Saturday, December 31, 2011

Internet Postings

I just got back in town, and am sitting in a pizzeria (that just makes it sound like a dump. This place is awesome. Prima Strada is a beautiful place in an old garage, with awesome food and incredible service) waiting for my car to be repaired (got a flat driving a friend to the ferry the other day) (no good deed goes unpunished). So far this place exemplifies excellence and service. (Just had a bite of the food: wow. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend it.)

So, where was I?

Oh yes. I just got back in town and saw a FaceBook message waiting for me from a dear friend in Winnipeg. This is a woman I met when I used to sell my jewelry in a bar. It was a goth bar, and they asked me to set up a table, which I did. It was kind of fun (especially when I took another Baha'i, and as we walked into the dark foggy place with people dressed in rubber and leather he looked at me and quietly said "Help"). So I met this woman who had just turned 18, the legal drinking age, and she liked to hang around my table and talk with me. She noticed that I never touched alcohol, and that whenever anyone offered to buy me a drink, I graciously accepted, and asked for either an orange juice or a V-8. Years later she said that this was an example to her that she could go out to the bars with her friends and not have to get drunk, so you never know. This is the friend who sent me the following:
I've noticed a recent trend amongst my Athiest friends and acquaintances lately. They've been openly posting insults and ridicule other peoples faiths and religions in the name of "freedom of expression". Although I don't consider myself a religious person, I still find their comments hurtful. I feel this type of activity would fall under the category of Bigotry, according to this definition below: 
 "A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern English refers to persons hostile to those of differing sex, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or spirituality, nationality, language, inter-regional prejudice, gender and/or sexual orientation, age, homelessness, various medical disorders particularly behavioral disorders and addictive disorders."
In the past, I've simply blocked or un-friended these individuals, but lately I've been wondering if I should stand up to them and point out their activity instead of hiding how I feel about it. 
What do you do when confronted by people like this?
I was going to reply in FB, but then I realized that I, too, have noticed this trend. In fact, I've sometimes been responsible for it, by posting forward articles that could be seen in this light (namely articles about "religious" people who make bozoid statements that only make you shake your head in disbelief, and could be seen as amusing except for the fact that they further undermine the influence of religion in today's society).

But let's go back to my friend's concern. I've had a bit of a chance to think about this, as I received it nearly two hours ago, and this is how I want to approach it. First, I want to remove any specifics, by looking at the first paragraph like "I've noticed a recent trend. People are openly posting insults..." By removing the specific "atheists", I find that it is still true and more generally applicable. Whether it is about atheists posting against theists (I can't say "people of faith" for atheists have faith in there being no God), Christians against Muslims, Jews against gentiles, vegetarians against meat-eaters, or whatever other group against whichever other group: it doesn't matter. The intention is the same. It is to show that "we" are better than "them".

Second, I think I would avoid the label "bigot". To me, this becomes judgmental. They may be acting in a bigoted manner, but they are still a noble being. Instead of condemning the person, I would condemn the action. They are engaging in behaviour that is unseemly, unworthy. This is an old technique that works really well in helping modify behaviour: look at the behaviour, not the person. "You are a bigot" is far more insulting than "That is a bigoted action".

Now that I've got all that out of the way, let's look at what is happening. In general, from what I've seen, there are a number of posts on the net lately about silly individuals, who happen to be priests, mullahs, atheists, plumbers, vegans or whatever. These stories are reporting the truth, but they are also deriding, or even demeaning the people involved. They are using the truth to make people look bad, or make fun of them. They are speaking unfavourably about the people involved, belittling them, disparaging or deprecating them. In short, these comments are nothing less than backbiting.

And there we have it: the spiritual principle.

Now that this has been identified, the overriding question is what to do about it. This is what my friend asked.

As you may know, this is one of the questions that is asked in Ruhi Book 1. What do we do when we encounter backbiting? We know from the Writings of Baha'u'llah that "backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul", so this really quite important.

So here goes: What do you, dear Reader, do when you are faced with backbiting? What do you do?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Only My Own Opinion

I'm reading a new book right now, and the author brought to mind a couple of ideas that I wanted to share. (Actually, I want to share a few other ideas from the book, at least my own thoughts on them, but only after I share these two.)

In the very beginning, part 1, he does something that I regularly do here in this blog: He says that what we are about to read is only his own opinion and nothing official. As you know, dear Reader, this is something that I do regularly (very regularly) (in practically every article, it seems).

Well, this guy says it far better than I ever have, and with quote to back him up. He starts with this wonderful quote from the Universal House of Justice, found in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, way back in the notes:

The existence of authoritative interpretations does not preclude the individual from engaging in the study of the Teachings and thereby arriving at a personal interpretation or understanding. A clear distinction is, however, drawn in the Bahá'í Writings between authoritative interpretation and the understanding that each individual arrives at from a study of its Teachings. Individual interpretations based on a person's understanding of the Teachings constitute the fruit of man's rational power and may well contribute to a greater comprehension of the Faith. Such views, nevertheless, lack authority. In presenting their personal ideas, individuals are cautioned not to discard the authority of the revealed words, not to deny or contend with the authoritative interpretation, and not to engage in controversy; rather they should offer their thoughts as a contribution to knowledge, making it clear that their views are merely their own.

Ok. So, as I've said many times, and will continue to say over and over (and over and over) (and over and over) again, this blog is all just my own opinion. The views are merely my own. It is what works for me, and I make no claims on it working for anyone else (although I think it can't hurt). (Hey, maybe I can institute a money-back guarantee.)

Secondly, the author of this little book makes another point very clear, and that is his understanding of the importance of seeing the meaning beyond the mere literal when reading sacred texts.

In the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah says, "As they have literally interpreted the Word of God, and the sayings and traditions of the Letters of Unity (the Prophets of God)... they have therefore deprived themselves and all their people of the bountiful showers of the grace and mercies of God."

"The divine Words", 'Abdu'l-Baha further elucidates, "are not to be taken according to their outer sense... It is not the reading of the words that profits you; it is the understanding of their meanings... All the texts and teachings of the holy Testaments have intrinsic spiritual meanings. They are not to be taken literally."

"One of the veils", 'Abdu'l-Baha is reported to have said, "is literal interpretation. To penetrate the inner significances a mighty effort is needed."

Makes it kind of tough, doesn't it?

You see, there is also the reminder in the Writings that we need to look at the obvious meanings of the words, too. Is this a dichotomy? Of course not. It is a simple reminder that there is more to the sacred Word than we think.

When dealing with prophecy, it is probably better to look at the metaphorical meanings, for when looking at
the example of one of the prophecies from Isaiah, 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "There will never be a day when this prophecy will come to pass literally, for these animals by their natures cannot mingle and associate in kindness and love." To me, this is an indication of how to "read" prophecy.

Finally, I try to always remember the overarching theme of the Baha'i Faith, or any Faith for that matter. Christianity, for example, is all about love. If we see anything within Christianity that does not lead us to love, we can be sure that we have misunderstood it. For the Baha'i Faith, it is all about unity.

Aside - There is an interesting thing about this unity, this oneness of mankind (well, many, but this is just one). Shoghi Effendi talks about the importance of "the principle of the oneness of Mankind -- which is the main pivot round which all the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh revolves". He also says that "the pivot of the oneness of mankind is nothing else but the power of the Covenant". Elsewhere he refers to 'Abdu'l-Baha as the "Pivot of Bahá'u'lláh's peerless and all-enfolding Covenant".  Neat little order, that.

Anyways, these are just a few little thoughts about where I'm coming from. Now my hands are extremely cold, and I'm finding it tough to keep typing, so I won't.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's All About Me

As some of you have noticed, there is a new reader / writer here. One of the commenters: Me.

No, not me. Me.

(If I keep this up, it's going to sound like an Abbott and Costello routine.)

Aside: When I was in China, my host brought me to a very high and dignified Singapore Day celebration. (I mean, really high and dignified, like Embassy-type high and dignified.) The entertainment during this time was absolutely incredible to watch. I was amazingly impressed by the quality of it all. One of the things that stood out the most was what my host told me was called "double talk". This is a form of comedy that is only possible in tonal languages. He explained to me that what was happening was that the two people were speaking to each other, but responding as if the words were spoken in a different tone. You see, Mandarin has four tones. You can say "Ni hao", and that means hi. If you say it on a different tone, "Ni hao", then you confuse the person by implying that they might somehow be a red horse. In this comedy form, the two people have a conversation but continue it along by responding as if the person has used a different tone. Make sense? It's evidently quite hilarious, and extremely difficult to do. My host said that "Who's on First" was akin to the simplest form of this.

But that's not what I wanted to write about.

I wanted to mention a comment that was recently written, and copy it here. (I got permission form the writer, Me.) (No. Not me. Me.)

You see, he seemed to capture in words something that I've tried to say for a long time, but haven't quite gotten across. He was able to put it into the words that I had longed to use.

