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Are your prayers passive or active?
Someone once asked Abdu’l-Baha, “Should prayer take the form of action?” Yes!” he said:
In the Baha’i Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 176-177.
“All effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship”—that simple phrase defines the Baha’i concept of prayer. More than just words on a page, Baha’i prayer encompasses every human activity “prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”
So think about it for a minute—what have you done lately to serve humanity?
You might have helped your children with their homework, or assisted a neighbor with a project, or volunteered at your local food bank, or given blood at a hospital, or donated to a worthwhile charity, or cooked a meal for a hungry person, or lovingly counseled a troubled friend, or created a work of art. If that active service came out of your highest motives, borne of caring and kindness and love, it was a prayer.
The Baha’i teachings say that when you made that altruistic effort, ministering to the needs of others, you were praying:
I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paintbrush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
If one friend feels love for another, he will wish to say so. Though he knows that the friend is aware that he loves him, he will still wish to say so…. God knows the wishes of all hearts. But the impulse to prayer is a natural one, springing from man’s love to God.
Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude. But if this love and this desire are lacking, it is useless to try to force them. Words without love mean nothing. If a person talks to you as an unpleasant duty, with no love or pleasure in his meeting with you, do you wish to converse with him? – Abdu’l-Baha, as quoted in J. E. Esslemont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 94.
The love in our hearts, the Baha’i writings remind us, can emerge in action as beautiful prayers. But of course that process always begins in individual reflection, quiet meditation, and the sweet melody of the soul’s mystical attraction to the infinite:
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 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. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 295.