Recently I was talking to someone who had completed the sequence of Ruhi Courses, but still didn’t know how to study a prayer. I don’t think her experience is unique, so thought I’d share some ideas here.
In Ruhi Book 1 we learn the skill of asking and answering questions at 3 levels. When we apply this skill to studying a prayer, it might look something like this.
For example, let’s look at one of the first prayers we learn, and teach to children:
O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 36)
In first level questions, we ask questions in which we find answers grounded in the Writings themselves.
We could ask:
- What are we asking God for in this prayer?
- What attributes of God are we calling on?
At the second level, we apply the concepts in the prayer to our daily life.
We could ask:
- When would you use this prayer?
- What does it look like when someone is a “shining lamp and brilliant star”?
- What would the advantage be, if you were a “shining lamp and brilliant star”?
When my son was little, I wanted him to develop the habit of turning to God to help with absolutely anything, so I used to say the prayer first; and then change the words:
- Is there any remover of lost toys . . .
- Is there any remover of bullies . . .
- Is there any remover of tears . . .
At the third level, we think about the implications of the prayer for situations with no apparent or immediate connection with the theme.
We could ask:
- How could this prayer help with parenting?
- How could this prayer help with teaching?
Let’s try it again with another prayer:
O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 150)
- What are you asking for in this prayer?
- What decisions are you making?
- What aspect of God is being acknowledged?
- What are you promising?
- What makes this prayer so popular?
- What is the element of choice in this prayer?
- What would life look like if we truly believed that God was our “guide and refuge and friend”?
- How does this prayer relate to the Covenant?
- How is this prayer a “prescription” for overcoming anxiety and depression?
And with another:
O Lord! Enable all the peoples of the earth to gain admittance into the Paradise of thy Faith, so that no created being may remain beyond the bounds of Thy good-pleasure. From time immemorial Thou hast been potent to do what pleaseth thee and transcendent above whatsoever thou desirest. (The Bab, Baha’i Prayers, p. 199)
- What are you asking God for?
- If He grants an answer to this prayer, what will be the result?
- What are we reminding ourselves of?
- How will this prayer help with teaching?
- How else will saying this prayer help in your life?
- What would the world look like if God didn’t answer this prayer?
How do you study prayers? Share your insights below: