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The Baha’i teachings say that we actually need prayer—followed by action, of course—to create the kind of society where peace, justice and compassion prosper.
When we find the consistent discipline and motivation to pray, we can help bring about that more spiritual world:
It is easy to read the Holy Scriptures, but it is only with a clean heart and a pure mind that one may understand their true meaning. Let us ask God’s help to enable us to understand the Holy Books. Let us pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, and for hearts that long for peace. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 56.
So as I pray “for eyes to see and ears to hear, and for hearts that long for peace,” I’m trying, in the best way I know how, to first change myself, to make my own soul peaceful, just and compassionate. Prayer is enormously important in changing the individual as well as society itself. The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, asked each Baha’i:
… to conform his inner life to that glorious ideal set for mankind by Baha’u’llah and exemplified by Abdu’l-Baha. In contemplating [Abdu’l-Baha’s] divine example we may well reflect that His life and deeds were not acted to a pattern of expediency, but were the inevitable and spontaneous expression of His inner self. We, likewise, shall act according to His example only as our inward spirits, growing and maturing through the disciplines of prayer and practice of the Teachings, become the wellsprings of all our attitudes and actions. This will promote the accomplishment of God’s purpose … – Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 147.
Given this insight, I’ve wondered lately why I have such a hard time finding my own consistent discipline and motivation to pray daily. I know, intellectually at least, that it’s good for my soul. I know that it helps me spiritually. I know that the individual human being and the world both benefit when the prayer is more universally practiced and appreciated.
But despite all of this, I’ve realized another obvious, but persistent, barrier for me in my effort to develop this habit: a lack of discipline or motivation. As a person who does well with structure, deadlines, and working within systems, tasks that require my own internal measure and initiative don’t always become habits easily. When dropping the ball doesn’t seem to have any apparent or immediate negative repercussions it can be easy to just gloss over these duties no matter how determined I felt at a single point to make them continuous and consistent.
Where does this come from? I am sure this is something that varies drastically per person. These are questions of work ethic, natural tendencies towards motivation, and temperament, but I also think that I’m not the only one who faces this problem.
I’ve realized, for me at least, that a big part of the issue exists because our society encourages us to be overly concerned with how much we “feel like” doing something. This seems deeply related to an indulgent materialistic culture that allows us also to avoid talking or thinking about issues that don’t affect us directly.
So, What Next?
To try and buckle down to create the pattern of prayer I know will not only create a sense of tranquility in my own personal life but also empower me to be of greater service to others, I find it necessary to delineate a few first goals:
- To create the habit of reciting my Baha’i obligatory daily prayer—this would ideally help me to make it feel unnatural in my daily life to miss praying.
- To prioritize the quality of prayer by designating time to meditate after I pray.
- To take notes of what comes to me through meditation, especially after I’ve written out a list of things to pray about—this will allow my prayer to lead to more fruitful, action-based outcomes.
Writing will encourage me to actually take steps and will help me make the daily practice of prayer and meditation a lifelong constructive habit.