Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Truthfulness and Honesty

"I can answer any question you ask me," I told the youth, "truthfully and honestly."

This was the first youth conference I had ever been asked to speak at, and I knew only a few of the youth there.  Upon hearing that bold statement, many of them looked at me like, "Who is this guy?"  I was standing in front of the group, looking around, haughty and cocky.

"Go on," I challenged, "ask me any question you want."

After checking with each other, seeing if I was for real, one of them asked, "All right, when did Baha'u'llah first go to Haifa?"

I actually knew that one, so I said, "August 31, 1868.  Any other questions?  Go on.  You can ask me anything."

"Who did Baha'u'llah say that, if it wasn't for him, God would not have revealed his religion?"

"Mulla Husayn, the first Letter of the Living.  He said it in the Kitab-i-Iqan.  Next?"

Well, they asked me a few other questions, which I knew, but now they were beginning to get anoyed.  Who was I, thinking that I knew so much?  Finally, they asked a difficult question.

"Why are there no women on the Universal House of Justice?"

"I don't know."  And there, they all jumped.

"Hah!  See you don't know everything."

"But I never said I did."  And at that, I stopped my strutting and began to actually talk with them.  "I said that I could answer any question you asked, both truthfully and honestly.  The truth is that I don't know, and I'm honest enough to admit it."

Now they realized that I had just been playing with them.

You see, I'd noticed a trend amongst many of us, myself included, to try and answer any question we are asked, whether or not we know the answer.  The truth is, sometimes we just don't know.  And why would we be afraid to admit that?

When I was first investigating the Faith, the woman who was teaching me often didn't answer my questions, except to say that she didn't know.  Oh, and she would often add that she thought the answer might be in some book which she would proceed to hand me.

I'll never forget the time that I asked a question at a fireside and she said she didn't know.  She then proceeded to say that it was a wonderful question and she thought I might find the answer in Gleanings.  "Would you be willing to share the answer with the rest of us next week?"

Well, that put me on the spot.

So I did my research and spoke for a few minutes the following week.

But getting back to those youth (I don't like to keep them waiting), they asked a wonderful question.  And this is a question that gets asked so often when people are investigating the Faith, so let's look at it again.

"Why are there no women on the Universal House of Justice?"

In the past, there have been many theories, ranging from the considered to the absurd, about how women may, at some indefinable time in the future, be allowed to serve in that capacity, but really, it just ain't gonna happen.  Baha'u'llah, Himself, expressly stated that service on Universal House of Justice is "confined to men".  So, regardless of what we all feel about it, the Law is the Law and we are not in a position to try and change it, just better understand it.

Of course, it raises many other questions, like "How does this uphold the equality of women and men?"  There are, of course, many variations on this question, but most of them boil down to that.

And the answer is, "I don't know."

So why am I a Baha'i, with such an important question unanswered?

'Abdu'l-Baha, when asked about this issue, replied, "The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God's which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon."

In essence, He has said that the answer will be obvious at some point, but that point is not now.

So am I concerned about that?  No.  Perhaps if I believed that I needed to know absolutely everything, and have it all justified, then I might be.  But I don't and I'm not.

Instead, I look at the rest of the Faith and see what it has to offer.

When I look at all the teachings, the Writings, the examples, the history and the totality of the Faith, I am convinced that it is good.  And I am convinced that it is from God.  There are many things I don't understand, and that is one of them, but I am convinced.  That is all that matters to me.

I won't try to convince anyone else, but I will share what I have discovered.  After all, isn't that the essence of teaching?  I've noticed that when you try to convince someone of something they don't believe, or disagree with, they usually take a defensive stance and dig in their heels, so to speak.  They act defensively because they feel attacked.  So why would you do that?  Instead, I look at the Master, and see how He liked to just share information, or another perspective.

"What you say is well thought out, and makes sense, but let's see if it can be seen in another way.  Perhaps this other view may make sense, too."

In my humble opinion, for what it's worth, I think we too often try to break down people's walls if we believe something different than they do.  Of course, as anyone who has ever had a discussion with me knows, I am all too guilty of this and need to learn to practice better what I am writing.  What I would prefer to do is learn how to help them build a gate in their wall through which we can enter into fruitful discussion.

But here, when asked a question like the one about women on the Universal House of Justice, I think the appropriate approach may just be, "I don't know."  Of course, when we give that answer, it should always be followed with, "Let's look in the Writings and see what we find."

So let's see what we find in the Writings.  There is ample guidance, but my favorite comes from the Universal House of Justice itself: "Though at the present time, it may be difficult for the believers to appreciate the reason for the circumscription of membership on the Universal House of Justice to men, we call upon the friends to remain assured by the Master's promise that clarity of understanding will be achieved in due course. The friends, both women and men, must accept this with faith that the Covenant of Baha'u'llah will aid them and the institutions of His World Order to see the realization of every principle ordained by His unerring Pen, including the equality of men and women, as expounded in the Writings of the Cause."

You see, it seems like many of us try and apologize for what the Faith teaches, in some of the more difficult areas, but I'm not sure that's a healthy stance.  The facts are the facts, and we should accept them.  We should try to understand the reasoning for them, but even if we can't, as members of the Baha'i community, we should still be faithful to Faith.

No, women cannot serve on the Universal House of Justice, and we do not have gay marriages within the Baha'i community, to point out only two major issues that seem to regularly come up.

I've read many articles, and heard many talks, that try and explain these issues, or talk about how something may change in the distant future.  I've seen people try and bend over backwards to justify the laws of the Faith and its position on various topics.  We may theorize all we want, but that is all it is: conjecture.  Does it help anyone else move closer to their Creator?  Does it give us a greater firmness in the Covenant?  Does it, in the end, help establish a new divine civilization that will help bring about the promised "Kingdom of God" on earth?

I think, in the end, the best thing that we can do is be honest and open about the Faith and turn people towards the Writings.   If they ask difficult questions, let them go through Baha'u'llah's Words themselves and find what gems they can.  They will, undoubtedly, discover many things that you and I have missed, and we, in turn, will learn more about the Faith from them.

Saying "I don't know" does not have to close a door on a conversation.  It can lead to many new understandings.

And that, I believe, is how we all learn to grow.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Liberty and Freedom

It is very interesting what we consider to be our highest ideal.  And what we will do to try and preserve that ideal.

I was recently sent a quote by Baha'u'llah and asked how I felt about it.  The quote was, "Liberty must, in the end, lead to sedition, whose flames none can quench... Know ye that the embodiment of liberty and its symbol is the animal. That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker. Liberty causeth man to overstep the bounds of propriety, and to infringe on the dignity of his station. It debaseth him to the level of extreme depravity and wickedness."

The individual, given the rest of his letter, obviously felt that liberty was the highest standard by which we can judge anything, and felt what seemed like offense at this quote.

My first thought upon receiving this was, "Why ask me?"  Fortunately, my second thought was to try and see what I did feel about this quote, and it was this thought that led to some introspection.

How did I feel about this?  Or more precisely, how do I feel about this?

You see, the highest ideal for me is the truth of Baha'u'llah's teachings.  Of course, this was not something that I always had; it grew upon my investigation and testing of His teachings.  When I became a Baha'i, it was with the conscious knowledge that I truly believed Baha'u'llah had a better of vision of the world than I will ever have.  He had proven Himself correct more times than I cared to count.

Now, when I read a quote like this, my first thought is, "What can I learn from it?"  Even if I think I already know something about what is being said, that is still my first thought, as I truly believe that the Writings are an endless ocean, whose depths are beyond my ability to fathom.  No matter what I have understood from any piece of the Writings, I can always get more out of it.

Having grown up in Chicago, liberty was always held as a very high ideal, along with life and the pursuit of happiness.  And whereas liberty still holds a very high place in my heart, my definition of it has changed.

Baha'u'llah says of liberty that it "will, if carried to excess, exercise a pernicious influence upon men", yet He also speaks highly of true liberty, which "consisteth in man's submission unto My commandments".

So here is an interesting difference between a common definition of liberty, which many think of as freedom from restriction or externally imposed rules, and Baha'u'llah's definition of true liberty, which is submission to His commands.

What do I think about that?

I am reminded of driving a car.  Just imagine, if you will, what the world would be like if there were no rules for driving.  People would be driving everywhere, from sidewalks to fields and wherever else they pleased.  There would be no stop lights, no speed limit, no nothing.  Everyone could do as they pleased.

Some might think this would be wonderful, but can you begin to imagine how many people would die every year from conditions such as these?  And not just drivers, but pedestrians, too.

This would be a false liberty.

By having the rules of the road, and adhering to them, we are given the greatest amount of liberty in our driving.  Although we have to pay attention to a few minor rules, we are, in the end, able to do much more than we could without them.

This same principal applies in many other areas, from economics and the rules of investing, to corporate production and the laws regarding pollution.  When there are no safeguards, for that's what the rules generally are, we see problems occur like the recent economic crisis that has hit the planet, or the on-going problems with climate change.

In other words, Baha'u'llah vision has proven correct: That which beseemeth man is submission unto such restraints as will protect him from his own ignorance, and guard him against the harm of the mischief-maker.

But if we place our higher emphasis upon liberty, then we are led into all sorts of errors and confusion.  We often ask for liberty, "and cast away the thing that profiteth" us, injuring ourselves and others at the same time.

So how do I feel about that quote?  I thank God for it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Trust in God

Earlier this week, my stepfather made the conscious decision to go off dialysis and let his body just wind down.  I'm sure it was a very difficult decision, but one that he was ready to make, and we all support him in this.  He will probably end up seeing this article from the next world, and know at that time that it is dedicated to his loving memory.

While talking with some people today, including his daughter, I was reminded of another loved one who passed away: my friend Mary.  Earlier this month we commemorated the fifth anniversary of her passing.

And both of these stories had a common theme.  OK, there are a few common themes, but one of them is not morbid: trust in God.

While starting this article, I was tempted to call it, "In God We Trust", but that just didn't seem right, with its connotation to US currency, and the obvious lack of trust in God there.  No, that's not a political statement, but an obvious fact that their currency surely isn't based on that solid of a foundation, given its recent rollercoaster ride in the international market.

But what is "trust in God"?  We see it so often in the Writings, and we hear about it so much in general religious literature, but can we define it?  Do we know what it is we are talking about?

I know that when I first began thinking about that phrase (lo those many years ago), it would have been best defined for me in the prayer by 'Abdu'l-Baha: I lay all my affairs in Thy hand.

Inevitable aside, number one: I was at a conference (not a youth conference for a change), and someone was reading that prayer.  When they got to that line, they mis-read it as "I lay my hands in all Thine affairs."  The chuckling began about two sentences later.  But, come to think of it, it may not have been an accident...  Never mind.  I won't go there.

Inevitable aside, number two: I love it when I accidentally mis-read a word in the Writings.  The error often leads to much humour, like the time I discovered that "singeth", that other form of the verb "sing", is spelled the same as "singeth", that other form of the verb "singe".  Ahh, the image that came to mind of that poor nightingale.  (If you don't get the reference, it comes from the Tablet of Ahmad: "...the Nightingale of Paradise singeth upon the twigs of the Tree of Eternity...")

Humour successfully dispatched.  And now back to the show.

"I lay all my affairs in Thy hand."

But that doesn't really describe it, does it?  After all, I could lay all my affairs in God's hand, yet be upset about it, or disgruntled.  I think contentment with God's will is an integral part of trust in God.  As you know, Baha'u'llah says, "The source of all good is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment with His holy will and pleasure."  So contentment seems to be a major part of it.

Of course, it's not just contentment that we should strive for, in our trust in God, but "radiant acquiesence".  Shoghi Effendi, in Payam-i-Baha'i, number 33, page 14 (in other words, if you want to look up this one, it's not in Ocean), says, "Patience and fortitude are the attributes of the steadfast friends, radiant submission is the characteristic of those near to God."

In another Tablet, Baha'u'lah writes, "Rest not on your power, your armies, and treasures. Put your whole trust and confidence in God, Who hath created you, and seek ye His help in all your affairs."  So it seems obvious to me that managing our affairs in the best way possible is not something that we can do on our own, and that we should be completely satisfied in allowing God to assist us.

But what does this all mean in our daily life?

Obviously it does not mean to abandon our family and become some sort of a hermit or recluse, as we are told that we should integrate with society and work towards the betterment of civilization.  This is not something we can do alone.

Nor does it mean that we are to completely abandon any personal responsibility in our life.  Our choices are our own, and we are, ultimately, responsible for our actions.

But it can sometimes mean taking a leap and making a drastic change when it seems appropriate.

I recall a time, shortly after I became a Baha'i, when I realized that I was unable to continue working in the job I held.  The moral stance of this company was putting me in a precarious position, given my understanding of the faith.

When this realization became crystal clear, I tendered my resignation, right then.

Of course, being fairly fresh out of university, I had no spare money, and didn't even have my next month's rent ready.  I was placing myself upon a very unsteady limb, and possibly even a foolish one.  But I said that, as a new Baha'i, I wanted to really trust in God, and here was my chance.  I would accept the first job offer given to me, knowing that this was the job I was "supposed" to take.

And besides, I wasn't really afraid of being homeless.  I had been "homeless" while walking around Europe for a while, and at least in Chicago I had family and friends.

Well, it turned out that the first job offer was working in the Baha'i Temple gardens in Wilmette.  Oh, and twenty minutes after that call came in, I was offered another job at a much (and I mean much) higher salary.  (Please don't tell my Mom.  I'm not sure she'd ever forgive me.)  But I accepted that job, and decided that I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time outdoors in the gardens, even though it was far below my salary and educational level, or so I thought.

From there, however, I went to one job after another for the Faith for many years, and life has never been the same since.  In fact, if it weren't for accepting that job, I wouldn't be writing this blog.  I wouldn't be living in Canada.  I would not have married Marielle, and Shoghi would never have been a part of my life.

It was at that moment that my life truly changed.  When I say that the course of my life changed, I don't just mean a slight veering in generally the same direction.  It was thrown off its original course and into an entirely new direction.

Then there was the time that my wife and I were at a ropes course.  On the last day we had to jump off a very high pole and let the ropes carry us to the ground.  Terrifying as it was, there just came a time where we had to let go and trust.  Now admittedly it could be said that we were just trusting in the ropes, but we felt that what we were doing was really trusting in God.

And all this leads me back to Mary and Harold (that's my step-father.  I didn't mention his name earlier.  Sorry.)

While Mary was breathing her last breath, I was holding one of her hands, and Marielle was holding the other.  I spoke of both these experiences, and Marielle told a story of when she was in boot camp (she's a sarge, in case you're wondering).  We spoke at length of how difficult it is to just let go, but how exhilirating it is when you do.

You don't just fall: you fly.

And today, I told Harold's daughter about all this, because she may be able to tell him a bit of it, just in case he needs it.

You see, trusting in God is not just about letting go.  It's letting go with wisdom, knowing that you cannot always make the best decision for yourself.  When I applied for a job that one time, money was the main concern for me.  But I was not given the job with the highest pay (in fact, I don't think the pay could have been lower), but I was given the one that I needed for my own growth (and I always joke that the benefits were awesome).

Trusting in God means that you know you are not always aware of where you need to grow, and what skills you need to develop for the benefit of your own spirit.

Trusting in God means not thinking you are in charge of your own life, but not just letting your life fall to the wind.

It means keeping your eyes open to possiblities, taking paths that you might not normally consider.  It sometimes means making a bargain and keeping it, like when I said that I would take the first job offered, no matter what.

It means living your life fully, even unexpectedly, and accepting what comes your way.  Even if what comes your way may not be what you want.  Especially if what comes your way is not what you want.

Right now, Harold is trusting in God, letting go of the science that has kept him alive for so long, and trusting that something better is waiting.  And you know, I trust in that, too.

Now, final aside for the day:  I was at a conference (ok, this one was a youth conference), and I was talking about trusting in God, and how this is what I do when I give a public talk.  When I'm up there talking, I am usually nervous, with hordes of rabid butterflies doing air-raids in my tummy, but still, I talk.  I may not be able to eat for a few hours before a talk (hey!  Maybe that's why they always schedule me after lunch.  Saves on costs), but still, I do it.  And as I was explaining this, one of the youth said, "Aren't you concerned that you may fall flat on your face?"

"Sure," I replied, "but if I do, at least it's forward movement."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Insha'Allah

One of my favorite phrases is "Insha'Allah".  God willing.

It's very amusing to me when I use that phrase and friends from the middle-east are surprised that I know it.  "How do you know that phrase?"

What?  You have to be fluent in Arabic to know it?  I often want to ask them how they know an English phrase, but that would just seem rude to me.

And really, insha'Allah indicates such a wonderful perspective, that everything is always conditional upon God's pleasure.  We may make our plans, but God's plans always triumph.  Sort of like the old phrase "man proposes, but God disposes".

There is that wonderful story in the history of the Faith where Mulla Husayn was having tea with the Bab during that first fireside, and wanted to excuse himself saying that he told his companions he would be back for evening prayers.  The story in the Dawn-Breakers says, "With extreme courtesy and calm He replied: 'You must surely have made the hour of your return conditional upon the will and pleasure of God. It seems that His will has decreed otherwise. You need have no fear of having broken your pledge.'"

In other words, Mulla Husayn had told his companions he would be back at a certain time, insha'Allah.  God willing.

I use this phrase so often in my daily life now, that I have almost become dependent upon it.

But then there was that one time I was at a youth conference (yes, another one) and said it.  A group of the Persian youth bristled.

"Don't use that phrase," they said.

"Why not?"  I was curious, as I thought it was fairly innocuous.

"Do you know what it means," they asked.

"I think so.  Doesn't it mean God willing?"

"No," one of the more outspoken youth said.  "It means 'no'.  If we ask our parents for a new video game, they say, 'Of course we'll get it for you, insha'Allah.'  That means that there is no way at all that they will even consider getting it for us, and we will only receive it if, by some miracle, God Himself places it upon our doorstep, and even then it will probably get tossed out before we ever see it."

I couldn't help but smile, trying to stifle my laughter, especially as that was all said in a single breath with no spaces between the words.

"So," he continued, "don't use that phrase around us.  I think we all hate it."  The nods were fairly unanimous.

"Well," I said, "I think it's great.  That gives you a wonderful excuse."

