Thursday, June 30, 2011


Today is the first day of my son's summer vacation, and so, for the first time in a long time, I didn't wake him up. I let him sleep in. I found myself with a bit of free time this morning, wondering what to do. I didn't feel like turning on the computer at such an early hour, so I opened my prayer book instead.

This is not unusual, of course, but what was unusual was that I turned to the section for morning prayers. Now normally I wake my son up by reciting the short morning prayer, the one the begins "I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God..." And I have been reciting this to him for many months. From memory.

I believe that committing the Writings to memory is a very important thing. After all, the Bab said "every breast which committeth His Words to memory, God shall cause, if it were that of a believer, to be filled with His love". If you track it, you will also find that this love, combined with different actions, actually has the effect of increasing many of our other virtues. Kind of cool, that.

It is for this reason, and others, of course, that I place a great emphasis on memorization. And I'm not the only one. You only need to look at the Ruhi Books to know that.

But memorization is also a concern for me.

Oh, not memorizing in and of itself, but my inability to memorize accurately. (What is it called if you think you've memorized something but haven't? There really should be a word for that.) (Besides "silly".)

You see, I remember many times when people thought they had something memorized, but didn't. Quite. One friend often got the first few paragraphs of the Kitab-i-Iqan wrong, but only by a few words. Other people would try to recite the Tablet of Ahmad, and make a bit of a jumble of it.

Of course, I wouldn't say anything to them, for I didn't want to embarrass them, and sometimes I would just read the passage at a later gathering, but really, I truly did and do commend their efforts.

But for myself, I tend to use the books, even if I think I have a passage memorized. Why? Why not? I have the book, so I might as well use it.

Then there was one time some criticized me for that. They said, in front of a group, that I should try to set the example of memorizing these passages. They didn't quite phrase it like that, of course. They said something like, "You should memorize the passages", making it seem like an accusation that I hadn't done any memorizing at all. Not too cool, that, but hey, that's their problem.

My reply was that I do have the passages memorized.

"So why", they asked, "are you not reciting them from memory?"

"How many reasons do you want? Maybe I don't want to seem like I'm showing off. Maybe I want to encourage others to read the Writings, without the pressure of feeling like they have to memorize everything. Maybe I'm learning a new passage. There are  many reasons." Really, it wasn't any of their business, but we are all allowed our questions.

This morning, though, I was powerfully reminded of the main one for me: I don't always trust my memory.

I had thought that I had memorized that short morning prayer, but as I read it in the book for the first time in a long time, I realized that I had been leaving out one word. I had mis-remembered the prayer. I had left out a single word in the passage, "Illumine my inner being, O my Lord, with the splendors of the Day-Spring of Thy Revelation..." I had forgotten the word "splendors". (Ok. Technically I left out three words.)

And so, while I highly value memorization, I will still use the book to make sure that I have it right. After all, this is a good reminder to me of the importance of humility, too.

I thought I had memorized the passage, but I was wrong.  And so I will still use the books, continually referring back to the Text, just to make sure that I get it right. Until such time as I am powerfully impacted by the particular passage so that it is fully ingrained in my mind, heart and spirit, I will always presume that I don't quite "get it". Of course, come to think of it, we can never really "get" the Writings. They really are just too vast. I mean, how can you "get" the ocean?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Greatest Name

I'm so glad there are more and more people writing blogs about the Faith. It's kind of exciting to read so many well-informed and guided ideas about the Faith. There are many things that I'm learning that I never would have considered before.

One thing that came up recently was a post about the use of the Greatest Name. While I have thought about the use of this symbol in the past, I never really gave it a great deal of thought until someone else wrote an article on it. You can read it here.

As you may know, the Greatest Name, "Ya! Baha'u'l-Abha" is an invocation that means "O Thou Glorious of the Most-Glorious", and is considered by Baha'is as the greatest Name of God. And while some people have dismissed it as looking like it says "evil", they forget to take into account that it is to be read from right to left, making it say "live".

From here, I could go on about the history of the Name, the origin of the calligraphy, or even the variations of it, but that is all common knowledge, and I don't want to bore you.

Instead, I will write a bit about my own reaction to this symbol, or phrase (or word, or Name, or however you want to refer to it). After all, this blog is not a history lesson, but is, instead, about my own meager thoughts on these ideas (remember?). Oh, and, as usual, it's nothing official, so you can take or leave what I write. Of course, comments are always welcome. That's another way that I learn. After all, you, dear Reader, have corrected me many times in the past, and I hope you will continue to do so in the future.

To start, I think of the Greatest Name as a mantra. I mean, let's not forget that "Allah'u'Abha" is a variant of it, and we're supposed to say that 95 times a day, which, if you see a lot of Baha'is every day, is fairly easy to do. (Just in case you don't know, Baha'is use "Allah'u'Abha" as a general greeting, as in "Allah'u'Abha! How's it going?" or the more casual, often heard at youth conferences, "Allah'u'Abha! 'Sup?" Of course, that latter sounds really weird to my ears if they don't seperate the two words. If often comes out as "lowbasup".) But for me, it is my mantra, fulfilling the same need that a Catholic friend of mine has when she uses her Hail Mary's, or my Buddhist buddy when he uses his mantra, "om mani padme hum" or "nah myoho renge kyo". (I don't really know any Hindu's who chant "om" on a regular basis, but you get the idea.) (Come to think of it, are there any atheists out there who chant "ohm"? I would think that would get you wired up.) (Of course, many would probably resist such chanting.) (That was a science joke, in case you missed it.) (That's another aspect of the harmony of science and religion: I'll make jokes with both.)

