Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Remover of Difficulties

When I was talking to Kimberly Winston the other day about Baha'i prayer beads, I happened to mention "Remover of Difficulties" as one of the verses that could be said with the prayer beads, and that reminded me of the importance of this prayer in my own life.

That wasn't always the case. It was one of the very first Baha'i prayers I ever saw -- it was on a teaching pamphlet, along with the Noonday prayer, and it struck me as rather odd. For one thing, it didn't seem like a prayer at all, since it didn't address God. Of course, before becoming a Baha'i, the very notion of having written prayers that are read or recited was kind of alien to me, and took a little getting used to.

Even as an enrolled Baha'i, it wasn't one of my favorites -- I rather preferred the Bab's "God sufficeth" prayer, although like all Baha'is I memorized "Remover of Difficulties" and would recite it during times of trouble.

Many years later, after I was unenrolled, I came across Denis MacEoin's Rituals in Babism and Baha'ism, where it talked about how this prayer, although there are no ritual instructions that accompany it, is used as Baha'is in a ritual manner -- we perform a "round", or we repeat it a specified number of times. MacEoin called this "an interesting example of popular ritual observance within a movement devoted to the principle of accepting only authoritative prescriptions in respect to devotional practice.'[p.45] I found that quite appealing -- here was a spiritual practice that was not laid down by any law, or approved of by any authority, but that naturally bubbled up from the grassroots. This is something that came from Baha'i hearts, not from any sense of obligation, but from their devotion to Baha'u'llah.

The practice stems from a story on p. 119 of God Passes By, describing Baha'u'llah's anger and disappointment with the Babi community in Baghdad, just before he left it to live as a solitary hermit in Sulaymaniyyih. He said to "bid them recite" the Remover of Difficulties verse "five hundred times, nay, a thousand times, by day and by night, sleeping and waking, that haply the Countenance of Glory may be unveiled to their eyes, and tiers of light descend upon them." Baha'u'llah recited this verse himself, as well.

This story struck me in a couple of ways: First, I identified with Baha'u'llah's feelings of sadness over the state of the community. After all I'd been through, I found comfort in the reminder that Baha'u'llah, too, had his moment of despair over the direction his religion was going. Secondly, I realized that the verse was not simply for hard times, or when you're feeling down, but for spiritual enlightenment. Finally, the way spiritual practice arose from a story reminded me of the Jesus Prayer, which evolved from the tax collector's prayer in Luke 18, and became one of the most common prayers repeated in Christian meditation.

I've felt myself more drawn to this verse for meditation ever since.

Is there any Remover of Difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants and all abide by His bidding.

No comments: