One of our BahaiTeachings.org readers wrote in and asked “… I still pray twice a day, is this acceptable?”
Actually, here’s his entire question verbatim: “I am much happier when I don’t read the Bible or such holy texts, but I still consider myself a man of faith if not selfless devotion, and I still pray at least twice a day, is this acceptable?” I’ll try to answer here in the best way I know how, with my own personal experience.
His question reminded me of a similar one I asked a long time ago, when I first began investigating the Baha’i teachings myself. I was just a teenager, and I asked an older Baha’i who I liked and respected (actually, it’s funny that I think of him as “older,” since he was probably in his late twenties at the time), “How often should I read the Baha’i writings?”
“That’s between you and God,” he answered, smiling. “If you read too much, you’ll get spiritual indigestion!”
I loved that answer, because it left the rhythm, pace and intensity of my immersion in the Baha’i teachings up to me. As I read the Baha’i writings later, I found one likely source of my friend’s advice, this passage from Baha’u’llah about enjoying what the material world has to offer, as long as I didn’t allow anything to come between myself and my Creator:
Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 276.
So for years, following my wise friend’s good counsel, I only ate when I felt hungry for spiritual food. I tried to have gratitude, as Baha’u’llah recommends. I took a pretty desultory approach to my spiritual nutrition, and that seemed to satisfy me in my early years as a Baha’i.
Then, several years later, I read this passage from Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book:
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who throughout eternity have turned away from God ….
Pride not yourselves on much reading of the verses or on a multitude of pious acts by night and day; for were a man to read a single verse with joy and radiance it would be better for him than to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Read ye the sacred verses in such measure that ye be not overcome by languor and despondency.
Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them, so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend. – pp. 73-74.
Now I was really confused. “Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide”? For years I’d been reading the Baha’i writings when I felt like it. Now, I realized, I needed to change that pattern, and read them twice a day. But then I kept going, delving a little deeper into Baha’u’llah’s advice, and saw that it asked me not to pride myself “on much reading of the verses”—but instead to read whatever lightened and uplifted my soul.
Just “read a single verse with joy and radiance,” Baha’u’llah said, and it would be better for me than “to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God…”
So I set about trying to follow that advice, and it worked. A measured approach did my spirit a great deal of good. I realized, after a while, that a consistent, daily spiritual practice of prayer, reading the sacred scriptures, and meditating on what I read and prayed about truly lightened and uplifted my soul.
Also, I soon recognized something remarkable—that a consistent practice of spiritual reflection gave me a new barometer of my soul’s progress and growth:
Every day, in the morning when arising you should compare today with yesterday and see in what condition you are. If you see your belief is stronger and your heart more occupied with God and your love increased and your freedom from the world greater then thank God and ask for the increase of these qualities. You must begin to pray and repent for all that you have done which is wrong and you must implore and ask for help and assistance that you may become better than yesterday so that you may continue to make progress. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 68.
So I came to really love and want that communion with my higher nature, and with a higher power, every day. Now, if I ever miss my practice of prayer, meditation and reading the Baha’i writings, even if it’s just one short verse, I feel deprived of something precious and valuable.