I've also been given a very nice enamel pin with the Greatest Name on it. But I don't feel comfortable wearing it.

"Why not?" I'm not sure. I think it is that I feel it is too sacred a symbol to be on my person, but that's just me.

Aside - There was one time that I did wear it on a vest I had. I was walking around town and noticed a new shop that sold leather goods. As I work in chain-mail, I often look at leather pieces to see if I can do some funky embellishment. I went in and was warmly greeted by the store owner, a man from the Middle East. I told him what I was looking for and he showed me some really nice pieces that had lots of little leather bits that I could work with. We were having a good conversation when, all of a sudden, he stiffened. "What", he said, pointing to the pin and practically spitting out each word, "is that?"

I looked at the lapel pin and said, "Oh, it's a Baha'i symbol. It says..."

"I can read it. Why are you wearing it?"

"Well," I said, as sweetly and innocently as I could, "I'm a Baha'i."

Without another word he turned and walked right out of his own store. I was left there thinking, "Wow, that was kind of cool." I was really impressed with the power of that little pin. Not one to be daunted by such behaviour, I looked around a bit more and then headed on out. As I left, the man was standing out front having a smoke. I smiled at him, and held out my hand to shake his. Instinctively, he took it before he realized what he was doing, and I thanked him very much for his kind hospitality, and said that I looked forward to coming to his store again.

I then headed off before he could get over his shock.

Suffice to say, I don't feel comfortable wearing such a powerful symbol on my own person.

I've seen people wearing it embroidered on the back of jean jackets, or leather jackets. I've seen it displayed all over the place. And I don't criticize anyone for that, for I really hope that my own comfort level is not binding on anyone else. It's kind of like the mustard made with white wine. Just because I don't use it doesn't mean that nobody else should.

But I do like raising the awareness.

Are we, as Baha'is, really conscious of the power of that Name?

And if so, how are we using it?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another Iqan Thought

As always, it seems that many things in my life just sort of come together all at once. This time it is my wife going out of town a lot (she's a musician in the navy band) and teaching the Faith, my own teaching of the Faith when I'm around town, and my study with Sam on the Kitab-i-Iqan.

Every time Marielle comes back and we share our experiences, she tells me that the wisdom in the Iqan has proven more and more important in her teaching work. And let's not forget that the Guardian said "those who wish to become competent and useful teachers, should indeed consider it their first duty to acquaint themselves, as thoroughly as they can, with each and every detail contained in this Holy Book".

That's a pretty bold statement.

And it seems to me that there is no word that the Guardian ever used without careful consideration. Just try and imagine the importance of that statement without the use of the word "indeed". That simple word further emphasizes the importance of this. And it's not just our duty, but our "first duty". Of course, he also qualifies the word "teachers" there. We're not just hoping to be teachers of the Cause, but "competent and useful teachers".

Then there is the last bit: we should acquaint ourselves. And how should we do this? As thoroughly as we can. With what? Each and every detail.

While the word "acquaint" has come to mean to introduce or bring into contact with, the origin of the word implies with great intensity. It's sort of like the word "peruse". Even though the word has lost a bit of its implied intensity, we do need to remember it when we read the Guardian.

And so, Samuel and I have begun an "intensive" study of this Book, and Marielle and I are both finding it indispensable in our teaching work.

Of course, this isn't to say that we don't rely on the Core Activities. We do. They are the very core of community life. But in our daily interactions with people who are possibly hearing about the Faith for the first time, or only just beginning to enquire about it, our work with this "most important book written on the spiritual significance of the Cause" has become invaluable.

Why? Well, it's simple, really. But to answer that, I need to summarize what we've already begun to learn.

We're only at paragraph 23, so we're not very far into it, but already there are many important attributes or attitudes that Baha'u'llah has already demonstrated. Let me also point out that paragraph 24 (on page 24, quoting Matthew 24, so how can I forget it) is what I see as a pivotal moment in the Book. And so paragraph 23, being the last before that pivot, is a good place to pause for a bit and reflect.

As you know, one of the first things He does is remind the reader of the conditions that the soul must demonstrate in order to seek truth. We have to be detached from all things. We must not look at the standards of other people, but really see what the standards are that are set forth in our own Holy Book.

And we must consider the past.

Baha'u'llah presumes that we already have a faith of which we are convinced, and, in the case of the Uncle of the Bab, to whom this Book was written, that faith was Islam. For Marielle and I, that starting point is based on the faith of the person to whom we are speaking.

Baha'u'llah spends many paragraphs reminding the reader of what we already know, and agree with. He talks about the reasons that many in the past have denied the Messengers, and we, familiar with our own religious history, already agree. There is nothing new. He is only reminding us of what we already know.

