Bahai News -- Families give thanks in their own spiritual way

Families give thanks in their own spiritual way

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Staff Writer

One is a Hindu from Saddle River who believes in reincarnation.

Another is a Bahai in Clifton who follows the teachings of a 19th century prophet.

The third is a Christian from Northvale who speaks of the healing power of Jesus.

On the surface, little in their traditions unite them. But as these three North Jersey residents sit down with their families and pray today, a common theme will unfold.

Their prayers, recited in diverse tongues, and rooted in disparate scriptures, will all express gratitude to a transcendent creator.

In this way, they hark back to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving gatherings, when Christian separatists known as the Pilgrims read the Psalms of David and thanked their God for a bountiful harvest.

"To give thanks is so much a part of traditional forms of prayer,'' said the Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber, of the Church of the Atonement, an Episcopal parish in Tenafly, which holds a Thanksgiving worship service. "It helps us all stay a little bit humble, and reminds us we have a lot to share and give in response to what we have been given.''

While many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving as a purely secular holiday - with turkey and football games - others add their own spiritual language.

In Clifton, Habib Hosseiny, a native of Iran, will celebrate the holiday much like everyone else - seated with friends and family around a dining room table laden with food.

Before digging in, he will recite prayers from the Bahai holy writings, either in English or Persian.

Bahais believe in a God who is so far beyond his creation that humans can possess only a remote understanding of him. They believe God communicates through the prophets of the world's religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Bahai faith was founded in the 1800s in what is now Iran.

One standard Bahai prayer declares: "O Lord my God! Praise and thanksgiving be unto thee for thou has ... inclined my ear to the melodies of the birds of holiness from the kingdom of mysteries, and attracted my heart with thy love among the righteous.''

While God is inscrutable, Bahais believe prayer brings humans closer to the divine. "God never needs our prayers,'' said Hosseiny, a teacher at Elizabeth High School. "Prayer brings us closer to God, but by no means does it take us to a place where [God] is within our comprehension.'' After the prayer, Hosseiny will engage in a typical Thanksgiving celebration with one exception: His religion prohibits consumption of alcohol.

"Very simply said, the wise man wouldn't consume something that weakened his brain,'' he said.

In Saddle River, meanwhile, the Gandhi family and their friends will begin the holiday festivities gathered around an altar. A small fire will be kindled to symbolize knowledge. Everyone will read prayers in Sanskrit from the Vedas, the most ancient of the Hindu sacred writings.

The prayers are directed to a God who is described as the foundation of all reality. "Salutation to that Being, the cause of the universe. Salutation to that Consciousness, the support of all worlds. Salutation to that One Truth without a second, which gives liberation. Salutation to that Eternal Brahman who pervades all regions.''

Jyoti Gandhi, a lay leader in her congregation in Ridgewood, said the prayers are recited with a spirit of gratitude that works on many levels. Hindus believe their souls are reborn many times over and until they achieve spiritual perfection.

"We are giving gratitude for giving us this life, that we may do proper action, that we may become closer to God,'' said Gandhi, who works as a business manager in a medical practice run by her husband, Rajinder Gandhi.

The Hindu prayers also thank God for the harvest, family, and community. Afterward, relatives and friends will eat a holiday dinner that includes American staples like pumpkin pie as well as Burmese and Indian delicacies, including vegetable koftas, or dumplings, paratha bread, and basmati rice.

"Thanksgiving is a major holiday for our family,'' said Gandhi, who was born in India, and came to the United States as a graduate student in 1970. "It is both secular and sacred.''

For Patrick Benvenuto, a roofer who lives in Northvale, the highlight of the holiday comes with the reading of a prayer simply titled "Thanksgiving.'' Benvenuto and his wife, Laura, first heard the prayer several years ago in church. They read it every year.

"I know Thanksgiving is about the Mayflower, the Pilgrims, and the Indians, but I always saw it as a spiritual day,'' Benvenuto said.

The prayer begins by thanking God for his existence and for his creation, including "the air that we breathe, the sun that gives warmth, and the rain that contributes to growth.'' Reflecting the Benvenutos' belief in Jesus' love for mankind, the prayer also declares: "We give you thanks for family whose love is a mirror of your own love for all people.''

In the end, the prayer asks God to "especially bless our brothers and sisters who suffer want of food, home, and family.''

The Benvenutos typically read the prayer in a home packed with relatives and friends. "We read it slowly,'' Laura Benvenuto said. "I just look at everybody's face, and their faces look peaceful and calm.''


A world of spiritual thanks

Hindu family prayer from the Vedas: Oh supreme and most merciful Lord, we, the members of this family, have assembled here to offer our prayers to thee. Grant us wisdom and understanding for the promotion of mutual love and affection. May there be complete absence of hatred and may harmony prevail among all members of this family. May the interaction between the members of this family and others be full of justice, love, and mercy.

Bahai prayer of praise and thanksgiving from the Tablets of Divine Plan. O Lord! Confirm me with the Holy Spirit, so that I may call in thy name amongst the nations and give the glad tidings of the manifestation of thy kingdom amongst mankind. O Lord! I am weak, strengthen me with thy power and potency. My tongue falters, suffer me to utter thy commemoration and praise. I am lowly, honor me through admitting me into thy kingdom.

Christian prayer of thanksgiving: Dear God, we want to thank you, first, especially for yourself and all

your goodness and mercy. We give you thanks for

your power and might that we see in your creation all around us. We give you thanks for the air that we breathe, the sun that gives warmth, and the rain that contributes to growth. We give you thanks for good health, that enables us to live life more fully.

John Chadwick's e-mail address is


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