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If you haven’t already gotten to know Baha’u’llah’s short book “The Hidden Words,” then you might want to get a copy. And if you’re already familiar with it but haven’t given it a close look in a while, I suggest you throw yourself into it.
Made up of 153 brief passages revealed by Baha’u’llah in 1858, as he walked on the banks of the river Tigris in Baghdad, Iraq, “The Hidden Words” is direct and straightforward, yet endlessly nuanced and esoteric. It speaks straight to the reader but always holds new stores of meaning. “The Hidden Words” defies the dry sort of reading that occurs in academic settings or the half-absent scroll-through typical to the social media experience. Instead, it is written in the voice of God, as a divine love letter to the human reader. Here is some of the language of the heart one finds within:
“Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee.”
“I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?”
“Purge thy heart from malice and, innocent of envy, enter the divine court of holiness.”
“Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent.”
With other books, the main interest of the reader is to obtain information. Reading is just a way of extracting the elements of knowledge contained within its pages. But this book is different. It facilitates experiences of inner transformation. I think the following three passages show this well. In one, Baha’u’llah explains the reason why we were created: “O Son of Man! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.”
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He also describes the hidden potentials inside each one of us in this passage: “O Son of Spirit! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.” And again, in this one: “O Befriended Stranger! The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power, quench it not with the contrary winds of self and passion. The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not. Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life.”
“The Hidden Words” attracts us into an enveloping experience of spiritual search. It lends itself to moments of meditation we normally have away from a screen or book. It makes us want to soak ourselves in its words. And one of the best ways to experience that is — dare I say it — to memorize them. Fortunately, that doesn’t imply we should memorize the whole thing as a large block! In my experience, moving through too much text too quickly almost certainly hampers meditation. The main thing is to be able to recall individual sayings, which are usually no longer than a handful of sentences, and to be able to let them sink in, even with our eyes off the page.
I’ve recently developed the habit of keeping a tiny paper copy of “The Hidden Words” in my pocket at all times. When the moment feels right, which often happens unexpectedly, I pull it out and choose a passage at random. I focus on it deeply and try to commit its words to memory. Once I think I have it, I close the book, leaving my finger as a bookmark, and repeat the passage to myself until I’m sure I’ve memorized it.
This is something I’ve found works for me; other people might find other methods more spiritually uplifting. What matters is that each of us identify practices that help us hold true to our spiritual path.
Memorizing and meditating on individual passages of “The Hidden Words” has helped make the conversational nature of prayer more concrete for me. On the one hand, I have everything I want to say to God. And on the other hand, in order to hear what God has to say to me, I don’t have to rely on doubtful interpretations of spiritual feelings inside of me or of external events around me: I can focus my attention on what God has revealed for humanity in the sacred writings of Baha’u’llah. There’s always insight that can be gleaned through turning my mind and heart to the word of God.
To be mindful of God’s presence as we think something through is a kind of prayer. I can hold myself in silence as I allow the passage to address me. I can put questions to God about the meaning of specific lines and reflect on its significance and implications for my own life. Before I have any more to say to God, I must remember that he already has so much to say to me. And so much of it is contained in the 153 short messages of love that make up Baha’u’llah’s “The Hidden Words.”