Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Hunters and the Hunted

Sorry about these long delays between posts again. That's the trouble with being ill, then being on vacation and then my son being on vacation from school. I don't get a lot of time to write. Oh, and then I'm also giving a few talks these days and writing some articles for some local papers. All this to say, I'll try to do better, dear Reader.

As you may have noticed, there was a comment on the most recent posting asking me what I felt about hunters. Now while it is possible that this comment was asked with tongue planted firmly in cheek, I still like it.

What do I feel about hunters?

Great question. I could lamely say that some of my good friends are hunters, but that doesn't really tell you much. Oh, aside - I have a really good friend who used to live fairly close to my family, and he loves to hunt. But he also has high blood pressure and other assorted illness-like things, so he can't enjoy the meat as much as he would prefer. So, being the good friend he is, he used to give much of it to me. I think it was a combination of wanting to give me a gift, as well as seeing how I would prepare the food stuffs. For those of you who don't know, I love to cook weird and wonderful meals. (Just ask my son.) Anyways, my friend (whose name is Ted, but don't tell him I told you) used to drop off all sorts of odd meat bits, from such animals as geese (which he knew I loved), ducks (which tried to mate with said geese and hence ended up on my plate), deer (which I also love), moose (which I learned to enjoy) and many fish. (It's kind of disturbing to come home to a dead fish on your doorstep, but we kind of knew where it came from.)

Anyways, all this is just to say that I have nothing against hunters per se. (Idiots with guns, on the other hand...)

But seeing as this about the Baha'i Faith, let me begin with a quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha, in which He responds to someone who "didst express astonishment at some of the laws of God, such as that concerning the hunting of innocent animals, creatures who are guilty of no wrong." He says, "...Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance, nor any slackening whatever. In the physical realm of creation, all things are eaters and eaten: the plant drinketh in the mineral, the animal doth crop and swallow down the plant, man doth feed upon the animal, and the mineral devoureth the body of man. Physical bodies are transferred past one barrier after another, from one life to another, and all things are subject to transformation and change, save only the essence of existence itself -- since it is constant and immutable, and upon it is founded the life of every species and kind, of every contingent reality throughout the whole of creation."

There's quite a bit in there, and I won't bother to try and re-state what He has already said. Instead I will just point out that this excerpt needs to be seen with some other quotes about the treatment of animals, as well as those that speak to the desirability of becoming a vegetarian. Simply put, we should treat animals with kindness; strive to eat a diet of mainly fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains; and live a simple life. (I'm sure you can find all the corresponding quotes that go with all of that.)

Instead, what I'd like to talk about here is a bit about the concept of being a hunter. What does it mean to be a hunter? In the dictionary, the first definition may be referring specifically to someone who hunts animals for food or sport, but the second one is "a person who searches for or seeks something".

To me, there is a difference between a hunter and an idiot with a gun. A big difference.

In the morning, when I get up and am getting dressed, looking through my drawers for a pair of socks that actually match, then I am, by definition, a hunter. When I am searching through the Writings looking for that elusive quote that I just know I read "somewhere in the Writings", then I am, by definition, a hunter.

There is, in my own opinion (insert my standard disclaimer here, if you will), nothing wrong with being a hunter. The problem lies with our need to develop our compassion and live more in accord with the world around us. (It also has to do with detachment when I can't find that matching sock, but that's another story.)

It also has to do with understanding our position in the world.

I, for one, do not believe that being "master of the world" means that we can do whatever we want. When we were told in Genesis to "subdue the earth", I do not think that meant that we can abuse it. I believe that it means we should treat it with the utmost respect and try, within the bounds of reason and moderation, to eke a living out of it.

And that, to me, sort of sums it up. I have nothing against hunters, for we all, at some time in our lives, hunt for something. But, as it sas in the Writings, we should take care against exceeding the bounds of moderation, for that always becomes a bad thing, and we should also take care that our stomachs do not become morgues. (That's a fairly gross thought, but conveys it so well.)

We should do what we can to try and live in accordance to those "ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance".

