Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Long Obligatory Prayer, part 1

Over the past few weeks a number of people have written in, or dropped by my office, or even phoned, to talk about the important of prayer and a prayerful attitude.

Obviously this is a concern, so I guess I might as well write my little bit about it.

In the past I've written a little bit about what the Writings say in regards to prayer, and how they help us grow, but today I wanted to take a slightly different approach.

First, I find that I just feel so much better when I take the time to pray. I'm not sure I've ever mentioned that. Taking just a few minutes every day to sit down, read a prayer or two, meditate upon them, and see how that impacts what I will do during the day, suffices. Of course, when I can take a longer amount of time, the benefits are just that much greater.

And what are some of those benefits? Well, I'm sure they vary from person to person, but this is what it does for me. I feel a lot more relaxed. I'm able to think more clearly. My general state of health seems to be better. I notice that more things just go well for me. Like what? Like finding my keys, or that parking spot where I need it, or noticing something in the store that just happens to be what I was looking for, even though I forgot. That sort of stuff. It's as if the universe just aligns itself with me. In fact, what I think it really is is that I align myself with the world.

Now, I'm going to share a bit of a story, and then embark on yet another epic journey, to which you are more than welcome to join.

Yesterday, I was meeting with a financial advisor (at least, that's what I'd call him), and he had to go out of the office to get something. It took a few minutes, during which time I sat, waited and prayed. When he had to go out a second time, I presumed that he would be a few minutes again, so I got out my prayer book and began to look at the long Obligatory Prayer.

When he returned, he saw my prayer book, and very reverentially asked if he could see it. He did this with so much respect, that I was touched. We had a marvelous conversation about the importance of religion, and he said that if I ever wanted to talk about spiritual matters, I should just give him a call. My spidey-sense went a-tingling, and the upshot of it all is that we are beginning Ruhi Book 1 with a group of his friends.

I attribute this to prayer.

This also got me thinking about studying the long Obligatory Prayer, so here goes.

You know, dear Reader, when I first started writing down a few thoughts about this, I began with the first phrase you say: "O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens!" That's where I began, and that's where I was going to start.

But then, as I was waking up this morning, I realized that this is not where the prayer begins. Nosiree, and I'm sure you know that. It begins with the ablutions. It begins with the washing of the hands and then the face. Why those in that order? Well, it's kind of silly to wash your face with dirty hands, isn't it? Clean your hands first, and then use your clean hands to wash your face.

The next step is found in the portion before the text itself, in the little paragraph printed at the beginning of the prayer:

Whoso wisheth to recite this prayer, let him stand up and turn unto God, and, as he standeth in his place, let him gaze to the right and to the left, as if awaiting the mercy of his Lord, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate. Then let him say:
(And yes, I included that last little sentence, but this isn't the part that you're supposed to say.)

First you wash your hands and face, then you stand and turn to God. What does that mean? Some have said that God is everywhere, so you turn to Him in your heart, and while that is true, that isn't what is meant here. This was clarified by Someone (but I'm not sure Who), either Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha. This currently refers to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, and will for at least the next 850 years or so. If you're not sure where that is, there are many great apps that will find it for you. Just google "Baha'i qiblih locator" and you'll find one fairly quickly.

Once your facing the right direction, while standing in place (in other words, not running, walking, driving, skipping or swimming), you gaze to the right and then to the left. Why? I have no idea. And how are you supposed to "gaze to the right and to the left, as if awaiting the mercy of" God? What does that look like? No clue.

Personally, if it were up to me, and I were awaiting God's mercy, I would probably be looking down at my feet, afraid to look up, or anywhere else for that matter. Not having any idea what it is Baha'u'llah expects me to do, I just kind of glance right and then left. Sort of over my shoulder a bit. Is this the "correct" way to do it? Of course it is. It's what works for me, and that's good enough. It reminds me that even though I'm facing Baha'u'llah's Shrine, God is really everywhere else, too.

Is that what it is supposed to do? I have no idea. That's just what it does for me. Will it do the same for you? Or will you have another experience? I'll never know unless you share your experience with me.

Oh, I almost forgot. There are two attributes of God listed there: "the Most Merciful, the Compassionate". As I'm sure you know by now, I see this as a reminder to myself that I should show mercy and compassion. I should show these qualities not only to others, but to myself as well.

Am I perfect? Of course not. I make tons of errors. But I still need to be merciful to myself. I need to allow myself the opportunity to grow and develop. I need to be compassionate to myself and not judge myself too harshly, much less others. (I'm sure that Shoghi will remind me of this in the years to come.) It would probably be best if I were to leave my inner perfectionist by the door, and strive for excellence without being too hard on me.

So I still need note cards or a prayer book to recite this prayer, so what? So I still have trouble remembering what to say when my forehead is bowed to the ground, so? Who cares if I sometimes have to lift my head a bit to read that particular passage (you know the one I mean)? The intention is there. And that, my friend, is what counts, as far as I'm concerned.

Once I am showing myself the proper attitude of love, mercy and compassion, then I'm ready to begin.

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