Something has been rattling in my brain since my trip to Egypt and an embarrassing incident here at work brought it back to my mind. Those of you who know me in real life know that I don’t exactly exude grace and composure. When I’m caught off guard, EVERYONE knows it. Usually there’s some flailing of limbs and incoherent exclamations involved. It’s super graceful. Today I was feeling a little crabby because of some work frustrations and as I’ve been doing a bit lately, I decided to eat my feelings in the form of some Kettle Chips and a Coke. I went into the breakroom and almost stepped on a young man who was face-down on the floor. In that split second, I couldn’t figure out who it was, and then, whoever it was, had he fallen down? My first reaction was one of those incoherent exclamations that I’m so famous for, and as I made my noise I realized that he was praying. Then after that, I couldn’t stop apologizing. He just shot me a sideways look and kept praying. In an Elaine Benes-esque moment, I wondered if I should leave or go ahead and purchase my junk food. I went for the machines. I’ve decided to go ahead and call our HR Hotline on myself. I probably won’t get in trouble. It’s anonymous.
The reason this brought to mind my recent trip to Egypt is that when Mubarak was president, he decided that the Call to Prayer that happens EIGHT TIMES A DAY beginning at FOUR AM wasn’t loud enough. Now it is. Cairo is a more moderate city, so when the call to prayer goes out you will see some people observe it and some go about their day. I’m acknowledging that I experienced this as an outsider, and I’m sure that the locals don’t even hear it most of the time. Eight times a day. Come ON.
There are those who think the sound is ugly, and no, it’s not exactly melodious, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ugly. There is something inherently beautiful in an entire city being asked to stop to center themselves in prayer. I’m not advocating that any government dictate how and when to pray, but I like the idea that regular times of prayer are built into the daily rhythms of life. I wish I had the discipline to do it for myself.
There are those who will also say that it’s an empty ritual and doesn’t mean anything. Maybe, but that’s possible in any religion and is a pitfall of being human. I’m reminded of a quote from Out of Africa where Denys is explaining to Karen why he prefers animals to people. He says that everything is brand new to the animals but it’s only “man that tires of it. It’s only man who does it badly.” True. Not only would it be a discipline to keep a regular prayer schedule every day, it would be a discipline to keep it from becoming a meaningless habit.
Can you imagine how different the world would be if all of us, regardless of our faith traditions, stopped eight times every day to center ourselves in prayer and seek God’s guidance? It might be a world with less need of Kettle Chips and Coke.