I had posted a link to an article from a Christian about the importance of showing love to everyone, especially those who believe differently from you. It was a very beautiful article, and I loved it so much, I had to share it. His comment was in response to this article.

He said:

Thanks for sharing this article. It certainly made me appreciate the complexities of life and that Love can overcome these challenges. At times, I too have been guilty of many things this author speaks about. Perhaps this is why I left religion. At the same time I have never felt so lost. Only after years of reflection have I seen a change in my perspective and a fundamental.

I think I have misunderstood what you have been saying about your own belief. You have been talking about Mead and what is best for him while embracing others regardless of their station in life. Also, it makes me realize that my anger toward religiousity is misguided. My conflict is not with the faiths, but with those who lack love.

Thank you. I believe I will try again and instead of adopting an obtuse view within my chosen religion, I'll pick it because it works for me while not concerning myself with anything but Love.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I was touched by this beautiful note.

My response, which my wife said I should post here, too was this:
Dear Me, (Hmmm. I sound like a grandmother.)

My son and I both have tears in our eyes. Thank you so much for what you have written above. You have said what I have tried to say for so long.

This blog is all about what works for me, and I make no claims on it working for anyone else. Not even other Baha'is. It is all about how I live my own faith. Not about how others should live theirs.

And you have summed up the problem so succinctly: it is all about love, not how others with the same team jacket live their lives.

One of the greatest things that 'Abdu'l-Baha ever said was that people should leave our presence with a sense of hope. I am in awe and in tears reading your last paragraph. Thank you, and thank you again. You have given me hope, and this is why I keep writing what I do.

Yeah. This blog is really all about my perspective of what works for me. The Baha'i Faith is my guide. But even then, the perspective is all about my own use of this Faith. I make no claims for anyone else, nor do I try to argue or contend with others, for when two people argue about religion, both are wrong.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A New Friend

Sorry for not writing for a few days, but we've been busy. Actually, I've been trying to write this one particular article, but it just hasn't been coming together. Hopefully I'll pull it together by the end of this year.

And then we've had some guests from out of town.

In Vancouver, a friend of ours began something called the English Corner. She helps people from Asia learn English, and they often use spiritual and inspirational quotes to do this. Not all Baha'i, but all good.

Anyways, 5 of them came over yesterday and we spent a wonderful weekend with them. (Two of them are still here.)

One of them, Kate, I met last month in Vancouver, at a Baha'i conference, and she's now laughing as I write this. Kate, by the way, is from Taiwan. (Sunny is also here, but I only met here yesterday.) (Oh, and it seems that Shoghi, my 6 year old, now has two new girlfriends.)

Kate is a Baha'i, and her favorite quote is "Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues."

"Why", I ask her in real time.

"Because honest is very important to be a human being." I just love the way she says that.

Anyways, I just took most of the group to the ferry back to Vancouver, but these other two are joining us tomorrow on Salt Spring Island. Kate said that it was a dream of hers to go there before she returned to Taiwan, and so we're helping fulfill that dream. It's the least we can do. (And we love going there also.)

So anyways, I'm sitting here asking Kate about why she became Baha'i a few months ago. She's telling me this beautiful story about hearing about the Faith for the first time, and how she had this intuitive understanding that she was already a Baha'i. "It was very naturally. I learning English and making new friends. It was very easy making new friends and understand."

She said, "You don't need to take a long time" to become a Baha'i. She said that she just knew.

This reminds me of the Guardian, who said that we should not put barriers in front of people, but just let them embrace the Faith, become part of the community.

Now Kate is very interested in going back to Taiwan and telling her friends about the beauty of the Faith, how it uses new words to share the same beauty of God and Faith.

She knows that we need food and rest for our body to be healthy. She also knows that we need food and rest for our spirit to be healthy. Where can we get spiritual food? Where can we get spiritual rest? Those were her questions. She knew that even if she got a good night's sleep, if she didn't get that spiritual rest, she would never be rested.

This was what was weighing on her.

She knew that it was so important to find that place where she could get those, and she found it within the Baha'i Faith.

There is another thing that she has shared (or is sharing) with me. She said that she used to go to this one Baha'i's home in the city, and would then walk home late at night alone. This Baha'i would ask her, "Aren't you scared? Walking alone late at night like that?" "No," was her reply, "God is looking after me."

