In a recent blog I wrote about my encounters with people in Qatar, and how privileged I felt to have conversations with folks who at their core have a very different set of beliefs. Yes, there’s overlap, in our humanity and even in our orientation, but there are also differences that cannot be glossed over in the name of “inside we’re all the same” or “humans are basically alike.” Yes and no.
As I reflected on my experience, and had many conversations with people about it, my own understanding changed. A couple of larger insights.
My life is poorer for not having regular meaningful contact with people who aren’t like me. I live in a suburb where encounters with people are limited due to the structure of streets, and where the type of people who live here are limited by income, race, and religion. It’s just the classic isolation of America. It means that I have to be intentional to seek out difference.
In addition, I’ve been increasingly attracted to contemplative tradition. All my life I’ve rebelled against organized religion, probably because my father was a minister. But I just read a book called “How to Do Nothing” which, despite my qualms with some of how it’s written I find myself returning to in my thinking. How to disengage from the attention sucking economy and focus, through art, music, nature, or conversation? How to not be driven by the desperation of accomplishing what’s needed, in the face of how much is truly needed? Thomas Merton seems like a good model, but religious tradition holds many examples. My friend Nancy said that the deeper one dives into the life of the spirit, (and the way that life demands that you live in order to have integrity,) then the more of a threat you are to the larger society. It’s why King, Jesus, Gandhi, and many more were assassinated. Who can dive into the mysteries of compassion and connection and still suffer the world as it is, choosing comfort and privilege over truth and love?
I’m intrigued by the call to prayer. Imagine, five times a day, you stop and pray! You step out of the world and focus. In some of my conversations about my time in Qatar, I heard that the oppression of women and the radical desire to remake the world into Sharia, etc was problematic. It is. Although I’d point out that Christianity has perhaps an even stronger evangelical tradition, both to convert the heathen, and to turn this county back to a “Christian” land. No matter. What I admire is the surrender to a religious tradition and practice that draws followers from the day-to-day to some version of the eternal or soulful or heavenly. A tradition that supersedes the rampant individualism we swim in. A tradition that says through ritual, “There’s something greater than you and your cares and issues. Remember that.”
And so, as usual, a song. The production is what happens when you get sucked into virtual music that exists on the screen. I don’t like that style of music creation in general, but it was kind of fun, and certainly made me contemplate the bits and bytes without regard for outside time.
Call to prayer
Walking with falafel. Streets are dusty. The sun had barely set.
Children playing car horns blaring and shisha in the air
Like bells ringing, voices singing from every minaret
it was the evening call to prayer.
Behind the walls, inside the homes, people on their knees.
They’ve washed away the daily grime and the daily care.
With an invitation the spirit wiggles free.
At the evening call to prayer.
My country demonizes and supersizes the differences we feeI.
The hatred coils and smokes and boils. It fills me with despair.
It’s hard to know what’s trickery and tell it from what’s real.
And who’s behind the call to prayer.
God may be in scripture or heaven up above.
God may be in churches or maybe everywhere.
But when your heart is broken and you’re reaching out with love,
You’re answering the call to prayer.
© Stuart Stotts 2020