Many years ago when I was a young internationally famous medical professional with a witty son and a serene daughter in their pre teens, my travels took me to Thailand. what happened yesterday jogged my memory of events related to reverence, all different but the basic fount is the same.
I am rushing back from the shoe store, which is only two blocks from the Dusit Thani in Bangkok……
I had run over to buy formal sandals to wear at tonight’s banquet being held by the members of the world Federation of Neurology where I have the honor to be invited as a guest. Tariq is in the Hotel playing Thai videogames and hopefully on the path of slow dressing for the event. I had bought him a silk turquoise tie (his choice) earlier to wear for the banquet.
As I rush to cross the last street, leading to the Hotel, an invisible hand stills me. Right across the side street not even a stone throw from the hotel stands a young woman, her glossy straight hair pulled back in a chignon. Her hands folded in quiet stillness and prayer. Reverence exuding from her.
I am nonplussed at her praying in the middle of a busy square that leads to the Hotel? She is wearing the hotels personnel uniform, her dark glowing silky hair in a loose chignon rests on her delicate swan like neck, her hands prematurely aged from physical use. She slowly raises her head and looks up. Her eyes filled with reverence and humility. I realize with a start that there is a statue of Buddha in the bushes. I feel deeply honored to have stumbled upon a moment of reverence from the heart.
Fast forward it is Ireland….. and I stand at the High Cross, embraced by the circle of the Celts which silently but forever declares in my gestalt impression that all religions, beliefs and humanity are one continuous circle. Yet as we look down the longer limb of the cross the desire for concreteness has propelled the sculptor to make pictures of the agony of Christ, the hope that he will be the intercessor for the good people and Christ at least in this engraving will send the sinners to Hell. This is the human interpretation of intercession in Christianity by those who came to the green isle to bring “enlightenment” to the “pagans” and left their mark on the high crosses of Ireland.
Besides me and behind me stand my fellow travellers each with his or her own thoughts carefully wrapped in the fabric of reserve particular to their own culture and belief.
As these thoughts go through my head there is a presence besides me, a presence with reverence for the eternal circle of truth, the Divine power of rescue and the ultimate savior from all ills untainted by the acceptance of what is and what is to come. Much of the reverent spirituality, which came to the Irish Celts as second skin, was a stranger to those who followed them and came from foreign shores and who were brutal and uncompromisingly literal in their belief. The harshness they promulgated was a facet of reverence forcibly enforced on the public. These laws that imposed forced reverence for what they thought was holy came as a graft from across the water. Those who came across the waters came in good faith and did what they were taught and that was to wield the cross as an uncompromising iron rod. Yet as I stand in the lush Irish landscape every blade of grass waves at me with reverence of the Divine who in the end controls everything and everybody. “This too shall pass,” it whispers as the breeze moves between the blades.
When I think of moments of intense undiluted spontaneous reverence in my life I think of my Ummrah to Mecca after Tariq died.
I am at this Ummrah by my self; a friend who was going to join me has a sudden appointment come up which has precluded her from accompanying me.
I am performing the Ummrah by myself, which is truly a unique, but freeing experience for an unaccompanied woman in the courtyard teeming with hundreds of pilgrims, each focused on their own spirituality and rituals of cleansing. The courtyard around the Kaaba is filled to the brim with people, men in white and women in black their skins of every hue in the world, their bodies bowed with age and or bouncing with youthfulness. The walk in an anti clockwise circle around the House of Allah, the Kaaba, the pace has a rhythm which I pick up as soon as I join the circle.
I walk around the Kaaba in Tawaaf fulfilling the rites of Ummrah. As I approach the corner that holds the sacred Black stone on my third circumambulation I cannot help but notice the long line of people standing to kiss the black stone at the corner of the Kaaba. A deep reverent desire wells up within me intense and strong like a mountain stream, which nothing can stop. I want to kiss it! I want to kiss the black stone! The desire is intense in my heart and bubbling out of me. My logical mind laughs at my desire as my eyes register the long line packed with men and another similar one of women.
I bow my head in dua and keep walking. As I turn the corner suddenly it feels that the crowd has loosened and I unbeknownst to myself find myself at the end of the line of women waiting to kiss the black stone.
I look up at the door of the Kaaba. With my eyes I measure the distance between the door and the black stone called “The Multazim” where I am told all duas are fulfilled. I have so many duas to pray at the door of the Kaaba I think to myself as I look at it longingly. So many duas….. But my logical mind says: you will never be able to touch the part where tradition says the dua is taken directly to Allah and granted verbatim. I shrug off my logical self. this is not a place or time for cynicism or logistical analysis. I will gratefully take what is given. I stand in total subjugation, the mother of a dead son, hurting in every cell of my body, I have lots to ask Him Subhanawataala, for help, direction, love and most of all the easing of this continuous intense pain since Tariq died.
My eyes blur with tears and I feel a sudden strong push from behind uprooting my stance. I reach out to prevent myself from falling and find both my hands on the Kaaba in the section between the black stone and the Door of the Kaaba. I am touching the place where people for centuries have reverently asked Allah for everything that their heart needed, wanted and desired no matter how outrageous and impossible it may have been, and He Subhanawataala gave generously.
