Prayer

One well-known story involves teaching Mountfort Mills how to pray: when Abdu’l Bahá was in New York, He called to Him an ardent Bahá’í and said, “If you will come to me at dawn tomorrow, I will teach you to pray.” Delighted, Mr. M arose at four and crossed the city, arriving for his lesson at six. With what exultant expectation he must‘ve greeted this opportunity! He found Abdu’l Bahá already at prayer, kneeling by the side of the bed. Mr. M followed suit, taking care to place himself directly across. Seeing that Abdu’l Bahá was quite lost in His own reverie, Mr. M began to pray silently for his friends, his family and finally for the crowned heads of Europe. No word was uttered by the quiet man before him. He went over all the prayers he knew then, and repeated them twice, three times – still no sound broke the expectant hush. Mr. M surreptitiously rubbed one knee and wondered vaguely about his back. He began again, hearing as he did so, the birds heralding the Dawn outside the window. An hour passed, and finally two. Mr. M was quite numb now. His eyes, roving along the wall, caught sight of a large crack. He dallied with a touch of indignation but let his gaze pass again to the still figure across the bed. The ecstasy that he saw arrested him and he drank deeply of the sight. Suddenly he wanted to pray like that. Selfish desires were forgotten. Sorrow, conflict, and even his immediate surroundings were as if they had never been. He was conscious of only one thing, a passionate desire to draw near to God. Closing his eyes again he set the world firmly aside, and amazingly his heart teemed with prayer, eager, joyous, tumultuous prayer. He felt cleansed by humility and lifted by a new peace. Abdu’l Bahá had taught him to pray! The Master of Akka immediately arose and came to him. His eyes rested smilingly upon the newly humbled Mr. M. “When you pray,” he said, “you must not think of your aching body, nor of the birds outside the window, nor of the cracks in the wall!” He became very serious then, and added “When you wish to pray you must first know that you are standing in the presence of the Almighty!”
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 79-80)


I spend much of my time travelling, visiting many countries and meeting Bahá’ís and their friends. Very often we will sit and talk about the teachings and about prayer. It is often a surprise to me how some of the friends say they don’t pray. One devoted believer told me that Bahá’u’lláh had said work is worship, that he works so many hours in a week for the Faith he has no time left to pray. Others say they don’t understand prayer, they don’t see why they should pursue it. It seems to me these friends are missing a priceless pearl. A few weeks ago, while I was on a tour, a fine young man asked me if I could give him some comfort, which he said he needed badly, and he explained that he had been living the kind of life that he was sure God could never forgive him for. He asked me, “How can I possibly square myself with God?‘’ My heart ached for him, he was so sincere, and yet I was so glad to be able to assure him that he had already been forgiven, that God is the All-Knowing, the All- Wise, the Ever-Forgiving, the Ever- Loving, the Most-Merciful. Me said, “How I wish I could believe that.” I happened to have a quotation from the Qur‘an in my hand where Muhammad had said, “Prayer is a ladder by which everyone can ascend to heaven.” He seemed to be comforted by that assurance that everyone can ascend to heaven.
(John Robarts: http://bahaitalks.blogspot.in/2011/02/value-of-prayer-talk-by-hand-of-cause.html#more


‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, ‘… all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 151)


