Monday, April 4, 2011

To Err is Human

Yes, dear Reader, it's true: to err is human. And I have to admit, I'm so glad that I'm human. I've proven my membership in humanity over and over again.

I think one of the most memorable times I proved it, after becoming a Baha'i, was when I was asked to talk about the Faith in front of a fairly large gathering. I had been asked to speak a bit about the history of the Faith, and so, after gathering my courage, and failing to gather my notes, I proceeded as best I could. One of the things that really moved me about the history, and which I spoke of at length, was the wonderful coincidence of how the Bab declared His mission on the first day of spring in 1844. How wonderful it was, I said, that this spiritual springtime coincided with the material one.

Oh well. My heart was in the right place.

I can only thank the wisdom of the friends who were there for not standing up and correcting me at the time. After all, when giving a talk about the history of the Faith, with the purpose of trying to connect hearts to Baha'u'llah, getting an occasional date wrong is not really a big deal. Nobody will be turned off to the Faith because someone gave an incorrect date.

But why am I talking about all this? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

I was at a gathering the other day and someone was saying a prayer. It happened to be one of the few prayers I know by heart, so it was obvious to me that they had gotten one word wrong. For some reason, instead of just going with it, and letting the beauty of the prayer wash over me, it made me metaphorically jump. I didn't say anything, of course, but it took me a moment to get back into that prayerful state.

I can think of a few other times that happened. Once was at the World Congress in New York City when a reader from Africa pronounced the "e" in "awe", making it sound like "ah-way". Even today, I still love that pronunciation. If she hadn't said it in that way, and if I hadn't been jarred out of my state of prayer, I would never have remembered that prayer being said, but as it is, I can never forget it. And I can't really call that one an error. It was an accent. And the memory is such a great association that I now treasure that prayer even more than before.

But generally this occurs when someone thinks they have a prayer memorized and say it from memory. One friend used to always say the prayer that begins "I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God" incorrectly, and another used to recite the opening of the Kitab-i-Iqan wrong. No problem, really. I mean, their hearts were in the right place, and their intentions were sincere. The problem was with me. (Oh, and it's also why I always use my prayer book, even if I have memorized the prayer I'm reading.)

Why does it jar me, shake me out of my prayerful state for a moment?

I think it is for the same reason that my eye is always attracted to the stick or the rock in the river. My eye, and I suspect this is true for many of us, seems to be naturally drawn to the disturbance. A river is far more interesting to me when there is something interrupting that natural flow, causing ripples to spread out further downstream. And this seems to be something that is just part of the world.

Nothing is perfect, except for God.

One of the things this implies is that you can find a flaw with anything. Everything can be improved upon. Even in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, when Baha'u'llah is commanding us to build Houses of Worship, He says, "Make them as perfect as is possible in the world of being..."

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that criticism is so frowned upon in the Baha'i Faith. "But again", Shoghi Effendi says, "it should be stressed that all criticisms and discussions of a negative character... should be strictly avoided." 'Abdu'l-Baha, Himself, when addressing a question asked by one of the friends, said, "We do not oppose anyone's ideas, nor do we approve of criticism."

When speaking about the decisions of the Spiritual Assemblies, the Master wrote, "It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness.... If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One."

I love that He does not say that all the decisions will be perfect, for He knows us better that that, but that any decision made with love would result in light.

But all of this is a side issue.

The fact remains that we are human. We make errors. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We are striving for perfection, striving for excellence, and we should appreciate every step we take in that direction. In fact, we should appreciate every step that everyone makes in that direction. And we should continually encourage each other, build on our strengths and overlook our flaws.

But this is not easy, for we are naturally drawn to look at the errors, and in our love for the Faith, we want to see it perfect. We don't like to see mistakes. We want to try and correct everything.

And this is impossible, for we are human.

Instead, we need to focus our eyes on the bounties, learn to love each other and strive together in harmony.

Baha'u'llah also said, "Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday." And if this doesn't say what I mean, then nothing could.

So, sorry for this long post. I just had it on my mind and had to get it out.

After all, to air is human.

No comments:

Post a Comment