Thursday, November 19, 2015
Prayers from the balcony
“The five-times-daily call to prayer echoes over hillsides, penetrates our bedrooms and our sleep, and wafts out to sea, and has, from the beginning, invited us to us to go to our balcony and pray for this place.”
I wrote that a couple of years ago. A favorite image.
This morning yet again I listened to the imam’s call and my own prayer issued forth. My inner eye drifted down the hillside with the song and I pictured the sound touching and covering. Awe grew up as I knew the love of Jesus carried gently with the soundwaves on the wings of my wandering prayer.
I saw it rest lightly on Ayşe’s cow, whose milk she sells around the village to help feed and clothe her family. That bawls its own urgent prayer over the hillside every afternoon: hunger, and pain-tinged longing to be relieved of her milk.
Prayer stroked the feathers of Çiğdem’s chickens to soothe and invite them to lay.
It hovered laughing for a moment over the wild boar and her babes. I heard them rooting in the dirt behind our back wall a couple of nights ago.
It stopped in at the tiny shop where Gülşa hanım sits sentry over the village square. Noticer of every coming and going, she could probably tell us more about ourselves than we would.
The prayer embraced all those women, now verging on middle age with children finishing high school and headed to university, who were removed from school at the age of eight or ten to work in the house or the family restaurant or with the livestock. At forty, they have already labored hard for 30 years. Was that an amused chuckle over the ones doing housework while glued to their TV soaps?
The sunny warmth of a pleasant fall graced families gathering olives, all full of chat with one another and the children romping nearby. This bit of common grace lent pleasure to the carpenters and other artisans following hard labor through summer’s heat. Jesus, embodied for me in those moments of moving prayer, listened as the village chatted about grandchildren, the cost of sunflower seeds and chicken, and offered one another glass after glass of sweet tea, all in the midst mundane necessaries of laundry, pruning, and the stacking of wood to feed winter woodstoves.
From our balcony, from wanders through the village, this place seems a corner of paradise. Clear air, fruitful trees and gardens, healthy livestock, ordered family plots, and multi-storied buildings that house extended family together. Giggles, chatter and small shrieks of happy children at play in the pre-school waft along with the mosque call and my prayer. Nothing fancy here, but everywhere the appearance of enough. Simplicity hand in hand with beauty and productive labor.
But my prayer also wandered unbidden into dark places of poverty and squalor, domestic violence and child abuse to which I am blind. Jesus knowing, Jesus touching what I in my flesh will never reach. Prayer caressed the wife who wonders at her husband’s distance, the child who is failing at school. Kept its thoughts to itself as it brushed the swimming pools and manicured gardens of foreigners who make this place home. Ached outside the few doors where second “wives” wait for their man to turn up, a practice that is illegal here but sometimes happens anyway.
I drifted with the prayer, with Jesus, over the small hill in the foreground between my window and the coast, and through the hospital’s big new building with its insufficient staff, sparse equipment, and excess of patients. It hovered over the chronically ill and the emergency cases, and brushed the the hands of doctors, nurses and radiologists. Spoke under its breath wrath towards endemic corruption that enriches cronies with contracts build the fancy hospitals and schools without ever bothering to adequately furnish or staff them.
Finally I felt the prayer skim across water to the nearby island of Meis, just two miles from my balcony perch. Because the world drew a line in the 1920’s, that short journey took my prayer, and Jesus’ indwelling of it, to Greece. I watched it settle around hundreds of refugees harbored in the tiny town in their flights from Syria, Afghanistan and Iran. This week alone, just there off my balcony, more than 600 were put off into the water near shore by people smugglers to make their illegal, desperate way through the rocks onto the tiny island from which goes a weekly ferry to Rhodes, and more and bigger ferries onwards to Athens. Did any more die trying today, or yesterday?
As a soft breeze cools my face when I open a window in the night, the prayer touched my dark places, urged me to turn and receive healing and grace. All of us bound up together as sound moves out and penetrates, and the Spirit of God sees every life and lovingly broods and beckons.