Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spiritual Motion

Have I ever mentioned that I am an avid reader of science fiction? I just love the stuff. In fact, that is how I first learned about the Baha'i Faith. At a science fiction convention. But that's a story for another time (told in a book that is awaiting a publisher, hint hint). I have always figured that Baha'is and science fiction fans are pretty much the only two groups of people that necessarily look to the future, by virtue of their beliefs.

But that's not what I want to talk about right now.

No, today I was thinking about science. The hard stuff, not the fiction, fluff or otherwise. In particular, I was thinking about the laws of physics, and specifically the laws of motion, as described by Newton.

You see, I am of the belief that everything, and I mean everything, in physical creation can be seen as a metaphor for a spiritual truth. I've written a lot about this, and I figure there is still a lot more to be written. Oh, and not just by me. I love to read what others write about this, too. But for myself, I was wondering about Newton and his laws of motion.

The 1st law of motion, in case you have forgotten is: Any change in speed requires a force. Or, in simple terms, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, while an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Perhaps that's why it is so difficult for some of us to get out of bed in the morning.

What are the spiritual implications of this? Well, to me, this refers to the state of our spirit, as well as the state of civilization.

On an individual level, it is a reminder of the reality that my tendancy is to just keep on doing whatever it is that I happen to be doing at any given moment. Like most of us, I presume, I would rather stay in a job that doesn't bother me too much than get up and look for a new one that I would enjoy more. I would far prefer to stay in a house that doesn't annoy me too much than spend the energy looking for a new one.

Similarly, I would rather keep writing what I am writing here, a form of motion, than try and develop a new voice to write something in a different vein.

Whatever I happen to be doing at any given moment, I would prefer to keep on doing it.

I think that society is similar. We, as a group, would far prefer to keep on doing what we are doing, rather than spending the time and energy looking for a better way of doing things. Or better things to do.

The problem, however, is that most of what we are doing is not particularly good. Many of our habits need to be changed if we want to fluorish, as opposed to just survive. In fact, some of our habits have to change if we want to even survive.

This phenomenon of just coasting can actually lead to some serious issues. The Guardian refers to "the apathy and lethargy that paralyze (our) spiritual faculties", which shows that it is an issue we need to contend with. The reason, he points out in this statement, that we don't get up and look for something better is that we either don't care enough about it, apathy, or are just too lazy to do anything about it, lethargy. And this is not good. We cannot be passive players in the course of our life; we need to be active, conscious participants in choosing our direction.

Of course, as everyone knows, this is not easy. It takes energy, either through effort of will, or some possibly catastrophic event in our life.

This brings us to the 2nd law of motion: The force needed to accelerate an object equals the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration. In other words, the more we want to move, the more energy is needed. Coffee, for many of us, provides that acceleration needed to get us out of bed in the morning.

For me, as an individual, that can mean either an event in my life providing that energy, or effort of will. An event that really changed the course of my life was the birth of my son. That provided so much spiritual energy that my life has really never been the same. Regularly reading the Writings every morning and evening also provides that much needed spiritual energy to keep my spirit moving, without which the friction of life would slow me down until I ceased moving altogether. Instead of a large concentrated force all at once, it is a little bit every day.

Some historic examples of this are Saint Paul, with his transformational encounter with the Spirit of God on the road to Damascus, or Saint Francis and his encounter with the leper. In the Baha'i tradition, we also have the story of Badi and his meetings with Baha'u'llah. In those memorable meetings "the spirit of might and power was breathed" into him.

Society is the same. We regularly need that spiritual infusion given to us by the Messengers of God, which is the only force massive enough to move an entire civilization. If we look back through history, we can easily see that the rise of each major civilization coincides with the advent of a Manifestation of God, whether it is Greek society being influenced by the Jewish scholars, or Rome with Jesus, or even the European renaissance being inspired by Islam through the wealth of information brought back by the merchants of the age.

Time and again we can see the result of this massive force, the spiritual energies released by the Manifestation of God, acting upon the world.

But then we encounter the unfortunate reality of the 3rd law of motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Or, I have to get up and make the coffee in the morning before I can drink it.)

As it says in the Qur'an, "O the misery of men! No Messenger cometh unto them but they laugh Him to scorn." Unfortunately, we often do a lot more than just laugh at Them. I don't need to go into that here, for we all know it.

I do wonder, however, why we, as a people, would do this. As you can imagine, Baha'u'llah tells us, right there in the Kitab-i-Iqan.
"Consider how men for generations have been blindly imitating their fathers... Such men... become so veiled that without the least question, they pronounce the Manifestation of God an infidel, and sentence Him to death."

It is through this blind imitation, when we allow ourselves to be carried forward in a dangerous direction by this simple application of inertia. It is a sad outcome of allowing that 1st law of motion to go unchecked.

But how does this quote and the 3rd law of motion apply to me as an individual? I think of it as a warning. First of all, if I want to make a change in my life, I should expect resistance. This resistance can either come from within, through that nefarious enemy of mine, lethargy, or from without, through the scorn or distractions imposed upon me by society. Video games and movies are an excellent example of the latter. (Science fictions, novels, on the other hand, don't really count. Do they?)

Secondly, it is yet another warning to live consciously, which, as you know, is a theme that comes up over and over again.

For example, right now, my lethargy tells me to keep sitting here in a coffee shop drinking tea, while my stomach is that force prompting me to cease writing, move on towards home and get dinner.

Tummy 1, lethargy 0. Tummy wins.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

One Country

"The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

We all know this quote, have it memorized and use it in our conversations quite often, I am sure. But I recently started thinking about it again, this time from an unusual perspective for me.  You see, I am an immigrant. I chose, at one point in my life, to move from the United States to Canada. Oh, and before you go there, I was not dodging a military draft, or doing it for any political reasons. No, I just was looking for a city in which I wanted to raise a family, and that city happened to be in Canada.

In recent days someone seemed to strongly disapprove of this choice and that got me thinking about this quote. "What is a country? How have we defined it in our own minds? How has Baha'u'llah redefined it for us? And what does it mean to be a citizen of this newly conceived 'country'?" Those were some of the thoughts that were going through my mind today as I was walking on the beach with my son.

Some people define a country by topography, or the distinctiveness of its population. Others define it by the boundaries marked by the political influence of a government, as in where the laws of a particular governing body are recognized. Probably the most common definitions would combine these into something like "a politically autonomous area distinguished by its people, culture, language, and geography".

But let's look at this. Is it really the case?

If we begin at the top of this list, then we must consider topography. Every mountain, valley, hill, dale, glen, forest, and rise would be deserving of the title country. Every individual island would have to have its own governing body, if not more than one. Every single place upon the planet that could be distinguished from any other would, by definition, need to be its own country. We would find ourselves continually reducing ourselves to smaller and smaller geographical units, dividing ourselves more and more, as we have seen in some parts of the world, to the great tragedy of those who live there.

In short, we would find this definition to be more than just useless; it would be destructive.

So, how about the second part of our working definition, distinctiveness of population? What does that actually mean? If we are referring to social norms, such as style of dress, or preferred music, than all you need to do is walk down any street and you will see the problem with that one. Do you look at the middle class white collar workers? Or the goth crowd? The upper elite? Or the homeless? In this day and age, with the increasing mass migration of humanity all over the face of the planet, this quickly becomes an unrealistic possiblity for a defining criteria. We are just too diverse a population for it to be a useful criterion. (And just in case you're wondering, I think this is a good thing.)

If we look at culture or language, we run into the same issues with migration, again. Today, you can walk down the street of any major city, and most minor ones, too, and see people with a such variety of features that it would have bewildered our grandparents.

So how about the politcal influence and the laws governing behaviour? Of which laws are we speaking? While every country has its own federal laws, the various states and provinces that exist under them each have their own laws. Does this make them their own nations?

In fact, we could go further down, to the level of the city, town, village or municipality. While they each exist within the province, they also have their own individual laws. Does this mean that they are their own nation?

The question on this definition based upon laws is that it, once again, breaks down at the level of application, forming smaller and smaller units.

No. It seems that any definition we try to use will, in the end, become more divisive than integrative.

I think the only way to look at it is in the reverse.

While we all quite easily agree that the laws of the city do not make it a nation, we are left trying to figure out why that is. One simple answer is that the city exists within the larger context of the state. Similarly, the province, or state, exists under the aegis of the federal laws.

While this would seem to be the end of it, we should also take a moment to recognize that there are now various international laws that are beginning to show the limits of federal or national sovereignty. It could very well be argued that these new international laws constitute a higher level of governement, thereby extending the definition of "nation" to what could be termed a "supra-nation" (if we use "super", it just gives me the willies of cold war egotism). In short, we could easily argue that the earth is, in literal fact, a single nation, with the smaller units previously called nations now acting like the provinces that are currently existing within them.

Baha'u'llah's call for a global currency, as well as global weights and mesures, would further assist the thinking along these lines.

So, getting back to my original thought, why would it matter if I moved to another country? If I had stayed within the United States, would anyone have cared if I moved from state to another? I think not, but then again, who knows?

