Friday, February 24, 2017

Shoghi's Prayers

When Shoghi, my son, was younger, he used to say the short healing prayer every evening. One night, after prayers, I asked him why he felt so moved as to say that particular prayer every time. "Because", he said, "there are so many people out there who need healing."

I was very touched by that comment. I wasn't sure what to expect, probably thinking that he was just saying a short prayer that he had memorized, only because it was short, and without much further thought behind it. But no. He had a reason. He had actually thought about it, and chose that exact prayer to say. Every night.

A few months ago he began to fixate on another prayer. Most every evening for the better part of half a year now, he has been saying the following prayer:
O God, my God! I have set out from my home, holding fast unto the cord of Thy love, and I have committed myself wholly to Thy care and Thy protection. I entreat Thee by Thy power through which Thou didst protect Thy loved ones from the wayward and the perverse, and from every contumacious oppressor, and every wicked doer who hath strayed far from Thee, to keep me safe by Thy bounty and Thy grace. Enable me, then, to return to my home by Thy power and Thy might. Thou art, truly, the Almighty, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

It seemed sort of a strange prayer to read in the evening, just before going to sleep, but who am I to comment? And yet, night after night, I couldn't help but wonder. Was there a reason for this prayer? Did he think that his spirit was leaving the home when he was asleep? Was he sneaking out at night and having various adventures of which I was unaware? My mind boggled. I mean, he's only 11, at least for a few more days. What was his reasoning?

I finally broke down and asked. "Why this prayer, Shoghi?" What special meaning, I enquired, did it hold for him?

"I'm saying it", he told me, "for all the African American people in the US, and all the refugees around the world, who have to leave their home and are unsure if they will make it back safe."

* * * * *

I had to pause there, and I thought you might want to, also.

First, he's eleven.

Second, I had no doubt that he truly felt love and sorrow for the many refugees all over the world who have had to flee their homes in order to try and preserve the lives of their family members.

Third, he put the African American people in the same category as the refugees.

Even now, a few weeks later, I still have to think about that. And pray about it. An meditate on it. And feel sorrow.

Every evening now, when he says that prayer, so much runs through my heart and mind. I think about my time serving with the refugee centre in Winnipeg, and those people who are now braving the harsh prairie winter to escape from the US and find refuge in Canada. I think about my brother in Chicago who is a firefighter and how if I get stopped by the police for speeding there, I may get a ticket, but he might just get killed. And I think about all my other friends who are being silenced from speaking about their oppression, attacked for trying to defend their homes, and bullied by those anonymous people in their own neighbourhoods just because their skin tone is different, or they follow a different path in their life.

I think about so much when he reads that prayer.

I am so grateful for his simple wisdom and awareness of what is happening in the world today.

And I strive to learn from his compassion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Face of Anger

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is finding your starting point. You may have the whole story, or article, mapped out in your head, but still have no clue as to how to begin. Other times when you catch the starting point, the rest of the piece just follows in its wake.

This is one of those latter type pieces.

Earlier this evening, literally less than half an hour ago, I was in a study group looking at the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. We read a number of paragraphs, all of which I had recently read in the past few weeks, and this time two sentences jumped out at me.

The first is from paragraph 175:
And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood.
The "them", by the way, are those leaders who ignore the counsels in the Writings due to their lust for leadership and want of discernment.

The second quote is from paragraph 187:
Thus the peoples of the world are judged by their countenance. By it, their misbelief, their faith, and even their iniquity are all made manifest.
Ok. That last one was actually two sentences. Sorry.

But still, I found an interesting train of thought following upon those few sentences.

First, given the plethora of news stories about "fake news", that first quote struck me as very timely. More and more today we are seeing people who will unquestioningly believe whatever the leader of their particular political party or group may say. And this isn't limited to one party or another, but seems to span across the board Ok. So that's just a minor observation. A sad one, to be sure, but still fairly minor. Nothing new.

Then I thought about the second quote. The people, during this time of judgment, will not be questioned about their doings, for their very faces will speak of what is in their hearts.

Then I thought about both of those quotes together. And I thought some more. And then I recalled seeing various pictures on the internet, which I will not share here for a few reasons. First, I am sure there are copyright issues that I don't want to get involved with. Second, I would feel bad about putting an actual face of a real person here when just describing it will do, and thus keep it anonymous.

So, here goes.

I remember seeing a saddeningly large number of pictures floating around the net of Trump supporters at various gatherings with their faces filled with anger as they kicked an African American citizen out of their midst, saying they were not welcome there. And I've seen a saddeningly large number of similar photographs floating around out there of the anger on people's faces at various rallies protesting the loss of women's rights, the "travel ban" in the US, or any number of protests by those who are against Trump and his policies.

And when I just looked at their faces, I was stuck by the similar nature displayed on both.

It doesn't matter whether I agree with the ideology of one side or the other, for the faces all display anger and hatred in their hearts.