Of course, He does so by removing any historical context, or excess baggage. He states these things simply and we are able to fill in the rest.

Then He talks about the Messengers we already know. And when He does so, He does not talk about what makes Them unique. He talks about what They have in common. And this surprised me when I first realized it.

When He speaks about Noah, He never mentions the Ark or the flood. This is what I think about when I think of Noah. But Baha'u'llah is more concerned with helping us recognize not what makes Him unique, but what signs He gave that He was a Messenger of God.

Once He has done this for a number of Messengers, a pattern begins to become clear. Not only did Their Messages become more and more encompassing, but Their trials, and the tests of Their followers, became more severe.

Throughout these opening paragraphs, as I view those first 23, Baha'u'llah continually allows the reader to fill in the gaps, test his own knowledge, and verify what He is saying. There is little new, but the manner in which it is presented is revolutionary.

And throughout it all, He is so patient. He carefully examines each Messenger in a simple way, and without any extraneous words, or unnecessary diversions, allows us to recognize what He is trying to show. Oh, and He also lovingly nurtures our own love for these Messengers we already recognize.

This is what Marielle and I are striving to do. We are trying more and more to help people recognize the beauty of their own faith.

Then Baha'u'llah reminds us of one other thing They all have in common: a promise to return. From there, the rest of Part 1 of the Iqan is dedicated to looking at a single prophecy Jesus gave of His own return, and removing our misunderstandings of it.

By asking questions, and listening to the responses, people are so much more willing to share. And they are much more willing to engage in dialogue, and perhaps even look into attending core activities.

This response is so encouraging to us.

It is so much nicer than when people argue with us because we looked at our differences. Yeah. I can see more and more why this Book is important in our teaching work.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Crows Have It

My wife just got back from Haida Gwaii, the islands formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands before people who didn't live there realized that they already had a name.

She has not only talked about the incredible beauty of those islands, but also of the people. I could regale you with stories about her time there, and the people she met, and the things she did, made, bought, was given, or found. She went there, of course, for her work as a musician, but found the time to meet people and become friends.

One of the things she did was to crochet a number of little bracelets and pendants, and incorporate pebbles and shells she found there. Each of these found objects was further decorated with a bit of ink from her gel pens. She wasn't sure who to give them to, but knew that she wanted to present them as gifts to the friends there. She need not have worried. The opportunity presented itself.

It seemed that it wasn't the elders who were the most appropriate people to receive them. It was the children and youth. During one of the remarkable dinners the community provided, she found the opportunity to pass these gifts on to the youth, and I can tell you, they were really touched by this gesture.

But, of course, that's not what I want to talk about today. Nope. Sorry.

Instead, I want to share another story of hers. As they were leaving, waiting on the ferry for the boat to leave, I guess, there was a cute little peregrine falcon being attacked quite loudly by a crow half its size. This crow was screaming at it, chasing it all over the place. As they all watched, this falcon flew quickly past them with the crow right on its tail. They flew up. They flew down. They flew here and over there, and all over the place.

Finally, this falcon was able to get a bit of peace in the mesh of metal of a big crane, the industrial kind, not the bird type. And still, with the falcon safe in its haven, this crow still kept crying out at it, non-stop.

And there, watching, were all the members of the band. Many of them were saying, "Oh, that poor falcon." "That crow is so mean and vicious." They were all rooting for the falcon, hoping that the crow would leave it alone.

But as the ferry was pulling away, with the crow still yelling at the falcon, Marielle spoke up.

"You don't know", she said, "what happened. Maybe that falcon just ate the crows babies." This was supported by the fact that there were plenty of other crows in the area, none of whom were going against the falcon. And this got all the other band members to pause for a moment and think.

It got me to think, too.

How often do we see something like that in our daily life? What conclusions do we jump to? And are they justified?

It seems to me that this is, perhaps, one of the reasons why we are to get all the pertinent information before we begin consultation on a subject.

Thanks Marielle, for that story.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dad's Day

I just got back from a nice little walk, and during that walk I was thinking. (I was also enjoying the incredibly clear view of the mountains, but that doesn't really have much to do with anything else except my enjoyment of the walk.)

Today, as you may know, is Father's Day, one of those days that I usually refer to as a Hallmark Holiday. In other words, I don't think it has much to do with anything except as an excuse that some marketing execs made up to try and sell more merchandise during an otherwise slow season. But, at the same time, it does serve the purpose of reminding me of my own father, and generating some thoughts that might not have been generated otherwise.

Today I was thinking about the difference between being a father and being a Dad. Anyone, as they say, can become a father (which is only half true), but only a few can become a Dad.

So what is it that makes a man a Dad?

As I asked myself that question, I happened to pass by some parked cars and there, in the back of one of them, was an answer: a copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

And just how, pray tell, is that an answer? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

From what I can tell, being a father means that you have donated a single cell to the development of a child. This can be done either with love, as in the case of a healthy and happy marriage, or through force, as in the sad case of a rape. There is nothing else that seems to be required.

But being a Dad is a far more intimate relationship with the child. It means being there for the child when they are growing up, or throwing up, or going down to sleep. It means getting up in the middle of the night, night after night, to change their diapers so that your wife can get her much-needed rest after breast-feeding hour after hour.