Ok. This is pretty much all over the place, but let me tell you what really stands out here: her enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm comes from the root "en theos", or "to fill with God". Her enthusiasm is so wonderful right now, and it comes out in a gushing rush. There is so much that she wants to share, and the language is very difficult for her, as English is not her strong suit. But she is so aware of the gifts of God, both those that are endowed, and those that are bestowed. These gifts of friends, gifts, circumstances are so precious to her, and it is so important to her that everyone else recognizes their own gifts, and not waste them.

There is a joy in her zeal which comes out so... joyously, but so confusingly at times. It is like a refreshing cool breeze on a hot summer day. She is so filled with excitement, and the wonder of the new. And this comes across so beautifully.

Although some may find it difficult to follow her now, I truly believe that as she begins to harness her new-found powers, she will be a force for much good in the world. This is probably the greatest test for the new believer: to learn to harness the great powers that they have uncovered within themselves, and within the world. It is also probably the greatest test that we veteran believers have to face: to allow them the time to make sense of what they are experiencing.

In one of the Anglican hymns, it asks God to shield the enthusiastic ones. I think it is because this enthusiasm is so precious, and yet so fragile. We need to do whatever we can to help the friends maintain this new zeal and joy.

Thank you, Kate, for reminding me of this, and giving me the opportunity to write about this here.

"Thank you, too", she says with a quiet and thoughtful air about her.

"Hey, my pleasure."

(She also seemed to like that I actually wrote this while we talked. Kind of cool, that.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

That Man - God Relationship

So there I was, in a Catholic church this past Sunday, waiting for the mass to begin, reading Prayers and Meditations. No, seriously. I was. Marielle had been asked if she would conduct the children's class, so I decided to join, too. As we got there quite early (it's always good to show up early when you're asked to do something like that), there was nobody around to really talk with, as they were all busy setting stuff up for the mass. And so there I was, sitting in a pew, reading a passage of Prayers and Meditations while waiting.

And what did I read?

I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader. I began to read passage 38, which begins:
Lauded be Thy name, O Lord my God! I testify that Thou wast a hidden Treasure wrapped within Thine immemorial Being and an impenetrable Mystery enshrined in Thine own Essence. Wishing to reveal Thyself, Thou didst call into being the Greater and the Lesser Worlds, and didst choose Man above all Thy creatures, and didst make Him a sign of both of these worlds, O Thou Who art our Lord, the Most Compassionate!

Naturally, I paused right there, and wondered what was meant by the "Greater and Lesser Worlds". And again, naturally, I "oceaned" it. Oh, not there and then, but just now. I had thought, at the time, that it might refer to the spiritual and material realms, but as usual, I was not quite on target. I wasn't wrong, per se, but just understood it on probably the shallowest level possible. Fortunately the Writings are there to give us a deeper understanding.

'Abdu'l-Baha, in Promulgation of Universal Peace, offers the following:

The mysteries of the greater world, or macrocosm, are expressed or revealed in the lesser world, the microcosm. The tree, so to speak, is the greater world, and the seed in its relation to the tree is the lesser world. But the whole of the great tree is potentially latent and hidden in the little seed. When this seed is planted and cultivated, the tree is revealed. Likewise, the greater world, the macrocosm, is latent and miniatured in the lesser world, or microcosm, of man. This constitutes the universality or perfection of virtues potential in mankind. Therefore, it is said that man has been created in the image and likeness of God.

Wow. If I ever wanted scriptural justification for the the macro / micro idea, there it is. And just in case that wasn't enough, He goes on and explains what is meant by man being created in God's image. How cool is that? While I'm sure I must have read this before, it never really sank in until now. I think this is one of those passages that I'll try to commit to memory. (Test me in a few weeks and see how I do.)

Then I read the next paragraph, and I was fairly lost.
Thou didst raise Him up to occupy Thy throne before all the people of Thy creation. Thou didst enable Him to unravel Thy mysteries, and to shine with the lights of Thine inspiration and Thy Revelation, and to manifest Thy names and Thine attributes. Through Him Thou didst adorn the preamble of the book of Thy creation, O Thou Who art the Ruler of the universe Thou hast fashioned!

For some reason, and I know you knew better, I had thought that this was referring to ordinary people. You. Me. Mankind, as in humanity. But this made no sense to me. I couldn't make heads nor tails of it.

Then I noticed the capitalization.

It seems as if Baha'u'llah is talking about the Messengers of God, those divine Manifestations. Hence the big letters at the beginning of the pronouns, and this is borne out later in the passage. But as I hadn't read ahead, I got confused and was wondering what this was, and how it could be.