The following has been extracted, (and title added), from a photocopy of an unsigned transcript of a talk given by Hand of the Cause of God Abu’l-Qasim Faizi in Melbourne, Australia on November 26, 1969. It was discovered in the archives of the Bahá’ís of Nevada County, California, among the papers of the late double Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, Elise Schreiber Lynelle.
Our Offering in Prayer
"To me, many of the hard problems of all the religions of God have been explained by the Bab, very easily. He brought these things from heaven to earth, and said this is what it means…
"Why do we pray? The Bab says, when we pray, what do we take to God? What do we talk to Him of, what do we offer Him? Do you offer your knowledge? He is the Source of knowledge. Do you offer Him your wealth? Do you offer Him your strength, the strength of body or mental strength? All these things are not even worthy of being mentioned in the sight of God.
"Therefore, why do we pray? The Bab says, I will give you an example. Suppose you want to go and visit a king. You will go here and there and ask many people: what is it that the king does not have in his treasury? I would like to take it as a gift to him. And, for instance, suppose somebody will say if you take a moonstone, he does not have it, then you will take it.
"Now, if you take the whole treasure of the world, God has it. The whole knowledge of the world He is the source of it. Strength? He is the source of Power. But the Bab says, as I advise you and tell you, there is one thing that God does not have in His treasure house, and that is NOTHINGNESS. Take your nothingness to Him. When you sit down in front of Him and pray, have an attitude that you are nothing as compared with God. You take that attitude, and He says this will immediately be accepted."


Once there was a young man who met a great divine, One day as they walked by the sea, he asked him to explain why prayer was so important. The divine beckoned the man to the water’s edge where he told him to kneel, whereupon the divine gently but firmly pushed his head under the water and held it there. When he, in his wisdom, released his hold, the man with relief again drew air into his lungs. The divine said to him, “You see, it is indeed important! Praying is as important to you as breathing.” I don’t know how many of us will have to have our heads held under water to teach us to pray, but perhaps it will help to renew our faith.
(John Robarts: http://bahaitalks.blogspot.in/2011/02/value-of-prayer-talk-by-hand-of-cause.html#more )


An American pioneering couple in the 1930’s had had no results in their community for over three years in spite of diligent efforts. When they told Hand of the Cause Dorothy Baker, she recommended they pray “Ya Allah El-Mustagath”. The wife of the couple was alarmed and exclaimed that this particular invocation was reserved for life or death situations. Dorothy responded “What greater calamity than for (you) to have spent three years in the town with no result?” This invocation was uttered 95 times. It marked the beginning of that city’s Assembly.
(Dorothy Baker, quoted in Fires in Many Hearts, pp. 265-267).


The following recollection of Javidukt Khadem, wife of the Hand of the Cause Zikrullah Khadem, describes part of a road trip she took with Hand of the Cause Dorothy Baker. The story leads to a description of how Dorothy Baker prepared for obligatory prayer. We pick up the account with Dorothy driving the car while speaking:
‘"I have to do something that I forgot. I promised to pray for Elsie Austin, because she wants to go to Africa, and the door is closed. Will you help me?” And I said “Sure.” I did not know what she wanted. She said, “I want to say the ‘Remover of Difficulties’ 95 times."
‘She said it very slowly, and with each word the tears poured down. She didn’t even notice me. I looked at her. I had never experienced anything like this. The tears covered her face, and dropped onto her clothes. I did not even count the number of prayers she said, but when she finished she pulled the car over to the side of the road, and she passed out.
‘I opened the car door and called, “Dorothy - Dorothy. Please!” After about 10 minutes she opened her eyes, and was so happy! She said, “I am sorry, honey, that I bothered you so much.” I asked her, “Is this the way you always pray?” She answered, “Is there any other way?” “Do you always say your prayers like that? Do you say your Obligatory Prayer every day like that?” I asked. She said, “Did you ever read that you must wait to pray until you are feeling spiritual? Every morning I say many prayers, so that I will be spiritual enough to say my Obligatory Prayer."
‘That was my trip with Dorothy Baker.’
(Dorothy Freeman, From Copper to Gold, The Life of Dorothy Baker, p. 272-73)


“One evening the western pilgrims were gathered together as usual with the Guardian. All was quiet when Shoghi Effendi suddenly said: “Prayer is useless.” An embarrassed silence followed. Shoghi Effendi said nothing. He paused and a moment later said: “Meditation is useless.” Another anxious moment ensued. Silence….
Then the Guardian said: “Prayer and meditation are useless without action."” (Pilgrim’s note from Bob LeBlanc of Wakefield, QC, 1956)


