Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why Study a Prayer

This is a question I seem to get asked a lot: Why study a prayer? You know, it is that second practice in Ruhi Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, but why is it that we do it?

As usual, I don't really know, but I can make an educated guess, based, of course, on experience. Most of us, and I'm not only referring to members of the Baha'i community, have a difficult time talking about spiritual issues with our friends or acquaintances, not to mention our neighbours and co-workers. You'll note that I put those two last because they seem to be the most difficult groups for many of us to initiate these sorts of conversations. Why? Because they are the ones that we spend the most time with, and have the least control about it. We can't really choose our co-workers or our neighbours. We're kind of stuck with them, for better or worse. (Maybe not 'til death do us part, but you get the idea.) If we annoy or offend our co-workers or neighbours, we still have to be around them most of the time. If we tick off our friends or acquaintances, well, we can leave them be for a short time, if we want.

I think we are all aware of the importance of talking about spiritual issues, so the question is how do we do it?

For most of us, studying a prayer is a safe and encouraging way to start.

You see, dear Reader, we're not asking them to pray with us, for that could be intrusive for many. I know that  it isn't for me, but it is for some, and we need to respect that. There are many that I have met who do not want to pray with others, nor do they feel comfortable with the idea. Prayer is a very personal thing for them, and they prefer to do it "in the privacy of (their) chamber", if you will.

We're also not asking them to memorize a prayer, even though we are all aware of the benefits of that. I'm certain you know the Bab said, "every breast which committeth His Words to memory, God shall cause, if it were that of a believer, to be filled with His love", so we don't need to go into that. Besides, memorizing is a lot of work for many of us, and many people just don't want to have to do more work.

Studying a prayer, however, is different. It's safe, and can be done over a cup of tea. It can take as long or as short a time as we want. There is no set way of doing it. And there is no prescribed prayer that we have to study. It can be any one.

This is where it can become a source of encouragement to the other: we can ask them to choose the prayer. And I don't mean that we should hand them a Baha'i prayer book and ask them to choose from a whole pile of prayers that they've never seen before, although we can, if we want. No. I mean that we can ask them to pick any prayer that they want. Any one. While we may be aware that "the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own", this is not to say that other prayers have no power. They do, and they are also beautiful, and worthy of study. We only need to read the prayers of St Francis of Assisi, or those of Hand of the Cause of God, George Townshend, or even those of Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, to realize that.

When we ask someone else to choose a prayer that they know and love, then we are not only acknowledging their faith, we are showing respect, too.

Then, if they like the experience, there will be a next time. At that point you can feel free to share a prayer that touches your heart.

By studying a prayer, it opens a dialogue on a spiritual level. It also helps us all realize why some of these prayers are considered so profound and beautiful. We begin to get a deeper understanding of what it is we are saying, and what it is these prayers are doing for our life.

Of course, there are many other reasons why we should study prayers, but this is just one, and it works for me.


  1. I think it also helps develop the skill of turning to the Writings to find answers - it follows on the practice of asking and answering first level questions from the first section of book 1.

  2. I still wonder how to study a prayer

    1. Oh, that's a wonderful title for a follow up article! Thanks, Lynne. I'll probably write it up in the next few weeks.