We are living in a time where disunity is becoming more and more evident, resulting in a social mix in which people are becoming less and less likely to engage in dialogue with those who disagree with them on one point or another. And really, it doesn't matter which side is "right", if the result is anger and discontent. This can do nothing but lead to more violence.

So what is the solution? Do we just ignore what is going on around us?

Not at all. But protest, I truly believe, is not the solution. When you protest something, your primary purpose is to tear it down. Get rid of it. And this, dear Reader, just leaves a lack, an emptiness, a void. The real question is what should go in its place. What are we building?

"Humanity's crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age," said a message of the Universal House of Justice back in 2001. "It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Baha'u'llah's teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family."

That's a huge statement. A change of consciousness? Accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human race?


Quite simply, yes.

The rhetoric that has been so popular is exemplified by that slogan in the US: America first.

But it's not just in America. This mindset has been popular in many countries, to varying degrees. And we can see where it naturally leads.

It's not pretty.

It has led to some fairly disastrous situations, and will no doubt lead to more.

Baha'u'llah has said, in unequivocal terms, "It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

We need to learn to not only look after our own interests, which we are, admittedly, fairly good at, but to do so as long as it is not at the expense of others.

Saving a few dollars on a new shirt should not be worth it to me if it means that a child somewhere else in the world is starving. I don't need to protest about it. I should just buy my clothes somewhere else. And that's what I do. I try to raise the awareness. Everything else will just sort itself out. As awareness is raised, the business trends will shift.

If I tell people not to shop at one particular store, then I am actually doing two things. First, I am advertising the store I want to protest. I am bringing it to people's awareness. I am getting them to think about it. When they say that no press is bad press, they are calling on a fundamental idea in psychology. We will remember the name far longer than we will remember why we heard the name in the first place. Secondly, I am not necessarily telling the person where else they can shop. Suppose I really need a particular item, and I know of one store that has it. If someone tells me that I shouldn't go to that store, fine. But where else can I go? I need another option. It seems far more effective to me to say to the person that they can get this item at another store where they, say, treat their employees better. Now I will recall the other store more readily.

In the end, it is ok to disagree. There is nothing wrong with that. After all, it is through the clash of differing opinions that the spark of truth arises. But if it means that there is anger in your heart, then the change that you are seeking can never be worth it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

I'm Not Worried

For those of you who see my posts on Facebook, you may notice that I've been forwarding a lot of news articles lately, usually with the tag line "Interesting. I'm curious to see where this goes." Or something similar.

And really, it's true. I'm not trying to downplay anything, nor am I trying to make any sort of commentary on partisan politics. Quite the contrary. I'm watching the news, seeing the reactions, and am truly curious where this will all lead.

But really, I think we know where it is all heading.

And please remember, I'm not worried. Really.

Shoghi, my now-11 year-old son, was wondering how I could talk about all the things that are happening in the world and not be very concerned. Well, I am concerned, but I'm not worried.

Why not?

Glad you asked, dear Reader.

You see, I've been doing a lot of reading, and a number of things have crossed my mind.

First of all, I've been looking at the cycles of history, from Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to things more recent, and a few things have occurred to me. As a Baha'i, I've come to realize that the world likes anniversaries. I won't go into all the details of how I've come to realize that, but I just want to share a few with you.

Today, right now in February of 2017, we are celebrating the centenary of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. These incredible letters, which are the beginning and blue print of the all the Baha'i plans since then, were written between 1916 and 1917. Today, we celebrate their centenary. Nice.

But we have another celebratory anniversary coming up this year: the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah. What, I asked myself, was happening 100 years ago during the centenary of His birth? World War 1.

In 1944, we were celebrating the centenary of the declaration of the Bab, which started this whole Baha'i-thing off. And what was happening then? World War 2.

Now, today, what is happening? Realistically, we are heading towards another war. The signs are all there. The players are all in place. The pieces are all lined up.

I don't mean to be a prognosticator. I truly don't. It just seems like such a no-brainer to read the next line in the story of this planet.

Ok. That was the "first of all".

Second, there is the idea of building. I've been reading a lot about the building of civilizations: US, Canada, Rome, Christendom, the Islamic Empire, just to name a few. And out of all this, one thing seems fairly common: Something old is swept away and a new civilization is built in its place. A stronger foundation is laid than what was there before, perhaps after a few false starts, such as in the French Revolution, but a stronger foundation always comes into place. And from that foundation, a civilization is reared, one that keeps growing until something stops it. Now, civilizations are like buildings. They need a strong foundation and they will keep growing until the foundation is no longer sufficient. You see, a building's limitations are determined by its foundation. If the foundation is weak, then you cannot build high. Pretty simple, right?

Well, despite all that we have seen in recent times, all the advances and all the victories on so many levels, the basic foundation of the US, to name but the most obvious example, is insufficient for the structure that is reared on top of it. It is rooted in inequality and injustice, despite all the admirable strides they have made in trying to overcome both. It is based on granting the ignorant the same equal rights in the administrative process as those who have insight and wisdom. While this may not be a bad thing in and of itself, it does have limitations. And we are witnessing the extent of those limitations.

That is the "second" of all.

It's not looking too good just yet, but don't worry. Remember, I'm not worried, and I've been thinking about these things for a few years.

Yes, years.

I will not lay the blame of any of this at the feet of Trump, or any other politico, for their policies are but the symptom, not the cause. These recent policies coming out of various countries are merely highlighting the depth of the problems that have been covered for so long.

Now, why am I not concerned?

Simple. I've been reading Shoghi Effendi's letter from 1936 entitled "The Unfoldment of World Civilization". Look it up. It's worth it.

He starts off, and remember, this is in 1936, by talking about some of the things that were happening in the world at that time. This was a time when the Great Depression had recently ended. Germany had just come through the incredible injustices laid upon them by the Treaty of Versailles, and Hitler had done remarkable things by rejuvenating the German economy. Major countries were leaving the ineffectual League of Nations. War had broken out between China and Japan, and another war between Italy and Ethiopia which would soon result in the annexation of the latter. Stalin began his purges in the Soviet Union. I mean, the list goes on, but the only other one I would like to add is that the first costumed superhero, the Phantom, made his debut, further highlighting the desperation people were feeling for hope. This is just a bit of what people were seeing in the news in North America.

And then, in March, in the midst of all this, Shoghi Effendi wrote them and said that they should not "be deluded by the ephemeral manifestations of returning prosperity which at times appear to be capable of checking the disruptive influence of the chronic ills afflicting the institutions of a decaying age. The signs of the times are too numerous and compelling to allow (us) to mistake their character or to belittle their significance."

He quotes Baha'u'llah at length:
“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh’s own words proclaim it, “will the present day Order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth and is the Knower of things unseen.” “By Myself,” He solemnly asserts, “the day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead. He, verily, is powerful over all things.” “The world’s equilibrium,” He explains, “hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this Most Great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos,” He warns the peoples of the world, “can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective.”

"The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh," he writes, "whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed... as marking the last and highest stage... of man's collective life on this planet."

He likens the development of the planet and its political scene to that of the founding of the United States: "Such a unique and momentous crisis in the life of organized mankind may, moreover, be likened to the culminating stage in the political evolution of the great American Republic—the stage which marked the emergence of a unified community of federated states. The stirring of a new national consciousness, and the birth of a new type of civilization, infinitely richer and nobler than any which its component parts could have severally hoped to achieve, may be said to have proclaimed the coming of age of the American people. Within the territorial limits of this nation, this consummation may be viewed as the culmination of the process of human government." And then he points out that the movement of nation-states towards a global government is natural and necessary. In fact, he refers to the limitation of the nation model when he points out, "The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax." By its very nature, it is anarchical and limiting.

But he says that this sort of change will not come easy. It never has. While we could, as a species, decide to just adopt these ideas, we never have. We've always clung to our outdated ideals, our "outworn shibboleths", and been forced to watch as they have crumbled in our hands.

And yet we know that something magnificent is waiting. We have never successfully envisioned the great advances that have always occurred when we have let go, and just moved on. Not once. We, as a human race, have always given in to our fear of change. So only after great suffering have we seen the great bounties that have resulted.

"For the revelation of so great a favor", he predicts, "a period of intense turmoil and wide-spread suffering would seem to be indispensable." With sadness, he says that it seems that we must "be overshadowed by such moral and social gloom as can alone prepare... humanity for the prize she is destined to inherit." "Into such a period we are now steadily and irresistibly moving."

Then he turns his gaze to the religions of the world.

He quotes an eminent Christian theologian from the US, who said that if Christianity wishes and expects to serve the world in the present crisis, it must "cut back through Christianity to Christ, back through the centuries-old religion about Jesus to the original religion of Jesus." Shoghi Effendi goes on to say, so poignantly, "When... the light of religion is quenched in men’s hearts... a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in... Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished."

When describing what this looks like in our daily life, he says:
The recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press...—these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.
I read this, and see it as a list of the ills of today.

"The whole world," he goes to say, "wherever and however we survey it, offers us the sad and pitiful spectacle of a vast, an enfeebled, and moribund organism, which is being torn politically and strangulated economically by forces it has ceased to either control or comprehend."

This, dear Reader, is where I see us right now

It is a long and heartbreaking synopsis of what I think we are all seeing around us, and the prognosis for the near future is bleak, very bleak.

But again, I am not worried.

For what I see around us is nothing more than the snow castles that were once majestic in the early winter, sparkling beauty now succumbed to the melting warmth of the coming spring. We can strive to gather more snow and reinforce what is melting before our eyes, or we can plan for the true full-colour beauty of the flowers that are on their way. We can ensure that the tulip bulbs are planted, and that the ground is prepared. We can put away the snow shovels and ice picks, and ensure that the garden tools are well oiled and ready for their use.

