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In my childlike understanding of prayer, I imagine all the peoples of the world, including myself, saying the “give-me” prayer: “give me this or that,” or “give me victory over my foes.” Doesn’t that sound ridiculous?
Of course, prayers like that, if answered, would put God in competition with Himself, because the guy on the other team or from the other nation prays to the same God! In those cases, we all should start to wonder about the point of prayer and who we’re praying to. When we pray, what should happen – and do our prayers really have any effect at all?
As a Baha’i, I firmly believe they do. The Baha’i teachings reassure us that: “God is merciful. In His mercy He answers the prayers of all His servants when according to His supreme wisdom it is necessary.”
That affirmation of prayer comes from Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. In the same talk, given in New Hampshire in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha also said:
… we ask for things which the divine wisdom does not desire for us, and there is no answer to our prayer. His wisdom does not sanction what we wish. We pray, “O God! Make me wealthy!” If this prayer were universally answered, human affairs would be at a standstill. There would be none left to work in the streets, none to till the soil, none to build, none to run the trains. Therefore, it is evident that it would not be well for us if all prayers were answered. The affairs of the world would be interfered with, energies crippled and progress hindered. But whatever we ask for which is in accord with divine wisdom, God will answer. Assuredly!
Personally, I know that prayer works, especially when the prayer becomes more of a state of being. In that condition I’ve experienced a gratitude so deeply felt that if I could just evaporate into that mystical cloud of connection, all of life’s challenges would have been worth the struggle just to arrive to that moment!
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Trying to articulate a deeper understanding of the mysteries of prayer often eludes me – but I continue to try.
It seems that the Baha’i teachings ask us to pray to awaken our soul/spirit/consciousness to its own true identity and full potential. That way, we can see the Divine reflected within the mirror of our soul – the mysterious part of ourselves that Baha’u’llah wrote about in his mystical book “The Hidden Words:”
O Son of Being! With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light …
That light is already there in your soul! It is part of our purpose in this life to remove all the veils that block its radiance, and prayer is one way to do that.
One of the writings of the Bab – the forerunner and herald of Baha’u’llah – tells us that we are “… a mode of the Divine Self Reflection.” My limited understanding of this tells me that in the state of prayer we can become the vehicle through which that light, placed within us, may recognize and know itself.
As one Baha’i prayer from Abdu’l-Baha puts it, when we are gifted with those moments we can experience “the holy ecstasy of prayer” that words become inadequate to describe:
Reveal then Thyself, O Lord, by Thy merciful utterance and the mystery of Thy divine being, that the holy ecstasy of prayer may fill our souls – a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds – that all things may be merged into nothingness before the revelation of Thy splendor.
But, how do we know if we are truly connecting with the Divine Will in our prayers? Perhaps there is a litmus test – we can ask ourselves: will this prayer lead me to real actions that create justice, kindness, integrity, respect, compassion, peace, unity, and ultimately, love?
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When we utilize the beautiful Baha’i prayers and writings, they can motivate us to take steps to transform ourselves and the communities we live in. Yet another reason we pray is to lead us to act – otherwise, prayer is only something that begins and ends with words. This new definition of prayerful worship, explained by Abdu’l-Baha in a talk he gave in Paris, defines the Baha’i approach to making a connection with the Creator:
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.
Service is prayer – what a remarkable concept!
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