Oh, and if you ever have any foodstuffs that you don't want, or can't use, please feel free to leave them on my doorstep. Just try and let me know ahead of time, if you will.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Magic of Birds

Have you ever noticed the magic that occurs in the heart of a city just before sunrise? It really is an incredible moment, if you've never experienced it.

"Why", you may ask. Well, I'm glad you did, dear Reader.

You see, just before dawn, something quite remarkable occurs. The city, which is normally within the realm of humanity, becomes the domain of the birds. For just a few moments it seems as if there are no people walking, nobody driving. It seems as if everyone is asleep. And at that moment, for a very short time, all the birds awaken and begin to sing.

I was reminded of this just the other day when I awoke at that magical time in Seattle. My wife and son were both still asleep and I heard the sound of the birds grow louder and louder with each passing moment. I quietly rolled out of the hotel bed, slipped on some clothes for the day, and went downstairs to stand outside and drink in the avian symphony.

It was, as usual, truly incredible.

And while those feathered wonders sang of their love, I was reminded of Baha'u'llah and the Day of God.

How often has the Blessed Beauty referred to Himself as a bird? "Lo! The Nightingale of Paradise..." or "the mystic Dove, singing in the midmost heart of eternity, and the celestial Bird, warbling upon the Divine Lote-Tree..." to name but a few examples. I even understand that there is a compilation someone made of all the references to birds in the Holy Writings (as well as flowers, but that's another story).

And then, if that wasn't beautiful enough, Baha'u'llah also refers to this time not only as the Promised Day of God, but specifically as the dawn of that promised day. Here we find Him, like those mortal birds, singing His song at the very break of day, with few awake to hear Him. All can hear Him, as we can all hear those earthly birds, but few are conscious of it. My wife, for example, smiled a bit in her sleep as those birds were singing. That brief smile was a reminder, to me, of the pervasive influence of the Word of God, and how Baha'u'llah's coming has touched everything in all of creation.

I can try and tell you more about the beauty of that song I heard that morning, but how can I convey the mystical quality of it? How can I, with my feeble cawing, try to sing of the beauty of those angels? I could record it, but even then that would fail to capture the incredible moment that passed so swiftly.

Instead, I found myself, as I was trying to figure out how I could share that moment with you, dear Reader, thinking about the prayer for the Fast. I thought of "the fire of Thy love which drove sleep from the eyes of Thy chosen ones and Thy loved ones, and (of) their remembrance and praise of Thee at the hour of dawn". I thought about how "the light of Thy countenance" follows that mention of dawn, and how this light is followed by "the call of Thy lovers, and the sighs of them that long for Thee, and the cry of them that enjoy near access to Thee". And there, yes there, in that prayer, I found my answer, for what else but the beauty of the spirit, given voice by the Blessed Beauty, could try to capture that moment on a lonely downtown street?

The country may be for the soul, and the city may be like the body, but there, at dawn, when the city-lights were nearing the end of their job, there was a bit of the soul living within that body for all to hear.

Another thing that I am reminded of is how that simple song affected my day. It put me in a good mood, lifted my spirit, cheered me up as no alarm clock would ever be able to do. It got me thinking about the spirit, reminded of the purpose for living, elevated me far beyond what I normally experience during an ordinary day, especially before I've had any coffee or tea.

And this, I think, must be another analogy of those lovers of the Blessed Beauty who were awake during the true dawn.

Yes. It is true. Every atom truly does sing of God's praise. And everything in all of creation really does share with us a message of the spirit, if we only look for it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Thought on the "Serried Lines" Quote

"O ye beloved of the Lord! This day is the day of union, the day of the ingathering of all mankind. 'Verily God loveth those who, as though they were a solid wall, do battle for His Cause in serried lines!' Note that He saith 'in serried lines' -- meaning crowded and pressed together, one locked to the next, each supporting his fellows. To do battle, as stated in the sacred verse, doth not, in this greatest of all dispensations, mean to go forth with sword and spear, with lance and piercing arrow -- but rather weaponed with pure intent, with righteous motives, with counsels helpful and effective, with godly attributes, with deeds pleasing to the Almighty, with the qualities of heaven. It signifieth education for all mankind, guidance for all men, the spreading far and wide of the sweet savours of the spirit, the promulgation of God's proofs, the setting forth of arguments conclusive and divine, the doing of charitable deeds."

