Friday, October 29, 2010

Geometry and Spirituality

A number of years ago, when I was in university, I took a course on Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry. What I found really fascinating was the idea of independence with Euclid's fifth postulate. What this means is that, if you want a really nice and tight-knit system of logic, you want your postulates to be as "small" as possible. You want to take as little for given as you can.

For centuries, mathematicians tried to find a cleaner system of postulates, to reduce what was taken for granted in that fifth one, to make sure that it didn't overlap any of the other four. Nobody could find one. Finally, someone had the idea of taking the opposite of that postulate and seeing if they could make a logically consistent new system. If they could, that meant that there was no overlap, and they could stop searching. Well, someone did and non-Euclidean geometry was born. It's a nice system, but you can't build a house with it.

Anyways, this idea of independence stuck with me. To be a really clean system, you had to ensure that there was no overlap in your givens, or in your definitions.

Now, fast-forward with me to a time after I declared (wheeee, I love fast forward).

There I was reading Shoghi Effendi's Advent of Divine Justice and I ran across his description of one of the "spiritual prerequisites of success, which constitute the bedrock on which the security of all teaching plans... and financial schemes, must ultimately rest" and "which the members of the American Bahá'í community will do well to ponder." As he said that we would do well to ponder it, I took him seriously and have tried my best since that fateful day.

As you know, he describes three prerequisites, and it should be noted that a prerequisite means that it is required beforehand. In other words, the security of all our teaching work depends upon us first increasing our abilities in these prerequisites. Of course, we'll never perfect them, for we are human and continually advancing in our abilities, but the greater our abilities, the greater our succcesses will be. Those prerequisites, and I'm sure you know them, but I'll put them here for ease of reference (for myself), are "a high sense of moral rectitude in their social and administrative activities, absolute chastity in their individual lives, and complete freedom from prejudice in their dealings with peoples of a different race, class, creed, or color."

Further along in the book Shoghi Effendi goes into some detail about each of these, including in his description of the first two a list of adjectives and implications, clarifying what he means for us. It is interesting to note that there is no such list with the third one, for freedom from prejudice is just freedom from prejudice. There are no further implications to it.
Of this moral rectitude, he says it implies "justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness". And that is where I stopped.
What was this list? Aren't justice and equity the same thing? What is the difference between truthfulness and honesty? Reliability and trustworthiness? And fair-mindedness sure seems like a part of justice and equity. In short, I thought it was sloppy.
And that was when I stopped again. You see, dear Reader, whenever I run across anything in the Writings that makes me instinctively think it is wrong or sloppy, that is my signal not to suppress the question, but to investigate further, for I know that the Writings are of a higher standard than my own deficient self.
So I began to look closer at the list, taking a cue from my non-Euclidean studies.
Is it possible to be truthful without being honest? Or vice verse? If so, then they are independent of each other and it is not sloppy.
Well, those were the easy ones. Truthfulness is that which accords with reality. It is objective and not changeable by us. We are irrelevant when it comes to truth. Honesty, however, is what we believe. It is hoped that the two will be close, but they do not have to be. If they are sufficiently far apart, then the poor unfortunate generally gets locked away until they can do no harm to others.

But if you're not sure what I mean by their independence from each other, here is a simple example that I've used before. (If you are, feel free to skip this paragraph. I don't mind.) Suppose you believed that I was 45 and told someone so, then you would honest, but not truthful. You would be honestly saying what you believed, but you'd still be wrong. Now suppose you were a bit of a joker and said, with a wink, "Mead is only 43." Well then you would truthful, but not honest. If, however, you took the time to find out for sure, asked me, or my mother, you would learn I am 43, and then you could honestly and truthfully pass that information on.
Honesty and truthfulness are, you see, independent of each other, even though it is hoped that they would overlap a lot.
What about justice, equity and fair-mindedness? Are those, also, independent of each other, even though we hope they may overlap?
Justice is the inherent quality of being righteous, which is why, I think, the second Hidden Words specifies seeing the world through your own eyes, and not those of your neighbour. If you only saw things through someone else's eyes, then this quality is not inherent within you.
In this instance, I believe Shoghi Effendi is referring to the ability of each member of an institution, and every individual one of us, to approach an issue in consultation with our own clear ideas, guided by the Writings, of course. We do not speak for others, but offer what we believe, in the hopes that it will help us find a clearer and higher truth or solution.

Equity, on the other hand (and I'm stepping out on a limb here, for I have never looked at this one before and am only trusting that I will find something different when I click over to the dictionary) is (ok, here I go) the quality of being fair and impartial in an equal manner (wow, it looks like the limb held).
Fair-mindedness? A bit more subtle in its distinction. Equity seems to be in the action end of things, while fair-mindedness seems to be in the decision side.
Can you be just and still be biased? I think so. Oh, not in an absolute sense, of course, but in a limited sense. You can definitely see things through your own eyes, and be completely biased in how you act. People who have vested interests do it all the time. They may feel they are getting what they deserve, which is an odd form of justice, but they are not being equitable or fair-minded.
It is also possible to act in such a manner that you give preference to someone or some group of people, but still make an equitable decision.
You can also be equitable without being just, again in a limited sense. People who only "do it by the book" are like that. They are not thinking for themselves, but merely following whatever rules they ascribe to, and sometimes those rules may provide great equity, but it still doesn't necessarily show fair-mindedness.

In this Faith of ours, we are to think for ourselves, while putting aside our own personal vested interests. Sometimes that interest may be our careers, or even something we strongly believe in that doesn't quite go with the Writings, or with the decision of an institution.
This is the challenge before all the members of institutions in our Faith. They are called upon to look at each and every issue with an eye to the Writings, treating every person in an equal manner, and find a solution to all problems that is just and fair. They have to consider the matter in their own heart, and not merely accept what someone else says is true.
As for reliability and trustworthiness, I think it is fairly evident how they are distinct from all the other attributes listed here.
Reliable means that we can count on them, but says nothing about what we can count on them doing. A kleptomaniac can be counted on stealing, so they are reliable, but not trustworthy. Someone else may be trustworthy, but not reliable. You may be able to count on them doing something, but they may always be late in doing it (which I guess is reliable in its own way).

No. It is only when we combine all of these qualities, all seven of them, that the world will see "a true pattern, in action, of something better than it already has".
And you can easily see how that would lead to an upsurge in the growth of the community, or why not having that would stagnate our growth. Oh, and this is only one of the three prerequisites. There are still two others.
When I look at all three, all I can think is, "Gee, oh, me try."  I really do.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Sports Thought

Well, I was going to write about another topic altogether, but I have no clue what it was. Something about running out in the unbelievably cold rain and having a number of those near-ice drops find their way down the small gap between the back of my jacket collar and my neck, combined with a discussion on the radio, drove all previous thoughts out of my mind. Oh, and also thinking about the comment on yesterday's article.

Yeah, all that combined to get another thought percolating through my brain.

You see, the discussion on the radio was about sports, not a topic I generally pay much attention to. In fact, I pay about as much attention to the goings-on in the sports world as I do about who got voted off what island / panel / group in some lame attempt at finding reality / the-world's-best-fill-in-the-blank / idol-contender.

But this discussion caught my ear. You see, there was some hockey game in which a few of the spectators heckled one of the players. Ok. Perhaps heckle is a bit too soft of a word. They were overly rude, beyond belief, shouting racial epthets at him, and possibly (although that may have been a reference to another game) throwing objects at him. Anyways, whatever they were doing, it wasn't that nice, and this player got fed up. From what I understand he jumped into the audience and attacked them. And wasn't too gentle about it

We've all heard about the need for self-control at these sports games, and how the players need to learn to play without fighting. And this is certainly not the first time that a player has attacked a spectator. But in this case, the player got a 6 game suspension, which is the same punishment that another player recently got for swearing. There seems to be a bit of an issue about consistency here. And they are now talking about the "need" for a plexiglass barrier between the players and the audience, so that this type of thing doesn't happen again.

All right. So far nothing that would have really caught my attention, except insofar as to make me just shake my head and be grateful that Shoghi doesn't express any interest in going to any of these games.

But then one of the people on the air said something that just made me stop and say, "No, no, no." He said that the fans (although I would be hesitant in using that term, except for the fact that it is derived from the word "fanatical", so maybe it is the correct term here) pay their money and can do what they want, as long as it is within the bounds of the law.

Say what?

Paying a few dollars gives you the right to attack the players?

If you went to the theatre and started shouting racial slurs at the actors, I can't imagine them allowing you to stay in the theatre. And nobody would give it a second thought if you were kicked out. They would actually be grateful.

If you went to the movies and started shouting at the film, you would probably be given a nice escort to the door (unless it was Rocky Horror, then everyone else would be shouting, too). Ballet? You'd be given the boot (pointy-toed, I might add).

If you stood on the street in most any major city and began hurling racial slurs in a loud voice, you'd probably be arrested on some racism chrage or another, and people would be cheering the police.

But here, in a sports arena, not only is it condoned, but defended. "The stadium should put up a barrier to protect the spectators."

It may just be me, but I think there needs to be a bit more done here. And not in the way of making it more difficult for the players to defend themselves (for I do believe that they were under attack). Oh, but don't get me wrong. The players need to learn a bit more self-control, for sure, but still, they should not be attacked by the audience in the first place.

No, I think the issue here is courtesy. And respect. I'm sure I could name a few other virtues, but I think those two suffice. In fact, I still go with courtesy, for Baha'u'llah admonishes us "to observe courtesy, for above all else it is the prince of virtues".

But also, I think it is to place responsibility where it belongs.

I will not say that the players were right in attacking anyone. No, I don't think that's the case. But they are not solely to blame. And to act as if they are is just plain wrong, as far as I'm concerned. Yelling at, taunting and throwing things at someone while they are working (and even when they are not) is just plain wrong. Yes, the players deserve to be punished, but so do the people who started it in the first place. I would like to read or hear about the punishment that was meted out to the spectators.

All of this really drives home the need to teach our children better manners. It is so important that we really take the time to help them learn to be courteous and loving. Sure, you can go to a sports game and cheer on your team. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that can easily be seen as a form of encouragement.

But not at the expense of the other players.

They are human, too, and are worthy of respect and, of course, courtesy.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

That's Entertainment

Have you ever run across those people who don't seem to know how to have a conversation? They only appear to know how to speak in quotes. Everything they say is a quote from someone else. In fact, they can have an entire dialogue (I"m not sure it's a conversation, as nothing seems to be communicated) of quotes amongst others like themselves. For hours on end. Oh, and I'm not talking about those that only quote sacred Text when answering questions. I'm talking about those who quote Monty Python, or The Simpsons or some other television show, or piece of modern culture.

I overheard a few people just the other day who were doing this, and, well, you guessed it: it got me thinking. It got me thinking about the role of entertainment in our society, and how it seems to have been blown way out of proportion. Just this evening, I went to a reputable news web-site and noticed that the two main headlines were both about entertainment, one about sports and the other about internet videos. These overshadowed the death of a major political figure, and some important scientific breakthroughs. Of the top four "breaking stories", not counting the two  headlines, 3 were about entertainment.

Maybe it's just me, but this seems a bit skewed.

I'm reminded of an early Baha'i in the West who had the opportunity to see 'Abdu'l-Baha when He was in America. She was going to go see Him when one of her friends invited her to go to the beach. "Oh, but it's 'Abdu'l-Baha," she thought. Her friend encouraged her, saying, "It's a beautiful day today. Why don't you go see him tomorrow when it's supposed to rain?" And so she went to the beach.

The next day, 'Abdu'l-Baha continued His journey, and she never did get to see Him. Now, whereas I would find this very disappointing and probably lament for years over it (that's the guilty side of me coming out), she used it as a launching pad for always making her priorites clear to herself. I can't remember, but I think she went on to become a Counsellor.

I'm also reminded of one of the "top" acts in Paris at the time of the Master's visit. Or perhaps I should call it a "bottom" act. It was some guy on a vaudeville-type stage who used his flatulence as the base of his humour. Yes, that's right. His act was to imitate how different people would fart.

And more people went to see this guy than 'Abdu'l-Baha?

I can only shake my head.

But today I look at the news, and the undue attention paid to movies, television, video games and sports and I wonder why so much of our energy is taken up with these forms of what is, in the end, entertainment. There are whole magazines dedicated to informing people of what has happened in the latest eopisode of their favorite shows. Whole sections of bookstore and libraries are dedicated to sports, and not with the perspective of becoming healthy, but of recounting the various stats of different players or teams. There are volumes trying to explain the imaginary physics in series like Star Wars or Harry Potter. Millions more people watch the Oscars every year than are aware of Nobel Prizes, or of those volunteer awards in their own neighbourhoods.

These things are not real. Yet they make the news.

And when you try and talk with some people about religion, or spiritual ideas, they look at you as if you are crazy. Hmm. "They regard a single drop of the sea of delusion as preferable to an ocean of certitude."

But please, don't get me wrong. Entertainment has its place. It has its value. "Such arts and sciences, however, as are productive of good results," writes Baha'u'llah, in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, "and bring forth their fruit, and are conducive to the well-being and tranquility of men have been, and will remain, acceptable before God."

One of those good results could be helping us see alternatives through a fictional story, and aiding us in making good decisions in our life. There are many times when I have been in a situation and wondered what to do, and a story I read years ago will come to mind. A character was in a similar situation and made a decision, for better or for worse, and I learned from reading about it. Of course it's best when it is 'Abdu'l-Baha, but fiction works for that, too.

I really enjoy watching a good movie, or reading a good work of fiction. It's great down-time.

I also remember a meeting I was in with a Counsellor. He had called the group of us together to talk about our work. We were a newly formed Institute Board and he wanted to make sure that we got off on the right foot. He gave a very inspirational talk, posed a few questions, and that sat back as we took up those questions and explored them. I happened to be serving as Secretary for that meeting, and found myself in an odd position at that moment of watching the dynamics of the group, instead of being engaged in the verbal side of the consultation. I happened to be sitting next to the Counsellor, and realized he was sitting back watching those same dynamics. I decided to see if I could figure out what he was seeing, and leaned back in my chair to try and better watch. Without looking at me, he gently nudged my arm. I leaned a bit closer to hear his words of inspirational wisdom. "Did you", he asked, "see Star Trek last night? I just loved the way..." And he drew his wisdom out of that episode, knowing that we were both fans of the show.

