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.

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