Now they were all puzzled.

"Excuse me?  What do you mean?"

"Well, don't you parents ever tell you to be home by a certain time?"

This seemed like a non-sequitor to them, so they agreed merely because they were too confused to do anything else.

"Next time, just tell them that yes, you'll be home by eleven, insha'Allah."

I don't think I've ever seen so many eyes go so wide at the same time in my entire life.

And a few weeks after that I started getting the irate phone calls from the parents.

"But really," I told each and every one of them, "didn't you teach them that phrase?"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Sacred Intention

Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.

Over the past few years, a lot of my time has been spent working with the interfaith movement, trying to help develop closer ties of love and fellowship amongst people of all religions. This project has been of great concern to me, and filled with great rewards. I have learned a tremendous amount and shared much with others.

One particular sharing that I found very rewarding came when a few of us were asked to speak to an audience about a time when we "saw the light of truth" in another faith path. One renowned individual came up to me, in confidence, and said that he didn't know what to say. "I have only seen the light of truth in Jesus." My reply came unbidden from my mouth: "Of course. And when you see the light of Jesus in another path, then you know it is the light of truth."

Since that moment, that thought has bounced around in my brain quite a bit. What did I mean by that? How does that apply to the followers of other faith paths?

For me, it reminded me of a moment when Marielle and I were in a church. This was quite some time ago, at a point in her life when she had not been able to set foot in a church for years without feelings of anger, or perhaps sadness. I am not sure which. We had spoken a lot about the need for interfaith fellowship, and to not judge a Founder of a faith based on the actions of Their followers. We looked in the Baha'i Writings, spoke of our own feelings, our hopes and our desires. In the end, she stepped into that church with me, to attend an interfaith prayer gathering. We went into the main sanctuary, as it was my habit to always say a prayer at the altar before anything else, and she was waiting by the door as I said my prayer. When I was done, I came back to her, and she was staring at the crucifix above the altar with tears streaming from her eyes. "I just realized," she said, "that is Baha'u'llah up there on the cross."

Years later, when I first began tutoring Ruhi Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, many of the participants were not from a Baha'i background. I asked them to make the book their own: if it says "Baha'u'llah says", read it as "Jesus teaches" or "Buddha teaches". If it says "as a Baha'i would you..." read it "as a spiritual human being would you..."

The effect was incredible. Time and again people came away realizing that all the Messengers of God are the same. Although they may differ based on location and time, Their innermost essence, the pith of Their teachings, is identical.

And today, it has come to me to mean that I should hold sacred what you hold to be sacred for the singular reason that it is sacred to you.

I once heard a man speak on interfaith work, and was touched by his actions before he spoke. He approached the microphone, paused, looked puzzled, and then removed his shoes. He said, "When you approach an interfaith dialogue, you are walking on sacred ground."

Just the other day, Marielle and I were invited to represent the Baha'i community at the ordination of the new Archbishop of St Boniface. At the very end, he said, off the cuff, that he welcomed Christians from all paths and was glad they were there for this beautiful celebration. I felt the Jewish representatives near me bristle, and I just smiled. He had obviously not had a lot of experience in interfaith lingo, but his intention was good.

Immediately afterwards, during the recessional, Archbishop Weisgerber of Winnipeg, a man I am proud to call a friend, stopped in the middle of the aisle, which is just not done, and turned to me. He shook my hand, and with a very loving smile said, "We also welcome people of other paths."

He did not need to do that, as he would have known that I would respect and understand his colleague's intention, but he was concerned enough about the hearts of all who were near. This simple action touched me more than I can express.

And this is the thought I want to leave you with: try to regard as sacred that which someone else holds sacred, for the simple reason that it is sacred to them.

Taking Time

I have what might be called a "messed up"sense of time.  When I use a phrase such as "just a few days ago" or "recently", it often means "10 years ago, give or take a decade".  For those of you who are trying to reconstruct some sort of biographical information out of my timeline as written here, don't bother.

First, it won't work.  Second, spend your time on a more worthy project, such as writing a biography of Fujita.  Hey, now there is an interesting life.  Who else was sent on a mission by 'Abdu'l-Baha just so he could have the opportunity to wear a tuxedo?  I'd love to read more about him and his dedicated services.

But again, let's face it, the chronology of stories I present here just doesn't work.  Why?  Because I'm not concerned about it.  To me, it doesn't matter if the episode I relate occurred yesterday or in the mid-80s.  It's the spiritual lesson that is important.

OK, sorry about all that.  It was just a reaction to some comments in a few e-mails.  I'm done for now.

Well, just the other day, sometime in the last decade or two, I was at a youth conference.  No, not the one with the rug, some other one.  And not the one in Vancouver (it was before that) or the one in Indiana (after that), some other one.

There I was at the youth conference, over lunch, just after someone spoke about the importance of obligatory prayer and saying your 95 "Allah'u'Abha"s.  I was walking past the bathroom, when I suddenly heard an odd sound coming from within.  Not normally one to check out odd sounds coming from a room like that, I did, however, pause in my tracks.  It sounded for all the world like someone saying "blah blah blah" over and over again, really quickly.

Now it is time for a truly amazing feat: two asides at once.  The first on privacy during prayer, and the other on the importance of laughter.

When I've told this story in the past many people have been aghast at the thought of saying prayers in a bathroom.  Why?  For many, it is the only private place they may have during the day.  But, too often have I seen someone condemn someone else for praying in the privacy of, uhm, the chamber.  While it may not be ideal, can we not respect the intention on the part of the person praying?  Are we not told that "blessed is the spot... where mention of God hath been made"?  Are bathrooms the sole exception to this?  Once again, I find it sad when we impose our own standard upon someone else.

This second aside has to do with laughter.  There are so many instances of laughter within the Faith, even though we often only hear about the sadness or the trials and tribulations.  When we are recounting the sufferings of the Holy Family when they were imprisoned in Akka, how often do we speak of 'Abdul-Baha's memory of humour?

Howard Colby Ives recalls Him speaking about laughter in his book, Portals to Freedom:
It is good to laugh. Laughter is a spiritual relaxation. When they were in prison, He said, and under the utmost deprivation and difficulties, each of them at the close of the day would relate the most ludicrous event which had happened. Sometimes it was a little difficult to find one but always they would laugh until the tears would roll down their cheeks. Happiness, He said, is never dependent upon material surroundings, otherwise how sad those years would have been. As it was they were always in the utmost state of joy and happiness.
This is so important to me, as a Baha'i, for it is part of the reason I declared in the first place (more on that elsewhere).  You see, I've always figured that if a religion teaches you to not laugh, then I really don't want to be part of it.  But in the Baha'i Faith, we are told how important laughter and joy are.  And we should relish them, treasuring each and every giggle.  Of course, we should take our work for the Faith seriously, but never ourselves.  Hmm.  Maybe that's why I write this.

Anyways, there I was at this youth conference, speaking, once again, just after lunch.  Why is it that they always schedule me just after lunch?  I don't know.

But there I was, and, as usual, decided to follow up on something from earlier in the day.  I spoke of the wonderful talk we had heard that morning about the importance of prayers, and the recitation of our mantra, for isn't that what the 95 Allah'u'Abhas are?

Then I spoke a bit about how important it is that we are conscious of what we are saying when we are praying.  I spoke of a few religious ceremonies I had attended in which the prayers were said so quickly that you couldn't understand a single word that was uttered, and how I felt robbed of the opportunity to learn and grow.

I talked of the Kitab-i-Iqan, in which Baha'u'llah talks about those religious rituals that have "ceased to exert their influence", and connected the two together.  After all, if you are not aware of the words you are saying when praying, and not thinking about what the words mean, how can they have their full influence over your spirit?

Then I talked about the recitation of the 95 Allah'u'Abhas.

Upon being asked, they were all aware of the need to wash your hands and face before beginning.  They all knew the wisdom of taking a moment to quiet your mind, to still that endless chatter that runs through your consciousness day in and day out.  They all agreed that finding a quiet place to sit would be ideal.  And then I asked them how long it would take to recite the phrase, "Allah'u'Abha" (God is most glorious), 95 times.

Most agreed that it could be done in 3 minutes.

It was then that I told the story of walking past the bathroom and hearing someone saying "blah blah blah" as fast as they could.

You see, it had taken me a few minutes of reflection to realize that what they were really doing was trying to do their 95 Allah'u'Abhas.

"Allah'u'Abha, Allah'u'Abha, allabha, allabha, alabha, alabha, labha, labha, la, bhala, blah, blah, blah, blah".

When you say that phrase as fast as you can, it really does sound like "blah blah blah".  And when you race through your prayers as fast as possible, just trying to hurry and get them done as quick as you can in order to get on with your day, aren't you really just saying "blah blah blah"?  What's the difference?

Fortunately, I had no idea who was in the bathroom, and was able to reassure everyone that they did not need to feel embarrassed, as I had done exactly the same thing for years.

Give or take a decade.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Thought of the Next World

It is through our explanations to children that we really begin to understand things ourselves.

The other day Shoghi, my 4 year-old son, asked me about death. You see, we've recently been reading a lot of books that have people dying in them.  And then we just learned that my step-father will be going off life-support very soon.  The subject of death sure seems to be coming up a lot lately.

