Monday, November 12, 2018

We Make Our Plans...

As many of you know, this is the year leading up to the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. Just a few days ago was His 199th birthday, and I thought for this upcoming celebration to try to publish one story a week about either His life or that of one of His early followers. Of course, to me, the importance of a story is not just its entertainment value, but its relevance to our lives today. And so, with each of these stories, I will talk a little bit about how I see them as relevant to us today.

To start, I would like to share one of my favorite simple stories. It's not a complex one, and in fact, I'm going to tell it even more simply by leaving out many of the names, which could be confusing to some of my readers.

This story is one of Sulayman Khan.

Sulayman Khan was an interesting man. His father was an attendant of Muhammad Shah, the ruler of Persia for a number of years. He, himself, was destined for a life at court, but this court life held no interest for him. He was far more interested in the things of the spirit. And so, at a fairly young age, he left Persia and settled in Karbila in Iraq, to be in the shadow of the Shrine of the Imam Husayn, the great martyred leader of the Shia Muslims.

While Sulayman Khan was living in Karbila, he became attracted to the teachings of Siyyid Kazim, one of the two forerunners of the Babi Faith, as well as the Baha'i Faith. Many people speak of the Bab as the "John the Baptist" of the Baha'i Faith, but this is really not quite correct. The Bab was a Messenger of God in His own right. It was actually Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim who more accurately fit that role.

Well, Sulayman Khan was attracted to these teachings, and when he later heard about the advent of the Bab, he became a follower of the Bab almost immediately.

A few years later he had the incredible bounty of actually meeting the Bab while He was incarcerated in the prison in the castle of Chihriq.

A little while later, when he was in Tehran, he heard about the Bab's trial in Tabriz, and decided to try and rescue Him from His oppressors. As he knew many people in Tabriz, he thought that he might have a chance at rescuing his Beloved.

As fate would have it, though, he arrived one day too late. The Bab had been executed, with one of His followers, just a day earlier.

Now if it was me, I would have been completely downcast, shattered. My grief would likely have known no bounds, and I would have turned around in despair.

But not Sulayman Khan.

He knew that the Mullas had decided to throw their bodies on the edge of the moat outside the town, with soldiers on guard to prevent the Babis from retrieving the precious remains and give them a proper burial. The hope was that wild animals would devour the bodies, thus proving that the Bab was not a holy man at all.

Sulayman Khan, a day late, changed his plans and decided to try to rescue the bodies himself. He had decided to try a surprise-attack on the guards that evening, and carry away the bodies. He went to his long-time friend, the mayor of the city, and told him of his plans. The mayor, though, had a better idea. He told Sulayman Khan that he knew someone who might actually be able to secret away the bodies in a much safer and more reliable manner.

And so, that evening, the mayor and Sulayman Khan hired this other man to try and steal away the bodies, which, as you may know, was actually successful.

Sulayman Khan took the remains to a silk factory in Milan, in Persia, not Italy, and had them enshrouded and concealed in a wooden casket. From there, they were moved from location to location until such a time as they were able to make their way to the Holy Land and be interred on Mount Carmel.

It is because of the dedication of Sulayman Khan that today we have the incredible bounty of being able to visit the Shrine of the Bab when we go on Pilgrimage.

So, besides visiting the Shrine, what does this have to do with us today? Well, quite simply, it seems to me a great story to show what can happen when we are flexible in our plans. No matter how great our plans may be, things don't always go our way. But quite often God has greater plans for us, if only we're open to them.

But what relevance does this story hold for you, dear Reader? Please post your comments below. Thanks.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Obligatory Prayer - Kitab-i-Aqdas paragraphs 6 - 14

As I'm sure you know by now, my wife and I have been studying the Kitab-i-Aqdas this year. It's been very fruitful, deeply enlightening.

We find that reading a paragraph at a time, with an eye towards different sections of the book, has made this a lot easier than we first thought. As we mentioned in the previous post, we view the first five paragraphs as an introduction, an assistance to our re-framing our perception of the world in order to better approach this book.

This next section goes from paragraph 6 right through 14, or 15, depending. Depending on what? I'm glad you asked. Depending on how you assign paragraph 15, which is something of a bridge between this section and the next.

Throughout many of His works, Baha'u'llah gives us these bridging paragraphs possibly to allow us the time to reflect on what He has just said. Paragraph 7, you will note, is also in this vein. These 9 paragraphs all revolve around the dynamics of prayer, in a general sense, except for number 7. This one is something of a reminder of His station, and the importance of obedience. You will likely note that He reminds of this throughout this volume.

But before I go into any of this further, let me put the paragraphs in here. This is just as a convenience for you, so you can see what I'm referencing, dear Reader. Personally, though, I skip it here, and have a copy of the book next to me so I can follow along as I read. I find that much easier.

6. We have enjoined obligatory prayer upon you, with nine rak‘ahs, to be offered at noon and in the morning and the evening unto God, the Revealer of Verses. We have relieved you of a greater number, as a command in the Book of God. He, verily, is the Ordainer, the Omnipotent, the Unrestrained. When ye desire to perform this prayer, turn ye towards the Court of My Most Holy Presence, this Hallowed Spot that God hath made the Center round which circle the Concourse on high, and which He hath decreed to be the Point of Adoration for the denizens of the Cities of Eternity, and the Source of Command unto all that are in heaven and on earth; and when the Sun of Truth and Utterance shall set, turn your faces towards the Spot that We have ordained for you. He, verily, is Almighty and Omniscient.
7. Everything that is hath come to be through His irresistible decree. Whenever My laws appear like the sun in the heaven of Mine utterance, they must be faithfully obeyed by all, though My decree be such as to cause the heaven of every religion to be cleft asunder. He doeth what He pleaseth. He chooseth, and none may question His choice. Whatsoever He, the Well-Beloved, ordaineth, the same is, verily, beloved. To this He Who is the Lord of all creation beareth Me witness. Whoso hath inhaled the sweet fragrance of the All-Merciful, and recognized the Source of this utterance, will welcome with his own eyes the shafts of the enemy, that he may establish the truth of the laws of God amongst men. Well is it with him that hath turned thereunto, and apprehended the meaning of His decisive decree.
8. We have set forth the details of obligatory prayer in another Tablet. Blessed is he who observeth that whereunto he hath been bidden by Him Who ruleth over all mankind. In the Prayer for the Dead six specific passages have been sent down by God, the Revealer of Verses. Let one who is able to read recite that which hath been revealed to precede these passages; and as for him who is unable, God hath relieved him of this requirement. He, of a truth, is the Mighty, the Pardoner.
9. Hair doth not invalidate your prayer, nor aught from which the spirit hath departed, such as bones and the like. Ye are free to wear the fur of the sable as ye would that of the beaver, the squirrel, and other animals; the prohibition of its use hath stemmed, not from the Qur’án, but from the misconceptions of the divines. He, verily, is the All-Glorious, the All-Knowing.
10. We have commanded you to pray and fast from the beginning of maturity; this is ordained by God, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers. He hath exempted from this those who are weak from illness or age, as a bounty from His Presence, and He is the Forgiving, the Generous. God hath granted you leave to prostrate yourselves on any surface that is clean, for We have removed in this regard the limitation that had been laid down in the Book; God, indeed, hath knowledge of that whereof ye know naught. Let him that findeth no water for ablution repeat five times the words “In the Name of God, the Most Pure, the Most Pure,” and then proceed to his devotions. Such is the command of the Lord of all worlds. In regions where the days and nights grow long, let times of prayer be gauged by clocks and other instruments that mark the passage of the hours. He, verily, is the Expounder, the Wise.
11. We have absolved you from the requirement of performing the Prayer of the Signs. On the appearance of fearful natural events call ye to mind the might and majesty of your Lord, He Who heareth and seeth all, and say “Dominion is God’s, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of creation.”
12. It hath been ordained that obligatory prayer is to be performed by each of you individually. Save in the Prayer for the Dead, the practice of congregational prayer hath been annulled. He, of a truth, is the Ordainer, the All-Wise.
13. God hath exempted women who are in their courses from obligatory prayer and fasting. Let them, instead, after performance of their ablutions, give praise unto God, repeating ninety-five times between the noon of one day and the next “Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendor and Beauty.” Thus hath it been decreed in the Book, if ye be of them that comprehend.
14. When traveling, if ye should stop and rest in some safe spot, perform ye—men and women alike—a single prostration in place of each unsaid Obligatory Prayer, and while prostrating say “Glorified be God, the Lord of Might and Majesty, of Grace and Bounty.” Whoso is unable to do this, let him say only “Glorified be God”; this shall assuredly suffice him. He is, of a truth, the all-sufficing, the ever-abiding, the forgiving, compassionate God. Upon completing your prostrations, seat yourselves cross-legged—men and women alike—and eighteen times repeat “Glorified be God, the Lord of the kingdoms of earth and heaven.” Thus doth the Lord make plain the ways of truth and guidance, ways that lead to one way, which is this Straight Path. Render thanks unto God for this most gracious favor; offer praise unto Him for this bounty that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth; extol Him for this mercy that hath pervaded all creation.

Well, now that we have that done, you can see this theme very clearly. Of course, as you noticed, it overlaps with fasting, which is the next theme He addresses, in paragraph 16. But more on that later.

For now, let's look at paragraph 6. He's essentially telling  us what it is we need to say, even though He doesn't actually give us the words here. He also tells us when to say them, as well as where to face.

But why doesn't He give us the actual prayer here? Why was it revealed in a separate place, which, incidentally, was stolen by Mirza Muhammad-Ali, the arch Covenant-breaker, after Baha'u'llah's passing?

There may be a very good reason for it. Actually, since I can come up with one good reason, He probably has many thousands.

I would venture to guess that Baha'u'llah is merciful. I mean, that's not really a guess, is it? He is the All-Merciful. We know that. And here, it seems to me that He is allowing us to come to terms with what He is telling us.

A few years earlier, one of the Babis was leading a prayer and had added some words to the traditional prayer, as commanded by the Bab. The people freaked out. I mean, they literally went all violent and everything. You see, we love our prayers, and whenever anyone messes around with them, well, watch out. Personally, I think this is a visceral reaction, a reflex, even, and Baha'u'llah knows it. He knows this about us, and expects it. Of course, this is just my own personal opinion, but it makes sense to me. Anyways, here He is warning us that He is going to change the words. We don't have them yet, but we have the warning that change is coming.

And this leads us to paragraph 7. Don't forget, He seems to be saying, He doeth what He willeth. This change is a good thing, and when we understand it, we'll defend it to the death. Oh, our death, not someone else's.

Just like that last sentence in paragraph 5, when we are told to meditate, here it seems that we are given a full paragraph to reflect on this idea.

Anyways, this led my wife and I to an interesting train of thought, which I'll share here, as this is the point in our conversation that we had it.

The Obligatory Prayers from Baha'u'llah are quite different than any obligatory prayers we have seen in other faiths. All three of them seem to say the same thing, namely reminding us of our position in creation. So why is it that these are obligated of us? Why not any of the other prayers?

Quite simply, because we think they are true, as in the sense of absolute Truth, capitalized and all. Even if we don't believe them, even if we are an atheist or are just  saying them as a test, they are still true. This is the difference between truthfulness and honesty. The truth is the truth, no matter what we believe. Honesty is merely what we believe, whether or not it is true. And truthfulness, we are told, "is the foundation of all human virtues". Perhaps that is why I have suggested to my friends that they try saying these Obligatory Prayers every day, whether or not they agree with them. Many of them have,  and nearly all come back and said that yes, it did make a difference in their lives.

Oh, and I'm sure you noticed that it is in paragraph 8 that we are told where to find the words we are to say.

