Thursday, September 30, 2010

Respectful Prayer

So there I was, sitting with my son while eating dinner this evening, and we got to talking about prayer. Specifically, he asked me what it means to be respectful when praying. Now these sorts of questions don't really bother me, but guessing from the looks we got from the people near us in the restaurant, it is not the type of question a five year-old normally asks a parent.

No matter.

His question was a wonderful one, and really got me thinking. In fact, it got me thinking so much that I don't think I took a bite for a couple of minutes (and the food was really good, so that's saying something). Now, I may not have learned a lot in my life, but I do know when not to answer a question, and this seemed like the right time.

Rather than answer, I decided to question him about it instead. And this is what we came up with.

According to Shoghi, and I quite agree with him (especially since he got the answer from 'Abdu'l-Baha), prayer is when you talk to God. You show someone respect when you pay attention to them in conversation, talking directly to them when it's your turn, and listening to them when it is theirs.

I like that. Simple and to the point.

I asked him how you sit when you show respect, and he put down his fork to think about it. "Well, Papa," he said, "I think it means sitting still and comfortable." I asked him if it meant crossing your feet. "If you want." "How about kicking your legs?" "No, I don't think so."

Then I asked him how your arms should be. "I don't know. Whatever feels right, as long as you don't move them too much."

Aside, which I haven't done for far too long: At this point I was reminded of my pilgrimage, lo those many years ago. I had often wondered how Baha'is are supposed to sit when praying, and nobody had ever been able to tell me. I was always told to be respectful, but no one could say what that meant. There I was, in the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, listening to prayers, sitting in one of those beautiful chairs they use for when the pilgrims meet with the members of that institution, when a thought crossed my mind. The seven members who were present were sitting up on a small stage area while prayers were being said, and the thought was, "Hey, maybe now I can find out." After all, who would show respect better than the members of that institution? And so I peeked. (Shhh. Please don't tell anyone, especially a Counsellor. I'm sure I'll get in trouble, or something.) One of them had his legs crossed, arms folded in his lap, staring at the ceiling, while another was sitting ramrod straight, arms by his side, looking at the floor. Some were looking straight ahead, one to the left, another to the right, eyes open, eyes closed, arms folded, legs straight, every possible manner you can imagine. I would almost have sworn that one of them was even asleep, but I know that is not the case. And yet all of them showed the utmost respect and attention for the prayers (even the one who was so at peace that I almost thought he was unconscious).

And so Shoghi and I explored what it means to be respectful when praying.

We talked about the legs, the arms, where our eyes should be looking, if they're even open at all, and whether or not we should be talking ("no, unless we are the one saying the prayer"). (Oh, and if we're not, Shoghi said we should be listening very carefully to what the other person is saying.)

We asked each other about what we should focus on. I was reminded of one of the Hands of the Cause who asked another Hand if he ever, when saying the Long Obligatory  Prayer, thought about the dust bunnies under the couch. The second Hand looked shocked and replied, "You mean there are times you don't?" Shoghi agreed that we should try to stay focussed, but that it is ok if we slip. "We should just try better the next time."

Then he asked me about the prayers themselves. Do we have to say a prayer from one of the Central Figures of the Faith, or can we say our own? Well, here the Guardian said that we can say our own prayers, if we wish, but to recognize that "the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own".

Aside number two: (Oh, two asides in one article. I must be back in form.) A number of years ago I was talking with some youth in the community (I won't say which one) about the different manners in which we, as a community, say our prayers. I said that in "our" community, where we lived, most either said them in a monotone English which put us all to sleep (and I gave an example), or chanted in Arabic or Persian, which few of us understood (and I gave an example). I pointed out that there were many other styles of prayer, such as the one favoured by the Southern Baptists. "ALLLLLLL praise, O my God, be to THEE!" And I really got into the style. Wow, they just about jumped out of their chairs. It was hilarious, and very effective. At their request I did that at the next Feast (and nearly gave this one poor woman a heart attack), and while I was saying it (quite loudly, I must admit), one of the youth jumped up and shouted "Ya! Baha'u'l'abha!" in a good ol' Southern manner. I still get tears in my eyes when I think of it.
In short, we can do whatever makes us comfortable. (Oh, with the singular exception that if we are saying a revealed prayer, we should stick to it. No adding of phrases, like "I say" or other little add-ins that happen elsewhere. I mean, Baha'u'llah did not write, "All praise, I say ALL praise, O my God be to Thee".) It is, after all, our conversation.
Shoghi and I seemed to cover most bases about what makes a prayer respectful, and what doesn't. We asked each other many questions about body posture, tone of voice, our focus, the words themselves, and anything else we could think of.

At the end of our conversation, Shoghi thought about it and said something that I think is just wonderful: "Papa, I think respect is on the inside, not the outside."
 
And judging by the reaction of those who were listening in, they thought it was wonderful, too.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Carmel, part 2

So I'm still trying to understand why the Tablet of Carmel is called "the Charter of the World Spiritual and Administrative Centers of the Faith on that mountain." I took a quick glance at the first sentence yesterday, and am now interested in looking at the next part.

Oh, and if you're not interested in this, sorry. You can just skip this post. That's ok. I won't mind.

Now, where were we, dear Reader? Oh yes. Thanks.
Thereupon the voices of all created things, and beyond them those of the Concourse on High, were heard calling aloud: 'Haste thee, O Carmel, for lo, the light of the countenance of God, the Ruler of the Kingdom of Names and Fashioner of the heavens, hath been lifted upon thee.'
I find this quite interesting. You see, what is beginning to happen here, as in many other Tablets, is that Baha'u'llah is speaking to the spirit of a place. Before talking about the quote itself, I'd like to address this idea of the spirit of a place.

There are many instances in the Writings where Baha'u'llah addresses a city or a mountain, or some other inanimate place. Many of us, myself included, have long thought that is mere metaphor, or hyperbole (I forget which is which). But now, the more I study, the more I have to wonder.

You see, there are many things in nature that we just cannot perceive, yet we have been able to devise machines that can perceive these things for us. A hundred years ago, who would have ever dreamed that we could see such things as we now see in cat scans (yes, I know it is CT, but who ever referes to them as such), or from the Hubble space telescope? These are truly miracles that allow us to see things that are beyond our normal ability.

Could it be that there are forces at work, beyond our ordinary comprehension, in these places, like Mount Carmel? Or any other place on the planet?

Many cultures believe that every place has a spirit, and that every rock has its life. Could it be that Baha'u'llah, with the voice and ear of the Creator, speaks to and listens to the spirit of these various places? When He refers to the drops of the ocean, the rocks and the trees all being exhilirated by His presence, could He actually be literal?

