Knocking on Heaven’s Door

How often do we sit down and pray ardently for our friends? Do we sacrifice our time and energy in prayer for others? Or do we just pray for ourselves and what we want out of life? Going through some challenges at home, I realised I needed some Divine assistance. A few friends of mine were also going though difficulties, so I thought I’d make a prayer list. The following blog post are my thoughts on the experience of doing a 9 day prayer plan. I put out a request on Facebook;

“I am going to start a 9 day prayer plan next week from the 16th September to the 24th September. If there is anyone who would like me to include them on my prayer lists – healing/marriage/tests/new challenges/ guidance etc – please message me and I will be honoured to do so. If anyone would like to join me in prayer, that would be great too! I’m happy to pray for friends of all faiths or no faiths – so this message isn’t just for Bahá’ís!”

Then on the 16th I also said this:

“Day One of my 9 day prayer plan starts today. I have about 25 people on my list. Any more takers? Last chance – after today you’ll either need to wait until the next prayer plan, start your own plan or ask someone else to pray for you! :)”

I was overwhelmed with responses – message after message flooded in. Ten people also joined me on the 9 day prayer plan – two dear friends (one in the UK and one in Minnesota, USA) also synching the timing of their prayers with mine.

Just before 8pm, another few people quickly contacted me – one literally as I was turning off my phone – and I added them to the list. On day two another dear friend asked if I could remember her son and of course I agreed.

So the 9 days have now come to an end and I’m reflecting on the experience.

Overall I feel honoured and moved that a large group of people asked me to pray for them. It felt like I was standing outside a sacred temple, with over 100 people who all entrusted me with their hopes, fears, concerns and pleas. I heard their voices, embraced them virtually and then walked into the temple, offering my desire for my friend’s healing and guidance and asking for God’s Will to be done. Walking beside me, adding my voice to theirs were the ten people I mentioned before as well as my father and my husband who joined me most nights.

It would have been too arduous a task to think of all the people every night – so I read the names of the people on the list out-loud before saying the first prayer, placing them in the care of a higher power, a greater memory. It’s interesting that I had over 100 people on my final list and over ten people who prayed with me – maybe I should have given each praying friend the names of ten friends from the list each? That’s an idea for next time.

Most nights I said either The Long Healing Prayer or The Fire Tablet from the Baha’i writings. There were a few nights when I said 9 ‘Remover of Difficulties’ instead, as I was just too tired to say a longer prayer – and there was one day when I just plain forgot and so said prayers the next morning.

I realised a few things:

I believe in the power of prayer for transformation, for shifting obstacles and for placing one’s life in God’s hands. I always feel much stronger after saying prayers, I have a greater focus and can handle challenges from a place of calm rather than panic. When I put out a call for people who needed prayers too I was quite surprised just how many friends responded. I thought about 20 people would respond. Receiving over 100 requests, this makes me wonder if we need to be asking friends if they need prayers more often!

In the West, we tend to hide our faces away when life gets tough, and suffer in silence a lot, thinking we are the only ones having such a hard time. Yes it’s good to not burden others with our worries, but asking a friend to pray for you throughout a particular challenge is a way your friend can help, it might be the only way sometimes.   Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, in a next world, in the soul – it actually doesn’t matter. The fact that I am sitting down over a period of time to think of my friend with love in my heart and asking a Higher Power (whatever that means to me or you) to help that friend – is a beautiful thing for the intention is pure. So let’s do it more often!

I’ve been brought up to pray my way through difficulties. It’s always been a part of family life. They used to call it ‘knocking on heaven’s door’. I remember my parents ardently praying through periods of time when we were involved in sharing the healing message of Baha’u’lláh with new people. I remember repeating healing prayers over and over again when my brother was a small child with terrible weeping excema to help him fall asleep and to calm myself down because his cries were so distressing. I remember saying the Long Healing Prayer day after day by Ramin’s raised bed when he was sleeping, thin and vulnerable because his relapses were rushing him to hospital month after month.  I remember saying the same prayer as above every day of the last few months of my Mother’s life – not for her Cancer to be taken away, but for her to move into the next part of her eternal existence peacefully and for us all to have the strength to let her go. I do not know how anyone copes with life’s huge ups and downs without prayer.