By the way, there is an interesting caveat in that paragraph regarding the Prayer for the Dead. He specifies that there are six verses that are repeated, and says that whoever can read should read the passages that precede them. If we can't read, He offers us, then presumably we can just recite the six verses the requisite number of times. I find this interesting because it is such a blessing to us, a true mercy in our time of grief. Prior to this, the prayers for the dead were to be read by ordained priests, as far as I am aware. But here, in the Baha'i Faith we don't have ordained clergy. So who is to bless the dead? Presumably we are. Ok, I can hear some people saying, but what if I can't read? Surely we can remember the six verses, six simple lines. And of course, we can probably count to 19, even if we're missing a finger. This, for many, I am sure, is a great blessing. They can now lay their own departed loved ones to rest, even if they are unable to read.

By the way, it is also worth noting that He still hasn't given us the words we are to say. It is as if He is doing all He can to assist us in curtailing that reaction I mentioned earlier. Truly, He is merciful.

On to paragraph 9. As I just mentioned, we don't have to be ordained ministers to say these prayers. We are all able to say them. And here, in this paragraph, He goes further. Many of those things that were thought might nullify our prayers in previous faiths? Nope. It's all poppycock. Such things as hair, fur, bones, and so on, do not invalidate our progress.

While we may think that this is merely correcting a minor misconception from Islam, or Judaism, I think it goes quite a bit further than that. This validates many Indigenous traditions around the world. All of a sudden those sacred objects that are so valued by people all over the globe are now justified. If something helps us remember our Creator, then it is good. If we find value in using a bird's wing to blow the smoke from the burning sage across our brow, this is fine. We are allowed to do it. No longer can Indigenous peoples be told not to use their own traditional items. Again, what a blessing and mercy.

By the way, as we read this paragraph, we were kind of curious about two of the animals mentioned. I mean, we had no problem with the sable, but my wife was wondering if there were beavers in Europe. After all, we live in Canada, and are well aware that there are many animals here that are not in Europe. Was the beaver one of them? Nope. There were plenty of beavers all over Europe and Asia. They almost went extinct around 1900, but, through various efforts, were saved.

Now, this connection to Canada, the beaver being one of our national icons, led me to think of another famous Canadian icon: the moose. And what comes next? The squirrel.

Moose and squirrel.

Every time I read this passage I think of Boris Badanov now: "Moose and sqvirrel? Excellent. Now ve can use their fur, Natasha."

Anyways, this brings us to paragraph 10, in which He tells us some of the boundaries for this Obligatory Prayer, as well as fasting. He tells us our  obligation to use it begins upon reaching maturity, but exempts us due to weakness from illness or age. He reminds us to prostrate ourselves on a clean surface, because cleanliness is a good thing, right? And He also gives provisions for those living in arid climes, or near the polar regions, demonstrating His global vision. Again, such mercy.

In paragraph 11 He removes the mandatory prayer for natural phenomenon. We no longer need to say this prayer when we encounter "fearful natural events". Why? Perhaps because He is helping us move past any superstition surrounding these events. While we may still be "frightened" during an earthquake, we understand they don't come from gay marriages, or anything else that we, as a society, may have done. We have an awareness of plate tectonics, and know why they really occur. By understanding their true nature, we can take more effective action against, say, the development of stronger  hurricanes due to climate change.

Another point here is that this remembrance of God during these times is a reminder that we are only here a short time. God is the one in charge.

On to paragraph 12. Remember what I said earlier about no priests? Well that applies here, too. Congregational prayer, contrary to some people's belief, does not refer to praying in a group setting. It refers to someone saying the prayers for you. In many previous religions it was only the ordained clergy who were able to say effective prayers. If you wanted your prayers to go to God, they were the ones who had the direct line connection. Here Baha'u'llah seems to be saying, "Do it yourself." You can't delegate someone else to pray on your behalf. It just won't work.

Paragraph 13 is also interesting. This one is specifically, and only, for women. And I really loved what my wife shared about it. First, it's not an exemption in the way that we normally think of it. In fact, it takes her longer to to the 95 repetitions than it does to say her normal Obligatory Prayers.

But what is it that she is to say? "Glorified be God, the Lord of Splendour and Beauty". During the time of the month when she "feels like crap" and "feels especially ugly", she is to focus on splendour and beauty. And not only is she to focus on it, she is given a mantra to use during that time. Again, it takes time. During this difficult time of the month for her, she is to make sure that she takes aside 20 - 30 minutes every day and say a mantra focused on beauty.

How often do women, especially mothers, take that kind of time to look after their spiritual needs? How often are they allowed? Here it is guaranteed. This is really powerful, and especially important.

Finally, paragraph 14, which is all about traveling. I find it interesting how He shows us a form of equality here, with the repeated phrase, "men and women alike". This is not just for the men, but for everyone. And look at what it is we are to do. If we miss an Obligatory Prayer, we are to prostrate ourselves in a safe place and recite one verse for each missed prayer, or if we can't prostrate ourselves, recite another verse. Ok. Cool. Then, once we've done that, we are to sit cross-legged and repeat another verse 18 times.

Wait. Cross-legged? Don't some people consider that inappropriate for a woman? Well, evidently it's ok. Presumably everyone will be wearing appropriate clothing for travel, and so this should be acceptable.

To me, this is another subtle reminder to not try and stifle women.

But what, my wife asked me, if she is in her courses? Then you look at the previous paragraph. Even while traveling, it is probably not all that difficult to find a little bit of time to say that mantra when you are resting at the end of the day. So this should be ok.

In the end, this whole section on Obligatory Prayer seems to me to be just blessing upon blessing, and mercy upon mercy.

