Saturday, October 31, 2009

Diving for the Pearls of One Ocean

"How well do you know the Writings?"

That was my question to the group at the summer school.  We all know the famous quotes, but how well do we really know the Writings?  The example I used, as one we all knew, was "Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch."  But how many other similar quotes would we recognize?  I passed around three dozen as a bit of a quiz, including:  "The pearls of one ocean", "the birds in one garden of roses", and "the  fingers of one hand".  The first two are from the Master, but the last one is a fake.

I was able to fool just about everyone in the audience.  All missed a few that were in the Writings, and many guessed some that were not.  It was a lot of fun.  I'm glad to say that everyone knew that "the fries of one happy meal" was not in the Writings.

So, why am I telling you about this?

Simple.  I think we often become too complacent with those things we are familiar with.  For example, my wife and I were studying the compilation on consultation (well before we got married).  We were trying to learn how to consult with each other, and thought this compilation would help.

Unfortunately, as you know from reading this compilation yourself, all the quotes are about Assemblies consulting with their communities.

"How," we asked ourselves, "does this apply to us?

I'm glad we asked, because if we didn't, I wouldn't be writing about it today.

We decided to trust in the process and kept going.

We got to quote number 10 in the compilation, and found the following: "for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden."

My inclination was to skip over this part of the quote, the "this of one that" section, and "get to the good stuff", when the now-partner-of-my-soul stepped in and reminded me that this was Sacred Text I was skipping over.

"Let's see what is hidden within this."  Did I mention how much I appreciate her brilliance?  Well, I do.  She is pretty good at keeping me on the right track.

In her usual wave-of-genius manner, she divided the text as follows:

  • the waves of one sea, the drops of one river,
  • the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun,
  • the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden

"Do you notice," she said, "how they are in pairs?"  I hadn't.

"They go from macro to micro, big to small."  Neat.

"And water plus light equals life."  Cool.

This simple part of the quote, which I had almost skipped over, gave us the key for which we were searching.  It seemed as if the Master was reminding us that if it works on the large scale, it also works on the small scale.

This led us to a series of questions which I do not recall, but I know that it ended with the search for the application.  If the quotes refer to Assemblies, what would be the two-person micro version of an Assembly?  A married couple.

Our thinking was really quite simple:  The institution of the Assembly is the decision-making body of a community made up of individuals.  The institution of marriage is the decision-making body of the community of a family made up of the individual members.  Macro / Micro.

I credit this quote as helping my wife and I turn our attention towards getting married.

So next time you find yourself skipping over a bit of Sacred Text, you might want to take a moment and see what else is there.  You never know where it might lead.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How do you get to an IPG? Practice, practice, practice

Do you know why doctors practice their profession? Because they're not perfect.

OK. It's not the best joke in the world, and I do actually like and respect doctors very much, but there is a grain of truth in it. They say that practice makes perfect, but in fact it only makes practiced.

And what, you may ask, does this have to do with the Baha'i Faith? I'm glad you asked.

Can you recall the first quote in Ruhi Book 1?

"The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."

If you don't believe me, check it out yourself.

And why is that the first quote, out of all the possible choices they could have selected? I think it is because they are reminding us that everything in the Faith is about application. Baha'u'llah, Himself, says in the Kitab-i-Iqan:

And yet, is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?

We often speak about the internal condition, or the "being", but we must also remember that this inner condition must express itself in the outer condition, or the "doing".

I recall a group of friends who were taking Ruhi Book 4, The Twin Manifestations, and we got to the quote in which we are asked to "read the following quote with joy and radiance" (I don't have the book in front of me and may be mis-quoting here, but you get the idea). As the tutor, I asked one of the friends to do this, and they proceeded to read it quietly, while mumbling, and in monotone. I asked the friends if they felt her joy and radiance. None had, but it was acknowledged that we did not doubt that she had been feeling these emotions "on the inside".

"Joy, yes," I said, "but radiance must be seen outside to be considered radiant." We all spoke about the importance of how we are perceived by others, and how none can know what is going on inside our heads or souls. It proved to be a very enlightening conversation, which I, at least, had not expected.  It also helped everyone be more aware of how their actions are perceived by others.

But what does this story have to with the Faith, again?

Well, let's look at the practices of the Ruhi Books.

The first one is to read the Writings at least every morning and evening. This practice is a very simple habit we can all develop, and will ground us in the Writings. It will ensure that we are "on track", for if we do not come back to Writings constantly, it is too easy to veer off that path that is "keener than a sword" and "finer than a hair".

Another aside - I am reminded of a time a friend and I went driving in the southwestern United States. We stopped to visit an isolated believer, and found her at home. We visited for a few hours, said prayers, shared stories, and then I noticed something. She only had two Baha'i books: her prayer book and Gleanings. As I had a stack of books in the car, I asked her if she wanted anything else. "Oh no, I haven't finished studying Gleanings yet." What I understood was that she had been reading this tattered Book for at least 40 years, and felt that she still had much more to glean from it. She hadn't "finished" it yet. Oh, if only we all would read with that much care and attention.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, the second practice in Book 1 to study a prayer with a few friends.

I know it says Baha'is, but really, why limit ourselves? When you study the prayer with people from another background, you have a very different perspective and can learn that much more. Besides, many of them want to go on and take Book 1, and that can't hurt, can it?

Please note that it doesn't say to pray with them (although that is good to do), nor does it say to memorize the prayer (which is also good), but to study the prayer. Why do you think this would be? I don't actually know, but I believe it is to help us think about the prayers we are always saying and come to a higher understanding about them.  We learn to appreciate them even more, learn more from them, and even help fulfill the request of the prayer more easily.  It also helps us be more comfortable speaking about spiritual issues with friends.

The next practice in the sequence is in Book 2, Arising to Serve: to study the first three themes in the second unit with a few friends. Again, I find it better not to limit ourselves to Baha'is, although if there are new Baha'is in your community, they are a high priority.

So, why do I think this is the next practice? First, by presenting to friends, you are ensured a friendly audience on which to practice your presentations. This makes it easier to use these themes when you are asked questions by people who are not as friendly. Second, while it is not difficult to study a prayer with someone, presenting a simple theme is a little bit harder.  They are easing us into more and more difficult practices, building our strength. Third, those themes are ones that people are already open to hear about.

What? You don't believe me? All right, let's see.

The first theme is about the Eternal Covenant, which is found in all religions. It is like a train line. The train goes all the way to the last station, but we all get off at different stops. When presenting the topic as demonstrated in Book 2, we allow the listener to draw their own conclusions about where they wish to de-train. A Chirstian, for example, will readily acknowledge the truth of the Eternal Covenant up through all the Messengers and Prophets in the Old Testament, as well as Jesus. A Muslim will continue on through Muhammad. A Baha'i will go all the way through to Baha'u'llah. It doesn't matter. What we are establishing is the truth of a principle: that of the Eternal Covenant of God.

The second theme is about the life of Baha'u'llah. You think they will be offended? Do you think they would be offended if we present about the life of Gandhi? Of course not. It is a good life, and worth hearing about. We should not feel shy about presenting the life of Baha'u'llah to them. We may not want to talk about Baha'u'llah's Station as a Manifestation of God at this time, but of course, if it seems appropriate, why not.   Just remember that we don't have to.

The third theme is about unity, the most important and pivotal teaching in the Baha'i Faith.  This theme is also found in every religion, to a greater or lesser degree, but we like to focus more attention on it as we see the importance of it at this time in human history.

Another thing about this practice is that we begin to learn to make a coherent connection between themes when making multiple presentations to people. The Eternal Covenant leads into Baha'u'llah, Who is the latest link in that chain, which leads us into unity, the main theme of Baha'u'llah's teahings. Simple and straightforward.

It is also important to remember that we must do these practices in the context of teaching, not in the confines of a study circle.  Although we can study a prayer as a group to see how can be done, if it remains at that level, without actually going out and studying it with friends, we become very inward focused, and that is not healthy for growth.
All three of these practices are essential for when we are teaching large numbers of people. We must learn how to connect with people on a spiritual level, study spiritual issues with them, and present themes in a logical and coherent manner. If we could master these simple skills, our teaching would increase dramatically, as is seen in many parts of the world already, where whole communities are engaged in these practices.

Now it's time for me to practice teaching a friend of mine. Perhaps I'll learn something about the Faith while I do so.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Animals and Souls

"How can we say that animals don't have souls?"

The cry of that question came from deep within the heart of a caring, and troubled, young man.  He was very much in love with the Faith, but had not yet figured out how to get past this troublesome question.

In "'Abdu'l-Baha in London", we read, "When asked about the individual persistence of the animal's personality after death, 'Abdu'l-Bahá said: 'Even the most developed dog has not the immortal soul of the man; yet the dog is perfect in its own place.'"  You can read more about what He says here (this is yet another clickable word to take you to another wonderful web-site).

I recall reading somewhere that the Master told a lady who was grieving the loss of her pet that the animal would be with her in the next world as long as she needed it.  Despite a search in Ocean, and Googling some key words, I could not find the story anywhere, or else I would quote it, too.

But at that moment, we were sitting in the kitchen, he and I, along with his father, who was an Auxiliary Board member at the time.  Why his father chose to come to my place to seek an answer to this question, I will never know.  It must have been that wily Concourse on High inspiring him, for it was surely not a question I could answer, never having given the answers of the Master on this subject much thought.  But there they were, in my kitchen.

As we sipped our tea, I did the only thing possible in a situation like that: I prayed.  I prayed for him to find the answer he needed to hear, when he asked the question again.

"I mean, we know they have emotions.  They have so many qualities, like caring and love.  How can we say they don't have souls?"

"Because they don't," came the voice from the other room.

We all stared at each other.  I had thought my other friend in the house was asleep on the couch.  He had been staying with me for a few days, and often slept at that time of the day.  I'm not even sure my other guests knew he was there.  And yet his voice rang out from the wilderness.

"They have an animus," he said.

"A what?"  I'm not sure which of us asked the question, but I am certain we were all thinking it.

"An animus."  Bob sat up as we came into the living room and he proceeded to give the most lucid explanation I had ever heard on this subject.  He described the soul as a rainbow, with its full colour spectrum.  An animus, he said, was more like line spectra.

A spectroscope, he explained, splits coherent light into its colour components, like a prism.  Different elements show up different lines, like the image below, of a neon line spectra.

You can see that there are only certain lines visible in what would, if filled in, obviously be part of a full rainbow spectrum.  This shows what the element is, to one who understands how to read it.  Myself?  I'm illiterate in this area.

My friend explained that each wavelength is like what Baha'is would call an "attribute of  God".  As he is not a Baha'i, he took the extra step of "translating" what he was saying into the language we would understand.  Every animal shows some of the attributes of God, just like everything in creation "is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God..."  Only in the human soul, however, do we see the full spectrum revealed.

We spoke about how some animals show their lines so brightly, such as a puppy showing enthusiasm, or a spider in her web showing patience, that they stand out clearer than they do in most humans.  We spoke about how we can sometimes see those virtues more clearly in their isolation, just as we can see the lines in the above image more clearly than if they were "lost" within the full context of the rainbow.

For over an hour the Auxiliary Board member and I listened as the two of them spoke to each other.  Questions were explored between them, neither presuming to have all the answers, but both eager to learn from the other, as all of us were lifted to a greater understanding of how we perceive the world around us.

Needless to say, my young friend has become not only confirmed in his faith, but has gone on to become an ardent supporter of the Cause, serving in many admirable capacities in the past few years.  His father, of course, still remains a pillar of the community.

And Bob, well, he went back to sleep on the couch and still comes to my aid when people come over and need questions answered.  He now lives in a room in the house, instead of just on a couch.  I guess the Councourse on High knew what they were doing, after all.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bring Thyself To Account...

"Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning."

When I first became a Baha'i, it was with the conscious intention that I would try to be obedient to every one of Baha'u'llah's commands that I could find. In fact, that was how I became a Baha'i. There were many things in the Writings that I had disagreed with when I was investigating, but over time Baha'u'llah had been proven right. Finally, one day I was reading something and thought, "I disagree. Oh, wait. Baha'u'llah said it. He must be right."

My next thought was a like a lightning bolt out of the blue: "Oh no. I've become a follower."

So there I was, a new Baha'i, trying to make the conscious choice to be obedient, and actually searching to see what Baha'u'llah said I should try to do when I ran across the above quote.

"Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning." (Hmm. It's here, too.)

You will note that this quote (which, for the record, is only part of it, but the part that seemed relevant to me at the time) is also found in Ruhi Book 1. It is that important a piece of the foundation of your Baha'i life. Right up there with reading the Writings every day, calculating your Right of God, praying, and so on and so forth.

There I was, on my own (with apologies to Lucki, who taught me the Faith, but it never occurred to me to ask anyone else), trying to figure out how to do this. You see, Baha'u'llah, as far as I could tell, said "Bring thyself". He didn't say, "You might want to bring yourself" or "It would be nice if you would bring yourself". He said, "Do it." Bring yourself to account every single day before you die. (That's my interpretation. Others can read it as they want and write their own article about it, but this is how I see it.)

I went home that evening, to my room in a large apartment that with lots of other people (it was a fun apartment) and thought, "Now what? How do I bring myself to account?"

Me being me, and having grown up in a Judeo-Christian culture (I just realized that the root of the word 'culture' seems to be 'cult'), I looked over my day and tried to look at all the bad things I did that day, hoping to do better the next. Every day for the next few weeks, I watched my list of not so good deeds growing and began to get really depressed, realizing what an awful person I was.

"This," thought I, "could not be what Baha'u'llah intended."

And so I thought about that quote again. How do you bring yourself to account?

The realization dawned that if you are an accountant, and only look at the expenditures of a company, never taking into account its income, you are a pretty poor accountant. OK. I know you knew this, but what can I say? I have a horizontal learning curve.

That very evening, I looked over my day and reviewed all the good things I did, and the not so good things I did. I looked at the very good things I did, and the very not so good things I did. Those next few months were spent ensuring that every time I did a not so good thing, I also did a good thing to make up for it.

Unfortunately, as you have no doubt foreseen, this had the sad consequence of implying that every time I did a good thing, I could also do a bad thing to balance it. (Bet you thought I wouldn't say 'bad thing'. Hah.)