In one story, we read about 'Abdu'l-Baha and a woman named Na'um. She was very old and extremely poor. She would come see 'Abdu'l-Baha most every day, and He would give her a bit of money, even though He did not have a lot of money Himself. One day she didn't show up, and someone came running to Him and said, "Master, Master, Na'um is sick. She has the measles and nobody will go near her." 'Abdu'l-Baha hired someone to watch over her. He rented a room for her, paid for her medicine and even sent her His own bedding. When she passed away, He paid for her funeral.

When Shoghi asked me about this, I explained the following without even realizing what I was saying, or where I was going with it:

When a friend is getting ready to move, we can help them in many ways. We can help them sort through their belongings and throw away what is not necesary. Then we can help them pack up what they want in boxes. We could help them load the truck, or even drive the truck to their new home for them. At their new home, we can help unload, or even unpack, the boxes.

This is what 'Abdu'l-Baha was doing for her. She was getting ready to move to heaven and He was helping her sort through her stuff.  He was assisting her in her move. He was helping her recognize the virtues that were truly important in life, and pack them away in her heart for the next world.

He did this by showing so much love and compassion to her that she learned from His example. He made sure that she was comfortable and happy. He did all that he could for her, so that her last days would be good.

And this is how we must be. We must help others, and make sure that they comfortable and happy, ready to move on to the next world.

It was through this story, and talking about it with Marielle, that we have come to realize that the accumulation of virtues, as good and wonderful as they are, is not all. They are given to us to develop so that we can better know our Creator.  The best way to do this is to help serve others and aid them in developing their virtues and spiritual qualities.

And what are these virtues?  These spiritual qualities?  They are the attributes of God, such as generosity, knowledge, compassion and joy.   By developing them within ourselves, by recognizing them in others and helping them develop them within themselves, we are, truly, getting closer to our Creator.

And isn't this our purpose in life?  Isn't this our goal?

Then, when we move to the next world, our aim is the same: to know and worship God.

These virtues and qualities help us do this.

They also aid us in recognizing the deep truth of that wonderful phrase:

I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendor. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?

Make Thy Beauty to be My Food...

Make Thy beauty to be my food...

Last night, before going to sleep, my wife and I were talking about this line from the Writings and ended up not getting to sleep for many hours.  The Writings can be like that.

Why were talking about that line, in particular?  Well, my wife has been studying the prayer that begins with that line, and she has had some wonderful insights into it, but I'll let her write her own blog.

For myself, I'm going to tell you a story.

When I was younger, and I'm talking my young teenage years, I used to play a game with myself while I was walking down the street.  I would think of two words and try to connect them with other words that just made sense.  For example, I could choose wheat and boat, and maybe connect them by wheat-grain-seeds-oil-tanker-boat.  Sometimes I would try and connect them with a particular number of words, or words that had a certain letter.  But as time went on, it all became too easy a puzzle.

Then I ran across the concept, in my studies of different religions, that everything in existence can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth.  I've already written about this a few times, but here is another take on it.

I would pick something fairly random and then try and see if I could uncover a spiritual truth latent within it.  A teapcup, as I mentioned previously, is too easy.  There is the old Zen story of the Master overfilling the students cup and saying, "Until you empty your cup of yourself, I cannot teach you anything new."

Another time I picked a comet, as shown in another article.

One of my favorites, which I haven't shared here yet was, again, a teacup.  You see, when my father was in hospital, shortly before his passing, he asked me some questions about life and death, and the nature of the soul.  Ths was quite remarkable to me, as he was an avowed atheist.  But I remembered that he always encouraged me to study Sacred Texts.  He said that it was very important to him to study all the various religions to best decide what you believed.  He read as many Sacred Books as he could before he finally decided that he did not believe in any of them.  He also encouraged me in my own studies, for which I am very grateful.

But there he was, in hospital, asking me about the nature of the soul and heaven and hell.  He explained how the concept of eternal hell made no sense to him, and therefore the whole argument of the soul and heaven and hell fell apart.  He just couldn't accept it, and wondered why I had such a strong faith.

As I began to respond, the doctors came in and started doing some fairly uncomfortable procedures, and I realized that this was probably not the best time to talk with him.  And so I didn't.

It wasn't until a few months later that I was able to write a response to him from my home in another country, attempting to answer his questions.  My step-mother read the letter to him, and phoned to tell me that it was a great comfort to him.  After he passed away, she still kept the letter close, which I only learned upon her passing.  Today, I keep the letter on my desk, reminding me of the few precious moments we have in our life, and the need to treasure our time with loved ones.

OK, that was an unintentional aside, but worth it, to me.  I always love those moments when I am reminded of my parents, and the love they gave me.  (Thanks Mom, who is still very much alive.)

So, where was I?  Oh yes, the teacup again.

I wrote to my Dad and talked about how clay is basically made up of two materials.  Now this is not exactly scientifically accurate, I know, but it works for all intents and purposes.  We can say that clay is made up of the part that becomes the ceramic, and another part that burns away in the kiln.  I call that other part "the organic binders", which is fairly close.  It also has water, but we can treat that as one of the organic binders.

Anyways, I talked about how we take a piece of clay and form it into a teacup.  Then we take this cup and place it in the kiln, for if we don't, it is not useful.  It will melt away when we try to drink from it.  Only by putting it in the fire, burning away the impurities, and allowing the ceramic to fuse into a glass-like material, will the teacup become useful to us.

Of course, as any potter knows, when you put an unfired piece of clay in the kiln, it shrinks.  The amount of shrinkage is dependent upon the amount of impurities, or organic binders, in the clay.

I said that this is like the soul.

As we are living our life, we are building the cup of our soul with the clay of our deeds.  Our good deeds are like the pure ceramic, while our not-so-good deeds are like the organic binders (a term all too appropriate).

Then I took a tangent (see, I don't just do that here) and spoke of 'Abdu'l-Baha's metaphor of how death is like birth.  When we are in the womb, we are building our body.  Although we have no need for our eyes or hands when we are in the womb, they are necessary for this world.  We can live and survive without them here, but it is just more difficult.

As you know, when we are born into this world, from the world of the womb, many things change.  We go from being a water-breather to an air-breather.  Those sounds that were muffled and distant within the womb now transform and become beautiful birds chirping or melodic symphonies.  That reddish haze we may have once saw through the skin of our mother now transforms into a spectacular sunrise.  And yet, we are just a new-born baby.  Now we must grow and develop to maturity.

Similarly, our soul, when we go through the trauma of death, transforms.  Those emotions we felt like love and joy are now so much more enhanced that we will barely recognize them.  Our sense of love now is like the muffled sounds in the womb: it pales in comparison to the reality.  All of those virtues that we didn't really need in this world (let's face it, you can get by quite well without being kind or courteous) are now suddenly necessary in the next world.

But when we go through that trauma, all of our impurities are burned away, and we shrink, so to speak.  If we were used to having a liter-sized cup, but we were very rotten, then we may shrink to a thimble-sized cup.  And really, wouldn't that be its own sort of hell?  Knowing you need to go through all that growth again?

And speaking of hell, has anyone else noticed that the texts speak of the eternally burning fires of hell, not burning eternally in hell?  A slight difference, I'm sure, but significant to me.

Well, that's what I spoke of to Dad.

Oh, and I mentioned how when we get to the next world we are, once again, like an infant, needing to grow and develop to maturity.  But the bounty is that there is no time in the next world, and so we have all eternity to do it.

So what does this have to do with the opening quote?  "Make Thy beauty to be my food"?

I believe that seeing the divine metaphors in everything is one way to experience God's beauty, and that doing this feeds and nurtures the soul.  When we see the beauty of creation in every single object, how much richer is creation in our sight?

If this article was more rambling than usual, I apologize.  It's what I get for trying to write before breakfast.  Let thy cheese sandwich be my food, for now.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Creation

Just the other day, a friend and I were looking at the Book of Genesis, and we noticed something we had never noticed before.  In fact, we noticed a few new things and thought that was kind of cool.

Now, when we began looking over this Text, we recalled the caution "that many passages in Sacred Scriptures are intended to be taken metaphorically, not literally".  We also remembered that our study of the Bible, or any sacred Texts, brought 'Abdu'l-Baha "great happiness".  He goes on, in the same text, to say:
It is my hope... that you may investigate and study the Holy Scriptures word by word so that you may attain knowledge of the mysteries hidden therein. Be not satisfied with words, but seek to understand the spiritual meanings hidden in the heart of the words.
So, with this wisdom in mind, we set off to look at the very beginning, Genesis 1:1, and to do so, we used the Stone translation of the Tanakh, as this has been very highly regarded for its accuracy, according to many Jewish scholars.

Disclaimer time:  Once again, I must caution you, dear Reader, that this is only my own perspective and not an official representation of Baha'i thought.  I may be way off base, or there may be a grain of wisdom in what I offer.  It is for you to decide.  These are just my own thoughts, and you can take them or leave them as you please.  Of course, comments and insights are always welcome.  And now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

As we all know, Genesis begins with creation.  But in the original Hebrew, from what I can tell, the verb for "create" is in the present tense, not the past tense.  In the Stone translation, it reads, "In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth..."  This seems to imply that creation is an on-going act, not something that occurred in the distant past.

