I listened to the interesting YouTube talk Reflections on the Long Healing Prayer, given by psychiatrist Dr John Woodall. Apparently, he has done a lot of work with people suffering from trauma and anxiety. He makes some interesting observations about the long healing prayer. One of these is that the three attributes that open each stanza of the prayer (or at least some of the triplets) are related to each other in the following way: two opposites, followed by a third, which is the outcome of the two coming together.
I call on Thee O Beneficent One, O Withholding One, O Creating One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!Baha’i Prayers, www.bahai.org/r/922339687
The first example Dr Woodall gives is “O Beneficent One, O Withholding One, O Creating One”, where God first gives, then withholds, then creates something new out of these two actions.
I call on Thee O Well-Guarded One, O Lord of Joy, O Desired One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!Baha’i Prayers, www.bahai.org/r/338416964
The second example is “O Well-guarded One, O Lord of Joy, O Desired One!” In this sequence, God is initially hidden away, then is a source of joy, and then, as a result of this process, becomes desired to the onlooker. Dr Woodall interpretes this process in terms of someone awakening to a yearning for God – at first, they first experience a lack/need/anxiety/despair (well-guarded one), then a resolution through God’s grace (lord of joy), coming to a yearning for God (desired one).
After making this point about coming to a state of yearning, Dr Woodall makes some interesting general comments about its universal application. In fact, everyone is suffering from anxiety at some level, given the difficult circumstances and uncertainties people live with. Therefore, whether a person understands this or not, they are going through the healing process Baha’u’llah captures with the three attributes (despair – joy – desire). It is fundamental to the spiritual journey to God. Anxiety need not be interpreted as a psychological disorder, but more as a normal process we are all going through.
“As a psychiatrist, this comes in handy, when we’re talking about anxiety, which I think the whole world – especially kids in particular – is riddled with anxiety. What if that anxiety in part was a yearning for the divine and not knowing where to place it. It was a sense of ‘where do I find that joy?’ … They’re [kids] caught up in the hidden nature of the universe, and they filled with the passionate yearning that kids have for love and joy, and it’s driving them but they don’t know where to go, because it’s not directed. And so it shows up as anxiety. And so what if we just simply normalised the struggle, and said ‘well yeah, that’s good that you’re yearning. It’s really, really good. Let’s get rid of the static on that, and let’s focus that yearning towards the Infinite, unfolding what’s in you towards this divine purpose. You come to see the sufficing nature, the healing nature, the abiding nature, and there’s really nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be afraid of. What a concept! At a time when the world is really shaken apart, when the forces of darkness are really crumbling the earth around us, all we have to do is open our focus. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere. How frightening that is unless you have an abiding sense of God’s sufficing nature, that he wants to be your sufficing provider and healer. There’s probably no greater political act that one could perform right now than to ground one’s soul in the abiding grace of God, so that one doesn’t become reactive with fear, and isn’t responding to the troubles of our time with fear, anger… apathy and despair, but with a sense of an abiding serenity. That’s why I think this prayer is hugely important. Maybe even for political purposes. For social purposes certainly.Dr John Woodall: Reflections on the Long Healing Prayer, 59:14