Life is not about balance. It's about growth. We should not live our lives as if we are aiming to reach a zero-sum. We should, instead, strive for excellence.

Now, throughout the day, whenever I am about to take an action, I try to recall this command: Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning. As I don't like feeling guilty, any action that would make me feel bad I try not to do. This simple guidance has helped modify my actions. It is similar to the Right of God, in that I might be willing to pay $10 for a fun book, or $11 after taxes, but would I be willing to pay $12.99? This, after all, reflects the true cost after paying my Right of God on it.

The same principal also applies to the environment. When we learn to calculate the true cost of things, we begin to seriously modify our behaviour. You see, the faith is holistic: what applies in one area generally applies in others.

For me, I began to see the "true" cost of my actions by accounting for them every evening.

The next step, which I will not go into now, was to learn to look ahead and seize every opportunity before me, instead of just looking back at the actions already done. I had learned to account for those missed opportunities, and now I try not to miss as many.

That might be a good topic for another article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Most Difficult Law

"What would I say is the most difficult Law?"

That was the definitely the oddest, and most personal, question anyone had ever asked me.

I mean, really, how do you answer a question like that? If you say "not committing murder", thinking about that really annoying person at work, then they either look at you warily for the rest of your life, or just think that you're being facetious.

Don't even think about saying "not committing adultery".

The Right of God? The Fast? Praying every day? Nope. Those were all fairly straightforward for me. It was just a matter of developing a healthy and conscious habit.

I really puzzled over how to answer that seemingly innocuous, yet intrusive, question. Perhaps it was a good one, after all. It did make me think about all the various Laws in the Faith, not that there really are all that many, but there are enough to make it seem like a good question.

So, what was my response? "Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 152."

You probably have the same expression right now that the questioner did. Go on. Take a moment and look it up. I'll wait. (whistling) You got it? Oh, you're still looking. Try using Ocean. (more whistling) Ah. You got it. I can tell by the puzzled expression.

So, what does it say? "Wash your feet once every day in the summer, and once every three days during winter."

How is that difficult? Funny, that's what my questioner asked.

"What do you do," was my response, "in the spring and autumn? Wash them daily? Every third day? Average it out to every other day? Or do you just not have to wash them at all for three months at a time?"

"Wash your feet once every day in the summer"? "Every third day in the winter"? This doesn't sound like the Almighty Father at all. It sounds like my Mom.

Perhaps this person thought, as you no doubt do, that I was making fun. I was, but only a little.

Presuming, for a moment, that I actually was a little serious in my response, why do you think I would call this the Most Difficult Law? I'm glad you asked.

Let's look at this Book for a moment: The Kitab-i-Aqdas. The Most Holy Book. "The principal repository of that Law which the Prophet Isaiah had anticipated" and "which the writer of the Apocalypse had described as the "new heaven" and the "new earth", as "the Tabernacle of God", as the "Holy City", as the "Bride", the"New Jerusalem coming down from God", this "Most Holy Book", whose provisions must remain inviolate for no less than a thousand years, and whose system will embrace the entire planet". The "Mother Book" of Baha'u'llah's Dispensation, and the "Charter of His New World Order". Shoghi Effendi spends over 5 pages describing it in his epic work, God Passes By.

This is no minor work. It is the main Text written for a world-changing Faith, outlining the civilization destined to shape the fortunes of the planet for no less than a thousand years, penned by the Supreme Manifestation of God Himself, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, "one Whose presence 'He Who conversed with God' (Moses) hath longed to attain, the beauty of Whose countenance 'God's Well-beloved' (Muhammad) had yearned to behold, through the potency of Whose love the 'Spirit of God' (Jesus) ascended to heaven, for Whose sake the 'Primal Point' (the Bab) offered up His life", inspired by God Himself, the Creator of this universe, the Most-Powerful, the Almighty, the Wise. It gives the broad brushstrokes of the Revelation He has revealed, enjoining upon us all the Laws of personal status, as well as the Laws governing the development of civilization.

This is the Book of which the Guardian wrote:

The laws and ordinances that constitute the major theme of this Book, Bahá'u'lláh, moreover, has specifically characterized as "the breath of life unto all created things", as"the mightiest stronghold", as the "fruits" of His "Tree", as"the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples", as "the lamps of His wisdom and loving-providence", as "the sweet-smelling savour of His garment", and the "keys" of His "mercy" to His creatures. "This Book", He Himself testifies, "is a heaven which We have adorned with the stars of Our commandments and prohibitions." "Blessed the man", He, moreover, has stated, "who will read it, and ponder the verses sent down in it by God, the Lord of Power, the Almighty. Say, O men! Take hold of it with the hand of resignation... By My life! It hath been sent down in a manner that amazeth the minds of men. Verily, it is My weightiest testimony unto all people, and the proof of the All-Merciful unto all who are in heaven and all who are on earth." And again:"Blessed the palate that savoureth its sweetness, and the perceiving eye that recognizeth that which is treasured therein, and the understanding heart that comprehendeth its allusions and mysteries. By God! Such is the majesty of what hath been revealed therein, and so tremendous the revelation of its veiled allusions that the loins of utterance shake when attempting their description."And finally: "In such a manner hath the Kitáb-i-Aqdas been revealed that it attracteth and embraceth all the divinely appointed Dispensations. Blessed those who peruse it! Blessed those who apprehend it! Blessed those who meditate upon it! Blessed those who ponder its meaning! So vast is its range that it hath encompassed all men ere their recognition of it. Erelong will its sovereign power, its pervasive influence and the greatness of its might be manifested on earth."

