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O God, refresh and gladden my spirit

Posted by Sen on May 13, 2010

One of the friends asked for the Persian text of the well-known prayer that begins, “O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand….

I had to disappoint him: there is no Persian original for this. It comes from the Diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab for May 9, 1914. He would write his diary in Persian, and later translate parts of it into English and distribute the translations. In this case, his handwritten English translation has survived in manuscript (a friend has a copy), and contains this prayer, but when the World Centre’s Research Department was asked to locate the Persian, they reported “although the Archives Office at the Baha’i World Centre holds an untranslated, handwritten diary of Mirza Ahmad Sohrab covering this time period, the Research Department has been unable to locate this entry.”

From Sohrab’s English translation of his diary for this period, it appears that Abdu’l-Baha was vacationing by Lake Tiberius for several weeks, and on May 9, 1914, he had a visitor (“a stranger”) with whom he spoke at length on a variety of topics such as the objectives of the Baha’i Faith and the nature of evil. Abdu’l-Baha’s words were recorded by Sohrab, including this prayer, revealed for the visitor to use.

Sohrab’s translation of this section of his Persian diary was printed in Star of the West, Vol. 7 page 179 (February 7, 1917), which I reproduce below. From the text just before the prayer, it’s clear that Abdu’l-Baha was speaking the words, not writing them. The version in the prayer books has also been edited somewhat, so that it reads better than this version.

Even if the Persian original should be found, “Refresh and gladden my spirit” would only become an authentic prayer of Abdu’l-Baha if the page showed that Abdu’l-Baha had checked and corrected the text. Without that, it has only the status of a good pilgrim’s note: ‘good’ because the notes (if found) would be taken in Persian without an interpreter intervening, and because Sohrab is generally diligent in his note-taking.

Sohrab’s report, as published in Star of the West reads:

Question: How can one understand the object of his life?

Abdul-Baha: There are two kinds of understanding; objective and subjective. To illustrate: thou seest this glass, or this water and thou dost comprehend in an objective manner their constituent parts. On the other hand, thou canst not see love, intellect, hate, anger, sorrow, but thou dost recognize them in a subjective way through their signs and manifestations. The first is material, the second is spiritual. The first is outward, the second is intuitive. I hope that thou mayst make great advancement in the second kind of understanding. Turn thy face toward God, and say:

O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit!
Purify my heart! Illumine my powers! I lay all my affairs in thy hand. Thou art my guide and my refuge. I will not be sorrowful and grieved any more. I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will worry no more. I will not let trouble harass me any longer. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life. Thou art kinder to me than myself. I dedicate myself to thee, O Lord!

Postscript May 10, 2015:
As my friend Johannes Robensaum has pointed out, there is a parallel to Psalm 51, although it is not so close that one could call this a paraphrase. However it is close enough to suggest that the reason this prayer is not found in Sohrab’s Persian diary is that he did not write it down; rather when he was making his English version he thought something up, based on his understanding of King James English, and some memorable Bible verses including

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
51:12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

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7 Responses to “O God, refresh and gladden my spirit”

  1. Mark Townsend said

    SO this prayer ranks with His utterances, if it were checked by Him.

  2. Sen said

    It would be authentic if there was a Persian original, either in words Abdu’l-Baha wrote or in the form of notes made in Persian which he checked and approved.

  3. David Lehning said

    I have an earlier prayer book from the 80s that had this prayer, but a newer version of Baha’i Prayers has it omitted. Could that be because it had not been penned by Abdu’l-Baha? Could it also be due to the fact that eventually Sohrab became a Covenant breaker? Your comments are very interesting as this is one of my favorite prayers, and one that I had memorized early on.

  4. Sen said

    I assume it would be removed from the book because there is no Persian or Arabic original: it is the hearer’s recollection of what was said. However reliable the hearer is, it cannot be regarded as scripture since it may not be entirely correct. But yes, it’s one of my favourite prayers too.

  5. shervinnaimi said

    With regards to the PostScript, actually the parallel to the Psalms 51 prayer quoted is strikingly similar in the beginning to the prayer by Bahá’u’lláh that begins “Create in me a pure heart, O my God, and renew a tranquil conscience within me, O my Hope…”. In other Latin languages “clean” is translated to “pure” as well as in English versions other than the King James version. The evolution of the wording and overall imagery between Psalms and the Bahá’í prayer are worlds apart, with the latter reaching a higher level of complexity, abstraction and mystic symbolism.

  6. hasanelias said

    This prayer is also popular in Spanish, but I don’t know whether it has been removed from newer books. As far as I know the Psalms are considered divine inspiration by the Quran, not sure about its status in the Bahá’í writings. In any case, it is good that the BWC checks the authenticity of the Bahá’í texts.

    Quran 4:163:
    “Verily We have revealed unto thee, as We revealed unto Noah and the prophets after him, and as We revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and unto David We gave the Psalms”.

  7. hrafnward said

    Niawen Kowa 🌲🍓🌹
    Thank you very much for sharing this somewhat forgotten prayer,which I have indeed missed very mych.

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