This quote, found not only in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, but also in Ruhi Book 4 (Unit 1, Section 7), has, once again, been placed squarely in my path. Not only have I been asked to tutor Book 4, but I've also been asked to help a small group of friends in an intensive institute campaign look at this quote.

Well, I can take a hint. Might as well look at it here, too.

We all know what "serried lines" means, from our time in Book 4, so I won't bother looking at it here (besides, He says it in the quote).

But, as you know, dear Reader, I'm of the opinion that there is nothing in sacred Text that is random. So what I want to look at here is the various "weapons" that the Master mentions. Now, I know what you're thinking, but I'm not going to look at the sword, spear, lance or arrow, cool as they may be. Instead I want to look at the "pure intent", "righteous motives", "counsels helpful and effective", "goodly attributes", "deeds pleasing to the Almighty", and the "qualities of heaven".

Why are they listed in that order? And how does this help us in our daily teaching work?

As you know, this is only my own opinion, and nothing official, but I think it is because everything we do begins with our intent. If that intent is not pure, if it is corrupted by own hidden agenda, then everything that we try will eventually come to nothing. Of course, this doesn't mean that we should be paralyzed by our concern over whether or not our intention is "pure enough" or not. We should just try and be as honest about our intentions as we can.

Once we have taken that step, then we can look at our motives. Now, motive is an interesting word. It can mean either that which motivates us, or our eventual goal, which would, hopefully, motivate us. So we begin by having a pure intention, and then examining our goal, to make sure that it is a good goal.

When we know what our goal is, then we can look in the Writings for what Baha'u'llah says about that goal. If we need courage, for example, then we can look in "Words of Wisdom" and find the source of courage and power. Whatever it is we are trying to accomplish, there is, no doubt, guidance in the Writings about how to achieve it. This guidance is our counsel, and this counsel is both helpful to us and effective.

Now we know where we are going, and how we are going to get there. What's next? "Goodly attributes".

No matter how much you may want to achieve something worthwhile, no matter how much you know about what the Writings say about that issue, you ain't gonna get nowhere if you're a jerk. You have to have the good attributes, those wonderful virtues, that allow people to want to be on your side and help you.

Then you've got to do it. All the good intentions in the world mean nothing if you don't act on them.

But then an interesting thing happens. When you do act on them, you begin to change. How often have we heard stories of people who took a few tentative steps in the teaching field only to find themselves becoming better and better people? As you act, then those spiritual forces mustered by the concourse on high can act upon you and your heart. You begin to take on those "qualities of heaven" and shine.

Now I could write a lot more on this quote, especially about the last sentence, but Shoghi says he's hungry, so I have to go make him some dinner.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Simple Thought on Miracles

I'm sick and tired.

No, really. I have a persistent cough and it woke me up throughout the night. It probably woke my wife up, too, but she was kind and loving enough not to say anything this morning. You really gotta love someone like that.

So whereas I was hoping to finish off another article on spiritual starvation, it's just not going to happen today. My brain is just too fuzzy. In fact, it's so fuzzy right now, I wonder what I'm doing writing at this time instead of heading back off to sleep. I guess it's not just the cough that's persistent.

I was thinking this morning about some of the things that we take for granted within the Baha'i community that are not explainable by science, such as the power of prayer, or the intervention of the concourse on high. I'm not sure why my mind went in this direction, but it all came from a comment I heard the other day in which another Baha'i said to someone that we don't believe in "silly things, like the virgin birth."

We don't? Last time I checked, we did. Now, of course, I didn't say anything at the time, because it wasn't really appropriate, but I did double-check when I got home, and sure enough, it is there in the Writings.

In a letter from the Guardian, we find the following: "The Master clearly writes in a Tablet that Christ was not begotten in the ordinary way, but by the Holy Spirit. So we must accept this. Every Faith has some miracles, and this is the great miracle of the Christian Faith. But we must not let it be a test to us. Our human minds are so small, and as yet so immature compared to the men of the future, that we should have no difficulty in acknowledging the Power of God when He chooses to show it in some manner "illogical" to us!" (23 December 1948)

I find this rather reassuring, in an odd way. Miracles are acknowledged, but they are not seen as a basis for proof. Their importance is, if anything, minimized, as stated in the following extract from the Guardian.

