I’ve had quite a disorienting couple of days.
Yesterday morning, I landed back in London with my wife and four young children after a 10-day trip to South Africa. We had a truly enjoyable, enriching and memorable experience, God be praised.
But it already seems so long ago with the 12-hour flight back, the broken sleep, the long queues to get out of Heathrow Airport and the row with the cab company who sent far too small a vehicle to get us all home. Add to that the endless nappy changes and screams from teething pains, and it was enough to send my head spinning.
Then there was the news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with indications from some commentators that this could be the start of World War III. Some of us might be relieved that for once it isn’t the homes and lives of fellow believers that are being targeted. But the developments are sad and deeply disturbing, a stark reminder of the human capacity to engage in misguided acts of destruction and to allow our egos to run wild.
Then this morning, just as I started writing this edition of INsights whilst trying to shake off the jetlag and clear my head of the headlines, I received a call from my father. The first words I heard were him saying to someone else, “I can’t believe I’m not dead.”
Then he greeted me and gave the phone to a passer-by who explained that my dad had somehow lost control and driven full speed through a lamppost and into a wall. The lamppost came tumbling down. The car was completely wrecked. But, thankfully and miraculously, my father – now 83 years old – was completely unhurt and, initially at least, seemingly unfazed. God is great!
I left my desk, rushed to the scene, spoke with the police, transferred items out of my father’s car into mine, escorted him home (with some tea and carrot cake on the way), reported it to the insurance company and arranged for the car to be recovered this evening.
“What if dad had died?”
This was the question running through my tired mind on the way to the mosque for Friday prayer. I thought about the last few interactions I’d had with him, whether I’d been a good enough son to him and how I could and should do better going forward.
I was also feeling the pressure of getting this newsletter out on time, not knowing exactly what I should say, wondering if I could put anything meaningful together at all.
All this was interspersed with random thoughts about the invasion and potential World War, packed suitcases still waiting to be dealt with at home, and a long to-do list to get through over the next few days. It was just getting way too noisy between my ears!
Then I prayed...
I entered the mosque, found a place, took a few moments to gather my thoughts and offered two units of Salat. Honestly it was one of the most calming two units I can remember for a while. Then came the sermon and the two congregational units of the Friday prayer and I felt restored, realigned and refreshed.
Prayer represents an ascent. Our bodies remain on earth, and in fact move towards the ground in each cycle. But our hearts soar towards God, the Majestic, the Most High.
When we allow ourselves to enter into deep remembrance of God, our perspective naturally becomes elevated. We’re able to rise above whatever is happening, see more clearly and realise what really matters. We feel supported and guided. Our hearts find rest. The noise dissipates.
Prayer is a gift from God.
We’re coming up to what is understood to be the anniversary of the Night Journey (Isra) and Ascension (Mi’raj) of the final messenger Muhammad, may God grant him blessings and peace. In the hadith literature, it is famously reported that the gift of the five obligatory prayers was given to us all during the Ascension, when the messenger was in complete proximity to his Lord.
For me, this time of year is always a reminder that if our prayer doesn’t represent a mini-ascension of our own, in many ways its purpose has been lost.
Prayer truly is a gift. It's one of the highest priorities in life for each of us to become someone who deeply appreciates the recurring invitation to connect with God.
As I enjoyed standing, bowing and prostrating to my Lord today, the following thought kept occurring to me: I mustn't get caught up in what happens all around me that's outside of my control; but whatever is going on in the world, what matters most is what I intend and what I do.
Maybe it was God’s response to my request for guidance. And it reminded me of parts of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer, with which I’ll close as I need to go and meet the team to get my dad’s vehicle recovered:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
If you’ve been following INsights regularly, you’ll notice that I didn’t adhere to the usual three-part prayer-revelation-leadership sequence this time. The events of the last day or two are my reason, or perhaps just my excuse. In any case, I intend to return to the normal format next time, God willing.
Also, I’m hiring for a short-term, part-time Support Specialist position. The deadline for applications is this Sunday so, if you’re interested, please check out the full details here.
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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.
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