And while I am truly concerned for the suffering that I know is coming, and strive to do all I can to mitigate it, I also know what lies beyond, for I recall the true beauty of the summer and am not disheartened by the few weeks of winter left before us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

For Hope and Understanding: Looking from Today towards Tomorrow

The other day we were asked what we should consult on at our next Feast. I asked the other members of the group what concerns anyone had seen or heard about that might bear upon this question. Nobody had any particular thoughts, and I commented that there was one issue that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole: the concerns regarding the state of the world today. The group quickly picked this theme up and decided that we, as a community, would discuss the state of affairs in the world, and a possible response to help raise the levels of hope in our friends. Since I had "brought it up", I was asked if I could draw upon a few selected writings from the Guardian to present to our community. The following is the letter I wrote to the Secretary of our Assembly. My wife thought you, dear Reader, might appreciate it, so here it is, that subject I wasn't going to touch with that ubiquitous ten-foot pole.

* * * * *

Here are a few extracts from the letter from the Guardian found in The World Order of Baha'u'llah, entitled "The Unfoldment of World Civilization".

As you know, this whole series of letters arose from the trials and tribulations that revolved around Covenant-breaking in the American community at the time. It was from this devastating crisis that took up so much of the time and energy of the community that the Guardian was able expound and further elucidate his thoughts and insights on the glory, scope and effect of the Administrative Order of Baha'u'llah. This last letter in the series was revealed in 1936, a time so fraught with concern for the security and well-being of the planet and which eventually led to the outbreak of World War 2. After the introductory remarks, with which he begins to talk about the importance of conforming to Baha'i law, the maturing of humanity and the necessity of unity, he then goes into describing the situation that must unfold, which seems highly relevant today.
For the revelation of so great a favor a period of intense turmoil and wide-spread suffering would seem to be indispensable. Resplendent as has been the Age that has witnessed the inception of the Mission with which Bahá'u'lláh has been entrusted, the interval which must elapse ere that Age yields its choicest fruit must, it is becoming increasingly apparent, be overshadowed by such moral and social gloom as can alone prepare an unrepentant humanity for the prize she is destined to inherit.

Into such a period we are now steadily and irresistibly moving. Amidst the shadows which are increasingly gathering about us we can faintly discern the glimmerings of Bahá'u'lláh's unearthly sovereignty appearing fitfully on the horizon of history. To us, the "generation of the half-light," living at a time which may be designated as the period of the incubation of the World Commonwealth envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh, has been assigned a task whose high privilege we can never sufficiently appreciate, and the arduousness of which we can as yet but dimly recognize. We may well believe, we who are called upon to experience the operation of the dark forces destined to unloose a flood of agonizing afflictions, that the darkest hour that must precede the dawn of the Golden Age of our Faith has not yet struck. Deep as is the gloom that already encircles the world, the afflictive ordeals which that world is to suffer are still in preparation, nor can their blackness be as yet imagined. We stand on the threshold of an age whose convulsions proclaim alike the death-pangs of the old order and the birth-pangs of the new. Through the generating influence of the Faith announced by Bahá'u'lláh this New World Order may be said to have been conceived. We can, at the present moment, experience its stirrings in the womb of a travailing age -- an age waiting for the appointed hour at which it can cast its burden and yield its fairest fruit.
After going into detail on the collapse of various institutions, he then describes the moral conditions of his day, pointing out how they themselves are a sign of what must come.

There can be no doubt that the decline of religion as a social force, of which the deterioration of religious institutions is but an external phenomenon, is chiefly responsible for so grave, so conspicuous an evil. "Religion," writes Bahá'u'lláh, "is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the hands of the ignorant and made them bold and arrogant. Verily I say, whatsoever hath lowered the lofty station of religion hath increased the waywardness of the wicked, and the result cannot be but anarchy." "Religion," He, in another Tablet, has stated, "is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine." "Know thou," He, in yet another connection, has written, "that they who are truly wise have likened the world unto the human temple. As the body of man needeth a garment to clothe it, so the body of mankind must needs be adorned with the mantle of justice and wisdom. Its robe is the Revelation vouchsafed unto it by God."

No wonder, therefore, that when, as a result of human perversity, the light of religion is quenched in men's hearts, and the divinely appointed Robe, designed to adorn the human temple, is deliberately discarded, a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in, bringing in its wake all the evils which a wayward soul is capable of revealing. The perversion of human nature, the degradation of human conduct, the corruption and dissolution of human institutions, reveal themselves, under such circumstances, in their worst and most revolting aspects. Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished...

...The recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press; the extension of the influence and activities of those "prophets of decadence" who advocate companionate marriage, who preach the philosophy of nudism, who call modesty an intellectual fiction, who refuse to regard the procreation of children as the sacred and primary purpose of marriage, who denounce religion as an opiate of the people, who would, if given free rein, lead back the human race to barbarism, chaos, and ultimate extinction -- these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.

'Recrudescence', as you know, means the revival of a condition that was previously thought stable. And so, while some of the signs of instability and moral decay may have been in recession for a time, their root causes were never actually dealt with, and they have returned with full force.

