When you pray, what do you feel? Do your heart and your soul take part in the prayer, as well as your mind? Do you feel close to God?
God doesn’t have to seem far away from us.
Existing in this physical universe does not in itself build a barrier to drawing near to our Creator. All created things can point us to the One who created us. Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, once wrote:
God grant that, with a penetrating vision, thou mayest perceive, in all things, the sign of the revelation of Him Who is the Ancient King, and recognize how exalted and sanctified from the whole creation is that most holy and sacred Being. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 58.
Every physical thing, whether a mountain, a road, a herd of sheep, or a human body, speaks silently of its creation by God, of its coming forth into existence by the will of the Almighty. The fact that anything exists at all alludes to the all-pervading presence of a transcendent, universe-creating Force. And yet how remote this conception from the everyday cares and practicalities of ordinary life!
Scarcely anyone holds these thoughts of the creation and the Creator in mind as they drive through a fierce rainstorm, deal with a broken stove, or complete a thick pile of paperwork. In such moments, what we do usually dominates our awareness.
As an antidote to that lack of greater awareness, prayer can become a practice of experiencing our place in the world in an alternative way. It can allow us to perceive God right there among us, and fully participate, with heart, soul and mind, in our communication with a higher reality. Abdu’l-Baha taught one of the Baha’is this kind of fully-involved prayer:
When Abdu’l-Baha was in New York, He called to Him an ardent Baha’i and said, “If you will come to Me at dawn tomorrow, I will teach you to pray.”
Delighted, Mr. M arose at four and crossed the city, arriving for his lesson at six. With what exultant expectation he must have greeted this opportunity! He found Abdu’l-Baha already at prayer, kneeling by the side of the bed. Mr. M followed suit, taking care to place himself directly across.
Seeing that Abdu’l-Baha was quite lost in His Own reverie, Mr. M began to pray silently for his friends, his family, and for the crowned heads of Europe. No word was uttered by the quiet Man before him. He went over all the prayers he knew then, and repeated them twice, three times- still no sound broke the expectant hush.
Mr. M surreptitiously rubbed one knee and wondered vaguely about his back. He began again, hearing as he did so, the birds heralding the dawn outside the window. An hour passed, and finally two. Mr. M was quite numb now. His eyes, roving along the wall, caught sight of a large crack. He dallied with a touch of indignation but let his gaze pass again to the still figure across the bed.
The ecstasy that he saw arrested him and he drank deeply of the sight. Suddenly he wanted to pray like that. Selfish desires were forgotten. Sorrow, conflict, and even his immediate surroundings were as if they had never been. He was conscious of only one thing, a passionate desire to draw near to God.
Closing his eyes again he set the world firmly aside, and amazingly his heart teemed with prayer, eager, joyous tumultuous prayer. He felt cleansed by humility and lifted by a new peace. Abdu’l-Baha had taught him to pray!
[Abdu’l-Baha] immediately arose and came to him. His eyes rested smilingly upon the newly humbled Mr. M “When you pray,” He said, “you must not think of your aching body, nor of the birds outside the window, nor of the cracks in the wall!”
He became very serious then, and added, “When you wish to pray you must first know that you are standing in the presence of the Almighty!” – from The Path to God, by Dorothy Baker, pp. 13-17.
Mr. M’s desire to pray like Abdu’l-Baha nurtured a humility within him that opened the eyes of his soul. From a material perspective, his aching body, the birds outside the window, and the cracks in the wall were all still there. But looked at in a spiritual way, even in the midst of those mundane things, Mr. M stood in the presence of God. He didn’t have to wait until after his death to meet his Maker. He didn’t have to limit himself to making a few requests on behalf of his friends, family, and the crowned heads of Europe. He could pour out his passionate desire right there in front of the Almighty.
This world with all its ordinary cares and concerns is also a luminous one—and we can all see it that way when we nurture our spiritual perception.