“The daily obligatory prayers are three in number. The shortest one consists of a single verse which has to be recited once in every twenty-four hours at midday. The medium [prayer] has to be recited three times a day, in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. The long prayer which is the most elaborate of the three has to be recited once in every twenty-four hours, and at any time one feels inclined to do so. The believer is entirely free to choose any one of those three prayers, but is under the obligation of reciting either one of them, and in accordance with any specific directions with which they may be accompanied.” (From a letter from the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles)
In this post we will feature passages from the Writings about the Long Obligatory Prayer, some thoughts from moms about using it, and a few tips to help you with memorization.
What Do the Writings Say About the Long Obligatory Prayer?
“These daily obligatory prayers, together with a few other specific ones, such as the Healing Prayer, the Tablet of Ahmad, have been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with a special potency and significance, and should therefore be accepted as such and be recited by the believers with unquestioned faith and confidence, that through them they may enter into a much closer communion with God, and identify themselves more fully with His Laws and precepts.”
(Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 60)
“Know thou that in every word and movement of the obligatory prayer there are allusions, mysteries and a wisdom that man is unable to comprehend, and letters and scrolls cannot contain.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. I, p. 85)
“Bahá’u’lláh has reduced all ritual and form to an absolute minimum in His Faith. The few forms that there are — like those associated with the two longer obligatory daily prayers, are only symbols of the inner attitude. There is a wisdom in them, and a great blessing but we cannot force ourselves to understand or feel these things, that is why He gave us also the very short and simple prayer, for those who did not feel the desire to perform the acts associated with the other two.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, June 24, 1949: Spiritual foundations: Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude, op. cit.)
“As to the obligatory prayer: Each one must say his prayer alone by himself, and this is not conditional on a private place; that is, both at home and in the worshipping-place, which is a gathering-place, it is allowable for one to say his prayer; but each person must say his prayer by himself.”
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. II, p. 464)
“The Universal House of Justice received your letter of 7 January 1975, enquiring about the correct way of following certain instructions in the Long Obligatory Prayer, and has asked us to give you this reply.
“In following the direction stating: ‘Let him then stand and raise his hands twice in supplication, and say’: … the believer does not have to read twice the paragraph which follows. Whether the believer raises his hands twice before the reciting of the paragraph, or commences the reciting after having raised his hands once, and raises them a second time soon thereafter, is left to his choice.
“As to the direction which states: ‘Let him then raise his hands thrice, and say: … . ‘, and individual believer asked the beloved Guardian the following question: “… the direction to raise the hands thrice and say ‘greater is God than every great one.’ Does this mean after every raising of the hands, or only to be said once, after the three raisings?’
“Shoghi Effendi’s secretary answered on his behalf as follows: “The hands should be raised three times and each time the sentence be repeated in conjunction with the act.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, February 13, 1975: Ibid) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 467)
What Are Moms Saying?
[quote]I find there are days when I really want to carve out a special time for the Long Obligatory Prayer (which is usually after a long day, when the kids are already asleep), mainly because I feel the need for extra spiritual sustenance. If I am having trouble soothing my mind from some issue, the prayer always seems to ground me in reality and remind me of what is truly important in life.[/quote]
– Chelsea from Veritable Treasure
[quote]I always liked it because it was like combining prayer with yoga. It’s refreshing to incorporate physical movement with prayer, especially knowing that’s how it’s supposed to be done.[/quote]
-Annie from Motherhood and More
[quote]When I need extra spiritual strength, that’s when I say the long prayer. If I’m feeling strong and all go get ’em, I say the short one. When I’m feeling strong and go get ’em but it’s sunset and I’ve totally forgotten to say the short one already, I get kind of annoyed with myself. It is a powerful prayer, and I need energy for it. It’s absolutely a morning prayer if I’m going to choose that one. By the evening, it’s hard to get through for me.[/quote]
-Skyla from At Home with Momma Skyla
How About Memorizing?
After talking with several mothers about memorizing the prayer, it seems many people like to start with the three verses to be recited while kneeling on the floor, as it is hard to read from a prayer book in this position.
Writing the verses on individual index cards and working on one per week or month can be a good way to do this. Read the first sentence on the card to yourself or aloud and then look away from the card and try to recite it by heart. Do that four or five times every morning and evening, and after a few days you will probably have the first sentence memorized. Then add the next sentence, and so forth. After memorizing the selection, try to recite it several times during the day when you do not have the card. This will show you if you really have it memorized and do not need the card to trigger your memory.
You can use the above index card approach for the whole prayer however if you say the prayer every day for a number of months, you may find that you are already memorizing portions or even full passages. After you have memorized these random phrases or selections of the prayer, you can go back and work on the portions around them, adding more words with each week.
If you would like to systematically memorize in another way, consider making a recording of yourself saying the prayer and then play it as you try to recite the prayer by memory. Gradually say it alone, along with the motions.
Or you can work with a friend to set goals for memorization, such as working on a paragraph per week, calling each other up and trying to recite the paragraph by memory every night.
What experiences have you had with the Long Obligatory Prayer? Do you have any tips for memorizing it?