“Prayer,” says ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, “is conversation with God.” In order that God may make known His Mind and Will to men, He must speak to them in a language which they can understand, and this He does by the mouths of His Holy Prophets. While these Prophets are alive in the body They speak with men face to face and convey to them the Message of God, and after Their death Their message continues to reach men’s minds through Their recorded sayings and writings. But this is not the only way in which God can commune with and inspire those whose hearts are seeking after truth, wherever they are, and whatever their native race or tongue. By this language the Manifestation continues to hold converse with the faithful after His departure from the material world. Christ continued to converse with and inspire His disciples after His crucifixion. In fact He influenced them more powerfully than before; and with other Prophets it has been the same. ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá speaks much of this spiritual language. He says, for instance:—
We should speak in the language of heaven—in the language of the spirit—for there is a language of the spirit and heart. It is as different from our language as our own language 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. (From a talk reported by Miss Ethel J. Rosenberg).
Bahá’u’lláh declares that the higher spiritual truths can be communicated only by means of this spiritual language. The spoken or written word is quite inadequate. In a little book called The Seven Valleys, in which He describes the journey of travelers from the earthly dwelling to the Divine Home, He says, in speaking of the more advanced stages of the journey:—
The tongue is unable to give an account of these, and utterance falls exceedingly short. The pen is useless in this court, and the ink gives no result but blackness.… Heart alone can communicate to heart the state of the knower; this is not the work of a messenger, nor can it be contained in letters.
In order that we may attain the spiritual condition in which conversation with God becomes possible, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá says:—
We must strive to attain to that condition by being separated from all things and from the people of the world and by turning to God alone. It will take some effort on the part of man to attain to that condition, but he must work for it, strive for it. We can attain to it by thinking and caring less for material things and more for the spiritual. The further we go from the one, the nearer we are to the other. The choice is ours.
Our spiritual perception, our inward sight must be opened, so that we can see the signs and traces of God’s spirit in everything. Everything can reflect to us the light of the Spirit. (From a talk reported by Miss Ethel J. Rosenberg).
Bahá’u’lláh has written:—“That seeker … at the dawn of every day … should commune with God, and, with all his soul, persevere in the quest of his Beloved. He should consume every wayward thought from the flame of His loving mention.…”—Gleaning from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
In the same way, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá declares:—
When man allows the spirit, through his soul, to enlighten his understanding, then does he contain all creation.… But on the other hand, when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom.
Deliver your souls, O people, from the bondage of self, and purify them from all attachment to anything besides Me. Remembrance of Me cleanseth all things from defilement, could ye but perceive it.…
Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, … 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.…—Gleaning from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.
A mediator is necessary between man and the Creator—one who receives the full light of the Divine Splendor and radiates it over the human world, as the earth’s atmosphere receives and diffuses the warmth of the sun’s rays.
If we wish to pray, we must have some object on which to concentrate. If we turn to God, we must direct our hearts to a certain center. If man worships God otherwise than through His Manifestation, he must first form a conception of God, and that conception is created by his own mind. As the finite cannot comprehend the infinite, so God is not to be comprehended in this fashion. That which man conceives with his own mind he comprehends. That which he can comprehend is not God. That conception of God which a man forms for himself is but a phantasm, an image, an imagination, an illusion. There is no connection between such a conception and the Supreme Being.
If a man wishes to know God, he must find Him in the perfect mirror, Christ or Bahá’u’lláh. In either of these mirrors he will see reflected the Sun of Divinity.
As we know the physical sun by its splendor, by its light and heat, so we know God, the Spiritual Sun, when He shines forth from the temple of Manifestation, by His attributes of perfection, by the beauty of His qualities and by the splendor of His light. (From a talk to Mr. Percy Woodcock, at ‘Akká, 1909.)
Unless the Holy Spirit become intermediary, one cannot attain directly to the bounties of God. Do not overlook the obvious truth, for it is self-evident that a child cannot be instructed without a teacher, and knowledge is one of the bounties of God. The soil is not covered with grass and vegetation without the rain of the cloud; therefore the cloud is the intermediary between the divine bounties and the soil.… The light hath a center and if one desire to seek it otherwise than from the center, one can never attain to it.… Turn thine attention to the days of Christ; some people imagine that without the Messianic outpourings it was possible to attain to truth, but this very imagination became the cause of the deprivation.
A man who tries to worship God without turning to His Manifestation is like a man in a dungeon trying through his imagination to revel in the glories of the sunshine.
Prayer Indispensable and Obligatory
The use of prayer is enjoined upon Bahá’ís in no uncertain terms. Bahá’u’lláh says in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:—
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who throughout eternity have turned away from God. Fear ye God, O My servants, one and all. Pride not yourselves on much reading of the verses or on a multitude of pious acts by night and day; for were a man to read a single verse with joy and radiance it would be better for him than to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Read ye the sacred verses in such measure that ye be not overcome by languor and despondency. Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them, so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend.