The passionate and violent happenings that have, in recent years, strained to almost the point of complete breakdown the political and economic structure of society are too numerous and complex to attempt, within the limitations of this general survey, to arrive at an adequate estimate of their character. Nor have these tribulations, grievous as they have been, seemed to have reached their climax, and exerted the full force of their destructive power. The whole world, wherever and however we survey it, offers us the sad and pitiful spectacle of a vast, an enfeebled, and moribund organism, which is being torn politically and strangulated economically by forces it has ceased to either control or comprehend.

Once he has outlined and clarified the issues and concerns with which we are faced, he then guides us to the hope that lies beyond the immediate despair which is distracting so many of our friends and acquaintances. He points out the futility of engaging in partisan politics and stresses the vital importance of unity.

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life.

He concludes with a description of some of the details involved in this world unity:

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá'u'lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system. A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity. A world metropolis will act as the nerve center of a world civilization, the focus towards which the unifying forces of life will converge and from which its energizing influences will radiate. A world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing languages and will be taught in the schools of all the federated nations as an auxiliary to their mother tongue. A world script, a world literature, a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and facilitate intercourse and understanding among the nations and races of mankind. In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will cooperate, and will harmoniously develop. The press will, under such a system, while giving full scope to the expression of the diversified views and convictions of mankind, cease to be mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public, and will be liberated from the influence of contending governments and peoples. The economic resources of the world will be organized, its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilized, its markets will be coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.

National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and cooperation. The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.

A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of war and its miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation -- such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving.

In these words, so evocative of where we are heading, we can see the signs of how far we have come in the few decades since they were penned. From here, though, to better understand our role in responding to these crises, I find myself turning to the very last paragraphs in his letter written just a few years later, in the very heart of World War 2, "The Promised Day is Come":

Not ours, puny mortals that we are, to attempt, at so critical a stage in the long and checkered history of mankind, to arrive at a precise and satisfactory understanding of the steps which must successively lead a bleeding humanity, wretchedly oblivious of its God, and careless of Bahá'u'lláh, from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection. Not ours, the living witnesses of the all-subduing potency of His Faith, to question, for a moment, and however dark the misery that enshrouds the world, the ability of Bahá'u'lláh to forge, with the hammer of His Will, and through the fire of tribulation, upon the anvil of this travailing age, and in the particular shape His mind has envisioned, these scattered and mutually destructive fragments into which a perverse world has fallen, into one single unit, solid and indivisible, able to execute His design for the children of men.

Ours rather the duty, however confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources we dispose of, to labor serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which, as marshaled and directed by Bahá'u'lláh, are leading humanity out of the valley of misery and shame to the loftiest summits of power and glory.
As I read these last words, I am reminded of our supreme duty at this time of engaging ourselves wholeheartedly in the current Plan of the Universal House of Justice, a Plan that has so simply told us what it is that we need to do. These previous words of the Guardian, though, help me better understand the importance of what it is that we are doing, and give me great hope for what lies ahead.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Detachment from Heaven, Part 2

"No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth."

Time to think about this one again, dear Reader. As you may have noticed from the previous post, my intention is to better understand this detachment "from all that is in heaven", but my focus earlier seemed to be all around yet more aspects of things that are of earth, such as the community and the like.

It seems that a better understanding of this aspect of the phrase requires a better understanding of how Baha'u'llah uses the term "heaven" in His Writings.

The first thing that comes to my mind is found later in the same book as the quote above, the Kitab-i-Iqan. He says, "in every instance, He hath given the term 'heaven' a special meaning". Well, doesn't that just make it easy? Every instance, eh? According to Ocean, that means 129 meanings in the Kitab-i-Iqan, 40 more in Gems of Divine Mysteries, 127 in The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, and you get the general idea.

Where to start?

You know, before I begin, I should probably apologize for my approach here. I'm kind of going with the stream of consciousness thing here, or perhaps stream of unconsciousness may be more appropriate. I get an idea, type it down, look it up, think about it, meditate a bit, type up my thoughts, and seem to be going in circles. I mean, this isn't a scholarly thesis or anything, but just a bit of taste of my own personal exploration of this vast ocean. Who knows, though, it may just work in the end. I guess we'll find out.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Where to begin?

Well, given what I see here, with so many possible meanings, it might help to begin to categorize the various references. For example, some are literal, such as in the quote, "they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven..." Others seem to refer to an elevated station, as in the quotes, "the heaven of the grace of God," or "the heaven of the bounty of God". Still other times it appears as a symbol of the source of Revelation, as in "the Maid of Heaven".

Interesting as these are, none of these seem to be applicable in the context of this quote.

No, what seems to be the most consistent context, and relevant here, is when it is used as a contrast, such as "heaven and earth".

But now, as I look at this quote again, "all that is in heaven and on earth", I am reminded of another quote, this time from the Book of Revelation. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away..."

What does that mean? "The first heaven and the first earth were passed away"? Hmmm. Well, Baha'u'llah said that "through the rise of these Luminaries of God the world is made new", and even 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "the new heaven and the new earth are come."

