Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Hidden Concern, Part 1

Marielle and I were talking last night. (You know, I was going to continue that sentence, but then I thought I'd ask if you ever noticed how many of my articles begin that way. A lot, it seems to me. I guess that's one of the advantages of having such an amazing spouse. They really inspire you.)

So, yes, we were talking last night, and she asked me a question about the Writings that I just couldn't really answer. Oh sure, I gave it a try, but it was nothing more than thinking out loud, and I even admitted that at that time (I think).

You see, earlier in the day we had gone out walking with a friend of ours from Ethiopia who is visiting his sister, one of our neighbours. We took him walking in a beautiful park, amidst the tall trees, and around the lake. It was wonderful. During the walk, my friend, who is Muslim, asked me to tell him a bit about the Faith.

I began by venturing to talk a bit about the Kitab-i-Iqan, and the Messengers Baha'u'llah talks about. He was interested in that, and then asked another question, which led into a few of the ideas from the beginning of Anna's presentation.

By the end of our walk, which was nearly two hours later, he had asked for something to read, so I gave him a copy of the Hidden Words, and we each went to our respective homes, with a promise to get together again today. (I have to go pick him up in a just a few minutes.)

But then, a couple of hours later, he came to our front door.

It seems that his sister and her family were not home, so he had been sitting on the front step reading the Hidden Words. He asked if he could call his sister, because he had finished the book and was really ready to go inside. While he was waiting for her to get home, we had a nice conversation about all sorts of inane things. It was great.

After he left, Marielle and I were talking about the book and she said that she is not always comfortable giving it to people, especially in French.

Why, I wondered. But before I could say that, I realized that I, too, am sometimes reluctant to give that particular book to some people, even though it is one of my favorites. And so I had to ask that question of myself, before I felt I could ask it of her. For me, the reason for my discomfort is the many references to martyrdom, and the emotional, or knee-jerk, reaction that some have to that term, especially after September 11.

For Marielle it is a bit different. As she is from Quebec, and the French people there are predominantly coming from a Catholic community, there is a lot of reaction against the guilt trip that had been done to them regarding hell and damnation.

Aside: I was in the grocery store the other and was talking to a lady while we were waiting in line. We got to talking about pets and she said that she had just gotten a new puppy and was looking for a name. I asked her what breed it was, and she said it was a dalmatian. "I'd call her Helen", I said. "Helen", she asked? "Of course. Helen Dalmatian." And thus the puppy was named.

But what does this have to do with the Hidden Words? I'm glad you asked. There are two in particular that Marielle is trying to come to understand. They are as follows:
How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

The question, of course, has to do with the word "accursed". In a standard dictionary, it means to be under a curse, ill-fated, or doomed. There seem to be overtones of being beyond hope, as in being unavoidably under that curse. But, as you may have noted, that latter is only inferred, and is not part of the definition itself.

And so, as I looked at these two Hidden Words, I began to wonder how I, too, would come to understand them. It didn't seem quite right that anyone would be beyond hope, as even Mirza Yahya, we are told, will eventually begin to move closer to his Creator. (Of course, it won't happen until the next universal Messenger, in something like half a million years, but when you are looking at eternity, what's a half a million?)

To begin my search for understanding, the first thing I realized was that even though I didn't like what it seemed to say, I was obviously mistaken.

But then, before I continued, I had to ask myself if it was ok to feel uncomfortable giving someone sacred Text. Sure, I reason. Why not? We are told to teach in the manner of giving a baby mother's milk. We give a little bit at a time, until they become used to something more substantial. In fact, it has occurred to me to print excerpts from the Hidden Words, along with selected prayers, as a written introduction to the Faith for those people I seem to be meeting most often. There is nothing wrong with selections, as long as they are done with wisdom, and (I would say) in consultation with some others.

Oh, and just in case you're interested, and want to offer your thoughts before I have a chance to write my own, here are my notes for the next segment of this one:
  • How do we justify these two in terms of those who are viscerally against "hellfire and damnation"?
  • Is "accursed" a final judgement?
  • In the first, note the two things that you have to do: 1. Forget your own faults. 2. BUSY yourself with others, not just look at, or occasionally talk about

Hope to read your thoughts!


  1. Jeanine CaughlinMay 17, 2011 at 8:57 PM

    Hi Meade, I am reading that first Hidden Word differently than you are, I think. It reminds me of what Christ said in Matthew Chapter 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    My read is that we're not supposed to forget our own faults and busy ourselves with another. We are supposed to reflect on our own imperfections so as to not judge others for their imperfections.

    Having been raised Catholic, this Hidden Word made perfect sense to me in that context. But I don't have any resentment against the Catholic Church, so it's easier for me not to get hung up on the concept of being accursed. A wise nun taught us that being in sin meant that we were out of that state of grace of being connected to God. Just like if the sun was shining and you decided to put up an umbrella, the sun would not shine on you. When we sin, it was like putting up an umbrella and blocking out God's grace. So, "damnation" was a metaphor for being removed or far from God. It wasn't a judgement, in my mind. God's sun was always shining, regardless of the status of my umbrella.

  2. Hi Meade,

    What is the source for this please?

    as even Mirza Yahya, we are told, will eventually begin to move closer to his Creator. (Of course, it won't happen until the next universal Messenger, in something like half a million years, but when you are looking at eternity, what's a half a million?)