I love reading quotations from Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice. I usually have one book from each of them or compilations that include all of them in my reading pile along with my prayer book. But it wasn’t always that way.
I read a book or two of the Writings or about the Faith when I was a teenager. I liked them, but I didn’t feel the need to read much more. When I was 16, my brother and I went on Baha’i pilgrimage to Israel together, and I drew closer to the Faith. In the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, I fervently promised Him that I would read a lot and really study the books and teachings of the Faith. Unfortunately, it was a promise that I didn’t keep.
I married at age 19 and discovered I was in a very difficult marriage. I thought surely God was punishing me for something, and I stopped praying or following the teachings. By age 23 I had a baby and began, thankfully, getting help for both of us. Part of that was turning back to God and the Faith. At that point I began to keep my promise, and the teachings poured healing energy into me. I committed to never turn away again.
Each time I have read a book since then, I mark the date in it when I’m done so I know I’m keeping my promises. With many newly released translations over the years, and the need to re-read many books, I never feel like I’m “done”! Part of what I love about this reading is finding all the fabulous, helpful, and joyful uses for quotations and prayers – there are different ways in which I use the Writings in my daily life for my own spiritual transformation, and ways in which I use them to connect with others and have elevated conversations.
Reading the Divine guidance is like a daily re-calibration process for me. It’s like stepping on a weight scale and you can’t really judge if you are a healthy weight unless the scale is calibrated properly. When I read quotations, they calibrate me with a daily check of my alignment with the teachings. The quotations also inspire me to maintain my connection to Baha’u’llah. Lately I’ve been reading these paragraphs from the Universal House of Justice from 1992, the Holy Year marking the 100th anniversary of the passing of Baha’u’llah and the beginning of His Covenant that had us turn to Abdu’l-Baha. I love them because they renew my appreciation of the Gift Baha’u’llah is to humanity and my response to His teachings:
“…reflect with due solemnity upon the redemptive purpose of the life of the most precious Being ever to have drawn breath on this planet.”1
“…this is a special time for a rendezvous of the soul with the Source of its light and guidance, a time to turn to Baha’u’llah, to seek to obtain a deeper appreciation of His purpose, to renew allegiance to Him. This is a time of retreat to one’s innermost being, to the dwelling-place of the Spirit of Baha, that interior to which He summons us when He says: ‘Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.’ This is a time for recommitment to the Covenant, for rededication to duty, for revitalizing the energy for teaching, the ‘most meritorious of all deeds.’”2
When it comes to my daily uses of the Writings, I have found that saying my Obligatory prayer each day and reading or reciting the Writings every morning and evening helps me follow Baha’u’llah’s guidance, “Be thou steadfast in the Cause of God and extol thy Lord morn and eve.”3 Sometimes I study texts in more depth, especially when I’m learning about a specific topic related to my work or my own personal interests – topics such as the Covenant and its unifying effect on family life. If I am struggling with an issue or stuck in worrying about something, I find it helpful to listen to the Writings put to music, for example with Baha’i Blog’s Studio Sessions. Listening is uplifting and re-centering, and it also helps me feel connected to the people singing from all over the world. I don’t live in Baha’i community, so it is a special treat to travel and participate in devotional gatherings where participants share and reflect on the Writings in a group setting.
Regardless of the method, this spiritual nourishment for my soul helps me “become like thirsty fish swimming in the pools of Thy guidance”4, transform my character, and learn and apply the true messages of the teachings. Then teaching others about the Faith through weaving quotations naturally into our conversations and interactions with them is an amazing source of joy and grace.
When I’m reading in the mornings I often find and share quotations with family and friends. I love to spot ones that might be helpful for what they are going through in their lives. Sharing spiritual messages draws us closer together in unity, whether it’s shared in a text, a phone call, or a conversation in person. For example, my husband and stepson are both launching and growing complex businesses in service to others, and this newly translated prayer I found was just perfect to share with them:
“O God! Grant Thy favour, and bestow Thy blessing. Vouchsafe Thy grace, and give a portion of Thy bounty. Enable these men to witness during this year the fulfilment of their hopes. Send down Thy heavenly rain, and provide Thy plenteousness and abundance. Thou art the Powerful, the Mighty.”5
Transforming my life and our lives through reading and prayer is not easy and takes consistency and perseverance. I think it can be easy at times for us to fall into being judgmental about others and want them to live up to the Teachings in the way we think they should. It can also be easy for us to take quotations and misuse them to make ourselves feel guilty and like failures. When we become critical of others or harsh with ourselves, we can forget to practice respect, and we step out of being loving. Demonstrating loving-kindness and mercy are more likely to have us apply the Writings in a way that inspires us to do better day by day. I find these words of the House of Justice very uplifting and worthy of repeated study:
“[E]ffort [is] sustained by earnest desire, not instantaneous perfection. The qualities and habits of thought and action that characterize Baha’i life are developed through daily exertion. ‘Bring thyself to account each day’, writes Baha’u’llah. ‘Let each morn be better than its eve’, He advises, ‘and each morrow richer than its yesterday.’ The friends should not lose heart in their personal struggles to attain to the Divine standard, nor be seduced by the argument that, since mistakes will inevitably be made and perfection is impossible, it is futile to exert an effort. They are to steer clear of the pitfalls of hypocrisy, on the one hand—that is, saying one thing yet doing another—and heedlessness, on the other—that is, disregard for the laws, ignoring or explaining away the need to follow them. So too is paralysis engendered by guilt to be avoided; indeed, preoccupation with a particular moral failing can, at times, make it more challenging for it to be overcome.”6
It can also be easy to become distracted and busy, leading us to skip taking time to read the Writings. For me that becomes like skipping meals – I get empty and cranky. I hope sharing my experiences encourages others to share in this vital spiritual food.
- The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 226 [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, Ibid., pp. 232-233 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 178 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Additional Prayers Revealed by Abdu’l-Baha [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, April 19, 2013, to three individuals [↩]