Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Tree of Faith

"Regard thou faith as a tree. Its fruits, leaves, boughs and branches are, and have ever been, trustworthiness, truthfulness, uprightness and forbearance."

I was sitting alone in a coffee shop reading the compilation on "Trustworthiness". Why that compilation? It had occurred to me earlier that week that the Universal House of Justice always seems to know what we need well before we do.

Every time a compilation is released, there is a delay of about 10 years before we realize that we need to study it.  I mean, we dutifully study them when they are released, but we don't always know why.  It always seems to be about 10 years later, after the light of experience illumines our needs, that we begin to get a small glimmering of why a particular compilation is so useful.

Of course, I'm only talking about myself.  I'm sure there are many others out there who get a great deal out of these studies the day these compilations are released, but for me, with my horizontal learning curve, it takes about 10 years.

So there I was, looking through my library, going through all the compilations when I noticed something odd.  The compilations on the Local Spiritual Assembly, Marriage, Family Life, Consultation: these all made sense.  I could see why they were useful.  But then I noticed Trustworthiness there amidst them all.

"Trustworthiness?  Why do we need a compilation on trustworthiness?"

I checked the date, and sure enough it had been released about 10 years earlier.

With this in mind, I went out to a coffee shop and began reading.

And stopped.

I stopped at the second quote, the one quoted above, unable to go on.  What did this quote mean?  I knew there was something there that I was missing, so I was determined to investigate it and learn a bit more about this quote that had stopped me in my tracks.

As you may have guessed, dear Reader, I am a very simple person.  I like things that are simple and easy to understand.

Naturally, when I read that quote, I automatically saw two columns: one listing the parts of a tree, the other listing virtues.  And when I see two lists (1, 2, 3, 4) and (a, b, c, d), I immediately link them as "1 is a, 2 is b, 3 is c, and 4 is d".  With that in mind, I ended up with:

Fruits - Trustworthiness
Leaves - Truthfulness
Boughs - Uprightness
Branches - Forbearance

I then brought this quote to the next table over where some friends of mine who were homeless were enjoying a cup of coffee, and I asked them what they thought.  The following is the result of 2 hours of conversation with 6, or so, friends.  The youngest, Liz was 14, and the oldest, whose name I cannot recall, was about 80.  It was a conversation that will stick with me for the rest of my life, and probably beyond.

We all agreed that the above list was probably a good starting point for analysis.  With that in mind, we took them one at a time.

"What", I asked the group, "is the purpose of the fruit of a tree?"  It is refreshing, nutritious, and contains the seed of the next tree.  This seed, of course, produces a tree somewhere other than where the tree itself is.

And then Liz added, "And a tree that bears no fruit is only fit for the fire."

At which point someone else added, "Hey, that's right.  It doesn't mean it's useless, though.  It has one final use: to produce warmth and heat and light."

From there we all spoke about how rare it is to find someone who is really trustworthy.  It is, like the fruit, refreshing and makes you feel real good.  And if your faith does not lead you to be trustworthy, how good is your faith?  Please note that this is not the same as questioning your degree of faith, but rather asking a qualitative question of how good that faith acually is.  If you met someone who professed to be of a faith, but they were not trustworthy, would you want to investigate that faith?  After all, its fruit is not showing itself to be all that good.

But to find someone who is trustworthy, and who follows a faith path?  This makes you more likely to investigate that path.  It is, quite literally, the seed that can be planted.  All that is needed is the light and water: the light of Divine Guidance and the Waters of Certitiude.

The leaves of this tree of faith were then likened to truthfulness.

What is the purpose of a leaf on a tree?  It draws down the energy from the sun and converts it into a food that the plant can use.  You can often tell where in the cycle of the seasons a tree is by looking at its leaves.  They go from being simple buds in the spring to full leaves in the summer.  They then begin  to change appearance, usually colour, in the autumn, to falling off in the winter.

There is an old Aboriginal teaching which says "A tree that loses all its leaves in the winter will not come back in the spring."  I've checked in my own neighbourhood, and it seems to be true.  Every tree I've seen that has no leaves at all in the winter is dead.  It doesn't come back.

We must be cautious, however, to not compare this personal faith described in the quote to a general world faith.  If a Christian or a Hindu, for example, has lost all the leaves of their personal faith, this does not mean that the global faith of Christianity or Hinduism has lost its power or effect.  Remember the article about One Common Faith, in which I quote that document about reaffirming the validity of all faiths.

But what is truthfulness?  We spoke for a long time about that one question until it was summed up as follows:  Truthfulness is that which conforms to reality, which is not quite the same as honesty, which is that which you believe.  If you believed, for example, that I was 40 and told someone I was 40, then you would be honest, but not truthful.  If you believed I was 40 and, as a joke, told someone I was 42, then you would be truthful, but not honest.  If you took that time to ask me, and I was honest, then you would learn that I am 42, and could tell someone so.  Then you would be truthful and honest.

So how does a leaf of truth fall away?  The simple answer seemed to be when an understanding of faith is in contradiction to visible reality.  For example, for some people it was an article of faith that the earth was the centre of the universe.  This is obviously contradicting visible reality.  That leaf fell away.

If enough leaves fall away, then the tree of personal faith eventually passes away.

But really, are the leaves falling away?  In fact, they were never really truth, just a mistaken belief, and therefore not a leaf at all.  Perhaps the real answer lies in the manner in which the individual can perceive reality around them.  Their expression of these truths are a way in which others can see them, and thereby understand where in the cycle of seasons that tree is.  You see, the leaves are not determined by the individual at all, but rather by their religion.  Their ability to understand and accept the truths found in their religion are the actual leaves of their personal tree of faith.

When your faith leads to a greater understanding of the world around you, and this is fully supported by experience, then your tree becomes healthier and stronger.

The third part of this analogy was the bough of the tree being likened to uprightness.

The bough is the main branch of the tree, that thickest branch from which all  the smaller branches branch.  Uprightness means adhering to the law.

If the bough is weak, someone said, then it cannot support the rest of the tree, and it will die.

"Or," said Liz, "it means that the tree is young."  This statement came into play for a me a few years  later when a dear friend enrolled in the faith.  She was living with her boyfriend at the time, and was not in a position to move out.  The Assembly, that wise institution, recommended that she stay in that house, but try to bring her life more into conformity with the laws of the Faith.  They said that the laws were like the fruits of a tree, and that if they overburdened her with too heavy a law, it would probably kill the tree of her faith.

Anyways, this part of the conversation was very much intertwined with the discussion on the fourth part: the branches being likened to forbearance.

The branches are those parts of the tree that support the leaves and the fruits, while forbrearance means to patiently endure or maintain self-control when subject to annoyance.

If we lose our self-control when someone is annoying us, it doesn't really matter how trustworthy we are, they won't want to have anything to do with us.  If we are not patient with them, anything we say, whether or not it is the truth, will have no effect.  They won't want to listen to us.

And if we are in violation of the laws of our own faith, then our own self-judgement leads us to being impatient with others.  We become testy and irritable, and more judging of others.

Needless to say, these thoughts are not my own.  They are the result of a wonderful discussion with a group of dear friends upon a single quote in the Writings.  It didn't matter that none of them were Baha'i, except for me.  They had beautiful insights that taught me a lot about the Writings, and about my own spiritual growth.  It also brought them a bit closer to the Faith.

Come to think of it, it also helped me develop an even greater appreciation for the wisdom that could be found in people of all walks of life.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice.

    Excellent words, and your deed exceeds your words, and your spirit exceeds your deeds.