"...(R)egarding the birth of Jesus-Christ. In the light of what Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá have stated concerning this subject it is evident that Jesus came into this world through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, and that consequently His birth was quite miraculous. This is an established fact, and the friends need not feel at all surprised, as the belief in the possibility of miracles has never been rejected in the Teachings. Their importance, however, has been minimized."

I have often wondered why some of the friends make a big deal about this. Sure, it seems to go against logic, and even what we know of science, but so what? We don't know everything.

"...God Who is the Author of the universe, can, in His Wisdom and Omnipotence, bring any change, no matter how temporary, in the operation of the laws which He Himself has created."

The problem, as far as I can tell, is not whether or not we believe something that seems to go against the current understanding of science, but whether or not it becomes a linchpin for our belief. To say, "I don't believe in the Faith if it means I have to accept the virgin birth" is just as silly as saying "I believe in Jesus because He was born from a virgin mother." In both cases the validity of the teachings themselves are ignored.

The Universal House of Justice said it so well when they responded to this very issue: "To any of your friends who are confused on this issue, you can explain that the principle of harmony between religion and science, while it enables us, with the help of reason, to see through the falsity of superstitions, does not imply that truth is limited to what can be explained by current scientific concepts. Not only do all religions have their miracles and mysteries, but religion itself, and certain fundamental religious concepts, such as the nature of the Manifestations of God, are far from being explicable by present-day scientific theories."

Ok, so we believe in the virgin birth. So what? Does that make Baha'u'llah's teachings more applicable for the transformation of civilization? Does it invalidate His other teachings?
Nope. And nope.
In fact, in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, I find one of my favorite responses, "To reject miracles on the ground that they imply a breach of the laws of nature is a very shallow, well-nigh a stupid argument..."
Yup. You read it correctly.
I really like a faith that can, in an official letter from a centre of authority, call an argument shallow and stupid. It's kind of refreshing. Can't you just see the Guardian sighing in frustration at the letter that provoked this response?
Anyways, I just wanted to get that off my chest. It's been bouncing around in my head for a few days, and I thought I'd just put it down here for fun.
I think I'll take a nap now, and try to get rid of this cough. (I asked my son if I could put it in the compost bin and he said "No". He won't even let me try to recycle it. So I guess I just have to try and get rid of it the old fashioned way.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

International Women's Day

8 March 2011 is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, and I wonder how many of us have noticed. It seems to me that there isn't much about gender equality in the news anymore. Well, at least not as much as when I was younger.

The whole issue of gender equality is very interesting to me, for it is often called "women's rights", as if it only affects women. To be sure, women are far more affected by it than men are, but, as it says in the Writings, "The world of humanity has two wings - one is women and the other men... Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible." And so it really does affect us all.

I'm sure we're all familiar with that beautiful quote from Baha'u'llah in which He says, "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." I have always found it interesting that He refers to our "peace and security", not our happiness. But elsewhere, He says, "The happiness of mankind will be realized when women and men co-ordinate and advance equally..."

So, there. While peace and security are founded upon unity, happiness is founded upon gender equality. I can actually wrap my mind around that. (Yeah, my own personal happiness is quite intertwined with my wife being my equal. If we didn't "advance equally", there would be a definite lack of happiness around here.)

Aside - I remember a conversation I had many years ago with my then-girlfriend and her mom. Somehow the conversation got onto the topic of women's rights, which is not all that surprising as it was their favorite topic. Naturally, I began to introduce a few of the ideas put forth by the Baha'i Faith, thinking that we were all in absolute agreement. Now, I was a bit surprised that my friend didn't say much, and that her mother actually disagreed with what I was saying. She argued with every point, claiming that it either wasn't practical, or didn't go far enough. I felt extremely detached from the conversation, and noticed that my friend was merely watching the interplay between us, waiting to see what would happen, but obviously agreeing with her mom. Finally, after a number of points had been shot down, I asked her mom, "Excuse me, but do you believe that we will ever have gender equality?"

"No," she said, "I don't."