To me, with my way of thinking, I see no tangible difference between the various countries. Or rather, to be more precise, I see no one country as being any better than any other, much like I would not see any one state or province as having any inherent superiority over another. The earth is, in reality, only a single country.

But there is still one other part of that quote that intrigues me: what does it mean to be a citizen?

According to the dictionary, it means "owing allegiance to, and being entitled to the protection of," the government.

In years gone by, this would have had a very different meaning than it does today. In the middle ages, for example, the "protection" might have only extended to the military meaning. The populace would have been entitled to the protection against invading armies. Their allegiance, however, would have meant giving over large amounts of taxes and food to the nobility, ostensibly in exchange for this protection.

Today I think this definition has a bit of an extending meaning. When we think of the role of the government, and the protections the people are entitled to, we often move into the realm of commerce and health. We insist on government standards in the market, ensuring the quality of our meat, vegetables, olive oil, cars, heaters and anything else we can think of. We insist that the companies providing various goods live up to their claims, and that they do not inadvertantly harm us (except in the case of cigarettes and alcohol, but that's another topic altogether). We also insist on laws that "prevent" us from harming ourselves, by requiring us to wear bicycle helmets or seatbelts, for example. This whole concept of "protection" has also brought such reforms as health care, social security, and similar measures. It also implies a conscious care for the environment, increased appreciation and education of the diverse peoples of the world, taking care not to allow minority cultures fade away, or various peoples be abused. It means a whole new system of education in which children are raised to be aware of the world in which they live, and not just their own neighbourhood or town. Not too bad, if you ask me, but there are still many questions left to be answered.

The main question that is being asked these days is, "Who is going to pay for all this?"

It is fine to pass a law ensuring the quality of our meat in the stores, but we have to pay the salaries of the people doing the inspection. Health care is a wonderful thing, but who covers the salaries of the physicians and nurses, as well as the medication? A change in education is obviously needed, but who will cover the costs of curriculum development and teacher training?

This is where "allegiance" comes in. Like the middle ages, it is still called "taxes" in most places.

But surely there is more to allegiance than just a bit of cash. It means a loyalty to a recognized group or a cause, whether that cause is a government, a religion, an ideology or some other structure. It implies adherence, or obedience, to the laws or rules of that body.


Recognition? Obedience? Sounds familiar to me. It seems like we are faced, once again, with that first paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, that charter for a new world civilization.

They say that when you dive into the Ocean of His Writings, you will come up with priceless pearls. And I'll tell you, just a few minutes reflection upon that simple statement of Baha'u'llah's has made me think of it in a new light.

Given the current state of global politics, with the rapidly increasing influence of the United Nations, combined with the mass migration of humanity, gives light to the reality that Baha'u'llah stated well over a hundred years ago. The earth actually is one country, and we people who inhabit this planet truly are its citizens.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Science Museum Experiment

Shoghi and I went to a science museum the other day and saw a display of possible inventions in the future. It was very interesting to see where modern scientists believe we are heading. Oh, and this was designed, for the most part, by young scientists, grad students, who taped their presentations about why they thought each item would be used at some point soon.

Some of the things they included were smart shoes that could grip onto walls or bounce you higher to help you run faster, various inventions for cleaning the air or the water, new types of communications equipments, and all sorts of other gadgets that were previously locked into the realm of science fiction.

There was one device that caught the attention of both of us, however, and that was a little gadget that would help you communicate to a computer with your mind. I think we've all seen something like this in the movies. You know, someone is wearing a head band connected to a computer and all of a sudden they don't need a keyboard or a mouse, or anything. They think what they want and it happens.

What they had in the museum wasn't quite like that, but it was a simple metal band against which you placed your forehead, and two metal plates for your hands. It was supposed to measure how calm you were in your thoughts through some process I really don't understand. They said something about alpha waves, but it didn't enough sense for me to repeat it here.

What happened, though, is that you put your hands on the plates, touched your forehead to the metal, and if you were calm enough, a ball would float in the air. Oh, in a sealed tube, of course.

The line for this gadget was quite long, and neither of us wanted to try it that badly, although it was fun to watch others. The best anyone could do, it seemed, was to get the ball about a foot off the ground, no matter how hard they tried.

Of course, by this point, you are probably asking yourself what this has to do with the Baha'i Faith or spirituality.

I'm glad you asked.

After seeing the rest of the exhibit, we went back to this device and discovered that there was no one else around. Shoghi sat in the chair, but was too short to reach the metal band comfortably, even when the chair was at its highest setting. While he was disappointed, he still wanted me to try it.

And so I sat down.

While I was touching all the requisite metal pieces, I watched the ball. Although I was a bit nervous (I really don't know why), the ball moved a bit. Encouraged by this, I began to say a short prayer by the Bab, and the ball actually rose at that moment. Only a few inches, but it rose.

I closed my eyes and said the prayer again.

Shoghi shouted out, "Papa!" And I opened my eyes in time to see the ball fall from a foot in the air.

Shoghi was grinning. And gibbering with excitement.

I asked him if I could try it one more time, and he was so happy about that.

This time I closed my eyes again and began to say a prayer from Baha'u'llah. I really focussed on the words and could feel myself plunging into that Ocean. You know how there are the occassional moments when you really "feel" the prayer with your whole being? Well, that was the level of concentration I had at that moment. Rare as it is, it actually happened right then. I could literally feel the touch of God's bounty upon my soul.

I ignored all the sounds in the room. Tuned out the flashing lights in my periphery. All I could sense was the power of those Words.

And when I opened my eyes, that little ball was up by the ceiling, to my utter amazement. I knew this was not of my own doing, but a gift given to me by an All-Merciful Creator Who wanted to show me the power of prayer. Well, actually the power of prayer when said with concentration and attention.

 As I was relating this story to someone else, he said that it would be useful to test the "sincerity" of one's prayers. While I don't think it would actually do that, I do believe that it would be a useful tool to help us learn to focus, and this could be very useful. It reminds me, after all, of that marvelous quote from Baha'u'llah:
Arise, therefore, and, with the whole enthusiasm of your hearts, with all the eagerness of your souls, the full fervor of your will, and the concentrated efforts of your entire being, strive to attain the paradise of His presence, and endeavor to inhale the fragrance of the incorruptible Flower, to breathe the sweet savors of holiness, and to obtain a portion of this perfume of celestial glory.
I wonder where I can get one of those devices. Ebay?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Touched By The Hands

A few months ago, I had the wonderful joy of reading The Unforgettable Hands of the Cause by Michael Woodward. It was a very enjoyable read and I felt like I was right there with him during his experiences with them. In fact, it reminded me very much of those few moments in my own life when I had the bounty of being in the presence of those same souls.

I should mention that I only had the bounty of seeing four of the Hands: William Sears, Ruhiyyih Khanum, Ali-Akbar Furutan and Ali-Muhammad Varqa, in that order. I can actually count the number of personal stories I have about them on a single hand, even if were to lose a couple of fingers. Obviously, this is not enough for a book, like Mr Woodward, but I feel that these simple stories are worth sharing, for they show something of the impact these people had on others.

This realization got me thinking. It occured to me that we have the wonderful blessing of having the writings and recordings of the Hands of the Cause, and we have the pleasure of reading their biographies. We also have the incredible joy to read books like the one Michael wrote, filled with stories from a single person.

But what we are missing are the countless stories from people like myself, people who did not have the bounty to work with them for years on end, or did not know them in the field or as neighbours. No, there are many stories from simple people like me who only knew them by reputation, who heard so much about them but only had the opportunity to meet them once or twice.

When this realization hit me, I decided to try and compile a book with these stories: "Touched By the Hands". Over the last few months I have talked with people about this idea, started a group on FaceBook in an attempt to solicit more stories, and even begun writing letters to different people I know who have many stories.

This is not enough, though.

After talking with a few of the friends last night at the Feast, I realized that I never shared this idea here on my blog, so here it is.

Below is the letter I originally posted on FaceBook. Please feel free to copy it and send it around as you see fit.




Dearly loved friends,

On His journey to North America, 'Abdu'l-Baha said of the Hands of the Cause:

Hearts are attracted by the beauty of their morals, the sincerity of their intentions, and their sense of equity and justice. Souls are involuntarily enamored of their praiseworthy morals and laudable attributes. Faces turn in spontaneous attraction to their outstanding qualities and actions.
As you well know, the Hands of Cause share a position that is unique to the Baha'i Faith, and we will not see their like again for a long time, a very long time, indeed. While thinking about this, I began to realize what a debt we owe to those who recorded their personal memories of the early heroes of the Faith, in books such as Nabil's Narrative: the Dawn-Breakers and many other priceless volumes. It seems to me that we are now in a position to pay forward some of this by recording our own memories of those dear Hands of the Cause so that those in the future may better understand their station in this Faith.

We have many wonderful biographies of their precious lives, articles that they themselves have penned and numerous tributes to their wisdom and dedication. What may be missing are those countless stories of how the Hands touched individuals in their daily lives.

