Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Meditations on a Prayer for the Baha'i Fast

Ruhiyyih Khanum, 1940


From “The Prayers of Baha'u'llah”
by Ruhiyyih Khanum


'Not the least of the treasures which Baha'u'llah has given to the world is the wealth of His prayers and meditations. He not only revealed them for specific purposes, such as the Daily Prayers, the prayers for Healing, for the Fast, for the Dead, and so on, but in them he revealed a great deal of Himself to us. At moments it is as if, in some verse or line, we are admitted into His Own heart, with all its turbulent emotions, or catch a glimpse of the workings of a mind as great and deep as an ocean, which we can never fathom, but which never ceases to enrapture and astonish us.


'If one could be so presumptuous as to try and comment on a subject so vast and which, ultimately, is far beyond the capacity of any merely mortal mind to analyse or classify, one might say that one of His masterpieces is the long prayer for the Nineteen Day Fast. I do not know if He revealed it at dawn, but He had, evidently, a deep association with that hour of the day when the life of the world is repoured into it. How could He not have? Was He not the Hermit of Sar-Galu, where He spent many months in a lonely stone hut perched on a hilltop; the sunrise must have often found Him waiting and watching for its coming, His voice rising and falling in the melodious chants of His supplications and compositions. At how many dawns He must have heard the birds of the wilderness wake and cry out when the first rays of the sun flowed over the horizon and witnessed in all its splendor the coming alive of creation after the night.

View of the mountains where Baha’u’llah stayed in Sulaymaniyyih.
Photo by David Toeg - bahaullah.org

'In this prayer it is as if the worshipper approaches the sun while the sun is approaching its daybreak. When one remembers that the sun, the lifegiver of the earth, has ever been associated with the God-Power, and that Baha’u’llah has always used it in His metaphors to symbolize the Prophet, the prayer takes on a mystical significance that delights and inspires the soul. Turning to the budding day He opens His supplication:

'“I beseech Thee, O my God, by Thy mighty Sign (the Prophet), and by the revelation of Thy grace amongst men, to cast me not away from the gate of the city of Thy Presence, and to disappoint not the hopes I have set on the manifestations of Thy grace amidst Thy creatures.” Who has not, in order to better visualize himself in relation to the Kingdom of God, seen his own soul as a wanderer, weary and hopeful, standing at the Gates of the Heavenly City and longing for admittance? The worshipper gazes at the brightening sky in the east and waits, expectant of the mercy of God. He hears the “most sweet Voice” and supplicates that by the “most exalted Word” he may draw ever nearer the threshold of God’s door and enter under the shadow of the canopy of His bounty—a canopy which is already spreading itself, in mighty symbolic form, over the world in crimson, gold and gray clouds.

'The day waxes; the oncoming sun, in the prayer of Baha’u’llah, becomes the face of God Himself to which He turns, addressing words of infinite sweetness and yearning: “I beseech Thee, O my God, by the splendor of Thy luminous brow and the brightness of the light of Thy countenance, which shineth from the all-highest horizon, to attract me by the fragrance of Thy raiment, and make me drink of the choice wine of Thine utterance.”

'The soft winds of dawn, which must have often played over His face and stirred His black locks against His cheek, may have given rise to this beautiful phrase in His prayer: “I beseech Thee, O my God, by Thy hair which moveth across Thy face, even as Thy most exalted pen moveth across the pages of Thy tablets, shedding the musk of hidden meanings over the kingdoms of Thy creation, so to raise me up to serve Thy Cause that I shall not fall back, nor be hindered by the suggestions of them who have cavilled at Thy signs and turned away from Thy face.” How deep, how poetical, how sincere are His words! The playing of the strands of hair recall to Him the fine tracing of the Persian script, revealing words from God that shed a divine fragrance in the lives of men. But that is not all. In His communion all the love and loyalty in His heart is roused, He supplicates to be made of the faithful, whom naught shall turn aside from the Path that leads them to their Lord.

'The sun has risen, as if in answer to the cry of the worshipper to “enable me to gaze on the Day-Star of Thy Beauty…” And as he continues his prayer it seems as if all nature were moving in harmony with it: “I beseech Thee, O my God, by the Tabernacle of Thy majesty on the loftiest summits, and the Canopy of Thy Revelation on the highest hills, to graciously aid me to do what Thy will hath desired and Thy purpose hath manifested.” North and south the glory spreads, a faint echo of that celestial beauty visible to the eye of Baha’u’llah and which He says; “shineth forth above the horizon of eternity.” So deeply does it penetrate the heart that it evokes the desire to “die to all that I possess and live to whatsoever belongeth unto Thee.” The soul is moved; all earthly things pale before the vision which, as symbolized in the sunrise, it beholds in the inner world; God, the “Well-beloved” seems to have drawn very near.