I think we need to talk about this subject more. We need to say less ‘token’ offerings and more heartfelt yearnings. I certainly want to immerse myself in the ocean of prayer and gain strength from it’s force and ceaseless movement, its healing power.

On Baha’i.org the way we pray together as Bahá’ís around the world is beautifully described,

“Devotional meetings spring up naturally in a community where a conversation about the spiritual dimension of human existence is growing. In diverse settings, Bahá’ís and their friends and families unite with one another in prayer. There are no rituals; no one individual has any special role. Meetings consist largely of reading prayers and passages from the Bahá’í sacred texts in an informal yet respectful atmosphere. A spirit of communal worship is generated by these simple gatherings, and this spirit begins to permeate the community’s collective endeavours.”

Something very special happens when you remember people in prayer. Its like all the external differences just melt away and you feel a pure connection. In these 9 days, I felt so much love! About prayer —‘Abdu’l-Baha says,

“Praise be to God, thy heart is engaged in the commemoration of God, thy soul is gladdened by the glad tidings of God and thou art absorbed in prayer. The state of prayer is the best of conditions…”

So in these 9 days when I said a special prayer for my friends, my soul was ‘gladdened by the glad tidings of God’.  I am thankful that my friends gave me the opportunity to be in ‘the best of conditions’. Praying is truly an example of these insightful words, ‘to sacrifice is to receive a gift’.

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Journey through Patience

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A game my sister, Leila, and I used to play with my Mum is called ‘Journey through Europe’. It’s a board game where you have a large fold-out map of Europe (the board part) and you are given nine cities to travel to and through (on nine cards), departing from and arriving back at the original city. The most complicated part of the game is planning your journey as you navigate a restricted flight path, sea-crossings and travel routes as well as finding cities you’ve never seen the names of before on the map itself.

Ramin and I now play this game, as well as Scrabble, Monopoly and Memory as part of his brain training sessions. When Ramin was first recovering from his year of relapses, he had Ergo-therapy in Germany where he and his therapist worked through various exercises together, including games. So when I officially became Ramin’s Carer a few years ago, we decided together that for the two days a week when he is not Volunteering in Oxfam, we would play such games, and do our best to have the patience to complete them without killing each other!

You see, the challenge for Ramin and I is often my lack of patience with Ramin’s slower pace and his lack of patience with the benefit he is meant to be receiving from playing any of these games. Also, if we’re totally honest here, he would much prefer to leave his current neural paths as they are and watch a comedy show on TV, or listen to music, or sleep (all passive activities) than have to think and plan, remember details and work towards a goal. Yeah, I know people without MS have difficulties with being pro-active too – in fact many of my female friends get frustrated with their passive male partners and it is helpful for me to realize that sometimes its not an MS thing I’m dealing with, but a female-male thing!

For me, it’s the hardest quality to learn. I think quickly, proactively. I’m a problem solver, a creative thinker. I like to analyse, consult, discuss options and figure out a new way of making something happen. Because of his particular journey with MS (the experiences can be very different) Ramin has been slowed down by an illness that took away his independence for a long time. Relapse-free, he is now in the slow but steady fight to recover and he gets frustrated with himself, with me and his body, his mind. Yes you can be patient in the moment, but what about staying patient year in, year out where you know you are progressing, but in the actual moment it’s just a struggle, an exhausting struggle with a terrier-like wife next to you who won’t let go?

So how can we stay patient, when working with our loved ones on a task? Can we do this alone? Or do we need to ask for a higher power to assist us?

In the Baha’i writings, Baha’u’lláh says, “He, verily, shall increase the reward of them that endure with patience.”

My Dad often reminds of of this teaching. It’s helpful to me because I know that sometimes Ramin and I are both just enduring – keep going – don’t give up – yes, its tiring – yes, it’s annoying – yes, it makes me angry -yes, it frustrates me – but endure with patience. And why? Well because of this:

Baha’ulláh also says, “The steed in the Valley of Search is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal.

