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For the past ten years I have been studying the prayers and meditations of the world’s major religions.
I have also traveled during that time, as a cruise ship clergyperson, to over 100 countries and islands. In all my travels I have been fascinated by the fervor of people everywhere whom I saw praying and meditating either alone, or in small groups, as well as in very large numbers. I have learned some important lessons about the power of prayer and its universality. In countries like Russia and China, where religion was suppressed for decades, I found large numbers of people attending Russian Orthodox churches and Buddhist temples, respectively. It became clear to me that human spiritual needs run much deeper than political ideologies. Most importantly, I became aware of the commonality of all forms of spiritual experience and devotion. While outwardly it seems that religions differ greatly from one another, in reality the differences come more from form than from substance.
My entire life has been a spiritual quest. I was born to secular Jewish parents in the seaport city of Haifa under the British Mandate for Palestine. Yet from a very young age I was fascinated by all the Abrahamic religions which dwelled side by side in my native town. Interestingly, I grew up across the street from the Baha’i temple and gardens in Haifa, and I learned at a young age that the Baha’i Faith embraced all religions.
Now, years later, I have come to fully appreciate the Baha’i belief in the oneness of religion and the progressive nature of revelation. For years, I have been troubled by the rivalry and exclusivism which characterized the way Judaism, Christianity, and Islam approached one another. When I decided to become a rabbi, I chose a progressive branch of Judaism, and after I was ordained I pursued interfaith studies and activities.
The post-Cold War world has now entered a new phase, which some refer to as a cultural and religious “clash of civilizations.” There seems to be a greater need today than ever before to initiate a world dialogue among all religions to harness the universal power of prayer and faith for the common good, rather than continue to work at cross-purposes, which can only exacerbate conflicts around the globe.
In my new book, Why People Pray: The Universal Power of Prayer, I make a case for a new language of prayer which can bring all people together across ideological divides. I point out that the Baha’i teachings are perfectly suited for starting a new phase in the history of human faith, in which the common good of all humanity is recognized as the highest value to be pursued by all cultures and creeds:
This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of unity of the sons of men and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. You are loosed from ancient superstitions which have kept men ignorant, destroying the foundation of true humanity.
The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, pp. 19-20.
In the final analysis, we all live on a planet that keeps getting smaller and ever more interdependent, and the good of one is the good of all.