In the last week there have been many calls to prayer from the family and friends of Fabrice Muamba, the football player who collapsed during a match last weekend and - despite stopping breathing for a very long time - survived. His family pleaded for people to pray for him and fellow players wore shirts asking us to pray for him too. This has caused a range of reactions in the media, from cynicism at the possibility that footballers could be so religiously inclined to sincere explanations of the power of prayer.
I realise not everyone prays and some people only have a conversation approximating prayer when they are at the racecourse or the plane is a bit wobbly at 30,000 feet. In one of the early episodes of Homeland we see the lead character Brody in his garage praying Namaz having returned home from being held captive for eight years by Muslim captors. The suggestion is that he has been turned into a traitor and seeing him pray as a Muslim offers further proof that this may be the case. I, however, thought it was a profound comment on how he took solace in prayer as comfort while in captivity. The act of submission to a higher power is a personal one and that he chose to do it in private was (for me) more about not letting his Christian family know that he had converted.
It's often the case that as people get older they become more interested in faith and certainly in the Asian community you see older people attend temples with great frequency. When I was at university I used to travel on two buses to a Sikh temple the other side of Coventry. Partly it was to see other Asian faces and to spend time with people who had something in common with me in a space that felt familiar. Partly, I went to pray. Even now prayer is something that is a part of my life and when I find things are difficult I pray. It's not to ask for a higher power to intervene, more to share the burden that is on my mind.
It has become a cliche to hold a minute's silence when a tragedy occurs, isn't this moment of reflection or meditation an act of prayer ? In the same way singers and actors thank God when accepting an award as a public declaration of religious belief whether devout or not. I've always been surprised to meet people who express heartfelt atheism with a fervour that most religious people would struggle to muster. I attended a school where the Lord's Prayer was recited at assembly every morning and at no point did my parents object or ask for me or my siblings to be removed from the room. In fact very few kids from families of faith were removed, maybe as praying in one faith is pretty much the same as another.
Prayer is not at all cool and it's profoundly strange to talk to someone who isn't there. In days gone by we used to lock people up for that sort of thing. For the time being I'm going to just sit quietly where no one can see me and keep it to myself.