There has been lots of noise in the British press over the past few days about Islam and Christianity. Most of this has been fueled by the breathtakingly silly statements of Rowan Williams about Sharia law, and the backlash from all quarters about his comments.
In last Friday's Times there was a string of correspondence about Islam - this time with regard to the impact of the call to prayer issued from mosques. It seems that this sound, repeated throughout each day, is causing annoyance and grief in non-Muslim communities which are within earshot. The opinions expressed in readers' letters ranged from the hugely tolerant to the narrowly intolerant, as people gave voice to their concerns.
For me, the most interesting letter by far was from John Gudgeon in Norfolk. His comments begin with a tongue in cheek reference to his student son, but end on a deadly serious note. This is what he writes:
It always seemed to me a pity that we don't hear the daily call to prayer in the early morning - especially when my student son was lodging close to the mosque in Leeds. As long as it's not overdone, it's a very atmospheric and moving sound, a nice foil to the English church bells, and, who knows, this reminder of daily observance might encourage backsliders of other faiths like me'.
In one short paragraph Mr Gudgeon manages to sum up the tragedy of modern Britain, and much of Western Europe. It is a picture of people living in a culture which has lost its own spiritual and moral centre, and which envies that embodied by other faiths. There is something in the human psyche which longs for transcendence, which senses a deep desire to believe in something bigger than itself, and the closest approximation that the writer can find is in admiring the 'daily observance' of Muslims.
Mr Gudgeon's letter gives voice to a hunger which many feel, but few express - a sense that we have sucked God out of the centre (and out of any significant place in our lives) and that now we long for something more.
How pitiable that as a nation we have so forsaken the fountain of living waters that we envy those who are drinking from broken cisterns! How far we are from God, and as Christians how we need to issue our own 'call to prayer' - that men and women might turn again to the only true and living God for salvation.