Welcome to the Prayer Station: Enter quietly, we are praying

The Baha’i community holds quarterly reflection meetings with neighborhood communities to consult on how to better serve those hungry for spiritual growth and, consequently, the society at large. I was asked to reflect and share on the following questions: ‘how you started the devotional gathering, what kind of challenges you faced and how you sustained the devotional gathering.’

Since I will not be able to join the actual meeting, I decided to write my response here in the hope my reflections might be of assistance to others.

Welcome to the Prayer Station

Welcome to the Prayer Station

How I started the devotional gathering

One August day in 2008 while in the park with my daughters, I overheard my older one Sofia announce that this was a Prayer Station (you can read the full story in the linked blog post).  I asked her what that meant and she explained: ‘Prayer Station is a place where you say prayers.‘ Witnessing such a sweet moment of my four and a half year old daughter sharing a prayer fearlessly in the park got me thinking:

‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a prayer station where we all could go and refill on spiritual power. And isn’t that exactly what a devotional gathering should be? So, I am thinking to myself that if I were to organize and host a devotional gathering in my apartment, I might call it a Prayer Station, in honor of my beautiful daughter and the lesson she taught me yesterday!’

“Let all your striving be for this, to become the source of life and immortality, and peace and comfort and joy, to every human soul, whether one known to you or a stranger, one opposed to you or on your side. Look ye not upon the purity or impurity of his nature: look ye upon the all-embracing mercy of the Lord, the light of Whose grace hath embosomed the whole earth and all who dwell thereon, and in the plenitude of Whose bounty are immersed both the wise and the ignorant. Stranger and friend alike are seated at the table of His favour.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Less than a month later, I hosted the first Prayer Station, which evolved over the years by taking place on different days of the week, with varying frequency, themes and even locations — now I host it on Mondays in my own home instead of an apartment.

The original format was inspired by an even longer running devotional gathering dear friends of mine host every Tuesday in Falls Church. But I have tried to be creative with the offering and incorporate the arts as much as possible — I have hosted Musical Prayer Stations with talented local and traveling musicians, I have hosted an Interfaith Poetic Prayer Station as well as a Story Kindling Prayer Station.

But much as I delight in planning and hosting the Prayer Station, the most meaningful devotional gatherings I have hosted were those that were not planned and could not have been planned:

  • the evening my African-American neighbor was dying in front of his house, his little son and I shared prayers;
  • the next day when his sisters stopped by to thank me for taking care of a black child, we all sang gospel songs of praise and gratitude;
  • when the Dominican mother of another neighbor and I surprise-gifted each other with t-shirts representing our countries of origin,  I said a Prayer for Unity and she remarked on its beauty.

These improvised Prayer Stations, I remind myself, are probably the closest to the pure expression of faith and wonder that my little Sofia had showed me so many years ago.

What kind of challenges I faced

On the surface, my biggest challenges have been to sustain my enthusiasm for something whose results are not always visible yet serves a dual purpose of serving others while also nurturing me. Since I moved to a house away from metro in a much less glamorous part of Arlington, the attendance has significantly dropped. I would not be honest if I claimed that whether people come or not is irrelevant — after all I open my home for others, not just myself. But I am discovering that it is a matter of focus — am I doing this for me or for Bahá’u’lláh? Am I faithfully serving Him or am I playing pick-a-boo with God?

Admittedly, in the past I have had occasions that nobody would come yet I would host the Prayer Station as if ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and I were sitting together and saying prayers.  Yet, I have had days when I wanted to quit or at least take a hiatus — and I had indeed put the Prayer Station on hold — to figure out what is going on and why am I not getting the spiritual nourishment that I used to get.

In reality — and I have gradually arrived at this conclusion — the only challenge I have faced over the years is my own attitude. If I treat the Prayer Station as simply a social gathering — though I am firmly convinced in today’s fragmented society these have their value too — the end result is ultimately frustrating. Whether I offer a full coarse home-cooked dinner or simple refreshments has no bearing on the spiritual nourishment that should be at the center of such a meeting.

I am a decent cook and the idea of cooking for a group of friends — whether new or old — is appealing to me. I love creating an atmosphere where we all can sit around the table — or at least around the room — break bread, share a meal, and create a community with every bite and every conversation. But there are plenty of restaurants that would offer much better food that I could ever hope to create and many people have their own circle of friends that sustain them well enough. The people who ultimately come to the Prayer Station yearn for something that is beyond carbs and protein — they hunger for spiritual food.

Any time I forget this, the result is frustrating and discouraging, and I tend to want to give up… But any time I center my thoughts on the true and simple purpose of nurturing souls, the results has been inspiring even if in gradually humbling scope. Besides, spiritual nourishment can be fun.

How I sustained the devotional gathering

I am one of those people who is painfully aware of my shortcomings — from focusing on the wrong things to lacking a sustained sense of discipline —  and of the blessing that my introduction to the Bahá’í Faith has bestowed upon me. But I am also one of those people who has experienced over and over the disastrous results my insistent self — when unchecked — can bring to myself and others. So, as a means of healing myself through serving others and offering an evening each week to this glorious Faith, I am continuing the Prayer Station.

“It is incumbent upon everyone to show the utmost love, rectitude of conduct, straight forwardness and sincere kindliness unto all the peoples and kindreds of the world, be they friends or strangers. So intense must be the spirit of love and loving kindness, that the stranger may find himself a friend, the enemy a true brother, no difference whatsoever existing between them. For universality is of God and all limitations earthly.”
~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

What nurtures your soul? What makes your heart tender? Prayer, spiritual conversations, music, fellowship, tea poured in peace, home-made banana bread baked with love and shared with smile?

Whatever the answer might be, sharing prayers and inspiring conversations with friends and befriended strangers alike gets us all closer to the Creator and recharges us for the week ahead.

Arlington Interfaith Prayer Station and Spiritual Conversations
Arlington Interfaith Prayer Station and Spiritual Conversations

Interfaith Prayer Station and Spiritual Conversations

Every Sunday Monday evening, I invite you and your loves ones to an Interfaith Prayer Station and Spiritual Conversations in Arlington, VA on themes that move hearts and uplift spirits.

We’ll start at 7:00 pm with light refreshments followed by reading of selected Holy Writings and Prayers. We have many books of poetry and prayers from different faith traditions but if you wish, feel free to bring your own prayers or inspiring words. We shall uplift and refresh our souls with inspiring musical selections and we’ll conclude with tea and sweets.

Please, join us and contact me for directions!

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