We're nearly midway through Ramadan now and I've been overwhelmed by the positive responses to the Interfaith Ramadan project. I can't thank you enough for your encouragement, support, and for taking the time to read the articles, write comments and share your own experiences whether here or on social media. The latter has inspired me so much this Ramadan.
Just this morning, I found myself inspired by a comment that had been left by a new friend of mine Sister Judith (who previously wrote On Holy Ground: A Reflection for Lent). Her reflections on prayer in the monastic tradition and distraction were words of encouragement that came at just the right time for me, as someone who has hit the "Ramadan wall" - the middle period where you can often lose motivation and, in my case, give in to lethargy. And so I decided Sr. Judith's words of encouragement deserved a spot of their own and I'm sure you'll find them as inspiring and thought-provoking as I did.
You can find the wonderful Sister Judith on twitter at @.
I'd never thought particularly about prayer being an intimate activity until I entered the monastery and discovered that I felt a real tension about taking part in this intimate activity in a very public setting. I'm not sure that gender segregation makes any difference to that experience in my case. On a good day I can see this as a sign of how we need to come before God, vulnerable & naked...It's an act of trust & humility. On a bad day it feels like I have no skin!
Like you, we pray 5 times a day... it's the framework of our life... I can feel that as a real support, and miss it when I'm not here...And I struggle with it. It can feel like all my activities are constantly being interrupted by the call to prayer... and they are... and that is the point. Monastic prayer is designed to interrupt us, to be a reminder that none of our activities are as important as the call to praise God in community. Sometimes I can hear that graciously, and sometimes I can. The most helpful thing for me is that we do it together, my sisters waiting for me to join them in prayer is a real help, & knowing that often they carry me through these 5 times of prayer...the power of community I guess.
Monastic prayer is also very physical (I think this is even more true in Orthodox communities). It is marked by standing, sitting, bowing. Like you, I find that these gestures help to make prayer a holistic experience that uses body, mind & spirit, and that God wants us to bring our whole selves to prayer... not just the bits we think are acceptable. As a Christian I would also see this as a sign of the incarnation. It can also be an act of humility, when, for example, we're not able to make the physical gestures for some reason.
I also recognise your experience of distraction in prayer...I'm constantly amazed at my capacity to be distracted in prayer... The most helpful & consoling thought I have about this comes from a priest I know. He said something like if you prayer for 30 mins & are distracted 100 times, & each time you turn back to God & ask forgiveness for it...it means that you've turned to God 100 times in 30 mins! I find that a really helpful thought.
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Check out my guest post for Multicultural Kids Blog which was published today:
Ramadan Crafts & Activities for Kids: Itikaf Tents & Papier Mache Mosques
and previous post: What is it like to be a Muslim in Britain Today | The Guardian
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