One of my greatest achievements this year – perhaps in my life – is powerfully creating and then honouring my commitment to say my dawn prayer (Fajr) on time. Of all my daily prayers, this is the one that eluded me, and in my eyes it made me a total hypocrite. I spoke passionately about my faith, my love of God, and was proud and grateful that I was observing my daily prayers, but my faith failed me – or rather, I failed my faith – when it came to saying my dawn prayer on time. It was a comfortable habit to say it late; I felt guilty to make myself feel better, but most of the time, I was OK enough with it to carry on doing it.
That changed this year, and for the last nine months I have almost unfailingly said my dawn prayer on time. There has been the odd lapse, but where saying my prayer on time was the exception, now it is saying it late.
If you’re wondering what changed, what minor miracle I pulled to make this happen, the answer is simple: I made a conscious decision to move from pretending to want to say it on time to really wanting to say it on time, and I took actions in line with that. The action required was simple: I moved my alarm clock to the other side of the room. It is probably the only sound on earth that can wake me up – it’s a disgustingly loud car horn – and I have to get out of bed to switch it off. That’s it.
Saying the dawn prayer on time means different things to different people, no doubt, but for me it is pure magic. It is empowering, transformative, restorative – and hard. That’s exactly why it yields so many benefits, because God knows the sacrifice you make to peel yourself out of your warm bed in the early hours when you can’t even see your own hand in front of your face, stumble to the bathroom to wash and prepare yourself for prayer, and then stand before God in worship. But once you’re there – that time! That time of the morning is like a precious secret that is actually there for anybody to partake of. Standing before God before the sun has risen, I am most connected to Him; I truly believe it is just me and Him, and I am almost always fully awake by the time I have washed and am ready for prayer. Saying the dawn prayer is joy, and my life is no longer the same without it.
But recently – in the last week or so – things have gone a little wobbly. I have missed my dawn prayer on average every other day, and at first I said to myself ‘not OK’, and resolved to not let it happen again. And I meant it: it’s no longer acceptable to say my first prayer of the day late, and it often sets the tone for the rest of the prayers in the day. But it has continued to happen, and I’m wondering why: is it because the clocks have gone back and thrown my timetable off (the prayers in the day are much closer together now because of the shorter days)? Is it because I am going to sleep so late and not getting enough rest – but this didn’t stop me before? I have been getting anxious that maybe I am going backwards, and I don’t know why. And I am genuinely scared of losing this gift that I have been given – after all these years of missing out on this bounty from God, I don’t want to let it go again.
It’s a strange thing, but another incident today made me think about who I am being in my day to day life right now. By God’s Grace, things are comfortable: I have never felt so connected to God as I do now; life anxieties seem to be under control; I am grateful that I have been steadily been becoming more and more rooted in my faith and really energised by it. But something is missing, and I have noticed it in my prayers: I’m not focused when I pray, I’m distracted by other thoughts, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m thinking ‘I’m still doing OK. God and I are just fine, I think I’m in His good books’.
And maybe that’s what’s missing. I have stopped yearning for God. Prayer is an approach to God, a pull towards Him which I enter into with curiosity to seek and find Him. When I am connected to my worship, I am lost in that pull, I give myself over to it; prayer is a journey which never ends, but that’s the joyous part, because I am not meant to ‘arrive’ at God and then sit back and relax; He is like the tallest, most magnificent mountain we are invited to climb but whose peak we’ll never reach. When I fall into the misconception that I have reached the summit, that’s when things stop: prayer becomes stagnant rather than a flowing, dynamic approach to God, an active yearning for Him. I think I have stopped being curious to seek Him because, in my humanity, I think in my comfort I have found Him. I am missing the powerful call to prayer, which has as its root the continual search for God.
I am writing this very late at night; in just over four hours, I am committed to waking up for my dawn prayer. The thought of reigniting my yearning for God beckons to me invitingly as I write this, but I am still scared sleep will try and win me over. I’ll post back with an update, but I am already heartened by the prospect of a prayer that is alive and vital. That is real engagement with God, and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
‘Establish regular prayers – at the sun’s decline till the darkness of the night – and the recital of the Quran, for the recital of the Quran at dawn is witnessed.’ (Quran 17:78)