It is the Messenger that is seated visibly before all humanity. I mean, you have to be a bit of a dork not to realize that Jesus and Moses and Buddha and Company made some pretty significant contributions to the development of the human race.

But what does it mean that God adorned the "preamble of the book of Thy creation" with Him?

Given the word "creation", my mind immediately went to Genesis 1:1, as well as John 1:1.

"In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth - when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters - God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."

And, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Again, it's fairly easy to get lost in this, what with poetical meanings and metaphors and all. My question, as usual, is what does 'Abdu'l-Baha say about all this? "By the 'word' we mean that creation with its infinite forms is like unto letters and the individual members of humanity are likewise like unto letters. A letter individually has no meaning, no independent significance, but the station of Christ is the station of the word. That is why we say Christ is the 'word' - a complete significance."

To me, this means that the light at the beginning of creation was the light of God. It is obvious from the Genesis reference that there was more to this creation story than the beginning of everything, for the earth was already there, as was the deep. There were even waters, for the Divine Presence hovered upon them. Already there is a mystery.

But the light of God is created with that phrase. The light that illumines everything, gives it significance. That is what is created. And that is what is revealed through the Messengers of God. It is through the light that They shed upon humanity that everything is given significance. While Christ Himself may not have been physically present there at the beginning of creation, His Light certainly was, as was the Light of Moses, Buddha, Muhammad, the Bab, Baha'u'llah and all the other Messengers. This Light, which shines so brightly within Them, was present from the very beginning. It was the very beginning.

And so They shine with the light of God's inspiration, and adorn the very beginning of the book of Creation.

Now that this is a bit clearer to me, I can move on to the next paragraph, and then continue on with my day:
I bear witness that in His person solidity and fluidity have been joined and combined. Through His immovable constancy in Thy Cause, and His unwavering adherence to whatsoever Thou, in the plentitude of the light of Thy glory, didst unveil to His eyes, throughout the domains of Thy Revelation and creation, the souls of Thy servants were stirred up in their longing for Thy Kingdom, and the dwellers of Thy realms rushed forth to enter into Thy heavenly dominion. Through the restlessness He evinced in Thy path, the feet of all them that are devoted to Thee were steeled and confirmed to manifest Thy Cause amidst Thy creatures, and to demonstrate Thy sovereignty throughout Thy realm.
Solidity and fluidity? To me, and remember that this is only my own personal interpretation, nothing official, this speaks of Their teachings and Their lives. Look at Baha'u'llah, for example. He was rock solid in His exposition of God's teachings for today. Nothing could deter Him from revealing His Word. "Thou didst", He says, regarding this point, "raise Him up to such heights that the wrongs inflicted by the oppressors have been powerless to deter Him from revealing Thy sovereignty, and the ascendancy of the wayward hath failed to prevent Him from demonstrating Thy power and from exalting Thy Cause." Here, in this, amongst many other, regard, He was more solid than the rock.

As for His fluidity, He moved as bidden by His Lord. When the Kings of His age wanted to banish Him, He moved. When they wanted to imprison Him, He went. If they wanted to beat Him, or torture Him, He let them. While there are many passages I could cite to this effect, the most powerful example of them all, to me, is that of the old woman who wanted to fling a stone in His face. As you know, when Baha'u'llah was being led to Tehran, on His way to the prison, just after the attempt by some crazed Babis on the life of the Shah. "Among the crowd, which hurled abuse at Bahá'u'lláh and pelted Him with stones, was an old woman. She stepped forward with a stone in her hand to strike at Him. Although frenzied with rage, her steps were too weak for the pace of the procession. 'Give me a chance to fling my stone in His face', she pleaded with the guard. Bahá'u'lláh turned to them and said, 'Suffer not this woman to be disappointed. Deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God.' Such was the measure of His compassion."

To me, this is an incredible example of His fluidity.

Another example would be the way in which the various Messengers have adapted the Laws to meet the requirements of their day. The Law may be moderation and justice, for example, and to a angry person you would tell them to calm down. To an abused person, you might tell them to be more assertive. "The difference", He says, "between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose."

When I read all this, and think about what is being said, I marvel at the relationship between Man and God. It seems as if we, the little-m man, are being led along this path towards big-M-ness. We will never get there, of course, for as the Bab says, "The substance wherewith God hath created Me is not the clay out of which others have been formed." But it as if They are leading us towards Their station, moving us closer and closer towards that which is divine within us.