Yes, entertainment has its place.

But not as news headlines. (sigh)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

That Conspicuous Verse, part next

Yeah, yeah. I know. It's "perspicuous", but I'll tell you, it sure is conspicuous to me. In yesterday's posting, I talked a bit about the beginning and the end of that verse, so I figured I might as well look at the middle of it today. I think I'll use my usual approach (no surprise there) and see if I can make any sense out of the order of it. The text, just in case you have forgotten, is found in Epsitle to the Son of the Wolf, pages 131 - 134, or in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pages 117 - 119.

I have copied it below and inserted spaces to make the various questions and answers stand out from the body (whew, I forgot how long it is). Now, I may be mistaken in how I split them up, but it seems to me that there are 18 sections. Some of these are "yes" sections, while others are "more". A few of them explain a bit, while others clarify. I'm just going to take them one at a time, and see what happens. (Note: When re-reading this, I realized that it reads sort of like a two-part article with my comments like an on-going dialogue. It just got a bit confusing to me as I looked at it again, and thought I'd explain.)

1. Among them are those who have said: 'Have the verses been sent down?' Say: 'Yea, by Him Who is the Lord of the heavens!'

Isn't this one of the proofs of a Manifestation of God? His verses? It's pretty simple, really. When someone asks me if we have a Bible, what they mean is, "Did Baha'u'llah reveal any sacred Texxts?" The answer is a simple "Yup. He sure did." And then I can give them some of the Writings, and we can continue our discussion from there. This, to me, is a no-brainer.

2. 'Hath the Hour come?' 'Nay, more; it hath passed, by Him Who is the Revealer of clear tokens! Verily, the Inevitable is come, and He, the True One, hath appeared with proof and testimony. The Plain is disclosed, and mankind is sore vexed and fearful. Earthquakes have broken loose, and the tribes have lamented, for fear of God, the Lord of Strength, the All-Compelling.' Say: 'The stunning trumpet blast hath been loudly raised, and the Day is God's, the One, the Unconstrained.'

Now, this is a bit more difficult. When I first looked at this, I split it into two seperate sections. The "Say" part was another one. But then I got to thinking, maybe it isn't. Maybe the "Say" part is in response to the question. If so, then what is the first quote part for?

I may be way off base, and you know that this is only my own interpretation, nothing authoritative, but it seems to me that the first response is for me, for my background information. When someone asks me, "Has the Hour come? Is it the time of the end?", my initial thought is pretty close to that first reply. "Buddy, you missed it. It has come and gone. We are way past that." But I can't really say that out loud, now, can I? It would almost seem insulting. No, what I can say is more like the second response: "Look around you, what do you think? The signs are as clear as day." Yeah, that trumpet blast cannot be missed.

3. 'Hath the Catastrophe come to pass?' Say: 'Yea, by the Lord of Lords!'

Ok. Now I'm seeing a bit of a trend. We begin with the verses; yup, He wrote 'em. "But then that would mean that the time of the end is here." "Yup, that's right. In fact, it's already passed." "Well, if that's the case, what about that world-shattering catastrophe? Has that happened?" "Uhm, yeah."

Really, what more can you say? Yes, the world is not the same as it was a hundred years ago. The world, and all that was contained therein, was swept away. Yesterday is gone, and here we are today. It is pretty catastrophic, when you get down and look at it.

4. 'Is the Resurrection come?' 'Nay, more; He Who is the Self-Subsisting hath appeared with the Kingdom of His signs.'

Well, once we get to that point, can't you just hear the questioner sit back in disbelief? "Really? But what about the Resurrection? Has Jesus come again?" Oh, how do you respond to that one, except as Baha'ullah has written here? "Has the Son returned? No, more than that, the Glory of the Father has appeared."

5. 'Seest thou men laid low?' 'Yea, by my Lord, the Exalted, the Most High!'

Here, the questioner will just sit up and say, "Say what? But what about all that's supposed to happen around that? What about those leaders who are supposed to fall? What about the first becoming last and the last becoming first? What about all men dying? Come on, what about it?" And I just want to respond, "Look around you, my friend. Look around you. Haven't the leaders fallen? Aren't the sacred institutions of the past, the kings and the churches, falling as we speak? Yeah, I see men laid low, dead in their hearts by the poison of drugs and alcohol, killed by their own passions and egos. People are so wrapped up in mindless entertainments, from movies and television to video games and stuff, it is as if they aren't even living in this world anymore. And even though we have seen this in the past, it is so much more widespread and insidious now than ever before."

6. 'Have the tree-stumps been uprooted?' 'Yea, more; the mountains have been scattered in dust; by Him the Lord of attributes!'

I have no idea what this is referring to.

McLaughlin points to a quote in Qur'an in which it says that men will be torn away "as though they were uprooted palm stumps". Here, Baha'u'llah seems to be saying that, even more than that, those structures which stood as firm as the mountains have been torn away. Where is the might of the Ottoman Empire, or all the other empires of the past? Where has the power of Rome gone? Or the Calliphate? These mighty mountains have been reduced to dust.

7. They say: 'Where is Paradise, and where is Hell?' Say: 'The one is reunion with Me; the other thine own self, O thou who dost associate a partner with God and doubtest.'
Here, once again, you can almost hear the response (to the section two sections ago, as I still have no idea about that last one). "But if that's the case, what about Heaven and Hell? If the churches have fallen, what happened to Heaven and Hell?" "Well," we can say, "Heaven is nearness to God, and Hell is remoteness from God. We've known that along, but we just got it confused a bit. We've confused Heaven with our religious institutions, and Hell with something else altogether."

8. They say: 'We see not the Balance.' Say: 'Surely, by my Lord, the God of Mercy! None can see it except such as are endued with insight.'

"I don't understand," would be the obvious continuation. "How can we properly judge right from wrong if what we have been told in the past was incorrect?" "Ah," we would say, "that is the question, isn't it? None can judge fairly but God. We, however, are left to do the best we can with the information given. You see, we can read the Holy Texts for ourselves and try to figure it out, but we need to remember that we are not infallible. We are bound to make mistakes. Or more accurately, we are bound to continually increase in our knowledge and understanding."

9. 'Have the stars fallen?' Say: 'Yea, when He Who is the Self-Subsisting dwelt in the Land of Mystery (Adrianople). Take heed, ye who are endued with discernment!'

"Ok," they may counter, "but what about the laws? Surely we can still count on those, right? And what about the prophecies of the stars falling from the heavens? What about that?" "Well," we would reply, "many of those laws have lost their spiritual potency. The effect they were to have to help us grow in spiritual powers and capacity no longer works. They have become rote ritual, void of their intended meaning. We have to re-infuse the meaning into them. And, by the way, the stars did fall from the sky. On 14 November 1866, when Baha'u'llah was in Adrianople. It was probably the most intense meteor shower ever recorded."

