Day 23 – July 31, 2013
In the primordial moment, when God spoke to the assembled souls, God asked, “Am I not your Lord?” and we responded “Yes, indeed, we bear witness that this is so.” So our task now is to keep our word, and remember that our Lord is God, and we have obligations to God, which entails obligations to God’s creation.
It is in entering prayer that we enter into conversation with God. In the Qur’an, God repeatedly says kun fa-yakuna, “Be and it will be.” That first kun, that first “Be!,” is the beginning of the conversation with God. We do not expect an answer, we are not due an answer. But to think that God is not always conversing with us is to ignore the signs of creation that surround us. In the Qur’an, God keeps telling us that in creation are signs for those who pay heed.
There is a verse that says we are created from one soul. And another popular verse says that we were created tribes and nations so that we may know one another. And so, humanity is clearly an important part of creation. Do we recognize God’s majesty in our fellow humans? Do we use our peers as part of our conversation with God?
Prayer is clearly about bringing a sense of peace to ourselves. But does that peace extend to outside of the prayer time? Or are we agitated the rest of the day? I would argue that the peace of prayer should result in us being agitated, not because we are not at peace, but because the world is not at peace. We are agitated by injustice, because that injustice is a reminder that God’s Will is not being achieved. The moment of prayer brings us peace because of the conversation with God, but it is as God commanded. And outside of the prayer, that idyllic world is broken and needs to be repaired.
And like material wealth, there are times when I have treated the prayer as the end, not the process. With the recent heat wave, I was conscious of people on the street who were asking for food, and more importantly water. Were I not to stop and offer water, I would not be Hussein, but I would be Yazid to their Husayn (AS). Those people on the street are God’s creation, like us. I wonder if any of us have been so focused on prayer, that we forget the other part of conversing with God and do not give the water, because the prayer is so important. Jalaluddin Rumi says there are thousands of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. And Imam Ali (AS) says that when we die, the oppressed should miss us.
Day 24 – Aug. 1, 2013
Gratitude is one of the hardest things to express and manifest. So often it’s easy to read thankfulness as submission, perhaps not in the qurban-e shoma (may I be a sacrifice to you) way, but still a sign of surrendering authority. It is. However, this is not a bug, but a feature. Human relationships are built on dependency. We constantly interact with one another. Sometimes, the relationship is simply transactional: we pay a cashier. That cashier is still a person. The “thank you” we offer not only acknowledges the humanity of the other person, but reminds us that we exist and function because the other person does too.
Gratitude, gratefulness, is more than the simple “thank you.” We have relations that are more than transactional. We rely on each other for so many things, and when we do not express gratitude for the things that others do for us daily to allow us to be who we are, then we reduce their humanity and ours. We become our jobs. To be grateful is to say to someone else that “I need(ed) you.” That makes us vulnerable. It is in that vulnerability that we make lasting connections. From the two who make the first connection, we make webs of connections, and then communities. We have mastered making good neighbors, and then good neighborhoods, but the cost has been building good communities. We need to go back to valuing each other as people, and value ourselves in relation to other people. When we think of ourselves absent community, it is arrogance. When we value ourselves only because of the value others give us, it is servitude. When we value ourselves with and through others, that is humanity.