Saturday, 9 July 2011

Finding spirit in a school field

Just steps away from the front door of our house in Richmond, British Columbia there is a giant grass field surrounded by trees that have grown tall and dense over the decades. The field is situated between an elementary and high school and is used extensively by students playing soccer or the American variety of football.

When it is not raining outside, residents of the neighbourhood walk their dogs along the pathway encircling the field, which on one side extends toward the Fraser River.

The other day I decided to go for a brisk walk around the field to get a bit of exercise. It had been raining all morning, but by late afternoon the rain had stopped and while clusters of clouds continued to dominate the sky, patches of blue sky and sunshine began to appear. The air was as crisp and cool as I imagine it should be on a perfect spring day, although it is July. A rainy day is never far away in Vancouver. Only a day earlier the sun was beaming hot and not a cloud could be seen in the sky.

It was perfect weather to be outdoors, especially so for me. I spend most of the year in a desert climate in the United Arab Emirates, so it is always a treat to soak in the fresh breeze, rich colours and lushness of nature when I am visiting my hometown.

As I began my quiet walk along the paved pathway, I quickly increased momentum, tightening my leg muscles and swinging my arms back and forth in sequence. I paced my breath, inhaling and exhaling evenly as my attention focused on the leaves of the trees swaying slightly in the breeze. 

While my body moved rhythmically, I expected my mind to wander in a dozen different directions, as often happens when I go for a walk alone. Thoughts of work, responsibilities, family issues, relationships and other troubles flood my mind in no particular order and often simultaneously. Generally when I exercise I enjoy listening to music in order to stay focused, but on this occasion I did not have my Ipod with me.

But for some reason my mind did not wander. Instead, as I watched the clouds peaking through the leaves and absorbed the colours and sounds of nature around me, I found myself starting to pray.

I hadn’t planned on praying, it just happened suddenly and naturally. Under my breath, I began reciting some verses of the Holy Quran that I have memorised, some shorter, some longer. Reading from the Quran in Arabic is melodic; each verse has a perfect, poetic rhythm to it that is sometimes lost in translation. As I circled around the field, my body and thoughts moved to steady beat, leaving me feeling light and at ease.

In the Quran, God makes numerous references to how nature is in perfect balance and all the world’s vegetation and animal life – apart from humans – are constantly obedient to Him. Nature operates exactly as the Almighty ordains, the birds glide through the sky and make their homes in trees, which sway in the wind in perfect rhythm. The clouds move apart and together, the rain falls and stops, the sun rises and sets according to a divine order.

Humans, on the other hand, often lose their connection with Allah, the Arabic word for God, and fail to grasp His presence in every corner of every neighbourhood in the world. One who is spiritually Muslim, who has surrendered her/his self to God, experiences glimpses of the Divine in everything.

"Do you not realise that everything in the heavens and earth prostrates to Allah (God): the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, and the animals? So do many human beings.”
(Quran, The Pilgrimage, 22:18)

I suppose in some small way as I walked, prayed and paid attention to the trees, grass, sky, clouds, birds, bunny rabbits, raccoons, bugs and occasional dragon fly and butterfly, my motions became part of the rhythm of nature that would have been drowned out if I had a song blasting in my ear. I felt peace of mind and had a dumb smile on my face that must have puzzled the occasional person jogging past me or walking a dog.

About 30 minutes into my walk, I recalled the last time I had felt that same sense of focus of mind and unexpected closeness with God. It was two months ago, when I was on the other side of the world – literally – visiting the Enlightened City, Madinah, in Saudi Arabia. Madinah is the site of the mosque and burial spot of the Last Prophet, Muhammad .

I had written then about my visit to Madinah. Praying in the Prophet’s Mosque is akin to meditating for me because I was able to clear my thoughts of everything and concentrate my energies on worshipping God. One feels the love of God all around in Madinah, where millions of Muslims visit each year to pray in this blessed city.

On the surface, Madinah and the school field outside my house in Richmond have nothing in common. Madinah is in the middle of the desert; everywhere you turn is a shade of beige or brown. But Madinah literally means the Radiant or Enlightened City in Arabic because of its crucial role in the enabling God to share His guidelines to human beings through Prophet Muhammad , the last in a long line of prophets. The Divine presence in Madinah is, not surprisingly, intense.

Where I am walking now is about as far as you can get in distance and time zones from Madinah. There patches of lush green grass and areas where the sun has caused it to yellow or brown. The grass is full of dandelions, weeds and clovers, most with three leaves. On the trees, the leaves vary from dark green to light green to reddish-purple. The sky is a deep light blue and the clouds are as white as milk. There are no holy sites nearby me here in the Lower Mainland, no calls to prayer can be heard nor mosques found within walking distance.

But walking in the field near my house, close to the school where I once studied, I also felt His immense power and proximity in the exquisite nature around me.

That for me is the beauty of submission to God (Islam). We have the intellectual capacity as humans to feel and react to God’s presence and see and interpret His miracles anywhere. If we are willing to pay attention to the language of our surroundings we can become more receptive to His quiet answers wherever we are.

Is He not best who made the earth a stable ground and placed within it rivers and made for it firmly set mountains and placed between the two seas (sweet and salty) a barrier? Can there be another god besides God?
No, but most of them do not know.
(Quran, The Ant, 27:61)

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I am also someone who doesn't want the music blasting in my ears when outside. I am happy with my own thoughts and pleased to hear the outdoor sounds provided. They are music enough.