We already know of our limited ability at perceiving reality around us, so could this be another example? Just a thought that I can not answer.

And now back to our regularly scheduled quote.
Thereupon the voices of all created things, and beyond them those of the Concourse on High...
My first question here was what does 'thereupon' mean? As I had guessed, it means "immediately following, or in consequence of". I wasn't entirely certain, and so I looked it up. This is something I have learned to do quite often, as it seems that I'm usually wrong about what I think a word means.

Here, it implies that everything in the previous sentence has already come to pass. "The fragrances of mercy have been wafted over all created things", "past ages" cannot rival today, and God has turned His face "towards His holy seat". This is all past tense. It has already been done, and we are just beginning to witness the effects of it all.

But then I had to wonder about "all created things". I had always read this as "everyone". Obviously this is not correct. No. What He says is" all created things, and beyond them those of the Concourse on High". Does that mean that the Concourse on High is not created? Or is it merely differentiating levels of existence? As "things" tends to be a word that refers to physical objects, it may be implying that the Concourse is spiritual in nature, and not physical. However we end up interpreting it, it sure seems to include quite a bit.

And what is it that all they all did? They "were heard calling aloud: 'Haste thee, O Carmel, for lo, the light of the countenance of God, the Ruler of the Kingdom of Names and Fashioner of the heavens, hath been lifted upon thee.'"


Here I have to share a vision, or an insight, I had this afternoon. I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my friend so that we could continue Ruhi Book 1. While waiting, and sipping my coffee, I was making some chain-mail and looking at my notes for this article (oh, and that includes re-re-re-re-reading the Text itself). As my mind began to wander, trying to make sense of this Tablet, I imagined a prince walking into a ballroom and going up to a group of young women. He has his eye on one in particular, but none of them knows on whom. When he walks up to her and chooses her as his bride, she is stunned into silence and immobility. All the others are so happy for her and they push her forward with laughing words of encouragement.

"Go on," I could hear them all say, "Haste thee, O Carmel."

And as sudden as that, my perspective of this Tablet snapped into clarity. Of course, I may read this again tomorrow and think I'm way off base, for this is only my perspective, and nothing official, but this is what makes sense to me today.

I just picture Mount Carmel as one of the "created things", and she is with her equals watching the Glory of God, Baha'u'llah, moving upon the face of the earth. He is like that prince, only He is looking for a place to establish His Administrative Order. He scans the earth, and His eyes fall upon the Mountain. He has made His choice. In stunned disbelief, she is motionless, unable to believe her fortune, and afraid it may be a dream.

All those around her, her equals up until this moment, know better. With joy at her bounty, they laughingly encourage her forward to meet her Lord.

Until this moment, I could never understand what it was that "they" were telling her to hasten towards. How can a mountain go quickly? I mean, besides an avalanche. It made no sense to me. But now, I think I begin to get a glimmer of what is being said.

Without quoting here, the rest of the Tablet suddenly made a new kind of sense to me. That second paragraph now read like an eager bride, who feels unworthy of her turn of fortune, giving herself over to one whom she knows is of a different class than herself, sort of like a commoner being chosen to marry a king. That third paragraph is Baha'u'llah's loving assurance to her.

But now, unbidden, other questions popped into my mind, as I continued to read. "What is Mount Carmel? Is it merely a pile of rock? Or does it include the grasses, the shrubs, the flowers and the trees that grow upon that rocky mass? Does it include the animals that live there? How about the people? What about the community that has developed in its environs?"

How about all of the above?

I believe that it also includes those dear souls that toil at the World Centre, amidst such untold hardships and trials. It is to them that I think the fourth paragraph is addressed. Whereas in paragraph 3, there is much to remind us of why we give thanks, I think this is especially true for those whose bounty it is to work at the World Centre. I have heard too often of some dear youth who have worked for a year, serving in the Holy Land, who suffered so much, either from not being able to teach the Faith to the people who live there, or from homesickness, or from any other number of troubles. This third paragraph can offer a bit of consolation, but it is the fourth one that tells them what to do.

In the fourth paragraph, He tells them to "circumambulate the City of God that hath descended from heaven, the celestial Kaaba". I may be wrong, but I think of this as a reminder to turn to the Kitab-i-Aqdas, and remember the blessings of being in the vicinity of the Shrines. Here I see the administration and the spirit coming together. There are many other points worth mentioning, many other pieces of guidance, but this is the main point, as far as I can tell, of their mandate.

I finally see how this can be regarded as a "charter".

For now, though, it is enough. Perhaps tomorrow I will look at the second paragraph and see what else I can find in it.

Four-Leaf Clovers

I've been asked why it is that I spend so much time looking at the Baha'i Writings and examing minutae within them.

You know, that's such a great question and one that I have thought about a lot today. And, as usual, the answer came in an unexpected manner.

I was standing at the bus stop waiting for my son's schoolbus, when I noticed that there was a field of three-leaf clovers behind me. I just stood and looked at them, wondering if any of them had that lucky fourth leaf. Was there, amidst those thousands of little green plants, a single one that had that extra piece? I didn't know.

Yet I kept looking.

Then I began to wonder why.

Would I have spent so much time looking if I had anything else to do? Come to think of it, would I have spent any more time if someone told me that there was one there? If someone had said, "Can you find a four-leaf clover in this field", I would be a bit reticent in spending a lot of time on it. But if they said, "Can you find THE four-leaf clover in this field," then I would be more likely to look for a bit longer. After all, I would know that there is one to find.

Or would I?

I figure there are only 3 reasons that someone would claim that there is one in a field like that: either they are lying (for whatever reason), they are deluded, or they are telling the truth.

In other words, for me to spend the inordinate amount of time looking for this elusive plant, I would need to know that they are trustworthy.

Now, with this in mind, I began to think about Baha'u'llah and His Writings. The claim is that there are "pearls of wisdom" contained within His Writings. This is a little bit better than just a bit of supposed luck from an extra leaf on a tiny plant. (By the way, did I ever mention that I think it is bad luck to be superstitious? No? Good.)

To make this claim, He is either lying, deluded or correct.

Without going into it too much, the fact is that I believe, based on my own experience of looking at His Words, that He is telling the truth. That is why I am a Baha'i.

And so I want to find as many of these priceless pearls as I can.

To find those pearls, as every pearl diver knows, you need to dive deep and often into the ocean. This is what I try to do. I could just dip a toe into that Ocean, reading those Words quickly and without much thought, or I could examine the various details and see what else I can discover.

So far I haven't been disappointed.

The more I dive into those Writings, the more I look at the various details and ask why these pieces are written the way they are, the more truths I discover hidden within them.

