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Getting Stuck in Clay: An Interfaith Reflection

by Kelly Figueroa-Ray from State of Formation

This is my first trip to Europe. I’ve had the chance to rent a bike and tour around the beautiful English countryside that surrounds Madingly, a small town (there is only a few homes, a pub, town hall and a church) right outside of Cambridge, England.

One day when biking I pulled off on a “public bridleway.” This is a new and fascinating phenomenon for me as a person from the United States; these pathways criss-cross through otherwise private fields and property, connecting for the public small towns and roads that can be reached by foot and often by bike. After about 100 yards of bumping down the path, the bike refused to move any further.

As I inspected my bike, I realized that my wheels were covered in the dirt of the field. Upon closer investigation, I realized this was not just any dirt but the finest clay England’s farmland had to offer. After carrying my bike back to a grassy patch, I spent about 20 minutes scraping the stuff off with my bare hands. As I felt the clay between my fingers, I realized something: Now I know the feel of England’s dirt (at least the dirt near Madingly). It was sort of like the clay I have used in pottery class, the kind that comes in as a brick in a plastic bag — brown, slippery, sticky and heavy.

In Madingly I’ve been participating in an intensive summer interfaith program hosted by the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme. This program has brought together Jews, Muslims and Christians from the around the world, including 10 Ibadhi Muslims from Oman, most of whom had never met a Jewish person before this conference.

All 25 of us were dropped into “the princess castle,” a designation ascribed to Madingly Hall of Cambridge University by my 3-year-old daughter during one of our late night FaceTime chats.

For us, this hall and its gorgeous gardens and grounds began as neutral territory; it has now become our home.

During the week, we attend lectures on the three faiths and practice Scriptural Reasoning. There are deep and sincere questions that are raised during these sessions: What does faith mean to Christians? Why do the Omani Muslims often wear hats? What does it mean to be a prophet in the Jewish faith?

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