So for Ramin and I to achieve our goal of his increasing independence we have to ride the horse of patience, through the game of Journey through Europe, through all the ins and outs of our marriage and through the way we react and respond to each other. This also says to me that on our particular life’s path, staying patient as we suffer through (endure!) brain-training exercises while speaking lovingly with each other (and accepting our different capabilities) is also part of the development of our souls. It’s not just brain-training for Ramin – both our higher natures strengthen as we grow closer to each other and ultimately, closer to God.

We play Scrabble for brain training

We play Scrabble for brain training

Read more about the struggle for patience from another Bahá’i blogger: http://onebahai.blogspot.com/2010/02/its-virtue.html#ixzz3USGHgO9A

 

A Child-full Couple

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Ramin and I are now categorised as ‘A childless couple’. We have tried to get pregnant naturally for many years and finally went through a gruelling round of In-vitro-fertilisation (IVF) last Autumn and yet, for reasons still largely unknown, we conceived 3 embryos, yet did not stay pregnant. One round was enough for me. I asked God the question and received my answer. Previous to trying IVF we actually went through a year long process of applying to become Adoptive parents, yet sadly this route was closed to us. We could fight it. We could try somewhere else, but at the moment – this path is exhausted (and exhausting). We’ve now accepted that – unless a miracle happens – we will not be parents, and are moving on.

It’s tough for us both.

Coming to terms with this has been a longer process for Ramin than myself. Perhaps because my IVF experience was so physical. It’s another test related to MS that we both have to cope with, and it does often feel like the hardest part. It’s all the ‘what ifs…’ which play sad tunes on our heart strings.

Yet when I coo at and hold a baby in my arms, I instantly feel happy for the parents and joyful to be in the presence of a tiny soul. I don’t feel resentful or sad at not having kids myself. Here is another little person I can love, and it’s beautiful. Its the same when a friend announces she is pregnant! Wahoo! Another one of life’s miracles!

Today, I want to challenge that phrase ‘A childless couple’ as I think it’s misleading, comes from a materialistic view of life and annoys me because it assumes Ramin and I are missing out.

We live in a time when the quest for possessions, status and fame is well and truly up there with the quest for enlightenment. This influences the way we talk about and describe life’s achievements or failures. We all know that money and objects and fame does not make anyone happy in the long-term. In this society we are insidiously groomed to spend our whole lives aiming for spiritually empty-calorie goals and think less and less about feeding our soul spiritual food that would enrich us beyond measure. So a couple who do not have children are described as ‘A Childless Couple’ in the same way that a single woman is called ‘A Spinster’. Many people have ‘successful careers’ yet cannot stay faithful to their wives or husbands. So many famous movie stars, musicians and artists have died young through alcohol abuse or drug-overdoses (Oh River Phoenix!), yet we still envy their successes and wish we were more like them. The state of our soul is not as important as the estate we leave behind and then we enter the next world in a state of complete spiritual poverty. Yeah, that’s successful.

One of my favourite quotes from the Baha’i writings is this;

The soul of man is the sun by which his body is illumined,                                                          and from which it draweth it’s sustenance. (Baha’u’lláh)

So, in the light of this teaching, I choose to re-examine our societies’ established assumptions and judgements. A change in our perspective from materialistic to spiritually focused is not just a philosophical exercise, it’s a foundation for happiness.

‘A Childless Couple’ as a phrase annoys me, because of the word ‘less’. We don’t go around saying ‘An Abuse-less Couple’ for married couples who are loving to each other or ‘A Meat-less Couple’ for a married people who are Vegetarians do we? Also the phrase is just plain wrong and misleading!

Ramin and I both have sisters who have children, 3 on one side and 4 on the other. We love these kids. We talk about them all the time. I see elements of myself in the Welsh ones and elements of Ramin in the German ones. Spending time with them is joyful, rewarding and sometimes a bit too noisy (due to our own home being quieter), but I look forward to having their company and I feel I am in exactly the right place at the right time when we are with them.