It is almost like walking through a field of only four-leaf clovers. How lucky is that?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Carmel, part 1

I just don't get it.

It's not that I disgaree, oh no, just that I don't understand.

I must have read the Tablet of Carmel dozens (I was about to type 'hundreds', but I'm sure it hasn't been that many) of times, and I just don't understand why the Guardian called it "the Charter of the World Spiritual and Administrative Centers of the Faith on that mountain." A charter, and I had to look it up to be sure, is "a document, issued by a sovereign or state, outlining the conditions under which a corporation, colony, city, or other corporate body is organized, and defining its rights and privileges" (I am so indebted to http://www.dictionary.com/).

So how does this Tablet outline the conditions by which the World Centre is organized? Some have said that it is this document that implies "that Mount Carmel would be the physical location of the Bahá'í World Centre", but surely this is not the same as being a charter, is it

I have to tell you, this question has puzzled me for years, and I am only now getting around to trying to unravel it.

I truly believe that when Shoghi Effendi called it the "Charter of the World Spiritual and Administrative Centers of the Faith", this was the word he intended to use. So, once again, why?

It seems to me that one way to try and answer this question is look at the structure of the Tablet itself and do a brief analysis of it. I am certain that this will take more than one article, so I'll just do the first sentence for now.

Oh, another way to try and answer this question would be to look at the history of and prophecies regarding Mount Carmel, but there is so much on the internet about it, that I would just suggest you click here. I'm sure there are other sites, but wikipedia is the best I have found. Appendix 6 in Ugo Giachery's book, Shoghi Effendi - Recollections, also contains some great material.

Briefly, the Tablet of Carmel was revealed in 1891 when Baha'u'llah visited the mountain for the fourth and last time, only a year before His ascension. Prior to this, there was nothing in His Writings stating where the World Centre of His Faith would be. It is this Tablet that ties together the spiritual and administrative cetnres of the Faith.

The Tablet itself is written in 5 paragraphs, and is something of a dialogue (perhaps trialogue would be more accurate). In paragraph 1, the entire creation is heard speaking, followed by Mount Carmel talking in paragraph 2. In paragraphs 3 and 4, we have Baha'u'llah's response to the mountain. Paragraph 5 is something of a conclusion.

For now, let's look at that first sentence:
All glory be to this Day, the Day in which the fragrances of mercy have been wafted over all created things, a Day so blest that past ages and centuries can never hope to rival it, a Day in which the countenance of the Ancient of Days hath turned towards His holy seat.
Where to begin? Probably the beginning.

"All glory be to this Day..." As you know, Baha means glory, and is considered as part of the Greatest Name of God, so it only seems appropriate to invoke the word "glory" here. Without going into a whole dissertation on the implications of the word "glory", there isn't a whole lot more to say, so I won't.

Instead, what I want to really look at is the development of the next part of that first sentence. It seems to be three praises of this Day in which we live, and I have to wonder why they are in that particular order. You see, I have this belief that there is nothing in the Sacred Writings that is accidental or random. I believe that every sentence, phrase and word is there for a precise purpose. Actually, I believe that they are there for many reasons, but I'm satisfied with being able to find even a single one.

I am also of the opinion that lists, for dramatic purposes, should generally be in an order that builds to a crescendo. In other words, if I were to write a list of praises, like we see here, I would put the least significant one first, and build from there. But let's face it, I don't write Sacred Text. So who is to say that this is what Baha'u'llah does? I sure don't. I only explore from this perspective and see what turns up.

In this passage, He begins with "the fragrances of mercy" being lightly dispersed throughout the world. From there, He goes on to say that today is so awesomely incredible that "past ages and centuries can never hope to rival it" (just a paraphrase, you know). Finally, He points out that this is when God has "turned towards His holy seat."

Why are they in that order?

Oh, and we have to note that the word "Day" is capitalized. It is obviously not referring to a mere 24-hour cycle, but instead to an epoch of time.

But back to that quote. I would have presumed that mercy being spread throughout the whole planet would have been an amazing enough thing that it would have been the climax of that crescendo, but as I thought about it again, I realized that it truly is the beginning. Imagine, for a moment, if every child on the planet was shown mercy as they were being raised. Think about the effect if all people encountered mercy throughout their lives. If we didn't have to spend so much of our life trying to overcome past abuses, or current injustices, just try and imagine how much more each of us could accomplish in our life. Now imagine the concurrent rise that would occur in the various arts and sciences.

It would be truly awesome.

We would advance so much beyond where we already are. "Past ages and centuries" could never even come close.

You see, I think that the second part comes as a result of the first part, not the other way around, as I had first thought.

But most important of all is that God has turned His attention to "His holy seat". This is a clear reference to the infallible guidance coming from the World Centre. It is from this guidance that we, as a human race, will best be able to move forward. Free from the limitations of political or business interests, guided by the Holy Writings, the Universal House of Justice is in a position to turn their attention to the needs of the entire planet, and not just a small section of it. You only need to look at what they have been doing to know that this is true.

Already I feel like I have learned a little bit more. Here, in that openeing line, I can see the glimmerings of the ligth that shines from the Universal House of Justice. It is no wonder that it is saved as the crescendo, the highest point of the whole series of praises for this Day. In fact, I think we are only beginning to get a mere glimpse of the wonder of this institution, and that our awe of it will only increase as the years go by.

But I still don't see why this Tablet is called a "charter".

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Leadership and Elections

I'm sure you can tell from the scarcity of recent posts that I have been quite busy as of late. One item which has taken a lot of time has been getting back into the routine of a life without Shoghi during the day, and writing my novel. I'm not sure which has taken more of my energy.

During my days, especially when I'm out in public and talking with people, the question of leadership has been coming up more and more often. As it is September, and I am getting prepared to vote in the election of my local Spiritual Assembly (yes, I know the election is in April, but click here for why I am starting so late), so the whole question of leadership is, once again, on my mind, too.
In light of this, I went back to some articles I wrote a few years ago, and ran across one that really nailed it for me. This article was in response to a talk I had to give on the environment, when the Baha'i speaker who had been asked to do it had to cancel at the last moment. As I am not an expert on the environment (by any stretch of the imagination), I had to do a lot of preparation and was ready to learn as much as possible from the speakers who opened the conference.

Some of the presenters who spoke before me were, to say the least, a bit negative. One even said that the situation was so hopeless that "we should take a gun to the children's heads and put them out of their misery". He was looking at my young son while saying this. As you can imagine, this did not go over too well with me.

So why do I mention this sad incident? Because the speaker is a leader of his community. He is an Aboriginal elder. Now please, this is not to condemn all Aboriginal leaders. Far from it. Many of the leaders of that noble community are quite amazing in their insights and wisdom. But I mention this one to merely comment on the singular negative example he gave, and use it as an example to make a point.

