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.

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