Saturday, November 14, 2009

Show it to Me

"Show it to me in the Writings."

That was probably the most important phrase the woman who taught me the Faith ever taught me.  She told me, in no uncertain terms, that if I ever wondered about anything she said regarding the Faith, I was to ask her to "show it to me in the Writings".

Of course, this was so that I could "see through (my) own eyes and not those of others", but I didn't know that at the time.  I just figured it was some sort of standard Baha'i phrase.  Only later, when using it with Hands of the Cause or Counsellors or members of National Assemblies, did I realize otherwise.  (I blame it on my horizontal learning curve that I actually did that more than once.)

Despite the countless times in which I embarrassed myself by asking this question to those above-mentioned spiritual giants, and the nearly similar number of times in which they did show it to me, there are the occassional moments (possibly singular) in which we both learned something.

I remember one afternoon when a National Assembly was meeting, and I had the overwhelming bounty of enjoying lunch in the same lunchroom as them.  A friend and I were chatting about the arts and we both discovered our mutual admiration for the art of the tatoo.  Unbeknownst to us, a member of said Assembly over heard this, turned around, and lovingly informed us that tattoos were "forbidden in the Faith".

Before my brain engaged in gear, my mouth said, "Show it to me in the Writings."

Well, this poor, loving soul, may Baha'u'llah shower His belssings upon him, didn't know what to do.  Of course he couldn't show it to me right there in the lunchroom.  So, he did what anyone would have done: he asked another member of the National Assembly.

"Oh, yes," was the response, "I'm sure I saw it somewhere in the Writings."

Well, to cut to the chase, 5 members of this beloved institution all recalled seeing it "somewhere in the Writings".

Now, I didn't disagree with them, for I was sure they knew far more about the Writings than I did, but I really did want to see it for myself.  After that lunch, though, I didn't give it another thought.

Until a couple of weeks later when I received a letter apologizing about this misunderstanding.  They had looked.  And they had not found anything about tattoos, save a singular letter from the Master in which He responded to an individual who had the Greatest Name tattooed on their arm.  "Praise God," I believe was the response, "for you are the only one who will ever have that tattoo."  I am, of course, paraphrasing, but it was something along those lines.

Oh, and they also pointed out that there is a photo in the visitor's centre of the Temple in Wilmette of a woman with facial tattoos.  They spoke very lovingly of how tattoos are regarded as a cultural art form in many parts of the world, and when they maintain the dignity of the individual, are a wonderful art form.

They then encouraged me to continue to ask to see things in the Writings.

I love these institutions.  They really do show forth such love and wisdom.

But how does this apply in the interfaith arena?

In my previous posting, I spoke about seeing all things through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings, and how it applied to a teaching of Jesus.

What is that teaching, you ask?  Once again, O Reader, you have hit the nail on the head.

It is a phrase that is very common amongst many Christians, and one that I have wondered about for many years: "Turn the other cheek."

To me, this seems to say, "If someone slugs you, let him slug you again."  What does anyone learn?

Having learned my lesson in the Baha'i Faith, I asked someone who had used this in a sermon to show me the quote in the Bible.  And you know what?  It's not there.  Nowhere could we find the phrase "turn the other cheek".

What we found, and what he was referring to, was Matthew 5:39, in which we find "whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also".

Immediately I pointed out that Jesus is actually quite specific.  He does not say, "If someone slaps you, let him slap you again".  He specifcally says if they "slap you on your right cheek".

And we tried it.

My friend went to slap me on my cheek (only pretending, of course), and used his right hand to punch me on my left cheek.  Oops.  The left cheek?  Wait a moment.  Jesus said the right one, not the left.

My friend then went to use his left hand, but he wasn't left-handed.

All of a sudden this became intriguing to us.

To do as Jesus said, and maintain his right-handedness, he had to slap me backhandedly.  It was, to our understanding, no longer an act of anger, but an act of humiliation.  It was like the old knights slapping someone when challenging them to a duel.  Already by looking at the Text, our understanding had changed.

At this point we decided to switch roles.  What happened when he turned his left cheek to me?

Ostensibly nothing.

Except that if I were to strike again, I would get him square in the face.

All of a sudden, it seemed like a taunt.  "Come on, strike again.  I dare you."

I realized that whereas I might be willing to strike someone on the cheek, striking them square in the face was a very different matter.  A slap on the cheek might sting, but square in the face?  That could do some serious damage.

And there, we believed, was the true lesson.

With that simple action, turning the head just a bit and offering the aggressor the left cheek, they learned shame.  "Whoa," they might say, "I'm not willing to go that far."  A spiritual lesson is learned.

Of course, if they do strike, then everyone around them will chastise them.  "What are doing?  Leave him alone.  He didn't hurt you."  A spiritual lesson in collective security.

No matter which way the aggressor decides, a spiritual lesson is learned.

And that seems, to me, a lesson worthy of applying.

Of course, the very next line in the Bible is "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also."

This requires context, but simply put, it means you owe them money, and they're suing you for it.  Your shirt was probably your most valuable possession at that time, having been handmade, and you probably only had one.  By offering your cloak, too, you are forced to stand naked before your peers, or at least in your underwear.

Pretty humiliating.

And would your friends stand for that?  Probably not.  Again, it seems like the same lesson in another context.

By simply asking to see it in the Writings, I learned so much.

So, dear Reader, if I ever write anything completely off-the-wall, please remember to ask me: "Show it to me in the Writings."


  1. I literally jumped in my seat when I realized where you were going with the handedness issue and its implications. You've just upended a fairly basic principle of my personal philosophy. Or rather, taken the stone and shown it to be hollow and filled with TREASURE. Well done, friend. Allahu Abha.

  2. Thought you might like this story by 'Abdu'l-Baha, Mead:

    "Once a person met his friend in the street, and after the exchange of courtesies, gave him a hard blow in the face. 'Why dost thou do this?' 'Hast thou not read in the Gospel wherein Christ says—Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also!—Now according to this admonition, let me smite thee on thy left cheek also.' The man submitted to the second blow quite willingly, and they parted. Next day, they met each other again, and the man received two more blows on his cheeks without any evident murmur. They met the third day, and he was going to inflict upon him the same blows. 'Wait a minute, my friend. I am not the only person in the world to live according to the Teaching of Christ. Thou also art one. I have obeyed Him two days, and the next two days will be thy turn.' 'With these words, he smote the man on his cheek, and asked him to 'turn the other also.'

    "Now the question of disarmament must be put into practice by all the nations and not only by one or two. Consequently the advocates of Peace must strive day and night, so that the individuals of every country may become peace-loving, public opinion may gain a strong and permanent footing, and day by day the army of International Peace be increased, complete disarmament be realized and the Flag of Universal Conciliation be waving on the summit of the mountains of the earth."

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