For me, in the context of my life as a Baha'i, this implies that my work, the purpose of my creation being to "carry forward an ever-advancing civilization", is to help in the work of Creation (note the clever use of a capital letter).  I should see my work and my life, and the work and life of all of us, as a sacred act.  This brings an entirely new dimension to the line from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, "We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God."  Why is work so exalted?  Because it is aiding in the very creation, or creating, of the universe itself.

From here, we noticed something quite interesting.  We both knew the order of creation, and how some say it differed from Genesis 2, but we had never really looked at the order itself.  Nor had we ever really looked for "spiritual meanings hidden in the heart of the words."

We decided to read this chapter as if it were speaking about the creation of spiritual truth, instead of just physical creation.  This is not to say that it isn't speaking of a physical creation, just that we chose to read it in this other manner.  The wonderful thing about Sacred Texts is that they can be read on so many levels without denying any other levels.

All that being said, here is our simple understanding of Genesis 1.  If you want to follow along on-line, you can click here for the King James version.  The Stone translation is, unfortunately, not available on-line.

On Day 1, when the earth of men's hearts was astonishingly empty, and the darkness of ignorance was everywhere, God said "Let there be light", and the light of truth shone.  He saw that it was good, and His job, at that time, was to divide the light of truth from the darkness of error.

It is worth noting that He does not "create" darkness, but only light.  This makes sense when we realize that darkness is merely the absence of light, just as ignorance is the absence of knowledge. And so we decided to see this opening verse as a "creation" (or "creating") of the spiritual truths that abound.

It is also worth noting that the Jewish calendar, like the Baha'i calendar, begins at sunset.  So this verse ends with a mention of evening, followed by morning, constituting a day.  This becomes more important as we move to Day 4, but we are not there yet, so be patient.

On Day 2, He made a firmament seperating the waters above from the waters below. The firmament, as you know, is that over-arching vault of the sky.  This we see as the seperating of those spiritual truths from the physical truths, which could, in a sense, be seen as the seperation of religion and science.  But, as 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "Religion and Science are inter-twined with each other and cannot be separated. These are the two wings with which humanity must fly.  One wing is not enough."  They are, of course, in harmony with each other, but still can be seen as each in their own realm, just as two wings can be seen as seperate.

On Day 3, now that we have the light of truth shining, and are aware of the difference between those spirtual truths and those truths of the physical world (like chemistry and physics), He creates the earth of men's hearts and the ocean of wisdom.  And within the earth of men's hearts, He plants the tree of faith.

Now comes Day 4, that pivotal day, central to the 7 days of Creation (3 before and 3 after make up 7, get it?).

On this Day, He creates the "lumninaries in the firmament of heaven to seperate between the day and the night; and they shall serve as signs, and for festivals, and for days and years."  Then, to top it all off, He creates "two great luminaries, the greater luminary to dominate the day and the lesser luminary to dominate the night", and it is now their job to seperate between the light and the darkness.  Remember, this was previously God's job, on Day 1, but it is now being delegated to these two luminaries.

It is also interesting to note that on all the previous Days, He names His creation.  On Day 1, He called the light "day" and the darkness "night".  On Day 2, He called the firmament "heaven".  Day 3, He called the dry land "earth" and the waters "seas".  But here, on Day 4, He does not name them.  We only presume that they are the Sun and the Moon.

But to my friend and I, those descriptions sounded like the Manifestations of God, and in particular, the Bab and Baha'u'llah.

After all, how have we traditionally had festivals, except through our understanding of the lives of the Holy Ones?  Christmas and Easter are only two simple examples.  Our calendars are based upon the lives of the Messengers of God (Anno Domini?  Year of our Lord?), and so are the holy days, or holidays.

But here, there are two special luminaries, the Greater Luminary and the Lesser Luminary.  The Lesser One rules over the night, just as the Bab is said to "rule" over all the previous Messengers, and the Greater One rules over the day, just as Baha'u'llah is said to cast His shadow over all subsequent Messengers for the next five hundred thousand years.  This is the day that shall not be followed by night, for, remember, the night comes before the day in this calendar system.

And Their job, as stated so beautifully in this verse from Genesis, is to seperate the light from the darkness, or truth from error.  In this Day, They are the Ones that take over that most important job from God, and They are the source of guidance for all of us.

From here, it seems that we are at Days 5 and 6, in which God has created the "living creatures" in the water, the "fowl that fly", and so on and so forth, creating all living animals.  And isn't that where we are today?  Aren't we, as humanity in general, acting in the manner of animals, each showing some virtues, but not yet all?

Only at the very end of Day 6 is Man created.  Of course, by Man is meant humanity. 

And perhaps after we learn what it means to be true spiritual human beings, then maybe God can rest for a Day.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Prayer and Meditation

I saw a sign this afternoon for a meditation workshop.  It looked interesting, and reminded me of all the time I spent meditating back when I was a seeker.

There were so many various techniques for meditation; almost as many as there are for prayer.  And just like with prayer, there are many people who say that the way they do it is the only way.

Of course, there is no "way" to pray, just as there is no "way" to meditate.  It is sort of like the first line in the Tao Te Ching: "The Way that can be spoken is not the constant Way".  Even Jesus, in Matthew 6:9, tells us to "pray like this", or pray in this manner, as opposed to saying that it is the only way to pray.

You see, it has recently occurred to me that we spend a lot of time talking about prayer, but we forget to talk about meditation.  I wonder why that is.

In a famous Pilgrim's Note, meaning that it is not part of official Baha'i doctrine but still good advice, Shoghi Effendi spoke of the five steps of prayer.  Rather than making you hunt for it, here are the steps that he outlined, according to Ruth Moffet:

First Step. - Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

Second Step. - Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

Third Step. - Have determination to carry the decision through.  Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

Fourth Step. - Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle or the right book will be given you. Have confidence, and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the
fifth step.

Fifth Step. - Then, he said, lastly, ACT; Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it.  Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need. But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are those words - "Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered" and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.
I find it fascinating that prayer and meditation together constitute the first step, and even in that last paragraph he mentions that many do not remain for the meditation part of it.  It underscores the importance of meditation to me.

If that wasn't enough, how often are prayer and meditation closely linked in the Writings?  Hey, even a volume of Baha'u'llah's Writings is called "Prayers and Meditations".
 
But what is meditation?
 
There is ample information about prayer, especially in Ruhi Book 1, Unit 2.  They use 'Abdu'l-Baha's definition of "conversation with God".  But how would we define meditation, or describe it to someone?  For me, I think it is that time during the conversation with God when we listen for a response.  After all, a conversation must be two ways, or is it really a conversation?
 
So how do we listen to God?
 
As usual, I can't really answer for anyone else, but can only offer my own thoughts and talk about how I do it.

There are times when I will focus on my own body, trying to calm down various parts, usually beginning with the feet and working my way up.  Other times I will work on stilling my thoughts, quieting the persistent inner voice.  Some other times it helps me to focus on a single thing, like a candle flame or the tone of a bell.

You see, it all depends upon my needs at the moment.

When I am praying, I am usually doing one a couple different things: I am praising God for the wonder of His creation, or I am asking God for some bounty or favour or guidance.

In the first case, during my meditations there is usually some insight given that allows me greater wonder at creation, and this makes my life so much richer.

In the second, I am looking for something specific, and the meditation usually provides some answer, although it is usually cryptic and needs time to be understood.

In both of these instances, contemplation is needed in order to better understand the world around me.

But what really motivates me to delve deeper into this issue is that quote from Baha'u'llah, in which He says, "the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time --he cannot both speak and meditate."  And those various techniques that I learned outside the Faith have helped me to learn to be silent.  There are very few groups who are better versed in the art of meditation than the Buddhists, and when you study their techniques in light of Baha'u'llah's teachings, well, it's just light upon light.
Of course, no one explains meditation better than 'Abdu'l-Baha, in Paris Talks, pages 174 - 176.

Among the many gems in that talk are the following:

Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries...This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God.
And it is for these reasons, among many others, that I take the time to meditate.

Perhaps I should go to that workshop and see what else I can learn.  Of course, if I do, I'll be silent and just contemplate what they say.

Hmm.  That reminds me of Mark Twain: It is better to remain silent and let people think you a fool than to speak and prove them right.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spreading the Seeds

Whenever I am asked what books to give a new believer, I always suggest the Tablets of the Divine Plan.  Of course, this was written for the Baha'is in North America, but I believe it is great for anyone, no matter where they live.

I was reading this book the other day and noticed something interesting in the first 8 Tablets that I had not noticed before.  Of course, I get this feeling every time I read the Writings.

In fact, that reminds me of a story (isn't that unusual).  A friend and I were driving from Chicago to the southwestern US, and we were visiting many Baha'is along the route.  In addition to our luggage, we had a box of books in the trunk, and we were liberally distributing them as we saw fit.  One afternoon we had tea with this lovely old lady (oops, I mean elder) on a Reservation.  She was a delight to be with.  (If nothing else, I will always be grateful to the Faith for all the wonderful people I have had the joy of meeting in my life.)  We talked with her for many hours, drinking deep of her radiance and wisdom, when we both noticed that she only seemed to have two Baha'i books: Gleanings and a Prayer Book.  We asked her if she wanted any other Texts, and she looked aghast.  "Oh no," she said, "I haven't finished this one yet."  She was referring to Gleanings, which was very well worn, and we understood that she meant she was still learning new things every day from it.  I am humbled by that.