If you have any first-hand stories of any of the Hands of the Cause, stories that are very precious to you, please write them down and send them back to me. I hope, God willing, to be able to compile them into a volume for publication. You do not need to be overly concerned about style as I will try and ensure that they are all conveying the message you wish to convey. Most will require no more than simple editing, while some may need to be entirely re-written as they may be submitted in note form. Both are acceptable. What is important is to get the stories down.

You can either e-mail them to me, phone me in Canada (e-mail me for the number), or join the Facebook group "Touched by the Hands".

I will attribute all stories to the sources, and if requested, send the final draft of each story back to the original contributor for approval. Submission will be considered as permission for publication.

Depending upon submissions, second-hand stories may be accepted, but this is not certain at this time.

Finally, if submitting by e-mail, please include the name of the Hand of the Cause in the subject line. This will enable me to more easily sort the stories. If it involves more than one Hand, please try to include all names in the subject line.

Thank you for taking the time to submit your precious stories. I am certain that many people for generations to come will be very grateful to you. And please feel free to pass this e-mail on to any you think may hope to contribute.

With love and prayers,


Ps - A dear friend of mine who is not a Baha'i just said that this is the sort of book he wants to read about the Faith: stories of how people like the Hands of the Cause touched the lives of ordinary folk. And another friend who is not Baha'i just contributed the title, with words of encouragement. Already they are being touched.

Prayers and Meditations, Number 10, part 3

O Thou Whose face is the object of the adoration of all that yearn after Thee, Whose presence is the hope of such as are wholly devoted to Thy will, Whose nearness is the desire of all that have drawn nigh unto Thy court, Whose countenance is the companion of those who have recognized Thy truth, Whose name is the mover of the souls that long to behold Thy face, Whose voice is the true life of Thy lovers, the words of Whose mouth are as the waters of life unto all who are in heaven and on earth!

The third part of that first sentence that I wish to look at are the final elements in each clause: those that yearn after Thee, those who are wholly devoted to Thy will, those who have drawn nigh unto Thy court, those who have recognized Thy truth, the souls that long to behold Thy face, Thy lovers, and all who are in heaven and on earth.

To give you an idea of what I am doing, I have copied these simple phrases below and am just reading each one, one at a time, typing what comes to mind as I think about it. There is no particular plan as I am doing this, but rather it is like allowing the waves of this ocean just carry me along to see where I end up. At the very end I will look at all the phrases again and make a general summary. This is, of course, not the only way to go through this, but just the method that I have chosen for now.

To start, like the rest of the parts of this first clause, we are all yearning after God, for if we were not, we would not even be here. We all have this strong desire to be closer to our Creator and so are walking this path of prayer in our attempt to be closer to Him.

As we progress closer and closer to Him, we begin to see how much greater God is than any of us. As we study His Words, our understanding of His vision grows, and we slowly give up those things that we think are important for the things He sees as important. Over time we become more and more devoted to His will, trying with all our efforts to help erect His vision in the world, to create the reality of the prayer offered to us by Jesus, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven".

As we strive to put into action His words and vision, we find ourselves drawn closer and closer to His court. But what does that mean "drawn nigh unto Thy court"? Obviously it is a reference to the idea of God as the King, and the court being that which is near to Him. It is also a reminder that it is the court that carries out His commands. Without the court, the King would have little power to accomplish anything in His realm. In other words, "Without his support, at once whole-hearted, continuous and generous, every measure adopted, and every plan formulated, by the body which acts as the national representative of the community to which he belongs, is foredoomed to failure. The World Center of the Faith itself is paralyzed if such a support on the part of the rank and file of the community is denied it. The Author of the Divine Plan Himself is impeded in His purpose if the proper instruments for the execution of His design are lacking."
You see, being part of a court is not all fun and games. There is work involved. The purpose of the court is to execute the will of the King, and we, as part of the court of Baha'u'llah, have a job to do, too.
To be effective in this, we have to recognize the truth of His Cause, for if we don't, we will either have an ulterior motive or only do our work half-heartedly. Part of this recognition means recognizing the importance of studying His Word, so that we can better understand and implement it, as well as trusting the institutions with whom we work. It means following the principles of consultation, as opposed to those other forms of decision-making that plague most other courts, including the obedience to a decision, even if we disagree with it.

It also means taking the initiative when necessary. In a well-run court, there are the general edicts that go out, but there are also many instances when swift action is required. This is the difference between, for example, the core activities, which are a general framework for all of our actions, and the individual initiative that is suitable to the needs of the particular individuals with whom we are in contact. We know, of course, that study circles are one of the core activities, but for many people, firesides are what they require at a given moment to help them on their path. There are also those people who really need to deepen on a particular subject which is not covered in the Ruhi curriculum. They should be enrolled in a deepening class with an eye, of course, towards moving into a study circle when the time is right.

As we do all this, we will all move closer to that state of longing to behold His face. What does that mean? To me, it means that I want to see the "face of God" within everything, sort of like 'Abdu'l-Baha, when He "saw the Face of His Heavenly Father in every face". This is what I aspire to do. By moving towards this state, and revering the sacred essence within everything, we will find ourselves propelled further along this path.

It is in this state that we will naturally become His lovers. How could we fail to be, when we recognize His beauty everywhere?

And really, it is this state of awareness of the sacred that is needed for the world to transform. It is when we begin to move into this exalted realm of awareness that we truly understand that "the words of (His) mouth are as the waters of life unto all who are in heaven and on earth".

We begin with a simple yearning, which turns into a heart-felt devotion. From there, we are drawn closer, until we recognize our Lord. We then long to do His bidding, and become the true lover of His essence.

Wow. Re-reading this makes me realize just how far I have to go.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Prayers and Meditations, Number 10, part 2

In the last post, I focussed on the first part of each clause in the first paragraph of this prayer. Let's look at the development of the second part of each clause and see what happens. Now just to be clear, this was a random pick of the Writings. It was not pre-planned. I truly believe that this sort of simple study can be rewarding with any passage from the Writings of Baha'u'llah and it is always a joy to me to check.

Looking only at the second part of each clause in that first paragraph, or sentence (same thing), we find: the object of adoration, hope, desire, companion, mover, true life, and the waters of life.

Nice list, but what does it mean? What can we find in it? Oh, and please remember, this is only my own read on it. Nothing official.

The paragraph in question, again, is as follows:

O Thou Whose face is the object of the adoration of all that yearn after Thee, Whose presence is the hope of such as are wholly devoted to Thy will, Whose nearness is the desire of all that have drawn nigh unto Thy court, Whose countenance is the companion of those who have recognized Thy truth, Whose name is the mover of the souls that long to behold Thy face, Whose voice is the true life of Thy lovers, the words of Whose mouth are as the waters of life unto all who are in heaven and on earth!

It seems to me that we are all beginning with some sense of adoration. If we do not adore God in some manner, we would not even get this far. When we adore something, we honour it, love it, possibly even worship it. It is interesting to note that any of these can be separate from each other, but the word still implies all of them. It actually comes from the Latin root meaning 'to pray' or 'to speak formally to'. So here we are, beginning with a formal prayer of love, our first step, almost like an introdcution. But what is it, in particular, that we adore? His face.

Once we take that step of prayerful adoration, we obviously would hope to attain that which we adore. It is like going to a King to ask for a bounty or a gift. Of course you will hope to be granted it. In this case, seeing His face is what we hope to attain, being in His presence. This is a reminder to me that my prayers must be conscious. I need to take the time to know myself, know my true desires and not just the passing surface desires, like my current desire for some chocolate. No, I must be far more aware of myself than that. My deepest desire, my greatest hope, is to be in the presence of the Divine, and that is the subject of my prayers. It is a hope, because I believe that it can be atained, never fully of course, but more and more with every passing moment.

After realizing that this nearness is what I want, and that it is attainable to a degree, my longing grows the nearer I get to it. It is like the force of gravity: the nearer you are, the stronger the force. As you get closer, this simple longing becomes a deep desire, which is a bit more intense a feeling than just a hope. It is an intense craving and we spend more and more time trying to fulfill it. We begin to see that we are closer to God when we are in a state of prayer, and so the 5 or 10 minutes that may have satisfied us earlier in our development no longer even comes close. How often have we heard of those spiritual souls who immersed themselves in the ocean of prayers for hours on end? How often have we heard of the desire of those spiritual giants to make their every breath a prayer? It is that intensity to which we aspire.

When our feelings are that strong, we become a companion of the loved ones of God. In other words, we find ourselves in their company on a regular basis. It is not necessarily that we are one of that esteemed company, but that we are in their company, like a moth circling around the flame. The moth is not necessarily the same as the flame, although, if he gets close enough... But here, it seems that when the desire is that strong, we discover the truth of that Hidden Word, "Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved?"
When we are a companion of the True One, He moves us in our life, both inwardly and outwardly. Our very actions are defined by the responses given to us from the Writings. We no longer move by our own animal desires, but by a higher understanding of our purpose in life. Strange as it may seem, this also becomes an inspiration for others around us. There have been so many people I have met who first became interested in a spiritual path because of one person who was trying to follow it. From there, their attention was directed to those souls who were better walking that path, until they finally had their attention turned to the Messenger Himself. As Baha'is it is our challenge and our blessing to be able to direct people towards the Master. When we see how the Master responded in different situations, we can better emulate that in our own life.