I could go on and talk about this one paragraph for much longer, but I think I'll leave it here. Instead, I'll finish this off with the next few paragraphs of the passage from Prayers and Meditations. They leave me filled with wonder and awe, and I'd be curious to hear what you think of them.

"How great, O my God, is this Thy most excellent handiwork, and how consummate Thy creation, which hath caused every understanding heart and mind to marvel! And when the set time was fulfilled, and what had been preordained came to pass, Thou didst unloose His tongue to praise Thee, and to lay bare Thy mysteries before all Thy creation, O Thou Who art the Possessor of all names, and the Fashioner of earth and heaven! Through Him all created things were made to glorify Thee, and to celebrate Thy praise, and every soul was directed towards the kingdom of Thy revelation and Thy sovereignty.
"At one time, Thou didst raise Him up, O my God, and didst attire Him with the ornament of the name of Him Who conversed with Thee (Moses), and didst through Him uncover all that Thy will had decreed and Thine irrevocable purpose ordained. At another time, Thou didst adorn Him with the name of Him Who was Thy Spirit (Jesus), and didst send Him down out of the heaven of Thy will, for the edification of Thy people, infusing thereby the spirit of life into the hearts of the sincere among Thy servants and the faithful among Thy creatures. Again, Thou didst reveal Him, decked forth by the name of Him Who was Thy Friend (Muhammad), and caused Him to shine brightly above the horizon of Hijaz, as a token of Thy power and an evidence of Thy might. Through Him Thou didst send unto Thy servants what enabled them to scale the heights of Thy unity, and to yearn over the wonders of Thy manifold knowledge and wisdom."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Another Question

I made a big mistake yesterday, and I'm sorry for it. When I was writing, I was a bit disturbed by some comments that were made to me over the past weekend at a craft fair. As you may know, I make chain-mail artwork for a living. It's an odd, but fun, profession, and I really enjoy it. (There's a sample below.)

So there I was, with a star on the table, and someone asked me about it. They asked me if it was a religious symbol. I explained that it was, for me, a symbol of the Baha'i Faith. Well, this led to quite the tirade and I really had to ask this person to leave, or I was going to call for security. Although I had thought that I put that behind me, it seems that I was still reacting a bit when I wrote yesterday's article.

And one commenter, "Me", thought that I was reacting to them. Although I apologized in the comments below them, I wanted to be a bit more public about it.

I also wanted to draw attention to an observation they made in another comment. It was quite a good one. They reiterated my statement that I am a Baha'i because I consider Baha'u'llah's view of the world better than my own.

Well, let me go into that a bit more, for my answer may seem a bit glib, or maybe even shallow. And that just won't do (he says, in his best Victorian accent). So let me go back a bit, and maybe even offer an analogy.

To start, I do not believe that my view of the world is perfect. Not at all. I see many things that I have learned over the years, and there are many more things that I would love to learn. If my view were perfect, then I could never learn anything new.

Some say that the wisest philosopher of all time was Socrates, because he knew what he was ignorant of. (I was about to say that he knew what he didn't know, but that just sounds like a zen thing.) And so I went into my study of religion without the presupposition that I knew it all. That's not to say that I went in blindly accepting everything. Of course not. I went into it with the various faculties and talents that I have been endowed with, such as reason, intelligence, compassion, sincerity, humility and so on. I also went in with my own personal life experience.

One of the first things I recognized was that most people don't actually read their own sacred texts. The second thing was that most people's actions actually contradicted what their sacred books said.

And that led me to use one of the greatest tools I've even been given: the ability to read things for myself. Instead of taking other people's "word for it", I actually went back to the teachings themselves. Now I can't read Greek, Aramaic, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic or any other language except for English, so I've had to make do with translations. But if you get enough translations, and read some of the commentaries on the them, you often get a good idea of what was trying to be conveyed. That's what I went with.

I also made the decision, which was quite conscious, to accept that there were wisdoms that were not readily evident in the literal reading of the various sacred texts. I figured that they must be considered sacred for a reason. Especially if they've been considered so for so long. Therefore, when I read the order of creation in Genesis, and recognized that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 give a different order of creation, I had a choice. I could either dismiss the whole thing as silly, or I could presume that there is a wisdom in telling the story in a different way.

Rather than throwing out the walnut with the shell, to use a phrase, I decided to look further into it.

Yes, there was a contradiction, but so what. It doesn't impact how we live our life, does it? Well, it may, but I don't believe it should. At least, it doesn't impact how I live mine.

Oh wait. Yes it does.


