Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Mine Rich in Gems...

"Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value."

We all know this quote by now, made even more famous by its inclusion in Ruhi Book 3, especially with its applicable follow-up sentence of "Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."

It is, of course, a marvelous quote, filled with many layers of meaning.  But how often do we explore some of those layers?  How well do we actually follow Baha'u'llah's next line to us, in which we are advised to "meditate on that which the Scriptures... have revealed"?

I was thinking about this a few years ago, after a particularly interesting tutor's gathering which focused on Ruhi Book 3.  At this gathering, one of the friends shared with us a visualization that she does with the participants in her study circle.  She tossed across the table a wide variety of polished semi-precious gemstones, varying from tourquoise to agate, hematite to quartz, and so on (you know the kind, the ones you can get at any new age store for only a few dollars).  As they flew across the surface, she said "These are your students!"  She was beaming as she displayed for our edification the true beauty of those children with whom we would be working.  She showed how each was different, but all were beautiful.

And I have to admit, it almost made me ill.

OK, it didn't really make me ill.  I'm just joking, but there was a sense of discomfort as I watched this display.  I couldn't put my finger on why, and it bothered me that I was uncomfortable about it.  After all, who am I to judge?  But then again, I wasn't judging.  I don't think she was wrong, it just seemed to me that something important was missing (I feel I can be candid with you, dear Reader, after all, this is about my views of the Faith, and nothing official).  I thought it about for the rest of the meeting, and most of that night.  I studied the full quote in Gleanings (CXXII, if you're interested) so that I could get a better context.  I knew I needed to meditate upon it.

Fortunately, there was the drive home: 6 hours across the Canadian Prairies.  Nothing like the prairies to allow you the opportunity to meditate.

Disclaimer time!  Please remember that this is only my own opinion, my interpretation (if you will), of what one line means.  Like the piece about animals and souls, it is not official, just what works for me.

Now I have to tell you, my background is as a jeweler (you can see some of my wall hangings here, and yes, they are for sale, hint, hint).  This is something I know a little bit about, and the opportunity to meditate upon a verse about gemstones was very rewarding to me.  When I returned to that community a few months later for their next tutor's gathering I spoke about the quote, and the example this one friend had given, and how I had felt uncomfortable.  Then I shared what I considered in my meditation.

"Have you ever been mining for gemstones?"  No one in the room, aside from myself, had.  I spoke of sluicing, or panning, for gemstones in North Carolina, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and how most of what we had looked at were basic pebbles, worth next to nothing.  But there, amidst those pebbles were other pebbles that had a slightly different tint to them, and those were the gems.

I spoke of going into a tourist gemstone mine and being faced with a wall of rock, 9 feet high and I-have-no-clue-how long.  It was longer than I could see.  The lights on the wall only illuminated patches here and there, and amidst these sparse patches, we were hoping to find the occasional gem about the size of my small finger nail.  200 square feet, and we're looking for something less than a quarter inch square?  Yeah, right.

Then I took out a couple dozen rough stones, tossed them on the table and asked the friends what they thought.  "Pretty?" I asked.

"Pretty unimpressive," was the response.

"Those," I informed them, "are sapphires, rubies and emeralds."

They looked puzzled.  They didn't look like any gemstones they had ever seen.

"When you go digging for gems, good luck finding them.  And when you do find them, good luck recognizing them for what they are."

I told them a story of a friend and I who went to a mine together and she handed me a rock about the size of a golfball.

"What is this," she asked.

"Star sapphire," and I handed it back.  She had found a 300 carat star sapphire and couldn't recognize it.  She was about to toss it in the junk pile, but something stopped her.  Perhaps a flash of light on the surface, who knows?

"And then," I told the group at the tutor's gathering, "once you find them, all you have is a pile of rocks."  I motioned to the heap of rough stones.

"It takes many hours of work," I informed them, "to cut and polish a gemstone.  Even then, it's not easy and you have to be careful.  If you cut a topaz as if it were a diamond, it will shatter.  And if you try to cut a diamond like a topaz, you will not get the full brilliance of the diamond."  I spoke of the importance of knowing the stone and its qualities, just like we need to know the qualities of the children.  A child who is showing the quality of assertiveness will need a different type of encouragement than one who is showing qualities of peacefulness.  Both are virtues, but very different from each other.

"And once you have taken the time to properly cut, shape and polish your gemstone, all you have is a gemstone."  Here I took out a cut and polished smoky quartz, quite large and very beautiful.  Everyone admired it as it was passed around.

"Now you need to spend the hours and hours making the setting for it.  Only then will it truly be useful."  And here I produced a necklace with a large stone set in the centre.

They looked at the various stones, in various stages of finishedness, and I read another quote that really seemed pertinant to me.  It is from 'Abdu'l-Baha:

Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory.

It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God's abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.

I added the bold for emphasis, to remind the friends that this wonderful task, the training and education of children, is not only "highly meritorious", but is, like all major worth-while endeavours, very difficult.

Those children are not the polished gemstones that we eventually hope to see.  They are the rough stones that need the loving and firm care to cut away those rough edges.  Then they require the patience and fortitude to help them shine in their full glory.

Now, just in case you are discouraged by this, please remember the outcome:  "gems of inestimable value".  And you are not alone.  If it does get too tough for you, call on other people in your community who have more, or at least different, experience.  This really is a wonderful service that you are providing.

Of course, as my wife points out (she is great for showing me what's missing in these articles), the teachers are also precious gems.  When you teach your first class, you, too, are a gem in the rough.  And as you gain more experience, you, too, will shine.

And if you're interested, a chain-mail 9-pointed star hanging on your wall is great for making it all seem easier!


  1. I love this reflection you've shared! Thank you so much!

  2. Thank you for your insights. I just googled "Bahai polish gems" as I prepared for a childrens class of 5 year olds. I intend to use beach stones which I hope they will identify with. Their hardness, how stones are the foundation of the earth, the humility of the earth which allows us to walk upon it. Then we will begin the polishing process - in a tumble polisher. That process will reveal step by step; week by week; the qualities that were hidden beneath, etc. Even the simple stone from the beach becomes a cherished talisman.

  3. I just wrote a cover letter for a job related to mining "gems" in the community. Your insight helped to get to the core of this key concept.... Thank you for sharing!
    Suzy in San Jose, CA

  4. Wow - thank you so much for this wonderful exposition on the "gems of inestimable value" quote! We're developing a virtues camp this summer and your thoughts have really inspired me. Thank you! (And if you have suggestions for activities to do with children at a one-week, 2 hour summer virtues camp, please let me know!) --Ellen from Wilmette, IL