values --values that both of our faiths champion. They articulated for me the spirit of work they hoped would be reflected and modelled and championed in any future leadership.  

Especially in the not-for-profit sector, self-care has come to be a buzzword that to me sometimes sounds like protection of privilege, rather than true care of self in the context of reciprocal community relationships.   I believe that true self-care holds in it a balance of time for me as an individual to maintain physical and spiritual health, with activities that reach out to others.  It is only in this complementary form of self-care that we can build healthy communities.  All of us require people in our lives that are, in some ways, there for us 24/7.   How can we keep alive the Jesus-inspired 24/7 love ethic for those without this social protection?  Is there a third way for us to consider:  one that avoids burnout because of the balance between individual needs and community wellbeing?  Can we find ways to challenge our siloed and disconnected relationships, and instead nurture our spirits by stepping into times of 24/7 love for and with each other, and thereby replenish our awe at God's endless love that uplifts our human race.  

During this time of Christmas and Epiphany, where God comes into our world, let us find the courage to join 24/7 love. This kind of love is never carried alone. It is always shared.  And it is in sharing the load and the joy of 24/7 love that we join together as an Ummah -- the Arabic word for world community of believers.  This year, in our pandemic world, it is my Muslim brothers and sisters who brought me back into 24/7 love, and for that I praise God.  In a few hours, I will leave my shift, and someone else will take over.  It is a slow day today, since the temperatures are not so cold, but the 24/7 love persists, and the community is there to welcome whoever might need food, a warm beverage, and companionship.