It was in 1912 that Dr. Ali Kuli Khan - preparing for the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to Washington – began to consider the questions he would ask Him upon His arrival. And, thinking it over, Dr. Khan realized that the one thing he wanted most to know was some prayer he might utter quickly and from deep within his heart, when the moment came when, as the representative of his country (then Persia) in Washington he must make
some instant diplomatic decision. When these moments came, as they did frequently - Dr. Khan felt that while he always sincerely did his best, his wisdom was very limited and finite. If only he might have a prayer that would draw to him a greater wisdom Ah, if he only might have such a prayer. So the day came when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was to arrive and Dr. Khan, accompanied by the Washington believers, drove to the station to meet Him. The greeting was warm and deeply moving, and Khan’s heart was still filled with this one question he wanted most to ask the Master. And they were perhaps halfway back, driving up Pennsylvania Avenue, when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá suddenly told Khan this story:
It had happened when Bahá’u’lláh had been gone from Baghdad for some two years. At that time no one knew where He was and all hearts were sick with the fear that they never would see Him again. At this time ‘Abdu’l- Bahá was a small boy, and the continued absence of His Beloved Father had become unendurable. So, one night, all night long, the little boy (whom, even then, Bahá’u’lláh referred to as The Master) paced
restlessly up and down saying, shouting, beseeching, Yá Allah el Mustaghas! Yá Allah el Mustaghas! all night long. And in the morning, when dawn was breaking, a messenger came to the door to say that a stranger was at the city gate and had sent word to the Family that He wished them to bring to Him fresh raiment and water to bathe in... So ‘Abdu’l-Bahá knew His beloved Father had returned. And Dr. Khan knew the cry that he, too, might utter in his moments of need Yá Allah el Mustaghas (which I am told means Oh, Thou help me in my extremity! ).
(Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 6)


Before ‘Abdu’l-Bahá arrived, Ali-Kuli Khan considered what questions he would ask Him upon His arrival. Dr. Khan realized that the one thing he wanted most to know was some prayer see might utter quickly and from deep within his heart, when the moment came when, as the representative of his country (then Persia) in Washington he must make some instant diplomatic decision. When these moments came, as they did frequently – Dr. Khan felt that while he always sincerely did his best, his wisdom was very limited and finite. If only he might have a prayer that would draw to him a greater wisdom. Ah, if he only might have such a prayer. So the day came when Abdu’l Bahá was to arrive and Dr. Khan, accompanied by the Washington believers, drove to the station to meet Him. The greeting was warm and deeply moving, and Khan’s heart was still filled with this one question he wanted most to ask the Master. And they were perhaps halfway back, driving up Pennsylvania Avenue, when Abdu’l Bahá suddenly told Khan this story: it had happened when Bahá’u’lláh had been gone from Baghdad for some two years. At that time no one knew where He was and all hearts were sick with the fear that they would never see Him again. At this time. Abdu’l Bahá was a small boy, and the continued absence of His Beloved Father had become unendurable. So, one night, all night long, the little boy (whom, even then, Bahá’u’lláh referred to as the Master) paced restlessly up and down saying, shouting, beseeching, Yá Allah el Mustaghas! Yá Allah el Mustaghas! all night long. And in the morning, when dawn was breaking, a messenger came to the door to say a stranger was at the city gate and had sent word to the family that He wished them to bring to Him fresh raiment and water to bathe in … So Abdu’l Bahá knew His Beloved Father had returned. And Dr. Khan knew the cry that he, too, might utter in his moments of need Yá Allah el Mustaghas!
(which means “O Thou, help me in my extremity!) (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 92-93)


Later someone asked: how is it that the desires of some people are achieved while others are not? ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied:
"What conforms with divine decree will be realized. In addition, good intentions and sound thoughts attract confirmations. The desires of human beings are endless. No matter what level the human being reaches, he can still attain higher ones, so he is always making effort and desiring more. He can never find peace but through effort and resignation, so that, notwithstanding all efforts in worldly affairs, the human heart remains free and happy. He neither becomes proud of attaining wealth and position nor becomes dejected in losing them. This station can be attained only through the power of faith.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 229)


