Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Start

I was writing a friend a note this morning, and she had asked me about how I became a Baha'i. In the midst of my reply, I made mention of how I had no idea where to begin reading amidst all the books in this glorious Faith of ours. I mean, really, with the Bible it's easy: start at Genesis. But in the Baha'i Faith, what do you do? The Hidden Words? The Prayer Book? Gleanings? The Iqan? The Aqdas? The list can go on, and keeps getting longer every few years. (Oh, and I'm glad of that, mind you. I truly hope they don't stop the new translations coming out, even if my bookshelf is already full.) (Actually, I've still got a few more inches that I can squeeze stuff into, but don't tell my wife.)

I've already written a bit about what the Guardian says about each Book, but I haven't really told you anything about my own personal experience.

Well, here goes.

First, let me give my own version of how I see some of the Books in the Baha'i Faith.

The Hidden Words are, to me, like the Table of Contents of religious thought. They are an incredible and concise summary. After all, they are "clothed in the garment of brevity".

Epistle to the Son of the Wolf is at the other end of the spectrum. And I don't mean to say that it's long, but rather that is Baha'u'llah summary of His own Works. If the Hidden Words are the beginning, then Epistle to the Son of the Wolf is the like the last chapter.

I think of the Kitab-i-Iqan as a framing piece. In it He reframes our understanding of religious history and gives us a more solid base from which to proceed.

Gleanings is just that: gleanings from His Writings. It was the first compilation I am aware of that the Guardian did of Baha'u'llah's Writings. It is a little bit of a lot of subjects, and an incredible place to begin your studies.

Prayers and Meditations is also exactly what it says it is: prayers and meditations. This is a book that I use to get a deeper understanding of the spiritual side of the Faith. These are pieces that I don't necessarily see as explaining things in the same way that the Iqan does, but rather are pieces for me to contemplate. The prayers are, in a sense, what I want to say to my Creator, and the meditations are kind of like His response. These are pieces that I just take one at a time and ponder for long periods.

And please remember, this is nothing authoritative, but is only my own response, or reaction, to the Writings of the Faith. No disrespect is intended, nor am I saying that this is what it really is. If anything, this only goes to show my own lack of understanding.

The Kitab-i-Aqdas? It's the most holy Book. What can I say about it that I haven't already said elsewhere?

The Seven Valleys responds to those of a more mystical bent, and like a nice linear progression in things, while the Four Valleys is also of that mystical tone, but is for those like to approach things from a variety of perspectives.

Tablets of Baha'u'llah is, to me, where He really gets down and explains things in a multitude of ways, for those of us (like me) who don't quite get it the first time. Whenever I read this Book, it seems that what I remember the most are the lists, and how He summarizes the salient points of His teachings. And each list is a bit different. I'm sure there's a message in that, but I'll be danged if I can figure it out. Maybe it's just that the salient points differ from person to person.

I could go on with the rest of Baha'u'llah's Books, but I think that's enough for right now. Maybe I'll just mention a few other Baha'i books.

For those Baha'is in North America, I believe that the Tablets of the Divine Plan and The Advent of Divine Justice should be required reading. (And they ain't too bad for anyone else, either.) Some Answered Questions is a remarkable little book that answers many basic questions, especially those pertaining to Christian theology. (For me, not having come from that background, I found those sections a bit boring at first, but interesting after I began studying that aspect of religious history.)

Promulgation of Universal Peace is one of my personal favorites, because it shows how the Master spoke to groups of people. It's particularly interesting if you read all the sections related to a single group at once, like synagogues, or United Churches.

World Order of Baha'u'llah is also another favorite of mine, because it really puts the administration into perspective. It's also incredible if you look into all the details the Guardian refers to, and see how he used the crises of the day to educate the friends.

But all this is beside the point from my own life. I didn't know any of this when I declared. And I had no idea where to begin my own studies in the Faith.

People kept telling me to read all these different books, but I had the hardest time getting into them. I tried Gleanings, and had read bits and pieces over the years, but still couldn't really get into it.

I was enrolled in a deepening (this was before we had the Ruhi Books up here), but they expected me to read, and I'm not kidding, the Dawn-Breakers, God Passes By,Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Balyuzi's trilogy, and a few others besides. This was, to say the least, a little overwhelming. (And they wondered why I rarely showed up.)

It took a bit of time, but I finally realized that I had no context in which to understand the Writings, and so I set about getting myself that context. I wrote a bit about that here.

In short, I read all I could find about that Bab, and began to really know that era of Baha'i history. Then I read all I could find about Baha'u'llah, and then 'Abdu'l-Baha. Now I'm reading everything I can about the Guardian and the Hands of the Cause, as well as filling the blanks. (I just finished the book about the Hearst pilgrimage, for example.)

That was how I did it.

As the history got filled in, I read the Books by the Central figures from that time, and they then made sense to me, in a context. I'm still learning a lot more about them, but they fit into the world history now, to me.

This, of course, is not the only way to go about it. There are many friends who had a particular interest, such as prophesy, and began with those books that addressed that issue. Another friend was fascinated by concepts of death, and read all he could on that. Another friend was interested in gender equality, and she got her start there.

Whatever your interest is, that's where you should begin.

And if you're not sure, talk to other Baha'is. Don't accept the "just start with whatever feels right" line, for that is what I call a "non-answer". It doesn't really tell you anything. Tell them what interests you, what led you to embrace the Faith (if you're a Baha'i), and what questions you have. They may know the perfect book for you.

Or just write. I always publish comments, and answer e-mails. And if my answer is the eminently quotable "I don't know", I'll ask other readers, and I'm sure someone will know what will catch your interest.

I'd go on a bit more, but my son really wants to play legos with me. So, duty calls.

Thanks for reading.

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