“Africans Should Stop Praying With Their Eyes Closed!”

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” Bishop Desmond Tutu quotes (African Spiritual leader and Novelist)

If there is anything that bothers me about the major world religions, it is the penchant of their adherents to pray with their eyes closed. I don’t get it, it baffles me, and it astounds me! Why pray with your eyes closed? I remember back in the day, father scolded me severely many times for opening my eyes while prayers were ongoing in church. The problem is how did he see me? He said he was watching! Father also had his eyes opened? I figured out quickly he should perhaps scold himself first. Who says adults should have a pass on this nonsense tradition, whose source and logic is dubious?

Think about it, does it make sense? Does it make sense to close your eyes when speaking to someone? If prayer is a way of communicating with God as they want us to believe, and if God is your father, and if He is everywhere, then why close your eyes? Won’t your earthly father regard it as an insult if you close your eyes while having a conversation with him or making a request? No wonder our prayers are not answered in Nigeria. On top of shouting on God (Moslems do it with that their morning wail that interject my precious morning sleep, and the Evangelical Christians with that their panic attack inducing prayer vigils and deliverance), we then add pepper to injury by closing our eyes! Why will God answer? Will you answer a child that yell at you and then close his eyes while conversing with you?

I happen to be of Christian birth, so I am more informed to speak on the position of Christianity on this matter. Hence, my Islamic brothers will forgive me if this comes across as lopsided. Well let us examine the Holy Bible. Various passages foremost among which is one that said plainly: “Watch and pray…” (Mat 26:41), points to the fact that prayer should come with opened eyes. How can you pray and watch the same time with your eyes closed? The other prayer passage says something along the line of “Pray without Ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Well, I don’t think the Bible is prescribing that we go about blind and eyes closed, without ceasing!

By all measures, I think this eyes closing is a carry over from the Judaism era and European adaptation. Problem with we Africans is that we hardly try to have a mind of our own. Why will my father scold an African son who sees no good in closing his eyes while praying? While pouring libation to the spirits of our forefathers, it is our tradition to speak politely and open eyes. We don’t close eyes and yell. That is abominable, and not worthy of emulation. Even the Europeans that brought Christianity to Africa don’t yell on God. Go to the Church of England (Anglican), Catholic Church, the Methodist or even the Traditional Baptists, solemnity usually mark their prayers. They don’t yell at God!

Okay, I give it to you that these folks actually close their eyes tighter than Africans do. But don’t mistake this action for mere symbolism. European closed their eyes for practical reasons and I can prove it. The expectation while closing their eyes is to give the Clergy an opportunity to sip wine and be drunk! Don’t ask me how I know this, but just visit any European Church. The breath of their Clergies after church services is hardly alcohol free. That makes you wonder what he’d been consuming while the service was ongoing. Well, he gets to do the drinking and do little preaching. The little preaching in turn ensures his church members can do more productive work with their quality time, than spending ridiculous hours in “the House of God” that amounts to zero productivity as far as the Gross Domestic Product of the nation is concerned. When shall we learn?

The laity in the European church of course are not unaware of this fact, but knowing how beneficial to the larger economy a drunk pastor, and an eyes closing congregation is, they are willing (or unwilling) accomplices in this monumental tradition of purely adaptive consequence. If only we can get all those our jerry curling haired pastors drunk, if only church services in our country can be shorter in duration, if only we can start opening eyes when we pray to see the atrocity of the fire spitting preacher- if only. Just imagine how many scientific innovations, entrepreneurial ideas and earth shaking inventions that can be made in the gazillion hours Nigerians spend in their churches and mosques.

Of course, many of my “good” Islamic brothers even pray more than the Christians do. Five times they say! Well, do the calculations. Assuming ninety percent of Nigerians are religious of the Christian or Islamic hue; this comes out to be 126 million people. Assuming we spend ten percent of our day praying, that comes out to be 110 376 000 000 (111 billion) man hours a year of going about with our eyes closed! We are indeed a nation of the blind. No one moves while being blind folded. That is why we are stuck in this perennial rot of underdevelopment.

