Baha’i’s believe that a spiritual workout—meditation, worship and prayer—can awaken a person’s own desire to contribute to the progress of their community.
Whether alone in a room, or in collective worship with others, the Baha’i teachings encourage everyone to gather our hearts and minds to contemplate the spiritual scriptures of all Faiths:
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, pp. 27-28.
Recently, my community has been exploring the power of prayer, and the importance of developing a devotional character. We’ve learned that individual or collective prayer has a central role in building healthy, vibrant, inclusive communities, and is integral to the development of devotional character.
That’s why my husband and I have decided to hold weekly devotional meetings for the youth in our neighborhood.
In that process, we’ve learned a lot about how to invite our friends and neighbors, and how to create an inviting and inclusive space for youth of diverse backgrounds to come together in collective worship. We ask the participants in each devotional space to offer the name of someone or something they want to pray for, and to sing or read a prayer in their honor. We’ve created a book of prayers set to melodies that include guitar chords and lyrics, and we encourage participants to join in. We even share a meal together, as an opportunity to build and strengthen friendships and refine our community’s spiritual culture:
In villages and neighbourhoods throughout the world, Baha’is are engaged in activities that enrich the devotional character of their communities, that tend to the spiritual education of children, that enhance the spiritual perception of junior youth and strengthen their powers of expression, and that enable increasing numbers to explore the application of the teachings of the Faith to their individual and collective lives. A process of community development, however, needs to reach beyond the level of activity and concern itself with those modes of expression and patterns of thought and behaviour that are to characterize a humanity which has come of age. In short, it must enter into the realm of culture. – The Universal House of Justice, letter to all Baha’i National Spiritual Assemblies, 26 October 2012.
As much as I look forward to our weekly devotionals, a lot of thought, energy and planning goes into creating such a space on a weekly basis. I’ve noticed that I sometimes get so carried away that I can easily forget that it’s not the space that’s important, but the intention behind it. The development of a community’s devotional character cannot be done in one weekly gathering. It requires constant attention and nurturing, and should exist in every action and interaction. It thrives when offered in utmost selflessness and devotion, joy and radiance, through every breath of our being:
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. … 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. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 73.
Since we started our community devotional gatherings, I’ve reflected a lot on the necessity to develop devotional character in my own personal spiritual practice, which without a doubt, impacts my interactions with others and the outlook I have on the world.