So there I was, reading Tablets of the Divine Plan the other day, when something new leapt out at me.

In the first Tablet, out of 14 total, 'Abdu'l-Baha makes mention of a few states in the northeastern US.  He then says, "in some of these states believers are found, but in some of the cities of these states up to this date people are not yet illumined."

In the second Tablet, He mentions some of the southern states, and points out that, "the friends are few".  He says that "you must either go yourselves or send a number of blessed souls to those states."

In the third Tablet, He says, that in some states "believers are found who are associating with each other" and yet in some other states "few of the believers exist...  Send to those parts teachers."

By the time we get to the fourth Tablet, He says that in a few of the western states "the fragrances of holiness are diffused" but in some others "the lamp of the love of God is not ignited in a befitting and behooving manner... Either travel yourselves, personally, throughout those states or choose others and send them..."

In the fifth Tablet, He tells us to go to Canada and Greenland.

In the sixth, He says that we should go to all of the Americas.

In the seventh, He tells us to disperse throughout the entire world.

Finally, in the eighth Tablet, He describes for us how to be an Apostle of Baha'u'llah.

But let's look at the first seven for now, and get to that eighth one in a moment.

Even though I have read these Tablets many times, I had never noticed that there is a progression in how He inspires us to move.  He begins so simply by showing us the condition of the states in which we live (or at least where the recipients of the original Tablets lived), and points out that there are some cities very close by that do not have Baha'is living there.   By merely moving a few miles over, we may be able to open up an entire community to the Faith.  Surely this is do-able for any of us, if we only consider where the needs are.  And here, He has shown us a simple method of determining, for ourselves, the needs of the Faith.

From there, in the second Tablet, He shows us how this need for pioneers is also in the South.  He points out that there are few Baha'is in the states named.  Would it be too much to ask for a few stalwart souls to move there?  Of course not.  But if we are not able to fulfill that need, He gives us the out by saying that we can "send a number of blessed souls".  Of course, here I note the use of plurality and recognize the reminder that we work better in groups.

But then in the third Tablet, He selects some other distant states in the Central US and shows us how to prioritize.  He takes a group of states and splits them into two groups: those that have Baha'is and those that don't.  We should send teachers to the ones that don't.

In the fourth Tablet, He does the same thing again, shows us how to prioritize, but then tells us to go ourselves, or, at the very least, choose others and send them.

And as long as we are sending teachers out, we might as well send them a bit further, up to Canada or Greenland, as suggested in the fifth Tablet.  Come to think of it, in Tablet number six, we might as well go throughout all of the Americas.  And while we are at it, in the seventh Tablet, we may as well just go all over the entire planet.

Now, in the eighth Tablet, He gives us the 3 criteria for being an Apostle of Baha'u'llah: firmness in the Covenant of God, fellowship and love amongst the believers, and continually travelling to all parts, in the manner of 'Abdu'l-Baha, to teach.  Note that this third criterion is fully described in the above seven Tablets, with ample description of how to be effective in where we select our arena of service.

And this gets us to today.

Let's face it, we have settled in all the areas named in these Tablets.  That was one of the goals of the Ten Year World Crusade, 50 years ago.  That was why the Knights of Baha'u'llah were so named.

So how does this apply to us today?

As usual, I really don't know, but I can make a guess that works for me.

I think that we have successfully dispersed all over the planet in a successful attempt to spread the seeds of the Faith.  Now we need to learn how to be more effective in growing those seeds.

In fact, it is just like growing seeds.

There are some basic rules: you need sunlight, healthy soil and water.  You have to plant the seeds, apply fertilizer and remove the weeds.  This is true whether you are growing a single plant in your garden, or thousands of plants as part of a large farm.  But the techniques you use will differ depending on your conditions.  You might use a small hoe or shovel to weed a small garden in your back yard, and a watering can to water your plants, but if you tried that on a thousand acre farm, most of the plants would die before you got to them.

When I became a Baha'i, it was enough that a few people talked with me and shared the basics of the Faith over a period of a few years.  But now, with thousands entering the Faith at once, we need to use the systematic method of the Ruhi curriculum to seve the needs of so many in an efficient manner.

This method of prioritizing, shown to us by 'Abdu'l-Baha in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, now needs to be implemented in the growth of the Faith, instead of just in its dispersion.  By concentrating our efforts where there is growth, we can better learn about how to grow in other places.  The method of moving to a new country now also applies to opening up a neighbourhood in an advanced cluster.

And all of this from just a single theme in that book.  Perhaps I'll read it again tomorrow and discover something entirely different.

A Methodology to My Madness

Some of you, dear Readers, have commented that I do not go very deep into the analysis of any single prayer, and you know what?  That's true.

You see, from what I can tell there are many ways to study the Writings and each of them have their advantages.  Some people like to look at them word by word, others paragraph by paragraph.  Sometimes you can pick a single word in a work, like "heart" in the Hidden Words, and see the path that is traced throughout.  Other times you can pick a single theme within the Writings and delve deeply into it, such as peace or unity or even agriculture.  There are many other methods of studying, but no matter which way you choose, they all give rich rewards and wonderful insights.

But in general, when studying various prayers with people, I have noticed that few of us ever look at the internal continuity within a single prayer.  We tend to look at themes without actually seeing why the prayer is constructed the way it is.  That's just my own observation.

A second reason that I don't go into too much depth here is that the medium in which I am writing, a blog, is quite limited in its word count.  Oh, the blog will take more words (as many as I care to type), but the average reader (not that I think of you as average, dear Reader) will only read up to 1500 words per article.  It is sort of like writing for a newspaper, in that I have to be careful of length.

Another point that has been raised a few times is in relation to the idea that I use of macro / micro, or "as above, so below".  I will often comment that if it works on the big scale, it works on the small scale.  A few of you have said that the faith is more than just two-tiered.  In other words, yes, if it works on one level, it works on many levels, and that there are more than just the two levels I state.  Of course.  I completely agree with you.  But in the interest of simplicity and word space, I just refer to the two levels and leave the rest up to you.  You do, after all, have to earn your keep.

A single quote will also work on many different levels, in the same sense as fractals.  Look at the simple analysis I did of the Tablet of Ahmad, in which it is shown that the overall structure of the Tablet is the same as the overall structure of the first paragraph.  The more you look at a single detail within a piece of the Writings, the more you get out of the entire piece.

The simplest way of seeing this is found in the famous quote used in both Ruhi Books 1 and 4:  A dewdrop out of this ocean would, if shed upon all that are in the heavens and on the earth, suffice to enrich them with the bounty of God

Even a single drop is enough to transform the entire planet, how much more the entire body of Writings.

Now I am sure that you are already aware of all of this, and do not need any convincing, but for the sake of argument, and the need to write something today, let me show a singular example using the first line from the prayer we looked at just the other day:  Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose.

Where shall I begin?  There are so many options.

I can begin with the first word, "unite", which is verb form of the word "unity".  Unity, as many have pointed out, is the foundation stone of the entire Baha'i Faith.  If you could sum up all of Jesus' teachings in a single word, it would be "love".  If you had to sum up all of Baha'u'llah's teachings in a single word, that word would undoubtedly be "unity".

Many of us have read that wonderful little volume, written so early in Baha'u'llah's ministry, called "The Seven Valleys", but have we noticed that valley number 4, the central valley in the whole work, is Unity?  It is so important that nearly one-third of the Text is contained in that single valley.

About the importance of this concept, unity, Baha'u'llah writes the following:  So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.


He also adds, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established."

The unity of which He speaks, which implies a diversity for otherwise it would merely be uniformity, is the foundation of justice, world peace, true security, well-being and so on and so forth.  And here, in this simple prayer, he begins with it.

Now let us note that it is a particular type of unity of which He speaks here.  He asks that God unite our hearts.  He doesn't specify our minds, or our governments, or any other aspect of our lives, but rather our hearts.
Why?  What is it about the heart that is so important?

We can make a note here about how many aspects of the Writings begin with the heart.  The first Hidden Word tells us to "possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart".  The Kitab-i-Iqan, that book of "unsurpassed pre-eminence amongst the Writings of the Author of the Baha'i Revelation" also begins by telling us to sanctify our hearts. The heart, we are told, is "the throne, in which the Revelation of God the All-Merciful is centered" and "reserved for Himself".  He says, "Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent."

'Abdu'l-Baha likens the heart to a mirror, and tells us to cleanse it so that the light of God may reflect within it.  This further emphasizes the fact that "minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me", as Baha'u'llah says.  This precious organ reflects the light of our Creator, but does not contain it, much like the mirror that can reflect the full radiance of the sun, but doesn't contain the sun itself.

Another very interesting aspect of the heart is alluded to in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, in which Baha'u'llah describes His receipt of God's revelation: in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain.

I have often pondered this description, trying to make some sense of it in light of the many stories of Baha'u'llah admitting His station as a Manifestation of God to others before He received His revelation.  Many people recognized Him as the One promised by the Bab long before His imprisonment in the Black Pit, in which He received His reveleation.

How can that be?

It seems to me that He knew of His station, as He Himself attests, before He received His revelation, and that here, He is describing this knowledge as moving from His head down to His heart.  It flowed from His head down to his breast.