What more can I say about it?

And in the midst of all this earth-shaking, world-shattering guidance, He tells us to wash our feet. Once a day in the summer, and every three days in the winter.


How does this Law rate being placed amongst all the others? This is why I think of it as the Most Difficult Law. Not difficult to follow, but to understand.

I mean, look at the context: it comes two paragraphs after we are enjoined to teach our children the verses of God and just before the injunction to show kindness to anger. Pretty heavy stuff. And in the middle: wash your feet.

I will not profess to even begin to understand the "why" of this Law, except as it pertains to maintaining cleanliness, but when God comes down, reveals His Laws and includes something as simple as this in His Mighty Book, I will obey.

Now, what Law do you find most difficult?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Baha'i elections

Well, it's late October and I've fallen behind. I haven't even begun to consider who I will vote for in the upcoming election for the Local Spiritual Assembly. "Wait a minute," I hear you say. "October? But the election isn't until April! Isn't 6-months just a bit early?" Don't worry. I hear your concern. It is not a psychiatric condition, like those people who begin their Christmas shopping in June. In fact, I usually begin in September. Consideration may be a year-round thing, but I actually begin planning quite late, as I am a procrastinator by nature (more on that later). Every September (except this year, when it'll be late October), I begin by sending myself an e-mail. This is the 21st Century version of talking to yourself, and is generally not considered a sign of insanity, despite appearances. "And what," I hear you cautiously say, "does this e-mail concern?" At the top is a list of the qualities we are to "give due regard" when casting our ballot. It used to be just the primary qualities listed by the Guardian:
  • unquestioned loyalty
  • selfless devotion
  • a well-trained mind
  • recognized ability
  • mature experience
There was also the reminder "to consider (these names) without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration". Now I also have to include the secondary qualifications mentioned by the Universal House of Justice in their August 2007 letter:
  • age distribution
  • diversity
  • gender

These secondary qualifications are not, of course, to be considered on their own, but rather to ensure diversity after making the so-called "short list" from the primary qualities. I say "so-called" as my "short" list is usually about half the community.

By doing this every year, I am reminded to look for these qualities in the friends throughout the year, instead of only looking for them come April.

Originally, I only had 9 names on the list and would revise them every few weeks. Now I have a running list with upwards of 30 names at any given time. This list has helped me focus on the positive qualities amongst the community members and kept the importance of the Spiritual Assembly in my mind throughout the year. By actively looking for these qualities in people in the Feast consultation, or just in general, I find that my respect and love for the community has grown exponentially. How can you not love a community that shows such wonderful qualities?

When you realize that the majority of the community has the necessary qualities to serve on such an institution... Well, I'm not sure what to say. Let's just say that I am impressed, and very glad to have such a community as my support. I can sure use it.

Now to get to that list.

Tablet of Ahmad, a verbal analysis

The Tablet of Ahmad. One of my favorite pieces from the Writings of Baha'u'llah. Whole volumes have been written on this one Text alone, including Learn Well This Tablet, which, if you haven't read it, should be high on your list.

I have said it to my son, Shoghi, most every night for the past few years and, when he was only 3-years old, he shocked me. I was asked to say a prayer at some gathering and asked him which one I should say. He said, "King." "King?" "King." He then proceeded to recite the first quarter of the Tablet by heart, just to make sure I knew which prayer he wanted.

But what is it about this particular Tablet? Why are we all so attracted to it? Why is it that when I recall a tour of the archives in the Temple in Wilmette, the original of this Tablet is what stands out most in my memory?

At this point, I could tell you all about Ahmad and his receipt of the Tablet, or some of the exhortations in it, or some of the salient points in the Tablet, but you could read all that here, instead. Why repeat what others have already written?

Instead I want to direct your attention to some of the verbs in the opening paragraph (or, more precisely, the one after the introductory praise of God). They are highlit for your attention, and not part of the original, as I'm sure you know.

