Paris Talks Revisited: Prayer

On 26 December 1912, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave a short address at 97 Cadogan Gardens in London during which He answered two questions: “Should prayer take the form of action?” and “What is the purpose of our lives?”.

Prayer was at the heart of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life. There are numerous accounts of the hours He would spend pacing, praying and chanting. As the Perfect Exemplar ‘Abdu’l-Bahá showed us, in the way He led His Life, how to draw strength from prayers to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

As with so many aspects of one’s personal spiritual life, one’s understanding of prayer is continuously evolving. When we are children we are taught prayers, and we understand that they are important but not always why. Often, we don’t even understand many of the words we are reciting. But as we grow up, different layers of awareness are added: the meaning of the words; who we are praying to; the meaning of the sentences; why we are praying; the meaning of the whole prayer; the fact that a prayer can have many interpretations; and that prayer is not manifested in words alone – it inspires action.

One important underlying concept which makes prayer meaningful, even when we don’t quite understand why we are praying or what the prayer is saying, is when we are “prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity”. For human beings’ great potentialities, with which all of us are endowed, can only be expressed to their fullest when we learn to channel the Spirit of God. And we can only be prompted by the highest motives if we are immersed in prayer, just like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was.

As always, God is incredibly benevolent toward His creation: we are given two very important interconnected tools (prompts of the highest motives and the will to serve) with which we can fulfill the purpose of our lives. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered the second question addressed in His talk when He told us that our purpose is “to acquire virtues”, which we humans can accomplish as we are gifted “with reason, the power of invention, and the forces of the spirit”.

It stands to reason therefore, that when prayer is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service and when it takes the form of action using the gifts of reason, the power of invention and the forces of the spirit, we can accomplish the purpose of our lives.

Photo: Ryan Lash,


  • Evolving in prayer has given my life fuller meaning

    • It makes me look forward to the day I understand more about prayer!