Monday, September 19, 2011

Gleanings CXXVIII

"Teach ye the Cause of God", I read this morning, "...for God hath prescribed unto every one the duty of proclaiming His Message..." Obviously this was nothing new, for I had read this passage many times, had it read to me many times. "Teach. Teach! TEACH!" That was the message I had heard over and over.

But this morning, as the hot coffee scalded away the scratchiness in my throat, it suddenly took on a different tone.

There was no longer the angst-laden insistence that was in the background of those few who had subjected me to their intonation when reading it. There was no longer the pressure of conversion that I had felt from that minority who saw it as a defense for their interpretation of the rightness of their triumphalistic attitude.

This morning, as I sat there in the quiet coffee shop, with the steam swirling upward in its Brownian dance, it became a simple observation of a task that was both routine, and demanding of the utmost attention. It was no different than telling the gardener to water the plants, or the barristas to grind the beans.

That passage, as with most of the familiar quotes we use in our daily life, was not revealed in isolation. It was part of a much longer passage, which can be found in Gleanings (number CXXVIII, if you're interested).

I began by looking at the part that was marked in my book. Oh, it was one of those mornings where I kind of opened the book at random to just see what would pop out. As you can imagine, the book fell open to a page that I often read. (The downside of opening a book at random like that is that you never randomly read the first few or last few pages. You always end up somewhere in the middle.)

I noticed, as I usually do, that Baha'u'llah says that this is "prescribed unto every one", not just a few. But then, in the very next sentence, He says that it "is acceptable only when he that teacheth the Cause is already a firm believer in God". So teaching is a rule that is to be followed. It is, in a literal sense, a duty that is ordained. We don't seem to really have a choice. But, and here's the kicker, it is only acceptable if we are a believer in God. Note that He doesn't specify being a Baha'i, but that we have to be a believer in God. Interesting.

As you can imagine, that got me thinking.

"What", I wondered, "is the context of this quote?" As I said, it doesn't appear in isolation, but is toward the end of a much larger quote. So I went back a paragraph and checked it out.
Be fair to yourselves and to others, that the evidences of justice may be revealed, through your deeds, among Our faithful servants. Beware lest ye encroach upon the substance of your neighbor. Prove yourselves worthy of his trust and confidence in you, and withhold not from the poor the gifts which the grace of God hath bestowed upon you. He, verily, shall recompense the charitable, and doubly repay them for what they have bestowed. No God is there but Him. All creation and its empire are His. He bestoweth His gifts on whom He will, and from whom He will He withholdeth them. He is the Great Giver, the Most Generous, the Benevolent.
Interesting, I thought. While I had also read this passage many times, I had always seen it in terms of material substance, such as the trustworthiness the Bab showed when He gave the owner of some goods far more money than he had asked for regarding their sale. The man wanted to return some of the money, but the Bab refused, saying that the goods had achieved that value while in His custody, and it was only just and fair the He give the man that amount.

Now the passage took on a different tone to me, as I read it in terms of preparing me for the next paragraph, which was about teaching the Cause.

To start, He brings our attention to the importance of justice, and how we should be fair to both ourselves and others. Naturally, this brought to mind the second Hidden Word, in which we  are told that through the aid of justice we will see through our own eyes, and not those of others. We will also know through our own knowledge, and not through the knowledge of our neighbours. To me, this is a strong reminder of how we should teach. We should allow others to come to their own realizations and epiphanies and not insist that they understand things as we do, for then they are not knowing things through their own knowledge, but through ours.

Then the very next word is "Beware". Immediately He is cautioning us, raising our keen awareness that we may be in danger of something. What is it? We are in danger that we might "encroach upon the substance of your neighbour." What does that mean? Well, as I said, I had often read it in terms of physical stuff, like trespassing on someone's property, or borrowing something without asking, but now I have to wonder if there is more to it. Isn't our greatest substance our spirit? Our perspective? Our point of view? It is this that I think we are in most danger of encroaching upon.

When we are discussing matters of the spirit with others, that is when we are most open, and most vulnerable. It is during these discussions that we need to be most careful, recognizing that we are walking on sacred ground. It is at these times, especially when talking with people who believe differently from us, that we most need to prove ourselves "worthy of his trust and confidence". We need to be extra careful to respect their ideas and opinions while, at the same time, sharing with them the perspective and thoughts we find in the Writings. Remember, Baha'u'llah has also told us in this same sentence "withhold not from the poor the gifts which the grace of God hath bestowed upon you."

While I had often thought of this in terms of charity, and such like, it now occurs to me that the Writings themselves are a source of wealth. In fact, we are told to offer the teachings as if we were offering a gift to a king. So, to one who is not aware of the Writings of Baha'u'llah, it is as if we are offering great wealth to one who is poor, and that is the spirit which we are asked to adopt when teaching.

What happens then? Knowledge, unlike diamonds and gold, does not leave us when we share it with others. It is multiplied, for we still have it, and now so do they. But something else interesting occurs: we learn, too. As anyone knows who has shared the Writings with others, it is the teacher who learns the most. God recompenses the charitable, as Baha'u'llah says. We are doubly repaid, if not more, for what we have given.

Rereading this paragraph in terms of the next one, where it tells us to teach the Cause, has really given me a new perspective of it.

This morning, as my now cool coffee sat there practically untouched, I read, once again, to the end of that passage, and was struck by how often Baha'u'llah seems to warn us about our attitude when teaching. Don't resort to violence.  Beware not to contend with anyone. Make sure we are teaching with a kindly manner. If someone denies what we offer, we should turn to God. Don't dispute with anyone. On and on He goes, continually reminding us that our attitude is so important.

But then, just before I got up to go, I looked back at the very beginning of this passage, a few pages earlier and realized that this whole section is all about teaching.

And so, dear Reader, my encouragement to you today: go back to that passage one more time, Gleanings CXXVIII, and try reading it again, remembering that the reaction we elicit when we teach is but one aspect of this worldly realm, and see what you find in it that pertains to our teaching work. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for those wonderful thoughts! A whole new perspective on that chapter!