10. All the signs appeared when We drew forth the Hand of Power from the bosom of majesty and might. Verily, the Crier hath cried out, when the promised time came, and they that have recognized the splendors of Sinai have swooned away in the wilderness of hesitation, before the awful majesty of thy Lord, the Lord of creation.

The signs have all appeared and some people noticed, while others did not.

This is where we take a break. Baha'u'llah seems to have completed that particular train of thought and is about to move on to the next (or so it seems to my limited eyes), and therefore I will, too.

Rather than continuing on what I think is already a fairly lengthy post, I will pause here for station identification. Join me later for the other 8 verses. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


There is a wonderful book called "These Perspicuous Verses" by Robert McLaughlin, which looks at, well, those "perspicuous verses" so cited by Baha'u'llah. Clever title, no?

Well, regardless of the obviousness of the title, I love the book. Like someone else I know, he takes a long and careful look at a single verse (only listed as plural in the title because this particular verse occurs at least 3 times in the Writings. It is cited in the Tablet of Ishraqat, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and one other time that is not known. We only know that it occurred earlier because in those two instances He says that He is quoting an earlier letter.) This slender book is basically 3 pages of introduction, 4 pages of text, and 77 pages of notes. I love it. 11 times the number of notes compared to the rest of the book combined. I'm not even going to try to do anything comparable here, as you can just read his book and relish in that. Instead I'm just going to give my own meager thoughts on it, especially those thoughts that are not found in McLaughlin's book.

When I first read the passage, I had wondered why Baha'u'llah referred to it as obvious, or easily seen. Then I discovered that that is "conspicuous", not "perspicuous", which means "clearly expressed" or "easily understood".

So what is this curious verse that occurs multiple times in the Writings, a verse so important that He feels He needs to repeat it for us, as if to make sure that we don't miss it? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. It is as follows, and let me warn you ahead of time: it's a long one. If you're anything like me, you'll probably read the beginning of it and then skip to the commentary. Of course, then you'll go back and read it again, for the commentary is fairly useless without the text itself. But then again, you're probably more spiritual than I am and will read the whole text, go and find the source, and read that, study it, and then see how shallow my own little two cents worth is. Anyways, enough of that. Here is the text, bolded in the middle of what I regard as the three sections of the piece, merely to make it easier for one as slow to learn as myself:
O thou who hast set thy face towards the splendors of My Countenance! Vague fancies have encompassed the dwellers of the earth and debarred them from turning towards the Horizon of Certitude, and its brightness, and its manifestations and its lights. Vain imaginings have withheld them from Him Who is the Self-Subsisting. They speak as prompted by their own caprices, and understand not. Among them are those who have said: 'Have the verses been sent down?' Say: 'Yea, by Him Who is the Lord of the heavens!' 'Hath the Hour come?' 'Nay, more; it hath passed, by Him Who is the Revealer of clear tokens! Verily, the Inevitable is come, and He, the True One, hath appeared with proof and testimony. The Plain is disclosed, and mankind is sore vexed and fearful. Earthquakes have broken loose, and the tribes have lamented, for fear of God, the Lord of Strength, the All-Compelling.' Say: 'The stunning trumpet blast hath been loudly raised, and the Day is God's, the One, the Unconstrained.' 'Hath the Catastrophe come to pass?' Say: 'Yea, by the Lord of Lords!' 'Is the Resurrection come?' 'Nay, more; He Who is the Self-Subsisting hath appeared with the Kingdom of His signs.' 'Seest thou men laid low?' 'Yea, by my Lord, the Exalted, the Most High!' 'Have the tree-stumps been uprooted?' 'Yea, more; the mountains have been scattered in dust; by Him the Lord of attributes!' They say: 'Where is Paradise, and where is Hell?' Say: 'The one is reunion with Me; the other thine own self, O thou who dost associate a partner with God and doubtest.' They say: 'We see not the Balance.' Say: 'Surely, by my Lord, the God of Mercy! None can see it except such as are endued with insight.' 'Have the stars fallen?' Say: 'Yea, when He Who is the Self-Subsisting dwelt in the Land of Mystery (Adrianople). Take heed, ye who are endued with discernment!' All the signs appeared when We drew forth the Hand of Power from the bosom of majesty and might. Verily, the Crier hath cried out, when the promised time came, and they that have recognized the splendors of Sinai have swooned away in the wilderness of hesitation, before the awful majesty of thy Lord, the Lord of creation. The trumpet asketh: 'Hath the Bugle been sounded?' Say: 'Yea, by the King of Revelation!, when He mounted the throne of His Name, the All-Merciful.' Darkness hath been chased away by the dawning-light of the mercy of thy Lord, the Source of all light. The breeze of the All-Merciful hath wafted, and the souls have been quickened in the tombs of their bodies. Thus hath the decree been fulfilled by God, the Mighty, the Beneficent. They that have gone astray have said: 'When were the heavens cleft asunder?' Say: 'While ye lay in the graves of waywardness and error.' Among the heedless is he who rubbeth his eyes, and looketh to the right and to the left. Say: 'Blinded art thou. No refuge hast thou to flee to.' And among them is he who saith: 'Have men been gathered together?' Say: 'Yea, by my Lord!, whilst thou didst lie in the cradle of idle fancies.' And among them is he who saith: 'Hath the Book been sent down through the power of the true Faith?' Say: 'The true Faith itself is astounded. Fear ye, O ye men of understanding heart!' And among them is he who saith: 'Have I been assembled with others, blind?' Say: 'Yea, by Him that rideth upon the clouds!' Paradise is decked with mystic roses, and hell hath been made to blaze with the fire of the impious. Say: 'The light hath shone forth from the horizon of Revelation, and the whole earth hath been illumined at the coming of Him Who is the Lord of the Day of the Covenant!' The doubters have perished, whilst he that turned, guided by the light of assurance, unto the Dayspring of Certitude hath prospered. Blessed art thou, who hast fixed thy gaze upon Me, for this Tablet which hath been sent down for thee -- a Tablet which causeth the souls of men to soar. Commit it to memory, and recite it. By My life! It is a door to the mercy of thy Lord. Well is it with him that reciteth it at eventide and at dawn. We, verily, hear thy praise of this Cause, through which the mountain of knowledge was crushed, and men's feet have slipped. My glory be upon thee and upon whomsoever hath turned unto the Almighty, the All-Bounteous. The Tablet is ended, but the theme is unexhausted. Be patient, for thy Lord is patient.
You know, there is nothing like a Manifestation of God saying, "Come on, this is easy. How much simpler do you want it?" to make me feel like an idiot. I, for one, do not find this "easily understood".

Now it may just be me, but it seems that this paragraph can be split up into a few simpler sections, as I just did with the bolding.

The first section is an introductory part that seems to say, "The people are ignorant". The middle looks to me like a section referring to the books of the past, in which the various objections to the Faith are raised and countered. The final section seems to me to be advice. Is that an overly simplistic look at this piece? Of course, but I'm a fairly simplistic sort of guy. If I can't make it simple, I don't really feel like I get it. (Not that you ever really "get" the Writings, but you know what I mean.) Oh, and yes, I understand the words, but there is far more to the Writings than just the Words. There is the spirit of them, and that is what I often have a hard time catching, so to speak.

