Being prayerful is an integral part of the way that people of my heritage communicate with each other. In every day greetings there is usually an element of “saying a prayer” amongst folks of a certain level of maturity, when speaking in Yoruba. Perhaps this is to do with a constant conversation going on with ancestral spirits that is taken for granted when one is thinking in the language. This can sometimes be regarded as being inordinately superstitious, when in actual fact it probably has a lot more to do with maintaining a positive mindset and wishing well for others, which shouldn’t necessarily be seen to be a bad thing.
I am wary about the way that this practice translates into dealing with folks from other heritages however. Attending a theatre rehearsal that turns into a prayer meeting before any work is done feels like an intrusion on my thoughts when I’m preparing to be creative.
There was also a time when I visited Lagos and travelled on public transport early in the morning, to find that I was expected to acquiesce when a fellow passenger started singing hymns, praying and even preaching to everyone on the vehicle! I’ve noticed that some people have tried doing similar things on trains that run through Peckham in south London. Again, this feels like the initiator of the prayers hasn’t thought very much about the sanctity of personal space.
I like to see prayers as wishes and goals. It is good to have a vision of an optimum scenario for oneself. Perhaps I struggle with the idea that it is possible that each person would know what is best for someone else. Indeed, I have found myself in situations where a person has used an impromptu prayer gathering as a way of expressing his or her thoughts about what someone else should or shouldn’t be doing with their lives.
Who would have thought that folks would use prayers as weapons for chastising or upbraiding others who are possibly too polite to step aside when the dialogue with the spirits begins?