As autumn returns, we once again find ourselves gazing at the trees, breathing deeply the aroma of wood stoves and spiced cider, delighting in the taste of pumpkin and the sounds of crunching leaves and the wind in the cornstalks.
Why do we love to watch the sunset, the moon rise, gaze at the ocean, and feel the turn of the seasons day after day and year after year, even though they are mostly the same every time?
The things that truly fulfill our hearts and nourish us emotionally and spiritually are the things we return to over and over again. We all generally recognize that there are books we like to re-read, movies we can watch over and over again, and songs we like to hear or sing repeatedly even for a lifetime.
As modern people we have become conditioned to always desire “newness”. So when we get tired and emotionally/spiritually drained, we start looking for something “new”- we go shopping for new stuff, download a new song, flip channels on the TV, find a new series to follow, go on a Netflix binge, etc. We lock ourselves in a vicious cycle this way- searching for something that will fill our voids, soothe our wounds, build our strength but instead becoming more exhausted and drained and looking for yet something else.
We can ONLY be fed and fulfilled, nourished and sustained by what *returns*.
Nature is traditionally the thing that humans return to over and over again and never get tired of observing, appreciating, and deriving lessons and signs from. In many places in the Qur’an Allah asks us to spend time observing nature and reflecting on the signs it holds for us. The Prophet (S) and his companions also did these things. They understood well, as Allah has taught us, that nature is a place where we can and must always return to be renewed and reminded.
Often, it is only a fleeting moment: the quick flit of a bat through the dusky sky, the way a leaf drifts to the ground and comes to rest in just the right place, or the seafoam that encircles your feet and pulls the sand grains from under them as you stand at the edge of the great sea. That small moment is a gift. You didn’t cause it, you didn’t work for it, and you couldn’t have predicted when or how it would occur.
Now think: Salah is also something that returns. We often feel disconnected from salah and see boredom in routine and ritual, but in salah there will also be “gifts”. Spend enough time observing, waiting, and keeping your heart open- just like you do when you watch the sunset or the moon rise, study the autumn leaves trembling in the wind or the waves breaking on ocean- and you will find something to nourish your heart.
Many people don’t know what gifts to look for in salah- Start by thinking of the same gifts you are given in nature- The way the sound of a certain part of the Qur’an brings refreshment to your heart like an unexpected breeze (and whether you understand it or not); the way your feet and palms and forehead feel placed gently on the soft, tahir prayer carpet like walking on a sandy beach or dewy grass; the beauty of the clothes you cover yourself with and the way they comfort you like a sweater in autumn. These gifts are given to anyone who enters the world of salah. We don’t need to feel “deep” in the same way that we don’t need to unlock the mysteries of dark matter when we contemplate a sunset. But when you step into this beautiful world 5 times each day- the world you are invited and welcomed to no matter who you are or what you have done- you can also feel connected to the One who created you and who obligated you to stop and stand before Him because you are worthy to partake of all the beauty and love and miraculous joy and connection that await you there.
Salah is your garden, your forest, your sunset, your moonrise, your ocean, your life-giving spring, your awakening breeze, your endless expanse of stars and galaxies to lose yourself in. It all belongs to you and you belong to it.