I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

I see this as a clue that there are things about the sacred that are not able to be understood by the rational mind. It's not that they are irrational, but rather non-rational. Or perhaps super-rational. They make a sense that is more than the mere literal sense we have come to value too highly in the West. (Oh, it's not that the literal and linear perspective is bad, but it is not the only perspective. Other ways of seeing things are good, too.)

In other words, how you perceive the order of creation depends on your point of view. There is more than one way to understand it. From a purely biological perspective, we can see that animals came about before humanity. And yet from a philosophical perspective, we could argue that they weren't really animals until humanity had reached a point where we could define them as such.

In some of His talks, 'Abdu'l-Baha refers to humanity as having always existed. As the earth is only a few billion years old, how could humanity have existed before the planet? Is He wrong? Or is He speaking in a different sense? A more poetical sense? Or perhaps in a more universal sense? And is this denying the concept of evolution?

In one of His talks He admits the reality that evolutionary change has occurred. But then He goes on to say, "Man from the beginning was in this perfect form and composition, and possessed capacity and aptitude for acquiring material and spiritual perfections, and was the manifestation of these words, 'We will make man in Our image and likeness.' He has only become more pleasing, more beautiful, and more graceful." So here He seems to be talking about the latent qualities that make Man distinctive, not the form.

In other words, it all goes back to how we define our terms.

But let me point out something else, too. This sense of humility, recognizing that we don't know everything, is something that we all do. We go to see a doctor because they know more about medicine and the body than we do. But I, for one, won't just accept any doctor's word for it. They may be a total bozo, for all I know. Or maybe they are in the pocket of the drug corporations and will prescribe something for any reason at all. I just don't know. And so, before I commit myself to the care of a physician, I do a bit of research. I check out their references, usually on-line. I go in and talk to them. While they may think that they are interviewing me to see if I can be their patient, I am also interviewing them to see if they can be my doctor. Once I am satisfied that they are competent, than I will prefer their opinion about my health to my own. Of course, this also requires that I am honest with them and give them regular feedback, for doctor's can make mistakes, too. If a physician prescribes some medicine, I will take it in all faith. But if, by some odd chance, I have an adverse reaction to it, then I will inform them immediately and they will prescribe something else.

The same goes for teachers. If I want to enroll in a course, I want to be sure that the teacher actually knows their subject. I'll look into their credentials and if I am satisfied, then I will take the course, investing both my time and my money. One of the reasons we have universities is so that we don't need to do all that footwork. Once I trust the university's criteria, then I will trust all the professors there.

It was with this open-minded, humble approach that I began my investigation into religions. It took me over 5 years to become convinced that Baha'u'llah's perspective was far superior to my own. There were many things during that time that I disagreed with, but I kept looking. His explanations of other religions convinced me that the differences we see today are either due to the climate in which they were revealed, or misunderstandings after the fact.

Let me give some examples that were used in the comments the other day (just because they were so good). Look at the Trinity. While this may be a fundamental part of some sects of Christianity, it is not part of the original doctrine. It wasn't until the end of the fourth century, after much debate, arguing and even killing, that this concept was formulated in the way we know it today. And so I would argue that it is a sectarian understanding, and not part of the original teachings. You only need to read the New Testament to recognize that the word "trinity" isn't even in there, although it is easy to see some of the basic concepts that led to it. It is easy to pick out the seeds that grew into that tree.

Baptism is another example. While most Christian sects agree that baptism is a good thing, there was much debate over how to do it. Do you sprinkle the water on? Do you immerse the person? And who really cares? Do the one that feels right to you, is my opinion. Does that mean that one is right and the other way is wrong? I don't think so. I believe that it is the intention by which one does the act that is significant.

It was also mentioned that Jews don't accept  that a Messiah has appeared, and therefore the Baha'i Faith denies this basic doctrinal part of Judaism. Well, no. We agree that Jews don't recognize a Messiah, and that is why they are still Jewish. This is part of free-will. We will not force them to accept Jesus, or Muhammad, or even Baha'u'llah. This is their path, and we encourage it. When talking about the importance of the interfaith movement, the Universal House of Justice said, "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance." From my understanding, it seems that our role, as Baha'is, is to ensure the relevance of all people's Faiths, and not to try and force them to wear our team jacket. And so many Jews are awaiting the promised Messiah. We encourage them to keep looking, especially in light of their own teachings. But we encourage them to investigate for themselves, and not merely take their leader's word for it, nor even the general feeling of their community. Investigate for yourself, is a primal part of the Baha'i Faith.

