Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unite the Hearts

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.

We all know this prayer.  We've all said it many times, and probably heard it many more.  It is beautiful, easy to memorize, and, dare I say it, accessible to all.

Some of the prayers, in my own opinion, are a bit tough to relate to, but not this one.  I've said it at many prayer gatherings, firesides, study circles, interfaith gatherings; I've even had the bounty of being able to recite it in a Catholic Cathderal during one of their services.

I've studied it on my own, with my wife, with some friends, with seekers, and even with priests, rabbis, ministers and nuns.

It is, as I said, beautiful.  And it is short, so it doesn't intimidate many people.  It is also in a language style that is open  for people of all faiths.

But what is it about this particular prayer that makes it so powerful?  There are, after all, many other short prayers, and many other beautiful ones (I mean, really, aren't they all beautiful?), and many others that speak of universal themes.  So why has this one attracted so many?

Perhaps because of its particular message.

This is another one of those pieces of the Writings, one of those pearls from the Ocean of His Revelation, that I just love to trot out and study with any who come my way.  I never tire of it.

The first thing I've noticed in these studies is the repetition of the invocation of God.  "O my God!  O my God!"  Why that phrase?  Why twice?  Why ask me?  Oh wait, you didn't.  Sorry.

I don't profess to have an answer, but I can always make a guess.  Hopefully it will be an educated one.

In Arabic and Persian, one of which I believe is the original language of this prayer, you can't underline a word or phrase to stress it.  Underlining is like adding an accent mark, from what I understand, and completely changes the the letters and the words altogether.  (And, let's face it, "O my sofa, o my sofa" just doesn't sound as good)

And in Arabic and Persian (I really wish I knew what language this prayer was written in so I wouldn't have to write both all the time), you can't italicize a phrase to make it stand out.  The whole language is written in what looks like italics.  It's all beautiful calligraphy, and indistinguishable from italics.

So, how do you stress a point in those languages?  Repetition.  And saying it twice.  Or more.

Interesting aside number one: Try looking through the Writings and note where there is repetition.  It occurs in some very fascinating places. One example is when 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "Beware! Beware! Lest thou offend any heart."  It is so important to not offend any heart, even your own (it doesn't, after all, say "any other heart"), that He tells us to "beware" twice.  Another place is in the Kitab-i-'Ahd, Baha'u'llah's Book of the Covenant.  In paragraph 9 He tells us five times to turn, after His passing, to 'Abdu'l-Baha.  FIVE times.  That is how important His Covenant is.  I won't even go into the numero-linguistic significances of nine and five.

OK.  Back to the study.

Whenever I see a reference to God, I always make the leap to read a reference to mankind.  As you know, I believe that if God is referred to as the All-Bountiful, and we are created in His image, then it seems to me that we can show some bounty.  If He is seen as All-Wise, then we can show some wisdom.  I believe that whenever Baha'u'llah references an attribute of God in His Writings, He is alluding to that attribute within us, and calling us to use it and develop it.

So why does this prayer begin as it does?  I think of it as a call to recognize the oneness of humanity, and to acknowledge the divine essence within yourself and within others.  This is not to be confused with the notion that we are, in some way, God, but rather to say that if God is the Essence of Essences, then we have a piece of that within us.  We have some essence within us.  His light, after all, shines in our heart.

Speaking of which, once that acknowledgement is made, He then begins with the heart: "Unite the hearts of Thy servants..."

As we are all learning around the globe, when we come together in unity, turn towards our common Creator, and strive in His Name, then we are able to do far more than we ever dreamed possible.  As we actively and ardently persue the teaching work within our clusters and neighbourhoods, striving to learn what it means to build a new civilization, then we gradually learn a little bit more about what it is we are doing.  Slowly, and sometimes painstakingly, God reveals to us His "great purpose".

Minor aside number two: I am reminded of the story of the guy walking in the dark woods with the flashlight shining at his feet.  Only as he takes each step is he able to see the next step in front of him.  End, number two.

Once we begin to see what it is we are doing, and how it works, then we further realize the wisdom and importance of following the laws of the faith.  It is through our obedience to these laws that we are better able to draw on the mystical nature of our faith.  I often refer to this aspect of religion as the Concourse on High.  Sometimes I even use the adjective "wiley", as they sure seem to have a sense of humour.  Either way, we have all noticed that the more we pray, and the more we are obedient to the laws, the more things just seem to work out well.  Coincidences abound in direct proportion to our efforts.  I won't try to explain it, I just try and capitalize on it.

But then again, obedience is not easy.  Following the laws is often a challenge.  And that may be why we are asked to "abide in Thy law."

Also, please note that that these two requests are things we do.  It is not God who does it, but ourselves.  Baha'u'llah asks God to unite our hearts and reveal to us His purpose, but he is hoping that we will be obedient, even when it is difficult, for that is the only time you can abide.  If it's easy, then it is not abiding.
He even acknowledges that it won't be easy, for He asks God to help us and give us strength.  But what do we need that strength for?  To accomplish His purpose.  Not only His purpose, but His "great purpose".

And there, I think is an interesting challenge for us.  For once God gives us strength, it is always a question of what we do with that strength.  It is like any gift we get: our job is to put it to great use.  Look at time and computers, for example.  We could use them to play games all day, or to try and make the world a better place.  The time and the tools are there, but how we use them is up to us.

And here is the solution.  Baha'u'llah asks God not to leave us to ourselves, for He knows that given our preferences, we will squander these gifts.  He specifically asks that our steps be guided, for it is too easy to wander.  Focus is so important.  It is so important that the Universal House of Justice called on the Counsellors to help us maintain our focus (look it up in the 27 December message if you don't believe me).  When we clearly see what needs to be done, then we are more likely to do the job, and therefore He asks that our steps be guided by knowledge.

And then He closes the whole prayer just as He began: with the heart.

It seems that so much of the Baha'i Faith is about the heart.  It is found in Baha'u'llah's "first counsel", and shows up over and over in the oddest of places.  Look for it.  You'll see it's everywhere.

In fact, if you go through the Arabic Hidden Words and highlight "heart" in one colour and "love" in another, you will see a beautiful story when you read "heart" all the way through and then "love".

But that's another article altogether.

For now, I'll just mention that this prayer fininshes by acknowledging that God is our helper, just as we need to help each other in our work, and He is our Lord, reminding us of our noble station.

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