It means reading to them stories, like Dr Seuss, before bed, and driving them to their dance classes or cheering for them at their soccer games.

It means getting down on the floor with them and listening to their explanations of what it is they just built with their legos, or the story they just enacted in their doll house, or seeing the family there in the scribble of lines on the paper. And it means treasuring that Miro-like drawing that hangs on the refrigerator more than those curators treasure those child-like drawings that hang in their galleries.

It means being aware of what it is that you are feeding them. It means taking the time to cook a good healthy meal for them, instead of dropping by and grabbing some burgers at McDonald's on the way home. It means sitting down with them at the dinner table and listening to them try and recount their day, telling you about the social dynamics of their friendships, and who is their current best-friend.

It means watching them, scared, as they get back on their bicycle, with their knees still bleeding, encouraging them to try again, knowing that the falling is part of the learning.

It means holding them at 3 am when they are crying, convinced that the nightmare was real.

It means recalling how to do those math problems you haven't done in twenty years so that you can help them with their homework.

It means taking the time to be with them. It means knowing that a year for them is 1/4 or 1/10th of their life, when it is a much smaller fraction of yours, and that telling them something is only a month away is a far longer eternity for them than it is for you.

It means holding their hand when they are crossing the street, or walking down the aisle.

It means holding them when they let that baby bird go, or bury their pet cat.

It means intimately living every day by those words of 'Abdu'l-Baha that where there is love, there is time, and nothing is too much trouble.

It means that whether they are 2 months, 2 years, or 2 decades old, you recognize the gift that has been given to you and you are grateful for every moment you have together.

It means crying while waiting for the doctor's prognosis over some unknown illness, when you see their mortality starkly before your eyes, knowing deep in your soul that there truly is nothing more painful than for a parent to lose their child. And it means bleeding a little bit every time you read of a parent whose own child is missing.

It means knowing that even though you will always see them as your baby, they do grow up and will surpass you, in time. And it means cheering them on, encouraging them, as they sprint all out towards the future.

It means that your life, now and always, has been changed. The past and the future are so mixed up with them that the years and the days are never the same again. You see in them your own past memories growing in a different direction, taking another course, the road you didn't travel. And never judging them for it, but supporting them always, even if it means letting them go to make their own mistakes. Especially when it means to let them make their own mistakes.

It means seeing yourself in them, and maybe living that dream you never dared. It means being proud of them for who they are, and not for what you want them to be.

One of my dearest memories of my own Dad is when he held me after some birds tried to take some of my hair for their nest. He just held me and said soothing words, all the time, I'm sure, trying to stifle his own laughter over the situation.

I remember him taking me on a business trip, making sure to make the time so that it would be enjoyable for me, too.

I can recall when he was angry, and when he laughed, and even when he was scared.

I remember visiting him in hospital when he asked about how I viewed God. Or that time that proved to be my last with him when he smiled at my saying the next time I would take him out of that dark room to walk with him on the beach.

But most of all, I know that when I think of that magical word, "Dad", that title that is only bestowed upon those most worthy, I see his smiling face.

I can only pray that when my son thinks of that other eminent title, "Papa", he sees my smiling face.

Riots and Teachers

Sorry about not posting here again for a little while, but I have been doing a few more articles for my local paper.
Here are the links, if you care to read them.

The first one is about the need for teachers in our life. You click here to read it.

The second one has to do with the recent riots we saw in Vancouver over a hockey game. You can click here to read that one.

I hope you enjoy them.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


As you may know, I make chain-mail for a living. (No, not chain letters. Chain-mail, like the knights in shining armour used to wear, except that I don't do it as armour. I make jewelry and art work.) It's a fun hobby that became a career, and has led to many very interesting and amusing experiences.

I was reminded of one of these just the other day (well, actually this morning, but by the time you read this, it will probably be "just the other day") when I had some cherries.

Yeah, I know. It seems like a nonsequitor, but it isn't really.

You see, dear Reader, I was working at my shop at a Renaissance Faire in the States when it suddenly began to rain. If you've ever been to a Faire, then you know that when it rains, everything turns to mud. Not all that nice, but neither is it unexpected.

Anyway, this one day it began to rain, and as usual all the patrons fled into the shops for a bit of dry.

Now, when I'm working a show like this, I usually make my art right in front of them. It helps curtail any questions about price, although it does lead to questions like my sanity, or "Do you really put each of those links together one at a time?" (Yes, I do. And I also type each letter one at a time, too.) So, in my shop, I had built a little stage for myself, so that the customers could more easily see what it is that I do.

This one day I happened to have bowl of cherries on the counter next to me, and they were there for the taking.

Well, this giggling group of teenage girls came in, and they were offered a few of these delicious little fruits by my helpers.

Aside - What do you call a group of these giggling teenage girls? A giggle of girls? If they're from Southern California, would it be a gaggle of girls? And what about other names for groups of people? Like smokers? I think they should be called a pack of smokers. Oh, and my personal favorite: A contradiction of hermits.

