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As I developed a daily practice of prayer and meditation, I realized two things: first, that this practice really helped me live a better life; and second, when I missed a day, I felt a real sense of loss.
After I recognized those two things, it occurred to me that we all need to let our burdens go, to communicate with something greater than ourselves, to find help and solace in the presence of the Creator in our lives. We need to pray every day – for our own well-being.
That’s one of the reasons why the Baha’i teachings recommend prayer as a fundamental human obligation that leads to each person’s spiritual progress and the benefit of the world in general:
The wisdom of prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One, because in that state man with all heart and soul turneth his face towards His Highness the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and compassion. The greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing; that is why with every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God, his greatest hope is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before his Beloved, appeal for His mercy and grace and be immersed in the ocean of His utterance, goodness and generosity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith
To instill within us that helpful habit of remembering God, Baha’u’llah has given his followers certain prayers intended for daily use. These special Baha’i prayers have three different lengths and styles, and Baha’is are free to select from these whichever one they feel best suits them, and is most convenient and culturally familiar.
The first of these prayers can be said at any time during the day, and requires about fifteen minutes to complete. The second is shorter and designed to be recited three times a day, at morning, noon and evening. The third and shortest one of these three obligatory Baha’i prayers was revealed by Baha’u’llah with the instruction to say it each day at around noon:
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
Each of these daily prayers reminds us of the purpose of our existence and the greatness of our Creator. Like all Baha’i prayers, they’re not meant to be repeated with others in any congregational way, but to be spoken aloud in the privacy of one’s room:
The reason why privacy hath been enjoined in moments of devotion is this, that thou mayest give thy best attention to the remembrance of God … – The Bab, Selections from the Writings of The Bab
Among Persian or Arabic speakers, the prayers are often chanted, while in other languages they are often set to music. In whatever form they are offered, be it spoken, chanted or sung, Baha’i prayers soon become a vital part of one’s day.
The Difference Between Prayer and Meditation
Meditation means communication with one’s own inner being, while prayer means communication between the individual and the Creator.
The Baha’i teachings view prayer as the transforming power which enkindles the fire of the heart, and not only benefits the spiritual progress of the individual but the world as a whole. Prayer has a positive influence on the life and soul of the individual, even if at first it cannot be perceived.
Although personally-worded, spontaneous prayers are sincere and heard by God, Baha’is understand that a special power resides in the revealed word of God. Baha’u’llah, The Bab and Abdu’l-Baha have provided us with many prayers of communion, adoration, glorification, thanksgiving, and supplication.
Baha’i prayer books bring together a selection of prayers which are usually, for the sake of convenience, grouped by subject. The following are just a few examples. Concerning the acquisition of spiritual qualities, Baha’u’llah wrote:
From the sweet-scented streams of Thine eternity give me to drink, O my God, and of the fruits of the tree of Thy being enable me to taste, O my Hope! From the crystal springs of Thy love suffer me to quaff, O my Glory, and beneath the shadow of Thine everlasting providence let me abide, O my Light! Within the meadows of Thy nearness, before Thy presence, make me able to roam, O my Beloved, and at the right hand of the throne of Thy mercy, seat me, O my Desire! From the fragrant breezes of Thy joy let a breath pass over me, O my Goal, and into the heights of the paradise of Thy reality let me gain admission, O my Adored One! To the melodies of the dove of Thy oneness suffer me to harken, O Resplendent One, and through the spirit of Thy power and Thy might quicken me, O my Provider! In the spirit of Thy love keep me steadfast, O my Succourer, and in the path of Thy good pleasure set firm my steps, O my Maker! Within the garden of Thine immortality, before Thy countenance, let me abide for ever, O thou Who art merciful unto me, and upon the seat of Thy glory stablish me, O Thou Who art my Possessor! To the heaven of Thy loving-kindness lift me up, O my Quickener, and unto the Daystar of Thy guidance lead me, O Thou my Attractor! Before the revelations of Thine invisible spirit summon me to be present, O Thou Who art my Origin and my Highest Wish, and unto the essence of the fragrance of Thy beauty, which Thou wilt manifest, cause me to return, O Thou Who art my God! Potent art Thou to do what pleaseth Thee. Thou art, verily, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, the All-Highest. – Baha’i Prayers, p. 232.
Thy name is my healing, O my God, and remembrance of Thee is my remedy. Nearness to Thee is my hope, and love for Thee is my companion. Thy mercy to me is my healing and my succour in both this world and the world to come. Thou, verily, art the All-Bountiful, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. – Ibid., p. 87.
For the establishment of unity:
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavour, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. – Ibid., p. 204.
In praise and gratitude of God:
All praise, O my God, be to Thee Who art the Source of all glory and majesty, of greatness and honour, of sovereignty and dominion, of loftiness and grace, of awe and power. Whomsoever Thou willest Thou causest to draw nigh unto the Most Great Ocean, and on whomsoever Thou desirest Thou conferrest the honour of recognizing Thy Most Ancient Name. Of all who are in heaven and on earth, none can withstand the operation of Thy sovereign Will. From all eternity Thou didst rule the entire creation, and Thou wilt continue for evermore to exercise Thy dominion over all created things. There is none other God but Thee, the Almighty, the Most Exalted, the All-powerful, the All-Wise. Illumine, O Lord, the faces of Thy servants, that they may behold Thee; and cleanse their hearts that they may turn unto the court of Thy heavenly favours, and recognize Him Who is the Manifestation of Thy Self and the Dayspring of Thine Essence. Verily, Thou art the Lord of all worlds. There is no God but thee, the Unconstrained, the All-Subduing. – Ibid., p. 120.
As you can see from the content of these Baha’i prayers, prayer concerns the acquisition of spiritual qualities in our souls and our characters, and attuning our wants with what God desires for us. Prayer is much more than merely a wish list of things, like a child’s letter to Santa Claus. The Baha’i prayers impart a mental attitude which is conducive to spiritual growth, but like everything else in the Baha’i way of life, moderation is important if the individual is going to get anything out of the experience:
Should a person recite but a single verse from the Holy Writings in a spirit of joy and radiance, this would be better for him than reciting wearily all the Scriptures of God … – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book
Prayer is part of the practical process of spiritual guidance which extends beyond worship. It is a process which assists decision-making, and helps in the selection of appropriate actions. The individual who seeks enlightenment will use prayer as a means of turning his or her heart towards God as the Source of all knowledge. As Baha’u’llah has written:
“Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his own chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. Thus have the mysteries of the Revelation of God been decreed by virtue of the Will of Him Who is the Source of power and wisdom.”