Being Present, Being Accepted

By: Jenni Taylor, Author in Chief

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I had the pleasure of being in Malaysia recently, and visited the Batu caves near Kuala Lumur. The Batu caves are celebrated as a holy pilgrimage site for Hindu believers.

Next to the religious site was an educational one- a section of caves protected by the environmentalists and used to teach tourists about the ecosystems hidden in the dark. You are given a headlamp, and then you follow a guide into the darkness to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of squeaking bats, scattering cockroaches, and some intelligent prehistoric spiders.

Caves are not my comfort zone.

I read a book recently, a collection of general wisdom, that often spoke about accepting the dark parts of yourself. A ying and yang sort of thing. In all honesty, the idea is a far cry from the “strive to be holy” Christianity I am familiar with. Our human world has generally accepted light as good and darkness as evil for millennia.

Which brings me back to the cave.

The cave filled with creepy crawlies was not a spiritual place- it was, quite simply, just old. It is a place without sunlight, where the animals adapted and eventually formed an entire ecosystem centered around bat poop (really). It’s a circle of life. A place where bugs and bats adapted to the darkness with bigger eyes, longer feelers, better ears, more advanced webs to catch prey. It is a basic life, a prehistoric dinosaur life. Not evil. Not good, either. Just life.

Which brings me to wonder. I was not mad at the bats and bugs for being what they were. They just were. Would sunlight enlighten them somehow? It would change them, certainly, but I don’t think that’s an allegory for spiritual enlightenment. They just are. And when they adapt and change, they still just are. There’s some spiritual wisdom buried in here somewhere that I’m trying to pull out. Theology aside, striving or no striving, there is some truth to this idea of acceptance.

I am me, now, in this moment. I will be me later. I was me yesterday. I am constantly changing by millimeters like the stalagmites and stalactites I saw in this beautiful cave. I don’t have millions of years, but I do have a lifetime to be formed into a piece of art. I am art now, and I will be art later. I am uniquely formed,with my drops of water, my scars, even my location and chemical makeup. I am unique, In the same way the other mites and tites around me are unique.

I am beautiful now. I was beautiful before. I will be beautiful tomorrow. However short or long life turns out to be, I am complete and growing, the paradox of art.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well –Psalm 139:13-14 New International Version (NIV)

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Re-kindling The Magic In The Ritual

Today’s post comes from Nermine Mohamed, who like John Smith in his post on the prayer in ritual, and like Jenni in her post on the ritual of prayer, looks for the meaning behind rituals. Nermine gives us all great insights on how we must never take our rituals for granted, for they offer us a special kind peace and love.

I am a Muslim. “Ṣalāt” or Prayers are a cardinal doctrine in my religion; the second of the five pillars of Islam. It is a daily ritual that I am required to do five times. All my life I have been taught that I should pray, without knowing why I should. I would pray because I had to, I am obliged to, thus often I would just do it nonchalantly, absentmindedly, just to take it off my shoulders. I would recite the verses which had become meaningless because they have been said countless times without ever pausing to reflect on the meanings behind these words. My mouth would say them, but my heart never felt them. I would stand in prayer while my heart and mind are elsewhere.

Now I am trying to look at my daily prayers in a different way. It is true that prayers are a duty, an obligation you have to perform as a Muslim, but it is only for my sake, not a pressure or a burden, but a relief, a time-out from the big and stressful game of life. As Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) has always referred to Ṣalāt as a relief from all the pain and worries of the world. Now I feel that I need to pray. I need to stand looking down humbly, for I am full of sins, full of flaws, yet God never pushes me away, God is always eager to hear me out, eager to direct me if I am lost or confused, and ready to forgive if I only ask for forgiveness.

I need to glorify God and give thanks for my countless blessings which are benevolently and bountifully bestowed upon me every single moment, even though I so rarely appreciate them and so often take them for granted.I need to kneel down with my nose on the ground, for I am always holding it up high, letting my human ego consume me, thinking I am smarter, I am better, that I do not need help. Thus it is a reminder that no matter how knowledgeable, smart, or successful I become, I owe it all to God.

I am constantly looking for peace, for guidance. I want to be more humble, more thankful and more compassionate. I found out that all of this is part of one single ritual that I was doing out of obligation without letting it affect and change me. That’s why rituals can be tricky. Sometimes, without even noticing, something very special, unique and spiritual can turn into a mundane habit, which often loses its meaning, its uniqueness, because it has been repeated countless times.

I am daily trying to re-kindle my spiritual connection with God through my daily prayers. It is not always that easy. It is a constant battle between the sounds of the world buzzing inside my ears and trying to listen to that voice within. Sometimes that voice fades away amidst all the noise, and sometimes it is not even there, but some other times I feel it, I hear it. Sometimes it is as loud as thunder, sometimes as low as a murmur. But when it is there, I find the magic in the ritual.