Prayer is the Commitment to Remember

The great Spanish Muslim, Ibn Hazm, once wrote that the most consistent feature of human life is anxiety. Anxiety, he argued, traversed race, gender and social status, all religions, cultures and philosophical commitments.

In every society, those who are privileged are anxious about preserving, and perhaps augmenting what they have, be it wealth, health, good relationships or spiritual fulfillment. Those who are dispossessed, sickly, lonely or unfulfilled, on the other hand, are anxious about obtaining what they do not have.

All humans, however, instinctively recognize that something beyond their intelligence, good looks and social station will determine all of this. For all are aware that there are powerful people who have frail bodies or horrible relationships and that the unintelligent often acquire many times the riches of the intelligent.

Most of my private prayers and supplications (du'a) are part of my personal response to this cosmic anxiety, my way of tendering a cosmic "Thank You," on the one hand, and a cosmic "Please" on the other.

Beyond this, however, there is a canonical prayer (salah) that I offer at least seventeen times a day. This prayer reinforces the essence of my Islamic religiosity by reminding me that cosmic human anxiety is neither an accident nor an epiphenomenon, and that this basic feature of the human condition can never be overcome, but only prudently managed through a sincere relationship with God. This prayer also is the first chapter of the Qu'ran and it goes like this:

* Praise be to God, the Lord of being and becoming.
I recognize my contingency; every creature has a creator. And I recognize the grandeur of my Creator.
* The All-Merciful, the Mercy-Giving.
I have been given much that I have not earned. How do I repay this cosmic debt? There is still more that can be earned. What will I do to earn it?
*Master of the Day of Judgment.
It matters how I live my life and how I respond to my cosmic anxiety and my cosmic debt; for I shall have to account for it all. Have I repaid my cosmic debt?
* Only You do we worship and only Your ultimate aid do we seek.I seek Your favor, even in fulfilling my debt to You. For I know that by myself I am not always selfless, courageous, wise or even strong enough to do the right thing. I seek Your aid, however, not through my own designs but by trying to live up to Your expectations, by worshiping You.
* Show us the straight path.
Guide me to the right responses to my cosmic anxiety and my cosmic debt. And inspire me to live by these right responses.
*The path of those upon whom You have bestowed Your favor.
I recognize that it is a bounty to be guided. And I recognize that granting me this recognition is among Your greatest bounties.
* Not the path of those who incur Your wrath.
Those who seek to cover rather than confront their cosmic anxiety or their cosmic debt, who believe themselves to be self-sufficient, either out of ignorance or simply because they want to remain self-serving.
* Nor those who go astray.
Who recognize their cosmic anxiety and their cosmic debt but who delude themselves with the idea that they, rather than You, can define what will earn Your pleasure.

At least seventeen times a day, at intervals spreading from dawn to night, I offer this prayer, as mandated by my religion. In the midst of all the daily threats and boosts to my ego, perhaps the point of this repetition is to keep me from 'forgetting' my contingency and my cosmic debt.

Forgetfulness, however, will always be with me, lurking behind every little accomplishment and every failure. This is why I must ever seek refuge in the remembrance supplied by prayer.
And God knows best.

Sherman Jackson