A Prayer to Power Up Your Day: The Long Obligatory Prayer

Whenever I face a long afternoon of work with pressing deadlines, I decide to put off knuckling down and getting on with it.

But this reaction is not one of those inevitable procrastinations that nearly all of us are prone to at various times. I see it rather as an important decision which leads me to undertake a major refuelling, without which my afternoon might just splutter on in an unsatisfactory manner.

The reason I don’t start immediately on the nitty gritty of work, is that it is my time to say the long obligatory prayer as revealed by Baha’u’llah. Yes, that prayer may be said at any time, but for me, when the day is on the verge of waning, I opt for revival.

I find this prayer to be a daily energy source, the equivalent of plugging into the essence of reality for about 15 minutes to obtain the force that comes with it, a power that can mysteriously inspire and direct the rest of the day. Baha’u’llah did say, after all, that through obligatory prayer we may draw “nigh unto God.” That will do me.

It used to be that I would restrict myself to the short obligatory prayer, even if I had the time to say the long one but through the influence of some esteemed Baha’is I changed my practice.

Once, by chance, I saw through an open door one of the greatest Baha’is I have met saying his obligatory prayer. As he raised his arms in supplication while reciting it, the air seemed to pulse electric blue with its power.

On another occasion, I attended a talk at a summer school when a gentleman explained the effect of saying this prayer. He held up a container of dry soil and poured water into it, irrigating it, he said, as the prayer does the soil of the heart. He also explained how, as Shoghi Effendi once said, the various movements prescribed for the prayer are effective in refocussing the mind on the content of the prayer. They also have some mysterious spiritual significance too, alluded to by both the beloved Guardian and the Master.

There are some excellent commentaries on the prayer, but let me just pass on some of my own thoughts on a few of the verses in the hope that they may inspire you to regularly say this wonderful spiritual reviver. Don’t be put off by the word “long”. It isn’t that long. Or by the word “obligatory”. Nature makes breathing obligatory and we don’t reject that.
Before we start the prayer, we wash our hands and face, for me a symbolic separation from the daily doings of life, a cleansing of the detritus of toil and routine.

Like plants towards the sun, we turn towards the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, that zone of great peace, and then glance to the left and right, “as if awaiting the mercy” of God the most merciful. Being human, we all need that mercy to elevate us into the state in which we are ready to address and to supplicate to the Creator.

The prayer starts off with a simple statement overwhelming in its implications. It reminds us that God is the “Maker of the heavens”. This “unknowable essence” is responsible for the giant thunder clouds that sometimes roil overhead, the great ocean that stretches to that bending blue horizon and beyond. It is a kind of a jolt to get an inkling of the majesty of the One to whom we are speaking.

The prayer reminds us that there are veils that can cloud our vision and make us forget this reality, so we invoke the help of the holy Ones anointed to be the revealers of truth (such as the Bab and Baha’u’llah) , to make our prayer to be like a fire that will consume those veils and lead us to the presence of God. Here Baha’u’llah compares the Creator to the biggest thing we know on earth – the ocean.

One of the keys to a spiritual life gets a mention in the next verse as we proclaim we are “rid of all attachment to anyone save Thee…” We could think, “I am not in that condition”. But Baha’i prayers are often aspirational, showing us how we can and should be.

These prayers re-orient us to the needs of our real selves, and are not just the listing of material requests we often resort to such as those for good health, a good career, more money and for our favourite sports team to win. There is nothing wrong with such supplications, and some are automatic such as when your team is down a few points toward the end of a game. But they are at a much more superficial mundane level than those that seek fundamental spiritual blessings.
Soon it is time for us to prostrate ourselves, to acknowledge the fact that God is beyond the comprehension of all, including of those who believe as well as of those who deny. God is, as Baha’u’llah says elsewhere “the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden” but even when manifest He remains above description.

We ask that the prayer be “a fountain of living waters”, a description which perhaps inspired that gentleman at the summer school to illustrate the effect of the prayer by using water falling on to dry soil.

The next section of the prayer says something that surely even the most pious of humans have experienced—that separation from God has melted our hearts and souls. Yet, as Baha’u’llah reminds us, the fire of God’s love sets the whole world aflame and we hasten to our home beneath the canopy of the Creator.

Whenever I reach that part of the prayer that refers directly to our state—“this wretched creature knocking at the door of Thy grace”—I remember a friend who said he thought that this applied especially to him, not an assessment of him shared by me or his other colleagues.