Opening our eyes while praying will require us to love our neighbors, regardless of religion, tribe, and language; it will elevate justice and fairness as central doctrines of our national dogma. Instead of professing love for an unseen God, we will love our country, fellow mankind, and unborn children. How can you love God when you slaughter your fellow country man on the altar of religious hatred? Opening our eyes while praying will see us put the interest of our country first before material gains, bribes and scam proceeds. Instead of donating dirty monies to the “poor” and “houses of God”, we will put our intelligence to work with our eyes opened. Keeping our eyes opened will see us insisting that our politicians work for us, instead of lining their pockets with filthy, stolen wealth. It will see us standing up for our rights, eyes opened, even if the fraudster is our benefactor or tribesman. Opening our eyes will see us vanquishing the last forces of imperial colonialism, the economic sabotage masquerading as foreign aid and monetary policies that is stripping us of our heritage in broad day light.

Shine your eyes well, well my people!

P.S: Whoever told the Super Eagles that praying with heads bowed and eyes closed will lead to automatic victory? Perhaps, those defenders should have taken that one minute of wasted prayer to study Agogo and Essien. What a bunch of jokes!

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Xara August 22, 2011 - 3:57 am

Muslims never perform their ritual prayers with their eyes closed, so you’ll have to leave them out of your calculation. My guess is that the whole issue is a specifically Christian thing, and maybe even there it is not evenly spread among all denominations…

Pius Omolewa November 14, 2009 - 6:08 am

Michael is a creative writer, and I greatly admire his style. He tied the symbolic closing of eyes when praying to the fundamental issues affecting Nigeria and a host of underdeveloped nations in the world. The beauty of the article lies in the fact that Africans especially Nigerians should use their intelligence proactively and love one another regardless of religion, tribal, or ethnic origin.

Steve December 31, 2008 - 9:39 am

God is impressed with persistance. “Keep on asking and you shall recieve,” the bible says. If you follow that advise, God will see that your willing to follow through with what you are praying for.

Ademisiku Shyllon April 8, 2008 - 9:08 am

Though i was a little scared at first to listen to Michael’s biblical allusion, after going throuh his articles i lke his sense of nationalism and critic of the pre & post colonial era. For me , the bane of his article bothers on living a practical and realistic life

Tokunbo February 8, 2008 - 12:33 pm

Julius, Another great UITE here. I took Michael’s article as a satire to all Nigerians to change our ways and not close our eyes to all the injustices and negativities around us while we are blinded by our devotions to all our various religions. Great work, Michael.

Julius February 8, 2008 - 11:21 am

Let me give you a personal experience, while studying at UI, I was a very good fellowship going dude, one thing I noticed though is that whenever exams are getting close church activities increased too, that is when you have daily vigils, I used to just get up when the service has been dragging on for hours pick up my bible and just leave, the deacons will approach me and ask why I was leaving, I do tell them that I need to study, and they tell me I should have faith, and I do tell them that ofcourse I have faith, but I do need to study. And I noticed that most of my christian brothers and sisters graduate with poor grades because we spent so many hours praying and less hours studying. This is exactly what is happening in the larger society, people spend hours praying in churches and mosques and less hours doing things that matters. I think we dishonor God by praying that much, God said in the bible before you open your mouth to pray I heard you, I know the thoughts of your heart, if He knows all these already why bore him with excessive asking. My brothers and sisters, it is high time we let God do what He does best and stop shouting 24hrs a day asking for what He already knows we need. May God bring enlightment to us all. Amen.

The Truth February 8, 2008 - 10:40 am

Great write-up Michael. I always say Religion is one of the biggest detriment to Nigeria. They close their eyes to everything because this is what religion teaches them. It so sad how most white men can balance religion and real life while us Nigerians can’t do this. How can we carry bible higher than the white man who introduced us to the bible. Something seems very strange.

majirioghene@yahoo.com February 8, 2008 - 9:47 am

I close my eyes when I pray because I seriously believe that when the deep communicates with the deep, communication flows better. Sometimes however, I open my eyes if I begin to lose focus but shut it as soon as I get a grip on. I like your article though it trivialised the issue a little bit.


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