"Then why", I wondered aloud, "do you waste your time working towards it?" (Oh, and I should make it very clear that whenever I say anything along those lines, it's not me who is saying it. Well, I mean it is, but I mean that I had no idea it was coming out of mouth. I had no idea that she was going to say she didn't think it was possible, for example, so my response caught me off guard, too.)

At that point, the conversation completely changed. She had never realized that she didn't think it was possible, and neither did her daughter.

You see, it is very important to the success of any endeavour that we believe in its outcome. I, as a man, and as a Baha'i, firmly believed that gender equality was not only possible, but was actually a reality that we just needed to acknowledge. These two women, who spent many long hours working towards it, didn't believe it could ever happen. It still puzzles me to this day, but I sincerely hope that they are still working towards it, only now with the belief that it can happen.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes. Gender equality. International Women's Day.

There is so much to write about this subject. Most of it, though, can be found in an incredible book by Janet and Peter Khan, called "Advancement of Women: a Baha'i Perspective". If you haven't read it yet, I would strongly suggest you do.

So while I could write about all the myriad aspects of this issue that they cover in their book, I won't. I mean, come on. They already did. And they do it so much better than I could possibly do. (Of course, if my wife helped me... but I'm probably being delusional.)

They talk about the importance the issue, and how there are many things happening in places like Africa, where the men and the women get together and write down what they do during the day. When that happens, the men discover how much more work the women are doing, and then, out of their own nobility, they arise to take over many of the jobs historically considered "women's work". (You go, guys!) I could write all about this stuff, but as I said, they already did, so buy their book and read it for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

But for myself, I'd rather look at another concept from the Writings:
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.

For those (few) of you who follow this blog, and have read most of what I have written (God knows why you would, but some of you have), this may seem a bit familiar. I started to talk about this in another article, before I was so wonderfully interrupted. I'll talk about it here, instead.

This quote shows how simply we can see those virtues that are what the Master calls "feminine", and those that He calls "masculine". Obviously they are not confined to women and men, respectively, but found in both. And what He seems to be saying is that today we need to be more cognizant of the importance, and increasing importance, of those "feminine ideals". These are the very ideals that are necessary for helping all of humanity move past this global crisis we are finding ourselves in and leading us towards our great destiny.

He further emphasizes this by saying, "In some respects woman is superior to man. She is more tender-hearted, more receptive, her intuition is more intense."

Part of this global crisis is the increasing despair that people are feeling, and despair, as you know, can be seen as a lack of happiness (as well as hope). So, do we want to help people be happier? Well, that quote way up above tells us how to do that. As we coordinate and advance equally, our happiness will increase.

I think we can also see that within the individual. As the individual develops all of their virtues, instead of only the ones associated with their gender, they tend to be happier, too. Tender-hearted, compassionate and intuitive men seem to be generally happier than those that aren't. Assertive women tend to be happier, too. People who have a balance of virtues tend, in general, to be better people and much more well of. Oh, and that's just my own perception, and not based on anything scientific.
All this just to say that when I think of International Women's Day, I do not think of it as a day for women. It is, to me, a day for all of humanity. It is a day when we can all look to be more balanced in our feminine, as well as masculine, qualities.

And so, on this centenary I wish you all a balanced life of the spirit.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Fast Article

Dearly loved Reader,

As you know, it is the Fast. Naturally, as you would expect, I'm fasting.

I tried writing an article just now but found that my head was just not wrapping itself around the ideas. It was, in fact, spinning. But not around the ideas.

So, if you would please, pretend that I wrote something profound and witty.

With love and prayers,


PS - Here is a quote that I find particularly wonderful today, but I'm not up to saying anything more about it right now.

"O MY SERVANTS! Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits, that ye yourselves and others may profit therefrom. Thus it is incumbent on every one to engage in crafts and professions, for therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of understanding! For results depend upon means, and the grace of God shall be all-sufficient unto you. Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire."

(And seeing as this is the fruit of my day, I'm a bit nervous.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Spiritual Starvation, part 1

A number of friends in the past few years have commented that they are not finding what they need spiritually within the Faith. They are, for the most part, turning to shamanism, or some similar path, to meet their spiritual needs. They are still Baha'is, and quite active within the community, but finding some solace in this other path.

