25 June 2010

Prayer is a duty but more importantly it is a blessing.


Throughout the millenia, God has sent his messengers to teach humanity how to pray. This is one of his many gifts to his creation. Sometimes the heart is not inclined towards prayer. But that's why we're taught to do it frequently. Practice makes perfect, and with experience it springs from deep within the heart and not from feelings of guilt and compulsion. I bring this up because it is a topic that has been on my mind. I was travelling recently, and because I was out of my daily routine, I often forgot to pray. This has given me an opportunity to hold my ingrained habits at a distance and think critically about why I choose to pray on a daily basis. It seems to me one important thing to keep in mind is that God gives humanity laws not to hold us down, but rather to build us up spiritually and lead us on a path towards him.

In Islam and the Baha'i Faith God's teachings on prayer have been codified into a daily mandatory practice. Under the laws revealed through Muhammad, humanity was called to perform certain prayers five times a day. Under the laws revealed through Baha'u'llah this was changed to a command of practicing one of three options. One is a short prayer offered once between noon and sunset, another is a medium length prayer performed three times daily, once in the periods between dawn and noon, noon and sunset, and the two hours following sunset. Finally, the third option is a long prayer performed once in twenty-four hours.

I've been a Baha'i for over five years now. Daily obligatory prayer is no longer something new. It's clearly built into my daily routine. Sometimes, it comes easily. Other times, it requires an exercise of will power to get me to do it. But for the most part I always do it. The first time I forgot to perform any of the three options during my recent travels, I realized it as I was starting to fall asleep that night. I felt guilty. And I could have gotten up to perform the Long Obligatory Prayer. After all, it can be said at all hours. But it occured to me that if I did, the prayer would only emerge from feelings of guilt rather than a genuine desire to commune with my Creator. For that reason, I prayed informally while laying in bed and meditated on why Baha'u'llah has enjoined prayer upon Baha'is, as a law.

It occured to me that Baha'is misunderstand obligatory prayer if they think of it as something they owe to God. This would mean that when they fail to say them they are taking more than their share, that they benefit themselves excessively by withholding from God what is rightfully his. Based upon my understanding of the Baha'i writings, it seems to me that the obligatory nature of the three options is just to override an individual's tendency to misunderstand what is best for herself. I think this is what Baha'u'llah is discussing when he writes in the Kitab-i-Aqdas:

Consider the pettinesss of man's minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them... Say: True liberty consisteth in man's submission to My commands, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever he hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will that pervadeth all created things. (K125)
Sometimes, there is a tendency to think of prayer as an imposition. After all, it is mandatory. But insofar as it is an imposition it is one that leads the performer along the path toward perfect liberty and knowledge of God's purpose in each of his choices for us. One could say that God takes our liberty away from us with his laws. But whatever liberty he takes, he gives back in a richer, more divine form than when it left us. 'Abdu'l-Baha teaches that,

There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer. Man must live in
a state of prayer. The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and
supplication. Prayer is conversation with God. The greatest attainment or the sweetest state is none other than conversation with God. It creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and celestial feelings, begets new attractions of the Kingdom and engenders the susceptabilities of the higher intelligence.
It should be seen as a blessing that God had mandated that we practice daily to attain unto this state.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for all the diverse and thoughtful and posting! You're on a roll man.

    ReplyDelete