Through the door

minaretOne of the most interesting things about being in Riyadh–and I felt this in Rabat as well– is going over to religious time. The muezzins call the faithful to prayer five times a day–their voices strong and musical and the response tempered and low-pitched. You can hear this call and response all over the city. Western time was created in the spark of industrial revolution and is punctuated by whistles and bells–this time is much older and has a very different rhythm.

I  am including here Matthew Arnold’s poem, which was a favorite of my parents, and which reflects on the beginning of the “scientific” age.


The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


2 thoughts on “Through the door

  1. Marianne,
    I remember as a child Sunday being so quiet in Manhattan. The stores were closed. Fasting. Church bells.Church. Then breakfast after communion and the closing hymn. Do you think religious time exists in the west or only in our memories?

  2. I was very struck by the image you evoked of “going over to religious time”. That’s how it was in early monastic Ireland too, indeed in all those early monastic communities, where the 24 hour cycle was marked by the various calls to prayer – matins, nones etc. I remember as a child at elementary school in Ireland, morning classes ended when we heard the Angelus toll from the neighboring church. As one, we stood up at our desks and recited the words with the teacher. Then it was lunch time. I’ll still at times listen for bells ringing at noon.

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