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Our dear friends Vicky and Tom have two girls, who call us Aunty Fleur and Uncle Ramin. We love them and will always be there for them. I was living with V & T just before their first daughter was born and I have many wonderful memories of carrying her, going for walks with her in a sling and playing with her as a little one. Their second daughter is a joy and together the girls are so exuberantly loving!

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I have many friends with children, some live nearby, some live an hour away, some many hours away. When I see them, I enjoy the children’s company as much as their parents – and I always wonder at the different personalities, physical attributes, enthusiasms for this and that subject in life. I work on how I can be there for them as a trustworthy, spiritually minded adult. Or sometimes I just read stories before bed or sing silly songs to make them giggle.

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I have my own Aunties and Uncles who gave me time and attention, who loved me as a child and who I feel very close to today. One couple in particular, Des and Cynthia, who currently live in China, do not have their own children  – yet this never bothered me as a child. Des is an artist and I remember him painting with me as a child, chatting about life and having long deep conversations with my parents. My impression of him is that he is a laid-back Cowboy who has hung up his boots (even though his family are Irish/English) and I always found him fascinating to be around. When Des and Cynthia come to the UK, they often stay with us for a few days and the connection is just as strong.

The African proverb,  “It takes a village to raise a child” is as relevant now as it was generations ago. In fact I would say even more so in a time when so many loud voices clamour for our attention such as the Media, the passion for Celebrity, the ever-increasing competitive nature of work, play, status and the incredible ability we have to access knowledge. Children need positive examples in their lives, people who can guide them to have spiritual values and overcome tests through inner strength. Aunts and Uncles can be of great support to parents in this capacity. So I see it, as a Aunt that its my responsibility to help every child I come into contact with to shine their light, not only for their own happiness but also for the sake of the whole world. If we don’t help fan the bright flames into life, then we are assured (and can see the evidence in the news) the same capacity for bringing light will be diverted into a capacity for reflecting the lack of light, the darkness.

“Every child is potentially the light of the world,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would argue, “and at the same time its darkness.”

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“Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning,” he said. “The child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned.” Of course, he commented, instilling both moral education and book learning in children would be preferable.

“Give them the advantage of every useful kind of knowledge,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote on the subject of child rearing. “Let them share in every new and rare and wondrous craft and art.” Yet he wasn’t suggesting a life of indulgence. “Bring them up to work and strive,” he added, “accustom them to hardship. Teach them to dedicate their lives to matters of great import, and inspire them to undertake studies that will benefit mankind.”

(From 239 Days in America. Click here to read more)

Not being able to have children has perhaps given me a deeper understanding of parental love in that reaching out beyond the immediate family (of my marriage) has caused me to reflect on how every person, with children or not (married or single) has an important part to play in the health and happiness of the village – which in this time in the history of mankind is now the whole world, a global village.  When we broaden the circle of love to the children in the neighbourhood or the region, the country or the continent and finally the whole planet, there are children all around us! Its all a matter of perspective. And just imagine what would transform if we all thought globally, saw every child as our own, loved every child as a member of our family.

So yes, Ramin and I have no children, but we are not childless. It’s our choice about how much we engage with the children that determines how much love we feel and receive back. Of course friends and family who are parents have a more engaged and intimate and I am sure more rewarding as well as testing relationships with their children than we do as Aunty Fleur and Uncle Ramin. Yet our related and non-related nieces and nephews are a very precious part of our lives. And when I think back to all the children who have been part of my drama classes over the years in Scotland or in Sherman Cymru, or who sang in whole-school assemblies with me in Primary Schools in Northamptonshire, or who learned beat-boxing and step-dance with my brother and I in Mien Yang in China, or who learned to be confident and sing their hearts out at the Summer School last year in Romania, I have to ask myself, am I childless? No, I’m child-full.

We are a child-full couple.

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Oh… and we sleep really well every night 😉