Ok. Now I feel like some things are beginning to come together. How does this sound?

I think I may have been distracted by looking at "heaven" on its own. Perhaps I should focus, instead, on "true understanding".

Time for the stream of consciousness stuff again.

So much of the Kitab-i-Iqan in part 1 deals with re-examining what we already know. At no point does He tell us to forget what we know, but rather to look at it again. "Consider the past..." "Ponder for a moment, and reflect..." Over and over again throughout that book He tells us to do this. In fact, He helps us in this regard, pointing out what we already know, but in a slightly different way than we are usually aware of it. My favorite example of this is when He talks about Noah. Here I go with a seeming tangent, but please bear with me. It's how my mind works, and I think it may lead us somewhere useful. (If not, sorry.)

In paragraph 7 of this book, He recounts the following;
Among the Prophets was Noah. For nine hundred and fifty years He prayerfully exhorted His people and summoned them to the haven of security and peace. None, however, heeded His call. Each day they inflicted on His blessed person such pain and suffering that no one believed He could survive. How frequently they denied Him, how malevolently they hinted their suspicion against Him! Thus it hath been revealed: "And as often as a company of His people passed by Him, they derided Him. To them He said: 'Though ye scoff at us now, we will scoff at you hereafter even as ye scoff at us. In the end ye shall know.'" Long afterward, He several times promised victory to His companions and fixed the hour thereof. But when the hour struck, the divine promise was not fulfilled. This caused a few among the small number of His followers to turn away from Him, and to this testify the records of the best-known books. These you must certainly have perused; if not, undoubtedly you will. Finally, as stated in books and traditions, there remained with Him only forty or seventy-two of His followers. At last from the depth of His being He cried aloud: "Lord! Leave not upon the land a single dweller from among the unbelievers."
A couple things stand out here to me. First, if I were talking about Noah I would undoubtedly talk about the flood and the ark. But I notice that Baha'u'llah doesn't. It seems that He is not concerned with what makes each Manifestation unique, but rather what They all have in common. Second, He leaves an ambiguity for us, when He mentions that Noah had "forty or seventy-two of His followers". These numbers come from two different sources, and it seems as if He is not concerned which is historically accurate. In fact, it truly does not matter. So rather than alienating one or another of the groups of people who insist on one of those numbers, He merely states that both are recorded. He does not allow us to get distracted by trivialities.

Why is this important? Because Baha'u'llah is giving us a new vision of Noah, in the context of some of the other Manifestations. If we become distracted by trivial details, then we put up a barrier between ourselves and this new vision that He is trying to impart.

It occurs to me that He is doing the same thing with everything else.

The old idea of heaven was a kingdom of clouds and angels, somewhere above the clouds, with God sitting on His throne. Baha'u'llah's conception of heaven, in this regard, is often cited as "nearness to God".

Was the old vision wrong? No, not really. I mean, sure, it wasn't physically accurate, but it was a good metaphor. Above the clouds we are not beset by the tempestuous storms. We can more clearly see the sun, since the clouds do not get in the way. We are, in a sense, closer to God. It was a good metaphor for the time, and still has its uses.

No matter how we understand anything, our understanding is necessarily limited. We are human. We can always get a better, clearer, more complete understanding of anything. This is, in fact, the basis of science and scientific research. We are always pushing the boundaries of what we know, pressing those borders further into the recesses of the darkness of obscurity, trying to get a clearer understanding of the world around us.

To better accomplish this in the realms of the spiritual, we must allow Baha'u'llah to shape our vision.

The old idea of heaven was useful, but limited. Our own understanding of anything is necessarily limited. But the vision offered to us by Baha'u'llah can help us see more, if we but allow Him to share His vision with us. After all, it's up to us. He has already shared it. We just need to be open to seeing it, and not allowing our limited understanding to stand in the way. Then, and only then, can we better appreciate the "shores of the ocean of true understanding".

If I allow my limited understanding of heaven to stand as a barrier between me and this new idea, then I am only limiting myself.

Baha'u'llah came to share this new vision with us. "Then was the door of the Kingdom", said 'Abdu'l-Baha, "set wide and the light of a new heaven on earth revealed unto seeing eyes."

Now it seems to me that the reason I was having trouble with my initial question was that my question was the wrong one. It's not the question of heaven that I should struggle with, but rather that of "true understanding".

Being "detached from all that is in heaven and on earth" seems to me to refer more to my own understanding of these concepts. By recognizing that these ideas can represent far more than I have ever dreamed opens up new vistas for me on this beach upon which we stand, at the edge of that "ocean of true understanding". It helps me realize that there are many more beaches, many more perspectives, many more areas for exploration than I could ever conceive. Living at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, I realize that "the shores of the ocean of the Pacific" could refer to the beach near my home in Victoria, BC, Canada, or it could refer to a small inlet on the western shores of Mexico. It might mean a stretch of rocks on the edge of Japan, or a volcanic beach of black sand at the growing outskirts of Hawai'i. It could be somewhere in New Zealand or Australia, Papua New Guinea or Tuvalu. It could be in the arctic, the antarctic, along the equator, somewhere in the tropic of cancer or the tropic of capricorn. The shores of the ocean of the Pacific are vast, but nowhere near as vast as "shores of the ocean of true understanding".