In that long-ago period when I was first a believer, I went to many places in Canada and the United States to speak. I must tell you about one place because it often comes to my mind when I consider the subject of prayer. It was on April 17. I had been invited to address a community where there were eight believers and they needed a ninth to form their Local Spiritual Assembly a few days hence. My plane was delayed and I arrived late while prayers were being said. I was ushered to a seat beside the chairman. When the prayers were finished, he whispered to me (there were about 45 people in the room), “John, do you see that tall man in the third row, center? He is the only non-Bahá’í in the room. We need him for our Assembly on Thursday!” I stood up and looked at my opponent. He was a nice person. I noticed he had very large eyes. I began to speak but soon felt that I wasn’t doing very well. I didn’t seem to be inspired and suddenly I realized that my friend’s eyes were opening and closing very slowly, and then to my horror, they closed and clicked shut. I had lost my man. He was sound asleep! In my despair I turned to Bahá’u’lláh and said, “Dear Bahá’u’lláh, please come to my aid. We need that man for our Assembly on Thursday.” I went on with my talk and what seemed like a bright idea struck me, which I felt must have been the answer to my cry for help. In quite a loud voice, I said, “Bahá’u’lláh said, ‘The people are wrapped in a strange sleep!‘” And I banged the table with my fist. The man woke up as though he had been shot and he stayed awake. He became a Bahá’í that evening, and helped to form the Assembly on Thursday!
(John Robarts: http://bahaitalks.blogspot.in/2011/02/value-of-prayer-talk-by-hand-of-cause.html#more )


‘Abdu’l-Bahá has explained many things in His writings, in His tablets, in His addresses, and even in His oral conversations with people, the explanation of the difference between two elements is the most excellent ever written by any pen on the pages of paper in the whole history of mankind. He says the earth is faithful, the earth is generous and the earth is very patient. These three characters of the earth are given by the pen of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Fire is greedy. Now He explains one by one. He says that the earth is faithful because you open the earth and entrust with the most valuable treasures, and cover it, and come back after half a century, it will give you back exactly as you have given it. It will not devour it. It will not spoil it. It will give you as you have given it. It is generous, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says, because you give the earth one grain and it will give you back a harvest. You plant a stem, and the earth will give you back a fruitful tree. And it is patient, because you break the breast of the earth from all sides, and it gives you more fruit, more seeds. But as to the fire, He says its devours. Its tongues are stretched on all sides, and wants more and more. Give to the fire all the oil of the world, still it says “I want more.” If you don’t control it, it will destroy a village within some minutes, a town within hours, and perhaps the whole world. Therefore, this is the foremost duty of every Bahá’í youth to start life with a certain discipline which will give everyone of us a nature, an attitude, that we will be like the earth, not like the fire. Fire never achieves anything. But being like earth, then we will achieve many things in life.
(Hand of the Cause Abu’l-Qásim Faizí August 25, 1974)


On one occasion the Master illustrated that prayer can be selfish. He told a story: ‘It is said that once a Muhammedan, a Christian and a Jew were rowing in a boat. Suddenly a tempest arose and the boat was tossed on the crest of the waves and their lives were in danger. The Muhammedan began to pray: “O God! Drown this infidel of a Christian!” The Christian supplicated the Almighty: ‘O Father! Send to the bottom of the deep this Muslim!” They observed the Jew was not offering any prayer, and therefore asked him: “Why do you not pray for relief?” He answered, “I am praying. I am asking the Lord to answer the prayers of you!” (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 151)