Why do I mention all this?  Because it seems to me that we often make a false dichotomy between the head and the heart, when what we are supposed to do is unify them and draw on the strengths of each.

Many of us are already united in our heads, or in our ideas, but not in our hearts.  In fact, Baha'u'llah even tells us that, "No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united."


So in the first half of this first sentence, Baha'u'llah is bringing together two very important aspects of the Faith: unity and the heart.

And then, in the second half of this sentence, draws this unity up to our head: "reveal to them Thy great purpose".
But this already comes up to more than 700 words in just beginning to describe the first part of that first sentence.  And all I've done is merely scratch the surface.

Now imagine if I tried to do an in-depth study of the entire prayer.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unite the Hearts

O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord.

We all know this prayer.  We've all said it many times, and probably heard it many more.  It is beautiful, easy to memorize, and, dare I say it, accessible to all.

Some of the prayers, in my own opinion, are a bit tough to relate to, but not this one.  I've said it at many prayer gatherings, firesides, study circles, interfaith gatherings; I've even had the bounty of being able to recite it in a Catholic Cathderal during one of their services.

I've studied it on my own, with my wife, with some friends, with seekers, and even with priests, rabbis, ministers and nuns.

It is, as I said, beautiful.  And it is short, so it doesn't intimidate many people.  It is also in a language style that is open  for people of all faiths.

But what is it about this particular prayer that makes it so powerful?  There are, after all, many other short prayers, and many other beautiful ones (I mean, really, aren't they all beautiful?), and many others that speak of universal themes.  So why has this one attracted so many?

Perhaps because of its particular message.

This is another one of those pieces of the Writings, one of those pearls from the Ocean of His Revelation, that I just love to trot out and study with any who come my way.  I never tire of it.

The first thing I've noticed in these studies is the repetition of the invocation of God.  "O my God!  O my God!"  Why that phrase?  Why twice?  Why ask me?  Oh wait, you didn't.  Sorry.

I don't profess to have an answer, but I can always make a guess.  Hopefully it will be an educated one.

In Arabic and Persian, one of which I believe is the original language of this prayer, you can't underline a word or phrase to stress it.  Underlining is like adding an accent mark, from what I understand, and completely changes the the letters and the words altogether.  (And, let's face it, "O my sofa, o my sofa" just doesn't sound as good)

And in Arabic and Persian (I really wish I knew what language this prayer was written in so I wouldn't have to write both all the time), you can't italicize a phrase to make it stand out.  The whole language is written in what looks like italics.  It's all beautiful calligraphy, and indistinguishable from italics.

So, how do you stress a point in those languages?  Repetition.  And saying it twice.  Or more.

Interesting aside number one: Try looking through the Writings and note where there is repetition.  It occurs in some very fascinating places. One example is when 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "Beware! Beware! Lest thou offend any heart."  It is so important to not offend any heart, even your own (it doesn't, after all, say "any other heart"), that He tells us to "beware" twice.  Another place is in the Kitab-i-'Ahd, Baha'u'llah's Book of the Covenant.  In paragraph 9 He tells us five times to turn, after His passing, to 'Abdu'l-Baha.  FIVE times.  That is how important His Covenant is.  I won't even go into the numero-linguistic significances of nine and five.

OK.  Back to the study.

Whenever I see a reference to God, I always make the leap to read a reference to mankind.  As you know, I believe that if God is referred to as the All-Bountiful, and we are created in His image, then it seems to me that we can show some bounty.  If He is seen as All-Wise, then we can show some wisdom.  I believe that whenever Baha'u'llah references an attribute of God in His Writings, He is alluding to that attribute within us, and calling us to use it and develop it.

So why does this prayer begin as it does?  I think of it as a call to recognize the oneness of humanity, and to acknowledge the divine essence within yourself and within others.  This is not to be confused with the notion that we are, in some way, God, but rather to say that if God is the Essence of Essences, then we have a piece of that within us.  We have some essence within us.  His light, after all, shines in our heart.

Speaking of which, once that acknowledgement is made, He then begins with the heart: "Unite the hearts of Thy servants..."

As we are all learning around the globe, when we come together in unity, turn towards our common Creator, and strive in His Name, then we are able to do far more than we ever dreamed possible.  As we actively and ardently persue the teaching work within our clusters and neighbourhoods, striving to learn what it means to build a new civilization, then we gradually learn a little bit more about what it is we are doing.  Slowly, and sometimes painstakingly, God reveals to us His "great purpose".

Minor aside number two: I am reminded of the story of the guy walking in the dark woods with the flashlight shining at his feet.  Only as he takes each step is he able to see the next step in front of him.  End, number two.

Once we begin to see what it is we are doing, and how it works, then we further realize the wisdom and importance of following the laws of the faith.  It is through our obedience to these laws that we are better able to draw on the mystical nature of our faith.  I often refer to this aspect of religion as the Concourse on High.  Sometimes I even use the adjective "wiley", as they sure seem to have a sense of humour.  Either way, we have all noticed that the more we pray, and the more we are obedient to the laws, the more things just seem to work out well.  Coincidences abound in direct proportion to our efforts.  I won't try to explain it, I just try and capitalize on it.

But then again, obedience is not easy.  Following the laws is often a challenge.  And that may be why we are asked to "abide in Thy law."

Also, please note that that these two requests are things we do.  It is not God who does it, but ourselves.  Baha'u'llah asks God to unite our hearts and reveal to us His purpose, but he is hoping that we will be obedient, even when it is difficult, for that is the only time you can abide.  If it's easy, then it is not abiding.
He even acknowledges that it won't be easy, for He asks God to help us and give us strength.  But what do we need that strength for?  To accomplish His purpose.  Not only His purpose, but His "great purpose".

And there, I think is an interesting challenge for us.  For once God gives us strength, it is always a question of what we do with that strength.  It is like any gift we get: our job is to put it to great use.  Look at time and computers, for example.  We could use them to play games all day, or to try and make the world a better place.  The time and the tools are there, but how we use them is up to us.

And here is the solution.  Baha'u'llah asks God not to leave us to ourselves, for He knows that given our preferences, we will squander these gifts.  He specifically asks that our steps be guided, for it is too easy to wander.  Focus is so important.  It is so important that the Universal House of Justice called on the Counsellors to help us maintain our focus (look it up in the 27 December message if you don't believe me).  When we clearly see what needs to be done, then we are more likely to do the job, and therefore He asks that our steps be guided by knowledge.

And then He closes the whole prayer just as He began: with the heart.

It seems that so much of the Baha'i Faith is about the heart.  It is found in Baha'u'llah's "first counsel", and shows up over and over in the oddest of places.  Look for it.  You'll see it's everywhere.

In fact, if you go through the Arabic Hidden Words and highlight "heart" in one colour and "love" in another, you will see a beautiful story when you read "heart" all the way through and then "love".

But that's another article altogether.

For now, I'll just mention that this prayer fininshes by acknowledging that God is our helper, just as we need to help each other in our work, and He is our Lord, reminding us of our noble station.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Daily Prayers and Habits

It's early in the morning, and I've just stumbled out of bed, far more exhausted than I should be after a night's sleep.  It's mid-December, and that means the sun doesn't rise for another hour or so at this latitude, so the darkness outside my windows is playing games with my mind making me think I should still be nicely tucked away under the warm covers.

Bleary-eyed and yawning, I turn on the the little reading light next to my side of the bed, so as to not waken my adorable, snoring little son, who crawled into my bed a number of hours ago in order to snuggle with Papa while Mama is out of town, and there it is: my prayer book.

You see, dear Reader, I place my prayer book there so that I will see it every morning upon waking, and be reminded to say my prayers in the wee hours.  For years that beautiful little volume stayed in my backpack, which went with me everywhere, but often remained in the dark depths of said backpack, not seeing the light of day for, well, days.

And then, recently, an institution on which I serve made a decision that changed my morning habits.  One of the clusters in our region is trying to launch an intensive program of growth by Ridvan, and we wanted to offer our support. 

Aside number one:  Please don't forget, dear Reader, that I do write these articles for Baha'is, and so sometimes the language may sound like jargon.  Don't worry.  It is.

But for those of you who don't know the lingo: a cluster is a geographical area, based upon socio-economic considerations, defining an area of similarity, in order to assess the spiritual needs and development of the community.  The cluster in which I live is centred around Winnipeg.

The region in which I live is Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northwestern Ontario, which was swiftly, and appropriately, dubbed the SNOMAN region.  Within this region, the cluster in question focussed around the cities of Regina, Fort Qu'Appelle and Moose Jaw, with all towns and Reserves between. 

An intensive program of growth is an on-going and sustainable development project in which the Baha'i community is active and effective enough to begin creating a healthy change in the dynamics of civilization itself within said area.

Simply put, the Baha'is of an area get together and begin offering children's classes, junior youth groups, adult education classes and devotional gatherings for the purpose of growing and developing a new culture.  This new culture, by the way, is based upon spiritual principals and service to humanity.

Oh, and Ridvan is the festival seson in April during which Baha'u'llah declared His mission to His followers.

End of long aside number one.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes.  This institution decided to have all its members say one of the prayers from the Tablets of the Divine Plan for this cluster every day between September and April.  We all recite the one that begins "O God, my God!  Thou beholdest this weak one begging for celestial strength..."

