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In Part I, we looked at the first sentence from one of the prayers Baha’u’llah provided specifically for daily use. Here are all three sentences of that short prayer:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.
There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3.
Baha’i scholar Adib Taherzadeh correlated the following mystic parable to the first two sentences in this prayer:
There is a beautiful Persian story in verse… It concerns a drop of rain falling down from the clouds. The drop knows itself to be the water of life, the most precious element that God had created, and so it is proud of itself. Boasting all the way down, it suddenly sees that it is falling into an ocean, whereupon it recognizes its own insignificance and exclaims: “If this exists then what am I?” When the ocean hears this expression of humility it attracts the drop to its self and, as a reward, makes it a companion of the pearl. – The Child of the Covenant, p. 406.
In this age where one of the preeminent paradigms of popular culture is self-aggrandizement, Baha’u’llah’s short daily prayer provides us with a means to forthrightly acknowledge our powerlessness and poverty. But this statement of relative powerlessness and spiritual poverty takes place only in a private conversation between an individual and his or her Creator. This conversation fills in a gap, because the material accomplishments of civilization in our lives in this physical world are not enough. As the Universal House of Justice noted in a statement in 1985:
…such accomplishments alone have never satisfied the human spirit, whose mysterious nature inclines it toward transcendence, a reaching towards an invisible realm, towards the ultimate reality, that unknowable essence of essences called God. – The Promise of World Peace.
Baha’u’llah, renewing the primary elements of religion, asks us all to pray as an integral part of daily life. Daily prayer forms a primary link in our relationship with the Maker of the Heavens; it kindles the stirrings of the spirit and has the power to illumine us within. This genuine communion with the ultimate reality, this daily remembrance, has the potential to cheer our hearts and fortify our capacity for both contentment and initiative.
Immediacy characterizes this brief prayer; it is stated in the declarative present tense, as in “I testify, at this moment…” As to our human “powerlessness,” the Baha’i writings say:
Baha’u’llah makes the point elsewhere that each of us lacks even the power to understand the implications of having “the rational faculty,” that distinguishing emanation of the human soul:
Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery or to appraise its virtue. Having recognized thy powerlessness to attain to an adequate understanding of that Reality which abideth within thee, thou wilt readily admit the futility of such efforts as may be attempted by thee, or by any of the created things, to fathom the mystery of the Living God, the Day Star of unfading glory, the Ancient of everlasting days. This confession of helplessness which mature contemplation must eventually impel every mind to make is in itself the acme of human understanding, and marketh the culmination of man’s development. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 165-66.
When the short daily prayer says “I testify… to my poverty and to Thy wealth” it refers, not to worldly goods, but to spiritual wealth:
Were ye to discover the hidden, the shoreless oceans of My incorruptible wealth, ye would, of a certainty, esteem as nothing the world, nay, the entire creation. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 323.
This powerful focused prayer uses the terms “I testify” and “I bear witness,” which not only denote belief, but evince conviction and steadfastness in walking the spiritual path.
In the final installment of this series, we’ll examine how the short daily Baha’i prayer recognizes the oneness of God, and opens a pathway for approaching that Divine unity.