The blue silk was soft against my face and cascaded down to my fingertips. Little circular mirrors woven into the fabric reflected the sun and dazzled colored prisms on my white walls. My favourite prayer shawl felt familiar and embraced me like an old friend. I took a deep breath, raised my hands to my ears and prepared to pray.
Then it happened.
That minute betrayal threatening to nullify the prayers of Muslims worldwide. That innocent, but offensive state of affairs. The embarrassment of self conscious individuals, the horrific shame of some, and the sadistic, reveling delight to those under five years of age.
I had a fairly quick birth experience. Eryn came fast and furious after a 10 minute delivery. Now, before you say, “wow that’s awesome,” you have to understand that fast is not always better. Without ample time for the body to stretch, there may be an increased chance of tearing — depending on your position, size and position of baby, pushing method (ie: don’t go full force. Push by saying “house” — ease into the push) and your skin’s natural elasticity.
I was in the stirrup position, Eryn was almost 8lbs, pushed full force out of terror and encouragement from the nursing staff, and just wasn’t stretchy enough for a bruise-fee delivery.
My recovery was very long, and while the delivering OB was good, while fixing me up he missed a natural tear and this caused me to be without bowl function for over 2 months. A simple stitch would have sufficed — but it was left to heal on it’s own, and wasn’t even discovered until much later with ultrasound. Regardless, my first couple of months with Eryn had both of us pretty much in diapers.
I’m better now, alhamdullilah (thank God), but once in a while I’ll have difficulties controlling gas.
So why is this a problem? Because in order to perform the ritual act of prayer, Muslims have to be in a state of ritual “purity.” And we pray 5 times a day.
A simple washing of the hands, face, nose, arms, head, ears, neck and feet, along with a few lines of supplication is all that is needed to accomplish this (sometimes a full on shower is needed, such as after a/sexual relations or upon completion of post-partum bleeding). Ritual purity is lost when someone: farts, urinates/defecates, sleeps, loses unconsciousness, or is bleeding (either a gaping wound in need of medical attention or during mensus).
Now, it’s OK for someone who has a problem with gas, for example, to pray even if they’ve lost ritual purity. All you have to do is make the intention to pray and make wudu (the ritual act of purification) and go straight to prayer. If you happen to lose your wudu along the way, hey… no problem! Religion is supposed to be easy.
But let me tell you something: it still sucks. In “ritual” people find comfort and connection to the Divine. There is something necessary about brushing your hands over fire, taking the Host, washing your hands before prayer. It’s cleansing and full of lovely trappings that tie one to their belief system. For me, whenever I lost my wudu on my way to prayer, or even during the prayer, it felt like a farce. I knew I had lost it, and even though there is respite for those with problems, it wasn’t the same.
I once had a conversation with a self-proclaimed ‘Catholic in rehab’ while we sat next to each other on a train from Kingston. She was going through a divorce and was recently happy to find a Catholic priest (renegade as she called him) who would take her confession. She had been going anonymously from church to church — Catholic or Anglican — skipping confession and taking the sacrament. Her previous experience with her childhood priest left her scarred. He told her that if she was to go through with the divorce, she could never take the sacrament and would be seen as living in sin if she remarried. And despite his warning that she would get a ticket straight to hell if she took the sacrament while being “in a state of sin” — she did it anyway. It was important to her and helped her feel close to her Lord and find comfort during this terribly emotional time. But even though she did it, without confession, she admitted that it felt half-assed.
That’s how I’ve felt for months when approaching prayer and when I’ve lost my wudu. It’s a half-assed prayer. It doesn’t really count. I’m just going through the motions. What should I make for dinner? Where did Eryn crawl off to? Damn. I should be thinking about the prayer. Blah. And after months of feeling like this, it’s difficult to get back into a state of serene and sincere prayer, even if the ritual purity is complete.
So now that Ramadan is starting this week, and I’m 98% recovered from the birth, I’ve made it my personal struggle to get back into the right mind frame.
In the past I’ve received a lot of comfort and stillness of mind and heart through the ritual prayer. I miss that.
Image credit: Hijabman