Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Prayer for the Departed, Part 2

While yesterday's post may have seemed a bit silly, it triggered a chord for many people, according to the e-mails in my inbox, not to mention the comments here. It often surprises me how my own personal experience seems to resonate with others, but hey, we are one people, after all. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised.

But I didn't just want to leave that post there. I wanted to actually look at that prayer a bit more, see some of its depth, and try to understand just what it is that I would be asking others to dive into.

As it is such a short prayer, unless you're listening to someone read it, I thought I'd post the whole thing here:

O my God! This is Thy servant and the son of Thy servant who hath believed in Thee and in Thy signs, and set his face towards Thee, wholly detached from all except Thee. Thou art, verily, of those who show mercy the most merciful.
Deal with him, O Thou Who forgivest the sins of men and concealest their faults, as beseemeth the heaven of Thy bounty and the ocean of Thy grace. Grant him admission within the precincts of Thy transcendent mercy that was before the foundation of earth and heaven. There is no God but Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Generous.

(Let him, then, repeat six times the greeting "Allah-u-Abha," and then repeat nineteen times each of the following verses:)
We all, verily, worship God.
We all, verily, bow down before God.
We all, verily, are devoted unto God.
We all, verily, give praise unto God.
We all, verily, yield thanks unto God.
We all, verily, are patient in God.
(If the dead be a woman, let him say: This is Thy handmaiden and the daughter of Thy handmaiden, etc....)

See? That's a short one, if you ask me.

The first paragraph seems fairly straightforward to me, and remember, this is only my own thoughts on it, and nothing official. (Got to cover my bases, right?) Remember how I believe that every time Baha'u'llah mentions an attribute of God, I think of it as a reminder of that attribute within us, but in the lower case? Sure you do. Here, He is simply "God". This, to me, reminds us that we are, simply, human. But we are more than just an individual human: we are part of a family, spanning generations. Not only are we reminded of the person who has passed away, but also of their ancestors. Similarly this brings to mind the descendants of that person, some of whom are probably listening right at that moment.

We also are reminded about a little bit of that individual, and what they have done in their life. Now, I'm not talking about being a dentist or accountant, or how many cars they owned, or what amusing things they may have done. I'm talking about their belief in God, and in Baha'u'llah. The person was obviously a Baha'i, because that is why this is being read at their funeral. They have believed in God and in His signs. They have turned their face towards Him, at the very least when saying their Obligatory Prayer every day. And they have probably tried very hard to be detached from all else save Him. (Only God would know how much they have succeeded.)

Then we are reminded of God's mercy. You see, even if we haven't succeeded very well at being detached, we can always take solace in the fact that God is merciful to us.

This leads us right into the next paragraph, in which we ask God to deal with the recently departed person according to His bounty and grace, remembering that God conceals our sins. And if God conceals our sins, can we do any less? This is a reminder, to me, that we should strive to remember the positive qualities of others, especially those who have passed on. (I sure have a long way to go here, but I'm trying.)

Then we are reminded of the next world, the next of the myriad worlds of God, and given a concept of eternity. And we are reminded to be forgiving and generous ourselves.

Then come the repetitions. Ahhh, those repetitions.

They follow the pattern of 6 Allah'u'Abhas, and 19 "We all, verily, _____ God." The blanks are as follows:

  • worship
  • bow down before
  • devoted unto
  • give praise unto
  • yield thanks unto
  • are patient in
To me, this seems to be a crescendo. We begin with worshiping God, or paying homage to Him, honouring Him. But then our sense of reverence increases a bit and we bow down to Him. It is quite possible to worship God without bowing down before Him. Many people in church do that. In the second step we actually do the bowing. We show an ever greater reverence for Him with this act.

Devotion is a bit stronger of a dedication. You are not just bowing before Him, and then continuing on your way. You are devoting your whole life to God. It is sort like the difference between bowing down in church and dedicating your life as a nun, or a monk.

Now comes the real question to me: Once you dedicate your life to God, what do you do? First you praise Him. If nothing else, giving praise to God is a great first step. Then you yield thanks, once you see all the bounties that are yours because of Him. But when you examine your life in order to see all that you should be thankful for, you also encounter those things that you may not be quite as grateful for. You begin to recognize the many tests that are coming your way in life. This is when you need to show patience and abide in the will of God.

A funeral is, for sure, one of those times. We can be grateful for having had our friend in our life, and we need to be patient during our grief, not condemn God for the processes involved in life, including death. So often people express their anger at God because of their loss of a dear one, but is that really fair? Are they not just continuing on their path? We often ask God to heal those we love when they are ill, and sometimes the best healing is to release them from their suffering. It may pain us to witness this, and grieve us when we lose them in our present life here on this planet, but it is still sometimes the best healing that can happen. We all pass away at some point, and we must be grateful for each and every breath we can take, or are given, depending on your point of view.

And in between it all, we recite, "Allah'u'Abha". God is Most Glorious.

How often do we contemplate that phrase, even though we recite it 95 times each and every day? God is not just glorious; He is the Most Glorious. He is the most brilliantly beautiful, the most wonderful, the most magnificent. So great is His glory that it is like suddenly seeing the sun in the middle of a dark night. Even more so. In fact, we are only catching the merest glimpse of His glory.

Through the passing of our friend, our loved one, we can still, if we look, see the light of God shining behind the clouds that may be obscuring our vision, or our heart. So glorious is this light that it can truly burn away those clouds and leave us standing there in the light, basking in its warmth, despite our sorrow. In fact, it can even burn away that sorrow.

So, despite my flippancy in the last article, this prayer really does move me. It really does inspire me. And it does console me when I am grieving. I can only hope that it helps others, too.

1 comment:

  1. This really struck me: "...we need to be patient during our grief, not condemn God for the processes involved in life, including death." And this is definitely a case where, rather than just our thoughts affecting our words, our words can really affect our thoughts. If we "assign blame" with acceptance rather than anger, we're still assigning blame.

    I remember a case some years back where a trucker with a bribe-acquired license slammed into the back of a vehicle carrying a Christian minister and his wife in the front and four of their children in the back. The couple survived; all the children were killed.

    When the minister was interviewed after the tragedy, what he said has brought tears to my heart ever since. He said something like, "We don't know why God took our children from us, but we accept His will."

    And I found myself saying with heartfelt compassion, "How can you say that? You're a minister; if anyone should know better, should understand, it's you. God didn't take your children. Apathy took your children. Greed took your children. Twisted ethics, a broken moral compass took your children. God didn't take them from you. God lovingly received them from you when their time here was accomplished."

    On an uplifting note, I'd just like to share one of my favorite quotes of all times (to see a whole bunch of them, visit about the meaning of death: "Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you're alive, it isn't." -- Richard Bach