But one last question: Why is this the very first thing He talks about? Simple, I think. It's all about our connection to God. Everything else comes from that. Recognize and obey. Understand the true nature of these laws, and their reasons. And then work on that connection with your Creator.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Wine of Astonishment: Kitab-i-Aqdas paragraphs 3 - 5

O ye peoples of the world! Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures. Thus hath it been sent down from the heaven of the Will of your Lord, the Lord of Revelation. Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the Dayspring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness.
This, dear Reader, is the third of 5 paragraphs that, in my own way of thinking, provides the introduction to the Kitab-i-Aqdas. The other 2 are down below. Now this may not be how others see these paragraphs, as an introduction, and that's fine. For me, though, they set the stage for how we are to approach this monumental work. In the first paragraph we are told that we need to recognize the Manifestation of God, and that this recognition will, naturally, lead to obedience to Their laws. In the second paragraph we are told that if we look at these laws we will readily recognize them as the best means for order and security in the world.

Here we see the natural result of this, namely that we will understand that these laws demonstrate God's "loving providence" and "mercy".

This, by the way, is really a radical new way of looking at laws. Most people see them as a restriction, but here He is telling us that we can look at them in a totally different way.

Every law, at least in the sense of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, has a purpose, a logic, a reason. We may not understand the reason for some of them, but if we do for only a single one then we will give up everything to show it. And each of these laws, when we understand the reason and rationale behind it, will lead us to God.

Paragraph 4 and 5 give us further insight into the nature of these laws, and the most effective way to view them.
Say: From My laws the sweet-smelling savor of My garment can be smelled, and by their aid the standards of Victory will be planted upon the highest peaks. The Tongue of My power hath, from the heaven of My omnipotent glory, addressed to My creation these words: “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.” Happy is the lover that hath inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe. By My life! He who hath drunk the choice wine of fairness from the hands of My bountiful favor will circle around My commandments that shine above the Dayspring of My creation.
Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!

Here we can see that we are mindful of these various laws not because we are fearful of any sort of punishment, but because we see astonishing wisdom behind them. We see their beauty. We understand a little bit of their effect upon the world and truly yearn for that effect to take hold.

As we read these paragraphs we cannot help but be struck by their poetic beauty, and their imagery. We notice that these laws are the lamps that light the way. They are the keys that unlock the mysteries of the universe. And we see the continual references to our various senses.

Again, one cannot help but be struck by the overt references to wine-tasting, from the smelling of the cork to the careful tasting of the wine, before becoming heady with its effect. In fact, there is also the reference to Muhammad here, and the clarification of His station as the Seal of the Prophets. We are reminded in that fifth paragraph that the purpose of the seal on the wine is to allow it to age. And then, for the wine to fulfill its purpose, namely to be enjoyed, we must open that seal. But this is no mere alcoholic beverage that will leave us feeling giddy for a moment and hungover the next morning. No, this is the "choice wine of fairness". Similarly, this is not merely a simple code of laws, with a few commandments and a list of punishments for their violation. This book is far, far more.

In these opening paragraphs it seems to me that we are being guided not to merely learn to recite a few of its passages, but rather to rise to the station of understanding. As we do so, as we explore the mysteries within this text, as we strive to understand the wisdom behind each of these injunctions, unravel the meanings behind each of these allusions and allegories, we will find ourselves overwhelmed. We will come away feeling as if we are drunk as we find ourselves carried to heights far beyond what we ever dreamed. We will discover that we will not be content with merely knowing these laws in our head, but will yearn to feel them in our heart.

We will discover, as we walk this path, as we continue on this journey, that the more we love Baha'u'llah, the more we will yearn to follow His laws. And the more that we follow His laws, the more our love for Him will grow. We truly will "circle around (His) commandments".

And if we want, we can see a scientific analogy at work here. It is like a simple generator spinning between two magnets. The more it spins, the more energy is created. As we spin between the love and the obedience, we will feel our own powers increase, much as the early dawn-breakers did.

There are so many layers at work here, from the wine to the lover to the Covenant, the garment, the tongue, and on and on, that I cannot help but get tangled as I try to describe them. This is one of the joys of sacred Text, and but one of the meanings of its impenetrable depths.

Finally, one last little thing: "Meditate upon this..." As a friend and I have been studying the Kitab-i-Iqan over the past 18 years, we have noticed that every single time Baha'u'llah uses the words "meditate", "ponder", "reflect", or any other synonyms of those, He is very serious. They are a clue to us that He has just given us something new, an idea or concept contrary to what we are generally taught, and that further progress is dependent upon our understanding this new idea.

When my wife and I got to this point, we still had about 30 minutes left before we had to pick up our son. Rather than continuing on and reading the next paragraph, we decided to pause here and meditate upon what we had learned. We decided to use the intervening week to allow these new ideas to settle in our hearts before taking another step.

So, dear Reader, we may be way off base in some of what we have found, but it all feels so right. This isn't merely a book of laws, because we are not expected to treat it as such. We are now at that point of maturity where we are expected to be able to go beyond mere obedience and achieve actual understanding. And that, we are certain, will lead us all in directions we have never dreamed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Rising Seas: Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 2

They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples. He that turneth away from them is accounted among the abject and foolish. We, verily, have commanded you to refuse the dictates of your evil passions and corrupt desires, and not to transgress the bounds which the Pen of the Most High hath fixed, for these are the breath of life unto all created things. The seas of Divine wisdom and Divine utterance have risen under the breath of the breeze of the All-Merciful. Hasten to drink your fill, O men of understanding! They that have violated the Covenant of God by breaking His commandments, and have turned back on their heels, these have erred grievously in the sight of God, the All-Possessing, the Most High.

As I'm sure you know, dear Reader, this is the second paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

In the first paragraph, we noticed that our first duty is recognition, and that from this recognition comes the genuine desire to be obedient. After all, it says that it "behooveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station... to observe every ordinance" of Him. So, presumably, if you haven't recognized, then this doesn't apply to you.

