Devotional meetings account for almost one third of all of the Bahá'í-sponsored community activities in San Diego. Friends from all corners of the community are participating and hosting weekly and monthly devotionals where friends from a wide range of ages and backgrounds meet to pray, socialize, reflect, consult, and even plan for service activities. Devotionals that are organized for youth or families of a particular neighborhood often also serve as a space to build a more unified team of individuals serving the community.
At the monthly youth devotional held at the Bahá'í Center, the youth of San Diego have started to strengthen their bonds of fellowship, which has in turn developed into a stronger sense of responsibility towards supporting each other in local community service projects. "When they recite the verses of God with such vibrant and passionate voices, it sets everyone’s hearts on fire; the fire of love for Him and service to His Cause."
Music has played a pivotal role in these devotionals where youth are given the opportunity to chant the Word of God together and play their instruments in such a supportive environment. Music has not only brought enjoyment and unity to the spirit of our devotional, it has also provided every participant with the opportunity to concentrate and meditate on every Word in a peaceful manner.
As reflected in the passage below and in my own experience, I have seen how much the advancement of our community in the last few years has greatly been dependent upon these consistent, vibrant, and widespread community devotional gatherings:
“The Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, described by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as “one of the most vital institutions of the world”, weds two essential, inseparable aspects of Bahá’í life: worship and service. The union of these two is also reflected in the coherence that exists among the community-building features of the Plan, particularly the burgeoning of a devotional spirit that finds expression in gatherings for prayer and an educational process that builds capacity for service to humanity. The correlation of worship and service is especially pronounced in those clusters around the world where Bahá’í communities have significantly grown in size and vitality, and where engagement in social action is apparent.” -The Universal House of Justice, Riḍván Message 2012
Content contributed by Samim Kasiri
Every two weeks, my family and I host a devotional gathering for the people of Carmel Valley. Together we read and sing, offering prayers for those in need. In addition to offering prayers, a topic of discussion is always offered to the group. Using the writings of the Bahá’í Faith, the participants engage in a healthy discussion on how to approach conversations surrounding social issues and individual challenges. The content is always current, and is meant to guide us towards feeling more well-equipped in knowing how to best represent ourselves in the community; both through our words and our example.
Another key element in this devotional has been incorporating a form of socialization at the conclusion of every evening. These gatherings have organically allowed friendships to form, and have resulted in both consistent attendance and feelings of fellowship amongst the participants. Between sharing prayers, fruitful discussions, and having fun in one another’s company, the devotional has steadily grown from 2-3 regular participants, to 20!
Content contributed by Ghazal Masoumabadi
When we heard that our life-long, beloved friend had fallen ill, we felt helpless. He had always been there, standing tall and shining his love on everyone and lighting up any room he walked in to, and now, he needed us all more than ever.
The idea of a devotional came swiftly, and we did our best to invite as many family members, friends, and neighbors to join us in prayer. No seat was left empty, and the warmth of everyone's earnest love for one another was felt all around us. With a few candles lit at the center of the room, and small, leather-bound books in hand, we began. Tears streamed down faces of those too moved to speak as His words were intoned, pleading for God limitless mercy. With each passing moment, we found ourselves once again hopeful for our dearest friend's recovery as we recalled Bahá'u'lláh's words to mind: "The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not."
Being a part of that devotional allowed us to be actively engaged in the process of healing. When we invited our friends, neighbors, and family to join us in prayer for those we love in our community, we found ourselves feeling a greater sense of hope and support from others. I've often felt helpless when hearing about the illness of a loved one, but this time, I realized how much of an active role we all can play. Sitting there in prayer, I was reminded that even though we have countless doctors and remedies in today's modern world, the one true Healer is and always will be, God.
Devotional gatherings offer an opportunity for community members to pray and consult together on the issues that concern them most. Bahá'ís believe that regular prayer and meditation result in a more balanced inner spiritual life. At these gatherings, prayers are selected from both the scriptures of the Bahá’í Faith, and other religious traditions. Musical presentations often play a pivotal role, as well.
These gatherings occur naturally in an environment where conversations about the spiritual aspects of human existence are present. The typical devotional format is comprised of reciting prayers, singing songs, playing music, and sharing passages from Bahá'í and other holy texts in an unceremonious, yet reverent, setting. These gatherings foster unity among friends who are actively seeking to increase the fellowship and understanding between one another's diverse perspectives.
All are welcome to participate. These gatherings occur when as few as two or as many as a thousand people come together, and are hosted in various homes, parks, community centers, houses of worship, and participants' neighborhoods in over 200 countries around the world.