Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Prayer refresher

Tonight we had a family night lesson about prayer. We do refresher courses every so often for the benefit of...all of us. How do you get ready for prayer? How do you say a prayer? Why do we pray? 

Sometimes we forget these things. 

We talked about The Lord's Prayer (which we'd just covered in family scripture study) and Andrew talked about what it means to avoid "vain repetitions," (which our generation was sometimes taught meant saying scripted prayers, such as The Lord's Prayer, which is a little silly given the fact that that prayer was given as a template in the first place, and given the scripted prayers we use weekly in sacrament meeting and in the temple and so forth). We read the story of the rameumptum and discussed the proper motivations for prayer. It is the thought behind the prayer that determines whether it's a vain repetition or not. 

So we talked about motivations for prayer: to express gratitude, to seek communion, to seek guidance, for comfort, to express and feel love, to reflect, and, yes, to meditate. 

(Andrew hesitated on that last reason, but I think it has merit).

We discussed rosary beads and the prayers associated with the proper use of such a tool of meditation (the kids were curious about how long a Hail Mary was because you have to say so many of those). And we discussed Misbaha and how reciting the 99 names of Allah can be another form of prayer and meditation. 

It's not praying how we're used to praying, but it is a way to center oneself, and turn one's thoughts to the divine. And we can do the same thing!

I talked about how the call to prayer was sometimes disturbing to me when we first moved to the Middle East. Not disturbing like, "Ew, I'm disgusted." Disturbing like, "Okay, wow. Friends: it's 4:30 in the morning. I'd really like to be sleeping...can we not with the loudspeakers?"

We played the adhan for the kids. They were transfixed. It was the quietest three minutes in our house in...ages.

I talked about...well, first I talked about how when Rachel was itty-bitty (not much older than Phoebe is now) we would ask her, "What does a cat say?" and she would say, "Meow."

"What does a duck say?"


"What does a muezzin say?"

"Aaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaa-aaaaah!" she'd sing.

And then I told the kids how I decided that since I was up listening to the call to prayer at 4:30 am, anyway, I could use that time to meditate and turn my thoughts to God. And it became really a special practice for me, to pause five times a day when I'd hear the call to prayer, to remember that God is great, and to think that out in the streets and in thousands of mosques and in so many the millions of apartments surrounding my own little flat in the bustling city of Cairo, people were praying right along with me at that very moment. 

"What were you thinking about while you were listening to the adhan?" I asked the kids. "You were all so quiet, so still. What were you thinking about?"

The kids shared their quiet and still thoughts. 

"That's exactly what you should be doing when prayers are said." 

Being still and quiet and reflective. 

We talked about how some prayers can be more detailed and elaborate (personal prayers, family prayers), while others tend to be more formulaic (the blessing on the food, the invocation at the beginning of a meeting). When we offer a more formulaic prayer, we can say the same simple words without having it be a vain repetition. When we say the blessing on the food we can think about everything in the background that went on to get the food to our table—the berry pickers in Ensenada, the wheat farmers in Alberta, the semi-truck drivers, that we can afford to buy food, that we have a beautiful kitchen to make such wonderful food, that the rain and sun and nutrients from the earth allow such nourishing food to grow, for (Benjamin offered this one) the animals who gave their life so we can eat them—but you don't necessarily have to say all of that because...hungry people are bound to revolt!

I guess the gist of the lesson was that it's more about the thought behind the prayer than it is about the prayer itself. (Though please also be reverent because...sometimes we struggle with that). 

And then, of course, when we got ready for family prayer we had to take books and toys away from the kids and remind them to kneel down properly...

I wondered briefly how my parents managed to be so strict about prayer...posture...because I remember them being rather strict about it (Andrew's household was super lax about "prayer posture" compared to mine growing up—like, it was weird for me when his family would have family prayer with everyone just...seated around the table...or sitting on couches because we were a real let-us-gather-in-a-circle-and-kneel-in-family-prayer kind of family). And I feel like I've tried really hard to teach my kids how to get ready for prayers (though we're a little more relaxed about kneeling sometimes).

Phoebe has finally learned how to fold her arms for prayer...and while she'll "get ready" for prayers, she also has linked prayers with food in her mind, so when she wants us to give her food, sometimes she'll come up to us and fold her arms—because after we prayer we eat the big meals!

So folding arms means "give me food," signing "more" means "give me food," signing "milk" means "give me food," signing "water" means "give me food," and very often yelling, "WANT!" or "THIS! THIS!" also means "give me food." 

When we're really dense, lugging out a Costco-sized bin of animal crackers that's half her size and carrying it around the house also means "give me food."

The girl likes her food. 


While I remember prayer "posture" being a rather strict thing at my house, I also remember getting away with a lot of goofing off during prayers as a kid as I guess it all evens out.

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