The engendering of humility, that vital attribute of spiritualised humanity, is then brought home to us as we prostrate ourselves and acknowledge that God is “sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names”. Some say God is love, but from this prayer we know that God is far more than that, and that the sum of the list of all the attributes we can think is still just a vague picture of a transcendent being that will forever be unknowable in its essence.

After we have prostrated ourselves, we sit and contemplate that the departed holy souls testify to the unity of the God and to the fact that the Manifestation is the “Hidden Mystery, the Treasured Symbol.”

We again acknowledge that God’s love has enriched us but that separating from Him has destroyed us. However, we ask that that though the words coming from the mouths of the Manifestations and– so beautifully described– “by the breaths of Thy Revelation and the gentle winds of the Dawn of Thy Manifestation” that we may gaze on God’s beauty and observe His commandments.

Soon we are admitting that our preoccupation with things of the world prevents us from paying attention to the reality that is God: “Thou seest , O my God, how my tears prevent me from remembering Thee and from extolling Thy virtues…”
The prayer is coming to a conclusion. It is time to refocus. We prostrate ourselves, asking that we be protected from those things that will separate us from God, “the hosts of idle fancies and vain imaginations”.

The last verse, recited as we are seated, again makes reference to the holy souls of the departed (we trust they include our departed ancestors, family members and friends). We join them in acknowledging that “the kingdoms of earth and heaven” are God’s.

The prayer is complete but there is more to do, because we are enjoined that in time of prayer we should beseech God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon our mother and father. By extension it is a good time to pray, too, for other family members.

Refuelled with his high octane prayer, I await with confidence the delights that an otherwise dreary afternoon is bound to bring.


About the Author

Michael Day is the author of Journey to a Mountain, Coronation on Carmel and Sacred Stairway (pending), a trilogy that tells the story of the Shrine of the Bab. He was a journalist for daily newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. Then, from 2003-2006, he was the editor of the Baha’i World News Service at the Baha’i World Centre. Now based in Brisbane, he researches and writes Baha'i history. He is also a foreign affairs adviser.

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Discussion 25 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing. It really resonated with me. I think it is time for me to switch to the long obligatory prayer. I always do the short one. But I have always been intrigued with the movements associated with the long obligatory prayer that you so beautifully incorporated in this blog. Since I practice yoga, it always reminds me of the connection between movement and meditation; I am a true believer in that. Interestingly enough, some of the meditative movements of Surya Namaskar- “Sun Salutations” in yoga, reminds me of the obligatory prayer movements.
    shiva

    1. You are welcome. I hope the idea of movement and praying has given you many sacred moment during the past year.

  2. Loved reading this, just after saying my prayer this morning. Made me think about how present I was and was not for parts of it. What a great idea to use it as a refresher during the afternoon. Thanks for that.
    Also just read a quote from the recent letter from The Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is in Iran. Thought I would pop it in here as it is so moving.
    “The Twin Luminaries of this resplendent age have taught us this: Prayer is the essential spiritual conversation of the soul with its Maker, direct and without intermediation. It is the spiritual food that sustains the life of the spirit. Like the morning’s dew, it brings freshness to the heart and cleanses it, purifying it from attachments of the insistent self. It is a fire that burns away the veils and a light that leads to the ocean of reunion with the Almighty. On its wings does the soul soar in the heavens of God and draw closer to the divine reality. Upon its quality depends the development of the limitless capacities of the soul and the attraction of the bounties of God, but the prolongation of prayer is not desirable. The powers latent in prayer are manifested when it is motivated by the love of God, beyond any fear or favour, and free from ostentation and superstition. It is to be expressed with a sincere and pure heart conducive to contemplation and meditation so that the rational faculty can be illumined by its effects. Such prayer will transcend the limitation of words and go well beyond mere sounds. The sweetness of its melodies must gladden and uplift the heart and reinforce the penetrating power of the Word, transmuting earthly inclinations into heavenly attributes and inspiring selfless service to humankind.”

    1. Great. I hope that your afternoons have taken on a new energy.

      Great quotation, by the way, Margaret! Thanks.

  3. LOVE this article. Been saying the Long O prayer in the mornings for awhile now and it revolutionizes the quality of my day and gives it the spiritual harmony I need.

    I couple it with 95 of the Greatest Name and 10 minutes meditation.

