Last night, the Pakistani satellite channel, ARY-Digital, showed the Hajj pilgrims, a sea of white, at Arafat and Muzdalifah. I watched the television while eating dinner, the volume turned up loudly so that the pilgrims’ invocation echoed throughout the house:
Labayk Allahumma labayk, labayka la shareeka laka labayk. Innal-hamda, wa’naimata, laka wal-mulk, la shareeka lak.
“Here I am at Your service, O Lord, here I am. Here I am at Your service and You have no partners. Yours alone is All Praise and All Bounty, and Yours alone is The Sovereignty. You have no partners.”
For the first time, I felt a little bit of a loss, a sense of regret that I didn’t make it there this year, that I didn’t push to go after all – or, to be honest, even care to – that I ultimately didn’t end up in either of the two places I thought most deeply about this year, neither Sarghodah nor Saudi.
Inspiration for the following post comes from two entries Baraka posted recently – one on authentic prayer – hers is intimate, raw, and powerful – and the other on Mary Oliver’s poem about praying (from which comes my post title). These first ten days of the month of Dhul Hijjah, and particularly the day of Arafat, are about reflection and prayer, so I thought I should work on addressing God less like my co-worker/gossip buddy/He Who Can’t Get the Weather Right and more like, well, God. Serious stuff. Here we go.
Dear God, most Merciful, most Compassionate -
On this weblog, I mostly address You as if You’re the rockstar next door, or the buddy I’m planning on hanging out with after work. And the reason for that is because when I think about who You really are – the vast, timeless expanse of Your Being – it hurts my head to reflect on it for too long. I am short, Lord, You know this: Instead of straining my eyes and my mind, I look up only as far as I can crane my neck, look down only as low as I can bend my head, in hopes of remembering You through the things within my limited reach. Let me feel Your presence with clarity, even in the midst of this world that distracts me from worship and remembrance of You, and especially in the midst of the distractions I deliberately create in order to distance myself from you.
Those whom we’ve loved, and lost to death: grant them – grant us all, when our time comes – light and spaciousness in the grave, and another fulfilling life in the Hereafter. May their memories live on within us, and around us. Grant me a reunion, someday, with the grandfathers I never knew and the grandmothers that I only knew in those painful, ailing last years of their lives. Let me find them vibrant and whole, glowing with love and good health. Let me find my ancestors singing those songs and reciting those poems, some of which I heard with my own ears, most of which I didn’t, all of which we never got to write or remember. How is it that You sent us to be born into a tradition of farmers who lived rough lives of poverty and disease, yet sang songs and wrote poetry effortlessly? Let their wisdom and endurance be an example for us.
Give my salaam to Imran. Tell him I said, I thought of you today in the midst of this Hajj season, and I miss you, my friend, even though you’ve now been gone for nearly as long as I knew you. But it feels like longer, and your photos still make my throat tighten, make me catch my breath, remind me of a life lived fully in the service of others, as every life – as my life – should be.
Teach me to be a joy to my parents. No other people probably love me as much as they do; no other people make me gnash my teeth as much as they. For all my frustrations, though, I realize how shattered my life would be without them. Grant me the grace and patience to be the daughter they need me to be. Grant me the wisdom to be the sister I should be. Let us continue forgiving, even after we hurt each other over and over. Instead of silence and tension, may we always find joy with one another.
When the time is right, grant us partners and significant others who are good for us, who are a mercy to us, who are loving and tolerant of our flaws and imperfections. All that is noble in my father (the hugs, the highfives, the singing, the exuberant culinary experiments, the boundless generosity) without the negative (the sulking, the silence, the unyielding “my way or the highway” approach). I ask not for perfection, but for patience, for compromise and compassion, for mutual respect.
