Monday, October 15, 2012

The Test of Prayer

I owe a very big thank you to one of the ladies in my meditation group. Why, you ask? I'm so glad you did, dear Reader.

Last week, after the meditation session, as we were sitting around chatting, she questioned me on some of my basic beliefs. She got me thinking about questions that I hadn't really thought about for 30 years, or so. You see, she said that hadn't seen anything that made her believe in God, which is certainly fair enough.

This led to a wonderful discussion about the follies of blind faith, and only believing something because your parents said so. We talked about the importance of an independent investigation of truth, and how this related to learning from our teachers at university or school, in general. We explored a little bit about the border between trusting a teacher when we either don't understand, or just plain disagree, and our own personal search for truth.

There is, after all, a boundary there.

I mentioned that I, for example, trusted the criteria for hiring teachers at my university, and therefore gave them the benefit of the doubt.

But then she pointed out something that I hadn't given thought to for years. She said that those professors may be experts in their chosen field, but that didn't make them experts in other fields. How, she wondered, could I trust anyone to be perfect. In essence, she was asking how I was able to trust Baha'u'llah in whatever He said.

At my university, I could trust my professors by looking at the criteria by which they were hired, and accepting that. This meant that any teacher hired had already earned my trust. I didn't need to examine each and every one of them, for someone I trusted had already done so. In fact, why would I have paid so much money and invested so much time if they didn't have my trust?

But what about Baha'u'llah?

For years I have said that there were many things I disagreed with in Baha'u'llah's teachings when I was investigating the Faith, but that time and experience had shown me that He was right. I have described how eventually I came to sort of passively accept that He must be right. But that isn't quite true. It wasn't really all that passive.

I had actually forgotten most of what I did to test the validity of the Faith, and it was through my friend's questions that I began to remember those times of 3 decades past.

What were those sort of things? Well, I'm sure that I have forgotten most of them, but she helped me remember one, in particular: the importance of the obligatory prayer.

When I was investigating the Faith, and had begun to think beyond the simple idea of the niceness of it, I started to look at those things within it that would actually require a change in my own life. Before this, I saw it as a collection of good ideas that might help the world become a better place. Once I made this shift, though, I started to look at those things that would change my daily behaviour, such as bringing myself to account each day. Another one of those things was daily prayer.

I had started to pray more regularly, but nothing that I would have called systematic. Now it was time to begin looking at prayer through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings. He said that we should pray each day, and even gave us some prayers that are specifically to be used each and every day. You, of course, know that I am referring to the Obligatory Prayers.

As a newbie, wanting to test the effects of this for myself, I chose the short one. Perhaps I should have chosen the long one, but I was, to be honest, lazy.

Every day, for a solid month, I made it a point to say this short prayer between noon and sunset. In fact, I said it over lunch. It was easiest to remember at that time. Still is.

During that month I can't say that I noticed anything in particular. There were no majestic messages in the clouds. There weren't any miracles that I noticed. I didn't even win the lottery. But life felt better. It seemed as if my mood picked up. I would find a bit of change on the sidewalk. My keys were right where I left them. There was nothing concrete that I could put my finger on, but it just felt as if life was a little bit better.

Then, to be fair, I went for another month without saying it. And again, there wasn't anything in particular. The roof didn't collapse. No elephants fell on me from the sky. My house didn't explode. Nothing. Except... well, there was one thing. I didn't quite feel as good. My mood was down. And little things just seemed to be going wrong all around me. A pencil would break. A pen would run out of ink. Those keys, once again, showed that they had a will of their own. Little niggling things.

And when I went back to saying that prayer the next day, life just seemed a little bit better.

Now I take it for granted: life is pretty good. I am very grateful for all the good things that come my way, but, to be honest again, it took that question from my friend in the meditation group to remind me of where this all comes from.

And so I thank her, here, in public. Today, when I see her again, I will thank her in person.

It is always good to be questioned in a polite and inquiring sort of way, to be reminded of one's own path and search. It helps reinforce the walls of one's faith to have someone chink at the various bricks that make it up, helping test them for solidity and integrity. And perhaps this is another reason of why we we have a month called "Questions", for it sure isn't an obvious attribute of God. But God sure does seem to seem to send these little tests our way to help us check out all those little things we take for granted.

So, one more time, thank you.

And yes, my keys are still there in my pocket, right where I left them.

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