Here, though, in paragraph 2, He moves us forward a bit. In that first paragraph we seem to obey just because we recognize, and that's ok. After all, if we truly understand that Baha'u'llah has been sent by Almighty God, and is the "one Whose presence ‘He Who conversed with God’ (Moses) hath longed to attain, the beauty of Whose countenance ‘God’s Well-beloved’ (Muḥammad) had yearned to behold, through the potency of Whose love the ‘Spirit of God’ (Jesus) ascended to heaven, for Whose sake the ‘Primal Point’ (the Báb) offered up His life", then of course we will obey what He says.

But now He goes further. We don't just obey blindly. We obey because we understand that all of His laws and ordinances are the best, if not only, way for us to maintain order in the world and see to the security of all peoples. Of course, when we look at these laws it just makes sense. Mind you, He hasn't told us what these laws are yet. For many of us, at this point in the book, we are still thinking about the laws of the past, and that's ok. "Don't kill"? I can see how that would lead to greater security. "Don't lie"? Makes sense to me.

These precepts, or general rules, that Baha'u'llah has brought will also lead us forward as a human race. We are seeing this so much more clearly today than we ever have in the past. With all that is going on in the world, the very idea of the "oneness of humanity", and its implications on security, is becoming ever more crystal clear.

And anyone who thinks otherwise, of course we would think them "abject and foolish".

But, again, Baha'u'llah does not stop there. He reminds us that this will not be easy.

"Refuse... evil passions and corrupt desires..." Even if we recognize, we're still tempted by these desires. We're hardwired for them, genetically. Nobody denies this. The more we learn about our development as a species, the more we recognize this. Our sexual desires, our aggressive behaviours: these used to be needed for our very survival. Way back when, it was these habits that allowed us to survive and thrive in a very harsh world.

But they are not all that we were hardwired for. We are also hardwired to gather in groups. As we look back throughout known history, we can see this very clearly. We gathered in family clans, for example, back in the Tanakh, or the Old Testament. We moved forward and gathered in cities, in the Gospel. We continued to move forward and developed the concept of the nation in the Qur'an. Today we are moving even further and beginning to understand the concept of a global community. The more we learn about ourselves, the more we see that our hardwiring is not the simplistic set of base behaviours that the psycho-sociologists would have had us believe a hundred years ago. We are far more complex than that. We now know that we have a choice as to which of our genetic behaviours we wish to follow. For years, even millennia, we have followed our base desires. Now we can more consciously choose to follow our desire for community, instead.

Another thing that stands out in this paragraph for me is the use of the analogy of the wind and the sea: "The seas of Divine wisdom and Divine utterance have risen under the breath of the breeze of the All-Merciful."

It's a very interesting analogy.

When, I have to wonder, do the seas rise? Well, they usually rise and fall under the influence of the moon, But that's not what He says here. Today, He tells us, they are rising due to the breeze.

Ok. When do the seas rise due to a wind? During a storm. And not just during any storm, but due to a particularly violent storm.

And yet Baha'u'llah has referred to this wind as a "breeze", and it's not just any breeze, but the "breeze of the All-Merciful". Strange.

Why would this be?

For an answer, I had to turn to Shoghi Effendi in the very beginning of the World Order of Baha'u'llah letters. You see, Baha'u'llah also references those who have "violated the Covenant of God", and this reminded me of the Covenant-breakers. So naturally my thoughts turned to the World Order letters, in which Shoghi Effendi is offering his comments to explain why the ones who were violating the Covenant at that tie were mistaken. He is answering their complaints. And despite the consternation that the National Assembly must have felt at that time, he says to them, and to us, "We should feel truly thankful for such futile attempts to undermine our beloved Faith..."

These tests and trials, which seem like such a storm to us are, in fact, a blessing. It is these very attacks, these storms, that are designed to "fortify our faith, to clarify our vision, and to deepen our understanding of the essentials of His Divine Revelation."

This also reminds me of what Baha'u'llah said in the Kitab-i-Iqan. He said, "the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." Without those tests and trials, without those denials, we would not have this ability to firm up our faith, so to speak.

It really is quite fascinating to dive deeply into this work with my wife. We have read this book so many times, and these paragraphs in particular even more, but still, studying it with her has opened up so many new vistas. We are only beginning to appreciate the richness of this Most Holy Book.

Monday, October 15, 2018

That Sublime Station: Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 1

One of my favorite things to do in life is study the Writings with my wife. Every week now, for the next number of months, we will be sitting in a cafe for a couple of hours while my son is partaking in his junior youth group. Last year we studied The Four Valleys, and just as the group was winding up for the summer, and my weekends were taken over by my booth at the market, we were just finishing it up.

Our question this year was what we wanted to study now. Our decision? The Kitab-i-Aqdas. After all, go big or go home, right?

But before I get into our study, I want to contextualize it a bit for you, dear Reader.

First of all, I have a very treasured memory of this book that I want to share. I can remember so clearly the very first time I ever read it. Of course, like many of us, I had read a number of passages previously, but the whole text was officially released for the first time in English during the Holy Year, 1992 - 1993. And I remember the very day that it came out. I had the incredible bounty of living near the Temple just outside Chicago, and was able to walk over there to the bookstore and get 2 copies that day.

Now at that same time I was working at the US National Centre. And every year, around that time, there was a 24-hour prayer vigil at the Temple for race unity. I had noticed, a few years earlier, that nobody signed up for the wee hours of the morning, so I would sign up from midnight to six am, "yawn prayers", and ask friends to join me. And they did. Every year we would gather in the parking lot with coffee, donuts and cookies, and 2 of us would be in the Temple. One would pray at the podium, while the other would wait until they were ready for a break. Then they'd switch, and the first would come out and get someone else to sit and wait.

But that year, I had just picked up my copy of the Aqdas either that day, or the day before, I can't recall. Either way, when midnight came around, a group of us had gathered in the Temple and I got up and began to read it, for the very first time, out loud, at the podium. We all sat there enraptured. I got about 3/4 the way through it before my friend, Denise, had to take over. That, as far as I'm aware, was the first time that the Kitab-i-Aqdas had been read aloud, in its entirety, in the Temple.

