On the first Friday of every month, U.S. non-farm payrolls data are released at 8:30 a.m. in New York or, for me in London, 1:30 p.m. This influential economic indicator outlines the health of the U.S. jobs market and, depending on whether the results are weak or strong, they can send asset prices across the world — from currencies to stocks, bonds, and commodities like gold — either rallying or sliding.
Since my job at a real-time news wire involves covering financial markets in EMEA emerging countries, the figures on U.S. job creation and unemployment inevitably unleash a period of frenzy in my office as we rush to report on the repercussions for riskier developing-nation assets from Russia to Turkey.
This past Friday, I panicked as I looked at the clock in the lower right-hand corner of the oversized monitor in front of me to find it was 1:14 p.m. Just 16 minutes to payrolls — 16 minutes — and I hadn’t yet prayed the noon prayer, known as duhr, because I’d gotten caught up writing and editing a series of stories virtually non-stop since arriving nearly six hours earlier.
Quickly doing the math in my head, I realized that if I didn’t seize that moment and rush to pray, the next window of opportunity wouldn’t open until about 2 p.m. By then, the afternoon prayer, asr, would have just started.
“I need to pray before payrolls,” I said anxiously to myself, fully aware of how absurd and contradictory that statement sounded. If I waited even two minutes longer, I wouldn’t get back in time for the release. I swiftly called a courteous colleague and asked him to look over and publish the story I was almost finished editing, while I scurried off to my company’s quiet room, where people break away for a calm moment to pray, meditate or be alone.
I admit, it wasn’t the most attentive or mindful prayer I’ve ever prayed. I typically prefer to spend 20 minutes for the duhr to give me time to perform optional prayers that require extending my focus. Yet speeding up my spiritual breaks is often unavoidable in the autumn and winter. The days become so short that Islam’s five prayers draw nearer together, with the duhr, asr and maghrib prayer at sunset falling during working hours. Whereas in the summer I have about five hours for duhr, by the start of winter in mid-December, when the sunset is earliest, the gap between noon and afternoon worship drops to less than two hours.
Luckily for me, Islamic prayers are succinct and straightforward nothwithstanding their resonance; what really matters is maintaining presence of mind in the performance than the length of time spent in worship.
At its best and most beautiful, this presence is like being pulled into a long embrace with the one you love most and where all your thoughts align to absorb the present moment. Imagine never having to be separated from this being by illness, travel or even death, and you can begin to uncover how warm and enduring this embrace can be. It isn’t so much a physical encounter, even though my body will at times experience a sensation comparable to being covered in goosebumps. It’s more like entering a tranquil mental state of incredible peace.
Whatever chaos may be swirling around me, in the presence of God I find myself in an incredible stillness. I feel the inspiration and privilege of being graced by His light and guidance. My spirit is lifted, and for those moments, the troubles, trials and demands of life are cast aside and I understand with clarity and certainty that whatever reality is here and now is exactly where He wants me to be, so I am able to face them with greater patience.
Prayer time isn’t always quite so profound in a back room at the end of a silent office corridor. Sometimes presence is more akin to the quick peck on the cheek that you give your mom, sibling, partner or child prior to darting out the door. You let them know in a simple yet thoughtful way that you love them above and beyond the mad rush of modern life that is about to sweep you away. It is these gentle moments of sharing, the little touches, that bring warmth to their hearts and let them know you truly care.
That’s kind of like what my payroll-type prayers are like. There is nowhere on earth that I want to be for that 10 or 15 minutes than in prostration to God. It’s not so much in the words I speak, but in the act of being there and wanting Him to know that I am choosing our space of love over anywhere else.
So last Friday, just as quickly as I had dashed to the prayer, I found myself rushing back, while repeating the zikr, or statements of remembrance of God, that I say after each prayer quietly under my breath. Thirty-three times each, I recited SubhanAllah, Arabic for “Glorious is God;” Alhamdulillah, or “Praise be to God;” and Allahu Akbar, “God is the Greatest One.”
By then I had returned to my desk, sitting before the wall of monitors with about a minute to spare, ready to be drawn back into the whirlwind as the U.S. jobs data wreaked their havoc on financial markets.
Since discovering the beauty of prayer more than four years ago, I always seek to take myself back to that place of clarity and contentment each morning, afternoon and evening. When I make the effort with sincerity, I’ve discovered that God usually blesses me ways to keep the still rhythm of prayer in my life without interruption. Payrolls day is just another part of this constant endeavour to find ways to weave a really hectic career into my rigorous spiritual routine.
“The prayer of the lover of God is like the condition of a fish in water. As a fish cannot live without water, the soul of a lover of God cannot find peace without constant prayer. Therefore, the expression that “visit me not much!” is not for the lovers of God. The soul of the true lovers always remains thirsty.”