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Have you ever gotten together with people from other faith traditions to pray? It can have a powerful and even transformative impact on your life.
Interfaith prayer gatherings help people and their communities come together in a spirit of acceptance, compassion and spirituality, and on an individual level, bring out qualities in each participant that they might have never guessed existed.
The Baha’i Faith extols the importance of prayer in our personal life—and its role as a powerful force for the betterment of society:
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. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3.
Prayer, Abdu’l-Baha wrote, is not only reserved for a person’s private moments of meditation: we can also joyfully share it with others:
… all should gather together, and, harmoniously attuned one to another, engage in prayer; with the result that out of this coming together, unity and affection shall grow and flourish in the human heart. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 94-95.
Rossana Romero, a college student from Paraguay, remarked that the devotionals held in her home allowed for a more spiritual dynamic to permeate the relationships between the members of the household, changing the way they relate to each other. The devotional became a space where friends and family members could “share feelings, worries, and truly pray for each other.”
Perhaps that “true knowledge” includes knowledge of our inner selves—and knowledge of each other.
In a small community in Massachusetts, university students gathered for a devotional hosted by three roommates. The hosts practiced songs inspired by holy writings to teach the group, and printed inspirational quotes from various religions and inspirational thinkers, placing them in the center of the room for friends to choose what they wanted read. To the soft sound of music, and without any hurry, the group would read the quotes they chose one by one, sometimes including inspirational writings they brought themselves.
Hearing the quotes others found inspiring created a beautiful opportunity for participants to learn more about friends with whom they often only interacted in an academic setting. At the end of the devotional, participants shared their reflections, sometimes explaining details about their families and their lives. These powerful insights helped those in the group think about their own experiences—and develop deeper levels of compassion for others.
Prayer offers individuals a moment they can dedicate to thinking deeply, beyond work or school or social life. It allows them to identify what their souls need, and think about how to respond to that need. Then, when a group of people gather to reflect and pray, all thinking deeply about profound topics, change happens.
In these spaces, art flourishes naturally, as holy writings and deep meditation bring natural inspiration to the participants. Strong friendships are created among those who may have never had a chance to connect with each other before. As individuals, the participants have a moment to think about their own lives within a much larger whole, and see how they fit into a world they share with others.
Shamim Azimi, a young Baha’i from Sydney, Australia, feels that hosting prayer gatherings brings a deeper meaning to the relationships between all of the participants: “It’s helped my capacity to identify potential collaborators in the group of attendees, and consult with them as to what can be done to further the space’s growth. I feel that this not only helps empower the other youth to become active protagonists of change, but also to have them take ownership of the devotional and thus helping it grow into a more community-run space.”
Starting and hosting a gathering like this—taking responsibility for creating the spirit of unity and spirituality in the devotional, feeling free to invite new friends to participate, and knowing that everyone can contribute by reading, or singing, or giving an opinion—means taking a big step towards learning to see oneself as active protagonist of change.
As each participant incorporates new insights into his or her life, changes also begin to take place in the larger community, proving how something as seemingly intangible as prayer can quickly manifest itself in positive action.