Bahá’í worship, however exalted in its conception, however passionate in fervour, . . . . . cannot afford lasting satisfaction and benefit to the worshipper himself, much less to humanity in general, unless and until translated and transfused into that dynamic and disinterested service to the cause of humanity which it is the supreme privilege of the dependencies of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár to facilitate and promote.
(Shoghi Effendi — 25 October 1929)
The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is one of the most vital institutions in the world, and it hath many subsidiary branches. Although it is a House of Worship, it is also connected with a hospital, a drug dispensary, a traveler’s hospice, a school for orphans, and a university for advanced studies…. My hope is that the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár will now be established in America, and that gradually the hospital, the school, the university, the dispensary and the hospice, all functioning according to the most efficient and orderly procedures, will follow.
There is an indissoluble link between a temple and helping humanity. This goes back centuries, for example, in the monastic tradition of Christianity. However, in the Bahá’í Faith, monks (and priests as well for that matter) have no equivalent: the life of the temple depends upon the whole community, not just a small sub-section of it. How is that sense of communal responsibility to be achieved?
It begins with small devotional meetings in our homes?
This destination, laid down in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, is foreshadowed in the tiny seed of the devotional meeting. The Universal House of Justice writes:
The spiritual growth generated by individual devotions is reinforced by loving association among the friends in every locality, by worship as a community and by service to the Faith and to one’s fellow human beings. These communal aspects of the godly life relate to the law of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár which appears in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Although the time has not come for the building of local Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs, the holding of regular meetings for worship open to all and the involvement of Bahá’í communities in projects of humanitarian service are expressions of this element of Bahá’í life and a further step in the implementation of the Law of God.
(Universal House of Justice, 28 December 1999)
Without worship as a community we deprive ourselves of the food for the spirit of our collective endeavours.
. . . . the flourishing of the community, especially at the local level, . . . involves the practice of collective worship of God. Hence, it is essential to the spiritual life of the community that the friends hold regular devotional meetings …
(Universal House of Justice, Ridván 1996, )
Now these devotional meetings are clearly the early seeds of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár:
It befitteth the friends to hold a gatherings, a meeting, where they shall glorify God and fix their hearts upon Him, and read and recite the Holy Writings of the blessed Beauty, may my soul be the ransom of His lovers. The lights of the All-Glorious Realm, the rays of the Supreme Horizon, will be cast upon such bright assemblages, for these are none other than the Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs, the Dawning-Points of God’s Remembrance, which must, at the direction of the Most Exalted Pen, be established in every hamlet and city . . .
(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pages 93-95)
Devotional Meetings and Empowerment
Such a high level engagement, of course, does not happen automatically. It starts small and builds up slowly over a period of time.
In various parts of the world, special endeavors to increase the number of devotional meetings often begin with encouraging believers inspired by their institute course on spiritual life to undertake such meetings on their own.
(Building Momentum: page 8)
These meetings are often small scale experiments in ordinary homes and take many different forms. It is vital though that they happen in some form because the power of this embryonic institution of the Faith is ultimately immense and indispensable:
When the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is accomplished, when the lights are emanating therefrom, the righteous ones are presenting themselves therein, the prayers are performed with supplication towards the mysterious Kingdom, the voice of glorification is raised to the Lord, the Supreme, then the believers shall rejoice, the hearts shall be dilated and overflow with the love of the All-living and Self-existent God. The people shall hasten to worship in that heavenly Temple, the fragrances of God will be elevated, the divine teachings will be established in the hearts like the establishment of the Spirit in mankind; the people will then stand firm in the Cause of your Lord, the Merciful. Praise and greetings be upon you.
(Bahá’í World Faith, page 415)
The yearning for a connection to a higher spiritual reality is far more widespread than many of us imagine: it cannot be responded to by accident. We must choose to act and act persistently.