So, in those first few sentences, Baha'u'llah is obviously addressing someone who has accepted Him and talking about those who have not. He specifically talks about those "vague fancies" and "vain imaginings" that some people have, many of which are probably addressed in the middle section. He also speaks of the nature of these people to be easily distracted.
Aside - I'm sure it's just me, but it seems that every time I am asked about the Faith, those asking just seem to flit from one idea to another. "What about this? How about that? What does Baha'i teach about this subject?" This has only made me appreciate more the wisdom of the presentation in Ruhi Book 6, as well as those in Book 2. It is a common point we can keep returning to, helping ensure that we are not totally distracted by their questions, important as they are.
The middle section is, I think, a fair sampling of some of those questions, and some possible responses. I would love to look at it more closely and examine not the history of questions, but the order of them. While Baha'u'llah may be lamenting the capriciousness of those who do not understand, He is never capricious. I am convinced that there is a reason to the order of those questions He posits, and we only need to explore to discover a wisdom hidden within them.
But not now. It is far too long a passage, and I truly do not want to bore you with a posting that just goes on and on.
Instead I want to look a bit at the third part of this passage.
Baha'u'llah, here, makes the simple observation that "the doubters have perished". Obviously this is not a literal statement regarding their life here on this planet (although it is by now concerning those of whom He was speaking at the time), but probably refers to the spiritual effect of their lives. I would venture to guess that it is in the same vein as when Jesus says "Let the dead bury the dead." (And I don't think He's making an early reference to zombies, cool as that may be.) (You know, though, that would go right in line with the way that some people in the 1800s described Christianity when they first encountered the overly zealous missionaries. They said it was a cult in which people drank the blood and ate the flesh of the dead in their ceremonies. Hmm. Must be getting on Halloween for me to mention that.)
Then, after a few more praises for the one who was in receipt of this Tablet, He gives a command. Oh, and please don't forget, this is only my personal take on it, and nothing official. You see, Baha'u'llah says, "Commit it to memory, and recite it." To my way of reading, He doesn't say, "Oh, it would be a good idea if you..." or "Well, you may want to... if you feel like it." No. To me, He says "Do it. Memorize it. Recite it." Why? Well, first, it is a door to the mercy of God, not to mention that the Bab says "every breast which committeth His Words to memory, God shall cause, if it were that of a believer, to be filled with His love". (And we can all note that I have spectacularly failed in this particular command. I, most definitely, do not have this particular perspicuous verse memorized. Perhaps I should get to work on it.)

I also note, for myself, that Baha'u'llah is a bit more particular. He doesn't just say, "Recite it." He clarifies this a bit and says, "Well is it with him that reciteth it at eventide and at dawn.". As I'm sure you know, I'm going to ask "Why?"

Why? (You're pretty clever, dear Reader, or maybe I'm just a bit predictable by now.)

Why does Baha'u'llah put in that little bit? And why in that order? Why not reverse it and say "at dawn and at eventide"? That would round out the day, wouldn't it?

I think it is to help us use those words as a bracket for our sleep, end caps for our dreams. It is almost as if He is saying that those should be the last Words we contemplate before heading off to la-la land (sleep, not California), and the first ones we recall upon waking. From here I could talk about the importance of dreams, as described by 'Abdu'l-Baha in Some Answered Questions, but you can look that up yourself.

No, to me the various phrases contained in the bulk of this quote are the type would evoke very powerful dreams, because of the imagery contained within them. I am sure that if I were to follow Baha'u'llah's instruction in this paragraph, my life would certainly be the better for it.

Fortunately, this piece ends with a reference to the patience of God, and I see this as a reminder that I must be patient with myself, too.

Maybe I'll look at the middle part of this quote in the next day or two. Until then, be patient with me, "for thy Lord is Patient."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Example

This afternoon, as I was leaving the house, I grabbed a copy of Some Answered Questions. When I had a chance to sit for a few minutes and read, I found something I had never read before. Oh, I'm sure you've read it many times, but I hadn't. It is part of the introduction by Laura Clifford Barney:
"I have given you my tired moments," were the words of 'Abdu'l Baha as He arose from table after answering one of my questions.

As it was on this day, so it continued; between the hours of work, His fatigue would find relief in renewed activity; occasionally He was able to speak at length; but often, even though the subject might require more time, He would be called away after a few moments; again, days and even weeks would pass, in which He had no opportunity of instructing me. But I could well be patient, for I had always before me the greater lesson -- the lesson of His personal life.

During my several visits to 'Akka, these answers were written down in Persian while 'Abdu'l Baha spoke, not with a view to publication, but simply that I might have them for future study. At first they had to be adapted to the verbal translation of the interpreter; and later when I had acquired a slight knowledge of Persian, to my limited vocabulary. This accounts for repetition of figures and phrases, for no one has a more extensive command of felicitous expressions than 'Abdu'l Baha. In these lessons He is the teacher adapting Himself to His pupil, and not the orater or poet.
I quote this here not because it is sacred text, for it isn't, but because it shows, to me, a beautiful and respectful attitude that an individual had towards her teacher. It is just a glimpse of a majestic figure as seen through the eyes of one of His devoted followers. She recognizes His sacrifice, acknowledges the tremendous pressure He was under, and shows us how He still took the few moments He had to answer her simple questions. Oh, and they were not simple for us, but they were just her questions, pure and simple.

Perhaps that is what I get most out of these few words: her purity and her simple manner.

Whenever she had the opportunity, she would ask 'Abdu'l-Baha a question that was bothering her, and, over dinner, He would respond. Isn't that beautiful all by itself? Can't you just see it? In the evening, after serving the people of Akka all day, and meeting people from all walks of life, He comes home tired, ready to enjoy a meal with His friends and family. They could talk about inconsequential things, or just enjoy each other's company. Instead, they spoke about the eternal realities, trying to learn as much as they could from one who was in their midst for only a shorttime.

Here I am reminded of Marcus Bach's appreciation of Ruhiyyih Khanum, who, he said, "talked as though time and conversation were intended for the deepening of knowledge and faith."

But I am also moved by Laura's motivation. She did not speak much Persian and so, rather than possibly missing a bit of what 'Abdu'l-Baha was saying, she took notes. Then, when she had the chance, she would study these notes and double-check with Him to ensure that they were correct. It is because of this concern, and His double-checking, that we have this priceless volume. And it is considered authoritative instead of merely a good pilgrim's note.

These notes of the dinner conversations were not made with an eye to publishing them, but rather just for her own education. I believe it took her husband to recognize what she had and encourage her to publish them, with 'Abdu'l-Baha's permission, but I'm not certain of that.

The question before me now is "What can we learn from this?"

Well, I'm not sure, but for me it shows the importance of sharing what we have learned. How many hundreds visited 'Abdu'l-Baha and heard these priceless gems of wisdom fall from His lips? And how few recorded them? And how many of those few took the time to make sure that what they recorded was accurate? As far as I know, she is the only one. (Unless you count the records of His talks in the West.)

Today, it is this sharing of what we have learned that has allowed the teaching work to go as far forward as it has. By keeping notes of what we are doing as a community, the institutions have been able to assist us to see where we need to apply our learning, what we need to strengthen, and where we need to focus.

It is also a reminder, to me, that we need to be aware of our strengths and play into them, not try to do things that will, in the end, burn us out. For example, don't ask me to call people in my service to the Faith. Oh sure, I can, and have in the past, but it is not my strength, and takes a lot out of me. I am not a phone person, as many of my dear friends continually remind me. And please don't ask me to file. Talk to people? Sure, no problem. Meet new people? Love it. Study the Writings in depth? Will do for hours and hours on end.

Laura Cllifford Barney didn't need to be told what to do, but her example can help us see what we can do in our service to the Faith.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Favorite Law

I was recently asked "What is your favorite article that you have written in your blog?" Now this may seem like a strange question, given that this article is called "My Favorite Law", but they are related. You see, I did think a lot about the various articles I have written over the last year (yes, this blog is only a year old, celebrating its birthday this coming week), and decided that my personal favorite is the one about the most difficult law.

But then I started thinking about it and realized that it was, in some way, a negative article. Oh, not in tone or topic, just in perspective.

Well, here is a more positive spin on the same idea. What is my favorite law?

That's a tough question to answer.

There are so many wonderful laws, how can I choose?

My first thought would be to flippantly say "Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 152", and the discerning reader will immediately recognize this as the same law that I said was the most difficult: washing the feet every day in the summer, and every third day in the winter. Oh, and then I could go on and talk about how wonderful it feels to scrub your feet, and talk about the sheer pleasure of washing between the toes.

My second thought would be to talk about the Right of God, and how great it is that we can be more aware of our finances, take a bit out, and use the rest as we will. (Talk about a guilt-free latte.) This really gives us the freedom to enjoy some of the things of this world without any feelings of guilt, as long as they do not come between us and our Creator. Besides, it is "the source of all good".

I could talk about the laws surrounding prayer, and how it is these laws that really uplift our spirit, raising us to spiritual heights we never dreamed of (or in my case, I'm still dreaming of).

Should I refer to the law of marriage? After all, this is the foundation of my life with Marielle and Shoghi.

The more that I think about it, I think my favorite has to be the law of fasting. It seems odd to me as I write it, but I think that's it. It's a challenge, and the rewards seem quite immediate. I mean, my most creative time of the year is during the Fast. It is when the dreams are the strongest and the thoughts of the spiritual are at their most vibrant. It is when I feel most connected with my spiritual side.

It is also a time when I think about others, and the sufferings of the world, the most. It is during the Fast that I am most conscious of helping those around me, as my friends helped me during my first fast.

Aside - When I first became a Baha'i, it was shortly after the Fast ended. Many of my Baha'i friends joked about my waiting so that I could practice being Baha'i before engaging in the Fast. To be honest, I hadn't even realized when the Fast was.  But then, when the Fast did come around again, I was working at a store where I had to catch a train home from work. I soon realized that if I took the first train after work, the sun would set halfway on my way home. As it was almost an hour ride, this did not excite me. I had thought of staying at work and eating there, and just catching the next train after sunset, but this would also have gotten me home fairly late, which didn't excite me either. But it did seem the best alternative. My preference was to request an early shift, and leave early.

Well, the Fast began, and I was scheduled to close that night. Oh well. Scenario one came into play, and so I decided to take my time closing, eat in town, and take a later train. But just as the store was about to close, all the staff walked in. They knew I was doing my first Baha'i fast, and they had all decided to join in. Every one of them had fasted that day, and I didn't even notice. We all pitched in closing the store, and some of them had brought a pot-luck dinner for everyone, which they proceeded to set up. When the sun went down, I was invited to say a prayer, and then they began to ask me about it.

"How did you find your first day of fasting?"

"Well," I said, after finishing my bite of food, "it was very interesting. I feel like I have a new appreciation of the world around me and am more aware of my utter dependence upon my Creator. I thank God I can eat again."

And you know, although that still sounds flippant to my ears all these years later (and still brings a smile to my face), I was actually serious, too. Isn't that the very basis of saying grace at a meal? We thank God for the food we consume. We thank God that we can eat again.

Yeah. While there are so many wonderful laws within the Faith, I think it is this one that has to be my favorite.

Of course I'm sure that will change tomorrow. But, hey, I'm writing this today.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I received an e-mail this morning asking me if I would write about water today. They said that there was a "blog action day" to help people think about the importance of water, and in it, they included some facts about water. My question was how to make it relevant to my blog. Well, here are the "facts" that they included:
1. Unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation kills more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Unclean drinking water can incubate some pretty scary diseases, like E. coli, salmonella, cholera and hepatitis A. Given that bouquet of bacteria, it's no surprise that water, or rather lack thereof, causes 42,000 deaths each week.

2. More people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. Today, 2.5 billion people lack access to toilets. This means that sewage spills into rivers and streams, contaminating drinking water and causing disease.

3. Every day, women and children in Africa walk a combined total of 109 million hours to get water. They do this while carrying cisterns weighing around 40 pounds when filled in order to gather water that, in many cases, is still polluted. Aside from putting a great deal of strain on their bodies, walking such long distances keeps children out of school and women away from other endeavors that can help improve the quality of life in their communities.

4. It takes 6.3 gallons of water to produce just one hamburger. That 6.3 gallons covers everything from watering the wheat for the bun and providing water for the cow to cooking the patty and baking the bun. And that's just one meal! It would take over 184 billion gallons of water to make just one hamburger for every person in the United States.

5. The average American uses 159 gallons of water every day – more than 15 times the average person in the developing world. From showering and washing our hands to watering our lawns and washing our cars, Americans use a lot of water. To put things into perspective, the average five-minute shower will use about 10 gallons of water. Now imagine using that same amount to bathe, wash your clothes, cook your meals and quench your thirst.
Now, while all this is very interesting, or sad, or whatever adjective you choose to use, it actually makes me think of something else altogether. This is not to diminish the importance of taking care of our resources, and ensuring the safety of all peoples, but to help me think a bit more about the spiritual importance of water, and its symbolism in religious history.

You see, in Gleanings, Baha'u'llah says that we can "discover in all things the mysteries of Divine Revelation", and that "Each and every thing, however small," could be "a revelation" leading us towards God. (By the way, isn't it neat how Amazon inserts a picture of the books I reference? I guess it's true that marketing often drives technology. Oh, and I don't really see any revelation in that.)

I used to live with a very good friend of mine, and he always kept a water jug in the refrigerator. It was a simple yellow-ish plastic water jug, the kind that is often used to hold juice. Well, one day I came home and there was this writing all over it.  Samuel (said roomie), you see, had decided that he wanted to find creative ways to remind himself of the Writings throughout the day. So he went to Ocean and found all the references to water he could, and copied some of them on the jug.

On this jug, Samuel had written such things as "the waters of renunciation", "the living waters of Thine utterance", "the living waters of Thy pardon", "the soft flowing waters of Thy mercy", and so on. He also included "the ocean of God's hidden knowledge", "this surging and treasure-laden Ocean", "the ocean of My presence", and "This is the Ocean out of which all seas have proceeded, and with which every one of them will ultimately be united." There were references to sea, and so many more quotes.