As much as I long to explore the Pacific, I am far more keen to explore this other ocean.

And thanks go to my son, Shoghi, who walked this beach with me every step of the way, encouraging me, correcting me, and pointing out some beautiful ideas that I had overlooked.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Detachment from Heaven, Part 1... or Exit by Troops

"No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth."

I have long wondered about this quote, found at the very beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan. Given my background of studying English literature at university, the first sentence in any book always seems to me to be the very essence of the book itself. Whether it is the question of "Who's there" in Hamlet, and how this is a question that runs through all the main characters throughout the play, or "rage" being the very first word in the Iliad showing the theme that runs strong within it, as opposed to "man" being the first word in the Odyssey, opening lines are always important to me. And with this line, Baha'u'llah establishes detachment as a primary concept in part one of that book.

While it is possible to talk about many other aspects of this sentence, such as how the word "shores" is plural, or how He doesn't say whether we are in the wilds of a jungle looking for the ocean, or lost at sea looking for the shore, we will focus on detachment.

Oh, and not just detachment in a general sense, but specifically on detachment "from all that is in heaven". I mean, I sort of understand the thing about being detached from everything on earth, and how being detached is not the same as abandoning everything, but rather not allowing it to come between you and the truth. I get that. Really I do. (I won't say I'm good at it, but I get it.)

But heaven? Alright. That I don't get.

Of course that doesn't mean that I'm not willing to think about it out loud here. So what can it mean?

Well, I'm reminded of that quote from 'Abdu'l -Baha in which He says "In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty or heaven." This, as you know, talks about an ulterior motive, saying the prayer because you hope to get into heaven, or because you fear being overly toasty in the next world of God. Neither of those are pure. They may not be bad reasons, but they are not pure.

This then leads me to another quote, this time from Baha'u'llah, in which He is talking about the "true seeker". He says that the true seeker "must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth."

Ok. That's a bit more interesting, and a bit closer the point here, I think. (And remember, this is all about what I think, not what is true. It is just my personal opinion, and nothing official.) So, from what I understand, when seeking truth, we have to look at something in a truly detached way. If we have an attachment of love then we may inadvertently accept something that is false out of love for the person who said it. Good point. I can see that. And, of course, the opposite is true, too. I may deny something just because I don't like the person who said it. (Well, I can see me doing that, but not you, dear Reader.)

So this talks about people on one level, I think. It also talks about where we hear something, like in our church, or in school. We might love our Faith and hear what actually turns out to be a false interpretation of something, but blindly accept it, thinking that our doing so somehow shows our love for the Faith.

Again, it seems to me that this talks about looking at information dispassionately, not allowing our emotions about the source to interfere with the information itself.

A tangental example that comes to mind is music. There are many composers whose music I love, even though I disagree with them ideologically. Take Wagner, for example. His music is impressive, even if he was quite racist in his views. It would be a great loss to me if I dismissed his music on this basis alone. And I think it would be quite silly, too. Of course, it may impact whether I choose to buy a CD from a living musician that I would prefer not to support financially, but that's about it.

Anyways, this seems to be all about being detached from those things on the earth. None of this is "heaven", per se.

So, if that's true, then what does it mean to be detached from all that is in heaven?

What just went through my mind was that we need to detach ourselves from our community, detach ourselves from our own understanding of the Writings, and detach ourselves from our own past. In fact, this is something that Baha'u'llah goes on at length about later in that same book.

And for that, I have lots of personal examples.

Over the years, I have seen many people enter and leave the Baha'i community, and I ask them all the same question: "Why". One of my favourite questions is how someone got where they are on their particular path in life. And you know what? I have learned to truly appreciate why it is that different people enter the community, and why others have chosen to leave.

Oh, wait a second. What do I mean by appreciating the reasons people have chosen to leave the Faith? Well, simple, really. People have their own reasons for doing things, and we shouldn't judge them for it. After all, if they choose to leave the Baha'i community, we can actually learn a lot about ourselves if we find out their reasons. By the same token, we can also learn a lot if we discover some of the reasons why people are attracted to the Faith, whether or not they accept it.

So what are some of the reasons for people leaving? The most common one that I have seen is disillusionment with members of the community. In fact, I can even be a bit more specific. It tends to be that the friends within the community don't appear to take their concerns seriously. For example, when asking about hell, many of us will dismissively say we don't believe in hell, and imply that anyone who does is a bozo, despite the many references to hell in the Writings. (The question is not whether we believe in it or not, for we do recognize the existence of hell and even of Satan, but rather a question of what their nature is.) Or perhaps the question may be why there are no women on the Universal House of Justice. Instead of exploring the question in depth, some people dismiss it saying, "The Master says that the reason will become more evident than the sun at noon." And while this may be true, it surely isn't evident yet, and is worth exploring with those who ask. Some people leave because they see how some Baha'is treat homosexuals, or because of all the "boring meetings" we have. It doesn't really matter, for their reasons are their own, and should be respected. And if we detach ourselves from any outcomes, we will discover that we can learn a lot about ourselves from how others react to us.