One early pilgrim noted that grace was not said before meals. She mentioned this to the Master, to which He replied, ‘My heart is in a continual state of thanksgiving and so often those accustomed to this form say the words with the lips merely, and their hearts are far from being in a state of thanksgiving.’ Yet, it is of interest that Thornton Chase, who is known as the first American believer, noted that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, always the perfect host, at the noon meal accepted food only after all those present had been served and then indicated that the meal should be eaten by saying ‘In the Name of God‘. And there is that precious little anecdote about Lua Getsinger, one of American’s earliest Bahá’ís, when she was visiting at the home of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. ‘She had been in a great hurry that morning, and was scurrying to breakfast without having had her usual morning prayer. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met her in the hall and looked at her with a penetrating glance. Then He said, “Lua, you must never eat material food in the morning until you have had spiritual food.” (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 150)


A tale is told of British occupation in Palestine which may one day be related to the children of the future as legend, but is now believed as fact. British guns were trained on Jerusalem. The Turks were in control of the sacred city. The British command hesitated to fire on the “City of God.” A message was sent to headquarters: “What shall we do?” The answer came back, “Pray.” Not a gun was fired. When the British arrived in Jerusalem at dawn, it had been evacuated by the Turks, and not a sacred place had been desecrated.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


During the British advance from the south, field batteries were placed in position on high ground immediately to the south-east of Mount Carmel, the intention being to shell Haifa at long range over Mount Carmel itself. Some of the Eastern Bahá’ís living on the northern slopes of Mount Carmel becoming agitated, went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s residence and expressed fear as to the tragic course of possible events. According to an eye-witness of this scene (from whom I obtained the story when I reached Haifa), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá calmed His excited followers and called them to prayer. Then He told them that all would be well, and that no British shells would cause the death or damage to the population or to Haifa and its environs. As a matter of historical fact, the range of the field batteries in question was inaccurate, the shells passing harmlessly over the town and falling into the Bay of ‘Akká beyond.
(Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)


‘Abdu’l-Bahá prayed not folding his hands in the conventional manner, but holding them extended and slightly bent with concaved palms toward his breast, as though already gathering in the blessings for which He prayed.
(Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p.37)


I have a friend in Toronto who was invited to be the best-man at a wedding in Chicago one Christmas. He was very anxious to go, but Christmas was the busiest season of his business year. He didn’t think he should take the time off but finally he did. He booked his passage and closed his office early, but not quite early enough, and he raced all the way to the airport, praying and calling upon Bahá’u’lláh from the very depths of his being. He just had to get to that wedding. He arrived at the airport in time to see his plane depart. Despite all his prayers, and his great need to be on that plane, it was gone. He told me later, “John, I sat down and I cried.” Can you imagine his despair? As he was sitting there in his agony of soul he heard an announcement of the departure of another flight for Chicago. He inquired and was told that his plane had been routed through Detroit, but this one was going through Buffalo, and if he hurried he might be able to get a seat on it. He hurried and he arrived at the wedding on time. The first flight had mechanical trouble and was grounded in Detroit. I ask you, were his prayers answered? We all know of many similar instances where fervent prayer is answered. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assured us, “God will answer the prayer of every servant if that prayer is urgent. His mercy is vast, illimitable. He answers the prayers of all His servants.”
(John Robarts: http://bahaitalks.blogspot.in/2011/02/value-of-prayer-talk-by-hand-of-cause.html#more )


‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s prayerfulness aided Him to sustain equanimity even in times of deep sorrow and dire anguish. His ‘love for God was the ground and cause of an equanimity which no circumstance could shake and of an inner happiness which no adversity affected … ‘ To be sure, in times of severe stress – when Bahá’u’lláh was away in the wilderness of Sulaymaniyyih and again when the Master Himself was in grave danger in ‘Akka due to false accusations brought against Him – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was known to pray, and perhaps also to chant, throughout an entire night. The death of His beloved Father, Bahá’u’lláh, made Him momentarily almost lifeless – but He rallied and was sustained by His abiding love of God. Indeed it is reported that the Master ‘often prayed that His conditions might become more severe in order that His strength to meet them might be increased.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 146)