And I, for one, have been wondering why?

Oh, not that there is anything wrong with shamanism. I, too, happen to love it, but I am just wondering why it is that they feel that the Faith is not meeting their needs.

Not one to shy away from such questions, and very grateful that these friends have each felt comfortable enough in our friendship to confide in me, I decided to pursue this and see if we could, together, discover what it is that they feel is missing in their spiritual life.

Just asking was enough to get them started. Once they began talking and exploring what it was that they were feeling, they all came to virtually the same conclusion: They were feeling the need for spiritual connection, and they didn't feel it within the Baha'i community.

Interesting, I thought. And very revealing.

Once they came to that realization, they all realized that it wasn't the Faith that was lacking in this, but just their own connection with the community, or perhaps their particular community. I'm not really sure, and have no desire to go there, as it could easily lead to inappropriate judgement (not that there is any appropriate kind).

Either way, we explored what the Writings said, looked at the guidance from the Universal House of Justice, and generally talked about our lives, both as human beings and as members of the Baha'i community.

There are a number of questions that were raised by this exploration: What is this spiritual connection they are talking about? And how does the shamanistic tradition offer it to them? Most importantly, what does the Baha'i Faith offer that also fulfills this same need, and how can they reach it?

But the first thing we looked into was how they perceived the Baha'i community. A few of these friends, when they thought of the Faith, they said that what came to their mind was a stuffy group of Assemblies and committees. Now, of course, they knew that this was not a good representation of the Faith, but it is what came to their mind. (I really appreciate their honesty there.)

In fact, they saw a distinct separation between the spirit of the Faith that initially attracted them, and the practical day-to-day running of the Faith with the Administration.

The thing I found most interesting (and please remember that this is only my own opinion and nothing "official") was that they mostly saw the Administration as an adjunct to the Faith, and not really having naything to do with the spiritual needs they had. When asked about the Administration, they virtually all talked about the incredible number of committees, the unending agendas that dealt with trivial minutiae, and the extreme attention to "irrelevant" details. In other words, they felt that someone forgot that, as the Guardian says, the Administration "should never be regarded as an end in itself but purely as a means to canalize and make effective a spiritual vitality generated by the Word of God in the hearts of the believers." In another letter, we read that all of these Assemblies and committees, the whole administrative structure is there "to blow on the fire newly kindled in the hearts of these people who have accepted the Faith". He also says, so beautifully, "To dissociate the administrative principles of the Cause from the purely spiritual and humanitarian teachings would be tantamount to a mutilation of the Body of the Cause, a separation that can only result in the disintegration of its component parts, and the extinction of the Faith itself." This latter quote, in relation to their own inner spirit, really hit home. For both of us.

I believe we need to constantly remember that service to the Faith should be a source of joy. Our work in the Administration should also be a joy. If it isn't, if our service in the administration of the Faith is draining our personal joy and strength, perhaps that is a sign that something is not quite in line with the Writings, and bears examining.

But also on that point, we need to remember that the Administration of the Faith should always serve the needs of the community. We should never have a committee, for example, unless the needs of the Faith demand it. The Universal House of Justice says it so well in the 28 December 2010 message, when describing the increasing complexity in which an Assembly will function as it grows in maturity. They say that such administrative functions "may in time include the judicious appointment of committees". It may. And these appointments should be wise and prudent, never random or haphazard.

This seeming hesitancy would really change things in some communities where I have seen up to 70% of a community serving on committees. Of course, this is far rarer these days with the increased awareness of the current Plan, and the further development of the Training Institute, but for some, the memory lingers.

This still doesn't address the issue of fulfilling the spiritual needs of the individual. That only addresses what many of us have already discovered: over-administration can stifle the spirit just as much, if not more, than under-administration. A careful balance is needed.

So what are some of the needs that have to be fulfilled?

A simple, but insufficient, answer would be prayer. But this doesn't really say anywhere near what needs to be said. After all, many of us have also discovered that prayer, or, more precisely, the mere recitation of prayers is not enough. Action is also required.

