I live two blocks from a mosque. I don't know if it's Sunni or Shia but most days I hear one of the calls to prayer, at least.
I had no idea they have names. All five, each of them phrased differently, sung in different patterns... melismas. What a word.
I know next to nothing about Islam. But there have been times amidst the general din of Brooklyn, or sunk in the dull hum of daily entropy that I've heard the prayer and I can't put it any other way but I felt relief. I felt lucky.
That there was this beat taken, this pause, this space made by the voice of someone saying 'In all this.... God's all there is."
How you define God or Godliness is up to you but some presence of the divine or the divine in us is at base, I would argue, all there is.
(That and of course economic equity based on a marxist model. But that's another story)
I used to wonder how in the Hell anyone could be a scholar or a writer in New York. How do the Hasids survive here? How can you choose limits within such limitlessness?
But it's really the opposite that's true. New York was made to harbor the peculiar and the intense, the zealot and the artist. It's the perfect place to turn your back on "all" because here you can imagine that this IS everything, that the universe has been packed down and put up to shop on a couple islands 8 miles wide. So once offered, once seen in a literal sense, the land commensurate to your capacity for wonder can be .....ignored.
But that's a fatal dream as well....
I came home one night, it must have been after 4 and as I was opening one of my three front doors the muezzin started his song. The fajr I think it was....after dawn but before the sunrise, the coming of the white light.....or maybe it wasn't that early and what I heard was the rarer Taraweeh, sung throughout Ramadan after midnight late into the dark. Coulda been. But this time the song wasn't quiet, it wasn't sliding under the din of the day, it was everywhere. The whole block in a mist of music, of prayer. My long street of nineteenth century brownstones built by Dutch sailors or Jews from eastern europe some of whom still owned them others held by Barbadian and Trinidadian families waiting for the coming Bobo buyout....in a language I can't even break into verb or object , God is great, God is Greatest, a language of liquid poetry, Hasten to prayer, Hasten to success...
I sat on the stoop and thought about a line from a Dawn Powell novel..."and why no rest house for the runners in this race.." Dawn Powell writing and writing for 40 years, her Cassat to Hemingway's Degas but without the fortune that kept Mary safe. Dawn Powell dead and her lover lets the city dump her in pauper's grave.....two years before I was born.
Somebody pray for us.