Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
Somewhere in her late 90’s my grandmother began losing her memory. While sad to see her struggle with names of her children and grandchildren it was fascinating that she could rattle off all 14 siblings in order of birth. Sometimes after stirring her coffee she would stare at the spoon in her hands as though pondering its purpose but if you replaced the spoon with a rosary, she would automatically begin her prayers. All of the things in her life she worked for – her home, her family, her friends – they were still there yet had slipped from the forefront of her focus. The only thing that remained, that stayed cemented in the muscle memory of her heart and brain was her prayers and her relationship to God. Desiring this same dedication whatever the future holds I have searched for prayers and scriptures to imprint in my heart, practicing them in the same way I drilled basic moves when I was a dancer, knowing they can always be further perfected in preparation for a future in which they are the only thing my muscles recognize
Comedian and host of the podcast “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim” Zahra Noorbakhsh was raised practicing the Fatihah, the prayer Muslims say five times a day. Growing up her parents demanded daily recitation with close attention paid to pronunciation, emphasis as well as execution of the coordinating poses and postures. Her mother warned her that if she ever forgot the words she would truly know what it meant to be a lost soul. Like so many people from all different faiths, as Zahra grew older practice of this prayer became tedious, burdensome and then finally abandoned. A few months ago when travel restrictions were placed upon residents of certain Muslim countries, Zahra was filled with rage as well as deep anxiety for the future. Without thinking she reached for the Fatihah. “When I needed it most, I reached for the words of the faith that I was raised with: that the universe is unified by a force of compassion. And I looked everywhere in the attic of my mind to find those words…I closed my eyes, desperate to remember those words of comfort, and they weren’t there.” Zahra later returned to her father and asked him to teach her to pray, again.
As stagnant as prayer can sometimes feel, it isn’t something to be pickled, jarred and dusted off when needed. Instead prayer is a living muscle that only grows with regular, sometimes mundane exercise. Fortunately for us, God is a patient parent always willing to begin again teaching us the words that remind us no matter how much we lose or forget, we should always know how deeply we are loved.