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Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and action. But if this love and this desire are lacking, it is useless to try to force them. Words without love mean nothing. If a person talks to you as an unpleasant duty, finding neither love nor enjoyment in the meeting, do you wish to converse with him? – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by Dr. J.E. Esslemont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 94.

Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176.

What do you do after you pray?

For Baha’is, that crucial question defines what it means to walk a spiritual path.

I used to believe that prayer was enough. If I’d started my day with some prayer and meditation, I felt better. I’d sit quietly with a prayer book, read some of the beautiful and moving Baha’i prayers, and then silently meditate on their meaning and importance. A daily routine like this, which included an attempt to connect with the numinous followed by a period of quiet contemplation, really helped me feel more mindful, more centered and more present. For years I followed this practice and felt good about it.

But then, in the process of attempting to learn more about the Baha’i teachings and their powerful recommendations for living a spiritual life, I started to discover another entire dimension to prayer and meditation. I realized that my daily spiritual practice had some critical missing elements, that it had begun to feel far from complete. Over time I gradually learned, as I read and studied the Baha’i writings and the sacred scriptures of the other great Faiths, that my cherished, familiar spiritual practices had begun to seem selfish, self-indulgent and even limiting to my own spiritual growth.

meditationHave you ever heard the term “navel-gazing?”

It comes from the ancient Hindu yogic practice of contemplating one’s own navel, which some thought could help each person center their meditative thoughts. In several Hindu belief systems, the navel represents the Manipura or “second” chakra, said to be the center of personal power, fear and introversion. The Greeks called navel-gazing “omphaloskepsis”—but in more modern times, navel-gazing means that you have become entirely self-absorbed, focused only on your own inner landscape, blissfully unaware of the lives, struggles and realities of others.

That’s exactly how I had started to feel. My daily spiritual practice now seemed too inward, too self-focused and much too insular. I realized I had to go from the interior to the exterior.

To try to grow and move beyond my own self-awareness, I read a little Baha’i booklet about the dynamics of prayer, written by a Baha’i author named Ruth Moffett, who wrote her book after speaking extensively about prayer with the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, in 1930. Her helpful, practical book lists five simple steps that suggest a way to transform prayer into action:

  1. Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.
  2. Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.
  3. Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.
  4. Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle or the right book will be given you. Have confidence, and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the fifth step.
  5. …lastly, ACT; Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need. But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are those words – “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out. – Ruth Moffett, Do’a: On Wings of Prayer.

I realized, after reading this useful little book, that for years I had simply prayed and meditated as ends in themselves—and that I had missed the point.

Faith, rather than a passive belief in a concept or a principle, has to express action, and find its fulfillment in what people do, rather than what they think or say.

So next time you sit down to pray and meditate, try these simple five steps, and see if you can translate your spiritual practice into one that takes your gaze from inward to outward.

6 Comments

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  • Carla Sperandeo
    Jan 19, 2019
    Reviewing these 5 steps was actually born out of my prayer and meditation and helped to form my decision. Thank you for sharing my beautiful Baha'i brother.
  • Judith Poltz
    Mar 16, 2018
    Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, in his very helpful book, "The Power of Positive Thinking", advises us to "give no counsel to your fear." Other motivational speakers say, "ignore the naysayers." Taking this advice to heart, I would edit Ruth Moffit's five steps to delete the defeatist sentences. (at step 3), delete "Many fail here. The decision...becomes...a vague longing." And delete most of the paragraph at the end, "Many fail...few have the determination...still fewer...how many remember..." How discouraging are these phrases! The rest is great. Abdu'l-Baha is always encouraging. It is human to add our own interpretations. It ...is helpful, in my opinion, to remove the human interpretation and preserve the helpful guidance of the message.
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  • Mar 21, 2015
    This was very interesting and informative. It truly shows people of different faiths are not that different after all.
  • Feb 11, 2015
    An excellent life living practice...Observe and contemplate in deeper silence away from noise. Doing it way before sunrise is best time and doing it again before going to sleep, practice it daily without skipping. Let me know about the result. God Bless. Thanks for sharing.
  • Feb 09, 2015
    I was blessed to spend some time with dear Ruth but still have not put these fabulous steps into practice! Ugh. Thank you for the reminder!!
  • Feb 09, 2015
    Love that quote.
    My wife once memorably described a particularly outspoken Christian colleague with who she worked as 'Agreat servant of God, in an advisorgcspacity" as this person was always telling God what to do - save her soul, open her eyes and such. Well, in like manner we do not serve God in an advisory capacity but respond to whatever circumstance confronts ys - a concern for peace, a moment of thankfulness, an appeal for health, to resolve a problem by offering prayers less perhaps the words, but the inner promptings and motivation of our heartsand ...it is the extent of tjis motivation which perhaps attracts some measure of Divine grace and mobilises it for the purpose of the Will of God however that might be defined.
    Thus we might take from the world every opportunity for gratitude, for patience, for purposefulness and more, and allow them to prompt our prayerful concern. We might look at these opportunities in evef finer detail and scale, prominence and duration until they align ever more closely with our every smallest action and gesture of attitude until our lives become a continuous state of prayer, a state also asked of us by 'Abdu'l-Baha.
    We may see war and while our prayers may be for peace, peace may not be the answer, though the compassion wd show and yearnings out of love and concern might be put to work in this or some unrelated issue, and we can use these occasions to reflect on the level of compassion and love in our hearts.
    In this way no prayer goes unanswered and our lives gradually adopt a spiritual attitude and thoughtfulness.
    At least that's how it might work.
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