Peter Murphy shares how a simple phrase changed the focus of his life —leading him out of alcoholism and into a life of service to his community.
In this episode of “Moments of Meaning,” Sean Hinton speaks to Peter Murphy, a poet, writer and teacher. Born in Wales, he grew up in New York City and now lives in Atlantic City, in the United States.
When he was in his twenties, Peter admits that he was going through a very difficult time. Plagued by frustration, anger, and loneliness, he was hitchhiking in Ireland with little orientation in his life. It was during this time of struggle that he encountered a group of Baha’is, who invited him to a gathering. Although he was skeptical, he tagged along.
“I heard these people saying their prayers, and I was fascinated because they didn’t seem to have a leader or a priest,” Peter explains. “But somebody would say a prayer and then somebody else, then somebody else. And then somebody read this prayer…”
It was a prayer by Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of the founder and prophet of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah:
O Lord! We are weak; strengthen us. O God! We are ignorant; make us knowing. O Lord! We are poor; make us wealthy. O God! We are dead; quicken us. O Lord! We are humiliation itself; glorify us in Thy Kingdom. If Thou dost assist us, O Lord, we shall become as scintillating stars. If Thou dost not assist us, we shall become lower than the earth.
O Lord! Strengthen us. O God! Confer victory upon us. O God! Enable us to conquer self and overcome desire. O Lord! Deliver us from the bondage of the material world. O Lord! Quicken us through the breath of the Holy Spirit in order that we may arise to serve Thee, engage in worshiping Thee and exert ourselves in Thy Kingdom with the utmost sincerity. O Lord, Thou art powerful. O God, Thou art forgiving. O Lord, Thou art compassionate.
It was the phrase “if Thou dost assist us, O Lord, we shall become as scintillating stars” that powerfully attracted him.
“I wasn’t really paying attention until I got to that line,” he says. “And that’s what shocked me. I was a poet, not a very good one at the time, but I was working on it…. I’d never heard anything quite so beautiful in any of the prayers or psalms or anything else that I was reading.”
Peter had given up on prayer a long time ago, and considered himself a skeptic. In fact, even after he became a Baha’i, he resisted prayer for a long time. But he couldn’t help his attraction to the words he had heard. “I just felt that it was a prayer that understood me more than anything else. And that was quite a shock.”
In this episode, Peter explains his journey from a life plagued with alcoholism to reliance on God, which began that day in Limerick. “I had absolutely no goal for my life, I had no vision of anything I wanted to do, except to be a poet, whatever that meant. I don’t even know what that meant. But this was something else. It wasn’t enough at that time to make me give up the life I was living. But… I came back to realise that maybe this was a solution for my life, this was a way that maybe my life could improve, and I could aspire toward being a ‘scintillating star.’” – a reference he makes in a poem of his Stars Poetica.
Those words followed Peter back to the United States, through rehabilitation and to building a career as a poet and teacher. Today, it helps inspire his approach to underserved students, with whom he hopes to share the literary and spiritual messages that have gotten him to where he is today and which he also references in another poem Doing Time.
“I guess before I became a Baha’i, I was relying on myself. And you get the impression that that didn’t work very well,” Peter says. “Prayer has improved things in my life, and I hope I have improved the lives of others as well.”
“Moments of Meaning” is a podcast where Sean Hinton speaks to people from all walks of life whose lives have been profoundly affected by the writings of the Baha’i Faith. They share the quotes that inspired them and delve into the story of that moment of meaning and the powerful changes it caused.
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