Friday, December 11, 2009

Daily Prayers and Habits

It's early in the morning, and I've just stumbled out of bed, far more exhausted than I should be after a night's sleep.  It's mid-December, and that means the sun doesn't rise for another hour or so at this latitude, so the darkness outside my windows is playing games with my mind making me think I should still be nicely tucked away under the warm covers.

Bleary-eyed and yawning, I turn on the the little reading light next to my side of the bed, so as to not waken my adorable, snoring little son, who crawled into my bed a number of hours ago in order to snuggle with Papa while Mama is out of town, and there it is: my prayer book.

You see, dear Reader, I place my prayer book there so that I will see it every morning upon waking, and be reminded to say my prayers in the wee hours.  For years that beautiful little volume stayed in my backpack, which went with me everywhere, but often remained in the dark depths of said backpack, not seeing the light of day for, well, days.

And then, recently, an institution on which I serve made a decision that changed my morning habits.  One of the clusters in our region is trying to launch an intensive program of growth by Ridvan, and we wanted to offer our support. 

Aside number one:  Please don't forget, dear Reader, that I do write these articles for Baha'is, and so sometimes the language may sound like jargon.  Don't worry.  It is.

But for those of you who don't know the lingo: a cluster is a geographical area, based upon socio-economic considerations, defining an area of similarity, in order to assess the spiritual needs and development of the community.  The cluster in which I live is centred around Winnipeg.

The region in which I live is Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northwestern Ontario, which was swiftly, and appropriately, dubbed the SNOMAN region.  Within this region, the cluster in question focussed around the cities of Regina, Fort Qu'Appelle and Moose Jaw, with all towns and Reserves between. 

An intensive program of growth is an on-going and sustainable development project in which the Baha'i community is active and effective enough to begin creating a healthy change in the dynamics of civilization itself within said area.

Simply put, the Baha'is of an area get together and begin offering children's classes, junior youth groups, adult education classes and devotional gatherings for the purpose of growing and developing a new culture.  This new culture, by the way, is based upon spiritual principals and service to humanity.

Oh, and Ridvan is the festival seson in April during which Baha'u'llah declared His mission to His followers.

End of long aside number one.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes.  This institution decided to have all its members say one of the prayers from the Tablets of the Divine Plan for this cluster every day between September and April.  We all recite the one that begins "O God, my God!  Thou beholdest this weak one begging for celestial strength..."

And thus it began.

The evening that decision was made, I went to sleep trying to figure out how I would remember to do this every day.  When I awoke the next morning, I got out of bed and turned on my little reading light, and suddenly had my answer.  You see, most of our life is done by habit.  We get up, get out of bed, wash, eat breakfast and head to work, all without thinking about it.  Our real day, the one in which we are conscious of actions, does not usually begin until much later.

I do not believe this is how we are supposed to live.  I do not believe that this is how we make our lives richer and more meaningful.

This observation has found expression in many places recently, most notably in Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now".  But that could be another article altogether.

For me, my morning prayers helped change that.

I looked at my daily habits, the ones that I did unconsiously, as most of my actions are when I first wake up, and tried to see where I could insert something.  Turning on my light in order to see without waking anyone was an ingrained habit.  Placing the prayer book under the light so that I would see it was the change.  And that change was the reminder I needed to say that prayer.

Many years ago, when I formally declared my faith, I recognized a similar need in order to remember to say my obligatory prayer.  At first it was placing a small prayer book in with my lunch, but that got a bit messy.  Then it was setting a reminder on my computer calendar, but that got a bit annoying.  For a while I had the short obligatory prayer written on a small card in my pocket, and every time I would get my keys, I would fumble across that folded card.  That poor card got destroyed too quickly.  After trying many other innovative, and often silly, tricks, I eventually just started remembering.

Inevitable aside number two: There are three daily obligatory prayers in the Baha'i Faith, and we are required to say one of them each day.  They are, appropriately enough, named the Short, the Medium and the Long Obligatory Prayers.  We get to choose which one we wish to say each day.  For those of us who grew up without prayer, we generally choose the short one.  But I'll tell you, the Long really packs a whollop.  End of aside, for now.

When I began to learn about the importance of the long obligatory prayer, I decided to do something similar to help me remember.  After many years of forgetting to say that one (saying the short one was a habit by that time, and so I wasn't too concerned about missing the long one) I went to a friend's house for dinner.  It happened to be my birthday, which she didn't know when she set the date.  My family and I joined her family for a wonderful supper, and we had a great time.

During the course of the evening, I spotted a prayer rug hanging on her wall.  My eyes went wide as I explained the significance of that particular rug.  There was an image of a gate, symbolic of the Bab, and when you kneeled on it, you knelt before the Gate.  There was a tree beyond the gate, the Sadratu'l Muntaha, symbolic of Baha'u'llah.  There were also many trees and birds, all with their own symbolism.  I was in awe, as I had been looking for a rug like that for many years.

She briefly spoke with her husband, and they gave it to me as a gift.

I cannot tell you how touched I was. I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it.  (Thanks again, Michelle and Brian)

You see, they found it in a Salvation Army store, or some such, for a couple of dollars.  Although they liked it, the really preferred Oriental art to Middle-Eastern art.  And they weren't sure why they got it.  Now they felt they knew.

Well, that rug went in my family's prayer space (a space set aside for the sacred, which I think we all need in our life) and now, every time I see it, I remember to say my obligatory prayer.  The long one.

And I think of Michelle and Brian.

What a nice way to begin this morning.

I think I should make a habit of writing an article each morning.

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