Saturday, August 14, 2010

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: 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.


  1. Mead, Thanks. I never personally asked you what to read, but I am encouraged to take up The Dawn Breakers again after discovering what Shoghi Effendi had to say about its import. I am often reminded of his words from "The Advent of Divine Justice; "The community of the organized promoters of the Faith of Baha'u'llah in the American continent -- the spiritual descendants of the dawn-breakers of an heroic
    Age, who by their death proclaimed the birth of that Faith -- must, in turn, usher in, not by their death but through living sacrifice, that promised World Order, the shell ordained to enshrine that priceless jewel, the world civilization, of which the Faith itself is the sole begetter."

    I think now would be a good time to explore what that means again.

    Peace in!


  2. Hey, old roomie!

    An important theme!

    The books listed at are specifically recommended somewhere in the Writings, but I have not provided citations on that page yet. However, if you visit the individual pages, they may well be listed there (or at any of the Writings to be found via

    Thanks for the collection of quotes... I had not seen several of these before...

    I've added the Dawn-Breakers one that had not been referenced already at (linked from ) and the Gleanings quote you found to .

    As is a wiki (with an open content license), feel free to add quotes there yourself. You could I think become a great asset to the site.