The Remnants of grace: glimpse into a praying culture

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 This an ancient practice that continues to live on in my land­­, The Gambia. It usually goes like this when two elders meet in the streets in the morning while busy with the rosary beads. They first check on each other for some long minutes and then go on to pray for each other. Wishing each other well, and the best portion of the day for each other. 

This practice always had a deep and profound effect on me as a youngster growing up in a world that prides itself on its advancement of the material aspect of this Homo sapiens. A world of fast foods, fast networks, fast growth etc. It had and still continues to affect me because these are people who the young ones consider illiterate, ignorant and unsophisticated. I step back for a moment in reflection like I did this morning, when I saw these two present souls praying for each other deeply. I was touched and moved to tears. These people understood the centrality of the Divine in the lives of men.  

For me it’s deeper than just the prayers, because when you probe deeper into this action you find a community that continues to hold on to each other, who continue to love each other. It’s only intuitive to realise that only people, who hold no grudges for each other, can pray and wish each other well. And even when they hold grudges, the acts of prayer heal that fracture. For healing happens when people come together, and see each other’s commonness; their interdependence as a people or creatures. And all of these, prayers do in a very short duration. Prayer portrays the human’s need and want; his weakness in the face of the overwhelming. 

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More than ever before, people are realising the need to return to a prayerful life. Henri Nouwen, a great contemporary Christian theologian rightfully considers it “the only necessary thing”. Isn’t it amazing then that this tradition is embedded in the hearts and minds of our older generation? It’s something they don’t see as a means of gaining some mundane benefits. Instead they prefer nothing out of it except that God will look at them with mercy and grace. I was chatting with this old woman the other day, and I went ahead to ask her what she thought of the current natural disasters in other lands, and she burst forth with such life and energy: “Alieu, those people’s elders have ceased to pray for nature and have turned to pray for only their material well-being. How can you pray for yourself and not pray for your neighbours, the environment and other harmless creatures? Are we not all earth’s children? We all are alive, the earth and all there is that comes from her.  Alieu, never be under the illusion, that this earth and this vast panorama of nature is dead. It’s all alive, that’s why we pray for it. That’s why we don’t throw hot boiling water on it…” And she went on talking about the importance of prayer for the earth, ourselves and for all.

That talk with this old wise one left an indelible stamp on my heart, mind and soul. Its goes on to show  that while the other advocates of the environment see it as a responsibility to preserve it simply because we humans derive benefits from it, my people see it as a responsibility because we, the earth and all of nature together, deserve a life that’s God-sent. That we are not doing the environment or the earth a favour. So this praying culture within a culture is profound as it also involves a sacred activism, a call to pray for in a nutshell, a dying part of ourselves. For in the destruction of nature is the apocalypse of the human race without the shadow of a doubt.

And so many want to argue this practice came upon our people by virtue of them converting to Islam centuries back. However I’d like to disagree because even those ones I know who are drawn towards the worship of idols and spirits, indulge in this noble act. One of those days when my heart was enraptured by the beauty of nature, I made a visit to the countryside and on my way to see someone I passed a shrine. By design it was in the morning, and I found this shrine owner and one old man standing and praying for each other deeply. Lord knows what god they must have been invoking but I am sure they were carrying on an ancient tradition that was passed on to them through the centuries.

The truth remains that if we as a people want to evolve into full human beings, to embody the Adamaic qualities, we must revisit our roots. It’s imperative to our continuity as a nation. We are faced with a cultural onslaught in a time I’ll rightfully call “the robotic age” and more than that we are faced with a subtle type of invasion. We find a certain puritanical movement within our lands, they invade our spirituality and condemn a large part of it unequivocally as heretical innovations or worse, associating partners with the Godhead. I’m not advocating a theological warfare, or a religious fatalism, which have only made our people oppressed and miserable throughout the centuries. Far from that , I’m calling for a restoration of the spiritual within the mundane. A move to try preserving the good customs of our peoples that have survived the trials and tests of time and space.  It’s about showing those fatalistic invaders, that we celebrate a praying culture, a culture of spirit and soul. 

Let’s then renew our commitments to not only preserve this one endangered aspect of our culture but all others that are on the brink of extinction and are known to be positive and great for our advancement. For when all is done and said, we are only preserving something that’s us and ours. We are a people from somewhere and some place. A place that placed the sacred within the mundane. A land that desisted the polarity of spirit and material. May our days and our environs be blessed.

Author: Alieu Bah (immortal x)

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