Allahu akbar. In a Muslim country I might be awakened before dawn by these words, called aloud from the minaret: “God is greater.” The Arabic language not having separate word-forms for “greater” and “greatest,” akbar must do duty for both ideas in the call to prayer. Today I read it as “greater:” the call to prayer invites us to turn our attention from the less to the more.
Important as anything and everything else may be, the presence of God is always more important and, absent an obligation to focus elsewhere, more worthy of our attention. If we could only know reality as it truly is! We might never choose to turn our attention away from our One True Love, the Source of All Good, the Fountain of Beauty, the Truth Which Answers All Questions, the Comforter Who Wipes Away All Tears Eternally, except to verify that all God’s other loved ones were enjoying God with us. Our attention might then gravitate to God effortlessly, as it now homes in on any overwhelming pleasure, pain, or novelty.
You know and I know that we’ve lost the use of our whatever-it-is, our God-knowing organ, and now grope about like sleepwalkers, seeking satisfaction in what can’t satisfy. We’ve imputed life, power and value to dumb idols and now worship them helplessly, addicted to our own ignorance. Or is it just me that expects happiness to come from that next cup of coffee or that shiny new trinket?
In the absence of easy and certain experiences of contact with God, we do have the option of prayer, and a standing encouragement to pray without ceasing. We do, of course, pray without ceasing so long as our hearts are alive, as the 18th-Century writer William Law reminds us; the question is whom or what we’re praying to — for whatever it is that we’re yearning for. Prayer made to God always involves a yearning after God, and Jesus assures us that God is delighted to respond to it. The experience of many bears Jesus’ teaching out, for example the early Friend Francis Howgill, who wrote, “the Lord appeared daily to us, to our astonishment, amazement and great admiration, insomuch that we often said one unto another with great joy of heart: ‘What, is the Kingdom of God come to be with men?’”
Therefore, it seems, we ought to regard those who encourage us to prayer as our souls’ best friends.
This puts Friends United Meeting in the position of being one of our best friends, since it’s seen fit to encourage a forty-day program of prayer, which starts today (see www.fum.org). This morning I felt greatly blessed, with Elizabeth at my side on the living room couch, as we embarked on our first day’s prayer-work alongside a great cloud of unseen companions. Thank You, Lord.