But I think I have gone on enough here today. I'll talk a bit more about this tomorrow. Or maybe the next. The Fast can make life so unpredictable.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Fast: 2011

Day 1 of the Fast has arrived this year, and my tummy is upset. It is, in a word, unhappy. Ah well. What can you do? At least I can be thankful to God that He has allowed us to break the fast for medical reasons.

Aside: I remember when I started my first Fast and went out to get some sport's shakes, for emergencies. I was having some difficulty with my blood sugar levels at the time and wanted to keep one on me just in case my it suddenly dropped. When I mentioned this to Lucki, the woman who introduced me to the Faith, she casually said that I should feel free to break the fast, if necessary. I told her that this was the reason I was carrying the sport's shakes, and she asked me why I don't just have a good meal. "Well, if I'm going to break the fast I sure don't want to enjoy it." She still teases me a bit about that, but, you know, I still feel that way. What can you do?

So here I am, the first day of the Fast this year, and sitting in a coffee shop nursing a steamed milk. With no syrup in it. And no honey.

The woman behind the counter asked me if I really only wanted plain hot milk, and I said, "Yes. I'm supposed to be fasting right now, but my tummy isn't happy, so I need to take care of that first."

This led to a short discussion about the Baha'i Fast, but then some other customers walked in and she had to help them. (Now the place is positively hopping. I'm sure the caffeine has something to do with that.)

But why am I writing all this?

Because it was occurring to me this morning, as I was reading little book, how often I have, in the past, complained about fasting and all the myriad little troubles it entails. I did this, despite all my readings of the Master's life, the history of the Faith, and so on and so forth.

But then my wife, Marielle, went up to Whitehorse and brought back a book for me. Now, I have to tell you, I am in love with the North. (I'm also in love with my wife, but that's another story.) Marielle never quite understood my love of the people up there, as well as the land, but now she says that she begins to see. She said that when she went to give out honey dates at a local soup kitchen she realized that all the people up there had the same sense of humour (or lack thereof) that I do. She said they all reminded her of me.

I guess that's true, in a sense. I've always felt like I fit right in when I'm up there. Even though I still don't like the cold.

Marielle, when she was up there, wanted to bring me back an Ayyam-i-Ha gift, besides the joy of knowing that she was with the Baha'is up there, and serving the community, during those times she wasn't working. She found a book called Two Old Women. It's about these two ladies (the old women) who have been left behind from their tribe during the winter migration, because there wasn't enough food for everyone. They knew that this was part of the culture, but never expected it to happen to them. The story is a tale about their attempt at surviving the alone, with only each other to help and encourage them. It's awesome.

As you know, dear Reader, I don't often recommend things here. I have received numerous requests from different companies asking me to recommend their product, but unless they fit in with the theme of what I'm writing, I just won't do it. I've recommended soap nuts, but only because I really like them, and they fit in with what I was writing at the time. (Oh, and I got an e-mail from the President of the company the next day saying that people had ordered them from my link, and she wanted to thank me. How cool is that?) I've recommended numerous books, and almost all of them have been Baha'i.

This one is not.

But who cares? It is a great little book and I highly commend it to you.

This is not what I was going to write about today, but it is what came across my path, so there it is.

For the past few weeks I've been working on a series of articles about "spiritual starvation", and I only just now realized how appropriate that theme is for the Fast. I've put off publishing any of them until I've finished with the whole lot (it looks like it might be 5 articles). I hope to finish the research on them today or tomorrow and get them written in the next few days.

And on 8 March, I want to publish an article about gender equality. We'll see if I remember.

But for now, thanks for your patience over the past little while as I've taken my time to write something a bit more serious, something that has required more research than usual.

Aside, number 2: One of the things that Lucki shared with me, lo those many years ago, was the idea of dedicating the Fast to a particular idea. One year it was reading The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Another year it was studying the long prayer for the Fast. The time that would normally be spent eating lunch, or snacking, is dedicated to this one focus (or teaching, that always comes first).

This year it is this idea of spiritual starvation, for me. Well, perhaps it is more appropriate to say it is dedicated to how to nurture our spiritual side.

I just thought I'd give you a head's up.

Thanks. And happy fasting, dear Reader.

(I think my tummy has finally settled a bit.)