Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food for Thought

"Do I go out today, or do I stay home, rest and write?"  That was the question I asked myself this afternoon. On the one hand, my wife and son were going ice skating today and I really wanted to join them. On the other hand, I'm not feeling all that good and am behind on my writing.

While the answer to that question, which is obvious from the fact that I am writing, was fairly straight-forward, it did lead me to some other questions. "What is the purpose of writing? Why should I stay home and rest? How important is my good health to me?"

The answer to those questions can be found in the writings of the Guardian (in Lights of Guidance, number 991).  "You should always bear in mind Baha'u'llah's counsel that we should take the utmost care of our health, surely not because it is an end in itself, but as a necessary means of serving His Cause."

This response, to me, addresses so many things. Why do I write? To serve His Cause. Why should I rest and take care of myself? To serve His Cause. Why is my health important to me? To better serve His Cause.

All right, that last one was not quite the same as my question, but it still gets to the heart of the matter.

I have been feeling chilled all day, and will probably get ill if I go out. Yet, if I go out, I will be able to talk with people about the Faith (this is not even a probability, but a certainty, as Marielle and Shoghi are skating at The Forks today). Shoghi and I always engage people in spiritual conversations when we go out.

But Tuesday evening, I have a very important engagement that will probably help introduce the Faith to 50 people. That is a higher priority to me.

Besides, when Marielle and Shoghi get home, I'll be better able to spend quality time with my son. He'll be a bit tired from skating all day, and running around, and I'll be rested. We should be about even with each other.

Important aside - Be sure to try and have your children in your early 20s, if possible, and not your late 30s. You need the extra bit of energy that youth brings in order to keep up with your kids. Just thought I'd mention it.

But let's get back to that quote again for a moment. "...take the utmost care of your health..."

How can we do that? What does it mean to "take the utmost care of your health"?

While I could go on and on about exercise and abstaining from alcohol, or being sure not to smoke nor do drugs, I think I will talk briefly about diet.

When I was a child, my mother ("Hi Mom!" - ok everybody, wave to my Mom, because I think she's reading this one) told me that I could save money on clothes or books, or just about anything else I wanted, but I should not try to save money on food. Why was that? Because, she explained, food is the basic building block of your body. If you put poor quality in, you will regret it.

For decades I have followed her advice (see Mom, I was listening).

While I do not eat much meat, I am not a vegetarian (although I was for a few years). And yet, since I am aware of the various abuses of chemicals in the general meat industry, I try to only eat organic meat. Marielle, however, is vegetarian. For years it was not a moral choice, but rather a practical choice. Meat made her ill. And when she eats chicken, it makes me ill (chicken really, REALLY doesn't agree with her).

Now, as we have both been doing more research on food and diet, our diet is consisting of more raw foods.

In a pilgrim's note (found in Ten Days in the Light of Akka), 'Abdu'l-Baha had been asked what we should eat. His response was "Fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food."

Right now there are many wonderful web-sites about raw food, and healthy living in general. One of my favorites is but there are many more.

Recently, for her birthday, I got a book for my wife entitled "I'll Have the Fruits and Grains Please". It is a marvelous introduction to the idea of eating a more balanced diet in light of the Writings. And if you have not discovered Victoria Leith's fantastic web-sites, I'll give her a plug right now:  It is well worth checking out.

But, if you are like me, then I also offer a caution. Many of the web-sites out there that talk about healthy living, and healthy diets, are quite fanatical. They fall into the "we're right and everyone else is going to hell" mentality, which really is a shame. They have such wonderful information to share, but the manner in which they share it leaves something to be desired.

An easy way to avoid falling to that common trap is to look at the quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha again. "The time will come... The people will gradually..." You see, in this simple quote the Master is letting us know that it is not the time for all of us to embrace this diet. We need to exercise patience with ourselves, and with each other.  We also need to show compassion, both for thoe who are struggling while trying to adopt this lfe-style, and for those who do not see it as useful.

You may have noticed that I mentioned I was vegetarian for a few years, but am no longer. The reason is that my body was unable to handle it. Although I was eating a good balance of foods, I was still not getting enough proteins. Although I wanted to continue eating vegetarian, my body seemed to require some degree of meat. Now I eat a bit of meat every now and then as my body calls for it, but I do so in the healthiest way I can.

I am also reminded of a great story of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Curtis Kelsey, that stalwart Baha'i from the early days of the Faith in the West, was in the Holy Land getting ready to install the electrical generator for the Shrines, at the Master's request. 'Abdu'l-Baha, the same One Who recommended that we eat fruits and grains, ensured that Curtis had eggs for breakfast each morning. There is even a letter from 'Abdu'l-Baha to Siyyid Abu'l-Qasim, asking him to ensure that Curtis "have plentiful food for lunch and dinner, and even breakfast... Either kill a chicken or bring meat from Akka. There must always be some kind of meat. And in the morning, serve milk, eggs, jam and olives."

What is the message here? To me, it is about flexibility and courtesy, as well as compassion. The best diet is to eat fruits and grains and nuts, but we must be flexible. We must also show patience and allow people to grow into things. It is not up to us to tell people when they must learn a lesson, or adopt a lifestyle. We must, at all times, honour that God-given right to free choice, and present the choices shown us in the Faith "as a gift to a king."

So for now, I eat the best that I can. I teach the neighbourhood children how to eat in a more healthy manner. I cook healthy food for my friends when they come over for dinner. And I pass on what little I have learned about a healthy diet.

Finally, I try and keep myself as healthy as possible so that I can serve more effectively and efficiently.

But just in case you are wondeing, Mom, homemade brownies are still one of the healthiest foods available.

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