17 May 2010

"Our church is in our hearts. We take it wherever we go."

When I was first introduced to the Baha'i Faith, the Baha'is I knew conducted a devotional gathering at a nearby home. The first time I gathered with the Baha'is to pray I was struck by the simplicity and focus of their approach to communal prayer. There were no rituals. Socialization waited until after prayers were done. Participants would recite prayers individually as they felt inspired. They would sing songs even if nobody else knew the words to sing them. The devotional portion of the gathering focused entirely on prayer and meditation. And because it didn't follow a pre-established program, individuals would participate to the extent that they felt inspired. As a Catholic re-engaging with my faith tradition I found that approach to worship deeply moving. I didn't feel in any way pressured. I didn't feel like a sheep lost in my own flock. Instead, I felt united with those around me in the common purpose of worshipping our creator.

Furthermore, the conditions required for such a gathering are easy to find. All that is needed are souls desiring to commune with God and a time and place to meet together. Certainly, a few candles and some peace and quiet are helpful. But they are by no means necessary. Often when Baha'is introduce the Baha'i Faith to someone they are asked "where is your church?" This can often be a difficult question. Many communities have Baha'is centers. But the function they perform in a Baha'i community is very different than a church building in a Christian community. The best response to this question I've heard is that, "Our church is in our hearts and we take it wherever we go." I think this reply best captures the Baha'i approach to communal worship and community building. Baha'is don't wish to take people out of their neighborhoods to commune with their creator. The aim is to establish a minimal differene between the places we live and the places we worship. Prayer can be performed in a living room, under a tree, in a car, a break room, anywhere. The aim is to infuse a devotional character into day-to-day life. This is the spiritual transformation that always goes hand in hand with the social transformation aimed at in Baha'i efforts toward community building.

The holiness of devotional gatherings comes through the human soul and not from where the participants gather. Where they gather becomes holy through the act of worship performed there. In the front of most Baha'i prayer books there are words of Baha'u'llah that state this well.
Blessed is the spot, and the house,
and the place, and the city,
and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave,
and the valley, and the land,
and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention
of God hath been made,
and His praise glorified.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. It made me want to join a devotional meeting.