Sermon: Activism through prayer

A number of protests in our current polarized political climate, while expressing a need to bring about social change for the betterment of society, most often seem to be at odds with the teachings of the world’s religions that advocate love, peace, and returning good for evil – especially when the protests turn violent.  In fact, I remember that some of some of the ideology underlying political and social activism during the Viet Nam War supported the atheistic beliefs I held at the time. The famous folk singer, Pete Seeger, known for his anti-war songs, sang about the atom bomb blowing up the world while the theologians just sit and pray.  When I first heard this lyric, I interpreted it to mean that religion had no place for positive societal change, and if we wanted to see change in the world, we needed to actively do something – not pray about it.  After becoming a member of the Baha’i Faith, however, I learned that there are spiritual solutions to the world’s problems, and our individual activism in helping to solve these problems begins with prayer.    

The Baha’i Faith teaches that prayer need not be confined strictly to words. Prayer can also take form in thought and action.  Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), the oldest son of Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, stated that “Service is prayer.” He explained that “All effort and exertion put forth by [individuals] from the fullness of [their] heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people.”

The teachings of the Baha’i Faith provide guidance on how to translate prayer into positive action. The Baha’i Faith has an enormous wealth of prayers written by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha that encompass nearly every aspect of life. Shoghi Effendi, grandson of Abdu’l-Baha and one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, suggested the use of these prayers as they have the greatest power.  He also described five steps to translate the prayer into action:

1. After reading the prayers, remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

2. Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be an answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

3. Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

4. Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle or the right book will be given you. Have confidence, and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the fifth step.

5. Act as though it had all been answered. Act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

When we feel inclined to lash out emotionally in protest, or express our displeasure about social issues, perhaps the best use of our energy would be to initially tune into divine guidance through prayer. Our (prayerful) action will then become a way we can best serve God through our purity of motive in serving humanity. Just think of the possibilities if those on both sides of an issue turned to God for divine guidance in order to translate prayer into action.  Since the divine guidance will be coming from the same source, perhaps the translation of prayer into action in the desire to serve God through service to humanity will melt both sides of an issue into unified agreement. 

      Jacque and Kerry Hart represent the Baha’i Faith