Thursday, August 19, 2010

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.

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