Anyways, they came in, were offered some cherries by one of my helpers, and promptly decided to "show off" their... uhm... tonguely prowess to each other. One of them said, "Have you ever seen this?" And then she proceeded to put the cherry stem in her mouth, move it around, and then pull it out tied in a knot.

Each of them then decided that they, too, needed to try this. Their attempts were rather amusing.

But, as I was working, I barely paid any attention. Or so it seemed.

After 5 minutes of this, and without saying a word, I made a bit of a show of placing my pliers down, ensuring that they had noticed. Then, with a puzzled look on my face, I slowly reached in to the cherry bowl and took out two, yes two, cherry stems. Still with no word, but an extremely puzzled look on my face, I placed them in my mouth, without looking at anyone else.

I made the appropriate gestures with my mouth, and pulled out the two of them tied in a square knot.

Nobody said a word as I held it up, with my still-puzzled expression, and just looked at it.

I gave an "oh well" sort of shrug, put it on the counter (still without acknowledging that anyone else would have noticed this), and then went back to work.

The store was silent, except for the sound of my pliers and links.

One of the girls stared at this knot, and, as it had stopped raining by then, they all proceeded to walk out wide-eyed and whispering to each other in awe.

One of my workers then casually walked over, looked at the knot, and said, "How the heck did you do that?"

I still didn't say a word, but casually plucked out two more cherry stems that I had secreted in my cheek, and placed them next to the two that had been previously tied together.

And what, pray tell, does this have to do with the Faith?

Ok. Nothing really. I just remembered the story and liked it enough to want to share it.

But actually, I would say that everything has to do with the Faith, if we but look at it in the right way.

You see, dear Reader, what I had done was mis-lead a few people, albeit deliberately, based on appearances. They thought I wasn't paying attention, and so they hadn't noticed me slip a couple of cherry stems onto my board, tie them into a square knot and then slip it into my mouth. What they didn't notice made all the difference. Stage magicians rely on this for their career. I would also say that many politicians do, too, but that's another story.

In general, though, I think this is an important lesson, and true in life: We don't know what we don't notice.

On the one hand, we make many presuppositions, and take a lot of things for granted. One man whom I respect in his field has said that what has always caught him up has been "conventional wisdom", those things that people just assume are true. It is this perspective that has perpetuated most of the racism and prejudice around the world, with such statements as, "Oh, they're just a lazy people", or "They're all drunks".

I remember one elderly woman who had invited me and a friend to the opera with her and her husband. She was prejudiced against African-Americans, and so was quite shocked when I brought a Black man with me. I had warned him ahead of time, but it was all ok. As we talked, he had maintained a very respectful and humble attitude, much to my surprise, but when the talk turned to matters of opera and music, he put in his two cents worth. Actually, it was more like a couple of bucks. His knowledge of opera, and his extremely refined taste, really touched her, and they became friends by the end of the night. It was incredible to watch.

There are many instances of eminent scientists going against the conventional knowledge of the day and arising in history to be recognized as the most brilliant minds of their day. Einstein is but a single example.

Oh, another interesting example is the observation that has been made that the children of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors are amongst the healthiest in all of Japan, despite the widespread belief that the opposite would be true.

But on a different level, the Master gives a lot of importance to appearances. He said that Baha'i cemeteries should be extremely beautiful, and "that the graves should not be joined together but that each one should have a flower bed around its four sides." He changed His shirt a few times a day so as to never have stained clothing. Baha'u'llah, Himself, in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, has laws about our physical appearance. He even states, "Should the garb of anyone be visibly sullied, his prayers shall not ascend to God, and the celestial Concourse will turn away from him." This is how important appearances are. (Wow. I guess I should wash those pants of mine with the grass stains.)

In terms of our daily life, we are even told that we should not do things that give the appearance of prejudice, or infidelity, or other sorts of immoral behaviour. Note that not only shouldn't we do these things, but we shouldn't even give the appearance of doing them.

Lastly, Shoghi Effendi often refers to the "appearance of the Manifestation", and I think there is an interesting aspect to this phrase. To appear means to give an outward show of something. Baha'u'llah was always a Manifestation. It was only after His Declaration that He appeared this way to others. But to me, He didn't appear that way until I recognized Him.

It was only when I noticed His signs that I knew Him for Who He was, even though those signs were always there.

Like I said, we do not know what we do not notice.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What's the Point?

Magnificent. Beautiful. Stunning. None of those words really capture the incredible awe that I experienced there at Ogden Point in Victoria. I was sitting in the bright sunlight, under a crystal clear blue sky, staring at the Olympic Mountains in the background, with the Pacific Ocean in front of me, and there, between the two, was a wall.

But not just any wall: The Unity Wall.

It's a very interesting wall, as you can tell from these photos. The mural is going to go the entire length of the wall, on both sides, and become the world's largest mural. The photo below is only part 1 of the piece.

As with any project of this immensity, it is being done in stages, and yesterday was the dedication ceremony for phase 2.

But what, you may be asking, does all this have to do with the Baha'i Faith?

I'm glad you asked, dear Reader.

Let me begin with the first phase. You will see, if you look closely, which is difficult to do with that small version so here is a detail, a number of different elements in the work.

