“Shout praise to God, all the earth. Serve God with joy; come before Him with singing….Enter His gates with thanksgiving, His courtyards with praise.”
(Psalms 100:1-2, 4)
I have been reading this psalm regularly because one of my resolutions for the New Year was to express my gratitude daily. I even set my phone’s alarm to alert me—with the soothing strains of the harp—to draw my mind away from the tasks before me and toward God. Although I have been pretty successful at establishing prayerful moments, I still lack the motivation to attend synagogue services. I love the idea of entering God’s gates with song, but find myself craving solitude and silence. For Jews, the ideal is to worship God together with at least 9 other Jews. And Jews pray loudly—with plenty of communal singing—from a prayer book that contains many words. Praying alone is permissible, but even then the ideal is to say the words aloud, if only in a whisper. As a result, the opportunity for silence in synagogue is scarce. Recently, I reluctantly admitted to Yasmina that I suffer from spiritual envy: her mosque is such a peaceful environment and so conducive to prayer. At the same time, I long to hear the familiar melodies; to sing boldly and joyously in God’s courtyard. My soul yearns to shout praise to God but, for the moment, my mouth won’t cooperate.
Tziporah, I love your New Year’s resolution, especially your "call to prayer" with the harp! During times of Christian celebration, as in the recent season of Christmas, I am eager to sing, and to do so boldly and joyously in communal worship. In times of sorrow or penance, however, I may enter God’s courtyard with thanksgiving but without song. For example, during the penitential season of Lent we deliberately omit the singing of “Alleluias.” But I, too, feel the craving for deeper solitude and peace, apart from community. In those times, I love taking private retreat, usually in total silence, for the renewal of my spirit. Silence often opens my heart to the many ways I can serve God with joy and allows me to enter God’s gates—whether in a house of worship or elsewhere—with singing and praise from the soul, even as my voice is silent!
I regularly listen to my favorite Quran reciter and love the opportunity to feel the resonance of the words; the meaning, the sounds, the rhythm and the melody. My appreciation of each recitation is a little different, depending on where I am physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like both of you, I enjoy solitary prayer time, as well as prayer in community. Some communal prayers are said aloud by the prayer leader, while others are offered in complete silence. For this reason, I get a taste of different prayerful moments every day, as the echo of the sounds of the Quranic recitations, the calls to prayer, and the silent praise of worshipers is preserved in time and space. As a Muslim, I believe that the sense of peace at the mosque that you alluded to, Tziporah, is a result of these daily occurrences, which have no ultimate goal other than to grant those taking part in them entry into the gates of the All Merciful.