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A sweet young woman smiled at me, but through her smile, I saw loneliness. She had studied hard to find her path of service, only to find herself in a distant land, far from family or from friends who deeply understood her. I wondered how I could help her.
Sometimes the stakes are much higher. The pain hits hard when we read the daily news. Another deadly bombing attack breaks up families. A hate crime results in widespread violence. Separatists devastate the cultural icons of a people. Every day, disunity wreaks havoc upon lives. Most of us can only turn away from the news source, the images weighing heavily on our hearts.
We may feel paralyzed into inaction, but indeed we are not. When we have nothing else to try, we still have one recourse. We can pray.
Prayer can change lives – not only for those who feel the impact of the prayer but for those who feel empowered by the act of prayer itself.
American author and physician Larry Dossey created a stir when he documented studies of the enhanced recovery of medical patients, not only by the power of their own prayers but through the prayers of distant friends and relatives. He explained in Prayer is Good Medicine that patients recovered more quickly even when they did not know others were praying for them.
Proactive efforts to gnaw away at the looming issues of violence, prejudice, illness and disunity we face on the nightly news may seem out of reach to us—until we consider the tool of prayer as a powerful resource available to every person of faith.
We can and should, of course, also act on our convictions through service, reaching out to abate cynicism through our example and engagement in worthy causes. But beyond that, and in addition to that, we can pray. Our prayers, in fact, may lead us into the arenas where our service will reach the people in greatest need, or our advocacy will fall on the most compassionate listening ears. The speed and potency of prayer may surprise us, whether the goal is to end a war or to keep one global citizen happy.
One night I lay in a hospital bed during a long-term stay, unable to help anyone beyond the four corners of my room. That young nurse from Nigeria came on the night shift. Through our conversations, I learned the fact that she lived far from her family and missed them very much. She felt isolated and knew no one in this country except her fiancée, who lived on the East Coast, a long plane ride away. An engineer by profession, he felt stuck in his job there and could not fly out to be with her. Helplessly, I told her I had nothing to offer but prayer. As I went to sleep, I implored in my prayers for the fiancée to unite with this sweet nurse and immediately marry her and start a family, as she wished—and for him to get a job in Silicon Valley, perhaps at Google or Yahoo, God willing. It seemed a bit audacious for me to make such a specific request, I thought, but I wanted her not to give up on happiness or on America, where she radiated as such an example of unity and kindness to others.
The next morning, this young nurse came to give me my morning meds before leaving her shift. Her face beamed. She said her fiancée had received an early morning email asking him to come out to the West coast for an interview at Google. He felt eerily sure he would get the job.
Whether or not we can document the outcome of our prayers overnight in arranging a match or healing a schism or sealing a global divide, prayer can set us on a course to recognize opportunities for service —and it might magnify our effectiveness in working with likeminded souls. One prayer by Abdu’l-Baha pleads, “O God! Unite us and connect our hearts with Thy indissoluble bond.”
The Baha’i writings offer a number of helpful prayers for humanity to add to your prayer list. Revealed by the founder of the Faith in Persia at a time when the elimination of religious, national and gender prejudice seemed heretical, and translated in the formal English of the 19th Century, the prayers themselves show miraculous relevance to the issues of our times.
The following two prayers invite us to think not in years or even decades but in centuries about the impact that today’s prayers may have on the ultimate destiny of humanity. Add them to your collection and read them both before and after you watch the news!
O my God! I ask Thee, by Thy most glorious Name, to aid me in that which will cause the affairs of Thy servants to prosper, and Thy cities to flourish. Thou, indeed, hast power over all things! – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 61.
O Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household. In Thy Holy Presence they are all Thy servants, and all mankind are sheltered beneath Thy Tabernacle; all have gathered together at Thy Table of Bounty; all are illumined through the light of Thy Providence.
O God! Thou art kind to all, Thou hast provided for all, dost shelter all, conferrest life upon all. Thou hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties, and all are submerged in the Ocean of Thy mercy.
O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home. May they all live together in perfect harmony. O God! Raise aloft the banner of the oneness of mankind.
O God! Establish the Most Great Peace.
Cement Thou, O God, the hearts together, O Thou kind Father, God! Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love. Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance. Delight our ears with the melody of Thy Word, and shelter us all in the Stronghold of Thy Providence.
Thou art the Mighty and Powerful, Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlooketh the shortcomings of all mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 101-102.