When we allow ourselves to be so moved, that is when attain true life. It is at that time that we have made great strides in overcoming the physical bonds that restrain our growth and begin to understand that true life is the life of the spirit.

It is this true life that is the real hope for the world. It is a living demonstration of the waters of life for everyone. It is when we truly realize that it is "the words of (His) mouth (that) are as the waters of life unto all who are in heaven and on earth".

This is just my own simple understanding of some of what is here. The trick now, for me, is to figure out how to apply it, what to do about it. For one, I understand that I need to pray more. I also realize that I need to try and penetrate the meaning of the prayer I am saying.

Relevant aside: Yesterday, Shoghi and I went to a science museum and they had a display of scientific marvels of the future. One of them was to show how you could move things with your mind, using a computer interface. What was required, however, was serenity or calmness. You placed your hands on two metal plates, and your forehead on a metal bar. As you relaxed, a ball went up in the air. Most people had a very hard time with it. When it was my turn, I began to recite a prayer from the Bab. As I expected, the ball went up a few inches, as it did with some of the other people. I lost concentration when Shoghi exclaimed how cool it was. The ball fell, and as there was no one else waiting, I tried it again. This time, I closed my eyes and recited another prayer, this time really paying attention to it, and allowing the feeling of the spirit wash over me, as sometimes happens when you really "get into" a prayer. This time I heard Shoghi cry out, "Oh, Papa!" I opened my eyes and the ball was nearly up at the top, a few meters in the air.

The prayer to which I think Baha'u'llah is referring is not a realm of words. It is beyond words. It is so far beyond words that nothing can truly convey it.

It is that to which we want to attain. And I believe that this is only a glimpse of the "nirvana" of which the Buddha spoke.

It is this state of prayer, in conjunction with the guidance given to us by Baha'u'llah that will sustain the world.

Prayers and Meditations, Number 10, part 1

One of my favorite things to do is to pick a random piece from the Writings and just begin exploring it. This one is, as you can guess from the title, number 10 from Prayers and Meditations. I am reading this book again because I feel that I need to strengthen my sense of the spiritual right now, which, although not the same as my sense of devotion, seems close enough to me.
O Thou Whose face is the object of the adoration of all that yearn after Thee, Whose presence is the hope of such as are wholly devoted to Thy will, Whose nearness is the desire of all that have drawn nigh unto Thy court, Whose countenance is the companion of those who have recognized Thy truth, Whose name is the mover of the souls that long to behold Thy face, Whose voice is the true life of Thy lovers, the words of Whose mouth are as the waters of life unto all who are in heaven and on earth!

I beseech Thee, by the wrong Thou hast suffered and the ills inflicted upon Thee by the hosts of wrongful doers, to send down upon me from the clouds of Thy mercy that which will purify me of all that is not of Thee, that I may be worthy to praise Thee and fit to love Thee.

Withhold not from me, O my Lord, the things Thou didst ordain for such of Thy handmaidens as circle around Thee, and on whom are poured continually the splendors of the sun of Thy beauty and the beams of the brightness of Thy face. Thou art He Who from everlasting hath succored whosoever hath sought Thee, and bountifully favored him who hath asked Thee.

No God is there beside Thee, the Mighty, the Ever-Abiding, the All-Bounteous, the Most Generous.

While there are many different ways to study and analyze anything, one of my favorites is to look at the various parts of a piece in order. Here, in the first sentence, I notice that it reads sort of like multiple variations of the formula "You whose (a) is the (b) of (c)". And so I want to look at each of these three variables in order.

The first set of variables, (a), as I loosely refer to them, are the face, presence, nearness, countenance, name, voice, and words of His mouth.

The members of the second set, (b), are the object of adoration, hope, desire, companion, mover, true life, and the waters of life.

The final elements, (c), mentioned in that first sentence are those that yearn after Thee, those who are wholly devoted to Thy will, those who have drawn nigh unto Thy court, those who have recognized Thy truth, the souls that long to behold Thy face, Thy lovers, and all who are in heaven and on earth.

Now like I've said, this is not definitive, nor authoritative, nor even necessarily useful to anyone besides myself, but it is useful to me, and it is in that spirit that I share it.

On to the first group. What are they, and why are they in that order? And although I can go into great detail and historical context about each item, I will keep it short in the interest of brevity. In other words, I don't want to bore you with my musings.

This section begins with 'the face'. Although I would initially think of this as the Face of God, I think, instead, it makes more sense to me as the face of the Messenger of God. If I begin to think of it as the Face of God, then that sort of limits it to Moses being "He Who saw God", and this is an unapproachable goal. But if I think of it, instead, as the face of the Promised One, then I quickly realize that this is the goal set out by all the faiths. No matter what our path, this is a goal towards which we can all strive and hope.

Once we begin to walk this path of search, we soon realize that it is not actually the face we want to attain, but really His presence. How many were the people who actually had the bounty of seeing Baha'u'llah's face, but had no clue as to Who He was? How many people were in the market place who saw Him pass by? No, what we really want is to be able to attain His presence, with the knowledge that it is He Who is the Promised One.

Once this incredible step is taken, when we have reached the shores of that ocean of certitude, then we realize just how distant we actually are from Him. No matter how virtuous we may think we have lived, no matter how vast we may believe our own knowledge to be, when we explore His Writings, we realize how far we have to go. Perfection is too lofty a goal for us to ever really come near to it, although it is what we strive for. It is like the "knowledge of God". We can never really know God, although we can come to know Him better through prayer and meditation.

Once we have come to this simple realization, an understanding of which requires true humility (which I hope to attain at some point), then we can better focus on that which is unattainable: His countenance. This aspect is a bit more specific than just the face, which is only a reference to that particular part of the body that is found at the front of the head. The countenance specifically refers to the aspect of the face that conveys character and mood. Think about the spiritual perception that would be required to see past the mere physical aspect of the face and get a glimpse into the actual mood of a Manifestation of God.

To go a bit further, countenance also has a subtle connotation of calm serenity. As we come to truly look upon a Manifestation, not that I have, I can only imagine that we would begin to sense that tremendous serenity of spirit They have. Their perception of the world, with Their proper sense of history and place, would obviously give Them a calmness that nothing could disturb. As we learn from this, and begin to see how trivial the trials and tribulations we face actually are, then we, too, begin to parttake of this serenity. By beholding the countenance, we can learn something tremendous.

But then we see the next step in this prayer, the "name". Normally, we think of a name as something minor and insignificant, but I believe names have a power. So much is said in history and mythology about names, and their importance. In fact, it has been said that Ruhiyyih Khanum never called anyone by anything other than their full name. She never called a David "Dave". Perhaps this is a reminder that the name "Baha'u'llah" is something very important for us to remember. It tells us quite clearly that this is the Glory of God, and nothing less. When we take the time to look past the serene countenance, sort of like looking through a window, we will be able to catch a glimpse of the incredible glory that lies behind it.

Once we see that power and majesty, that real glory, then we can hear the true voice speaking to us, and not the mere vibrations of breath that we normally think of as a voice. This is not a simple and ordinary voice. It is the voice that conveys the Voice of God Himself. As we search the Writings, we often find references that tell us to "hearken" to His voice that we may hear that Divine Voice that is speaking.

It is this realization, this very concept, that I find leads me to the last phrase in its entirety: "the words of Whose mouth are as the waters of life unto all who are in heaven and on earth!" It is the spirit of these words, the essence of spirit which they are trying to convey to us, that are the true waters of life for us all. Without this guidance, accepted both internally in our very character, and externally in the structure of society, we will accomplish nothing, except perhaps our own destruction.

I would love to continue this pondering, but really, I don't want to bore you. I'll continue with the second part later.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Child's Joy

One of the great joys in my life is to watch my son, Shoghi. I've spoken about him many times, and will, I'm sure, continue to do so in the future. After all, you always talk most about what you love. (Oh, and that's also why I write about the Faith most days.)

It is while watching Shoghi, as well as talking with him, that I learn the most about myself. Also, by reflecting upon myself, I believe that I am better able to serve as a father.

One of my earliest memories is when I was lying in my crib and saw my Mother come into the room. She picked me up and the next thing I knew I was in the kitchen. Looking back on it, I realize that this seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. I would blink and all of a sudden I would be in a different room. Nothing odd there, just the way life was.

One morning, however, I caught a glimpse of light in the hallway as she opened the door. All of a sudden I realized that this hall connected the rooms of the house. It was a very startling moment for me, and one that I recall quite clearly. It was reinforced a couple of years later when we driving down Green Bay Road and I suddenly realized that this road connected the various houses and stores that we went to. In the first instance, the house clicked into place as a full house, instead of a collection of seperate rooms. In the second, the entire city clicked together for me, sort of like when you can suddenly visualize the image of a puzzle after having put together enough pieces.

