2. the Spirit is already at work bringing order out of chaos and leading people into the truth in every situation we find ourselves in.

The second thing I could see clearly was

2. the Spirit is already at work bringing order out of chaos and leading people into the truth in every situation we find ourselves in.

Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in hell, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast. 

(Psalm 139:7-10)

Jesus said: when the Spirit of truth comes, he (sic) will guide you into all truth.                                                                                                        (John 16.13) 

When I was last in India, I met with Saniyasnain Khan, the son of Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a writer and editor for literature produced by the Muslim Centre for Peace and Spirituality in Nizammudin, New Delhi. I was telling him how disappointed I was so many Christians and Muslims were so judgmental of each other and so prejudiced against each other. Saniyasnain responded immediately by saying, very gently: ‘Dave, it is very sad. They observe the rituals of religion but they miss the Spirit that it at the heart of religion.’

Khan is right. It is the Spirit that is at the heart of religion. And unless we are attentive to the Spirit at the heart of religion, our religions will be heartless.


Some time ago I was talking with some Muslim friends about how we were trying to deconstruct and reconstruct our religion in terms of the Spirit. They said they were interested in doing it as well and asked if they could join us for a combined conversation about interpreting our religions in light of the Spirit.

When we got together, there were twelve Christians and six Muslims. One of them was a hafiz, which means he knew the whole of the Qur’an off by heart.

We invited them to share their spiritual journey so far. They said that as people who believed in a sacred text, the temptation for Muslims, like Christians, was to take a text out of context and use it as a pretext for any action they wanted to take in which they had some kind of vested interest.

As you can imagine, when the Muslims said this all us Christians nodded our heads in acknowledgement that we too were guilty of doing the same thing. 

‘So, have you found a way to interpret the text in the light of the Spirit?’

‘Yes.’ They said. ‘We have.’

‘What is that?’ we asked.

‘Well’, they said. ‘At the beginning of every sura (chapter) in the Qur’an except one, there is an invocation that goes “Bismillahi r Rahman r Rahim”, which means, “In the name of God the most merciful and most compassionate”. And we have come to believe we should use that invocation as a hermeneutic to interpret the text in the light of the Spirit. Thus to interpret the text in the light of the Spirit of God, all our interpretations must be consistent with the mercy and compassion of God – any interpretations that are not full of the mercy and compassion of God need to be challenged, even if enshrined in sharia law.’  

‘Wow!’ we said. ‘That’s great!’

‘Yes’. I said. ‘I think what you are doing is great. But even more importantly, I think Jesus would think what you are doing is great; because he did exactly the same as what you are doing with the Qur’an with the Torah; including being willing to challenge interpretations of the law in the light of the Spirit!’


One Ramadan we organised an iftar (a meal to break the fast) with 50 Christians and 50 Muslims. We started with prayer then ate lightly spiced halal food and drank bright sparkling non alcoholic drinks while some great local musicians played wonderful middle eastern folk songs in the background.

Mixed groups of Christians and Muslims sat around the tables and chatted about their lives, their faith and their values, celebrating their similarities and discussing their differences in a beautifully respectful and reciprocal Spirit.

Last Ramadan we decided that rather have a meal together, we would provide a meal together for marginalised and disadvantaged people in our city. Some of us have been running a community meal with people with disabilities who live on the streets or in hostels or some of the boarding houses in our neighbourhood for more than twenty years. So we invited our Muslim friends to join us for a community meal after prayers one Friday night.

Our Muslim friends offered to serve the food. And they did. Then they moved out from behind the safety of the servery to sit and eat with the people whom they had served, who at times, I must admit, must have seemed a bit scary.

There was one particularly scary moment. A young woman in a hijab was going around the tables, serving food. I knew her well, we were good friends, but I had not shaken hands with her when I greeted her earlier that evening out of respect for Muslim traditions limiting male-female contact. As I watched her serving food at a table nearby, an older man with an intellectual disability leapt up from his seat and wrapped his arms around her to give her a big hug.

I was looking over his shoulder into her eyes. And I saw the look of dismay in her eyes, at this man embracing her publicly, shaming her publicly, like this. Then I saw the dismay melt away, as she remembered his disability and she realized he was not being offensive, but being effusive in the expression of his appreciation, oblivious to any shame that he had inadvertently caused. And, as I watched on, I saw her graciously return his innocent embrace.  

That is the Spirit at work – full of the mercy and the compassion of God.

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