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Abstract:
The prayer "Oh, God, make me a hollow reed..." is neither by Abdu'l-Baha nor George Townshend, and its author is unknown.
Notes:
Transmitted by email. Submitted by and posted with permission of recipient.

Prayer "Make me a hollow reed," Source of

by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice

1999-10-26

1. Letter to the Universal House of Justice

What is the source of the "Hollow Reed" prayer, and at what time did it enter into use or reference by any Authority of the Faith to lend credence or support to the widespread belief that this is a Bahá'í Prayer?

In a recent gathering of the friends, someone recited from memory the "Hollow Reed" prayer. I have heard this prayer many times in my five years of community within the Faith, and this time I asked where I could find it. The speaker couldn't remember what book he got it from, but indicated it was from Abdu'l-Bahá. Here is the prayer:
Oh, God, make me a hollow reed, from which the pith of self hath been blown so that I may become as a clear channel through which Thy Love may flow to others. I have left behind me impatience and discontent. I will chafe no more at my lot. I commit myself wholly into thy hands, for thou are my Guide in the desert, the Teacher of my ignorance, the Physician of my sickness. I am a soldier in my King's army. I have given up my will to Him and my life to dispose of as He may please. I know not what fate Thou deignest for me, nor will inquire or seek to know. The task of the day suffices for me, and all the future is Thine. Thou changest weakness to strength, doubt to faith, perplexity to understanding. When I am fit to bear the burden, Thou wilt lay it on my shoulders. When I am prepared to take the field, Thou wilt assign me a place in the Army of Light. Now I have no other duty than to equip myself for Thy Service. With eagerness and patience, with hope and gratitude, I bend to the task of the hour, lest when Thy call comes I be found unready.

I have since learned that this prayer is not found in the Bahá'í Prayers compilation. A search of the resources available at Jonah Winters' site also turned up no references to the prayer itself. In search for the now "missing prayer" I went to the Internet through general search engines. Here is what I found: The following two sites were presented when I searched for "pith of self" http://www.mercavah.org/sanskrit.htm and www.folkmote.com/article.html. The first site identifies the prayer as being from "the original Sanskrit" while the second merely references the words commonly recited by Bahá'ís when they describe it. Neither site is associated with, nor makes reference to, the Bahá'í Faith.

Further research on the Internet revealed a threaded discussion found in the archives of the newsgroup soc.religion.bahai when I searched under the phrase "hollow reed". I have copied three paragraphs of this threaded discussion here:
Reference #1

In what Bahá'í book can I find Abdu'l-Bahá's prayer: "Make me a hollow reed from which the pith of self hath been blown..." The only web site I could find this prayer was from the "Church of Mercavah" http://www.mercavah.org/sanskrit.htm which attributes this prayer not to Abdu'l-Bahá', but as a work translated from Sanskrit (?). It's not by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, but the source above is wrong, too. The "hollow reed" prayer is actually an excerpt from a longer prayer written by George Townshend.

Reference #2

The metaphor of the hollow reed as a symbol of how human beings are plaintive and cut off from their divine origin is most famously used by Jalalu'd-Din Rumi in his Mathnavi, a book `Abdu'l-Bahá much loved.

Reference #3

The only hollow reed reference that I know of is the following... Some Answered Questions, by `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 45:
    COMMENTARY ON THE ELEVENTH CHAPTER OF THE REVELATION OF ST. JOHN
    This reed is a Perfect Man Who is likened to a reed, and the manner of its likeness is this: when the interior of a reed is empty and free from all matter, it will produce beautiful melodies; and as the sound and melodies do not come from the reed, but from the flute player who blows upon it, so the sanctified heart of that blessed Being is free and emptied from all save God, pure and exempt from the attachments of all human conditions, and is the companion of the Divine Spirit. Whatever He utters is not from Himself, but from the real flute player, and it is a divine inspiration.
My concern here lies in the misunderstanding that seems to be present among the friends regarding this prayer. Most people I have asked in the communities in which I have lived attribute the prayer to Abdu'l-Bahá. This attribution is generally accompanied by a reference to not recollecting exactly which text. I have heard this prayer used in Feasts, Holy Day celebrations, and community programs. It is normally followed by the name of Abdu'l-Bahá, thus reinforcing the attribution to Him.

An additional concern is that there is no official authoritative discussion found in the threaded discussion referenced above, with contradictory references presented as if they were matters of fact. Hearsay is the current method of citation for this prayer, its source and author. Any guidance you can provide on this matter is greatly appreciated.
          Respectfully, ...

2. Response from the Universal House of Justice

From: Bahá'í World Centre
Sent: Sunday, December 12, 1999
Subject: "Hollow Reed" prayer

MESSAGE:

Your email of 26 October 1999, and the one of 2 December 1999 addressed to the United States National Bahá'í Centre, seeking clarification about the source of the "Hollow Reed" prayer were noted by the Universal House of Justice and referred to our Department.

In response to a similar query in the past, the Research Department has advised that the first portion of the text, "O God! Make me a hollow reed from which the pith of self hath been blown, that I may become a clear channel through which Thy love may flow to others", has often been attributed to `Abdu'l-Bahá; however, the Research Department has not yet located any original text and is therefore unable to verify its authenticity. As a result, the prayer may be recited or sung by the believers, but it should not be attributed to the Master nor appear under His name in books and other publications.

You cite a reference which states that this prayer was in fact written by the Hand of the Cause of God George Townshend. Because this prayer has often been incorrectly quoted as the opening sentence from the following passage on page 124 of Mr. Townshend's book The Mission of Bahá'u'lláh (London: George Ronald, 1965), it would give the impression that he has written the words. However, the prayer in question does not appear in his book and cannot be attributed to him. For your information we quote below the text in question.
I have left behind me impatience and discontent. I will chafe no more at my lot. I commit myself wholly into Thy hands, for Thou art my guide in the desert, the teacher of my ignorance, the physician of my sickness.

I am a soldier in my King's Army; I have given up my will to Him, and my life is His to dispose of as He may please.

I know not what fate Thou designest for me, not what work Thou hast ordained for me, nor will I enquire nor seek to know. The task of the day suffices for me, and all the future is Thine.

Little by little Thou trainest me. Little by little Thou changest weakness to strength, doubt to faith, perplexity to understanding. When I am fit to bear the burden Thou wilt lay it on my shoulders. When I am prepared to take the field Thou wilt assign me a place in Thy army of Light. Now I have no other duty than to equip myself for Thy service.

With eagerness and patience, with hope and gratitude I bend to the task of the hour lest when Thy call to battle comes I be found unready.
We hope that this information will provide some clarification on this matter.
Department of the Secretariat
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