One morning, while Marielle and I were talking downstairs, Shoghi, who was just learning to stand, suddenly had this surprised expression on his face. He turned toward the stairs and began to crawl over to them. Having recently told the above memory to Marielle, I smiled at her and said, "He just got it." Shoghi, in the  meantime, had gone to the stairs and was eagerly pointing up them. I picked him up and put him on the floor upstairs. He immediately crawled to the bathroom and got a toy off the shelf, quite content. He had reached an important step in his development, and it brought tears to my eyes to not only be there to share it with him, but also to be given the bounty of recognizing it.

There are many developmental moments in our life, and quite often we are not aware of them when they occur. It is only by their traces that we recognize their import. After all, we rarely notice the fish as it leaps out of the water, but we all witness the ripples that are left behind. How many of the people present realized the importance and significance of the Conference of Badasht? Probably not too many, but we know, given the perspective of history.

In many of the spiritual books released in recent years, the idea of being present is touted again and again. In the Bible, Jesus tells us to be like the children. I often think that these two are nearly the same as children don't fret about the future, nor dream about the past. They are always living in the present. Although their powers of perception may not allow them to notice the sheer number of details that they would notice later in life, they are still incredibly present.

I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when we took the little guy to a balloon festival, and I had the joy of watching him play in the inflatable structures. He would go in and bounce around with all the other little children, jumping on the inflated pillars or rolling down the bouncing slide, completely unconcerned about anything. The absolute joy that was expressed on his face reminded me so clearly of the joy I felt at just being alive when I was his age.

Another one of my earliest memories is the sheer pleasure of riding my tricycle in circles on the driveway. What really made it stand out for me was the sudden pleasure that swept across my face. It took me years before I realized that it was due to the spray of water from the hose that my Dad splashed across me as he was washing the car. It must have been a hot day, for I clearly remember wearing shorts, and that cold water felt so good. But the joy came from the carefree pleasure of just being able to ride freely in circles, imagining myself soaring in a starry sky in my spaceship.

I have similar recollections of a child's joy staring at a soap bubble, or watching an ant, playing in the bubble bath or just jumping in the pool: all of these convey the timelessness of childhood for me.

Today, when I want to recapture a bit of this simple joy, as opposed to the more complex joy of the spirit, I will just go off and do something random, with no pressure of time or agenda. I will go as the wind takes me.

Last night, as we were going to sleep, Shoghi and I decided to try and hide from Marielle. I realized that he really didn't need to go to sleep early, as we are on vacation and have no set agenda. And so we crawled under the covers and hid. I would whisper to him, "Shhh. Don't let Mama hear us. I don't think she knows we're here." Of course, Marielle played along, "Hmm. Now where can they be?" Shoghi just couldn't stop giggling. And me? It just felt so good to be silly with him.

This morning, I had the unalloyed pleasure of watching him sleep. I just stood there watching the random twitching of his toes, the sporadic curling of his fingers, the rolling and the turning. It made me so happy to see him smile in his sleep, for that is a rare enough sight in anyone of any age.

We never really know what is going on inside someone else, but when we take the time to watch, and remember our own experiences, we can sometimes make a pretty good guess.

For many of us, childhood is a time of wonder, filled with awe at every turn. For my part, as a Father, I try to help Shoghi experience as much of this wonder as I can. Most nights, as we are heading to sleep, I ask him about his day and what he enjoyed most. I try to recall with him particularly special things we saw or did, like a butterfly landing on a flower, or a rainbow on a puddle.

This is so important to me, because we can never really go back to that time. It really is only a short part of our life.

Another great memory of my childhood is the old willow tree that was across the street from my home. We would play on it for hours on end, especially on the long branch that seemed to stretch on forever. That branch, with its willowy bounce, was a horse to my cowboy, or nay other number of props as needed. Sadly, that tree was cut down when they built some houses there, but the memories still live on.

You know, now that I think about it, I'm actually kind of glad that it is gone, for it allows me the opportunity to keep it tucked pristinely away in my memory, instead of with the tarnish of age. It is still just as vital and exciting as ever, and I know I can never be tempted by trying to return to it.
Shoghi is just now forming those memories of joy that will sustain him for his life. And I am so glad to be a part of it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why children's classes are so important, and why the role of the parent and the teacher are so valued. The more memories we can give our children that are uplifting and joyful, the more they will be able to draw upon them later in life.

Oh, and helping them learn to strive, and accustoming them to hardship at the same time, also gives them the strength to see the joy in all the aspects of life, not just when things are going great.

This evening, Shoghi was given a very nice gift from his Grandma, which was a joyful thing. We told him that he had to give away a toy he already owns in order to accept this new one. He chose the gift to give away, and so when we get home we'll be making it a gift to a child a few years younger than he is. This is a bit of a hardship, as he really loves that other toy that he will give away, but he is excited at giving it to someone else, so that they can enjoy it, too.

Yeah. I just love the little guy, and I learn so much from him. With such enthusiasm, he is learning how to make a sacrifice, how to bring joy to others, and how to cherish the joy in his own life.

It really is the children who will lead us.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Age and Aging

As happens more and more often these days, two different things occurred this morning that have joined together and fused into a single idea within my brain. First, I was reading a book called Understanding Death by John Hatcher, and then I happened to see a magazine cover that had the headline "Can we overcome aging?"

The combination of these two things so early in the day got me wondering: Do we really see age as an illness that needs curing? I understand that there are many ways by which we can age more easily and maintain our health longer, but still, do we regard age, in general, as an illness?

Aging, to be sure, is the growth of the body, naturally resulting from our passage through time. As we age, the inherent weaknesses of our physical shell are exposed. We may repair the occassional part that wears out, or even breaks, but as we do so, other parts are continuing to wear down, or erode, as it were.

There is a delightful story in Hatcher's book in which he describes triplets in a womb exploring their universe. The story ends quite poignantly with them dying, as they get "eaten by the universe". We would call it birth, but they don't know that. And from their perspective the story would appear to end on a very sad note. From our perspective, on this side of the uterine wall, we can only laugh because we know what comes next.

Oh, here's an aside: My mother-in-law has this odd desire to have a near-death experience. I can understand it, but still find it odd. One of her other desires was to swim with dolphins, and my wife and I were able to help her experience that. So during this visit, she once again expressed her longing to be able to have this experience. I said, "Well, that's easy", and stuck my arms out as if to choke her. After we all laughed at that, I said, "Yeah, I can just imagine it. Oops, I went too far." Again we all laughed at that. And then someone said, "That would be too near a death experience." Someone else responded, "Hey, near is near. You never said which side of death." Anyways, that's only a silly aside. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

Today, here where I live, many of us, including the elderly, view aging and the aged as sick or ugly. Our desire is to shut them away and keep them out of sight. We tend to forget the wisdom that is acquired through the years, dismissing it as obsolete or outdated. We are so caught up in the excitement of the "new" and sold on the latest gadgets that we forget about the value of that which lasts.

More and more often, I hear of children who are not willing to sit still to hear a story read to them. They want to see the movie, instead. When you read a book, you have to do some of the work. You must read the words yourself, or sit still and listen to them. You have to provide the imagination to visualize the story in front of you. Not so with a movie. It's all there for you to absorb.

The pace of a movie can be much faster than that of a book, because you can see images and process them faster than you can process words.

In short, spoken stories are not as exciting as the latest blockbuster. (The only exception to that rule that I can think of is the horror story around a campfire.)

If we could somehow figure out how to distill the wisdom of the elders into a few soundbytes and an occassional explosion scene, then maybe we would value their stories more. But the truth is that our lives are not lived at the pace of a Hollywood character. And thank God for that, too. Yet it seems that because of this, we tend to undervalue the importance of these personal tales.

Back in Winnipeg, there is a dear woman there, by the name of Edna, who used to write down her stories for me and then give them to me each week when we saw each other. I treasure these written pieces. One of my desires is to type them all up and send them to her before she passes away. As she just celebrated her 99th birthday, I better get a move on it. Edna, for what it is worth, got her university degree a few years ago. She began university when she was in her late 60s and 30 years later they awarded her an honorary degree. Good for her. Oh, she called me over one day and asked me to come by and look at her ankle. As this was a fairly odd request (after all, I'm no physician, I mean I can recognize an ankle and all that, but that's about it), I went over, either expecting something really serious, or someone really delerious. Serious or delerious, I wasn't sure which would be better. Well, I got there and her ankle was super swollen. When I asked her what happened, she said that she had been hit by a car the day before. "What? How?" She was crossing the street to go to her university class when a car came around the corner and "knocked her on her bum". The police came. She made her report, got up and walked to her class. I took her to a hospital and found out that she had broken her foot, along with a couple of ribs. All this in her late 80s! She isn't just a woman. She's a tank. And I love her dearly.

But the reason I mention all of this is to highlight the fact that her stories are very valuable. She has shared with me, and anyone else who will listen, many stories of how she survived various hardships in her life.