Just as suddenly as I touched the Kaaba when I was pushed from behind me my mind went blank, I could not remember a single dua. The black drape of the Kaaba softened through the blur of my tears as if to say…all will be well, Allah knows what is in your heart and He is Rahman and Raheem! No words came from me except deep reverence for where I was and what I was feeling in my heart. I felt Him Subhanawataala close…. as close as my jugular vein. The weight of the boulder of grief crushing my heart lifted, the agony crashing in my heart stilled as reverence mulled in it and poured out of it like a soft waterfall washing away my anguish, my pain and my agony. I was standing in the presence of My Lord.
Next before I could get my bearings as to what is the next step there was a strong push that again took me off my feet and I was pushed sideways against another woman clad in layers of black and wearing a niqab. Just as I tried to prevent my self from falling she moved forward leaving me lurching for stability behind her. I heard a mans voice above me saying in Arabic “next” I looked up and saw the guard of the Black stone, for a second my eyes looked into his and I imagined his expression soften with compassion at this poor bereaved mother and he softly said “go” I was breathless, I was at the Black stone, I dived into the oval container that holds the pieces of the black stone and felt myself drawn in as my lips touched the coolness of the stone. My heart soared as I removed myself from it, my spirits euphoric with reverence, thanks and extreme humility…
I had been gifted again and again! I did not wait to examine why as I knew at a very basic level that I did not deserve it. It was the Mercy of Allah that had permeated everyone around me though I was in a place where no one knew my name. I felt I had no control over the key to the entrance into the Garden Mercy but deep within me I knew somehow it was connected to the deep reverence that came from within me unbidden at a conscious level.
Reverence is a gift that God gave us as He informs us in Surah Araaf 7:172:
When your Lord brings forth from their loins the offspring of the children of Adam, He makes them witnesses over themselves, (and asks): “Am I not your Lord?” ‘Indeed,’ they reply. ‘We bear witness,’ — lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: “We were not aware of this;”
We and all the previous generations and those to come bowed our heads to our Lord with reverence as we acknowledged that he was our Lord. Since then every child of Adam is born with a deep core of reverence for The One and only Creator and it is called “Fitra”. When the essential good surfaces in anyone it is from his or her “Fitra” acknowledging silently the reverence and the vow we gave to our Creator when we were a speck of a genome in the dynasty of Adam.
Reverence is a God given trait to all of us, it surfaces at times in spite of our jaded view of the world and those who live in it and exploit it unmercifully.
Something strange, reverent and unusual happened yesterday and I was filled with gratitude to be allowed to be a witness:
I have seldom seen two children tussle to revere something or someone, and yet I was witnessing something beautiful. Two children age four and two were tussling with each other to take care of the musallah on which I had just completed my prayer. Here is how I remember it:
Both my grandchildren are with me this afternoon. We have after noon rituals that they love and refuse to break even when suggested. Children, I have learned love rituals, it brings them comfort, security and the promise of continuous love and affection from the adults.
We eat lunch together, wash up after lunch and do the wudu, which is the ablution to prepare for prayer.
Since my grandson R is almost five he has become quite independent in performing his wudu and finishes first. He then goes to spread the three prayer rugs called musallahs (rugs for prayer). I help my granddaughter (L) with her ablution and when we come to “massa” which is the gentle passing of a wet hand over her hair she smiles, her dimples surfacing with joy and she repeats softly with gentle sweet happiness “massa, massa” rubbing her hands on her cheeks in wonder as the water drips from her hair.
We then stand for Salah and pray. After prayer my grandson R has become very good at folding the musallahs and putting them away.
This afternoon he folds his musallah and puts it away and my granddaughter folds her musallah copying her brother and in my opinion doing a great job but not good enough in her brothers opinion.
Then come the folding of my musallah R my grandson asks if he can fold it. Before I can utter yes you can, L my grand daughter says “No! Me fold “ she grabs the musallah and tries to flatten it to fold it, R whisks it away from her and begins to fold it she comes back and pulls it and says “me fold” and so it goes on!
I am entranced at the two children who may or may not be aware of the deep reverence that the musallah holds on which Salah has just been performed. It is embued with what we have recited, wished and submitted to. Thus in accordance with what one of my friends said, “objects hold energy”, so do musallahs and tasbeehs (rosaries) they hold the memory of what has been said on them and with them.
The tussle between the children becomes serious and there seems to be no end to it despite my continuous peace making. Finally R leaves and goes to his room crying……. L points to the room, her soft brown eyes filled with compassion and says “Me fold, Bhai (brother) crying”
How many layers of innocent reverence are in this story I cannot even imagine, two innocent children tussling over who should fold my musallah? I stand humbled by what Allah has given me in the form of innocent reverence to learn from and to go back to my original vow that I took in the covenant when I was a speck of a genome in the dynasty of our father Adam.
Reverence ………something that cannot be developed, enforced or deliberatively expressed at a cognitive level. It can only be released by connecting with our inner goodness or “Fitra”. It can exude from us and free us into a stratum of pure happiness if we can scrape off the layers of cynicism, greed and arrogance and let go and let God float us on the rainbow of His Love and Mercy…………..