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá says to a correspondent:—“O thou spiritual friend! Know thou that prayer is indispensable and obligatory, and man under no pretext whatever is excused therefrom unless he be mentally unsound or an insurmountable obstacle prevent him.”
Another correspondent asked: “Why pray? What is the wisdom thereof, for God has established everything and executes all affairs after the best order—therefore, what is the wisdom in beseeching and supplicating and in stating one’s wants and seeking help?”
Know thou, verily, it is becoming in a weak one to supplicate to the Strong One, and it behooveth a seeker of bounty to beseech the Glorious Bountiful One. When one supplicates to his Lord, turns to Him and seeks bounty from His Ocean, this supplication brings light to his heart, illumination to his sight, life to his soul and exaltation to his being.
During thy supplications to God and thy reciting, “Thy Name is my healing,” consider how thine heart is cheered, thy soul delighted by the spirit of the love of God, and thy mind attracted to the Kingdom of God! By these attractions one’s ability and capacity increase. When the vessel is enlarged the water increases, and when the thirst grows the bounty of the cloud becomes agreeable to the taste of man. This is the mystery of supplication and the wisdom of stating one’s wants. (From a tablet to an American believer, translated by ‘Alí Kulí Khán, October 1908).
Bahá’u’lláh has revealed three daily obligatory prayers. The believer is free to choose any one of these three prayers, but is under the obligation of reciting one of them, and in the manner Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed.
The prayers which Bahá’u’lláh has ordained as a daily obligation for Bahá’ís are to be said privately. Only in the case of the Prayer for the Dead has Bahá’u’lláh commanded congregational prayer, and the only requirement is that the believer who reads it aloud, and all others present, should stand. This differs from the Islamic practice of congregational prayer in which the believers stand in rows behind an imám, who leads the prayer, which is prohibited in the Bahá’í Faith.
These ordinances, which are in accordance with Bahá’u’lláh’s abolition of professional clergy, do not mean that He attached no value to meetings for worship. Regarding the value of gathering for prayer, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá spoke as follows:—
Man may say: “I can pray to God whenever I wish, when the feelings of my heart are drawn to God; when I am in the wilderness, when I am in the city, or wherever I may be. Why should I go where others are gathered upon a special day, at a certain hour, to unite my prayers with theirs, when I may not be in a frame of mind for praying?”
To think in this way is useless imagination, for where many are gathered together their force is greater. Separate soldiers fighting alone and individually have not the force of a united army. If all the soldiers in this spiritual war gather together, then their united spiritual feelings help each other, and their prayers become acceptable. (From notes taken by Miss Ethel J. Rosenberg.)
To someone who asked whether prayer was necessary, since presumably God knows the wishes of all hearts, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá replied:—
If one friend loves another, is it not natural that he should wish to say so? Though he knows that the friend is aware of his love, does he still not wish to tell him of it? .… It is true that God knows the wishes of all hearts; but the impulse to pray is a natural one, springing from man’s love to God.
… Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and action. 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, finding neither love nor enjoyment in the meeting, do you wish to converse with him? (Article in Fortnightly Review, Jan.–June 1911, by Miss E. S. Stevens.)
In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty or heaven.… When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved. How much more difficult is it to keep from mentioning the Name of God when one has come to love Him.… The spiritual man finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God. (From notes of Miss Alma Robertson and other pilgrims, November and December 1900.)
According to the teaching of the Prophets, disease and all other forms of calamity are due to disobedience to the Divine Commands. Even disasters due to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are attributed by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá indirectly to this cause.
The suffering that follows error is not vindictive, however, but educative and remedial. It is God’s Voice proclaiming to man that he has strayed from the right path. If the suffering is terrible, it is only because the danger of wrongdoing is more terrible, for “the wages of sin is death.”
Just as calamity is due to disobedience, so deliverance from calamity can be obtained only by obedience. There is no chance or uncertainty about the matter. Turning from God inevitably brings disaster, and turning to God as inevitably brings blessing.
As the whole of humanity is one organism, however, the welfare of each individual depends not only on his own behavior, but on that of his neighbors. If one does wrong, all suffer in greater or less degree; while if one does well, all benefit. Each has to bear his neighbor’s burdens, to some extent, and the best of mankind are those who bear the biggest burdens. The saints have always suffered abundantly; the Prophets have suffered superlatively. Bahá’u’lláh says in the Book of Íqán:—“You must undoubtedly have been informed of the tribulations, the poverty, the ills, and the degradation that have befallen every Prophet of God and His companions. You must have heard how the heads of their followers were sent as presents unto different cities.…”—Kitáb-i-Íqán. This is not because the saints and Prophets have merited punishment above other men. Nay, they often suffer for the sins of others, and choose to suffer, for the sake of others. Their concern is for the world’s welfare, not for their own. The prayer of the true lover of humanity is not that he, as an individual, may escape poverty, ill-health or disaster, but that mankind may be saved from ignorance and error and the ills that inevitably flow from them. If he wishes health or wealth for himself, it is in order that he may serve the Kingdom, and if physical health and wealth are denied him, he accepts his lot with “radiant acquiescence,” well knowing that there is a right wisdom in whatever befalls him in the Path of God.
Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance; they are sent by the Divine Mercy for our perfecting. When grief and sorrow come, then will a man remember his Father Who is in Heaven, Who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him.
At first sight it may seem very unjust that the innocent should suffer for the guilty, but ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá assures us that the injustice is only apparent and that, in the long run, perfect justice prevails. He writes:—
As to the subject of babes and children and weak ones who are afflicted by the hands of the oppressors … for those souls there is a recompense in another world … that suffering is the greatest mercy of God. Verily that mercy of the Lord is far better than all the comfort of this world and the growth and development appertaining to this place of mortality.
Many find a difficulty in believing in the efficacy of prayer because they think that answers to prayer would involve arbitrary interference with the laws of nature. An analogy may help to remove this difficulty. If a magnet be held over some iron filings the latter will fly upwards and cling to it, but this involves no interference with the law of gravitation. The force of gravity continues to act on the filings just as before. What has happened is that a superior force has been brought into play—another force whose action is just as regular and calculable as that of gravity. The Bahá’í view is that prayer brings into action higher forces, as yet comparatively little known; but there seems no reason to believe that these forces are more arbitrary in their action than the physical forces. The difference is that they have not yet been fully studied and experimentally investigated, and their action appears mysterious and incalculable because of our ignorance.
Another difficulty which some find perplexing is that prayer seems too feeble a force to produce the great results often claimed to it. Analogy may serve to clear up this difficulty also. A small force, when applied to the sluice gate of a reservoir, may release and regulate an enormous flow of water-power, or, when applied to the steering gear of an ocean liner, may control the course of the huge vessel. In the Bahá’í view, the power that brings about answers to prayer is the inexhaustible Power of God. The part of the suppliant is only to exert the feeble force necessary to release the flow or determine the course of the Divine Bounty, which is ever ready to serve those who have learned how to draw upon it.
Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá have revealed innumerable prayers for the use of Their followers at various times and for various purposes. The greatness of conception and depth of spirituality revealed in these utterances must impress every thoughtful student, but only by making their use a regular and important part of one’s daily life can their significance be fully appreciated and their power for good realized. Unfortunately, considerations of space prevent our giving more than a very few short specimens of these prayers. For further examples the reader must be referred to other works.
O my Lord! Make Thy beauty to be my food, and Thy presence my drink, and Thy pleasure my hope, and praise of Thee my action, and remembrance of Thee my companion, and the power of Thy sovereignty my succorer, and Thy habitation my home, and my dwelling-place the seat Thou hast sanctified from the limitations imposed upon them who are shut out as by a veil from Thee.
Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Most Powerful.—Bahá’u’lláh.
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created Me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth.
There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.—Bahá’u’lláh.
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord.—Bahá’u’lláh.
O Thou kind Lord! Thou has 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.
O Thou kind Father, God! Gladden our hearts through the fragrance of Thy love. Brighten our eyes through the Light of Thy Guidance. Delight our ears with the melody of Thy Word, and shelter us all in the Stronghold of Thy Providence.
Thou art the Mighty and Powerful. Thou art the Forgiving and Thou art the One Who overlookest the shortcomings of all mankind!—‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.
O Thou Almighty! I am a sinner, but Thou art the Forgiver! I am full of shortcomings, but Thou art the Compassionate! I am in darkness of error, but Thou art the Light of Pardon!
Therefore, O Thou Benevolent God, forgive my sins, grant Thy Bestowals, overlook my faults, provide for me a shelter, immerse me in the Fountain of Thy Patience and heal me of all sickness and disease.
Purify and sanctify me. Give me a portion from the outpouring of holiness, so that sorrow and sadness may vanish, joy and happiness descend, despondency and hopelessness be changed into cheerfulness and trustfulness, and courage take the place of fear.
Verily Thou art the Forgiver, the Compassionate, and Thou art the Generous, the Beloved!—‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.
O compassionate God! Thanks be to Thee for Thou hast awakened and made me conscious. Thou hast given me a seeing eye and favored me with a hearing ear; hast led me to Thy Kingdom and guided me to Thy Path. Thou hast shown me the right way and caused me to enter the Ark of Deliverance. O God! Keep me steadfast and make me firm and staunch. Protect me from violent tests and preserve and shelter me in the strongly fortified fortress of Thy Covenant and Testament. Thou art the Powerful! Thou art the Seeing! Thou art the Hearing! O Thou the Compassionate God! Bestow upon me a heart which, like unto glass, may be illumined with the light of Thy love, and confer upon me a thought which may change this world into a rose-garden through the spiritual bounty. Thou art the Compassionate, the Merciful! Thou art the Great Beneficent God!—‘Abdu’l‑Bahá.
Bahá’í prayer is not, however, confined to the use of prescribed forms, important as those are. Bahá’u’lláh teaches that one’s whole life should be a prayer, that work done in the right spirit is worship, that every thought, word and deed devoted to the Glory of God and the good of one’s fellows is prayer, in the truest sense of the word.1