My Grandpa Dubey was another one. As a young child, when he would come over to our home for the weekend, he would take me in his room and sit me next to him on his bed. I looked forward to this because he always bribed me with a bag of candy.  But I would sit quietly and listen to his stories, over and over. He passed away when I was about 7 years old, and I, unfortunately, don't remember any of the stories. Now that I think about it, I should ask my Mom and my siblings to see if they recall any of his stories. Even though I don't remember any of them, I know they tremendously impacted my life.

But one sad thing I do remember is when my grandmother, "Gramma" Eve, had suffered a stroke. I went to visit her in the seniors home where she was undergoing physio, and let's just say that she wasn't doing all that well. It was a very short time later that she passed away, but I didn't know that at the time.

Anyways, there we were, she doing her physio and me watching. She wasn't responding all that well and she was obviously very tired. Finally, after trying to get her to do something, and her not doing it, the nurse lifted her up and held her in front of a full-length mirror. "Do you want your grandson to see you like this?"

I could see the defeat in Gramma's eyes, and the tears begin to well up.

I walked over to her, and gently put my arms around her shoulders to support her. "It's ok", I said, "Is she done for now?" She was, so I supported her back to her wheel chair.

I took her outside to the garden and leaned over to whisper in her ear. "It's ok, Gramma. You know I love you. This body isn't important. It's you that I care about. You do whatever you need to do, and I'll love you all the same."

For a brief moment she had believed the nurse. She thought that I would somehow think less of her because her body was nearing its end. I like to recall the very different tears in her eyes after our whispered words, and treasure the knowledge that she knew that I saw the real her.

You see, we lose enough when we age. We lose some of our abilities. We often lose friends. Many of us lose our memories. There is too much that we lose. We don't need to add to it. We don't have to also take away people's dignity and honour.

No. Instead, we need to recognize that when the inessential stuff is gone, what is left is a precious distillation. And that we should treasure.

After all, it is that essence that we carry with us to the next world.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Last night I received a disturbing series of e-mails. They weren't really all that disturbing in and of themselves, but they did disturb me.

You see, there was a man I met a number of years ago and he quickly became a very good friend. It was shortly after this that he embraced the Faith. Over the next few years we had many wonderful conversations and then sort of lost contact after I moved to Canada. We did see each other a few times after that, and talked a couple of times on the phone, but really did not keep as close a contact as I should have preferred.

Last night he asked me a fairly straightforward question about a politcal party and I responded, of course, with a bit of caution. I carefully explained that I don't actually prefer any one party over another, feeling that no party can effectively change the world for the better as the whole system is, as Baha'u'llah puts it, "lamentably defective".

His reply, a short time later, was a bit more odd and seemed a bit of a rant. He concluded by saying that "surely I didn't agree with a mosque near ground zero" in New York. Again my reply was a bit cautious, but I explained my understanding of the oneness of religion and how I couldn't object to it, as I cannot base my impressions of any religion on the actions of a few fanatics.

His final e-mail seemed as if he felt he were insulting me, although I really didn't understand the insult I think he intended, as I am fairly ignorant of many aspects of politics. He ended with a fairly abrupt "see ya", which to my eye felt sort of final.

Upon doing a little bit of research, I noticed that he had changed his religious affiliation from Baha'i to another faith, which didn't actually bother me, as I feel that we all have the right to choose the path we want. What bothered me was the sense I got of "if you don't agree with me on everything, then I want nothing to do with you".

And this made me cry. I cried over the loss of someone I regard as a dear friend, and the thought of this man becoming, in my eyes, a fanatic.

As you can imagine, this has weighed on me most of the day and my thoughts are often turning back to him, as well as his family. I long to get back home so that I can call his wife to see if there is anything I can do for her, but that will, unfortunately, have to wait. Then again, it could all be some sort of weird misunderstanding on my part. That would be a pleasant surprise.

Tonight, I had a very pleasant diversion from all of this when my family and I went to my brother-in-law's house for dinner. It was very nice, and I had a tough time keeping up with the conversation as most of it was in French. Oh, and this is not a criticism. I enjoyed testing the limits of my French and always cherish the chance to learn more. But the difficulty of it did distract me from any unpleasantness caused by the previously mentioned conversation.

Amidst all the various topics discussed, one stood out: bullying. As both families have children who are just beginning school, or still in the early grades, the issue of bullying came up. We talked about the various types of bullying that have occurred in schools, what we have seen first-hand and what we have heard second-hand. Various tactics that schools are using to stop bullying were mentioned, and things we can do as parents were also discussed.

It was a rich conversation, clearly outlining a serious problem and offering simple steps we can take towards a solution as parents, teachers and as a community. (At least I think it did. It was French, so I'm not too sure about that.)

As I sat there thinking about what had been said, and going over the conversation in my mind to try and fill in the blanks that my lack of French caused, I was reminded of the earlier conversation with my friend from last night. I was also reminded, for some reason, of an issue that I've discussed a lot over the past few weeks, namely that of thinking we're right and everyone else is wrong.

And I realized that this is another form of bullying.

You see, we have all been given this God-given gift of free will, combined with a mind and a conscience. No one can take that away from us, although we can choose to give it away. When someone does, however, try to take it away from us, we naturally feel defensive or angry. We feel defensive because we have, in a very real sense, been attacked, although we may not realize it. We may feel anger because we sense that an injustice is happening, and anger is a natural response to a perceived injustice.

When Shoghi Effendi says that we should be careful not to do anything "that might be misconstrued as an attempt to proselytize and bring undue pressure upon" people, I suspect that this may be one of the reasons. Teaching should never be a form of an attack, nor should we ever seek to win people over to the Cause through any other means than the attraction of their hearts.
Whether it is our religious beliefs, or our political beliefs, we always need to allow others to have the free-will to choose what they want, and respect them and their choices, especially if we disagree with them.

One story before I go for the night: Marielle just shared it with me as I finished reading the above to her. It seems there was a girl who used to bully her when she was a child. She always used to tease her, Marielle, that she would never find a boyfriend or anything. Now, years later, Marielle ran into her on the street. This woman was panhandling in a parking lot, and looked much older than her age. She also had the look of someone who was working the streets and generally not doing well at all.

This woman stopped Marielle and asked if she recognized her. Rather than hitting her, or laughing at her, my wife stopped and talked with her, treating her with respect and dignity. The lady asked her if she had a boyfriend, and Marielle told her of Shoghi and I. The woman, who used to bully her and make fun of her, said, quite sincerely, that this made her so happy. She was so very happy that Marielle had found a good life.

When Marielle shared this over dinner tonight, in French, so I missed it the first time around, it made everyone else at the table stop and think about their own reactions to bullies. The gentleman on my left evidently said it best. He said that he felt the people were bullies because of the suffering they endured in their own life, and that is why we need to show compassion when we can.

A Reading List

For some reason, over the past few days I have been asked by a number of people what they should read. Really, I have no idea. I mean, doesn't it depend on your interests and your needs?

There's that great story about 'Abdu'l-Baha (which I've shared before) where the two women read prayers for the success of the cake they were baking for Him. When it burned quite nicely, they apologized to Him and He suggested that the next time they try reading a cookbook instead.

So, as to the question "What should I read", all I can do is ask what the needs and interests are.

Interest is an easy one, for you're either interested in history or not. You either like the poetical or you don't, or perhaps you're just not in the mood. If you want poetry, either of the Valleys will do, seven or four. History? Try the Kitab-i-Iqan or the Dawn-Breakers.

But what about needs? How can you determine what to read, presuming you are aware of your needs in the first place?

I noticed a little while ago that a letter on behalf of the Guardian said, "As the 'Íqán is the most important book wherein Bahá'u'lláh explains the basic beliefs of the faith, he thought a proper rendering of it would infinitely enhance the teaching work in the West." So, if we want to enhance our teaching, become more effective teachers of the Cause, then we should really study the Kitab-i-Iqan.

I had never known this before I read that quote.

Of course, then I got to thinking. What does the Guardian say about the effect of some of the other Books he translated? I stipulate translated because I don't hink he commented on any other books.

Looking at them one at a time, I typed in the titles of the books and searched to see what I could find. As it was useful to me, I include what I found here, seperated by title. First will be the title of the book, then the guidance about that particular one, and my own meager thoughts about that guidance.

So fasten your seatbelt, adjust your crash helmet and check your parachute. Here we go.

Prayers and Meditations:

...he has every hope that the perusal of such a precious volume will help to deepen more than any other publication, the spirit of devotion and faith in the friends...
There you go. That wasn't too tough, was it?

Now, what does that mean to me? I believe that if my sense of devotion is beginning to wane, as it sometimes does, this is the Book to read and study. When I peruse it, I can literally feel my faith growing.

Oh, and what does "peruse" mean? It's funny, because when I ask the friends, most of them presume that it means to glance over quickly and get a general idea of something. "Do you really believe", I ask them, "that the Guardian would encourage us to read the Writings so casually?" No. To peruse actually means to read with thoroughness and attention to detail. While some of the friends may ask why we don't just use a word that everyone knows, I have to wonder why we don't just learn the language. After all, that's what a dictionary is for. Rather than lowering the standard of the Writings, as the Guardian once said, we should increase our ability to understand them.

