Well I’m 2 weeks in today. That’s 2 weeks of praying 6 times a day, or should I say attempting to pray 6 times a day. There are still days that I forget an office, even though it’s in my calendar. There are certain offices that I find hard to keep. The one that I thought would be the hardest, 6 am Lauds, turns out to be one of the easiest. It’s the None at 3 pm and Vespers at 6 pm that I find the hardest to keep. They are often long passed when I remember that I forgot. Perhaps it’s the fact that they are in the thick of the day around works end and suppertime that makes them so hard to pray. Our family suppertime is right around 6 pm so maybe I could cut myself some slack and count grace at mealtime as my vespers. That way I could also count praying the offices with my 11 year old daughter who has repeatedly told me I’m weird when I ask her to pray. Ummmmm, maybe, just maybe.
It only seems appropriate that in my quest to pray that I visit a Mosque and see the real pros at hardcore, 6 times a day prayer in action. Our parish runs a Sacred Space Odyssey during Lent where we visit local sacred spaces to learn more about the beliefs and practices of other faith communities. And thanks to my friend Kassem, who is the vice-president of the local Muslim association. They are always gracious hosts to us, showing us great respect and hospitality.
We were there right around the time of their Isha prayer, which this time of the year is right around 8 pm. This puts it almost parallel to the Christian Compline which is at 9 pm. They graciously allowed us to watch them pray. If you have never been fortunate enough to watch Muslims pray then I hope you get the chance someday. The way Muslims pray is both earthy and ethereal at the same time. They pray with their entire bodies. Bowing, kneeling, prostrating; it is like a prayer dance all done in unison. Then there is the prayers and recitation of the Quran. If you close your eyes and use your imagination you could be taken away to Mecca or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. So other-worldly so beautiful is the Arabic tongue.
Compare this to my feeble attempts at prayer. I can barely get my mind to focus in prayer let alone orchestrate my entire body to submit to prayer. I fumble through texts, bible, prayer book, devotionals while they recite from heart their devotion to Allah. Many Muslims memorize large portions, often all of the Quran. Many of us were blown away by this devotion. Most Christians would be hard pressed to call to memory one verse of the Bible let alone and entire pericope, chapter or book. As one parishioner mused, “Is it any wonder they get so upset when the Quran is burned.” We can learn a great deal from our Muslim brothers and sisters.
One of the young men there said something to me that I had to put as the title of this post. We were discussing the leadership of the community and he was reminding me that Islam really has no priestly caste or ordained ministers the way that Christianity does. The Imam is more of a lay leader. He was saying that Muslims don’t need anyone to lead them in prayer but can pray whenever and wherever they are (another older man said the whole world is Allah’s mosque – a simply beautiful concept). That’s when he said “I am and independent contractor with God.” That concept will stick with me for a long time. When you think about it it’s not that different from the Reformation idea of the priesthood of all believers that said all baptized Christians have access to God whenever, wherever. But the beautiful thing about Islam and Christianity is that even though we can come before God on our own, there is an innate sense that we should come before God together. For the Muslim it is to move to together in unison before Allah, for the Christian it is to sing songs, raise hands, and share in the sacraments. It’s one thing to pray, but another thing altogether to pray together. And that’s something I’m learning in my Lenten Prayer journey, yes I need to pray but I need to pray with others even more.