One soul-stirring prayer

Posted: 2014/07/29
The grounds of the Mansion of Bahjí.   Photo: Galen Humber

The grounds of the Mansion of Bahjí.
Photo: Galen Humber

Many years ago, while on pilgrimage, I fell in love with the following prayer for the fast. I had been to the Most Great Prison, had looked out the small window of the prison, and had imagined the believers praying with Him, saying this very prayer. And ever since, during the fast, I have been able to imagine myself back in that prison, praying with those early believers:

These are Thy servants, O my Lord, who have entered with Thee in this, the Most Great Prison, who have kept the fast within its walls according to what Thou hadst commanded them in the Tablets of Thy decree and the Books of Thy behest. Send down, therefore, upon them what will thoroughly purge them of all Thou abhorrest, that they may be wholly devoted to Thee, and may detach themselves entirely from all except Thyself.[1]

A little further on in this prayer, Bahá’u’lláh asks us to pray:

This is the hour, O my Lord, which Thou hast caused to excel every other hour, and hast related it to the choicest among Thy creatures. I beseech Thee, O my God, by Thy Self and by them, to ordain in the course of this year what shall exalt Thy loved ones. Do Thou, moreover, decree within this year what will enable the Day-Star of Thy power to shine brightly above the horizon of Thy glory, and to illuminate, by Thy sovereign might, the whole world.

Render Thy Cause victorious, O my Lord, and abase Thou Thine enemies. Write down, then, for us the good of this life and of the life to come. Thou art the Truth, Who knoweth the secret things. No God is there but Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the All-Bountiful.

During every fast, I ardently prayed for the end of the persecution of the believers in Iran. And every year passed, and the persecution continued.

Recently, however, I began to ask myself what it was, exactly, that Bahá’u’lláh was asking us to pray for. What took me so long to wonder? Well, frankly, the idea never occurred to me that this might not be what He was asking us to pray for. I knew how much it grieved both Bahá’u’lláh[2] and the Báb[3] to have the friends so badly treated.

I also knew that Shoghi Effendi expressed deep grief over the persecutions, and explained:

Every day has certain needs. In those early days the Cause needed Martyrs, and people who would stand all sorts of torture and persecution in expressing their faith and spreading the message sent by God. Those days are, however, gone. The Cause at present does not need martyrs who would die for the faith, but servants who desire to teach and establish the Cause throughout the world. To live to teach in the present day is like being martyred in those early days. It is the spirit that moves us that counts, not the act through which that spirit expresses itself; and that spirit is to serve the Cause of God with our heart and soul.[4]

So why wouldn’t I think that it was time for the persecutions to stop? And yet, in my own eagerness to see the end of the persecutions, I never questioned what the victory was that He was praying for. So I prayed earnestly for a victory which would bring the persecutions to an end, thus rendering the Cause victorious over its enemies. However, when year after year that victory didn’t come, I finally decided to study the Writings and try to find out what it was He wanted us to pray for. That is when I discovered the description of what seemed to me quite a different kind of victory:

By Thy call the fragrance of the raiment of Thy Revelation was wafted over such of Thy creatures as have loved Thee, and such of Thy people as have yearned towards Thee. They rose up and rushed forth to attain the Ocean of Thy meeting, . . . . They were so inebriated with the wine of their reunion with Thee, that they rid themselves of all attachment to whatever they themselves and others possessed. These are Thy servants whom the ascendancy of the oppressor hath failed to deter from fixing their eyes on the Tabernacle of Thy majesty, and whom the hosts of tyranny have been powerless to affright and divert their gaze from the Day-Spring of Thy signs and the Dawning-Place of Thy testimonies.[5]

Surely this is the victory that the believers in Iran have been winning, year after year. Generation after generation, they have stood firm, believing in the oneness of God, the oneness of all the revealed religions of God, the oneness  of all humanity. As a wonderful Naw Rúz message of the Universal House of Justice so beautifully expressed it:

At the threshold of a new year, we raise our hands in gratitude to the One True God that, despite the intense persecutions and the resulting manifold privations you sustain, you tread that path which the Master held out as His ardent desire for the believers in Iran, “one and all, to be occupied day and night with that which is conducive to Iran’s abiding glory, and to exert the utmost effort and the greatest endeavour in order to refine character and manners, labour assiduously, aim for lofty goals, promote love and affection, and foster the progress and development of industry, agriculture and trade.[6]

And so now I wonder: If I didn’t recognize the real victory which has been being won, year after year, how could I have been able to teach others to recognize it? That is my new heartfelt goal: to gratefully recognize their unique example, and prayerfully strive to be inspired by it.

–Elizabeth Rochester, St. John’s, Nfld.

[1] Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 146

[2] “When news of the death of the Seven Martyrs of Yazd reached them, it brought great sorrow to Bahá’u‘lláh.” Haji Mirza Habibu’lláh writes that for nine days all revelation ceased and no one was admitted into His presence….” (H.M. Balyuzi, Bahá’u’lláh, King of Glory, p. 409)

[3] When the Bab heard of the tragic fate of Fort Tabarsi His grief “…stilled His voice and silenced His pen….For a period of five months He languished, immersed in an ocean of despondency and sorrow.” (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 430)

[4] Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 4.

[5] Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations, p. 268

[6] Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of Iran, Naw Rúz 2014