Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love. ~ Rumi
Today I awaken to the muezzin’s call shortly before sunrise. I can hear it quite clearly this crisp morning, thrilling time of day when the sun promises to rise above the trees, lifting one’s hopes after the long night. It’s late summer. The birds have gone for the season, leaving a profound stillness. The cat purrs quietly by my side, chirping as I shift to raise my ear off the pillow.
It starts naturally, one long lament. The clear rich warble bellows the call to prayer, amplified in the direction of the Almighty’s ear, Mecca. Oh how I get lost in the sound, mournful and full of such sweet longing, as if waiting many days for my Beloved to caress me with the softest croon. “Come. Pray,” He calls to me, “Prayer is better than sleep!”
Yes, yes, I open my eyes to pink walls, gold rose-colored silk and the softest yellow cotton sheets. Rich burgundy patterns beckon from the floor as if to lure me from my bed toward the fragrant air outside. It’s a full minute before I realize where I am. It’s my own room, in a mundane suburb in the western United States, the rich silks and cottons dressing my bed, the ones I carried back from India; the bright wool carpet, a hand-me-down from a friend’s sojourn in Turkey; the heat-loving honeysuckle blooming where I planted it not long ago to attract the butterflies.
My heart stirs just the same.
I remember the first time I heard the Call, just a few years ago. I spent the night with a new lover in his flat overlooking the industrial end of the Willamette River. He carried me into his bed, the lights on the dry docks flickering on the water. We made sweet love for the first time and I felt emerald green inside, for no reason.
I heard it clearly when I awoke a few hours later, the long melodious wailing amid the ships’ whistles and heavy equipment moving on the railway tracks below us. The song beckoned me awake and I knew that I would follow someday.
Five years later I am in a foreign place that feels more like home than not. It’s my first trip to the East. I have taken a car ride from sprawling Mumbai, India through the quaint smaller city of Pune, with its universities and motor bikes, deep into rural Maharashtra. I arrive at my destination, a stucco and wood cottage outside the gates of the ancient holy caves at Ellora.
Exhausted, I fall onto the bed, travel and jet lag taking their toll. I awaken several hours later to the most glorious sound, the Call from my dreams! I jump out of bed and fly through the door to my little terrace. The scene is amazing, an expanse of scrubby landscape over the bougainvillea entwined stucco wall. I glimpse the caves in the distance and the sun about to crest the small hills. There is nothing but the songbirds to distract me from the rich voice amplified from a nearby mosque. I feel so at home at last.
I am haunted by the memory–or premonition–of the Call that repeats often in my heart.
In my travels through India I have marveled at the way an entire huge city–Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists–rouse themselves to this morning call. From a recent entry in my travelog:
“Udaipur, Rajasthan, Jan 1, 2009
This morning I arise before dawn and creep out of my hotel room in the early darkness, hoping to watch India in her deep morning slumber and then to catch her first waking moments. I tiptoe carefully down the narrow and twisted marble stairways to the courtyard lobby, the only lights the small votives set in the tiny Shiva, Ganesh and Hanuman shrines amid the stucco and tile. At the front desk I see a dark hand resting on the gleaming wooden counter, its arm draped below, the rest of the body fast asleep beneath the British-era hotel ledger. Across from the front desk another figure snores peacefully under a thick quilt. I notice other shapes sleeping on makeshift cots as I make my way quietly up the steps to the rooftop dining room. Choosing a prime alcove, I savor the extraordinary experience. this morning. of arriving in time to hear the morning call to prayer. It is the best time of day, when mother India opens her arms, caresses her children awake to the new day. I am blessed to be a witness to the holy event.
In Udaipur, ancient Rajasthani city surrounded closely by small rural hill villages, the call to prayer starts out quietly, a few indistinct croons in the distance. Within a few minutes the intensity and volume increases as many voices join the holy cacophony. Amid the morning stars, a few lights begin to twinkle in the distance, the Lake Palace still lit up purple and green from the New Years Eve revelry.
At the height of its intensity, the beautiful plaintive wailing seems to completely envelope me and the ancient city. Indeed, all begin to join in; the street dogs yap and howl, the water fowl start their squawking and the pigeons begin their gentle cooing. A man comes out of a house at the water’s edge and leans over a wall to perform his morning nose cleaning with great honking sounds. Then he lights his first cigarette of the day. I can see the glow of his ash glistening against the water. Slowly the voices of hundreds of muezzins begin to crescendo as the sun ignites the hills from behind. All manner of city noises begin. The small boats on the water sputter and start. Just as soon as the last voice dies down from its distant minaret, a car honks loudly in the courtyard below.”
I hope to always hear the Call. I pray to ever heed it.