You'll notice the recurring theme of water and land. The theme of phase 1 was the animals of those two elements, which explains much. But what I want to point out is the imagery of the eagles here, in the very centre of the whole piece.

There was a man, Jacob Bighorn, who was dying in hospital. While he was there, he became friends with another man in the room across the way. Jacob, in case you couldn't guess, was a Baha'i. The other man's daughter, the designer of this mural, met Jacob whenever she went to visit her father. One afternoon, on her way to see him, she noticed all these eagles circling over the hospital. Many of the Aboriginal people were asking if a holy man had passed away, and, when she got there, she learned that Jacob had just died that morning.

It was this story that became the centrepiece for the mural.

Now, a little while later, they had finished phase 2, and the theme of this part was the historical presence of the Songhee and Esquimalt First Nations peoples.

As you can (barely) see here, there are some images of daily life of the First Nations people, including a few houses and a canoe visible above. The whole mural of this part of it is quite beautiful.

What you may notice is some text above the picture. This is a beautiful quote that is so appropriate given the setting. I don't have the text of the quote itself that is there, but the English version is: "Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified."

So, here I am, a kid from the prairies who became a member of the Baha'i community over 25 years ago, wonderfully dislocated on the West Coast of Canada, with some houses off to my left, in the city of Victoria, staring at the majestic mountains across the Salish Sea, on an island, talking about God with those around me. I think we hit every element of that prayer.

When I sat down and opened up my prayer book to read the English version, all the people around me began asking about it. They were so excited that I had a copy of the words in English, and that prayer book passed from person to person as all around me read it for themselves. Most of us had tears in our eyes at the fitting beauty of the text.

And then the ceremony began.

Actually, it continued.

It began a bit earlier when a few of us walked along the causeway above the mural as two elders blessed the whole piece with traditional cedar boughs and singing. We began at the far end and walked our way back towards the beginning. I kept near the elders so that I could hear the power of their words, and there was a woman, Linda, who was taking photos as we walked. At one point I noticed a piece of the cedar had broken off and fallen to the ground. I picked it up and gave to Linda. She was visibly touched by this. A few steps later she returned the favor as she picked up another piece. The piece that she gave me will be mailed to Jacob's son, Jordan, in Winnipeg, as a memento. I will be sending another piece to Jacob's widow, Deloria, as she was unable to be there.

Linda, incidentally, was the one sitting next to me who had first asked if she could read the English translation of Baha'u'llah's words.

A few minutes later, after the more formal part of the ceremony began, the MC was getting ready to present a gift to the elders who had blessed the wall from above, and at that moment, a bald eagle flew up behind the audience and in full glory landed on a light pole, where she remained for the entire ceremony.

I felt that this was a loving gift from Jacob.

So, as I ask in the title, what's the point? It's Ogden Point. Where the mountains and the seas come together in a point of beauty, combining the majesty of God from the mountains, the bounty of God from the ocean, and overseen by the omnipresence of God with the sun shining down in its full splendour. It is where three nations, the Songhees, Esquimalt and Canada, have come together in peace, love and respect to build a work of art that welcomes all to these beautiful shores.

As Baha'u'llah said, "Blessed is the spot..."

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Meow of a Cat

I am so tired of him. He is driving me up a wall! The constant whining and complaining. It seems like the only time he stops is when he's asleep. I've almost stopped caring.

What was that?

Oh, not Shoghi. Of course not. He's like an angel in a little child costume.

I'm talking about my cat, George.

He is constantly meowing for food. Now, normally I would presume that there is something missing from his diet, and that he is really hungry for that particular thing, but I've really checked his diet, and it doesn't seem to be that.

Aside: 'Abdu'l-Baha once wrote that "The Báb hath said that the people of Baha must develop the science of medicine to such a high degree that they will heal illnesses by means of foods." He went to add "The proof of this is that while other animals have never studied medical science...when one of them falleth a prey to sickness, nature leadeth it... to the very plant which, once eaten, will rid the animal of its disease. The explanation is that if, as an example, the sugar component in the animal's body hath decreased, according to a natural law the animal hankereth after a herb that is rich in sugar. Then, by a natural urge, which is the appetite, among a thousand different varieties of plants across the field, the animal will discover and consume that herb which containeth a sugar component in large amounts. Thus the essential balance of the substances composing its body is re-established, and the animal is rid of its disease." This is also how I generally try and heal myself. I try to really examine my tastes and see what it is that I am craving. It generally works, except that I often get more chocolate than I probably need. But seriously, if I feel the craving for, say, cauliflower, then I know that there is something in it that my body really needs. I can only presume the same is true for my cat.

Now I could probably write an entire series of articles on just this one quote alone, but what I wanted to talk about today is something a bit different.

I wanted to look, instead, at the concept of complaining and caring being inversely proportional to each other, for most of us.

If my cat only whined when his bowl was empty, I would have lots of sympathy for him. I would go out of my way to feed him at times like that.

But he doesn't.

He meows as if his spleen were being removed every time I go into the kitchen.

And it isn't attention he wants, for I give him that. No. He makes it very clear that he wants food. And more of it.

