Thursday, December 24, 2009

Taking Time

I have what might be called a "messed up"sense of time.  When I use a phrase such as "just a few days ago" or "recently", it often means "10 years ago, give or take a decade".  For those of you who are trying to reconstruct some sort of biographical information out of my timeline as written here, don't bother.

First, it won't work.  Second, spend your time on a more worthy project, such as writing a biography of Fujita.  Hey, now there is an interesting life.  Who else was sent on a mission by 'Abdu'l-Baha just so he could have the opportunity to wear a tuxedo?  I'd love to read more about him and his dedicated services.

But again, let's face it, the chronology of stories I present here just doesn't work.  Why?  Because I'm not concerned about it.  To me, it doesn't matter if the episode I relate occurred yesterday or in the mid-80s.  It's the spiritual lesson that is important.

OK, sorry about all that.  It was just a reaction to some comments in a few e-mails.  I'm done for now.

Well, just the other day, sometime in the last decade or two, I was at a youth conference.  No, not the one with the rug, some other one.  And not the one in Vancouver (it was before that) or the one in Indiana (after that), some other one.

There I was at the youth conference, over lunch, just after someone spoke about the importance of obligatory prayer and saying your 95 "Allah'u'Abha"s.  I was walking past the bathroom, when I suddenly heard an odd sound coming from within.  Not normally one to check out odd sounds coming from a room like that, I did, however, pause in my tracks.  It sounded for all the world like someone saying "blah blah blah" over and over again, really quickly.

Now it is time for a truly amazing feat: two asides at once.  The first on privacy during prayer, and the other on the importance of laughter.

When I've told this story in the past many people have been aghast at the thought of saying prayers in a bathroom.  Why?  For many, it is the only private place they may have during the day.  But, too often have I seen someone condemn someone else for praying in the privacy of, uhm, the chamber.  While it may not be ideal, can we not respect the intention on the part of the person praying?  Are we not told that "blessed is the spot... where mention of God hath been made"?  Are bathrooms the sole exception to this?  Once again, I find it sad when we impose our own standard upon someone else.

This second aside has to do with laughter.  There are so many instances of laughter within the Faith, even though we often only hear about the sadness or the trials and tribulations.  When we are recounting the sufferings of the Holy Family when they were imprisoned in Akka, how often do we speak of 'Abdul-Baha's memory of humour?

Howard Colby Ives recalls Him speaking about laughter in his book, Portals to Freedom:
It is good to laugh. Laughter is a spiritual relaxation. When they were in prison, He said, and under the utmost deprivation and difficulties, each of them at the close of the day would relate the most ludicrous event which had happened. Sometimes it was a little difficult to find one but always they would laugh until the tears would roll down their cheeks. Happiness, He said, is never dependent upon material surroundings, otherwise how sad those years would have been. As it was they were always in the utmost state of joy and happiness.
This is so important to me, as a Baha'i, for it is part of the reason I declared in the first place (more on that elsewhere).  You see, I've always figured that if a religion teaches you to not laugh, then I really don't want to be part of it.  But in the Baha'i Faith, we are told how important laughter and joy are.  And we should relish them, treasuring each and every giggle.  Of course, we should take our work for the Faith seriously, but never ourselves.  Hmm.  Maybe that's why I write this.

Anyways, there I was at this youth conference, speaking, once again, just after lunch.  Why is it that they always schedule me just after lunch?  I don't know.

But there I was, and, as usual, decided to follow up on something from earlier in the day.  I spoke of the wonderful talk we had heard that morning about the importance of prayers, and the recitation of our mantra, for isn't that what the 95 Allah'u'Abhas are?

Then I spoke a bit about how important it is that we are conscious of what we are saying when we are praying.  I spoke of a few religious ceremonies I had attended in which the prayers were said so quickly that you couldn't understand a single word that was uttered, and how I felt robbed of the opportunity to learn and grow.

I talked of the Kitab-i-Iqan, in which Baha'u'llah talks about those religious rituals that have "ceased to exert their influence", and connected the two together.  After all, if you are not aware of the words you are saying when praying, and not thinking about what the words mean, how can they have their full influence over your spirit?

Then I talked about the recitation of the 95 Allah'u'Abhas.

Upon being asked, they were all aware of the need to wash your hands and face before beginning.  They all knew the wisdom of taking a moment to quiet your mind, to still that endless chatter that runs through your consciousness day in and day out.  They all agreed that finding a quiet place to sit would be ideal.  And then I asked them how long it would take to recite the phrase, "Allah'u'Abha" (God is most glorious), 95 times.

Most agreed that it could be done in 3 minutes.

It was then that I told the story of walking past the bathroom and hearing someone saying "blah blah blah" as fast as they could.

You see, it had taken me a few minutes of reflection to realize that what they were really doing was trying to do their 95 Allah'u'Abhas.

"Allah'u'Abha, Allah'u'Abha, allabha, allabha, alabha, alabha, labha, labha, la, bhala, blah, blah, blah, blah".

When you say that phrase as fast as you can, it really does sound like "blah blah blah".  And when you race through your prayers as fast as possible, just trying to hurry and get them done as quick as you can in order to get on with your day, aren't you really just saying "blah blah blah"?  What's the difference?

Fortunately, I had no idea who was in the bathroom, and was able to reassure everyone that they did not need to feel embarrassed, as I had done exactly the same thing for years.

Give or take a decade.

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