A lost prayer

Last evening, I had a sudden desire to go visit some place of worship. I wanted to go somewhere I could pray. I pray every day, but not in front of an idol. I utter a quick prayer as I walk down the staircase, on my way out every morning. I look left, lower my head and offer my thanks in a few simple words. They usually are: “hey, its me again, thanks for another day.”

My definition of religion is skewed. I was born in a family where both idol worship and Arya Samaj practices were practiced in parallel, and I was never asked to pick one over the other. So I have always had this cloud in my head that holds together thoughts on what I believe is called God. And that’s what it really should be. A cloud of belief in some  higher being. Because as we start to give this cloud some shape and form, we make rituals and that is where my issues with the concept of religion start.

So I have a cloud of belief that looms over my head, influences my decisions, and leads me to actions that I think are correct for me and the people around me. I don’t practice a religion or follow a ritual. I do what I feel like. If it means lighting a diya, so be it. If it means hosting a Diwali party, so be it. If it means visiting a temple or a church on a random day, so be it.

Back to last evening. So I asked Agam if he wanted to come along with me to the nearby Gurudwara. I am not Sikh. Neither is he. But I like the environment there. And I tempted him with the views that the Gurudwara offers. It overlooks the entire valley; on a clear day you can see as far as San Francisco. It is a beautiful place to spend some quiet time sitting on the grass, looking out over the valley, as you hear faint words of the gurbani from the nearby prayer hall. There are always plenty of kids playing around and women with really pretty salwar kameezes. If you come at the right time there is oftenlangar and chai. Overall it is a great package that even an atheist would find difficult to resist.

As we entered the prayer hall, I was surprised to see how empty it was. It was around 5:30pm. Apparently, no one comes to pray at that time. I walked towards the central area where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept, and the eeriness of the hall was obvious to me. I wondered why people don’t come to pray in the evening. I also wondered if there was going be to any langar at that hour of the day. Finally, after some twenty slow and contemplative steps, I reached the area where the holy text was kept. It was covered with ornate cloth and there were several swords of all kinds kept around it. Some bone in me twitched. I ignored it. And then I stopped thinking.

I bowed down and kneeled and wanted to pray, but I could not come up with any words. This is usual for me. I cannot ask Him. I can only tell. So I tried to talk about all that was happening around us. The sickness, the love, the happiness, the social state of affairs, the elections, the olympics. And then I stopped. I stopped telling. I wondered if He cared. And then I stopped trying. I just knelt and let it be. I liked it. It felt nice and light. And then I got up and looked around. It felt like an eternity had passed. I traced my steps back to the sitting area and sat there wondering what had happened. I asked myself, “had I prayed when I was there?”. No, I hadn’t.

It only got worse after this. I closed my eyes and listened to the gurbani. I wondered how many times the granthi had recited the same verse. I wondered if he thought that was what it meant to pray. I noticed all the people around me. There were few, and mostly tucked in a corner. I wondered why they were not sitting where I was. I assumed they had bad backs and wanted to rest against the pillar or the wall.

I soon realized that I was distracted. I brought my attention back to the granthi’s voice. I could  not make out what he was saying. It was punjabi alright, but the dialect was not known to me. I wondered if anyone in the hall understood it. I wondered if they cared. I wondered if they were also praying.

It was too much for a small mind to absorb so I decided to escape. I got up and decided to walk out of the prayer hall. There was one problem, Agam was still there inside and he was somewhat engrossed. I wondered if he was also praying. I walked all the way to the door, hoping he would sense my movement and walk out as well. But he didn’t. So I reached the door and then looked around. I felt incomplete. Suddenly I realized why I had come here today. I had come to pray and I had not prayed as yet. So I decided to give it another chance and I sat where I was.

I closed my eyes and thought of all the people in my life and thanked someone for all the balance there is my life and my relationships. I made a mental note of all whose lives I touch. This list included a stakeholder I am working with at work, who lives in Japan. It included a whole bunch of old familiar faces and some new ones. There were also some surprises. I finally told (since I cannot ask) Him/someone to enable me to continue touching the lives of these people, in a positive way. The moment of recollection ended and I opened my eyes. It again felt like an eternity had passed. But I had still not prayed. I had merely thanked and remembered all the people in my life for all the joys and sorrows that they bring.

I became restless.

Just then from the corner of my eyes I saw a wheel chair right next to me. Sitting in the wheelchair was a  little kid, 5-6 yrs old, with his mother and grandmother and some siblings. His mother lifted him from the chair and held him by his arms and forcibly walked him to the guru granth sahib. My feet went numb. It was so simple for me to walk those twenty steps. And here I was watching a mother struggle on each step.. She was carrying a child who had no power in his limbs. He was crippled. His limbs dangled by his side, as his mother dragged him through the prayer hall. She stopped in between and I wished I could go and help her. But I did not. She took a deep breath, looked at her lovely child and carried on. She knelt in front of the text and put the kid’s limbs together to make them kneel as well. And I watched them with moist eyes.

I wondered what the mother prayed. Where was the balance in her life? Had she come here to ask, or to tell? Is she asking for miracles, or for death? Is she thanking Him for his life, or blaming Him for His brutality. I wondered what the kid thought. He was not even aware of where he was. He does not even know whom to blame and why. The mother sat there, and she looked tired. And then the grandmother brought the child back to where I was sitting. He was a lovely child. I looked at him and tears trickled down my cheeks. I did not know why I was crying. I did nothing to stop the tears either. He was intrigued by my tears and struggled to come close to me. But his grandma strapped him on his chair and he continued to look at me and our moist eyes talked. He asked, “why are you crying?”.

I looked away since I felt like I was causing some discomfort to him and his grandmother. But as I closed my eyes and wiped my tears, I finally found my prayer. The one that I was seeking all this while.

I am blessed to be in the shape and form I am today.. As we both know I could have very well been in that wheelchair. So now that you have given me the ability to walk up to You on my own legs. Now give me a reason to serve and use these limbs to do something more …  more than what I am doing today. I have the time, the energy, the limbs, and the intent, so give me something more to do..

I found my lost prayer. I will let you know when it is answered.

6 thoughts on “A lost prayer

  1. It is an amazing gift to have your health that we take for granted. BTW what Gurudwara is this? I have been meaning to check out the one in Fremont but not sure of its exact location.

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  2. Lovely, I am sure the mother thanked for the child's life.
    look at the way we run with our lives everyday, these few moments at such serene places make the time stop there itself and that is when one realizes that the world is always running.

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  3. Yeah, I started reading the Gita yesterday and the first thing it says is that every “thing” around us is dying but our soul doesn't. Yet we keep running after the “things” that have shape and form, instead of feeding the soul.. so simple and yet so true.

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