I do not find it a coincidence that his community (in general, not in specific) has a significantly higher suicide rate than the average. There are many reasons for this (and not just his example). But when the leaders in any community tell people to kill themselves, and their children, you know there is a problem.

What can we do about it? Note that I do not ask what he can do, but rather what can we all do.
After this meeting, a woman came up to me, quite incensed over this man's talk, and said "Why on earth do people revere the wisdom of the elders, when they speak garbage like this?"

"The wisdom of the elders", I replied, "is quite profound, and worthy of our attention. Some of the elders, however, are in desperate need of healing. We should remember this when they speak of things so contrary to the wisdom of their people."

This example made me ponder the question of leadership, and the qualities we should seek in our leaders. When I contrast the various political elections, and the campaigning that goes on, and the election of the Baha'i institutions, I see a stark difference in many areas.

In the political arena, and in many elections worldwide, the ability to be elected is quite often based on the amount of money that one can afford to spend on advertising, speech writers, polls and research. Do these qualities lead to what we consider the best leaders?

In many other communities, the ability to lead is based on age or on physical strength or on the ability to out-argue your opponent. Does this necessarily result in the best leaders?

In the Baha'i community we are told to seek people with "unquestioned loyalty" to the Faith, a "well-trained mind" (which is not the same as having a university diploma), "selfless devotion", "recognized ability" and "mature experience" (which is not necessarily the same as being elderly). By looking for these qualities amongst those we know, and seeing them acted out in daily life, we are in a better position to cast our votes in the best manner possible.

For many, this will raise the question of how this can work on the national or international level. It does, and you can click here for an article on how that works.

For this article, however, I just want to point out the role of leadership: helping set the vision for a community and carry it out in action. By a leader means that you lead: others follow. When in this position, we must be very careful about the direction in which we go, and the example we set.

If, as leaders, we strive to tear down the accomplishments of others, then those we lead will do the same. They are, after all, following our example. If we strive to encourage, build up those around us, and work towards a better future (as opposed to a moving away from a flagrant injustice or dismal past), then those we lead will also work to build with us.

If we, as leaders, try to push those under us in a particular direction, then we are behind them, not in front leading. If we strive to set the example, then this becomes an attractive force and others try to move closer to where we are. By pushing, we exhaust ourselves, and rarely accomplish anything. By being an attractive force, and using the forces of attraction, then the others begin moving of their own accord.

All that remains is that we ensure that which we find attractive is worthy. But then, this goes back to living a moral and virtuous life, and always striving to progress.

In the end, it doesn't really matter what we try to build. If it is sound and solid, and built on a firm moral foundation, it will stand and withstand the tests of time. If it is not, then it will fall.

When looking at our leaders, either in the Baha'i community, the political arean, or the secular world, we must be careful to examine what it is we are following. This is some of what I consider when getting ready to cast my ballot in just a few months.

And now it's time to get back to my book writing. Oh, after I send myself that e-mail with my first round of names. (See? Did you read that first article? Eh? Did ja? Ahh, never mind.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Read the Writings

"Read the Writings," I told my friend the other day, "every morning and evening: that's what Baha'u'llah tells us to do."

"He does? Where?" That was the loving 'show-it-to-me-in-the-Writings' response. And so, not being one to turn down that request, I tried. I typed in 'read' and 'morning' into Ocean and came up with a big fat nothing from Baha'u'llah.

That should have been my first clue.

Then I typed in 'morning' and 'evening'. Strike two.

Fortunately my cheque to the funds must have cleared because I believe one of the Concourse on High who is paid overtime to keep me in line snuck up behind me and whispered "recite ye the verses" in my ear. And that did the trick:
"Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide."

That was when I sat up and began to pay attention. Every time that I am caught flat-footed, or red handed, at paraphrasing the Writings, I just know I am in for a lesson. So I decided to try my hand at looking at this piece from the Kitab-i-Aqdas and see what little lessons I could get from it.

"Recite... the verses of God..." Hmm. I thought I was just supposed to read them, but here it tells me to recite them. Is that different? According to the dictionary, it means to read aloud, as from memory, especially in a formal manner.

It seems that I am to make this some sort of a formal thing, as opposed to a mere quick read. As well, it appears that it should be out loud. Why? Well, I'm not really sure, but it may be a way of further helping us commit it to our memory. After all, a lot of study has been done on helping people remember what they read, and having them read it aloud has been found to be one of the better ways of helping us retain things.

At that point I realized that whichever of the Concourse was on duty that day must have also done work for Ronco and the Ginsu knives, for when I read that above quote, I could almost hear that same voice utter, "But wait! There's more."

And so, with a bit of trepidation (sometimes these lessons can hurt), I read on:
Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament...

Ok, wait a minute. "Not been faithful to the Covenant"? What does that mean? If I forget to read the Writings for a single day, I'm a Covenant-breaker? No. That makes no sense.

First of all, I think we need to recognize that it is not the Lesser Covenant, of which 'Abdu'l-Baha is the Centre, which is referred to here, but the Eternal Covenant. At least, that's the only thing that makes sense to me, for we can still be faithful to 'Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice, even if we suffer from memory loss. But let's look at the Eternal Covenant, and our role in it.

Some have said that it "concerns the promise on the part of God, given through one of the Manifestations of God, that He will not leave humanity without guidance and will therefore send a further Manifestation of God."

Given this, what is our role in this Covenant? While I am not completely certain, I do believe that it is to study the Word of God, obey the teachings we find within them, and search for the next Messenger to the best of our ability (as Baha'is, we're off the hook on this last one for at least another 850 years). If we are not reading the Writings, then it seems to me that we have failed in the first part of that agreement. Or, as it says in the quote, we have not "been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament".

Now, what is the difference between these two? A covenant is simply an agreement between two parties, in this case between God and humanity. As for testament, while one definition is also "a covenant", I think the definition we are really looking for here is either a proof, as in a testament to one's skills, or a declaration of fact or intent.

God, through the various Manifestations, has continually declared that there will be another Messenger to come. This is stated as a fact. He has also given us various criteria by which we can recognize this next Messenger, which I would categorize as an intent. If we do not study the Writings and promises of our faith, how can we claim to be faithful to the belief that this next Messenger will appear?

Now, what's next?
"...and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who throughout eternity have turned away from God."

Maybe it's just me, but I think this is giving us a general categorization. First, though, we need to be clear: Ignoring something is not the same thing as turning away from it. Here it is the actual intent of moving so as not to face something. It is a conscious decision based upon actual knowledge. To do this, you must first be aware of the thing from which you are turning away.