In short, we can look at our expectations of the community we live in, and whether or not it lives up to our expectations. (It usually doesn't, but that's ok, for we don't live up to the expectations of those in our community either.) We must be detached from this, and strive to improve ourselves and come to a better understanding of how to apply the Writings in our community.

This, to me, is another example of being detached "from all that is in heaven".

I have been amazed at how our understanding of the Writings has evolved over the years to become more and more centred on community, and am certain that our understanding will continue to grow and evolve in the years to come. I am not a Baha'i because of the community, or where the community is today, but because of the Writings of Baha'u'llah and where I see the community, as well as the world, will be in 100 years.

But all of this, important as it is, still skirts the question I still have: What does it mean to be detached from all that is heaven?

I think I'll look at that a bit more tomorrow.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Deeper Basis to Invitation

Our National Spiritual Assembly sent out a letter the other day with a question: What can we do to prepare our contacts to receive an invitation to the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah next year?

What an interesting question.

I mean, it may just be me, but when I think of a holy day, I imagine looking at the calendar and saying, "Oh, there's a holy day next week." Then I would begin to freak out and slap together a quick program, usually with a few readings and a couple of stories. Maybe there would be a talk. (One year we actually had three separate programs. We began with prayers that included lots of live singing, and then divided the room into three. One part was for food and conversation; another part was a public talk; the third part was a crafts section around the theme of the holy day. It was great.)

Oh, and then I imagine calling up a friend and the conversation would go something like this. "Hey Joe." "Hey Mead." "Uhm, we're celebrating a Baha'i Holy day on Thursday. You wanna come?" "Sure. I guess so."

And that's that.

But preparing my friends? That's an intriguing thought.

A friend and I were chatting about this the other day and we had some interesting thoughts on this.

"Ruhi Book 4", we began. "After all, it's the story of the Twin Manifestations."

Well, it is and it isn't.

We initially thought that it would be good to bring our friends through Ruhi Book 4, The Twin Manifestations, but then quickly realized that this wasn't the purpose of the book. It's actually designed to help Baha'is tell the story of the Twin Manifestations to their friends. So rather than trying to get our friends to take the book, we should take it and perhaps tell these wonderful stories over the next year.

This got us looking at the book again, and that was when we noticed something else of interest: Unit 1. You see, as I'm sure you know, dear Reader, Units 2 and 3 are the stories of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, but Unit 1 is something totally different. It's about the importance of this Day.

Then, as we looked at this, we realized that the other two units are about a lot more than just the stories. The whole book is structured around the idea of crisis and victory, and this carries through all three units, helping us recognize the pattern that is so much there in all of history.

Now, when looking at the question, "What can we do to help prepare our friends to receive an invitation to the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah" a whole new concept begins to arise.

And this gets to the heart of what prompted me to write all this.

Do you think it is any mere coincidence that we are seeing a significant rise in prejudice and fanaticism at this time?

When we look at recent history, that of the 20th century, we can trace this pattern so clearly. The century began with the amazing victory of "civilization" having spread all over the world, but one of the inherent problems with it was the spread of the colonialist attitude. However, there was also the tremendous victory of the various peace treaties between the countries that ensured peace between the nations. These peace treaties, however, were convoluted and weak, leading us straight into World War 1. What a crisis. And from that crisis came the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. What a victory. However, this treaty was incredibly unjust towards Germany, and the League had no way to enforce its decisions. World War 2. Crisis.

From this global conflagration we saw the emergence of the United Nations. Another incredible victory. But it was tainted by the permanent members of the Security Council, a principal that says in effect "All nations are equal, but some are more equal than others." Through the various political intrigues between these five nations, there were many good decisions that got vetoed. Crisis.

This is where we are today. Basically.

So let's look at these members: China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States.

At the time of the formation of the Security Council, having permanent members with the right to veto any decision may have seemed like a good idea, but I suspect we're beyond that now. Of course, this is just my own personal opinion, and nothing official, but it's like a parent imposing rules on a child. There just comes a time when the parent no longer has that right.

And when I look at what is happening around the world today, with human rights abuses on the rise in some countries and prejudicial attacks rising in others, it seems to me that these five countries no longer have any possible claim to moral superiority to justify them being in this position over others.

I think we need to talk about this. With our friends.

And we need to look at what is happening in the world, the concerns that our friends rightly have, and help them see how to place this all into the context of crisis and victory. We know we are in the middle of a crisis. We also know that there is a glorious victory just ahead. We can see it.

We also know that this vision given to us was given to us by Baha'u'llah, whose 200th birthday is coming upon us very soon. We need to help spread the word about this vision, and about this Person. And as we do, we will be in a far better position to invite our friends and contacts to a celebration of His birth. And they will be far more open to receive it.