Thursday, June 25, 2009

Parables, pictures and prayers from Kaş …call to prayer

Five times every day the call to prayer streams from the mosque to envelop the town. The singer invites the faithful to pause, cleanse themselves, and bow before Allah—now standing, now kneeling, now with forehead on the ground.

Five times each day: before sunrise, around lunchtime, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, and evening. After years in the Middle East, I barely notice. Lately, though, I’ve given more thought to the awareness of God’s presence that a pause for prayer might bring.

In April, friends took me to a Benedictine monastery in Northern Ireland where monks gather to sing “the hours” several times each day, using the Psalms as their source. Shortly before, I’d browsed a book at a friend’s house in Baku. The author, a pastor, talks about that rarified morning time of reading and prayer—and the emptiness of how little its blessed insights impact his intense days. From his own search for a more penetrating awareness of God’s presence, he suggests a personal practice of “hours,” and even proposed a schedule and format. We talked some about it with our hosts. They found the idea overly ritualized. It put them off.

But my hunger is similar to that pastor’s. It’s not that I don’t pause for prayer during my day. We pray grace at meals, and at meetings and studies. I pray for directees and others who come to talk about spiritual things. I throw up “arrows” of prayer when surprised and uncertain what to do. I lean into God when I’m stumped and barren in my writing. But this pause simply to give God worship, this pause that is active as it requires one to interrupt the flow of work and move to a place and position for prayer, or even to gather with the community, this is different.

I’m “nudged.” In Kaş last month I decided to respond by intentionally interrupting whatever I was up to each time the mosque call began. I would go stand on the balcony, as though standing next to Jesus as He brooded over the town, and pray for the community until the call ended. An experiment. A learning.

First I learned how rarely the familiar call penetrates my awareness. I never hear it before dawn, and probably only notice about half of the other times. At the beginning of my experiment when I did notice I would go, stand and look, and find lots of things for which to pray: people I care about, situations and events of the day, the peace and prosperity of the town, the possibilities of the gospel, the timing of our move there. I watched people scurry by below me, to the grocery store, or to their cars, or into the school—people alone, people with friends, people buzzing by on scooters. I saw how they, too, seemed oblivious to the call. No one stops work to head for the mosque, or even pauses in their conversation. A big change from 20 years ago. I began to pray for the imams who make the calls, for God to touch their broken, frustrated hearts.

Later, as the “new” of my experiment wore off, I found that I could be aware the call had begun, but unwilling to be interrupted. Whatever I was focused on took precedence over prayer, whether it was an exciting discovery of just how to express a complex thought, or a conversation with another person, or solitaire on the computer. Sometimes I didn’t want to go to the balcony because it was hot. That brought me to some shame, and some repentance, reminded of how easily our human agendas overtake and consume us so that we fail to respond when God interrupts.

Then came days when I could no longer think of much to pray for, save to repeat what I’d already prayed. To say anything began to feel like babbling. I would stand and wrack my brain for something fresh. I decided it was time to stop talking and listen, and look. The sense that I was invited to stand and brood with Jesus increased.

“For My house will be called a house of prayer for all people.” Isaiah 56:7 jumped off the page at me. My heart went to the Gőkseke house, for that is our vision: a welcome, and space available, to anyone God might bring to pray, to lean in to Him, to seek and explore the reality of His presence. Isaiah’s context is a prophecy that strangers and foreigners, not just returning exiles, will find a spiritual home with the people of God.

I hear Isaiah’s words in another way, too. Our “house” is God’s house—wherever in the world He may place us. That image of Jesus standing and brooding over Kaş, and drawing us to stand and brood with Him—oh, the deep, deep love. In a town where no one knows His Name He is present, He is protecting, and He desires to be known and to bless.

O Lord, thank You for the certainty that You look out over Kaş, for the humbling realization that You drew us there to watch and love with You. Grant, please, that we, in all our fallen frailty, would act worthily. We long for Your presence to so permeate our days that Your life spills out to the bits and the few that we touch. By whatever means, increase Yourself in us.

No comments: