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For many, at this time in history, prayer may seem like an old custom that has lost its ability to bring aid and comfort to humanity. In a world afflicted with chaos and disintegration, the value and potency of prayer often comes into question.
Baha’is pray daily, and the Baha’i teachings shed new light on this ancient and necessary spiritual practice. They take us beyond our current understanding of the importance of prayer and its effect on us. They tell us that prayer reaffirms that God loves us:
Our creation came about out of God’s love, and faith asks us to love Him in return. Abdu’l-Baha tells us that we have a “language of love” to do this, called prayer. We have the mercy and gift of being able to pray in words, to bring ourselves humbly before God, and to earnestly seek His assistance. Baha’is see prayer not as a favor to God, but as a favor to humanity:
[Prayer]… 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.”
Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 683-84.
Prayer means much more than just a duty or an obligation, something we check off our “to do” list. Prayer goes far beyond a simple assemblage of words, or a recitation of what we think we need for our lives. Prayer brings our souls before our Creator. How we do it will determine our relationship with Him. Our desire to be in His presence and commune with Him shows our love. Just as we long to communicate and express our devotion and care to those we love here on earth, we can transmit that same longing to our Creator.
Prayer transforms us spiritually and who we are spiritually will determine the actions which flow from our prayers. With continuing refinement, putting aside the inclinations of our lower natures, we also refine our understanding of what it means to know and love God in order to serve Him. The “virtues and powers” we claim for ourselves become the fuel for our actions. Through prayer, the Divine Teachings transform into reality. Prayer also protects us from the natural and inevitable tests of life:
The people of the world are like unto trees (i.e., trees without roots), they are torn up by the passing of a gust of wind, but trees which are deeply rooted, strong and sturdy, are not uprooted by the most violent tempest – therefore they produce leaves, blossoms and fruits. – Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 683.
Prayer expresses the love between the Creator and the created. We have gratefully been given the language of prayer to bring ourselves into the presence of God to fill our souls “with the spirit of life”. This, in turn, provides us the guidance, strength and insight to rise to the apex of our humanness and radiate the love of God.
The Baha’i teachings encourage all of us to develop and regularly practice this spirit of prayerful meditation and reflection. Prayer can open the channel of love between the mystical reality of the Supreme Being and our souls. Like the gentle rain and the sunshine that follows open the flowers, prayer, reflection and meditation dilate our hearts with the spirit of love:
Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart. – Abdu’l-Baha , Paris Talks, p. 130.