Living away from family and away from a culture that openly accepts Christianity, I have found that my prayers have taken a different form and role in my life. One of the best parts about living in the Gulf is that prayer is a sensory part of your everyday life. You hear the call to prayer regularly (if you are lucky you sleep through the first), you see prayer on the side of the road, in the social rooms at work, and you read the label “prayer room” in every building you enter. Pray is valued in a much more public way than it is in the United States and in Christianity. I am not claiming that prayer is more important in Islam than in Christianity, but it does take a different and more public form. Being in this culture has helped me to grow my prayer life in a unique way. Prior to moving here prayer was either a private experience that happened as more of a mental conversation with God than through devoted prayer, or a ritualistic aspect of a worship service. My pastor may not appreciate me saying this, but in the prayers I experienced during worship I lacked that heart connection that I gave to my personal prayers. Now I continue to pray privately and spontaneously, but I also feel more empowered to talk about prayer, have devoted prayer experiences that are less spontaneous, and to communicate to others through prayer. In some ways I am amazed when I think it took moving to a Muslim country to help me build my Christian prayer life.
Today while waiting for a meeting with a student I experienced the most beautiful call to prayer since moving here. CMU students select one student each year to do the call to prayer in their building. I believe students who are interested nominate themselves and then student vote on who they believe has the most beautiful voice. I have had the pleasure of hearing this particular student give the call to prayer a few times, but today something was different. First you need to picture the CMU building (in the images below you can see the main lobby/entry area of the building).
The student who gives the call to prayer stands on the walkway that crosses the lobby at the second floor level. He positions himself centered, cups his hands to his mouth and as he gives the call to prayer he raises his head up toward the third floor and ceiling of the building. His voice fills the building through natural amplification. The building is full of movement as students and staff go about their day, but despite this hustle the building seems to come to a still. I wish you all could have experienced this with me; it was truly beautiful. As he finishes, the stillness of the air returns to the commotion of a lunchtime gathering place and the day continues as if this moment of art was completely normal. It takes me a few minutes to remember that it is.
Following my meeting I was able to talk to a friend and was reminded of the importance of prayer. Justin’s (Texas A&M Justin, not the Justin I work with) grandmother had to have extensive heart surgery a little over a week ago and is still in the hospital recovering. I, along with probably hundreds of others, have been praying for her and his family. Additionally I have been praying for Justin. I learned shortly after moving to Doha that one of the hardest things about living far away from family is that you are not able to be there for important moments. I remember getting a call from my mom letting me know that my Grandpa was in the hospital and she wanted me to know that the family was all going up to see him. In that first call she did not say anything specific, but there was something about the way she said it that let me know this was not a simple trip to the hospital. A few phone calls later from both my mom and dad I realized it was possible that my family was going to say good-bye to my grandfather – and I could not be with them. I was able to eventually make a phone call to the ICU, but it was not the same. There is a sense of comfort that comes from facing things while in the presence of family. You don’t have to talk; sometimes just being there is enough. When you live abroad, you do not have that ability to give or receive comfort through your presence. You come to depend a lot more on words – phone calls, email, anything – but more than that you depend more on prayer. Thankfully my Grandpa made an amazing recovery (I believe in part due to my sister being pregnant and the drive to see his great-grandson, and in huge part to prayer). While talking to Justin today I again offered my prayers for him and his family, but also offered myself prayer. My prayers offer me a connection to others when I physically am not there. Of all the gifts I get through prayer, this is one of the greatest; it is like God finds a way for your spirit to be filled with comfort the same way it would through a hug or through being in the presence of family during a difficult time.