Ayyam-i-Ha is a Baha’i festival that is joyously celebrated in countries and territories all over the world. It is a time of hospitality, generosity, and caring for the needy. This year Ayyam-i-Ha runs from February 26-29.
Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages. These gatherings are open to all and are intended to embrace that attitude of prayer and practice of devotion that is universal to all religions.
Embracing the Transformative Power of Daily Prayer: Some Personal Reflections
Best known for his fantasy Narnia series, famed author C.S. Lewis was also a scholar, broadcaster, and devout Christian. Never one to compromise his values and convictions (and following repeated challenges to his commitment to faithful daily prayer) Lewis presented a careful and calculated perspective:
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me. 1
I often revisit this quotation and contemplate its true meaning. Through the years, the words have always resonated with me — offering insight and clarity during moments of pure joy, as well as solace and succor while mired in the depths of despair.
Like all Baha’is, I am, of course, bound by guidance of the Blessed Beauty to engage in daily prayer and meditation. Beyond merely reciting one of the Obligatory Prayers, I’ve come to realize that further daily reflection is both essential and intensely beneficial. This understanding, however (as with many other aspects of my spiritual life) is and has been a work in progress that will never be entirely completed.
Open Eyes and Hopeful Heart
I can still fondly and vividly recall those snowy and inclement evenings, as I sat in my college dorm room, staring out at the gloomy scene that is late winter in Northeast Vermont. Though exposed to the Baha’i Faith from a young age through various circumstances and experiences, it was not until this stage in life where I was truly empowered to fully open the door of my heart to God’s grace and loving-kindness. And it was during these nightly communions where the entire paradigm took a brilliant and impactful pivot.
I remember one night in particular, when the powerful words of Baha’u’llah resonated through my mind and spirit — guiding me toward a new understanding of and appreciation for the possibilities of life’s direction. He writes:
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. … With faces beaming with joy, hasten ye unto Him. 2
In an era of increased productivity at nearly any cost, a seeming lack of hours in the day in which to accomplish every task on a to-do list, and a general lifestyle atmosphere that appears to reward haste and expedience (often to the detriment of cautious deliberation), I join others in the continual struggle with the ideals of instant gratification and accomplishment on the one hand, and the true honor and privilege of reaping benefits that have been so hard won and desperately sought after. And once again, the Ancient Beauty speaks to my very soul as He counsels:
Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee — as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him — that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. 3
Throughout my formative years (and indeed to this very day) I’ve frequently called to mind this and other passages, and particularly the majestic vision and understanding they provide. Baha’u’llah further advises:
Should a person recite but a single verse from the Holy Writings in a spirit of joy and radiance, this would be better for him than reciting wearily all the Scriptures of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.
Recite ye the verses of God in such measure that ye be not overtaken with fatigue or boredom. Burden not your souls so as to cause exhaustion and weigh them down, but rather endeavour to lighten them, that they may soar on the wings of revealed Verses unto the dawning-place of His signs. This is conducive to nearer access unto God, were ye to comprehend. 4
I will never really and fully comprehend the meaning of these words. But through the years, I’ve come to realize that, rather than haphazardly adding prayer to a growing list of daily tasks to be satisfied, this gift is in fact the cornerstone of an industrious and prolific existence. The Master offers this sage advice on the subject:
Praise be to God, thy heart is engaged in the commemoration of God, thy soul is gladdened by the glad tidings of God, and thou art absorbed in prayer. The state of prayer is the best of conditions, for man is then associating with God. Prayer verily bestoweth life, particularly when offered in private and at times (such as midnight) when freed from daily cares. 5
And again, the profound importance of daily prayer is further acclaimed by the Blessed Bab:
The reason why privacy hath been enjoined in moments of devotion is this: that thou mayest give thy best attention to the remembrance of God, that thy heart may at all times be animated with His Spirit, and not be shut out as by a veil from thy Best Beloved.
Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned to the exalted Summit of Glory and the Focal Point of communion. Thus if haply thou dost live in the Day of Resurrection, the mirror of thy heart will be set towards Him Who is the Day-Star of Truth, and no sooner will His light shine forth than the splendour thereof shall forthwith be reflected in thy heart. For He is the Source of all goodness, and unto Him revert all things. 6
What most attracted me to the Baha’i Faith was and is the opportunity and responsibility to be involved in all aspects of helping to foster a new reality through spiritual means. To be an active participant in the betterment of humanity and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth (no matter how small a portion I might offer) remains both a humbling and awesome undertaking.
Yet I must continually be aware that it’s only through daily conversation with God and sustained positive action through His counsel and direction that the objectives of these endeavors will ultimately be realized, and this changeless faith of God will continue to thrive and bear celestial fruits. As the Guardian cautions:
It is not sufficient for a believer to merely accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality — which he can acquire chiefly by the means of prayer.
The Baha’i Faith, like all other Divine religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character. Its chief goal is the development of the individual and society through the acquisition of spiritual virtues and powers. It is the soul of man that has first to be fed. And this spiritual nourishment prayer can best provide. 7
Footnotes & Citations
attributed to C.S. Lewis and quoted in Nicholson’s theatrical play) | Nicholson, William. “Shadowlands”. 1985.[↩]