Finishing the last lengths of my swim to complete a half mile, I did a few stretches while still in the water. I looked on the deck in front of me and saw a Muslim woman speaking out loud while reading from an iPad. I recognized Norah, having spoken to her before at the local YMCA. I jumped out of the water, grabbed my towel and gym bag and walked over to the bench where she sat.
A burqa outlined her face and hands. "Are you praying?" I asked. She looked up recognizing me and extended her hand, smiling.
"I've seen you before reading the Koran out loud. I admire the way you are public with your faith. I'm a Christian, but I don't carry my Bible wherever I go."
"I am reading the Koran," she replied. "We pray five times a day wherever we are. In such a busy life, we look to our great creator to remember our faith."
I said good-bye and walked to the locker room to shower. I never see anyone reading the Bible while their child or children have swim lessons or play in the water. Norah's bold demonstration of faith was inspiring, I thought.
Praying the Hours
Reflecting on my encounter with Norah later in the day, I focused on her description of the importance of pausing and praying five set times during each day. This practice reminded me of the monastic ritual of praying the hours, something I did for many years, especially during the time I worked at St. Vincent Hospital.
One day a week (I rotated the days: Monday, one week, Tuesday, the next etc.) from the time I awakened until I went to bed, I paused at the beginning of each hour to pray. At first,early in the day, I looked at the clock often during the hour. However, as the day progressed, I found that 'my soul reminded me of the hour' before I realized the time. My 'day of the hours' as I called it, became a mini-retreat for the week. Each day frequently ended with a new insight about my walk with God and always with a deeper awareness of God's presence.
Remembering God at the beginning of every hour was a way to stay centered on God as well as acknowledge that God was with me.
Here's an experiment. Choose a day to practice 'a day of the hours.' Select five times throughout your day to pause and pray. You may want to use these focused moments with God to pray for a decision you are facing or for an individual about whom you care. Or you can use this time to direct your thoughts to God's presence surrounding you. Reminder alarms on watches and cell phones can assist if you desire. As you feel more comfortable, add more hours and then a whole day.
Consider these questions.
1. How does God come to you?
2. Do you sense God's presence more deeply?
3. What can you learn from the practice of praying the hours?
Prayer: God, you are the creator of all persons. We can share similar practices of other faith traditions. Perhaps the terminology or sequence is different, but honoring common features can help build bridges and unify all. Amen.