Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Long Obligatory Prayer, Part 3

A few weeks ago I began a little study of the Long Obligatory Prayer. It started because the parents of some of the children at our regular children's class needed something to do while the kids were in their classes, so I decided to offer this. Actually, I began by offering a look at the quotes in Ruhi Book 1 because some of the parents struggle with English, but it soon turned into a study of this prayer at their request.

For those of you who are unaware of it, Baha'u'llah gave us three obligatory prayers, one of which we are... well... obliged to say every day. Our choice as to which one we wish to use. the three of them are the Short Obligatory Prayer, the Medium Obligatory Prayer, and the Long Obligatory Prayer. The short one is short in length, three whole sentences. The medium one is medium in length, two and a half pages in the prayer book. The long one is, you guessed it, long. It's about nine pages in the book.

Now, you may notice that this article is listed as "Part 3". What about parts 1 and 2? I'm so glad I asked. It seems that way back in December of 2011 I began to look at this prayer, yet never finished. And now seems like a good time to continue. I won't say finish because you are never really "finished" looking at the Sacred Writings. And for those of you who are interested, here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2. If you're not interested, that's ok. I'm kind of going to begin again here, and see what happens, but I won't be repeating the stuff in those other articles, just for your information.

This prayer begins with the ablutions, the washing of the hands and face. (This is already covered in Part 1, so I'll skip it here.) Then it goes on with the instructions before the prayer itself, "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." As this is covered in Part 1, so I'll just go on.

The first paragraph of the spoken prayer is,
O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens! I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.

Again, I already wrote quite a bit about this paragraph in Part 2, so I won't repeat what I said there. But, as usual, upon re-reading this, new thoughts have come to mind. (And old thoughts, too, such as remembering why my prayer book is stained and warped, as if someone had spilled tea all over it.)

One of the new thoughts was prompted by reading a comment (thanks Borna). In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah refers to "them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the most Exalted, the All-Glorious". Before reading this comment, I never clued in to the fact that the Bab was often referred to as the Most Exalted, and Baha'u'llah referred to as the All-Glorious. So now, instead of reading "merely" as attributes of God, I also see them as references to the Twin Manifestations. I feel as if I am beseeching God through the Bab and Baha'u'llah in this very opening paragraph, admitting recognition of Them as intermediaries for my own prayer. Of course, this is only my own opinion and nothing official, but I like it.

I am also reminded that God is the "Lord of all names". To me, this is a reminder that God is not the names themselves, but the Lord over them. For example, Arthur, King of the Britons, was not all the Britons themselves. He was their king. And God, the Lord of all names, is not all the names themselves, but the lord over them. It is like Baha'u'llah says in Prayers and Meditations, "If I call upon Thee by Thy Name, the All-Possessing, I am compelled to recognize that He Who holdeth in His hand the immediate destinies of all created things is but a vassal dependent upon Thee, and is the creation of but a word proceeding from Thy mouth." This seemingly simple opening statement further elevates the station of God beyond what is commonly accepted in Islam, identifying God with the various attributes.

So now we are caught up to where we were way back a few years ago. let's move on.

Let him then raise his hands in supplication toward God - blessed and exalted be He - and say:

What does this look like? Are the hands raised to chest level? Above the head? Palms up? Palms forward?

No clue.

Well, that's not quite true. I feel that all positions in which the hands are raised are good, as long as it is with the attitude of supplication.

Aside - I'm sure I've shared this before, but I still like the story, so I'll share it again. When I was on pilgrimage, I was very curious about the way we should sit when praying. Should our hands be palm up in our lap? At our side? How? And so, when the pilgrim group had the bounty of meeting with the Universal House of Justice, I thought I might finally get my answer. The members sat in the chairs at the landing of the stairs, and we pilgrims were sitting in our chairs on the main floor. Then, in the middle of the prayers, I remembered my question and opened my eyes to peek. (Don't tell anyone, please. I know I should've been wrapt in my prayers, but I was really curious.) And there, up on the landing, were the members of that august Institution all sitting prayerfully. One had his hands in his lap, palms up. Another was sitting with his hands in his lap, palm down. One had them crossed on his chest. Another was sitting with his legs crossed, arms folded across his chest. And so on. They were all sitting pretty much as they wished, each comfortable in their own prayers. So yeah, I am fairly comfortable saying that there is no "correct" way to sit and pray.

From here, I could go on to the next paragraph, but I feel as if this is long enough. I'll just make a "part 4" to continue.

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