Thursday, October 23, 2008

More on More Prayer

More on More Prayer, plus selections from IOPF

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 23, 7 'Ilm 165 BE

Early this October my thoughts turned to the question of prayer. I was distracted by a conference and did not do the question justice. However, I did put out two short posts, one asking how much prayer is enough ( and another asking the question in a different way ( What jogged me initially was a mention of the number of hours the Master prayed on a typical day when He was in London in 1913. I came to the following conclusion:

"... if I am better, more perfect, more spiritual than Abdu'l-Baha, it might take me less time to get into the state of prayer and less time to have my consultation with my director and playwright [God] before I go back out on stage to perform. Otherwise, if I am not yet at His level, I would think that it would take more time [to pray enough], not less. That means at least three hours of prayer every day. And the lower my level of development the more time I would have to pray to have enough. I thought about that and decided to try increasing my time spent praying. Later I will tell you about what happened with my little experiment."

I have been increasing my time praying over the past weeks, and I now feel ready to start back on this essay series. In the meantime, one of my kindest and most loyal readers, Jean, refuted my flawed logic, saying:

"Interesting essay. But keep in mind that prayer is, in one sense, mind training. You wouldn't go out and try to bike 100 miles a day because Lance Armstrong bikes 50 and you're not as fit as he. That would be a recipe for disillusionment if not for physical breakdown! Of course, if you are capable of doing 10 miles, and you do just one, your fitness will decline. So I guess it's a matter of matching the amount and style of prayer to the capacity of the pray-er."

I have to admit that I already had nagging doubts about my original train of reasoning, that is, my observation that Abdu'l-Baha prays three hours at night and dawn, and concluding from that I must do even more if I am to get "enough" prayer. Certainly if prayer is conversation with God, and the Master knew God better than I do, He and God would have more to talk about when they are together. It may be as simple as that. On the other hand, I have even more doubts about the idea of prayer as training.

For example, I notice that if I forget to say the Tablet of Ahmad first thing in the morning, the amount of productive labour I get done that day is greatly reduced. Am I getting more done after saying that prayer because it is "training" my will and mind somehow, or is it just that God is answering the prayer? I know, both, but I cannot help thinking that if I were a little closer to the Master's perfection, I would become intoxicated with the sweetness of prayer itself and would have no choice but to pray at least an hour in the morning. Jean also wrote,

"And what about the idea that work done in the spirit of service is accounted as worship?  Abdu'l-Baha may have prayed for 3 hours in the day, but he worked for another 8 to 12, surely."

Yes, maybe we draw too hard a distinction between prayer and the work that comes out of the prayer. My days after saying the Tablet of Ahmad are more efficacious because they are linked to that prayer by the fact that came before the activities of the day.

Earlier this year we in our children's class read a book that continues to grow in importance in my prayer life, "Discovering the Moon." I discussed it here, ( At the time we were going through the book I noticed the reverse of what happens with the Tablet of Ahmad. That is, I said the Long Obligatory prayer on alternate days and found that life was tougher on the days when I said it than the days when I did not. This was somewhat off-putting. A test of sincerity. I wrote at the time,

"I do not know what bounties and fresh release of spiritual power I was expecting, but I found that on the days when I did say it, things were tougher than the alternate days I did not. Little things conspired to make them especially hard, tough choices, unpleasant moral dilemmas, tiny goads that I cannot put a finger on or tell you about. I was taken aback, then thought, why not? I am praying for tests, tests are a healing medicine, so let me persist."

As happened this month, when I was similarly trying to increase my levels of prayer, my earlier encounter with the Long Obligatory Prayer was eclipsed by a meeting -- in this case a talk Peter and I gave on atheism -- that distracted me from writing about the most great lesson, how to pray. Talking about the visual presentation I was preparing, I wrote,

"I also added a couple of slides on a book the kids and I just read for our children's class, called "Discovering the Moon," which is about the Long Obligatory Prayer, that is, the "moon" of God's religion -- the sun being the 19 day long Fast coming up next month. Since I have taken on the project of saying the Long Oblig every other day, I have come to understand the value of this pragmatic proof of deity. True, this is a proof that Baha'is share with other faiths, but it is such an important proof that I would be negligent not to mention it. Ultimately, the pragmatic proof, living the life of God in order to prove He can move, is the most important, indeed perhaps the only way that a hard-core, cynical atheist is ever going to come to faith." (

In the several months that have passed since we went through Mehrabi's novel "Discovering the Moon" I have come back to the Long Oblig for a while and left it off again for a while, like one of those on-again off-again romances that lovers sometimes go through. Whenever I did return to the long oblig, my path was smoothed by this book. That is, I prefer using the copy of the prayer in Mehrabi's novel rather than any of our prayer books or Prayers and Meditations itself. The print is larger, the book lighter to hold, and -- I am embarrassed to say -- I like the little pictures demonstrating what is meant by "standing" or "kneeling."

