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Memory is one of the five spiritual powers that we, as humans, possess. In addition to the five physical senses, we also have imagination, thought, comprehension, memory, and what Abdu’l-Baha terms the “common faculty”.
While our physical senses enable us to navigate through the material world, it is our spiritual powers that allow us to transcend it. Memory is therefore something unique to us and non-occurring in the natural world. As Abdu’l-Baha says, “man is fortified with memory” – it is an attribute and a strength with which we have been endowed.
When we look through the sequence of Ruhi courses, it is evident that the memorization of quotes and prayers plays a key role in our study. Tutors and participants alike sometimes struggle with the expectation to commit long passages of text to memory, particularly when unaccustomed to the style of language often used. It might even seem unnecessary to memorize in a world where smartphones allow us easy and instantaneous access to prayers and Writings from wherever we are.
Our willingness to memorize is key to being able to do so. The importance of memorization should therefore not be lost on us:
Memorization is nothing new to the Faith
As much as memory is a spiritual faculty that is a part of us, memorization of God’s Word is and has always been a part of the Faith. Internalizing the Word of God did not originate from the Ruhi Institute Process. Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian have all appealed to the friends to memorize various tablets, prayers, passages and texts.
In the book “Epistle to the Son of the Wolf”, Baha’u’llah writes: “Blessed art thou […] for this Tablet which hath been sent down for thee—a Tablet which causeth the souls of men to soar. Commit it to memory, and recite it. By My life! It is a door to the mercy of thy Lord.”
In “The Advent of Divine Justice”, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Faith, describes in detail the preparation the friends must undertake when involved in a teaching campaign. “Those who participate in such a campaign”, he writes, must “study for themselves […] the literature of their Faith [and] commit to memory certain of its exhortations and prayers.”
Particularly when delving into the history of the Faith, we see examples of the dedication early believers and even the central Figures of the Faith had to memorizing the Word of God. In “Baha’u’llah and the New Era”, parts of Abdu’l-Baha’s childhood are described: “When His father went away for two years in the wilderness, Abbas was heartbroken. His chief consolation consisted in copying and committing to memory the Tablets of the Bab.”
Memorization is not reserved for children either. In “The Dawn Breakers”, an account is given of Muḥammad-Aliy-i-Zanjani, who was tasked with delivering a Tablet the Bab had written directly to Baha’u’llah: “He recited before us the entire text, which was about three pages in length, and which he had committed to memory.”
There are many more examples and if to no other end, we should memorize because of and in the same spirit as those exemplary figures before us.
It’s there when you need it
Memorized information is always with us, affording us immediate access to it when responding in conversation, pondering over an idea, or thinking an action through. Drawing on accessible information builds the foundation for higher thinking.
Because internalized information is with us day and night, it can invigorate us when we most need it. Shoghi Effendi encouraged the friends to read and study “The Dawn-Breakers”. He would “advise the friends to […] read that book with great care, committing its salient facts to memory, so that while teaching the Cause, they may be able to show the motivating spirit of the Faith by referring to some incidents of those early days.”
Memorizing also arms us with a sense of preparedness and is necessary for the friends when teaching and where needed, defending the Faith. Abdu’l-Baha, in reference to a treatise written by Baha’i scholar Mirza Abu’l-Faḍl in answer to criticisms against the Faith, advised the friends: “Read, memorize and reflect upon it. Then, when accusations and criticisms are advanced by those unfavorable to the Cause, you will be well armed.”
Paraphrasing the Writings and the Teachings is often not enough – it is God’s Word in its purest form that can touch souls. Hyde Dunn, one of the Hands of the Cause of God, became a Baha’i when he overheard a quotation in someone else’s conversation while standing in a shop. Shoghi Effendi recounts: “He overheard the quotation ‘Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country, but let him glory in this, that he loves his kind’. Hyde Dunn later recalled that ‘The words reached me with dynamic force […].’ Recognising the Truth, Hyde Dunn interrupted the conversation, and accepted immediately the Revelation of Baha’u’llah.”
We take nothing with us but what we know
Memorizing is a way to make sure that God and His Word are at all times with us. Ultimately, when our body parts with the material plane and we leave every physical thing behind forever, our memory and all it has retained will still be with us.
Clara “Mother” Dunn, fellow Hand of the Cause and wife of Hyde Dunn, is described in her remaining years as follows: “Until her passing to the Abha Kingdom in 1960 at the age of 91 years, “Mother” Dunn retained her memory of many Baha’i prayers and was reciting these at the time of her death.”
Like Clara Dunn we should be internalizing the Word of God well before our death and using the time we have now to do so.
If you’re interested in developing your memorization skills, here’s a Baha’i Blog article which may help:
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