Every time I have read that monumental book since then, I always remember that night, and the friends that were with me, sharing in that beautiful experience.

Ok, so that's the first thing.

The second little bit of context is from my wife. Early on in her Baha'i experience, one of the friends had said something to her about how people had to be Baha'i, or "all their good deeds were worth nothing". As you can imagine, this went against all that she knew of the basic teachings of the Faith. When she asked about it, the friend showed her the first paragraph of this book, as if it were a weapon to somehow defend the superiority of the Baha'i Faith. She was very uncomfortable, but, wisely, didn't argue about it. She came home and we talked about it, and then proceeded to write the Universal House of Justice. Their response was to send us, many months later, One Common Faith. As I said to her at the time, I don't think this great letter was written specifically for us. I think they must have received many such letters, enough to warrant the commission of that document, and that we were just one of many who had written in with similar questions.

Ok. So, with all this as a basic background into our personal history, we dove into the first two paragraphs this morning. Today, I'm only going to share a bit about the first one. Hopefully I'll get to adding more about our little study soon, but I won't promise anything.

Here is paragraph 1 of this incredible book:
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behooveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
As you can imagine, there is much that we found to discuss.

While we talked about all sorts of things, what really left us feeling elated was when we focused on the phrase "this most sublime station".

Our initial thought was that it referred to Baha'u'llah's sublime station, but in the context of the sentence it didn't make sense. After all, only Baha'u'llah can possibly reach that sublime station. Upon re-reading, though, we realized that it obviously is referring to the station of the believer, the one who actually recognizes "Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation".

Of course, from there, we were then wondering why this would be considered the "most sublime station". What does it mean? In fact, what does the word "sublime" mean? Perhaps, we thought, that might shed some light on this. As you probably know, it means "of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe". You mean we can attain a station of such excellence, grandeur, and beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe? Wow.

Oh, but wait a second, inspire admiration or awe in whom? In oneself.

Well that sounds pretty good, awesome, in fact. But what would it look like? We're not really sure, but looking back at the first few sentences, we had to ask ourselves if we really do recognize Baha'u'llah. And honestly, no, we don't. We believe that His station is too grand for us to truly recognize Him. We catch glimpses of His station, faint glimmerings of His grandeur, mere impressions of His true position in creation. Occasionally, rarely, we may get a hint of this, and that is when we feel as if we have been lifted to what we can only describe as a sublime station. It is as if we have been granted access to this, however briefly, and come away feeling a profound sense of gratitude.

Personally, I am reminded of an exercise I did years ago, in which I tried to imagine myself standing next to the Sun. I began by seeing myself standing there and the sun shining brightly in the sky. Of course, as you know, that meant I was quite far from it. And so I began to see the sun getting bigger and bigger, but as long as I was still standing there, in my imagination, I knew that I had to be far, far from the sun. It wasn't until I began to see myself getting smaller and smaller that I realized just how tiny I would have to be, in comparison.

I could easily imagine myself sitting at the table while my wife and I talked. I could even imagine myself, as seen from above, in the village in which we were enjoying our study. When I saw British Columbia from above, though, I could no longer really imagine myself sitting there. I was just too small in relation to the entirety of the province. Now I had to go further out to the whole country, the entire planet. Not a chance. I wasn't even a blip any more. And just how tiny is the earth in comparison to the sun? Okay. We're talking ridiculously small and insignificant, trying to imagine myself next to the sun.

The only way that I could even begin to imagine myself next to the sun was to envision myself as so tiny that I was truly insignificant.

And now, what about Baha'u'llah? When I try to imagine the grandeur and majesty of Baha'u'llah, the reality is I can't. Someone may be reading my ponderings right now, obviously, and they may read them a few years from now. Perhaps. And it is quite possible, though unlikely, that they may still be read a few years after I die, but I doubt it. I can't even imagine that anyone would know my name in a hundred years, with the remote possible exception that my descendants may say, "Oh yeah, Mead and Marielle were the first Baha'is in our family." But even that is unlikely.

Now, how I can even begin to imagine Baha'u'llah? His Cycle is destined to last at least half a million years. This is so far beyond my ability to imagine, how can I begin to think that I may have "recognized" Him?

Of course, not fully recognizing Baha'u'llah is not a bad thing. It is just a reality. I will continue to strive to better recognize Him, and, of course, probably fall far short, but that's ok. It's not about the destination, as they say, but rather about the journey. We believe that when Baha'u'llah says whoever is deprived of truly knowing Him has "gone astray", it doesn't mean that we are hopelessly lost, just that we will take longer to get there. And honestly, that's ok, too. Our job is to try and better know Him, and the closer we get to that "sublime station", well, the better off we are.

And in the end, that journey of recognition is our own. We can neither judge, nor compare that journey to anyone else's.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Shoghi and Shoghi, part 2

Shoghi and I have now been studying the World Order of Baha'u'llah for a couple of weeks, and I feel like I am learning so much.

I mean, it's not like I don't learn a lot when I read the Guardian on my own; it's just that I feel like I'm learning so much more through my son's point of view. There is also something very educational about having to explain what the basic sentence structure means, and working through the various words with him.

You may recall the previous article I posted on this study of ours, Shoghi and Shoghi, and now I would like to continue to comment on it.

After that first paragraph, in which Shoghi Effendi explained why he was writing these observations, as well as adopting the mindset of gratitude for such "futile attacks", he goes on to give us the background of why he has been doing what he has been doing in regards to the Administration. Now it should be remembered that the subtitles in this book are not from the Guardian himself, but were added by Horace Holley to make it easier for us to read. Paragraphs 2 - 5 deal with, as you can tell, this background.

The first sentence of paragraph 2 is as follows:
It would, however, be helpful and instructive to bear in mind certain basic principles with reference to the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, which, together with the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, constitutes the chief depository wherein are enshrined those priceless elements of that Divine Civilization, the establishment of which is the primary mission of the Bahá’í Faith.