I am grateful to have finally found, in these last several years, a Muslim community to belong to – the two masajid I love for different reasons, the people and prayers that make those spaces sacred to me. Thank You for blessing me with halaqa sisters who understand the benefits and struggles of being an American Muslim, who love ice-skating (they drag me along) and synchronized-jumping on the beach (they let me take dozens of photos) and scouting for the next meal while leaving “I <3 FOOD" scribbles in their wake. Every bite is a shared blessing, each milestone is something to celebrate together. I pray they remain in my life forever, and that we hold halaqas in Jannat al-Firdaus.
I am sometimes accused of being aloof and reserved – more often than I would like. It is shyness more than anything else. But allow me to understand and be comfortable with my own vulnerabilities. There is no shame in sharing sadness, a broken heart, tears in front of people, laughing at myself, acknowledging my difficulties, asking for help.
Please teach me to be okay with asking for help.
Often, I nonchalantly shrug off the need for remorse, repentance: I’m not a bad person. I forget the myriad ways in which I have wronged You, others, myself. In my pride, I tell myself I have no regrets. But I do have two. Remind me of them constantly, so that I may learn from them to appreciate the generosity, kindness, and open-hearted forgiveness that has been granted me when I least deserved or reciprocated it.
Grant me focus. I fumble and stumble in decision-making. I make up my mind one day; mutter, “F*ck it,” the next; abandon my plans and curve around into another direction on the third. I start too many things I don’t finish. Worse yet, I stick to things nearly to the finish-line, then abandon them at the last minute.
Help me to pay attention when people are conversing with me. Open not only my ears – and You know my ears need help! – but also my heart. And let words come easily to me, so that I may write about You and myself and people I know – and those I don’t – without fearing I will do us an injustice.
Help me to be just, always.
I thank You for the sunshine, for California, for my beautiful, beloved, open-armed Bay Area – my first home, and now, after all those years of packing and moving, still my favorite home. I think “they’ve” got it all wrong; there must be some mistake – Hell must be icy cold, bone-chilling cold, not fire and flames. I would rather not be in a hell of ice. If heaven has snow, let me, at least, feel like it’s 70F. This weather thing – I just can’t stop bothering You about it, I know. I’m not a bossy person, but weather always brings out the dictator in me. You know how the hills and the sky looked on this day? Something like that would be nice.
Thank You for good health, for feet that enjoy meandering walks lacking destination, for eyes that crinkle when they smile. Let my hearing remain stable. More than blindness, I fear complete deafness, but I would preferably have neither. Yet I thank You for the humility and empathy – and the rockstar-red hearing aids and superhero lip-reading skills! – that the moderately severe loss has given me. If there is one thing I am to be tested by in life, this one is easy – let this remain it.
Teach me to be comfortable with who I am. Compliments catch me off guard. Who are they talking to? I duck my head, shuffle my feet, change the subject. You, of anyone, remember who I used to be, who I still am. Years later, it’s the same shyness, awkwardness, and insecurity, just hidden under a more stylish wardrobe and straighter teeth. There are days I feel like a fraud. I am not as pretty, smart, sociable, accomplished as people think I am. But I thank You for always reminding me where I come from, who I come from, who I used to be.
What I am so far, let that be good enough.
And then let me seek to improve myself in the things that matter. Make it easier for me to read the Quran regularly and to perform the prayers on time and with concentration. Grant us all the best of this world and the next, and keep from us all things which will not benefit us. On the Day of Reckoning, let the Prophet recognize us as part of his Ummah, his community, and the general community of Believers. May our parched mouths drink water from his hands.
I thank You, over and over, for the beautiful people You have allowed me to know, the smiling strangers with whom I’ve momentarily crossed paths, the individuals who have moved me through unexpected conversations, those who have trusted me with their stories, the friends You have brought into my life, the family and relatives with which You have blessed me. Be compassionate and loving to them as they have been to me, be merciful to them as You have shown mercy to me.
Hold us all in Your Hands. Permit us to sit at the foot of Your throne. Let the light of Your presence blaze in our eyes, cleanse our hearts, purify our souls.
Help us see in one another what we see in You – perfection and beauty beyond telling.