Responding to the inmost longings of every heart to commune with its Maker, [we] carry out acts of collective worship in diverse settings, uniting with others in prayer, awakening spiritual susceptibilities, and shaping a pattern of life distinguished for its devotional character.
(Universal House of Justice: Ridván Message 2008)
The devotional meeting is an essential component, prerequisite even, for the process of civilisation building upon which we are embarked. It is conducive to the unity which we have seen is essential if we are to be effective:
In brief, the original purpose of temples and houses of worship is simply that of unity – places of meeting where various peoples, different races and souls of every capacity may come together in order that love and agreement should be manifest between them. That is why Bahá’u'lláh has commanded that a place of worship be built for all the religionists of the world; that all religions, races and sects may come together within its universal shelter; that the proclamation of the oneness of mankind shall go forth from its open courts of holiness – the announcement that humanity is the servant of God and that all are submerged in the ocean of His mercy.
(Promulgation of Universal Peace, pages 65-66)
How should Devotional Meetings be Conducted?
The Guardian’s statements in Bahá’í Administration will give us a sense of how we should be conducting our devotional meetings, though still only embryonic Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs:
It should be borne in mind that the central Edifice of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, round which in the fulness of time shall cluster such institutions of social service as shall afford relief to the suffering, sustenance to the poor, shelter to the wayfarer, solace to the bereaved, and education to the ignorant, should be regarded apart from these Dependencies, as a House solely designed and entirely dedicated to the worship of God in accordance with the few yet definitely prescribed principles established by Bahá’u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. . . . .
(Bahá’í Administration, pages 184-185)
There is much in the Writings: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indicates that they are in effect the Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs of the districts in which they take place if held in the right spirit.
55…. These spiritual gatherings must be held with the utmost purity and consecration, so that from the site itself, and its earth and the air about it, one will inhale the fragrant breathings of the Holy Spirit.
(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
It will make our houses heavenly:
57. We hear that thou hast in mind to embellish thy house from time to time with a meeting of Bahá’ís, where some among them will engage in glorifying the All-Glorious Lord… Know that shouldst thou bring this about, that house of earth will become a house of heaven, and that fabric of stone a congress of the spirit.
(Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
And they should be open to all, as we know:
Let the friends not hesitate to welcome to their observances, even to those of a devotional character, the non-Bahá’í public, many of whom may well be attracted by the prayers and expressions of gratitude of the believers, no less than by the exalted tone of passages from Bahá’í Writings.
(Universal House of Justice, 25 June 1967)
The Research Department at the World Centre summarises the themes in the many quotations on the subject of devotional meetings and the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár as follows, though at this stage of our development we should not allow our incomplete understanding of them to stifle creativity and the spirit of experimentation that characterises much of what we do at the moment:
A number of themes emerge from perusal of the extracts contained therein. For example:
* Care should be taken to avoid developing rigid practices and rituals (extracts 1 and 6).
* Bahá’ís are encouraged to use the revealed prayers of Bahá’u'lláh and the Báb as well as those of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. It is permissible to have prayers and readings from the Sacred Scriptures of other religions (extracts 2 and 7).
* The form of programme would appear to depend in part on the setting, the occasion, and the purposes of the gathering (extracts 6 and 7).
* The practice of collective worship is one important ingredient in the flourishing of community life. It also reinforces individual spiritual development (extracts 3, 4, and 5).
In the end we cannot expect ourselves or our communities to rise to the heights of service necessary to transform society without such acts of collective worship. After all, would we expect to vacuum-clean the house without plugging the hoover into the mains?
. . . . . the flourishing of the community, especially at the local level, . . . . . involves the practice of collective worship of God. Hence, it is essential to the spiritual life of the community that the friends hold regular devotional meetings in local Bahá’í centres, where available, or elsewhere, including the homes of believers.
(Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1996)
The next and last post in this series will look at the spiritual education of children. It comes last not because it is the least important, but in the hope that it may prove to be the longest remembered.