Monday, December 21, 2009

Make Thy Beauty to be My Food...

Make Thy beauty to be my food...

Last night, before going to sleep, my wife and I were talking about this line from the Writings and ended up not getting to sleep for many hours.  The Writings can be like that.

Why were talking about that line, in particular?  Well, my wife has been studying the prayer that begins with that line, and she has had some wonderful insights into it, but I'll let her write her own blog.

For myself, I'm going to tell you a story.

When I was younger, and I'm talking my young teenage years, I used to play a game with myself while I was walking down the street.  I would think of two words and try to connect them with other words that just made sense.  For example, I could choose wheat and boat, and maybe connect them by wheat-grain-seeds-oil-tanker-boat.  Sometimes I would try and connect them with a particular number of words, or words that had a certain letter.  But as time went on, it all became too easy a puzzle.

Then I ran across the concept, in my studies of different religions, that everything in existence can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth.  I've already written about this a few times, but here is another take on it.

I would pick something fairly random and then try and see if I could uncover a spiritual truth latent within it.  A teapcup, as I mentioned previously, is too easy.  There is the old Zen story of the Master overfilling the students cup and saying, "Until you empty your cup of yourself, I cannot teach you anything new."

Another time I picked a comet, as shown in another article.

One of my favorites, which I haven't shared here yet was, again, a teacup.  You see, when my father was in hospital, shortly before his passing, he asked me some questions about life and death, and the nature of the soul.  Ths was quite remarkable to me, as he was an avowed atheist.  But I remembered that he always encouraged me to study Sacred Texts.  He said that it was very important to him to study all the various religions to best decide what you believed.  He read as many Sacred Books as he could before he finally decided that he did not believe in any of them.  He also encouraged me in my own studies, for which I am very grateful.

But there he was, in hospital, asking me about the nature of the soul and heaven and hell.  He explained how the concept of eternal hell made no sense to him, and therefore the whole argument of the soul and heaven and hell fell apart.  He just couldn't accept it, and wondered why I had such a strong faith.

As I began to respond, the doctors came in and started doing some fairly uncomfortable procedures, and I realized that this was probably not the best time to talk with him.  And so I didn't.

It wasn't until a few months later that I was able to write a response to him from my home in another country, attempting to answer his questions.  My step-mother read the letter to him, and phoned to tell me that it was a great comfort to him.  After he passed away, she still kept the letter close, which I only learned upon her passing.  Today, I keep the letter on my desk, reminding me of the few precious moments we have in our life, and the need to treasure our time with loved ones.

OK, that was an unintentional aside, but worth it, to me.  I always love those moments when I am reminded of my parents, and the love they gave me.  (Thanks Mom, who is still very much alive.)

So, where was I?  Oh yes, the teacup again.

I wrote to my Dad and talked about how clay is basically made up of two materials.  Now this is not exactly scientifically accurate, I know, but it works for all intents and purposes.  We can say that clay is made up of the part that becomes the ceramic, and another part that burns away in the kiln.  I call that other part "the organic binders", which is fairly close.  It also has water, but we can treat that as one of the organic binders.

Anyways, I talked about how we take a piece of clay and form it into a teacup.  Then we take this cup and place it in the kiln, for if we don't, it is not useful.  It will melt away when we try to drink from it.  Only by putting it in the fire, burning away the impurities, and allowing the ceramic to fuse into a glass-like material, will the teacup become useful to us.

Of course, as any potter knows, when you put an unfired piece of clay in the kiln, it shrinks.  The amount of shrinkage is dependent upon the amount of impurities, or organic binders, in the clay.

I said that this is like the soul.

As we are living our life, we are building the cup of our soul with the clay of our deeds.  Our good deeds are like the pure ceramic, while our not-so-good deeds are like the organic binders (a term all too appropriate).

Then I took a tangent (see, I don't just do that here) and spoke of 'Abdu'l-Baha's metaphor of how death is like birth.  When we are in the womb, we are building our body.  Although we have no need for our eyes or hands when we are in the womb, they are necessary for this world.  We can live and survive without them here, but it is just more difficult.

As you know, when we are born into this world, from the world of the womb, many things change.  We go from being a water-breather to an air-breather.  Those sounds that were muffled and distant within the womb now transform and become beautiful birds chirping or melodic symphonies.  That reddish haze we may have once saw through the skin of our mother now transforms into a spectacular sunrise.  And yet, we are just a new-born baby.  Now we must grow and develop to maturity.

Similarly, our soul, when we go through the trauma of death, transforms.  Those emotions we felt like love and joy are now so much more enhanced that we will barely recognize them.  Our sense of love now is like the muffled sounds in the womb: it pales in comparison to the reality.  All of those virtues that we didn't really need in this world (let's face it, you can get by quite well without being kind or courteous) are now suddenly necessary in the next world.

But when we go through that trauma, all of our impurities are burned away, and we shrink, so to speak.  If we were used to having a liter-sized cup, but we were very rotten, then we may shrink to a thimble-sized cup.  And really, wouldn't that be its own sort of hell?  Knowing you need to go through all that growth again?

And speaking of hell, has anyone else noticed that the texts speak of the eternally burning fires of hell, not burning eternally in hell?  A slight difference, I'm sure, but significant to me.

Well, that's what I spoke of to Dad.

Oh, and I mentioned how when we get to the next world we are, once again, like an infant, needing to grow and develop to maturity.  But the bounty is that there is no time in the next world, and so we have all eternity to do it.

So what does this have to do with the opening quote?  "Make Thy beauty to be my food"?

I believe that seeing the divine metaphors in everything is one way to experience God's beauty, and that doing this feeds and nurtures the soul.  When we see the beauty of creation in every single object, how much richer is creation in our sight?

If this article was more rambling than usual, I apologize.  It's what I get for trying to write before breakfast.  Let thy cheese sandwich be my food, for now.

No comments:

Post a Comment