When I became Baha’i, the concept of prayer wasn’t new to me. I had been raised with the knowledge that prayer is an important component of our spiritual growth and a means of drawing nearer to God. Although I had been taught to say the Lord’s Prayer and reflect on it as the model of prayer that Jesus had revealed, my personal experience of prayer had generally been limited to spontaneous prayer – that is, the act of saying whatever came to mind based on what I felt I needed to ask for, like a child would to a parent.
So when I came across my first Baha’i prayer book, I remember finding the concept of reading prayers that had been revealed (instead of just saying whatever came to mind) to be somewhat foreign and very interesting. The typical Baha’i prayer book consists of a collection of prayers revealed by the Bab, Baha’u'llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and usually categorises them under headings such as “Aid and Assistance”, “Children”, “Detachment” and so forth, depending on the content of the prayers. I remember looking through the categories in my prayer book, somewhat bemused.
Which section should I turn to when I want to pray for a difficult situation with a friend? What about a desperate prayer for help specifically for a person about to sit an exam that she hadn’t studied enough for because she was too busy watching funny videos of cute kittens on Youtube the night before? For someone who had spent her life only really praying in times of need, the prayer book with it’s numerous categories of revealed prayers confused me. It truly was a foreign concept.