As for the results of the prayer, that is on-again off-again too. Sometimes I go through severe tests after a prayer, sometimes I feel protected, as if it lifted me to a plane above what I would otherwise would have gone through. So, in answer to what Jean wrote,

"I look forward to your observations on increasing the amount of prayer in your life. If you discover that you are spiritually fit enough to pray for three hours a day, day after day, I will be thrilled to read about it! And even if you end up going from 10 minutes to 12 minutes, I'll still be impressed."

I would have to say that only a few times have I approached that three hours of prayer in a twenty-four hour period, and I have experimentally tried my days both with the Long Obligatory Prayer and without it -- that is, going through at dusk and dawn several important, powerful prayers that do not involve the long oblig's body motions, such as the long healing tablet, the Fire Tablet, and so forth -- and the results are, again, difficult to assess. 

Am I getting a sense of the ecstasy that the Master talked about, that the state of prayer is the "sweetest state in existence"? Not yet. Not hardly. But at least I am engaged in the spiritual struggle that a Baha'i is supposed to be doing every day. My fight may be a losing rear guard action in the spiritual war, but at least I am fighting.

But one realization above all came upon me over the past several months of praying and trying to pray: that is an increasing feeling that Mehrabi's "Discovering the Moon" is an extremely important book. In fact I would now say that, leaving out group writing by the House, the BIC and others, this is by far the most important Baha'i book to be published in the past decade. If I had any influence on the Administrative Order, this book would be made available free to every new Baha'i. For if prayer is the core of Baha'i life and the long oblig is the core of our prayer life (and Baha'u'llah states as much when He compares it to the moon), then a book about that has to be all but obligatory.

Being written in the form of a novel, "Discovering the Moon" demonstrates its pervasive effect on daily life in a way that no teacher, however skilled, could ever do directly using mere words and admonitions. The long oblig is an elaborate, difficult, time consuming physical act of devotion. It is the closest thing to a ritual you will find in the Baha'i Faith.

Discovering the Moon was evidently written in response to a new compilation on Obligatory Prayer that came out around the turn of the millennium. It did not come with much fanfare. In fact, I had never heard of it until I read this novel. She offers in an appendix at the end of Discovering the Moon a few tidbits from this compilation. Let me finish with that.

Selections from "The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting" Compilation


"One who performeth neither good deeds nor acts of worship is like unto a tree which beareth no fruit, and an action which leaveth no trace. Whosoever experienceth the holy ecstasy of worship will refuse to barter such an act or any praise of God for all that existeth in the world." (Sec. 1, No. 3)

"Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man's life. Blessed be the one who soareth with their aid in the heaven of the love of God, the Lord of all worlds." (Sec. 1, No. 3)


"This is the way of 'Abdu'l-Baha. This is the religion of' Abdu'l-Baha. This is the path of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Whosoever cherisheth the love of Baha, let him choose this straight path." (Sec. 2, No. 3)

"The wisdom of obligatory prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One, because at that time man with all his heart and soul turneth his face towards the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and companionship." (Sec. 2, No. 7)

"Moreover, obligatory prayer and fasting produce awareness and awakening in man, and are conducive to his protection and preservation from tests." (Sec. 2, No. 7)

"Through worship man becometh spiritual, his heart is attracted, and his soul and inner being attain such tenderness and exhilaration that the Obligatory Prayer instilleth new life in him." (Sec. 2, No. 7)

"Most certainly guide all to its observance, because it is like a ladder for the souls, a lamp unto the hearts of the righteous, and the water of life from the garden of paradise." (Sec. 2, No. 9)

"Obligatory prayer and supplications are the very water of life. They are the cause of existence, of the refinement of souls, and of their attainment to the utmost joy." (Sec. 2, No. 11)

"One is alone with God, converseth with Him, and acquireth bounties." (Sec. 2, No. 7)

"Thus the circle of divine knowledge will grow wider, and the fire of the love of God will burn brighter within thee." (Sec. 2, No. 8)

"The obligatory prayers have been set down by the Pen of the Most High.... They are clearly binding, and without a doubt everyone must perform one of these three prayers...." (Sec. 2, No. 9)

"Every joy is earthly save this one, the sweetness of which is divine." (Sec. 2, No. 8)

John Taylor


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