About 20 Baha’i followers gathered in a Morse College common room Wednesday night to join singer-songwriter Allen Johnson in his musical interpretation of the Baha’i Healing Prayer.
Johnson has been touring the Northeast performing his “artistic expression” of the Healing Prayer, primarily in university settings. Drawing attendees from all over New Haven, Johnson led the group through a 90-minute presentation, starting with a walk-through interpretation of several Baha’i passages. He then played his guitar and headed a chanted rendition of the Healing Prayer, during which each person who attended the Baha’i Students’ Association-sponsored event had an opportunity to lead the rest in a call-and-response format.
“Tonight we are going to use the power of music and of words themselves to go to a place we don’t even know,” Johnson said.
The Healing Prayer is aimed towards helping people cope with large-scale and personal problems in a group setting, participants said. Although it relies heavily on Baha’i scripture and interpretation, the prayer is open to persons of all faiths.
“People are just ready to sing and share, and whatever issues they have they can reflect on,” Gwen McDay ’05 said.
Johnson’s small group format is a typical method for learning about Baha’i scripture. The Baha’i faith does not have a clergy vested with interpretational power, and thus it relies heavily on both personal and group discovery.
“Our primary means of learning is supposed to be ‘independent investigation of the truth,’ that is, reading our religious writings,” Abbas Mahvash ’05, one of the heads of the Baha’i Students’ Association, said. “That is why such a means of focusing our prayer is so important.”
Association leaders said they were fortunate to have successfully wooed Johnson to campus.
“He had one spot free in his two-month tour,” Mahvash said.
The Baha’i Students’ Association is comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students. The organization hosts events pertaining to the Baha’i Faith throughout the year, and group leaders said they hope to return to a weekly meeting schedule for scriptural interpretation beginning next week.
The association has enjoyed successful participation in the past, but some events this year have been largely unattended, Mahvash said.
Baha’i is currently the world’s fastest-growing religion with over seven million believers.
Mahvash said he is particularly optimistic for the future given contemporary world events.
“Especially post-Sept. 11, our unity and other fundamental principles have been challenged,” Mahvash said. “They’re the kind of things our religion is specifically aimed at.”
Sylvia Karlsson, who hails from Sweden and currently studies at Yale for her postdoctoral environmental law and policy degree, expressed a similar hope for the future of her religion. She said she has already encountered Baha’i faithful around the globe.
“I expected there to be a Baha’i group here,” Karlsson said. “Wherever I’ve gone in the world there have been Baha’i.”
The Baha’i Faith contains three primary principles; first and foremost, it advocates a oneness of world religions, and in fact incorporates texts from a multitude of sources, including Hinduism, Judaism and Zoorastrianism. Baha’i adherents also believe in a oneness of God and of humanity.