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?

1 comment:

  1. This law has perplexed me as well. I agree with you that many of the laws that seem difficult at first become habit and are actually really quite straightforward. And then the laws that have the most severe social consequences for breaking them (murder, adultery etc.) are not things that I personally struggle with. They govern actions I would not willingly take were it not a law.

    For me I think some of the most difficult laws are laws of burial, because in my personal case they are out of my hands. I can be as clear as I want in my will, but when it comes down to it how I am buried (or whether I am buried at all) is up to the living. I think this law challenges me to teach the faith to my loved ones and to build solid, trusting relationships so that even if they do not recognize Baha'u'llah they will recognize my desire to follow his laws and precepts. Being buried in a strong coffin, preferably of crystal, in a location within an hour's distance of where I died, and to be cleaned, not embalmed, and wrapped in a shroud of silk with a ring placed on my hand are all out of the realm of normal for the non-Bahai American culture of my family. This law is much more complicated than it first appears because it speaks to the community and family level rather than the individual.

    Are these laws "the most difficult"? I don't know. Probably not. But I do think that they are more difficult than they first appear, particularly at this stage in the faith's development when it is not the cultural norm, and in places where cremation or embalming are the norm.