I’ve only known a few Muslims, or rather only a few people that I knew to be Muslim, and none of them really well. But one stands out in my memory from about 40 years ago. He was a waiter at a country inn, which is long gone now, in McLean. My wife, Jonnie Sue, worked with him there for a short time as the hostess. Two of our children worked there too as wait staff when they were in high school. Gunesh was a truly gentle soul, a skilled professional in an upscale establishment, calm and cooperative, and a patient mentor to my son and daughter. But what impressed me most was his practice of his religion.
At the appointed times he would go to the parking lot and get in his car and say the prescribed prayers. He did this faithfully and unobtrusively, fitting it in with the performance of his duties.
I was impressed. How many Christians did I know, I wondered, who were so faithful in prayer. From our Jewish heritage we are told to pray morning, noon, and night. Our Book of Common Prayer prescribes daily morning and evening prayer, and since 1979, noon and nighttime too. How many did I know then – or know now – who stop what they are doing and observe these prayer times. How many employers, even Christian employers, would accommodate such? Sadly I think that the real religion of America is business. And that while we are not seeking salvation through work, that is, good works, in the sense that St. Paul used that phrase, we do seek salvation through work.
Perhaps as this Lenten season is drawing to a close and we are about to enter another Holy Week we, myself included, can reflect on how we might elevate the status of regular prayer times into our work life.
Gunesh lives in my memory, but I can’t say that I have ever tried to follow his example. Even now, as en employee of a church, for heaven’s sake, I would be reluctant to do what would be the norm of behavior in a convent or monastery, and drop whatever I am doing or interrupt whatever meeting I am in and head over to the church or other quiet place for prayers at the appointed time, or at least to schedule meetings with contractors and others with that in mind. And, sad to say, I suspect the world would be puzzled at that behavior, when instead, if they knew what we are supposed to be about, they should wonder at our laxity. Perhaps we could even become an example to others as Gunesh is for me.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 15-March 2016.