Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond
A friend of mine was far from home. He grew up in the Gambia and was visiting my parent’s house in suburban Indiana. He asked which direction was east and while everyone else was chit-chatting in the kitchen, he found a quiet place in the living room, and pulled out his prayer mat to pray. Maybe some of you too have been asked this question by a Muslim friend who was visiting your house. Five times a day there is a time for prayer called salat. The repetitive gestures, bodily postures, memorized liturgies, and specific timeframes help give structure to the humbling and impossible task of approaching the divine.

The very first prayer of the day is called “Fajr” and is prayed at the moment when the rays of dawn emerge over the horizon. There is kneeling and bowing, words of praise and silent affirmations, that Allah is the one to whom all glory belongs. Among the ritual words spoken often, like “Allah-hu-Akbar” (Allah is the Greatest) is a phrase that struck me as quite profound: prayer is better than sleep.

What might it mean to offer those words daily, a small reminder that divine connection is most precious? What might shift in your body, in your soul, if you spoke aloud that hearty definition of prayer every morning, especially on the mornings when it was hard to shake sleep from your eyes? It points to commitment, yes. But somehow to me, it also points to an embodied reality; at dawn, maybe your body is still struggling to stand, bow, kneel. Even after the minor ablution called wudu, where your face, arms, elbows, feet, and ankles are washed in running water, dawn can be early. Maybe your mind is still awakening to the reality of sunrise, and the words of prayer are fuzzy. Maybe some mornings it is a mantra akin to “kale is better than cupcakes” where you are trying to talk yourself into loving the thing that is hard to love. But then I imagine, other mornings it rings true across your whole being as nearness to the divine is felt and embodied; prayer is better than sleep. May it be so.

My Neighbor’s Prayer
Assalatu khairum-minan-naum

Part of the Fajr: Muslim Morning Prayer

(translated “prayer is better than sleep”)
Amen.