    This 30 minute spiritual workout gives me all I need!

  4. Dear Friend,

    I agree 100%. Most importantly, thank you returning me that place of certitude. I’ve been resisting going there for far too long!

  5. Perhaps I can share that tucked away in this prayer for me is a “mini-pilgrimage”, in which I pass by our Holy, Most Sacred and other Special Places. Anyone who has been to the World Centre will recognize these points:
    “Thou seest, O my Lord, this stranger hastening to his most exalted home beneath the canopy of Thy majesty (Shrine of The Bab) and within the precincts of Thy mercy (resting place of ‘Abdu’l-Baha); and this transgressor seeking the ocean of Thy forgiveness (Akka, at the sea wall); and this lowly one the court of Thy glory (Shrine of Baha’u’llah); and this poor creature the orient of Thy wealth (anywhere near the Seat of the Universal House of Justice)….
    In my minds’ eye (and heart) I “float” from one site to the next, catching some of the fragrances left from actually being there.

  6. Thank you. I always read only the Long prayer. It has an effect that only someone who read it regularly can understand. Allah’u’Abha from Belarus ♡

    1. Hi Darya. I hope you become happier and happier every day in beautiful Belarus because you are a lighthouse of prayer, the wonderful, glorious, precious Long Obligatory Prayer.

  7. I have read the Long Obligatory Prayer every morning for many years.
    Recently with the onset of Parkinson’s I am less able to fully concentrate on every passage. I regret this, but even so saying it makes my day go better. If I miss a few days and try other prayers, I find my ability to focus on any readings or meditation lessens. I find this very interesting. The ablutions help, deep breathing helps, and certainly the gestures help to bring me back to the various passages but repetition regardless of my inability to concentrate fully for 15 minutes, a power is lent to my day.
    I love the comment about ‘floating’ from one holy place to another. On pilgimage I had an experience while climbing the terraces. I took a rest in one of the lovely alcoves with a bench and looked out to the sea basking in a sun-filled afternoon. The realization came to me that none of the gardens, the shrines, the homes preserved, the glorious pilgrimage that blesses us so generously would be in tact without the contributions of all the friends around the world. No matter their size, the glory of the Holy Land is possible through this world-wide outpouring of material means. Somehow that uniting with all fellow believers around the world thrilled my heart at that moment.

    1. Even though I sometimes get distracted, the movements bring me back to focus on what I am doing and saying and thinking and praying. I bet that is the same for you, Loree despite your health challenge, for which you have my sympathy. Your wonderful description of your experience on the terraces is very inspiring and so true!

  8. Ive said the Long Obligatory prayer 5 times in my life.
    At this moment — I listen to prayers on Utube before I sleep. Refugee struggling for survival.
    I hope to read the LO prayer at a later point.

    1. Hi, have you started reading it yet? I hope so.

      That is a good idea to listen to prayers on youtube before you go to sleep. I hope it gives you good, peaceful dreams.

  9. 100% agreed. It’s why I get up in the morning. I believe that our parents are referred to in the very beginning. “I am Thy servant and the son of Thy servant….do with Thy servant as Thou willest and pleasest.”

  10. Enjoyed reading about your experience with the Long Obligatory Prayer! What can I say? I have called it “My Salvation”. When we read about the creative Word and it surpassing all other gifts it makes it even more amazing. If the Tablet of Ahmad is said after it one can even be invited to more Beauty, if that’s imaginable. I’m gearing myself to say it now. And yes, an amazing Baha’i I know says it daily. For me, turning to the right and left at the beginning is a chance to tell the truth about my life and feelings to God, when I might have been covered in life’s blankets of activity and distractions and denial – not quite there beforehand.

  11. I have been saying the long obligatory prayer each day for many, many years since I heard Hand of the Cause John Robarts speak about it. When I was working, I had to get up early to pray and read the writings, even if work started at 7am. Now that I am unemployed and drifting into retirement, it is often my only reason to get up in the morning — to know God and to praise Him. A day without prayer is a day not lived.

  12. Very inspiring thankyou for returning my attention to The Long Obligatory Prayer. Three spiritual experiences of major significance continue to open my heart, guide and educate my soul in relation to the Covenant of God for this Day. First attaining Pilgrimage in May this year, second studying The Charters of The Faith through the Willmette Institute and third daily recitation of The Long Obligatory Prayer. In regards to the latter it is a special portal, a doorway to the sacred Threshold.

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