When my son and I edited it down, as per our method mentioned in the previous article, we read it as,
"It would... be helpful and instructive to bear in mind certain... principles... which... constitutes... those priceless elements of that Divine Civilization, the establishment of which is the primary mission of the Bahá’í Faith."
First, he says that it is both helpful and instructive to bear in mind certain principles. Where are those principles found? In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and in the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha. And what are these principles? They are the primary, the main elements of that future Divine Civilization which all past ages have foretold. And just in case we are unaware of it, it is the establishment of this Divine Civilization that is "the primary mission of the Baha'i Faith". Our mission is nothing less than that. Why do we teach? To see the establishment of this civilization. Why do we form Assemblies? To see the establishment of this civilization. Why are engaged in the four core activities today? To see the establishment of this civilization. Why are we hoping to see more and more people engaged in these core activities, regardless of their personal religious beliefs? Because that will aid in the establishment of this Divine Civilization.

Honestly, we cannot stress this concept enough. It is our primary mission, and all our activities should be moving us closer and closer to its realization.

The next few sentences read more coherently if we read them together:
A study of the provisions of these sacred documents will reveal the close relationship that exists between them, as well as the identity of purpose and method which they inculcate. Far from regarding their specific provisions as incompatible and contradictory in spirit, every fair-minded inquirer will readily admit that they are not only complementary, but that they mutually confirm one another, and are inseparable parts of one complete unit. A comparison of their contents with the rest of Bahá’í sacred Writings will similarly establish the conformity of whatever they contain with the spirit as well as the letter of the authenticated writings and sayings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. In fact, he who reads the Aqdas with care and diligence will not find it hard to discover that the Most Holy Book itself anticipates in a number of passages the institutions which ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá ordains in His Will.
Again, we found this a bit overwhelming, so we got out our shears and went to work.
A study... of these... documents will reveal the close relationship that exists between them, as well as the identity of purpose and method which they inculcate... (E)very fair-minded inquirer will... admit that they are... complementary, ...mutually confirm one another, and are inseparable parts of one complete unit. A comparison of their contents... will... establish the conformity... with the spirit as well as the letter of the authenticated writings and sayings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá... (H)e who reads the Aqdas... will... discover that the Most Holy Book... anticipates... the institutions which ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá ordains...
Again, if we want to better understand where Shoghi Effendi is getting his ideas regarding the Administration that he is guiding us to build, we need to go back to these two documents. All the ideas are there, and in fact, they build upon each other.

This is a point at which we can pause and see just what it is that he is doing. Shoghi Effendi is guiding us back to the Writings. We don't have to take his word for it, even though he is the appointed centre of the Faith. He is encouraging us to read what he has read, in the original documents. Whenever we have a question regarding the Faith, he answers us, and he cites his sources, too. Isn't this an example worth following?

Of course, it's not easy. Those two documents he is referring to our attention are very weighty documents. They're not particularly long, but they are just chock full of really good stuff. How will we know just what parts we are to look at? I mean, is our study of these documents supposed to include the washing of our feet, and the story of Mirza Muhammad Ali's perfidy? It can. But he probably wants us to be a bit more focused.

And so, gracious as he is, he gives us a bit of guidance. We are to look at those passages that talk about the Administration. And we are not just to look at them, but we are to look for specific things in those passages.

Shoghi Effendi goes on:
By leaving certain matters unspecified and unregulated in His Book of Laws, Bahá’u’lláh seems to have deliberately left a gap in the general scheme of Bahá’í Dispensation, which the unequivocal provisions of the Master’s Will have filled.
Or, after a bit of trimming:
... Bahá’u’lláh seems to have deliberately left a gap... which the ...Master... filled.

Really? Baha'u'llah left a gap?

Actually, yes, He did. When we read the provisions for the Administrative Order in the Aqdas, we discover that there is no level of governance at the national level.

Interesting.

Honestly, I never would have noticed if the Guardian hadn't mentioned this right here. I went back and looked to see if I could discover any gaps, and there it was.

But the Master, in His Will and Testament, filled this gap.

Not only that, but in the Aqdas, there was no guidance regarding how these institutions were to be elected. This, too, was left to the Master to mention in His Will. And further to that, it was left to the Guardian to guide us as to the various qualities we should seek when voting for the members of these august bodies.

It really is quite remarkable just what we can discover when we go back and look at these documents through the lens of Shoghi Effendi's guidance.

Finally, in the last sentence of paragraph 2 we read:
To attempt to divorce the one from the other, to insinuate that the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh have not been upheld, in their entirety and with absolute integrity, by what ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá has revealed in His Will, is an unpardonable affront to the unswerving fidelity that has characterized the life and labors of our beloved Master.

Or, after careful paring down:
...(T)o insinuate that the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh have not been upheld... by... ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá... is an unpardonable affront...
If we claim to love the Master, as Ruth White claimed, and hint that He somehow did not uphold the laws of the Aqdas, is, as Shoghi Effendi clearly says here, unpardonable. So if we somehow have come to this conclusion, we are treading on very thin ice, and should go back to those two documents and study them again. I mean it's ok to miss it, or not understand how the Master did uphold Baha'u'llah's laws in this instance, and ask to be walked through it step by step. Not a problem. But to hint that He didn't do it? Well, that's something else altogether. It suggests a form of egotism that is extremely dangerous, as well as an unwillingness to say, "I missed it. Please explain it to me."

And when we do get off our high horse, when we do admit that we're not quite connecting those dots, Shoghi Effendi is very glad to help us out.

I think I'll leave paragraph 3 for next time.

Monday, September 10, 2018

God's Finger

Every now and then I love to look up a single word in the Writings and see what comes of it. This time it was the result of something my mother-in-law said.