And then one evening, we were talking. We were talking about religious history and I think I was pouring myself a glass of water from that jug. I don't really remember, but it's not all that important, is it? We began to talk about water in the history of religion. There is the river that flowed in Eden, and then branched into four seperate head waters that watered the lands. There is the story of Noah, who built an ark to sail upon the waters to keep himself, his family, and all the animals safe during the flood. There is Moses who parted the waters to bring the Israelites to safety. Jesus walked on the troubled waters to His disciples. According to Muhammad, the Kaaba was built at the site of a holy well, next to the temple constructed by Adam and rebuilt by Abraham. Water just flows throughout the history of religions (oh yeah, pun intended). Baha'u'llah? Well, He declared His mission in an island amidst the waters, and has sailed His ark upon Mount Carmel.

When I look at a glass of water, I am not just seeing a glass filled with a dihydrogen monoxide, plus a few other assorted elements. I am seeing something that is the very staple of life as we know it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Clarification on Questions

Dear Readers, you have caught me out. You are correct. I stand before you guilty as charged.

Questions, in general are not dangerous.

What I should have said is that questions "can" be dangerous, not that they are.

Now before you chastise me on this, let me explain.

There are, I think, two different types of questions. One of them is seeking explanation, such as "Why is the sky blue" or "Why do you think Baha'u'llah said no women on the Universal House of Justice". These are, in my own opinion, always good to ask. They are not dangerous (unless you ask too often without accepting a reasonable answer, then you may get bopped on the nose. And I'm thinking about the bozo who kept asking "But how do really know 1 + 1 = 2?" Sheesh.). (Oh, my answer to the guy about basic math was "Given our defintions of 1, +, = and 2, it is a true statement.)

The other type of question is more of a leading variety. They are generally asked by people in a position of some sort of authority, and are meant to help direct others towards a realization of some kind. These are the ones that I still mantain can be dangerous (note the word "can").

Oh, and it is not that they are dangerous in and of themselves, but that they can unintentionally force a flawed presupposition, such as "Have you stopped beating your wife yet". Obviously this particular question cannot be answered either yes or no without condemning oneself.

There is a wonderful book by Connie Willis, called Passage, in which she deals with this. When trying to interview people about near-death experiences, one interviewer is careful to not guide the interviewee, but asks questions like "Did you see anything? Can you describe it?" The other interviewer asks "Did you see the bright light? Even though it was brighter than anything you've ever seen, it didn't hurt your eyes, did it?"

You can see the difference between these types of questions.

When asking questions of the Baha'i community, and how we can serve more effectively, or better help bring about a new civilization based on spiritual principals, then we need to be careful how we word our questions.

That is all.

Apology done. Explanation finished (I think).

Time to get back to my own work.

You can go about your day now.  :)

Oh, and thanks for calling me to task. You all passed the test (he says, as if he planned all this).

Sunday, October 10, 2010


I really love the Baha'is in my community. They are so wise, kind and courteous. Whenever I approach any of them and share a silly idea for a post, like this one, they sit there and say, "Wow, that's a great idea." And quite often they then add in a wonderful and insightful comment that really helps me get on track.

Today we were talking, and I mentioned my love for the Baha'i calendar. I mean, come on, how can I not love it? It isn't really based on the lunar months, nor even on the solar cycle. No. I think it is based on pure math, with a bit of the sun thrown in for good measure.

As I'm sure you know, it is 19 months of 19 days each, which totals 361 days. Then, to round out the solar year, there are 4 days thrown in for fun, or 5 in a leap year. Oh, and I do mean "for fun", because they are even called the Days of Ha, Ayyam-i-Ha. How much more fun can you get?

My wife says that she thinks Ayyam-i-Ha is a time for discovery. It is when you go, "Ha!" Maybe the extra "a", for "Aha!" comes from the initial for Ayyam.

Anyways, another part of the calendar that I love is the very names of the months. They are named after some of the attributes of God. You have the months of Glory, Might, Splendour, Perfection, and so on. All attributes of God, right?


What about Masa'il? The month of Questions? (Maybe that should be the Days of Ha? Or perhaps that would be the Days of Huh?) (I can already hear the phone getting to ring as an Auxiliary Board member calls to ask me to show a bit more respect. Sorry.)

But seriously. How is questions an attribute of God? I just don't understand. See? I even have a question about questions.

Perhaps it is that it is an attribute of ourselves, in that we do not know everything, like God, and therefore will always have questions. I really don't know. If anyone out there has an idea, I would love to hear it.

All of this, though, leads me to another thought about questions.

I was in a meeting once when someone said to a Counsellor, "Can I ask you a question?"

His response was a thoughtful, "I'm not sure. After all, questions are dangerous things." He spoke for quite some time about the danger of questions, and how we need to be very careful with them.

I was reminded of this just a few days ago when someone asked, "How can we strengthen our children's classes?"

Now that is a good question, in principle, but I think a dangerous one. Fortunately that danger was avoided during the discussion, and we all came away with a better understanding of the framework of the Five-Year Plan.

Now, why do I say it was dangerous? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. The way that it is phrased presupposes a seperation between the children's classes and all the other core activities. It seems to indicate that they can be strengthened or weakened on their own, in isolation from the rest of the community. Oh sure, we can work on our lesson plans, researching age-appropriate activities and crafts that are relevant to the theme, or find stories and music that will enhance the ideas we are trying to convey. But really, I believe, and the community showed me this, that the best way to strengthen these classes is to ensure that they are in conjunction with the junior youth groups, as well as study circles for the adults. They also can be further strengthened when they are surrounded by the love of the devotional gatherings.

Later, Marielle and I were trying to figure out how we would try to ask the same question without unintentionally implying this seperation, and it was very difficult. I think what we finally settled on was, "How can we further enhance our children's classes within the framework of the Five Year Plan?"

And you know, that just seems cumbersome to me.

So my hat is off to the people who organized our meeting and came up with the question they did. I'm not sure I could have done better.

Besides, their question did get me to think.

And that, as we all know, is a dangerous thing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Birthday Thoughts

As you may have guessed from the title, today is my birthday. Now this does not happen to be all that important to me, and in fact, there have been years in the past when I didn't realize it was my birthday until it was nearly over. But this year (I'm 43, if you think that makes a difference), I'm thinking about it a bit more. Oh, and in this age of facebook relationships it is practically impossible not to know it's your birthday days before it even occurs. I think I had six different sites remind me of the upcoming celebratory day, and half a dozen friends wish me a happy one before the calendar even turned.

But that's not all.

It may have helped that my son is at the age where he even counts half, and sometimes quarter, birthdays, as in "Hey, Papa, I'm five and quarter today." And that Marielle reminded me that she wouldn't be here for my birthday (she's on tour with the band in eastern BC).

Whatever it is, I have been thinking about this day quite a bit for the past week, and you, dear Reader, along with this blog, have fit prominently in my thoughts.

You see, I've been giving thought to the passing of time, and how it is that we mark that passage. The planting and the harvest festivals remind us of the chainging seasons. The holy days help us remember the cycle of faith within the year. The various ceremonies and rituals, such as graduation or marriage, help us know that we have advanced to a new stage in our life journey.

