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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- …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.