'The winds flit over the land; some tree calls to the Prophet’s mind, as it shivers and stirs, the Tree of Himself that over-shadows all mankind: “I beseech Thee, O my God, by the rustling of the Divine Lote-Tree and the murmur of the breezes of Thine utterance in the kingdom of Thy names, to remove me far from whatsoever Thy will abhorreth, and draw me nigh unto the station wherein He who is the Day-Spring of Thy signs hath shone forth.” Bahau’llah puts the words into our mouths whereby we may draw nigher to God and receive from Him the heavenly gifts: “I beseech Thee…to make known unto me what lay hid in the treasuries of Thy knowledge and concealed within the repositories of Thy wisdom.” “I beseech Thee…to number me with such as have attained unto that which Thou hast sent down in Thy Book and manifested through Thy will.” “I beseech Thee…to write down for me what Thou hast written down for Thy trusted ones…”

'And finally, in words designed for those countless worshippers for whom He wrote this glorious Fasting Prayer, He asks God to “write down for every one who hath observed the fast prescribed by Thee, the recompense decreed for such as speak not except by Thy leave, and who forsook all that they possessed in Thy path and for love of Thee.” He asks that the silence of the good may descend upon them—both the silence and the speech of those who are wholly dedicated to that Divine Will which alone can lead men to their highest destiny. The last thought of all is that those who have obeyed the decrees of God may be forgiven their trespasses.

'This majestic prayer is composed of fourteen verses, each opening with the words “I beseech Thee…” and closing with the same refrain: “Thou seest me, O my God, holding to Thy Name, the Most Holy, the Most Luminous, the Most Mighty, the Most Great, the Most Exalted, the Most Glorious, and clinging to the hem of the robe to which have clung all in this world and the world to come.” The rhythmical emphasis on the thoughts contained in these words is not only very powerful but very artistic—if one may borrow the term for lack of a better one—and the sense that all creatures living, and those gone before into the invisible realms of God, are clinging to the skirt of His mercy, dependent on Him and Him alone, exerts a profound influence on one’s mind, particularly so when taken in conjunction with what one beholds at this hour of the day: The sky kindling with light, the brush of the wind gently over the face of nature; the whole world waking to the tasks of living on all sides; all things dependent on God; they always have and they always will be. This is a little of what this long prayer conveys to those who partake of it.'

(Ruhiyyih Khanum, from “The Prayers of Baha'u'llah,” The Baha'i World, Vol. IX, 1940-1944, pp. 792-94.)


Some forty years later, Hand of the Cause of God Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum wrote another appreciation of the same
prayer, sharing fresh observations.

Ruhiyyih Khanum, 1980
'The long prayer for the fast grows on one all the adult years of one's life until in the end the blessing of keeping the fast and the blessing of saying this prayer with it become one great annual bounty, one special privilege of life. If one begins at about five minutes before sunrise one discovers that it seems deliberately to be synchronized with the rising of the sun: one finds oneself standing at "the gate of the city of Thy presence", awaiting God's grace; then come "the shadow of Thy mercy and the canopy of Thy bounty"--the differentiation of light from dark is taking place, the birds are singing; there follows "the splendour of Thy luminous brow and the brightness of the light of Thy countenance"--the sky is beginning to kindle with colour; the worshipper asks to be allowed "to gaze on the Day-Star of Thy Beauty"--the sun is rising! Next comes the full panoply of dawn, symbol of the Divine Springtime of God, "by the tabernacle of Thy majesty upon the loftiest summits, and the Canopy of Thy Revelation on the highest hills"; as one gazes upon the sun beginning to mount the skies one reaches the words "by Thy Beauty that shineth forth above the horizon of eternity, a beauty before which as soon as soon as it revealeth itself the kingdom of beauty boweth down in worship". All this takes place in the first half of the prayer. But what the worshipper is supplicating for is: to receive God's grace, to draw nearer to Him, to become attracted to Him and imbibe His words, to serve His Cause in such wise that he may not be held back by those who have turned away from God, to enable him to recognize God's Manifestation, to accomplish what God desires, to grant that "I may die to all that I possess and live to whatsoever belongeth unto Thee", to remember and praise God, to remove him far from whatever displeases God and enable him to draw near to the One Who manifests God's signs, to make known to this worshipper what was hidden in God's knowledge and wisdom, to number him with those who have attained to what God has revealed, to record for him what has been written down by God for His trusted and chosen ones, to write down for everyone who has turned unto God and observed the fast prescribed by Him "the recompense decreed for such as speak not except by Thy leave, and who forsook all that they possessed in Thy path and for love of Thee", and, last of all, to "cancel the trespasses of those who have held fast to Thy laws, and have observed what Thou hast prescribed unto them in Thy Book."

'Almost like a leitmotiv in a sumptuous musical composition, there occurs the same refrain over and over: "Thou seest me, O my God, holding to Thy Name, the Most Holy, the Most Luminous, the Most Mighty, the Most Great, the Most Exalted, the Most Glorious, and clinging to the hem of the robe to which have clung all in this world and in the world to come." When I repeat this I always visualize myself and my parents and loved ones who are dead, clinging all together to this symbolic celestial robe, and I feel very close to them. Truly a majestic prayer, containing metaphors of deep mysticism, a prayer that is a never-ending experience.
'
(Ruhiyyih Khanum, Desire of the World, Oxford, George Ronald, 1982, pp. 136-38)



More: The Baha'i Fast, Part One, Descriptive


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