Friday, November 20, 2009


"Can you talk some more about virtues?"

Such a simple question, how could I not respond to it?

There are really only two things I want to share about them, as so much is written elsewhere.  Why should I repeat what others have said so beautifully?  If you want definitions, lists, and projects that are virtues-based, I can highly recommend the Virtues Project website.

But that is not what I'm going to write about today.  Today, I'm going to offer two different points.

The first is that I believe the virtues are attributes of God to which we can all aspire.  Perhaps aspire is the wrong word.  What we really want to do is develop them within ourselves, make them stronger.

Another way of putting it is that if God is the All-Bountiful, we can show some bounty.  If He is the All-Powerful, then we have some power in order to accomplish good things in our life.  Whatever God is in the capital, we are in the lower-case.

I believe that a good starting point is to see where the different attributes of God are mentioned in the Sacred Texts.  As you know, I believe that every single word in Sacred Text is exactly what it should be, and where it should be.  Given that, it seems to me that  every time we see an attribute of God in Sacred Text, this is an indication of what we should cultivate within ourselves to better understand the Text in question.

For example, when we read the Tablet of Ahmad, we know from history that Ahmad regarded it as a teaching Tablet; one that told him to go and teach.  Therefore, given this hypothesis, when we read the opening attributes of God, it seems we should be able to learn something about teaching.

It opens with "He is the King, the All-Knowing, the Wise".  Why?  If God is the King, then we are noble.  The nobility are the "lower-case" version of the King.  In order to teach effectively, we must recognize our own nobility and strive to be worthy of so great an honour, that of teaching.  We also need to acknowledge and honour the nobility in the people with whom we hope to share the Message.

We also need to teach with knowledge and wisdom.

It is no coincidence, in my opinion, that in the long healing prayer, the phrase "the Abiding" is repeated twice in the refrain, for isn't that the attribute we most need to develop when we are asking for healing?

As an aside, I recall once going to a Bible study that was held just before an interfaith prayer gathering.  In this study, the youth minister was talking about his understanding of Corinthians 7:24, in which we are told to "abide with God".  He spoke so beautifully about how wonderful it is to live with God in our lives, and how blessed we are for being able to know anything about our Creator.  He went on in this manner for the whole time, and then asked if there were any questions.

As I had a question, I raised my hand.  My friend, who brought me, looked embarrassed and shrank down in his seat.  (I really can't imagine why.)

The minister, not seeing anyone else with a question, called on me.

"What," I asked, "does 'abide' mean?"  I really didn't know.

This poor man looked stunned.  He didn't know either.

"Doesn't it mean to 'live in'?"  He wasn't entirely sure of the answer, but thought that might be it, as that is what he spoke about in his talk.

"I'm not sure," I replied, "but I think that is 'abode'.  'Abide' might mean something else."

Someone else in the room had a dictionary, and offered the definition.  "It means 'to remain with, in times of great difficulty'."

Now I was embarrassed, for this seemed to go against everything he had said.  But really, is it all that easy to be "with God" in our life?  Didn't Muhammad say, "Think because you say you believe, you will not be tested?"

It is when we are ill, and in need of healing, that we must abide with God, for He, truly, knows what is best.  Of course, it is not always what we want, nor is it easy, but it is what it is.

And it is when we abide, while doing all we can to attain health, that we stand the best chance of recovery.

The very attributes that we call God in a prayer are those we must learn to develop in ourselves to have the best chance at having the prayer answered.

But what about the second point?  It is this: virtues on their own are not good things.

It may sound odd to say that, but think about it.  Patience is a virtue, right?  Sure, but a good thief is patient.  And steadfastness is a virtue, but the Nazis were steadfast.

I cannot think of a single virtue that is a good thing all on its own.

Baha'u'llah, after all, says, "Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence".  Virtues, I feel, fall into this category.

Actually, it's not that the virtue itself is a bad thing, it's just that there are other virtues that are missing.

We must learn to use the virtues together in order for them be good.  Each one moderates or enhances the others.  That thief is patient, but not trustworthy.  The Nazis were steadfast, but lacking in love and compassion.

When we can identify how the virtues interact with each other, then we are in a far better position to learn how to develop them in our own life.  Susanne Alexander speaks beautifully about this in her book, Pure Gold.  I think that book is worth its weight in, well, pure gold.

Look at that thief again, for a moment.  If we can assist them to develop their sense of trustworthiness, and aid them to become more truthful, will they not become a great member of society?  Isn't that the true purpose of our prison system?  Just imagine if we were conciously trying to assist people to develop those virtues that are most necessary to aiding them to become greater contributors towards a healthy society. By identifying those virtues that strong within someone, and then helping them to develop those that would moderate it and allow it to become a better thing, that, it seems to me, is a worthy purpose of our life.  It would truly aid in "carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization".

And isn't that what we do when we help teach someone the Faith?  Allow them to put their own strengths into the context of a world civilization?

Just a thought.

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