Lo, the Nightingale of Paradise singeth upon the twigs of the Tree of Eternity, with holy and sweet melodies, proclaiming to the sincere ones the glad tidings of the nearness of God, calling the believers in the Divine Unity to the court of the Presence of the Generous One, informing the severed ones of the message which hath been revealed by God, the King, the Glorious, the Peerless, guiding the lovers to the seat of sanctity and to this resplendent Beauty.

When I was a student, lo those many years ago, one of my English teachers had an annoying habit of over-analyzing every text. I can still recall the many hours of lecturing in one class where he spoke of nothing but the first line in Hamlet: "Who's there?" He showed how it set up the entire text of the play through the simple act of questioning one's identity. On and on he went. I was actually surprised that I hadn't starved to death due to not eating for so obviously long a time. The lack of water, though, should've gotten to me first.

But that simple skill of analysis has proven useful.

Take a look those verbs: proclaiming, calling, informing and guiding. When you "proclaim", you announce publicly over a great distance. When you "call", you are crying out in a loud voice, and summoning one to be nearer. Once they are nearer, you can then "inform", or impart certain knowledge. When you "guide", it is even nearer, within one's heart. When you are guiding someone you are assisting them, helping them reach an unfamiliar destination. You are showing them the interesting points on their journey, or even providing spiritual advice.

With each of these verbs, Baha'u'llah is drawing us nearer to Him, until we are so near that we can receive His spiritual advice. At the same time, we are also shown some very interesting points about the world.

Now take a look at the text. You will, of course, notice that there are three times in which the Blessed Beauty calls upon Ahmad by name: "O Ahmad! Bear thou witness...", "O Ahmad! Forget not My bounties..." and "Learn well this Tablet, O Ahmad." These points can serve to divide the text into four easily memorable parts.

In that first section, the one that ends with "Verily He is the Tree of Life that bringeth forth the fruits of God, the Exalted, the Powerful, the Great", we find it reads as a proclamation. "LO!" We practically jump at the intensity of that single word, shouted out from a mountain top. Our attention is immediately drawn to the One Who cries out that syllable. It is no murmur. It is a sound that commands notice. From there, our attention is shifted to "the Nightingale of Paradise" who is singing "upon the twigs of the Tree of Eternity". And what is he singing about? We are told that he is proclaiming, calling, informing and guiding, each to a specific group (perhaps more on those groups in another post).

In that opening section, the legal proclamation of authority is given, officially and formally. "...This is that Most Great Beauty... through Whom truth shall be distinguished from error... He is the Tree of Life..." It cannot be any clearer.

We then move into the second part of this mighty Tablet. This is the section that begins with "O Ahmad!" and concludes with "...combine to assist one another." When taken on its own, it reads quite nicely as a call. In this section, we are called to "bear... witness that verily He is God". We are also called upon to acknowledge the Bab and move into conformity with His commands. Obedience is enjoined upon us all.

But then comes an interesting reminder: "Thus doth the Nightingale utter His call unto you from this prison." It is His only job, "to deliver this clear message". We are given leave to "turn aside from this counsel" or "choose the path to (our) Lord". The choice is ours, as it always has been.

He then concludes with a test by which we can gauge the Message of God.

Now we turn to section three, beginning again with "O Ahmad", and concluding with "all eternity to all eternity".

This entire section is filled with information. "Forget not My bounties..." "Remember My days..." "Be thou so steadfast..." Be as "a flame of fire", a river of eternal-life. If you are surrounded by troubles, He tells you what to do: "Rely upon God..." We are also informed of the state of the world, "the people are wandering in the paths of delusion". The world is filled with superstition, which is preventing many from being able to see God. We need to be aware of this, or else we will be overcome by afflictions, beset by depression, overwhelmed by the mighty task before us. In short, we are told not to worry, but to continue on and persevere.

Finally, in the last section, Ahmad is given very personal guidance. By extension, we are, too. "Learn well this tablet... Chant it during thy days..." We are shown some simple actions we can do in our lives, and promised certain rewards for each action.

These rewards, it should be noted, are not of the payment variety. They are more of the exercise type. If we exercise, we know the reward will be strong muscles and better health. Similarly, if we "read this Tablet with absolute sincerity", then we know that our perception will become more acute, our soul stronger, our state of being more healthy. God will, in fact, through these bounties, "dispel (our) sadness, solve (our) difficulties and remove (our) afflictions."

This is, of course, only one small facet of this Tablet, focusing on only a single aspect of a single paragraph. There are many more things that can be said, some of which are published elsewhere. Perhaps I'll add more to this growing body of literature on this Tablet, but for now, I'll just read others.

Looking back over this, maybe I should've called it a "verbose analysis".

The Right of God

The other day, a friend of mine came to me and said, "You're good at math. Can you help me learn to budget?"

"No," was my immediate response. I mean, what do I know about budgeting? I don't know anything about economics. It's sort of like asking me how to organize a desk: I know the theory, but the practice is something else altogether. Let's just say that I'm glad you can't see my desk while reading this. Come to think of it, I can't see my desk while I'm writing it.

