Monday, August 2, 2010

At Play in the Fields of the Lord

It's another beautiful day in "paradise". But don't worry, I'm not taking it for granted. I truly appreciate the wonder of the place. And thank God each morning for the various blessings that come my way.

Just this morning, I was reading the news when I spied an interview with Ray Bradbury. Now, before I continue, I have to mention that I had the incredible opportunity of taking a writing class by Ray, and he is truly one of my "idols" of writing. I really appreciate his work and admire him as an individual.

Why? Well, you only have to read his works to know why I appreciate them. Pieces such as Farenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Martian Chronicles, or Something Wicked This Way Comes have earned their place in literary history, but just as beautiful are his more recent works. These new pieces are also tinged with a wisdom that 90 years of experince have given him. The poetry with which he expresses his ideas is just magical.

In this interview, he talked about thanking God for allowing him to write these words. "I sit there and cry because I haven't done any of this," he recently told a friend. "It's a God-given thing, and I'm so grateful, so, so grateful. The best description of my career as a writer is, 'At play in the fields of the Lord.'"

And that is the best expression of it I have ever read.

For the past 23 years, I have been blessed to "play in the fields of the Lord", from my sinple beginnings of picking tulip bulbs in the Temple gardens in Wilmette, to working on the Temple restoration project. After that, I had the astonishing bounty to work at the World Congress office, followed by a year in the National Teaching Office. During all that time, I also worked on my artwork, and have recently included writing in that resume. Oh, and I surely cannot forget the years in which I spent travelling around central Canada in service to the Faith.

Really, I have done so little, but I have been blessed with the opportunity of serving in these ways.

And the artwork, whether in chain or in words, truly does come from God. I can only "sit there and cry because I haven't done any of this". Like Ray, I, too, am grateful. So grateful.

This morning, after reading the news, I turned to the latest book I'm going through: Jesus of Nazareth, by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Bendict XVI. In just the first few pages it became evident what he can bring to that eminent office, and to the general understanding of Christianity. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

I am currently reading his study of the Beatitudes, and in particular the phrase, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

With all that running through my mind, my family and I went out this afternoon to enjoy a few hours walk in Thetis Lake Regional Park.

We packed a bit of water, light jackets in case we needed them, put on our hiking shoes and off we went. From the first parking lot we walked down to the beach, veered to the right, and began our trek up the Lower Thetis Lake trail, and back down the Trillium Trail, for a total distance of about 2.5 km, as the crow flies. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending upon your point of view, the trail is not walked by crows. With all the ups and downs, it must have been closer to 3 or 4 km, which can be quite a lot for a little guy of 5, whose name is Shoghi. But after the climb up the mountain in Banff (which I still think should be pronounced ban-fuf-fuf, instead of bamf), this seemed relatively easy. The little trooper did pretty well. Being fortified by the blackberries and salal berries in bloom, I'm sure, helped.

I could only think of the praise of God as I walked. Every step seemed to bring another beautiful sight within view. Every moment was filled with the sounds of birds, or breezes blowing in the trees, or the water lapping against the shore. The scent of the cedar filled the air, with the occassional reminder scent of the wildlife that lives in the woods.

When we reached the far end of the first lake, we climbed on a flat of rock that overlooked the body of water. Below us, there in the water, were lilies of many different colours, from white and pink through the yellows. We longed to get a canoe and row out to them, but that will have to be saved for another time.

All along the path we kept meeting people, most with their dogs, who also greeted us warmly. After that short stop at the end, we followed the path back down and saw three guys enjoying the sun on a bench. The oldest said that it was his 60th birthday, and he was enjoying it with his two sons. What greater bounty could there be?

The highlight, though, was when we met Pat, from Duncan, further around the corner. A simple greeting led to a nice conversation. She said it was her first time in the park, and wanted to know how far to the end. When I mentioned that we had just moved here, and it was our first time in the park, too, she asked where we were from. "Winnnipeg", I said, which got the usual response of "oh, aren't you glad to be here now".

Well, I am, and I'm not. I explained that the prairies have a beauty that is not found anywhere else in Canada. While the trees and the mountains show the majesty of God, the prairies show the wonder and awesomeness of His creation. There, in the woods, you can look up and see the trees towering over you and be forcibly reminded of how small we are in the midst of the world. But there on the prairies, you can look out to the true horizon and see just how immense the world is, how far away things can be. You can watch the amazing power of the sky in action and get a true appreciation of the firmament above us.

Both have their wonder, and both have their beauty. I would not trade one for the other at any time. They each, in their own way, share an aspect of God and His Kingdom.

When Pat asked me what my religious tradition was, I said I was a Baha'i, of course. She is a Catholic, an ordained hermit, having come from a Buddhist tradition after she experienced the wonder of Jesus in her life.

And that is something that really moved me. To me, this is the true spirit of interfaith, realizing that others can have the same mystical experience as you do in their own tradition. I have no doubt that what I experienced with Baha'u'llah in my own life is very similar to her experience with Jesus.

The only problem arises when one insists that their Messenger is the only one and that you could only have that experience with theirs. That would be denying the beauty of the mountains for the beauty of the prairies, or vice versa.

Instead, by opening ourselves to the beauty that is present, we open ourselves to the beauty of a full nation, or an entire world. We begin to appreciate the incredible diversity that God has created, and we don't limit it to our own meager experience.

In a prayer by 'Abdu'l-Baha, He talks of "laughing like unto the meadow". When we were there on the rock at the end of the lake, we saw a small patch of grass blowing in the breeze, and I said it was like a giggle. You have to appreciate what is there.

And the same is with our experiences.

If I discounted the patch of grass because it wasn't a full meadow, I would have missed the beauty (and the joke) that was there. To paraphrase others, God is far bigger than our own experience.

If we want, we can play safely in the familiar little garden in our backyard, never venturing forth. But me? I love to play in the fields of the Lord.

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