If this is the case, then you fall under that general category, found in all dispensations, of people who have actively worked against the development and progression of the faith.

Just in case that last bit isn't enough, we are further warned:
Fear ye God, O My servants, one and all.

Well, that is pretty straightforward. I could go into all sorts of stuff about the fear of God here, but I think, in general, it is just a warning to be careful and pay attention. Don't get too cocky about your interpretations of Text, and be open to learning.

Pride not yourselves on much reading of the verses or on a multitude of pious acts by night and day;

There you go. Reading the verses is not enough. Oh, and neither are pious acts. Something more is needed.

...for were a man to read a single verse with joy and radiance it would be better for him than to read with lassitude all the Holy Books of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

And there is the qualifier. Don't just read the Sacred Texts: read them with joy and radiance. Of course, when you do this, your actions change. You begin to act in a better manner, for the Words have an influence upon you. Furthermore, as you act, and then re-read the Writings, you see even more in them. They then affect you even more, and it becomes something of a spiral.
Read ye the sacred verses in such measure that ye be not overcome by languor and despondency. Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them...

Oh, and here is another qualifier. It is quite easy to read so much that you become tired, or languorous. At least, I find it so. There are many times where I begin reading the Writings and find myself practically jumping out of the chair for joy at what I have just read. That is a good time to stop reading and use that energy to propel me into action. Then, in a very short time, if I keep on reading I find myself becoming tired, almost as if it is taking energy from me to sustain that level of enthusiasm.

The second part of that is despondency, or getting discouraged. Quite often I can read something from the Writings and say, "Yeah, I guess I could try to do that." If I keep on reading, though, there are too many little things that I find I need to do, or improve within myself, that I feel it is too much. It is almost like building a house. I can put a brick down, or nail a couple of boards together. That is simple. Putting together thousands of bricks, and nailing hundreds of boards together? Well, that seems a bit overwhelming. I will look at everything that needs to get done and not see the first or second step that I can take.

I think it all goes back to that first Persian phrase I ever learned: cam cam, ruz bih ruz. Little. Little. Day by day. 'Abdu'l-Baha used to say that all the time, and I feel like I am beginning to understand why.

...so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend.

With all that in mind, I think I'll leave it here while I still feel uplifted, and hopefully before you feel weary. I need to take that energy and go out and do something productive now.

Like show my friend that quote.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

One Gem

Strive then, O My brother, to apprehend this matter, that the veils may be lifted from the face of thy heart and that thou mayest be reckoned among them whom God hath graced with such penetrating vision as to behold the most subtle realities of His dominion, to fathom the mysteries of His kingdom, to perceive the signs of His transcendent Essence in this mortal world, and to attain a station wherein one seeth no distinction amongst His creatures and findeth no flaw in the creation of the heavens and the earth.

Marielle was looking through the Writings the other day and ran across this sentence (yes, it is a single sentence). Paragraph 5 from Gems of Divine Mysteries.

Quite the sentence that. But what else would you expect? It is a drop from the fathomless ocean.

Whenever she stops in her tracks and just stares at the Writings in open awe, I am moved to look over her shoulder and see what it is she is reading. Sometimes I am even prompted to go further and study in depth whatever it was that so moved her. And this is the case here. What is it about this singular sentence that is so intriguing? What is He trying to tell us? How does He use His words to convey the depth of spiritual truth He is trying to convey?

Here, the first thing that caught my attention was the word "strive". He does not merely tell the reader to try and understand. No. He tells us to make a great effort, a strenuous effort, put some serious energy into it.

He also refers to the reader as "Brother". Obviously Siyyid Yusuf-i-Sidihi Isfahani was not literally Baha'u'llah's brother, but the term is still endearing. It helps us draw closer to the Blessed Beauty, Who so obviously loved this man that He replied to his letter on the same day as receiving it. This letter, incidentally, was sent to Him while He was still in Baghdad, before His declaration, and was concerned with the question of how the Bab could have been the Promised One.

So when He tells us to "Strive... to apprehend this matter...", we need to ask ourselves which matter He is referring to. The answer to that question is found in paragraph 3:
Know then that it behoveth thine eminence to ponder from the outset these questions in thy heart: What hath prompted the divers peoples and kindreds of the earth to reject the Apostles whom God hath sent unto them in His might and power, whom He hath raised up to exalt His Cause and ordained to be the Lamps of eternity within the Niche of His oneness? For what reason have the people turned aside from them, disputed about them, risen against and contended with them? On what grounds have they refused to acknowledge their apostleship and authority, nay, denied their truth and reviled their persons, even slaying or banishing them?
While I will not divert from the point to look at this particular paragraph right now, it is worth noting that this is what He is directing our attention to. After all, this is also the main theme in the Kitab-i-Iqan. How could we deny the Manifestation of God when He is with us?

Without answering that question now, what will be the result of understanding the answer? Actually, understanding is not quite the word that is used here. Baha'u'llah tells us to "apprehend this matter". Apprehend is a bit more intense of a meaning than understand. It implies a deep grasp of the knowledge, especially on an intuitive level. The very word itself means to seize, which conveys a bit more of the force involved, sort of like when a police officer apprehends a criminal. There is usually a struggle involved. Here the struggle may be against our own selves as we seek to truly apprehend what Baha'u'llah is going to tell us about this matter. If it were easy, God would not have to send a Manifestation down to teach us.

To help me understand the rest of this sentence, I am going to take the liberty of re-formatting it so that I can visually see what is there in the structure of the sentence itself:
  1. ...the veils may be lifted from the face of thy heart (and)
  2. that thou mayest be reckoned among them whom God hath graced with such penetrating vision (as)
    1. to behold the most subtle realities of His dominion,
    2. to fathom the mysteries of His kingdom,
    3. to perceive the signs of His transcendent Essence in this mortal world, (and)
    4. to attain a station wherein one
      1. seeth no distinction amongst His creatures (and)
      2. findeth no flaw in the creation of the heavens and the earth
Pleaes note that it is hoped that above will occur. It is not guaranteed. There are no easy recipes in this faith, and it is only by God's grace that we achieve anything. But let's see what it is we are hoping for.

First, "that the veils may be lifted from the face of (our) heart". This is interesting, for it refers to the face of the heart, not a part of us we generally think of as having a face. But what kind of face is He referring to? Is it the face, as in the front of the head, or a face as in a surface? 'Abdu'l-Baha helps shed light on this in His statement, "When the heart hath become clear and pure then the face will become illuminated, because the face is the mirror of the heart", and again when He says, "a burnished heart will mirror forth the comely face of truth". So is the first step to possess a pure heart? Sounds kind of like the first Hidden Word, "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart..." When the mirror of the heart is pure, it reflects the light of truth. But, as indicated in the quote, there are veils covering our heart that must first be lifted.