In the end, he asked me how I kept my own budget, and said he hoped that it would help him.

"Well," was my hesitant reply, "it doesn't really apply to you. I mean, you're not a Baha'i."

"What does that have to do with it?"

"Because I use something called the Right of God."

His puzzled expression was about what I expected. "And how does it work?"

This was more my speed. I can talk about the Right of God for hours. Budgeting? No way, but Huququ'llah? No problem.

We spoke about the difference between our "needs" and "wants", and how the "wants" require a 19% taxation, to use a term he was familiar with. I didn't think he would know the word "Huququ'llahable". Most Baha'is don't know it. Probably for a good reason, too.

I then explained that this forced separation of my expenditures (see? I can use accounting terms when needed) allowed me to see what my needs actually were. This was the basis for my budgeting.

He left very happy, and said that he was going to start doing this, too.

"Calculate your Right of God?" I thought. OK. If it works for you.

I didn't think anything of this until a few days later another friend came up to me with the same question. "How do you budget?"

This time I was ready.

"The Right of God!" I said with certainty.

He asked me to go through some of the Writings with him. Not one to be daunted by such a request, we went through the compilation on Huququ'llah together. In it, we found the usual quotes we all know: "Source... of all good", "source of blessings", "the mainspring of God's loving-kindness and tender love vouchsafed unto men", "a most excellent favour", "its goodly results and the fruits thereof will last as long as the kingdom of earth and heaven will endure", and so on and so forth. There really are so many, it's sort of overwhelming.

But here was someone who had never read these quotes before. I hadn't realized it, but I had become hardened to them. It wasn't until I saw his reaction that I remembered how great a Law this is. (It's so great that I have to capitalize it)

And then we read from the Master, "...The wisdom of this command is that the act of giving is well-pleasing in the sight of God." This Law cultivates our sense of generosity, which is "well-pleasing in the sight of God". Wow.

It had never occurred to me the reaction that this might get in someone who is not a Baha'i.

He, too, decided to try using this method of being aware of how we spend our money, how much of it is on things that are not necessary, and using this as a basis for a budget.

Baha'u'llah says that this Law is "incumbent on all". Does that mean everyone, like everyone? Or just everyone like all the Baha'is? Surely the payment to the office of Huququ'llah is only by Baha'is, but is there more to this? It occurred to us both that if the wisdom of this Law is to cultivate generosity, this is applicable to anyone.

My friend then asked me how he could pay the Right of God. I said, "You have to be a Baha'i. Would you like to be a member of the Baha'i community and do this?" He declined, and decided to pay to a charity, instead. After all, it is ok to buy that double-mocha-cappuccino, but you should also ensure that some of your money is going to charity.

In the end, four friends each asked about budgeting, and all four are now calculating their Right of God in order to make charitable contributions. Some are doing the 19%, while others are doing 10%.

You would think this is the end of the story, and I, myself, didn't really think much more about it, except in the sense of realizing that when we teach people about the Laws of the Faith, we really should include this "Mighty Law". Perhaps Ruhi Book 6 will include it in future editions of Anna's Presentation (hint hint). But I really didn't think much more about it.

Until I told some Baha'is about it. I was in a meeting and we were asked by a member of the Board of Trustees for the Right of God in Canada how we spoke about Huququ'llah to other Baha'is.

His reaction after hearing an abbreviated version of this story made me realize something was unusual here. What was pointed out was that here were four people who are not Baha'i and yet practicing the Right of God. If they were to declare, they would already be practicing this Great Law. Can a greater bounty be imagined? Is this not up there with those who are doing the practices in the Ruhi books before enrolling? Or teaching children's classes or hosting devotional gatherings?

On a final note, there is a dear friend who has not yet affirmed his Faith. He is 15 and said that he was not sure he saw the practicality or applicability of the Faith in his life. We spoke of this Law in terms of his budget for things like groceries, and he now sees the applicability.

Now if I could only do something about my desk.

Children's Classes, Part 2

I'm sure the suspense was just getting to you, too. Don't worry, they came back the next day. With friends!

I would love to say that they were no doubt attracted to the overwhelming sense of faith and attractive feeling of devotion in the household (my wife's, of course), or the wise and brilliant class that was held the day before, but I'm sure they just wanted to hear their friends say something good about them. They said so.

To make a long story short, or at least shorter, they returned a lot. The problem was not getting them to come, but to get them to leave.

At this point, my wife and I began to systematize things a bit more. We recorded their names, phone numbers and parent's names, the virtues we covered, the virtues they each demonstrated, as well as some character traits we wanted to see changed. Some may cringe and think that we should not try to change others, but I will lovingly disagree. When a child is always getting into fights, you wish to assist them in changing this behaviour. If a child is always swearing, this, too, you wish to see changed.

