Peace, one and all…
I wrote this post yesterday evening, on my way home…
It’s almost 6pm (on Tuesday 13th November 2007) and as is usually the case at this time of day, I find myself on the train, wending my weary way home once more (my apologies for the rather tired alliteration)! As is also often the case, I find myself reflecting upon life, and its living (or, more precisely, I’m woolgathering and daydreaming).
The first thought crossing my mind tonight is the speed of the changing seasons. I find myself returning in thought to the summer months, when my homeward journeyings were all made in daylight. Indeed, it’s only a matter of weeks since the Asr prayer began at around this time, and now it’s almost Isha!
How swiftly life passes by! How swiftly the seasons change, blending into one another as though they were merely part of a single day. I am reminded by the story in the Quran where a newly resurrected person is asked by God how long they had been absent: ‘for a day, or part of a day’, was the man’s response. I can certainly relate to this feeling.
Moreover, elsewhere in the Quran, God speaks of a ‘day’ in God’s sight as being equal to 1,000 years (and in another place, 50,000 years) of our reckoning. That is, time has a certain relative quality to it. This is confirmed by physics (not a subject I write about very often, I must admit): the Twin Paradox being the prime example. My awareness of the personal ‘speed’ with which time passesd shifts and changes as my own consciousness fluctuates. Thus, when I am present the small can seem vast, as I feel each passing monment, each passing breath. When I am absent (in the sense of being carried away by automatic behaviours) time passes with astonishing (and frankly worrying) rapidity. Looking back into my own past, my own life has moved so quickly that it is sometimes hard to come to terms with it. Indeed, its pace has only increased; as a child, time moved so slowly that weeks felt like months and months felt like years. I remember the seemingly endless days of the 6 week summer holiday; how they seemed to stretch into forever! Now, years feel like months and the time between months (or between pay day that is) passes in the blink of an eye! In some strange way, then, time is dependent upon our own perception of it.
This idea is further suggested by Surah al-`Asr in the Quran:
‘In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. By Time, indeed humanity is in a state of loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and (join together) in the mutual teaching of truth and in the mutual teaching of patience’ (Surah al-`Asr, 103:1-3)
There is an important idea implicit within this short, though powerful, quranic chapter: our actions affect our perception of and relation to, time. Belief in God (as a sense of relationship with Ultimate Reality, al-Haqq) and good deeds stop time from becoming a source of loss, of destruction. That is, when viewed through these lenses time is not meaningless (this idea should also be compared with pre-Islamic Arab ideas of Time – Dahr – as an impersonal and faceless enemy). Thus, faith and works transform time into a never-ending source of blessing, nourishment and spiritual refreshment, as we move towards embodying the meaning behind the biblical phrase: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1). I have certainly experienced this in my own life.
As I travel home, I am also struck by all the other people around me. I am struck by the fact of their very existence. How strange and wonderful it is that others exist, that others are! I am reminded of two, inter-connected, ideas: the sacredness of others (and, more fundamentally, of the archetypal other). It’s as though each person is an entire universe in their own right, a whole world of unique meanings and experiences. This is why, on a deeper level, talking to others is so significant (see our worthy sister Aaminah’s useful post on Nasiha and another on Positivity; Umm Zaid’s important post on ‘Speak Good or Remain Silent‘; Izzy Mo’s earlier posts on the same topic 1 and 2, as well as some of my own thoughts on Learning to Talk). When we open our mouths to speak to another it’s as though two universes were brought momentarily together in dialogue. And, if the the macrocosmic universe is a sign of God, then so too is the mircocosmic universe. Or, as the Quran puts it:
‘Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth’ (41:53)
And again, in these verses:
‘On the earth are signs for those of assured Faith, as also in your own selves: Will ye not then see?’ (51:20-21)
This is perhaps why, symbolically, communication is so difficult (and yet necessary). In a sense, it helps explain why linguistic differences exist: though two people may use the same word, do they ever use it in exactly the same way?
How then are we to communicate with each other? I am not a radical sceptic by any means and I do believe that communication is possible (otherwise, if taken to its logical conclusion, such an idea would imply that societies could not exist). To communicate is thus to commune with other people (and thus with the archetypal other and ultimately, God). This is why talking is so sacred and why we should honour that sacredness through beautiful and appropriate speech.
And praise be to God, who maketh it so…