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He was a simple man: He loved his family, was fiercely loyal to his clan, and prospered in trading. Like new city dwellers living in seventh-century Mecca, he, too, sensed the restlessness, the discontent, brought about by too much change, too fast. With dull hearts, everyone amassed fortunes, grew fat. The centuries-old Bedouin ethos of providing for the marginalized, the destitute no longer seized imaginations.

Known as al-Amin, the Reliable One, he was also given to solitary prayer and retreats. Like those around him, he listened to stories shared by Jews and Christians with whom he traded: how their eyes glowed describing the revelations of Moses, of Jesus. And how he yearned for such a prophet from among his own people to confront their malaise and rejuvenate their spirits. But the shock of becoming such a spokesperson for Allah, the Arabic word for God, almost killed him.

We are talking about the prophet Muhammed (c.570-632 CE.), found within the pages of Karen Armstrong’s biography, Muhammad – A Prophet For Our Time (2006).

Her meticulous research, drawn from the four extant biographies composed after the prophet’s death, reveals a man of hilm: patience, forbearance, compassion and mercy; not a man of the sword. For twenty-three years, under duress, the angel Gabriel/ Spirit seized his spiritual faculties and provoked him to recite revelations streaming from the heart of Allah. Inherent within these recitations, later compiled into the Koran, was a rigorous discipline few had the inclination to practice: it was too costly.

As Karen Armstrong points out, Muhammad’s modernity lies precisely in this discipline. Therein, still lies the way to Life’s fruitfulness.

 

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“Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:24; 36)—Thus proclaims the theme for the First Sunday in Advent; its dire words startle, if anyone is listening

Like first-century Palestine, the setting for this mandate, our times are rife with turmoil, with reversals in values, with rampant greed, with untoward events that decry expression. Covert and overt oppression hold people hostage. Homelessness, actual or psychological, sours hearts. Indeed, whole cityscapes appear inert, frozen in toxic fears. And Black Friday’s madness launched the shopping craze until the eve of Christmas. This scenario, ramped up by devotees of Evil, continues emasculating spirit, year after year.

Yet there is another voice that rings through the centuries: ”Watch yourselves …” To heed its imperative toward conversion of life requires humility, prayer, and selflessness. Through the practice of these disciplines emerge stalwart hearts, clear vision, and unflinching truth. That’s what really matters.

But such disciplines are counter-cultural, many protest. I’d much rather hang out with my buddies at the bar or go shopping. That’s where real life happens.

Yet the challenge remains: to go apart, alone, in silence, and see whom we meet.

It works. It really does.

 

 

Crazed hatred stalks the chambers of governments; fuels killings in war zones, in classrooms and back alleys, within wombs; shreds trust in all segments of society; demoralizes familes. In desperate straits, we cry out:

Our Father who art in heaven—We seek the center-point of your silence within our shadowy depths.

Hallowed be your name— Arms outstretched, we prostrate ourselves before your inexplicable holiness. We wait.

Thy Kingdom come—We yearn for color-flushes that alone eradicate the global gutting of psyches.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven—We surrender anew to this empowerment; its multifaceted bliss stirs us.

Give us this day our daily bread—We yearn for spiritual sustenance, one day at a time, which alone fortifies our tentative steps across rocky terrains.

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us—We own our violence to ourselves and to others and beg forgiveness; such energize us to forgive others and repair rifts in the social fabric. Our part does matter.

And lead us not into temptation—We beg for discipline to listen for true guidance emanating from within and without.

Deliver us from evil—We pray for discernment to avoid the allure of evil in its multiple disguises.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, both now and forevermore—We rejoice within this freshness and thrive, despite the cloying darkness that still surrounds us. We have the protection.

Amen—And so it is.

 

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