Lately I've noticed a sad trend within myself. The more he complains, the less I seem to care, which is why I'm writing this.

There are many stories of the early Baha'is who suffered phenomenal hardships quite joyously. It's not that they sought them, but just that they recognized them as being from Providence, and were joyous to be able to accept them. And it was their lack of complaint, in fact it was their radiant acquiescence that won over so many other people.

But then I think about the various people I know. Those who are always complaining seem to evoke little or no sympathy within me. While those who almost never complain, when they do, it is as if my heart is being ripped out. But the worst, or the best, are those who never complain at all, and yet I know they are suffering. They are the ones that I want to do almost anything I can to help.

I don't think it should be like this, though. I think I need to work on my own self so that, whether or not they voice their complaints, it has no bearing on my reaction. I should find that compassion within me at all times, and under all conditions.

I know that this is very important, for Baha'u'llah has said, "The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion".  'Abdu'l-Baha has also said, "The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul." He continues that train of thought by pointing out that "it is not only their fellow human beings that the beloved of God must treat with mercy and compassion, rather must they show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature. For in all physical respects, and where the animal spirit is concerned, the selfsame feelings are shared by animal and man." And that point about the animal spirit doubly reminds me of how I must treat my cat.

Now that I've recognized the importance of this, how do I do it? What is it that I can do to help increase my sense of compassion?

'Abdu''l-Baha has said, "the teachings of Baha' shall assuredly breathe the spirit of peace, the love of God and divine compassion in the hearts of men." Does that last mean that when I study these teachings, my heart will increase its compassion? I think that may be what it means, but I'm not sure. I can also read it as saying that God will be more compassionate to me.

'Abdu'l-Baha has also said, "When our thoughts are filled with the bitterness of this world, let us turn our eyes to the sweetness of God's compassion and He will send us heavenly calm!"

After all, what's the meowing of a cat compared to some of what we read in the Dawn-Breakers?

I'd write more on this right now, but someone wants me to give him some more food.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Second Baha'i World Congress

As I was walking around the neighbourhood this morning, I got to thinking. This is not unusual for me, as you can imagine, but this time my thoughts went in an odd direction: the past. Ok. That's not all that odd for me either, but it seemed odd at the moment.

You see, dear Reader, what triggered it was my train of thought from yesterday, when this observation about coffee shops changing made me think about the Dawn-Breakers, for that was where I was going when I thought about the Shah.

So there I was, walking back from my son's school bus, and I was thinking about my love for the Dawn-Breakers, that marvelous history captured so beautifully by Nabil. And I got to thinking about how often I am reminded of those stories from there. And that led me to thinking about the Second Baha'i World Congress that occurred in New York City way back in 1992.

You see, I had the incredible bounty of working for the World Congress and helping with the registration. It was truly a life-changing experience for me.

But I never would have suspected that on the first day.

On that day all we did was stuff envelopes.

Well, that doesn't quite describe it. It doesn't really convey the magnitude of it. The National Spiritual Assembly basically closed part of the National Centre and we all proceeded to work in a conveyor-like fashion, assembling the registration forms, stuffing the 60,000 or more folders, and putting them all in large envelopes to be sent as bundles out to the myriad communities throughout the globe. It was quite the major undertaking, and I seem to remember it taking dozens of us a few days to finish it.

It was truly a joyous work, and there was much laughter and sharing of stories.

In fact, now, years later, it is the closest that I can come to understanding what the early pilgrims must have experienced when they helped clean and sort the grain in the Holy Household.

There is one moment, out of all the moments of that time, that really stands out in my own memory. I had only been a Baha'i for a short time when I had the incredible joy of working next to Robert Henderson for one of the shifts, and just stood silently as he shared story after story. Robert, in case you do not know, was the Secretary of the US NSA at that time, as he had been for many years.

We were collating papers and passing them on to the next group in line, when all of a sudden someone cried out in pain. Everyone in the room stopped, and this guy was standing there holding his hand. He had just gotten a really nasty paper cut. Before we could all get back to our little tasks, he held his finger up in the air, looking at the ceiling, and said, "Every drop of blood, Baha'u'llah. Every drop of blood."

That kept us all in giggles for quite some time.

A few hours later, after many more stories had been shared, Robert turned to me and asked, "What are you thinking about?" I guess I had an interesting expression on my face, or something.

"Well," I replied, as honestly as I could, "I'm just thinking about how these are going to be sent all around the world. To every country. And how thousands of people from every continent, nation and tribe are going to gather together in celebration. Isn't this what the Dawn-Breakers gave their lives for?"

Robert was silent for a minute as he processed that, and then gave me some wonderful encouragement to keep thinking along those lines. It is so important to remember the sacrifices that were made, and are still being made, to help us get to where we are today.

I was hoping to insert a video clip from the World Congress where they had the "procession of nations", but I couldn't find it. Instead, this video seems the most appropriate.

And, just in case I never said it, thanks, Robert, for your encouragement.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Coffee House Philosophers

I went out to a coffee shop today, and I realized something: They have changed in the last 10 or 15 years.