We were reading "Words of Wisdom", which is found in Tablets of Baha'u'llah. You see, dear Reader, she loves Baha'u'llah and His Writings, but is not a registered Baha'i. She is from Quebec and her primary language is French, so she has a difficult time with the English, and has said that hearing me read it aloud makes it easier for her to understand.

So there we were reading Words of Wisdom when we ran across the part where He says, "The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed."

And in her delightful Quebecois accent, she piped in "Oh, shoot, that is a funny finger."

My first thought, and I'm sure I'll hear from a Counsellor about it at some point, was "Well, now I know which finger it was."

Well, no matter which one it may have been, it has gotten me to look up "finger" in the Writings.

Now it may just be me, but I have often wondered about these fingers in the Writings, and their relation to the Hands of the Cause of God. All right. Maybe I haven't. I mean, there is a difference between them, for one refers to the finger of God, and the other to the Hands of His Cause. And as Hand of the Cause, William Sears, said, the Hands of the Cause "carry out the work and guidance from the head and heart of the Faith in its World Centre in the Holy Land."

But even then, what is it about fingers? Why are there no references to the toes of God? or His ankle? How about His kneecaps?

Nope. We're stuck with the fingers, and can only imagine the numerous jokes that can be made about them, especially in relation to His nose, which, coincidentally, is also not mentioned in the Writings.

Hey, that reminds me of something I asked my son when he was about 5. Why are gorillas nostrils so big? Because they have big fingers.

Anyways, back to the Writings.

Normally when I look up a word in the Writings, I am astonished at the consistency in its use. But for some reason, not in this case. Ate first glance, it appears to be all over the place. Here are a few examples of its use:
  • Make me, then, O my God, content with that which the finger of Thy decree hath traced.
  • The veils have, verily, been rent asunder by the finger of the will of thy Lord, the Strong, the All-Subduing, the All-Powerful.
  • Take heed lest anything deter thee from extolling the greatness of this Day -- the Day whereon the Finger of majesty and power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.
  • This He hath accomplished through the agency of but one Letter of His Word, revealed by His Pen -- a Pen moved by His directing Finger -- His Finger itself sustained by the power of God's Truth.

So far we have the finger of His decree, the finger of the will of our Lord, the finger of majesty and power (which doubles as a bottle opener), and the pen-directing finger. (I am definitely going to hear from a Counsellor on this one.) (And I guess I really should take heed, for this is not really extolling the greatness of this day, but, hey, I'm working on it.) (And I guess it's a good thing that I don't have to get this reviewed by a committee, so sayeth my wife.)

But really, my favorite finger quote has to be:
  • The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

To be clear, though, this is not the same type of finger as those above. This finger is more like Baha'u'llah's personal finger, in a metaphorical sense, getting a feel of what is happening around Him. It is a demonstration of the care and attention He brings to His awareness of the state of the world.

It is quite different from the Bab, when He says the following:
  • I am the Mystic Fane which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendour. I am the Flame of that supernal Light that glowed upon Sinai in the gladsome Spot, and lay concealed in the midst of the Burning Bush.

You see, despite all the jokes above, there are two different types of references to fingers here, as far as I can tell. The one refers to some action, often in the movement generated by the Will of God, and the other is in perceptual awareness. And while these may seem very different, I suspect they are more linked than I would first guess.

It is interesting to compare these two different descriptions of fingers with how we use them, fingers, that is. We seem to use our fingers most often to touch something. Once we have felt it, then we decide to act upon what it is that we sense. We often have to detect something, feel it, think about it, plan a course of action, and then take the steps necessary for that action to occur. But here, it is as if God feels something, like the doctor using his finger to check the patient's pulse, and that very action of feeling results in the necessary action being taken, the exertion of that divine Will.

In that first quote we are asked to be content with God's Will, for that finger, I suspect, through merely touching something, has outlined the best course of action that can be taken.

We are reminded that there are veils between us and God, but that the very finger of God has torn them all asunder. It doesn't take a lot, though, just His finger. Those veils that grievously hindered us from recognizing God, that barred us from so much, are simply swept away with only a single finger. Those thick clouds that barred our way, that prevented the sunshine from illuminating us, are dissipated by a mere brushing of that fingertip. This gives further emphasis to the attributes that are mentioned there, those of the Strong, the All-Subduing, the All-Powerful.

That third quote reminds us that this same finger, this tiny part of the incredible immensity that is God, has opened the seal, mentioned by Muhammad, allowing the Wine of Reunion to pour forth, enabling all who come near to drink of the astonishing beverage that is within.

And in that fourth quote, when we think of all that has been accomplished by the Pen of Baha'u'llah we are reminded that this pen is moved by the Finger of God, sustained by the power of God's Truth, that ultimate reality of all that is in creation.

What do I get out of all this? First, I get a far better appreciation of just how much greater than us God is. I also come away with a better understanding of how our awareness of God has developed over the millennia. When we look back at the early stories of creation, we see that God really had to work to do it. He spoke. He forged. He moved things around with His body. And He even had to rest afterward. But here, so much is accomplished with but a movement of His finger.

When I compare a single finger of mine with my entire body, I realize how little of me is contained in that finger. And when I look at what God has done with His finger, I can only sit here in awe of how truly awesome He must be.

You also have to understand that I am a craftsman, an artist. I work with my hands all day. My fingers are the very source of my livelihood. If there is any part of my body that I am most careful with, it is my fingers. And yet, when I read these quotes, I realize how limited my fingers really are. They are not versatile at all.

God, on the other hand, no pun intended, has extremely versatile fingers, according to these quotes. They can do everything from tearing aside those veils to lighting a candle, which, in some sense, may actually be related, too. Perhaps that is how He removed those veils, by burning them away. There are certainly enough quotes about that. He can use it as a bottle opener, a conductor's baton, a lighter: the list goes on.

But in the end, reading these quotes makes me even more amazed at just what it is that God and Baha'u'llah have accomplished. And all this with but a single finger.

Hmmm. I wonder if it's like a Swiss army finger. No. Never mind. I'm not going there.