A couple of years after we began these classes, my wife was lamenting the fact that we had not seen any significant change in the community. I was, fortunately, able to go to our records and ask, "When was the last time you heard this child swear? When was the last time this one asked us for money? How long has it been since this child has tried to steal something from our home?" You probably guess that we live in a rough neighbourhood, and you are correct. Well, my wife now realized how significant an impact we had on the lives of these children. I also hadn't noticed it until I checked, but there it was.

Anyways, back to the classes.

One day, a group of these kids came over and I told them that I needed some help practicing telling a story. They were very happy to help me. I mean, how often are these kids asked to help adults with something? I'm sure yours are asked a lot, but these kids almost never had that experience. They were thrilled.

I read them the story from Walking the Straight Path about the king and the old man who was planting trees. If you don't know the story, get the book and go through it with some 13 year-olds. You won't be disappointed.

After the story, they answered all the simple questions, and then we got to the biggie: What can you and your friends do to care for the planet Earth? One of the kids said, "We can recycle." "That would be good. So remember, if you have some garbage outside, don't throw it on the ground. Come over and use our recycling bin."

Another kid said, "We can turn off the water when we're brushing our teeth." "Yes," I agreed, "that would be good, too. Water is a very precious commodity and we must ensure that there is enough for everyone. If you're ever thirsty, feel free to come over for a glass of water."

A third one shyly added in, "We could plant a tree?" "Wow. What a great idea," I exclaimed, in awe. "You know, I just happen to have an apple tree in the back that needs to be planted." My wife and I were just beginning to fix up our garden and had bought the tree the day before. We were about to plant it when she suggested that we let the kids do it. Hence the story (which I did need to practice: I needed to practice telling it to them!).

We all marched out back, dug a hole and planted that tree. For the rest of the summer, they regularly came over and helped water it, as well as the rest of our garden. When it finally started to bear fruit, they knew that some of those apples were theirs.

"O dwellers of My Paradise! With the hands of loving-kindness I have planted in the holy garden of paradise the young tree of your love and friendship..."

Children's Classes, part 1

I was recently at a large gathering in which the friends were talking about the development of the Faith in their cluster. After many beautiful stories, and heartfelt concerns, were shared, someone asked a question of simple practicality: How did you begin your children's classes?

As this was a strength of the community, and he was from another cluster, the question was directed to the whole group in order for him to learn how to do this in his neighbourhood.

Now, my wife and I have had a children's class for a few years, having started one shortly after we moved into our home. How did it begin? How were we able to invite a number of children whom we did not know to come into our home for spiritual education based on a faith they had never heard of?

It was quite simple, really: our cat peed on our comforter.

OK, this may not sound like the normal way of starting a class, but it worked for us. Our washing machine was not large enough to clean the comforter, so I had to go to the local laundromat. While there, I thought I could either catch up on my reading and not meet anyone, or I could work on my art (I'm an artist by trade) and have everyone there say "Cool, what are you doing?", which is what usually happens when I'm working (my art is fairly unusual).

So, with teaching being in the forefront of my mind (I'm working on it becoming my dominating passion, but have a long way to go), I decided for the latter and said some prayers before leaving. In case you don't know, the success of all your plans requires ample prayer, otherwise it's like going fishing but forgetting the hooks, or perhaps the bait. The metaphor may break down there, but you get the idea.

I said my prayers, and brought the (stinky) comforter and my work to the laundromat. Within a few minutes some kids came over and said, "Cool, what are you doing?" (See? I told you they'd do that.) After showing them, and letting them try their hand at my work, I told them that my family and I had just moved in down the street, and invited them to come over whenever they wanted.

The next day, much to my surprise, they did.

Now I was faced with a problem: what to do. Fortunately I had said my prayers again, and the Concourse on High, those wily spirits just waiting to help in any sneaky way they can, put some words in my mouth: "Hi. Come on in," I brilliantly opened with. "The rule of the house is that you have to introduce yourselves by name, and then say something good about the person that brought you." Where did that rule come from? Who cares, because they believed it.

The first one introduced himself and then said that his friend was "nice". This is known as a non-answer. It doesn't convey any useful information, so I probed further. "How do you know he's nice? What does he do?"

After a long-winded and convoluted answer, I smiled in great appreciation. "Ahh. You know what you've just described?" I said this while leading them over to our virtues poster, a very handy tool when you have no clue which virtue someone just described. We found one that fit quite nicely and then went over to a white board where I had them write it down. As reading and writing were quite difficult for them, I gave them lots of encouragement and showered them with praise when they successfully did it. After this, I gave a simple definition of the virtue, followed by a story of the Master that demonstrated it. There also happened to be a lesson in Ruhi Book 3 that touched on this virtue, so we went over that, too.

They loved it.

Afterwards, they played for a few hours with my son, who was only 1 at the time.

I said goodbye to them as they left and wondered if I'd ever see them again.