Good evening, friends.
It is wonderful to see people of so many different convictions sharing their insights so openly and respectfully. One thing that all religions have in common is prayer, although the specifics may vary, and the Bahá’í Faith is no exception.
What is prayer?
‘Abdu’l-Bahá says, “There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer… the most blessed condition is that of prayer and supplication.”
A young man once asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to teach him how to pray. When he arrived for the lesson, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was already kneeling in prayer and said nothing, so the youth simply followed his example. After praying for his friends and family, he repeated all the prayers he had learned as a child, and then his attention drifted to the pain in his knees, his aching back, the birds singing outside the window, a crack in the wall…
Finally, his gaze shifted to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and he saw such ecstasy in His uplifted face that suddenly all he wanted was to be able to pray like that. Forgetting all else, he became aware of only one thing: a passionate desire to draw closer to God. He closed his eyes, and was surprised to find his heart transported by eager, joyful, tumultuous prayer. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had taught him to pray!
‘Abdu’l-Bahá promptly rose and approached the young man. “When you pray,” He said with a twinkle in His eyes, “do not think of your aching body, the birds outside the window, or the cracks in the wall.” Then, more seriously, He added, “when you want to pray, know first that you are in the presence of the All-Powerful.”
The Bahá’í Teachings state that prayer, in its essence, is communion with the Divine, no matter how we understand or name that transcendent Being: “O son of Glory! Be swift in the path of holiness, and enter the heaven of communion with Me. Cleanse thy heart with the burnish of the spirit, and hasten to the court of the Most High.”
Why should we pray?
The Bahá’í Writings say, “If one friend feels love for another, he will wish to say so. Though he knows that the friend is aware that he loves him, he will still wish to say so… God knows the wishes of all hearts. But the impulse to prayer is a natural one, springing from our love to God.”
“The wisdom of prayer is this: That it causes a connection between the servant and the True One, because in that state, with all our heart and soul we turn our face towards His Highness the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and compassion. The greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing. That is why the greatest hope of every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before his Beloved, appeal for His mercy and grace and be immersed in the ocean of His utterance, goodness and generosity.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
“We should speak in the language of heaven—in the language of the spirit—which is as different from our language as ours is different from that of the animals, who express themselves only by cries and sounds. It is the language of the spirit which speaks to God. When, in prayer, we are freed from all outward things and turn to God, then it is as if in our hearts we hear the voice of God. Without words we speak, we communicate, we converse with God and hear the answer… All of us, when we attain to a truly spiritual condition, can hear the Voice of God.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
“Man becomes like a stone unless he continually supplicates to God. The heart of man is like a mirror which is covered with dust and to cleanse it one must continually pray to God that it may become clean. The act of supplication is the polish which erases all worldly desires.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
How should we pray?
The Bahá’í Writings say, “Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude. But if this love and this desire are lacking, it is useless to try to force them. Words without love mean nothing. If a person talks to you as an unpleasant duty, with no love or pleasure in his meeting with you, do you wish to converse with him?” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá) “The most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance, its prolongation hath not been and is not beloved by God. The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God.” (The Báb)
Bahá’í prayers say, “make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence… 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.”
In the Bahá’í Writings, work done in a spirit of service is also a form of prayer: “…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 humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer.” “Strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers… Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
What should we pray for?
The Bahá’í Writings say, “O thou who art turning thy face toward God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a glimpse He layeth balm on every wound, with a nod he freeth the hearts from the shakles of grief… Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Mercful Lord.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
“Beseech thou from God’s infinite grace whatsoever thou desirest. But wert thou to heed my advice thou wouldst desire naught save entrance into the Most Glorious Kingdom, and seek naught save the bounties of the Beauty of the All-Glorious, may my life be sacrificed for His loved ones. This is my exhortation to thee.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Bahá’u’lláh prayed, “O God, my God! Look not upon my hopes and my doings, nay rather look upon Thy will that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth. By Thy Most Great Name, O Thou Lord of all nations! I have desired only what Thou didst desire, and love only what Thou dost love.”
Are prayers always answered?
In short, yes, but not always in the way we expect, like the woman who prayed for patience and God gave her quintuplets! ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells the story of a boy who prayed for a sword for his birthday, but when it passed without a sword, his father – an atheist – said, “Do you see now, my son, that your prayers are not answered?” The boy answered, “Oh, but they were answered, father! Don’t you see? God’s answer was ‘NO’!”
I would like to end with a prayer by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for unity and peace among all the peoples and nations of the earth:
“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. Thou art the Mighty and Powerful, Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlooketh the shortcomings of all mankind.”