And thus it began.

The evening that decision was made, I went to sleep trying to figure out how I would remember to do this every day.  When I awoke the next morning, I got out of bed and turned on my little reading light, and suddenly had my answer.  You see, most of our life is done by habit.  We get up, get out of bed, wash, eat breakfast and head to work, all without thinking about it.  Our real day, the one in which we are conscious of actions, does not usually begin until much later.

I do not believe this is how we are supposed to live.  I do not believe that this is how we make our lives richer and more meaningful.

This observation has found expression in many places recently, most notably in Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now".  But that could be another article altogether.

For me, my morning prayers helped change that.

I looked at my daily habits, the ones that I did unconsiously, as most of my actions are when I first wake up, and tried to see where I could insert something.  Turning on my light in order to see without waking anyone was an ingrained habit.  Placing the prayer book under the light so that I would see it was the change.  And that change was the reminder I needed to say that prayer.

Many years ago, when I formally declared my faith, I recognized a similar need in order to remember to say my obligatory prayer.  At first it was placing a small prayer book in with my lunch, but that got a bit messy.  Then it was setting a reminder on my computer calendar, but that got a bit annoying.  For a while I had the short obligatory prayer written on a small card in my pocket, and every time I would get my keys, I would fumble across that folded card.  That poor card got destroyed too quickly.  After trying many other innovative, and often silly, tricks, I eventually just started remembering.

Inevitable aside number two: There are three daily obligatory prayers in the Baha'i Faith, and we are required to say one of them each day.  They are, appropriately enough, named the Short, the Medium and the Long Obligatory Prayers.  We get to choose which one we wish to say each day.  For those of us who grew up without prayer, we generally choose the short one.  But I'll tell you, the Long really packs a whollop.  End of aside, for now.

When I began to learn about the importance of the long obligatory prayer, I decided to do something similar to help me remember.  After many years of forgetting to say that one (saying the short one was a habit by that time, and so I wasn't too concerned about missing the long one) I went to a friend's house for dinner.  It happened to be my birthday, which she didn't know when she set the date.  My family and I joined her family for a wonderful supper, and we had a great time.

During the course of the evening, I spotted a prayer rug hanging on her wall.  My eyes went wide as I explained the significance of that particular rug.  There was an image of a gate, symbolic of the Bab, and when you kneeled on it, you knelt before the Gate.  There was a tree beyond the gate, the Sadratu'l Muntaha, symbolic of Baha'u'llah.  There were also many trees and birds, all with their own symbolism.  I was in awe, as I had been looking for a rug like that for many years.

She briefly spoke with her husband, and they gave it to me as a gift.

I cannot tell you how touched I was. I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it.  (Thanks again, Michelle and Brian)

You see, they found it in a Salvation Army store, or some such, for a couple of dollars.  Although they liked it, the really preferred Oriental art to Middle-Eastern art.  And they weren't sure why they got it.  Now they felt they knew.

Well, that rug went in my family's prayer space (a space set aside for the sacred, which I think we all need in our life) and now, every time I see it, I remember to say my obligatory prayer.  The long one.

And I think of Michelle and Brian.

What a nice way to begin this morning.

I think I should make a habit of writing an article each morning.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Travel Teaching

I was talking with my wife the other day (a fairly common occurance which makes my life ever so much more joyous), and I asked her what I should write about this week.  "Travel teaching" was her reply.

"Travel teaching?" I asked.  You see, I can be very intelligent and witty at times, surprising even myself with my repartee.

"Yes."  Her patience with me was awe-inspiring, as she carefully explained to me what would have been obvious to someone without a horizontal learning curve.  "You should write about our time in Martinique."

Ahh.  Martinique.  How could I have forgotten?

You see, travel teaching and pioneering hold such a dear place in my heart, that somehow I had missed the obvious.  They are so dear to me that I should, of course, write about them.

A number of years ago I had the wonderful bounty of working for the US Baha'i National Centre, and during my last year there I was working in the teaching office.  As there were only a few of us there at the time, I had many different job titles:  National Travelling Teacher Coordinator, National Homefront Pioneer Coordinator, National this, National that.  I think I counted something like 14 titles, any one of which I could use whenever appropriate.  What it really meant was that I received a lot of letters from all over the nation and tried my best to respond to them.  While others in the office dealt with specific localities, I was more general in my work.

I spoke with many people about the bounties and benefits of pioneering and travel teaching, often partaking of those bounties myself, as I was a pioneer at the time.

Aside number 1: I remember one time while serving in my pioneer post, my friends and I had a problem, so I told them to phone the Homefront Pioneer Coordinator.  They thought I was joking, as I was serving in that capacity at the time.  "Seriously," I said, "leave a message and I'll get back to you."  The reason I said that was that I did not have any clue what to do about our problem at that moment, but I just knew that when I was serving in that capacity in the office, the answer would come.  And it did.  I got our message the next morning, saw the solution and phoned back.

Aside number 2:  There was a campaign going on at the time in which the National Teaching Committee identified a number of places that needed pioneers in order to form Assemblies.  This wonderful couple were just leaving the military and they wanted to serve as homefront pioneers, but could only do so if they both had jobs as nurses nearby.  Every few days they would phone and give me the list of cities in which they were offered jobs.  None of them were near pioneer posts, so they turned these offers down.  For over six months they kept at it, demonstrating a devotion that has impressed me to this day.  Finally, they found two jobs near a pioneer post and moved shortly thereafter.  A week or so later, they called again, this time in tears.  "We've just formed our Assembly."  When I asked how, they replied, "David and Margaret Ruhe moved into the city."  David, in case you are unaware, had just retired from his service on the Universal House of Justice.  These two stalwart souls, through their patience and perseverence, had the unbelievable bounty of being able to serve on an Assembly with a former member of the Universal House of Justice.

End of asides for now.

Where was I?  Oh yes, Martinique.

Marielle and I were about to get married when we went to hear a Counsellor speak.  He talked of the need for short-term travelling teachers, and said that if someone had the time, but not the money, not to worry.  He would ensure that they would be able to go.

Naturally, I went to up to him afterwards and said I had the time, but not the money.

With all seriousness, he asked, "Would Marielle go with you?"

"I think so," I said, before I learned the necessity of asking your spouse first before saying anything like that.

"Go to Martinique."  He knew Marielle was French-speaking, from Quebec, and that Martinique needed French-speaking people to go and assist them.  It didn't matter that I couldn't speak the language, she was going to carry the bulk of the work.  I was just there for moral support and prayers.

Well, a few months later we got married, and a few months after that we landed in Martinique.  It was sort of a second honeymoon.

Inevitable aside number 3:  I must have done something wrong in my life, because every time I asked this particular Counsellor where I should go to help teach the Faith, he would send me somewhere with awful weather.  If it was winter, he would send me to the North, by the Arctic.  Summer?  The Caribbean.  Couldn't he have done it the other way around?  Sheesh (he says, joking the entire time).

We began this wonderful trip by flying down to Florida and seeing my Mom.  Then we continued by flying to St Lucia.  This was our first taste of the islands, and wow, was it beautiful.  We walked around the airport, outside in the little market, and had one of the most disgusting juices we had ever had the misfortune of tasting.  Please, if I ever visit you, do not serve me mauby.  I would rather drink muddy water.  Now I know many people absolutely love it, and I will gladly give them all that is served to me, thank you very much.  It's not that I have anything against it, per se, it's just that it gets in my mouth.   Bleah.

We then flew to another island, where we tranferred immediately to a small plane.  As we sprinted from one plane to the next, across the tarmac, we breathed a sigh of relief at having made our tenuous connection.  We sat back in our chairs and were preparing for take off when someone came running across the tarmac after us, waving at the plane.  He was carrying Marielle's sleeping bag.  That being safely delivered, we breathed another sigh of relief.

Until we saw another man running across the tarmac, waving his arms frantically at our plane.  In his hands, it seems, were the flight plans.  Those being safely delivered, we were ready for takeoff.  Again.

There is not much I can say about the flight itself, but when we landed, a miracle occurred.   They opened the door.

I had read a bit about Martinique, and all the guidebooks spoke of the overwhelming scent of the flowers, but nothing prepared me for the reality when that door opened.  It was like being hit in the face with a wall of flowers.  We practically had to swim through the scent the entire length of the cabin.  It was wonderful.

Customs was customs, and about as interesting as passing through customs ever is.  While we were standing in line, the opaque door past us would swiftly open to reveal those people awaiting passengers: mostly family members or friends.  And then it would close as quickly as it had opened.

As the line moved forward, one man on the other side of the doors caught my eye.  He was standing there with the smile of an angel.  I knew, from his very presence, that he was a Baha'i.  He felt like a brother I had not seen in years.  I was eventually able to point him out to Marielle, and she had the same immediate reaction to his presence.  We found out later that he had the same reaction seeing us.

As we passed through the doors, we moved towards each other like magnets, never doubting for a moment that we were supposed to meet each other.

He was the Auxiliary Board member sent to greet us and take us to the Fort de France Baha'i Centre.

It was a pleasant drive, and we were warmly greeted by the caretaker, and some members of the community, and shown our room.

(to be continued)