Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Prayer for the Departed

I was talking with Marielle and my Mom today, and we got to talking about prayers. No, seriously, we did. We began, and I have no idea how, to talk about the Prayer for the Departed. You know, that long prayer that has all the repeated lines in it? I mean, the one that you say if the Long Healing Prayer, with all of its repeated lines, didn't work the way you wanted?

"We all, verily, worship God." And then this is repeated 19 times.

"We all, verily, bow down before God." This is repeated 19 times, too.

"We all, verily, are devoted unto God." Yup. Again, 19 times.

On and on for another 3 verses.

6 verses repeated 19 times each. (That's 114 times in total, if you're counting.)

Plus all the "Allah'u'Abha"s in between?

I'm sure you know the one.

Well, I have to admit that I love it. I hate reading it in public, but I love it, except for the fact that it means that a friend of mine just passed away. You know, besides that, I love it.

But we were wondering, how many of us really do? Do we only say that we love it because it is written by Baha'u'llah, and yet cringe inside every time we think of having to sit through it again? Or do we really love it, deep in our heart? Do we find solace and comfort in its (few) words? (I say few because it really isn't all that long on paper. It's only long when spoken.)

And why do I hate reading it in public? Not to mention why am I willing to admit that here in a public forum? Simple, really. Most people listening to it are not Baha'i, and they often seem to dislike it. I have had the bounty and misfortune of reading it numerous times at countless funerals, and while I do find that solace and comfort in its words, that does not seem to be the norm.

I was reading it at one friend's funeral and was about halfway through the repetitions when I heard someone in the front row, a family member who was not a Baha'i, quietly ask the man standing next to her, "How much longer does this thing go on?" That was refreshingly honest of her.

Now it has left me with the question, "Is this really what Baha'u'llah intended? Is it some sort of test for those of us standing there?" I doubt it. (I mean, it could be, for all I know, but it would surprise me.) And what can I do, as a reader caught in that situation, to help others to find that inspiration in its words?

I have tried many things, dear Reader, and nothing has quelled the rolling of the eyes of some of those who are stuck listening to me. I have tried varying my tone while reading, speeding up, and have even been tempted to chant it. (I'm sure you've never heard me chant, and there's a good reason for that.) I have done everything I can think of, except for abridging it, which I am not willing to do.

Nothing has helped.

Except now my Mom has given me an idea. She said that it seems very meditative to her. (Oh, she's not a Baha'i and has never heard this prayer before.)

This led to the idea of asking people attending the funeral, for I can't think of anywhere else I would read it aloud in public, to close their eyes and let the repetition of the words carry them away with their memories of their dearly loved friend. See it as a meditation, a mantra, and treat it as such. People tend to be so much more willing to go with that idea, so why not try it here?

And that, dear Reader, is what I wanted to share.

Baha'u'llah gave us His Words to uplift and inspire us, and well as to educate us. If we ever find His Words doing anything other than that, then we may want to ask ourselves how we can find that place within ourselves to allow them to edify us. If we are sharing His Words with others, we should strive to do all we can to ensure that the listener is ready and prepared to be uplifted.

The next time I find myself at a funeral, reading this incredible prayer that was revealed to help send the soul of the departed Baha'i on its flight through the myriad worlds of God, and to comfort those of us who are still plodding away on this dust heap, I think I will let the friends know what is going to be read. I will warn them of the repetitions, for without that foreknowledge, it can be quite wearisome. I will suggest that they use it to meditate upon their loved one. And perhaps I will even suggest that they meditate upon those verses and how they apply to us in regards to the little time we have left here.

After all, He does say, in the very last line, "We all, verily, are patient in God".

19 times.


  1. Nice, Mead. I'll be thinking of this post next time I'm in the situation.

  2. Great idea, Mead! I'll use it next time too!

  3. I will remember this, Mead. Thank you.

  4. Excellent review - and so helpful. Thank you!

  5. Someone tell me what is the significance of the number 19??

    1. That's a great question. In Arabic, every letter has a numeric value, sort of like Greek numbers being actual letters. The numeric value for the word meaning "unity" is 19. There are other words that total 19, too, but that's just the first one that comes to mind.

      Also, 19 is supposed to be symbolic of the numbers 1 - 9, but I've never quite been sure how.

      Additionally, 19 x 19 is closest square to 365, the number of days in a year, so we have 19 months of 19 days, being the closest we can get to perfectly even months. Ayyam-i-Ha fills in the gap of leftover days.

      I'm sure there are more reasons, but I have no idea.