One of the great gifts of religion which has been renewed by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, is the concept of daily prayer. As an article of belief, Baha’is pray and meditate daily.
For this purpose, Baha’u’llah provided three specific prayers to choose from. Here are the words of the shortest of these prayers, utilized for individual worship by millions of Baha’is around the world every day:
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’i Prayers, p. 3.
Consisting of only three sentences in English, this prayer has been translated into some 800 languages.
In Part 1 of this series on this intriguing prayer, we’ll consider the first sentence, which conveys the very essence of life—that we come from one Creator, who wants us to know, understand and love Him, and experience the deep joy that can come from worship.
Here again, the opening sentence of that prayer: “I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.”
Educator Dr. Daniel C. Jordan, founder of the ANISA Educational Model, wrote a penetrating nine-page essay, much of which was inspired by his reflections on meanings he found in this short prayer from Baha’u’llah, especially in this one sentence just above:
Service to mankind is given quality by the depth and character of the capacities of the human being rendering it. What are these capacities? Baha’u’llah identifies them in His statement of the animating purpose behind man’s creation: to know and love God. Here the two basic powers or capacities of knowing and loving are clearly specified and linked to our purpose—our reason for being. Thus, for a Baha’i becoming one’s true self means the development of one’s knowing and loving capacities in service to mankind.
This understanding gives substance to the notion of spirituality. A spiritual person is one who knows and loves God and who is committed to the struggle of developing those knowing and loving capacities for service to humanity.
All other virtues can be understood as expressions of different combinations of these capacities of loving and knowing as they are applied in different situations…
Each capacity supports and facilitates the development of the other. In order to know, for instance, we must love learning; if we are to love, we must know how to love and how to be loved.
These two capacities constitute the basic nature of human potential. From a Baha’i point of view, true education refers to a drawing out or a development of potential to the fullest extent possible…
The basic source of the power for transformation is the Writings of Baha’u’llah. Exposure to His Writings nurtures the development of faith—the first prerequisite for transformation. Basically, faith refers to an attitude towards the unknown or unknowable which ultimately enables one to approach it in a way that something more of it becomes known. It thus represents a special interplay of the two basic capacities of knowing and loving. In essence, faith means a loving of the unknown or unknowable—an attraction to whatever is unknown and a capacity to approach it. Since, as Baha’u’llah affirms, God is unknowable, it takes faith to become attracted and related to Him…
It is interesting to note that, if our basic capacities are knowing and loving, and if we are created in the image of God, then knowing and loving must be among the attributes of God. In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah indicates that this is so. He says, 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.
Further, if God is unknowable and if we are created in His image, then we may expect something in ourselves also to be unknown. This unknown is the as yet unexpressed potential within us—latent capacities for knowing and loving…
The necessity for reciprocity…is clearly expressed by Baha’u’llah in The Hidden Words. He states, O Son of Being! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, my love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant. In this verse, God commands, through His Manifestation, that we love Him and accept Him in spite of the fact that He is unknowable. Being attracted to the unknowable is the essence of faith. If there is no faith, no attraction to that primary mystery—God, then we become alienated from the mystery in our own selves and cut off from the power to grow and develop. The statement quoted above starts with O Son of Being and ends with know this, O servant. Thus, in that very short verse, the two basic capacities of loving and knowing are again emphasized in the context of being and serving. It connects the process of being and becoming with that higher station of servitude. – “Becoming Your True Self, How the Baha’i Faith Releases Human Potential,” Daniel C. Jordan, World Order, A Baha’i Magazine, Volume 3, Number 1, Fall 1968.
Dr. Jordan’s deep understanding of these two human capacities—knowing and loving—gives us a glimpse into the profound nature of Baha’u’llah’s short prayer. Repeated millions of times a day all around the world, it reminds us to try to know and love God. As we articulate this core longing, we also come to know and love each other.