This is where the striving then comes in. We have to work hard to burn away those veils, for if we don't, the light will never reach us.

Then, and please remember that this is only my own understanding of this quote and nothing official, we can be "reckoned among them whom God hath graced with such penetrating vision".

But again the question must be asked, "What does this mean?" (I know I sure don't have it.)

Penetrating vision, as far as I understand, means to  look beyond the surface and into the heart of things. One example of this would be to see past the mere literal interpretation of scripture, which is a good and valid interpretation at times, and see the spiritual truths contained within. This, of course, would be necessary for recognizing a Manifestation of God, for They never appear as we expect.

When we take this major step, which usually gets many people arguing with us, and is generally against the "authorized" interpretations given by most religious leaders, then we begin to get a mere glimpse of the "subtle realities of His dominion". For me, the key word here is "subtle". God is not obvious about it, for if He were, there would  be no challenge. Everyone would be able to recognize the Manifestation, and there would be no challenge. (Fortunately for me, I had a lot of patient help during my search, so I kind of feel like I cheated. Don't tell anyone, though. It's our secret.)

As we begin to appreciate the subtleties involved, then we know to dig deeper, to try and "fathom the mysteries of His kingdom". To fathom means to penetrate to the truth of something. In this case, one of many layers of meaning, I think, is to again go past the surface literal interpretation of scripture and find a deeper meaning. Over and over we are reading the same thing in different forms: to go beyond what is obvious and seek something more meaningful.

This next aspect of this is "to perceive the signs of His transcendent Essence in this mortal world". This is a little different, for it recognizing those aspects of God that are revealed through His creation. It is an aspect of "seeing God in all things", raising our vision and finding that spiritual component in everyday objects. This, itself, will change our interaction with the world around us, if we didn't have it before.

When we reach this sublime station, and I, dear Reader, have a long way to go, we will naturally begin to see signs of God in everything. In regards to people, this reminds me of 'Abdu'l-Baha, Who "saw in every face the face of His Heavenly Father". He made no distinction between anyone, and truly saw all of us as noble creations of a noble Creator. Isn't this something we should all strive to attain?

Finally, when we are able to do this, and then move to the point where we can see the divine in everything, we will find "no flaw in the creation of the heavens and the earth", for we will see the signs of God in everything. It is like the Imam Ali, who said, "How can I worship a Lord Whom I have not seen?" and "Nothing have I perceived except that I perceived God before it, God after it, or God with it."

 
That is when we will appreciate the perfection of creation, and find no fault anywhere. (Wow, do I have a long way to go.)
And all that just from looking over my wife's shoulder. I should do it more often. I learn so much from her.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

An Apology or an Explanation

Some of you have commented that I seem to be all over the board here. Especially lately. Sometimes I write about very personal things, and other times about randomly silly thoughts about the Faith. Well, yes. That's true.

Some have observed that there are times where what I write is very systematic and organized, following some sort of an outline, continuing a thought process for a few paragraphs. Ok, I'll grant that, too, except for the outline part. I rarely do that, and I think it shows. When I look at a piece of the Writings, that piece is my outline, but aside from that, I just sort of free-form it.

Some of you have complained about, while others have said that they really enjoy, my various asides and odd thought tangents that seem to occur at random points. Well, that's just my style. If you like it, I'm glad. If not, I like pizza. (Especially a good deep-dish stuffed Chicago-style pizza.)

You see, what I tend to do is get a thought about the Faith and then just begin writing. I like to see where my thoughts lead me. I especially like to see where my thoughts on the Faith lead me. Unfortunately I sometimes get distracted and lose a train of thought. That occurred the other day when I was writing about feminine qualities and met my friend, Char. Sometimes I'll go back and try to recapture that train of thought, but other times I just let it go. (With spinach.)

There are some things I try to regularly include in my work, such as a bit about the Administration, an analysis of a sentence in the Writings, a study of a prayer, a contemporary issue, and so on. Many times it is just whatever catches my attention at the moment.

Most of the time I'm writing in public, usually at a coffee shop while making my artwork, other times in my living room. This allows me to watch the world around me, but also allows the world to interupt. Hence the derailed trains of thought. (And extra cheese.)

Also, I began writing this for Baha'is, as I used to say over and over, and it still is written in that style, but it seems that many of you are not Baha'i. A lot of you have written to say that you like reading the "inside scoop", and not to prettified version for "outsiders". Well, that's cool. I was concerned about using slang (hmm, not quite the right word, but I can't think of it just now, the word that describes terms that only "insiders" would know - jargon! got it) or jargon, but you have responded saying that terms I thought were jargon are not.

Oh, here's an aside, but it's actually relevant. (And mushrooms and olives.) I have had the pleasure of attending numerous Baha'i gatherings in which the presenters talk about jargon, and the effect it can have on our teaching. They would really drill into us the fact that we have to use words that people understand, otherwise we just lose them. (Perhaps that's why I use common language when writing.) Then to emphasize the point they often ask the audience to make a list of "Baha'i" terms. I just love this part. There are some standards that always come up:

Covenant
Counsellor
Assembly
ABM (auxiliary Board Member, not automated banking machine)
Neighbourhood
Cluster
Devotional Gathering
World Centre
Aqdas

And the list just goes on and on. There are usually about 50 before the audience gets tired of this exercise. I know. I've counted.

But let's look at this list again. Counsellor? That's not jargon. It's English. Anyone with half a brain, or a page from a dictionary, can figure out what the majority of the functions of a Counsellor are.

Neighbourhood? Any child who grew up watching Mr Rogers knows that one. Even if they didn't, I'm sure they can figure that one out, too.

Devotional gathering? "Oh, you mean when you get together and say prayers." Duh.

Covenant? Every Jew in history knows what a covenant is. Most Christians do, too. This is a standard English word found all over the place. Even though we refer to a specific one in the Baha'i community, the idea is not strange. And the word is certainly not jargon.

And this observation that you, dear Reader, have made has led me to reconsider my audience. You are not, as I originally thought, an audience of Baha'is. You are an audience of people. From all over the globe.

You, dear Reader, have expanded my view of the world, have shown me things about myself that I never dreamed of learning. You have put me, a simple guy tapping a few keys on a keyboard, in touch with people all over the planet. You have gotten me to check out the maps at the bottom of the page and look at the stars or circles that represent your homes. I have gone to google Earth to see what your city, town or village looks like. I have learned the names of countries and islands I had never heard of before, and you have shown me the names of places I now long to visit. I have checked out tourist board sites of your neighbourhoods and countries, and have even looked into the export statistics of that tiny fishing village made up of no more than 50 houses (how on earth did you ever find this site?).