And birthdays can be that point in the year during which we pause and think about that gentle nudge of the clock that keeps moving us forward, ever forward.

They can be the catalyst that makes us stop and ask those questions: What has happened over the past year? What have I done? What have I accomplished? Am I a better person today than I was last year at this time?

They are the perennial equivalent of that beautiful quote from Baha'u'llah, "Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday." Every year should be an improvement over the past.

Birthdays are also a time of celebration, for many of us. They are the time when we are reminded of the miracle of our birth, and the love of our parents that brought us forth. They give us a hint of the joy of those who have chosen to share their lives with us. As one friend said, it is a time when we are reminded that on the day of our birth, "the angels sang and they blew on their horns and they smiled and they raised up their hands".

And they did this for each and every one of us.

When we pause to celebrate, or even just contemplate, the miracle that brought us here, we are confronted, once more, with the magnificence of our own creation. We are "the noblest and most perfect of all created things".

But, as one of my favorite authors once said, "With great power comes great responsiblity." (Yeah, Stan Lee of Spiderman fame.)

'Abdu'l-Baha said that children have within them the potential to cast the brightest of lights upon the planet, or the darkest of shadows.

And so this year, I ask myself what have I done to bring more light into the world this past year?

Last year, at this time, my writing had stalled, and I was trying to figure out how to capture the voice of one of the characters in my book. A couple of weeks later I gave up, knowing that I needed to put it down for a bit. Then I went to that fateful meeting in Regina and was asked, as part of the group, how I had started my children's class. Thus was born this blog.

Now, over 200 posts later, I find myself continually searching for more ideas to share. My reading has shifted from mostly fiction to mostly inspirational. I am looking at the Baha'i Writings more and more, searching for obscure passages to try and unravel. I am more involved with children's classes than ever. And I am sharing spiritual thoughts in more and more conversations.

And I am writing even more than ever. I even found the voice for that character. Now I just need the time to finish my book.

I recently went to the library and noticed that they had organized their shelves differently from any other library I had ever seen. They didn't have sections like "biography" or "mystery". There was no "fiction" or "history". Instead, they had sections like "fun and quirky".

Which is where I found "The Year of Living Biblically". And this, too, has prompted my annual reflection on my life. You see, in this book, A J Jacobs has decided to spend a year trying to be as obedient to all the laws in the Bible as he can. During the first month or two, he is a staunch agnostic who has trouble with the whole idea of prayer. He is cynical and self-centred, and is wondering if the year ahead of him will change his approach to life and faith.

By the sixth month, you can see the change. He is often compelled by the idea of God, and is much more comfortable with prayer. There are times when he "finds refuge in prayer".

By the end of the book, he is still the same person, but much more spiritual, much deeper, and more aware of the world around him. He has had insights and disappointments, challenges and triumphs.

And in his story, I can see a mirror of my own. If I had known how writing this blog would change me over the past year, I have to wonder if I would have done it. Well, I mean, of course, I would, but would I have embarked on this journey had I known how tough it would be to maintain?

Way back when I first started writing this, a friend of mine from Europe e-mailed me and said that I had set myself up for "quite the challenge". (And then he stopped following this blog. Hmm.)

But today? Today I think I will walk down to the beach and watch the waves. I have been so busy trying to finish certain tasks over the past few weeks that I think I have forgotten about what is important.

And what is important? Well, dear Reader, you are. And my son, my wife and my whole family. And all my friends, new and old. As well as myself.

Today is my birthday, and I think I will celebrate by watching the waves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recent Days

There were so many things I wanted to write about over the last few days, but time just has not allowed me. Well, I can't really blame time. I'm sure it's just my own inability to manage my time all that well. But then again, maybe I can shift the blame. After all, who really knows what time is? A web connecting disparate moments together, allowing them to be perceived as a continuous stream?

Yup. That sounds good. "It's the web's fault." Hmm. Maybe not. It sounds like one of Spidey's problems, or like I've been playing computer games on the net all day.

No, the last few days have been filled with more attempts at getting into a rhythm of life here on the island. Oh, and watching nature, which is part of that rhythm of life. (I've seen many new types of birds that I've never seen before. Yesterday, I was sitting on the front step, munching on a bag of carrots, watching a jay, when 3 of the local deer came up and politely asked if they, too, could munch on the carrots with me. It was really cool. One of them even came up within a foot of me. We could smell each other's breath, as the Maori would say.)

Today, I'm off to Sydney. (BC, not Australia.) I have to talk to a couple of stores up there, and I'm also giving a friend of mine a ride to the ferry, so she can get to Vancouver and catch a cheap flight to LA.

And that has gotten me thinking. It's amazing what simple things in life can get you thinking about the Faith when you're always looking for things to write about.

I have flown from the Island to Vancouver, and I have taken the ferry. Both are so beautiful, but very different.

With the ferry, you have to wait a couple of minutes in line (whether you're in the car or on foot), and then you get a nice, enjoyable 90 minute boat ride, amidst gorgeous islands. If you're lucky, you get to watch the otters and the whales and the seals, and all sorts of nature things.

If you're in a hurry, though, you can always fly. The trip is only about 20 minutes.

Oh, but then you need to stand in line and get through security, not to mention park and get a cab at the other end. So let's see: 20 minute flight, plus you have to get there an hour early, so add another 60 minutes. Then you need to wait for your luggage, which is usually another 20 minutes or so. Plus you need to get a ride from the airport to wherever you're going (you don't need to do that with the ferry if you take your car).

Hmm. It looks like the ferry is now faster.

And why is that? Because of the fear involved in flying. Oh, not the fear OF flying, but the fear of terrorism that surrounds flying these days.

I find it interesting that our fears have made, in this one case, life more enjoyable. If I am in a hurry to get to Vancouver, I can travel faster and cheaper in a more enjoyable way. All thanks to fear.

A few years ago I had the bounty and pleasure of speaking at a university on the subject of fear and security in a post-911 world. The main theme was the idea that the fear of God leads to wisdom (quoted in all the various sacred texts I could find), and that when we fear God, we will fear nothing else (the second half of the quote in all the various sacred texts). During this talk, I was quick to point out that fear, as it is defined in the dictionary, is not the same as terror. You can kind of see fear as the low point of a scale that goes up to paralyzing terror at the far end. Fear is more like a reverential awe.

When you begin to look at the world, and the universe as a whole, and all of time... Well, you become a bit disoriented. At least, I do. I mean, think about it. What will I do in my life that will be remembered in a few years? How about in a hundred years? A thousand? Six billion? This is ridiculous. I am so inconsequential, it is not even funny.

And so when God sends down a Messenger, I pay attention.

But back to the subject at hand. The other point of the talk was that we can never really be secure. Oh sure, we can put on our seatbelts, or walk through the metal detector, or even take our vitamins every day, but that does not prevent a meteor from falling on our head. Nor does it mean that I should walk around under a metal umbrella just in case I end up being the third person in recorded history to be hit by a meteor.

No. It is fine to take sensible precautions, but we still need to enjoy life. We need to take the time to look at the beauty of the world around us, and find those few moments to simply breathe.

This is why I am so glad that my friend took the ferry this morning when she just as easily could have taken the plane.

Besides, it gave me something simple to write about.