Thursday, November 02, 2017

Falling Off the Prayer Wagon

Confession is not a part of the Baha'i religion, but in the interest of exploiting my personal weaknesses for writing material, I'm going to confess something here. I'm really bad at praying.

It's not that I'm bad at actually saying prayers. Picking up a prayer book and reciting what's inside is something I am fully capable of. Nor does my problem have to do with any sort of quieting of the mind or centring of the heart. I'm just really bad getting myself to sit down and do it. I forget.

This feels like such a noobie problem. Daily prayer is an extremely basic law that Baha'is are supposed to follow and most new Baha'is pick it up as a habit fairly early on. Certainly someone like me, who grew up with Baha'i parents, should not be having this much trouble. I just find that after going along for a while with being really consistent there will suddenly come a time when BAM! I start forgetting. Then once I start forgetting it feels like an insurmountable mountain to clime to start back up again.

The short obligatory prayer is the worst. People like to say it because it's short, but because it's supposed to be said in the afternoon (it's known as the "Noon-day Prayer" for a reason), I find it the most disruptive, the easiest to forget, and the hardest to actually accomplish. I never know where I'm going to be, what I'll be doing, or who I'll be with at the time its supposed to be said. On the days when I'm at work there's also very little privacy. Technically I could set an alarm but if it goes off when I'm doing something I can't just drop, I'll just turn it off and forget again a minute later. The other problem is that, as mentioned, it's short. If I manage to say it in spite of distraction it doesn't feel like I've even done anything. Then a while later I'll forget if I've said it or not.

The medium obligatory prayer has a lot of the same issues except that it needs to be said three times a day. I've known people who are big fans but even at the best of times I've never gotten the hang of this one.

The times when I've had the best luck with staying consistent are when I've incorporated the long obligatory prayer into my day. Since it can be said at any time of the day I grew up thinking of it as the one you say at night when you screw up and forget the shorter prayers earlier, but in my adult life it actually became my favorite. The flexible timing means it can also be said at the start of the day. If I can manage to do that other things seem to fall into place, especially evening prayers. (Once you've said the long prayer everything else seems like a piece of cake.) The problems arise when I sleep in, or get a phone call first thing, or have someone talk to me, or have anything else distract me early in the morning. Since it's long you can't just say it quickly once you remember. Once I forget I seem to spiral downward.

In my mind it goes something like this, "Oops, maybe I should say the noon-day prayer...Oops, there goes the afternoon. Guess that's not happening... Hey, I should say my evening prayers.... Oh wait. I should say my obligatory prayer first... Oh look, several hours just went by and I forgot what I was doing... I should probably say those prayers... Oh hey, my husband's waking me up because I fell asleep on the couch... Maybe I'll try this again tomorrow."

Then I repeat the same thing the next day.

So what are the consequences for this spiritual delinquency? Failure to obey a law is one aspect of it, but it's not like the prayer police are going to come bang down my door. I think of it more like depriving myself of spiritual nourishment. In the same way that skipping a meal deprives your body of fuel, skipping prayers deprives the soul of sustenance. If it happens once I might not notice much effect, but if it happens a lot I get grumpy, distracted, depressed, and frustrated. And yeah, there are other things that feed the soul - going to feast, engaging in meaningful conversation, appreciating artistic creations, reading about thoughtful topics - but without prayer I find they are like grabbing a bag of chips and a pop to keep yourself going instead of sitting down to a home cooked meal. That might do for a while but when you are used to being well-nourished you feel the difference after a while.

Lately I've been getting pretty spotty with my prayers again. Since I'm writing about the Faith this month I'm going to use this time to also give myself a kick and get back in the habit. I'm going to aim to not take shortcuts and say the long obligatory prayer every morning. We'll see how it goes.

If you are not familiar with Baha'i teachings and practices surrounding prayer, or would just like to read more, here are a few links to check out:

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