Thursday, April 26, 2007

God is Great: praying in Morocco

The new gardener is praying now, on his knees behind a leafy bush near the back fence. He knows that I am here in the clearing but is likely unaware of my spying on his private ritual. By now, I have witnessed countless individual prayers and it always leaves me vaguely uneasy, wanting to join in while simultaneously compelled to flee, feeling myself an interloper to the divine conversation.

Christians are called to be in constant prayer, though no one I know actually manages this continuous sensation of God. For many, even daily prayer falls aside. I myself tend to observe a simple grace before most meals but otherwise do not pray outside of Sunday services. Coming from such a tradition, I find myself amazed at those Moroccans who do stop to pray five times a day, while the adhan's call of "allahu akbar" reassures even my dhimmi spirit. Perhaps I should resolve to respond with my own observance - hearing the call to the faithful, I often do so reflexively, but the adhan doesn't always interrupt my activities or even reach my ears.

On the other hand, I belong to a faith which exhorts me to perform my prayers in secret and keep my devotionals a private act rather than a public display. When I arrive home to find my roommate prostrate or step into the garden while the guard unrolls his prayer mat, I feel like a spiritual intruder invalidating their acts. Yet in a place where such prayer is common, it often happens amid daily life instead of interrupting the day's rhythms. The prayer room at the school offers quiet but sits constantly open so that I may watch my teachers as they perform salat, while at home Omi used to wash out in the hall before closing herself in the bedroom to pray. Prayer here can be an individual act, but it is also the core of shared worship, a communion of believers as important as the bread and wine I know. My witness is nothing unusual, though my inability to participate leaves me perpetually unsure of how to respond.

For the moment, I listen to the call: "there is no god but God," cries the minaret nearest me, and in the distance other voices echo. Perhaps some of my brethren manage constant prayer, but I find the reminder an awesome expression of faith and a song to my own soul. I will certainly miss hearing it at home, just as I already miss waking up to it now that I live in a better-soundproofed house. Still, I wonder just how angrily the folks at home would get if I returned suggesting we adopt a similar system...I'm afraid that's one element of worship that simply gets lost in translation.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I'd find it more satisfying, but culturally, I find Islam to be a more interesting faith than Christianity. Maybe I'm just so used to one....

--Sean

Kyle said...

The monastic tradition has such an observance: the daily office, also known as the liturgy of the hours. It's different, of course, but it's a similar idea of work flowing into prayer flowing into work. Eventually one realizes that one's whole life is prayer. I've tried at various points to observe elements of the office, but it really works best in community, and I suck at doing anything regularly.

KEP said...

yes, and I loved the compline services at West End, but the services of the hours were never observed among the general community of the faithful and have become even less used over time. care to help me revive them? oh, and post on your own blog, too!

Sarah said...

question: do women need to have the veil on, etc, before they can pray? someone told me that...but it seems like it wouldn't always work, if you didn't normally wear it but couldn't pray without it...

KEP said...

Yes, Sarah, it's necessary to be covered before praying - everything but face and hands. It's also necessary to wash first (face, ears, hands, feet) - praying really does require you to step aside and prepare yourself before addressing God. It takes a serious moment out of the day.

That said, I don't think the requirement adds any burden on top of that demand of full focus - most women keep a scarf around (my roommate folds one in with her prayer mat) and it takes just a few seconds to put it on before you begin. It's not a hard thing simply to have on hand.