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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Which way – this way, that way?

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Ramin and I tend to either decide on something immediately or take quite a while to make a decision. There’s not really an in-between.  My mind is thinking of that moment as well as later that day, the next day, appointments that are coming up in the next week and often what’s coming up in the following month.  Ramin tends to live in the moment so completely that he can find it challenging to think beyond what is happening right now. This could just be our personalities, but it could also be that MS is intervening, yet again invisibly but very much there.

My Mum made a good observation the other day, she noticed that Ramin tends to wait for me to ask him to do something, or asks where we are going and when. I’m the one who carries around the week’s schedule in my head and he is happy to rely on my memory for the organization of his week, of our week. In itself it’s not too bad as our lives are not particularly complicated, but it does mean that he isn’t engaging his own memory, is reliant on me and floats from one event to the other without much reflection. How wonderful to trust someone so much! Ah, but this has to change. Yes I am Ramin’s carer, but in this role as well as helping him with the every day things that would be too hard for him, I also want to assist him to progress in his life, not to keep him reliant on me for every little thing, all the time, everywhere. Mum suggested that we write the events of the week down in a little book – not a diary (He has one of those already and either never remembers to look in it or there’s too much space in-between events) – but a little book so that when he’s not sure about the week’s plans, he can look in the book and remind himself without always asking me – crossing off events when they’re complete. I love this idea!

The Oxford Dictionary definition of independence (as it relates to a person) is: ‘adjective: ‘free from outside control’…’capable of thinking or acting for oneself’…’not influenced by others’…’not depending on something else for strength or effectiveness’.

If the opposite of the definition of independence is true for him then he would be controlled by me, I would think for him, I would  influence him and he would depend on me for strength or effectiveness. At the moment, to some degree, all those things  are true – he kind of likes it that way to be honest as it removes responsibility from his actions – and he knows I have a clear head and can make good decisions. Also in marriage being interdependent is healthy and good! When I go to the dentist I totally rely on his calm strength to be able to face the scary-ness!

However a marriage is a union of two people, through which they both grow and learn together. As his wife I  want him to be someone I can rely on. I want to have a great life together! I want him to fly. I want to fly with him! If one person is making all the decisions and the other is relying on that person and not thinking for themselves, then how can either of them grow? How can I grow as a wife if my husband just agrees with my ideas of where to go, what to do, what to eat, what to buy, how to serve, who to visit and so on? It’s like being alone with a lovely pet dog who loves you and follows you around and is sad when you leave. Sorry, but this is true! How can Ramin grow as a husband if he doesn’t think about his life, ponder on his actions, reflect on  his love for me and ways to grow together or even just think for himself about his diet, exercise, friends, service, prayers and so on without my prompting? In fact it’s not only the marriage that suffers if one person isn’t independent, but that person’s whole life! I don’t want Ramin to become me, for Pete’s sake!

Ramin is a wonderful man with an excellent University degree in film (Aberystwyth), strong personal opinions (when he feels he wants to express them), a fantastic personality full of joy, calm and love for people and someone who needs to have the space and encouragement to just be himself. MS took all his abilities away for many years and I feel he lost a sense of trust in his mind and his body in that time. Now, with almost all his abilities functioning really well, he needs to discover his self-trust again and not let those years of illness rob him of a meaningful and independent life. You see how  you can choose to let MS have a huge, looming role in your life, or how it can be pushed away and play no part?

So therefore sometimes our decisions are quick and easy – either when we both agree straightway to do something (eat pizza, go for a walk, watch this movie, ring his Dad) or take a lot of time and space when it’s clear to me that I need to step back and let Ramin find his voice. Yes I can get frustrated and in my head my voice is saying ‘hurry up!!!’ but expressing this just kills any chance Ramin had to think and use his voice. For example, it took us two weeks to decide that we wouldn’t continue the fertility treatment and would start the adoption process. He wanted me to make the decision and I refused to do so by myself. I waited until he had really thought about it. We also consulted with our family members and prayed a lot.

Perhaps I need to employ this method more in our lives, not just about the big decisions but also about what to do and where to go – to give him a real sense of us deciding together. Man, I’m going to need some patience from the Divine! So maybe that’s my disability right there, I’ve learned to be the strong one and now I need to learn to step back. You can see this in the way we walk down the street, I’m always walking ahead while he follows behind. I then stop and wait, realising I’m walking too fast. Then we walk together, holding hands, making eye contact while I pull back my desire to strive ahead faster and he pulls back his desire to follow and not think much.

Perhaps he’s my hermit crab and I’m the shell he hides away in. He’s protected by his trust in me, his love for me and a regular routine – and when he feels safe, and the way is clear he’s able to pop his head out of the shell and feel the waters ahead with tentative thought tentacles – and that’s when I need to sit quiet and let him take us both forward, knowing it’s the experience of moving forward that’s important, not really if we’re going this way or that way.