You have shown me that you are people from Vanuatu, Tuvalu, China, Iran, Iraq, Iceland, United States, Argentina, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Aland Islands, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, the Philipines, Bahrain, Maldives, Haiti, Latvia, Martinique, and even the Holy See. You come from Huanuco, Peru, and Louis Trichardt, South Africa. You have visited from Dauphin, Canada, Daegu, Korea, Agra, India, Zapopan, Mexico, Catania, Italy.

You have made me feel a welcome member of the world community. Earlier I would have said the world Baha'i community, but you have corrected my vision on that. You have shown me a broader world out there, and warmly embraced me.

Thank you.

And so, if I lose my train of thought, I apologize. Please just bear with me. If there is an article that you want to see expanded, just let me know. I'll be happy to try and oblige. If there is a topic you would like me to try and address, I'm always happy to give it a shot. If there is a format that you prefer, just let me know.

And if not, always feel free to order me a pizza.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More Thoughts on Virtues

This morning, as I was still asleep, my wife casually mentioned to me, "Hey, Mead, have you ever noticed how unity is needed to really develop the feminine virtues?"

Why, no. I hadn't. And at that early hour of the morning, I didn't want to think about it too much.

As luck would have it, though, I did remember this offhand comment, and it sort of niggled at me throughout the day.

It all goes back to the observation I made a while ago about how one virtue plus an action often seems to be the source of another virtue. The most obvious example of this is "The source of courage and power is the promotion of the Word of God, and steadfastness in His Love." You see, you don't need courage to teach. When you teach, you gain courage. Quite the opposite of what most of us would think.

A few years ago I went and searched the Writings for as many references to the various virtues as I could find. In many cases it seems that one of the Central Figures has told us how to acquire, or develop, that particular virtue. Many of them overlap, and some will help develop different virtues based upon the different actions taken. Oh, and don't take my word for it. I'm no expert. Search the Writings yourself.

It seems to me that when you map it out, you can actually trace a number of them back to a single origin: the love of God. No surprise there.
 
Looking at the above example, 'Abdul-Baha says, "Recite the Obligatory Prayer and supplications as much as thou art able, so that day by day thou mayest attain to increased firmness and steadfastness and find greater joy and gladness. Thus the circle of divine knowledge will grow wider, and the fire of the love of God will burn brighter within thee."


So, we can take a step back and see that steadfastness, which is one part of the source of courage, itself can be increased by the recitation of the Obligatory Prayer. Of course, elsewhere, He talks about the virtues needed to help make our prayers more effective, so I can only presume to link these together. He also says that the result of this prayer will be to make the "fire of the love of God burn brighter within" us.

I find this interesting since most of the virtues arise from this love of God.

The question I asked myself, those few years ago, was "What is the source of the love of God?" Saying these prayers makes the love burn brighter, but what gives you more of it? The answer came from the Bab: "...and every breast which committeth His Words to memory, God shall cause, if it were that of a believer, to be filled with His love..." Memorization of the Sacred Word, committed to our "breast", and not just our head.

Again, no big surprise there.

But what Marielle noticed, and pointed out to me this morning, was that all of this was not merely a codification for some virtues dictionary or map, but could be seen as a template for how to increase any of our virtues. It is like when Jesus revealed the Lord's Prayer. He didn't just say, "Hey, guys, here's a prayer for you." No. He told them to "pray like this". He gave them a pattern for prayer.

It was this insight that led Marielle to wake me up this morning with her observation: Unity is the virtue needed to develop the feminine virtues. And before you think to say that there are no feminine or masculine virtues, that they are equal in all, let me point out a quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha: "The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over women by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting -- force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age, less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals -- or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."


There are some virtues that are more readily identifiable with women, even though men also are endowed with them, such as compassion. There are also some that are more traditionally associated with men, even though it is very obvious that women have them, such as assertiveness. But when we go through the long list of the virtues, it seems that those we identify most with the feminine tend to require a greater degree of unity. After all, how you can develop your sense of compassion in isolation? No, you need to recognize the unity between yourself and all others to do this.

Anyways, this is what was going through my mind this afternoon as I was sitting in a coffee shop making my artwork. I was thinking about these quotes and how to learn to apply them in my own life when the woman at the next table over turned around and said to me, "Did you know that salamanders and frogs never sleep?"

My first thought, twisted as it was, was, "Well, I've never heard that pickup line before." But no, it wasn't an attempt at flirting. Char was just genuinely surprised at reading this little tidbit in the Coffee News.

With that quirky little beginning, Char and I started talking and we got on to the topic of spirituality and education. I talked a bit about this article and said that I was going to mention her in it, so there it is. She's been mentioned.

The reason I am doing this, mentioning her, is that she successfully derailed my train of thought (not that hard to do), and got me thinking about how it is that I tend to meet a lot of people in my life. I casually mention odd things that capture my attention and continue to talk with those who respond. Like Char did.

We spoke for nearly 30 minutes about virtues and she shared some wonderful thoughts. She really liked Marielle's insight, and the methodology we both think is in the Writings about how to develop your virtues. I do not profess to know a lot about this and am very grateful to everyone who shares what they can with me. It is how I learn best.

To better help me in this, Char has expressed interest in Ruhi Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. Until then, I am going to think about Marielle's observation more. It seems that she is correct. Unity is needed to best develop the more feminine virtues.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

In Defense

What a fascinating evening.

I have just returned from an evening at the Juan de Fuca Centre in which the public was invited to hear about the Yaran, the seven friends in Iran who were arrested a couple of years ago and have recently been unjustly sentenced to 20 years in prison. The first speaker was Baha'i lawyer Roshan Danesh and the keynote address was given by the local Member of Parliament, Dr Keith Martin.

The evening began for me with the realization that the hall was filled to capacity. My hat immediately went off to the organizers, as it seems to me, from my limited experience, that these sort of meetings usually are quite under attended. Not tonight. There were people from all over southern Vancouver Island, including a few that I would call non-guest dignitaries.

This also speaks highly of the spiritual powers released by the suffering of the seven Yaran.

When the program started, I was underwhelmed by the traditional blowing of one's own horn often done when an interfaith representative is asked to say a short prayer.

Aside: I remember being asked to say a prayer for an interfaith program a number of years ago, and was asked to keep it under 5 minutes. I practiced, and even timed myself: 4 minutes 45 seconds. The organizers asked me to return every year after that (even after I missed one because I thought it was a week later than it really was). One year it got so ridiculous when evevry other attendee spoke for more than 20 minutes, taking over 2 hours in total. And that was just the opening prayers. The following year the only two speakers were myself and the guest speaker. I was told that the invitation was due solely to the fact that I had alwaysbeen obedient to their request regarding time. I guess obedience does pay off.

