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. 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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for that.
    I'm a new baha'i and I've recently been feeling spiritually heavy-hearted when I try to read the writings twice a day.
    I hope it will be better...
    Cam cam, ruz bih ruz.