Praying for the departed

We recently celebrated Visalat Day, the 5th of February, the day on which Hazrat Inayat Khan left this world, and amongst Sufis this moment of transition is sometimes called ‘the wedding,’ because the soul of the saint goes joyfully to the home of the Beloved. Therefore an Urs is considered an occasion to give thanks and to celebrate.

In contrast, every religious tradition prescribes prayers for the souls of the departed, asking that they be guided, protected, healed and forgiven their errors and shortcomings. This brought a question from one friend, who asked, “Why do we say those prayers, if the soul is going home?”

The brief answer is that it depends upon our condition as we leave this physical life. To the awakened soul, who knows from inner experience from just where we have come and to where we shall all return, physical death could be said to be no more than the dropping of a worn-out garment. As Mevlana Rumi, speaking from a great height of understanding, said, “When was I ever less by dying?”

To someone without this knowledge, though – meaning not concepts and book-learning, but the recognition of Truth that erases all our assumptions about ‘me’ – the passage out of this physical world can be frightening and confronting. As the veils of illusion to which we have clung fall away, it can be a shock to see the record of our life : the false attachments, the deceptions of others and of ourselves, the neglected gifts, and all the rest of it. A child may build a sand-castle on the beach, but when the tide comes in, all the construction is erased. Then there may be tears. At that moment the prayers of those still on earth can be helpful, giving an atmosphere of comfort and love, and guiding the spirit to turn in the right direction.

Because of the pandemic, many around the world are having to face the unexpected passing of friends and loved ones, who are frequently dying in isolation, without the comfort of known faces accompanying them as far as possible in their journey. Therefore, it might be useful to keep in mind this prayer for the dead, taken from the Universal Worship service for the departed:
O Thou, the Cause and Effect of the whole Universe,
the Source from whence we have come
and the Goal toward which all are bound:
receive this soul who is coming to Thee into Thy parental arms.
May Thy forgiving Glance heal his heart.
Lift him from the denseness of the earth,
surround him with the Light of Thine own Spirit.
Raise him up to Heaven, which is his true dwelling place.
We pray Thee grant him the blessing of Thy most exalted Presence.
May his life upon earth become as a dream to his waking soul, and let his thirsting eyes behold the glorious Vision of Thy Sunshine.

                                                                                                Amen.

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