Well, tonight's opening prayers were quite beautiful, once you got past the initial unscheduled talk before they actually began. And all the prayers revolved around the themes of truth, justice, learning to love everyone alike, and action.

After the prayers, we were introduced to the Yaran, those seven dear souls who are awaiting a just verdict in their case. Short biographies were read about each one, and the ridiculousness of the charges was amply demonstrated. The absurdity of the trial was put forth, including various facts like their lawyers were sentenced to appear before the court, even though they themselves had been arrested and were in jail, and no evidence of guilt was ever offered to the court before the Yaran were sentenced. Indeed, how could evidence ever be offered? Global reactions of dismay and shock were also read.

Then the speakers began.

It started with a reminiscence. The speaker was driving with his 10 year-old daughter and had thought back about his own life when he had been her age. He had been attending a summer camp, and there was another boy there his own age who didn't speak to anyone. Finally one night, as they were all lying down, this quiet boy opened up. He spoke about how he and his mother had recently fled Iran, and how his father had been tortured and executed for his faith. He was a Baha'i.

Now, the speaker said, he had come full circle. His daughter was the same age and more people were in prison in Iran for their faith.

He went on to speak about Baha'u'llah, and how He had wanted to help humanity change progressively. To effect this change, He wanted us to think and act differently than we have in the past. To change in a progressive manner, we need to recognize the oneness of humanity, to see every person on the planet as part of one global family. This is how we are to be.

And for this, Baha'u'llah was arrested and imprisoned in the Evin prison of His time: the Siyyah-Chal, or the Black Pit.

Another short aside: If you think "The Black Pit" is a prison of myth, it is not. It was an actual prison in Tehran, and was where Baha'u'llah was sentenced for months in tortuous conditions. It was also the scene of one of the most dramatic events in religious hostory. But that is too long a story to go into here.

The speaker also shared a quote, a few lines from the Pen of Baha'u'llah, in which He is writing back to His homeland.
Which one of the multitude of thy sincere lovers shall We remember, whose blood hath been shed within thy gates, and whose dust is now concealed beneath thy soil? The sweet savors of God have unceasingly been wafted, and shall everlastingly continue to be wafted upon thee. Our Pen is moved to commemorate thee, and to extol the victims of tyranny, those men and women that sleep beneath thy dust.

It was on this note that the next speaker began.

After a very nice introduction, he proved himself to be a very dramatic speaker, fully capable of engaging a crowd. He did not speak from behind a podium, but from the front of the stage, in full view of the audience. That is noticeably rare these days, and much appreciated.

He pointed out that we need to understand the context before we can approach an answer to the question, "What can we do". He said we should recognize that the "powers" in Iran are using the Baha'is as scapegoats to distract attention from the real problems facing their society. (At least, that was his perspective. I don't know enough to have an opinion one way or the other.)

He also spoke about the importance of approaching the government, and recognizing that it is seperate from the people of the country.
In the end, he had a few interesting ideas about what we could actually do to try and make a difference in Iran.

The first point was to use the internet. There are already a number of petitions on Facebook, another on twitter, one at Amnesty International, and so on and so forth. There are many others if you care to google it. This article, itself, is another response.

The second point he offered was to ask the Chinese and Russian governments to put pressure on Iran, as they are the governments most likely to have any influence. Here, I'll have to take his word on it, but it seems reasonable to me.

The third suggestion he offered was to ask the Canadian government to send a mission to Tehran to negotiate their release. He said that at some point you have to go and talk to the people there.

In response to this last point, he had a few suggestions about what this mission (wow, I really don't like using that term because it has such a negative connotation with Christian missionary work in a Muslim country) (maybe we should use 'delegation' instead) could do. He said that they first would need to know what the leaders want or fear. The wants would be a "carrot", so to speak, and the fears a "stick".

Some of the "carrots" could be helping them move towards greater inclusion in the global commonwealth of nations, or alleviating the fear of an attack by the United States. Both of these would be good.

Some of the "sticks" that could be used would be to freeze the international assets of the leaders, which would affect them directly and not harm the people of the country, or to impose travel restrictions upon these leaders.

One suggestion from the audience was to bring to the international court a specific case against the leaders of the regime dealing with a specific abuse.

In the end, I am not sure what will happen. How can I be?

What I am certain of, however, is the guidance from the Baha'i World Centre. Back in 2001, in a letter addressed to the believers gathered for the opening of the terraces on Mount Carmel, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "Humanity's crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá'u'lláh's teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family."

And this brings me back to the beginning of the night: a change of consciousness.

In the last few years, the Universal House of Justice has written to "The Believers in the Cradle of the Faith" numerous times, and what has really struck me about those priceless letters of encouragement is the way that they praise the nobility of the Baha'is in Iran. They don't tell them to flee, or to fight back. No, what they offer is praise and love and more encouragement.
 
Back in 2008, they wrote, "...you remain confident in the ability of the Iranian people to discern truth and strive wisely to correct misleading information. May you not slacken in this task. Be not dismayed by the severity of the attacks made against you. Do not yield to despondency and despair. Perseverance and patience are required to counteract the effects of slander and calumny. The ultimate outcome is clear: the light of truth will dispel the darkness of deceit." And again, "Undeterred by the current crisis and drawing inspiration from the Divine teachings, attach no importance to the acts of oppression and cruelty meted out to you. Indeed, respond in the opposite manner. Focus your thoughts on being a source of good to everyone who crosses your path. Make every effort to serve your fellow citizens--heirs to a rich and humane culture--who themselves suffer from many an injustice."
 
In 2010 they added, "We take comfort in knowing that you are cognizant of the operation of divine forces. You realize that within His grasp are held the reins of all things. You call on the spiritual powers born of such understanding to transcend enmity and oppression."
 
But to me, the most important lesson for us all is found in a letter dated 23 June 2009: "You have demonstrated in the example of your lives that the proper response to oppression is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor. The victim of oppression can transcend it through an inner strength that shields the soul from bitterness and hatred and which sustains consistent, principled action."
 
While we outside Iran need to raise awareness of the injustice meted out to these innocent souls suffering in prison, either in the prison just outside Tehran, or in the prison of abuse in daily life, we also need to learn  from them. We need to recognize that protest and anger are not the proper response to what we are witnessing, for that is merely taking on one of the "characteristics of the oppressor". No. We need to learn to rise above that and educate as many people as we can.
 
My love goes out to those people who are allowing us to learn this from their actions, and my words go out to help raise the awareness of their suffering.