So here, with Prayers and Meditations, I have often found that when I truly peruse a passage, I am caught up in the wonder of it. My sense of awe at the Creator and His Messenger, and the Message that was delivered, dramatically increases.

Every single time I have had a concern about something that I thought I knew about the Faith, when I have found a reference to it in this Book, my understanding was changed and my faith became stronger. One example is the idea that "we're right and everyone else is wrong". All too often, various members of this Faith of ours have conveyed that to others. Time and again I have had people I am teaching or working with criticize the Faith because "all" the Baha'is they knew conveyed that feeling. Other people got the sense that we knew God and no one else did. Prayers and Meditations number 75 cleared that up for me. And if you wonder how, just look it up for yourself.

Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah:

...it is an extremely important volume for acquiring a deeper understanding of the Faith...
Remember what I just said about the "we're right" attitude? Well, it was Gleanings number 24 that took care of that for me, too.

You see, given my background, and my own personality type, I was very prone to the idea that "I was right", even though I knew that wasn't the case. I so desperately wanted to believe that everyone had to become Baha'i in order to bolster my own sense of accomplishment. Little did I know that all I was doing was feeding my sense of ego. Then one day, I read Gleanings 24 and all that began to change. I can't say it "changed", because that change is still on-going. When I read what Baha'u'llah says about how we should understand the other Messengers of God, and what our attitude should be, later supported by my understanding of One Common Faith, I found myself having to change my opinion. It was probably that section, more than any other, that led me down the path of the interfaith movement.

I had "an understanding" of the Faith before I read it, but I'm not sure it was all that useful or effective. That passage gave me a deeper understanding, just like the Guardian said. Today, if I have a question about any aspect of the Faith and want to acquire a deeper understanding on a particular subject, Gleanings is the first place I look.

The Hidden Words:
The Hidden Words have no sequence. They are jewel-like thoughts sent out of the mind of the Manifestation of God to admonish and counsel men.
Ok. This one surprised me. Given my love for this slender volume, I was shocked to find nothing beyond this simple statement, aside from a passing reference to the opening paragraph.

The Hidden Words are, as near as I can tell, best used for admonishment and counsel. Fair enough.

As I read through them, I often find myself feeling a bit guilty at having done something that they counsel against. It can be anything, even something as simple as ignoring someone begging on the street. Time and again I find myself needing to correct my behaviour after reading through this Book.

Well, that's the admonishment side of it, but what about the counsel? The most obvious is the reminder to be pure, kindly and radiant, but it doesn't stop there. There are many, many (many) days (or weeks) (or months) when I will read a single Hidden Word in the morning and try to figure out how to incorporate it in my life. "What does it mean to be pure? How can I be more kindly today? How can I be radiant without burning out?" Those are just a few of the questions that  turn over when I do this. Every verse, as you know, leads to a whole lifetime of meditation on its application, and this is what I am just beginning to learn about.

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf:

Again, there are no particular references. Not a one. Just the occassional encouragement to a national community to publish it, or translate it. I could comment on my own thoughts about this Text, but I will refrain, for I want to stay focussed on what Shoghi Effendi says.

Tablet to Auguste Forel:

Once again, no particular references.

The Dawn-Breakers, Nabil's Narrative:

It should be seen "as essential preliminary to renewed intensive Teaching campaign necessitated by completion (of) Mashriqu'l-Adhkar. Strongly feel widespread use of its varied, rich and authentic material constitutes most effective weapon to meet challenge of a critical hour."
"Shoghi Effendi undertook the translation of "The Dawn Breakers only after being convinced that its publication will arouse the friends to greater self-sacrifice and a more determined way of teaching. Otherwise he would not have devoted so much time to it. Reading about the life and activities of those heroic souls is bound to influence our mode of living and the importance we attach to our services in the Cause. Shoghi Effendi therefore hopes that the friends will read, nay rather, study that book, and encourage their young people to do that as well."
"The Guardian sincerely hopes and prays that the study of the Dawn-Breakers will inspire the friends to greater activity and more exerted energy in serving the Cause and spreading its message in that town. The life of those heroes of the Faith should teach us what true sacrifice is, and to what extent we should forego our personal and worldly interests while endeavouring to carry the divine message to the four corners of the earth.

Shoghi Effendi would advise the friends in Rostock to hold regular study classes and read that book with great care, committing its salient facts to memory, so that while teaching the Cause, they may be able to show the motivating spirit of the Faith by referring to some incidents of those early days."
"Our Guardian trusts that a careful reading of Nabil's Narrative will not only serve to familiarize the American believers with the character of the stirring events that have marked the birth of the Cause in that land, but will serve to deepen their realization of the spirit that animated those who have achieved such immortal renown on its soil."
"...regard Nabil's soul-stirring Narrative as essential adjunct to reconstructed Teaching program, as unchalleangeable (sic) textbook in their Summer Schools, as source of inspiration in all literary (and) artistic pursuits, as an invaluable companion in times of leisure, as indispensable preliminary to future pilgrimage (to) Bahá'u'lláh's native land, and as unfailing instrument to allay distress and resist attacks of critical, disillusioned humanity."
He urges us to "study and digest the chapters of Nabil's narrative as they appear in 'The Sun of Truth' that you may obtain a fuller grasp of the purpose, the influence and the moving episodes of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh."
"Indeed the chief motive actuating me to undertake the task of editing and translating Nabil's immortal Narrative has been to enable every follower of the Faith in the West to better understand and more readily grasp the tremendous implications of His exalted station and to more ardently admire and love Him."

Why does the Guardian give the most commentary about this book? Perhaps it is because it is not sacred text, and we need the extra encouragement to give it a chance. It is not an easy text to read, especially for those of us not familiar with the language or the culture of 19th century Persia.

But as my friend said a few days ago, you have to know where you've been to know where you are going.

Knowing the origin, and being aware of the present results, of the dawn-breakers allowed those new dawn-breakers, the American Baha'i community, to foresee the results of their work with the nascent Administrative Order. By seeing the tests, trials and triumphs of those dear souls in history, those present could better arise to serve the current needs of the Faith.

And so it is with us.

When I re-read the Dawn-Breakers, and remember the stories of those remarkable heroes, the difficulties I face in pursuing the aims of the current seem to fade into the background. After all, I don't need to worry about being dragged through the street with candles embedded in my chest, sizzling the fat of my body as they burn down, when I go to a neighbour's door to see if they want to help with a children's class. What's the worst that can happen? They may close the door on me, and if I'm not careful, perhaps on my toe.

So, what should we be reading? Well, that all depends upon what our needs are. Oh, and the above doesn't even include the many volumes published since the Guardian's passing. Perhaps I should do another article about what the Universal House of Justice says about these other volumes. Well, that's for another day.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Well, we're in Montreal again. Surpise.

Trying to take the bus from the airport to my mom-in-law's yesterday during rush hour painfully reminded me, quite clearly, of Baha'u'llah's observation that the city is for the body, and that it is the country that is for the soul. As usual, though, it is wonderful to see Marielle's family, and re-kindle her French accent.

But I'm not going to talk about family today. No. Instead, I want to write about the flight out here. You see, airplanes always fascinate me, and not just because of the technical wonder of soaring through the air in a gleaming metal tube at amazing speeds. No. What really interests me is the people. Some very carefully avoid eye contact as soon as they get into the airport, and even try to avoid any physical contact while they are trying to get into their airplane seat. (It's very amusing to watch this sort of person as they try to put on their seatbelt.) They are the sort who try to hide behind their books or within their Ipods. Many airlines help them do this now by forcing their passengers to watch these little tvs embedded in the seats in front of them (I wonder the question of the radiation from the screens will arise) and blaring the sound from the commercials over the intercom system so that it is nearly impossible to talk to the person next to you without shouting, as if the noise of the engines wasn't bad enough.

Air Canada has gone even beyond this minor annoyance with their 1st class seats, or whatever other euphamism they now use to refer to these overpriced spots. These new chairs are set at an angle, with a wall between each seat, thereby turning them into cramped, flying office cubicles. You can't even see the person next to you, much less try and engage in conversation. And then they charge you through the nose for the privelege of this enforced solitary confinement. Thank you, but not for me.

I am of the other style of flyer. I look forward with anticipation to see who will occupy the seat next to mine. I often go so far as to say a prayer ahead of time to ask for someone from whom I can learn, or who is eagerly seeking. Rarely am I disappointed.

As I got into my seat yesterday, the man next to me was just getting out a thesis called "Torah and Faith".

I knew my prayer was answered.

For four hours, Gideon and I had a marvellous conversation, beginning with my trip to the Bug Zoo with Shoghi and what I learned there, across a panoply of religious ideas, and ending with patience as we awaited our turn to get off the plane. "You see," he said as we spoke about the need for patience, "we're right back where we started: the patience of tarantulas." "Oh no," I replied, "we haven't come full circle. We gone to the next level of the spiral."