In the time of Baha'u'llah, as I often mention, people went to the coffee houses to socialize, as well as discuss deep and important issues. The French Revolution, for example, began in the coffee houses of Paris, but that's not necessarily the best of examples. Numerous bands got their start in these coffee houses in the 60s through 90s. As you know, Baha'u'llah, Himself, often met with people in the coffee houses of Baghdad.

For my part, I began frequenting the coffee house scene about 25 years ago. Whenever I entered a new city, it was to the coffee houses that I would go to meet people. Even today, when I want to get out of the house and write, or make my artwork, I usually go to a coffee house. Often, when I am in one, conversations ensue with others, and we end up talking about some pretty deep issues. It is a great place to practice your presentations from Ruhi Book 2. In fact, a number of people I have met in the coffee houses have begun the Ruhi Books that way.

Of course, you also get the plethora of coffee house philosophers who usually talk tons about what is wrong with the world, and how much they know about how to solve all the world's problems, but never seem to get around to doing anything about it.

Aside: I remember one time a few years back when one of these "philosophers" was talking about how to clean up the street scene a bit. His ideas seemed reasonable, although a bit far-fetched, but I wanted to encourage him. "Great idea," I said, "let's go out right now and try it." It was the sort of idea that could actually be implemented right there and then. Of course, as soon as I said that, he remembered something that he had to do. My other friends who were there, all of whom were sick and tired of hearing his grandiose ideas, were so impressed by how quickly he left. While that wasn't my intention, they all began agreeing with him after that and offering to act on his ideas with him.

It was these sort of people, the so-called philosophers who never want to actually do anything, that were the downside of the coffee houses. They always reminded me of that phrase from the Hidden Words, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

Today, I realized something that I had been noticing for a while, and was never quite able to articulate: With the advent of the Starbucks-type coffee house, these conversational havens are becoming rarer and rarer.

I had noticed this a while ago, but I think I figured out why today. The coffee is just too expensive. You see, in the old times, as I like to think of them, you could drop a dollar for a cup and enjoy it for an hour or two. Most of us could afford that. Today, if you want a cup, it usually approaches five dollars, and, let's face it, the most popular places, like Starbucks, are way over-roasted. The coffee tastes nasty. Of course, I usually order tea, and that's cheap. Most people I know get the double espresso grande latte with vanilla flavouring, or something else whackoid like that.

And this, for most of us, is unaffordable day after day.

You see, dear Reader, I noticed this today when I was sitting in a place that only charged a dollar for coffee. (I actually got one and was very surprised at how wonderful a cuppa java it was.) I needed to make a few bracelets today (like the one below) (oh, and that's a shameless plug if you want to support me as an artist) and the bead shop I wanted to visit was no longer there. Rather than being disappointed, I decided to make the best of it and went to the coffee shop next door to the now-empty store. It was the very picture of an artist's hangout. They even had bins of old LPs which you could go through and request. You just handed them the record and they put it in the line-up. I can't recall what was playing when I went in, but I just sort of started bouncing in time with it. I do remember them playing the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Supertramp. It was kind of cool.

But then, after I sat down and set up, I began to hear what some of the people around me were talking about. (I didn't really listen in, I just couldn't help but overhear a bit.) And those conversations were mostly deep and meaningful. I felt taken back about 20 years, and it wasn't just the music.

One conversation that really stood out was with a woman who was helping a Japanese exchange student with her conversational English.  After all the basic conversational stuff, she took out some photos of Tarot cards and began talking to this girl about the Fool and the court jester. She was giving a very good history lesson, and spoke quite well about how the jester could say the things that no one else could.

I asked if they were aware of where the jester came from, and they weren't.

And that, dear Reader, is the little tidbit I felt like sharing today. (Awfully long intro, wasn't it?)

You see, many years ago, the King was like the lion. He would sit back and get the lion's share of everything. But, when the attack came, he was the one who risked life and limb to save his people. His lion's share came with a price, and sometimes a pretty hefty one, too.

During this time, the shaman was the wise advisor, and he was the one who made sure that the king did his job.

Then one day, some sad day lost to the annals of history, this changed. The king, who was used to getting his way, decided that he was somehow too important to put his life on the line. And the shaman, or advisor, wasn't up to his task. He went from being the wise advisor to the fool.

Oh, and one of the first things you learned as an apprentice to a shaman at that time was how to meditate. There is a very simple way to meditate, and clear your mind of the dross of the day, just in case you haven't found one yet. You learn to juggle. For some reason, once you learn to toss those three balls around so that it is second nature, and not a test of your patience, it becomes the best way to just zone out. Try it, if you don't believe me.

And so this king, I surmise, remembered that juggling thing the shaman did, and instead of just being a fool, he became the court jester.

While I was saying all this to them, and typing it to you, dear Reader, I was reminded of the various ministers that served the Shahs during the time of the Bab and Baha'u'llah. Where were the true ministers? Where were those stalwart souls, those wise men, who could freely and fearlessly give the Shah sound advice? And what ever happened to that young crown-prince, Nasri-Din, who said that if the Bab proved to be who He said He was, he would gladly give over his throne?

Sadly, he turned out to be as insincere as those coffee house philosophers who run away when they are encouraged to act on their ideals.