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I was asked by my Local Spiritual Assembly – the local guiding body of a Baha’i community – to answer some questions about the Baha’i Faith from a curious student of comparative religion at a local college.
This curious soul and I had a remarkable, fascinating interchange, and our correspondence led to this “ripped from real life” series of essays.
I let this person know that there was much more to the Baha’i Faith than what I could tell him based on his questions, but that I’d do my best.
His first question: “How does the Baha’i religion practice their faith? How do Baha’is actually worship?
Baha’is view the practice of our faith, and worship of the Creator, as an element of daily life. Baha’u’llah, the founding prophet of the Baha’i Faith, prescribed daily prayer, meditation, and study of scripture for each individual believer, and said that work done in a spirit of service is worship in the sight of God. He also spoke of an attitude of prayer that we are to strive to take in our daily lives to transform ourselves, our families and our social interactions.
When I use the word ”meditation” you might think of yoga, but there is no prescribed form of meditation in the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah’s eldest son Abdu’l-Baha described meditation as communing with one’s own spirit — as contemplation or reflection. My personal meditation often takes the form of writing, working on art, or just settling into a quiet “space” to the sound of a nighttime forest or a river. I focus on the state I am seeking at that time: calm, focus, resilience, creativity, energy. Sometimes I form a mantra — an image, sound, word, or phrase — that invokes those spiritual qualities. As they say, your mileage may vary.
In terms of collective worship, Baha’u’llah discouraged the creation of religious ritual, and instead gave us what he referred to as Feast, which is held on the first day of every Baha’i month. The Baha’i calendar has 19 months of 19 days each. The new year begins on the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, with the celebration of Naw Ruz, which means “New Year.”
The Baha’i Feast has that name because it involves worship where Baha’i communities gather for spiritual and physical food. Each Baha’i Feast has three simple parts: devotions/worship, community consultation, and fellowship. Of this pillar of Baha’i community life, Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
You must continue to keep the Nineteen Day Feast. It is very important; it is very good. But when you present yourselves in the meetings, before entering them, free yourselves from all that you have in your heart, free your thoughts and your minds from all else save God, and speak to your heart. That all may make this a gathering of love, make it the cause of illumination, make it a gathering of attraction of the hearts, surround this gathering with the Lights of the Supreme Concourse, so that you may be gathered together with the utmost love.
Since the Baha’i Faith has no clergy — by direct mandate of Baha’u’llah — devotions are planned by the Local Spiritual Assembly, or by individuals or groups of believers. Feast varies from community to community and may incorporate music, readings from scripture and prayer, or other elements. These can be quite diverse and reflect the makeup of the community. Lakota Sioux Baha’is might, for example, celebrate Feast with a Hoop Dance; Baha’is elsewhere may celebrate Feast with gospel or other folk music.
In the consultative/administrative portion of Feast, Baha’is discuss and consult together on such things as community activities, or reflect on and respond to communications received from the national and international institutions of the Faith.
Of course, either the community as a whole or an individual or family are encouraged to host devotionals at any time at our local Baha’i Center or in their own homes, and Baha’is also observe a number of annual Holy Days that mark significant events in the history of the Faith with worship and celebration. In even the administrative aspects of the Faith, Baha’is emphasize the spirit.
Here, again, is Abdu’l-Baha on the subject of Baha’i gatherings:
Make ye an effort in every meeting that the Lord’s Supper may become realised and the heavenly food descend. This heavenly food is knowledge, understanding, faith, assurance, love, affinity, kindness, purity of purpose, attraction of hearts and the union of souls …. When the meeting is conducted after this manner, then Abdu’l-Baha also is present in heart and soul, though His body may not be with you.