So what did we discuss? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

We began talking about reality, and how language attempts to describe reality. We realized that the words we use point to an objective, external reality, but that the light they shed upon the individual is always subjective. When we speak about these different issues, we may agree, but our specific understanding will always be clouded or shaded by our own experience.

We talked about prayer in this manner. We agreed, quite readily, that many of us pray, but we do so in different ways. The actual prayer itself, or the actions involved, do not define the prayer, but rather our internal state is what makes it prayer. When a Catholic says their Hail Marys, that creates the internal condition of being in prayer, just like when we Baha'is say our Allah'u'Abhas. For many of us, using another form of prayer just doesn't quite do it, but we need to be aware that this doesn't make the prayer invalid for the one who does use it. This is a point of unity towards which we can work. We should not try to get us all to use the same words, or actions, but instead to honour those words and actions in others.

It is like working for money, to use a crass analogy. Some people are carpenters, while others are mechanics. Both get money for their work, and each job is useful. Now imagine how deprived we would be if the carpenters told all the mechanics that they had to be carpenters, instead, or vice versa. We'd run into all sorts of problems. Both occupations are valid, and both are rewarded.

We also spoke at length about the idea of evil in the world. I used the Master's example of darkness being an absence of light and cold being an absence of heat. He really liked that, but still had many wonderful questions that engendered conversation and thought. He also taught me about the Hebrew language, and how the word for absence implies missing something, in a more obvious way than the English. With his background, evil implies an absence of virtue, but virtue also implies an absence of evil. I mentioned the dark room into which you have to add light in order to read a book, and talked about how we could lament the fact that in a bright room you stil can't read your book under the shadow of the chair, but wouldn't that just be silly? I could go on and on about this, but I think there's enough here already to get you to think about it a bit on your own. Besides, you already know all this. I'm sure you're way ahead of me here.

Gideon shared a story of a friend of his who recently passed away. This friend had throat cancer, and the day before he passed away, was unable to swallow anything. He turned to Gideon and said, "I think I'll fast today." It was stories like this, sprinkled throughout his wise questioning and explanations that really made the conversation memorable.

The last point I want to share, before I get back to playing with my son today, is his observation that you need to know where you have come from before you can know where you are going. He wanted to know how I had become a Baha'i, and why I had left Judaism behind. This was not asked accusatorily, but with curiosity, instead.

During our discussion about history, he did make an observation that I have heard time and again. He said that all the Baha'is he knew really conveyed the belief that "we're right and everyone else is wrong". He said that he was surprised that I didn't believe it, nor try to convert him. I pointed out that those who still believe this, and act in this manner, probably haven't read One Common Faith. We talked about that great document, and he said that it seemed I had a lot of work to do to help spread this idea amongst my own community. "Why", he asked, "haven't more Baha'is studied this book?" I explained how much there was to read, and how it is very difficult to keep up, even though these letters and books from the Universal House of Justice are so crucial to the exact moment in which we live. Sometimes we just forget.

We also spoke a little bit about how the Kitab-i-Iqan is a book that talks very directly about where we have come from, and perforce where we are going.

In the end, though, with great love, he really encouraged me to study my own personal Jewish history. I said that I am, and would continue to do so. I also asked him to understand that for me, by embracing the Baha'i Faith, I did not leave my Jewish roots behind. I have not lost my Jewish history. Instead, I feel that the history of all cultures, rather than just the history of a single tribe or nation, is now my own history. By becoming a Baha'i, I have gained a richer past, into which my Jewish roots fit in a global context.

I am grateful that I am a Baha'i, and am equally grateful for the diversity that is out there. What a blessing it was to be able to sit next to a Jewish scholar on his way to Tel Aviv, and learn from his questions. I really hope to keep in touch with him. After all, not only do we share a common background, he is also a neighbour in Victoria.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I just love zoos. Have I mentioned that before? I'm sure I have. (I just checked and have an entire article called "Zoos". So, yes, I really love zoos.)

Yesterday, I had the wonderful bounty of going to the zoo with my son, Shoghi. Oh, and with my wife, but I'll tell you (and please don't tell her), Shoghi is what made it real super fun.

I have never been to a zoo like this one. First off, it was small. No, I mean real small. Smaller. Keep going. Smaller. This was a zoo that would fit into your home. Quite easily. In fact, part of it probably is in your home. The entire zoo fit into 2 medium sized rooms, maybe 3 x 6 metres each. It was the Victoria Bug Zoo.

And I'll tell you, it was one of the best zoo experiences I have ever had.

Why? A couple reasons. First, there was a lot of hands-on stuff. What other zoo would allow you, or even encourage you, to have a millipede mustache? Or help arachnaphobes allow a tarantula to crawl on their hands? I saw 3 obviously terrified people do this in just a couple of hours. Besides, watching the parents get over their ookiness at the encouragement of their children was worth the entry fee alone.

The second reason was the tremendous amount of attention by the staff. They were right there. One in each room (a total of 2, for those of you who cannot do the math). They explained all sorts of incredible things about the bugs, and each staff member had different things to share. I know because I listened to three of them (shift change, not poor math skills on my part).

They shared what they knew, and what they found fascinating, and were all very knowledgable about the subjects. They answered any questions visitors had. It was great.

But what did I learn? What spiritual lessons were there?

As usual, I'm not really sure, so I'll only share my impressions, allowing you to draw your own conclusions. (This makes my job so much easier as you do the hard work. Besides, when you draw your own conclusions, it makes me look good, as you think I knew them ahead of time.)

So, what did I learn? First of all, I learned that the smaller scorpions tend to be far more poisonous than the bigger ones. (But don't handle any of them in the wild.) If they have big claws in the front, they can grab their pray and don't need to kill them quickly. If they have teeny weeny claws, then they can't hold on as tight and require the poison to incapacitate their meal. Kind of reminds me of people. Those who are truly big, spiritually speaking, don't have to rely on poisonous gimmicks, like shouting louder or threatening people.

Second, tarantulas are patient. They spread their web all over the ground and just wait until dinner comes up right in front of them. They don't rely on the stickiness, but instead their own sensitivity. They don't waste energy running after things, like food, but rely on patience and awareness, instead. I think we can all learn from that.

The leaf-cutter ants were really cool. They don't forage for food; they forage for leaves to grow their food, which is the fungus they cultivate on the decaying leaves. What struck me about them is how they are given their jobs. The queen begins laying the eggs in her new home, to the tune of 1500 eggs per day. (I asked my wife if she could imagine going through labour 1500 times per day for the next dozen years, and her silent expression was priceless.) From there, each newly hatched egg has all the potential for any job in the colony. What they end up doing all depends on what they eat. Two of the presenters made it sound like it was almost by chance, but a third gave a far more lucid explanation, with only a few words. Here's my understanding of it. If there is only a little bit of food, and the babies don't eat much, they become gardeners or nannies, raising more food and more babies. Both are necessary for more ants. If there is more than enough food for those two jobs, then the babies get to eat a bit more and become foragers, gathering more leafs. This is the start of a cycle. If there is too much leafy matter, and not enough fungus, then the babies go hungry and become gardeners. If there is too much fungus, then the babies get to eat more and become foragers. It's a nice and simple cycle for growth.

But what about the soldiers? Well, if an ant comes into the colony with the scent of a wasp on them, then that scent sends out a signal and some of the babies get to eat even more food than normal and they grow to become soldiers. It is a simple response to an external stimulus.

Speaking of external stimuli, if the conditions are right, like a change in temperature or a shift in daylight, then the queen feeds the babies a special food and they become queens, going out to start their own colony.

I think there is much that we can learn from this.

The last insect I want to talk about is the golden orb spider. It is a slender spider about 4 inches in length and weaves the most beautiful web I have ever seen. The cross threads are a stunningly beautiful golden colour, and have been used to weave a carpet for the Smithsonian Institute. Other tapestries have been done, too, but this is the most spectacular one I've heard about. Oh, and because it is made of spider silk, it happens to be bullet-proof. (How they found out, I don't know.)

When you imagine the amount of single strands that must have been used to weave this wonder, you can imagine the awe I feel at it.

But what really impresses me is the mating habits of these spiders.  Most spiders, as I'm sure you know, lose something like 40 - 60% of their male population during mating. In short, the females gobble them up, which I think is an analogy that I don't care to go into here.

These spiders, however, have a 100% survival rate for their males. Why? Because the males are courteous and patient. They hover by the edge of the web and wait until the female has gorged herself. But even when they are stuffed, sort of like myself after a good Thanksgiving Feast, the guys still wait (after all, she may want a bit of dessert). Then, when they think it might be safe, they tweak the edge of the web, sort of like ringing the doorbell. When she invites them in, with a wave of her legs, then they go in and proceed to do the baby-making thing.

Patience and courtesy. Don't you think more guys can learn from this? (Yeah, I can just see the e-mails flooding in from the many female readers now.)

Yup. Zoos. I just love them.