Also, in regards to the "finality" is Muhammad within Islam, again this is not part of the doctrine. The Qur'an refers to Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets. What we understand by that is personal interpretation. Many Muslims see it as a statement of finality, whereas I see it as a statement of position. Sort of like the seal on a bottle of wine. At some point you remove the seal and pour the wine out to drink it. (Unless you're Muslim, Baha'i or a member AA.)

Anyways, this was quite lengthy, but I hope it better explains what I mean when I say that Baha'u'llah has a better perspective than I do. I am not merely giving over all responsibility in my life to Him, for that would be a denial of free-will and... well, responsibility. Instead, it is a recognition that if He says something I don't understand, then I will presume He is correct and seek to try and understand what He means, especially in relation to the rest of His teachings.

A Post So Good...

... I just had to share it.

There has been so much controversy over this issue, and this gentleman says it so well. I think what he says equally applies here within the Baha'i community.

What it all comes down to is: Are we showing the kind of love to all people that 'Abdu'l-Baha showed to everyone?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Question Time

It's another beautiful day here in Victoria. The sky is uniformly overcast. The temperature is sitting just above 0. The wind is blowing at a gentle 20 k. And people are smiling on the street. Yeah. It's a beautiful day.

As there are no real pressing issues that come to mind, I think I'll take some questions from the audience today. I'm just in that kind of a mood.

Yes? You in the red sweater?

"You speak a lot about the importance of both praying and meditating. Can you say a bit more about why meditating is important? I'm not a big fan of it. I find that I just get bored trying to clear my mind."

Absolutely. Excellent question.

There are actually two different things within that question that I want to address. The first is what is meditation. You talk about trying to clear your mind, but that is only one school of meditation. There are many, and we often confuse the transcendental style, to name one, for all meditation. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we look at the concept of conversation with God, as described by 'Abdu'l-Baha, then we readily see that conversation must be two ways. This can be seen as prayer, the talking to God, and meditation, the listening. To be an effective listener, we have to be quiet, for one cannot talk and listen at the same time. So it may not be about trying to clear your mind as much as it is about trying to learn to listen more attentively.

The second question in there is why is that important. To best explain that, I'm going to use the five steps of prayer that are attributed to Shoghi Effendi in a pilgrim's note. He says the first step is to "pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of
contemplation for a few minutes." You will note that he does not list these as two separate steps, but as two parts of the same step. He goes on later in that same piece to say, "Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step."

If we spend time in prayer asking about something, or praying for something, then doesn't it just make sense to stick around for the answer?

Ok, next? You, in the back. Yes, you with the hat. Can you speak up?

"How would you defend the Baha'i Faith's stance towards homosexuality? You say that you are inclusive, and yet you are against homosexuals. How can you reconcile that?"

I'm so glad you asked that. First, though, I'm not in a position to defend anything. In order to defend, you have to perceive that you are under attack. Asking a cogent question is in no way an attack. At least, I don't see it that way. Besides, I think the defense of the Faith is best left up to the Institutions.

If you want to see the Baha'i "stance" on homosexuality, then there are a few different things you need to look at. I won't try to convince you that you have to agree, but I will say that the laws of the Baha'i Faith are only for Baha'is. We do not, and are not allowed to, impose them on those who do not accept Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God.

That being said, people confuse the fact that homosexuality is not recognized as a legitimate action within the Baha'i community with the idea that we persecute homosexuals. Aside from a few Baha'is who have misunderstood what the Writings say, and are themselves, to say the least, homophobic, most of us have no problem with homosexuality. I mean, really. It's between two consenting adults who have come to their own decisions in their lives, right?

As Baha'is, we are actually encouraged to defend human rights whenever and wherever necessary. As I've said many times in the past, if someone is not a member of the Baha'i community, then I will defend their right to engage in a homosexual relationship, with full equality under the law. It is unjust that partners of many decades do not have the right to visit their invalid partner in hospital when they are dying. It is unjust that people who have remained faithful to each other for years are not allowed to do with their possessions as they please in their wills. I could go on with many other specifics, but it is enough to say that there are many basic rights that I believe we should all have access to, regardless of our sexual orientation, and I will defend these rights to the best of my ability, which isn't all that great, as this blog shows. But nevertheless, I will try.

And then there is the other side of that same coin. What if they are a Baha'i? Well then they have agreed to a covenant with Baha'u'llah. They have agreed to follow His laws and obey His institutions. At this point, it would be rather silly for them to say that they believe He is a Messenger of God, but that they know better in one area or another. They would be saying that they know better than God, which is, of course, absurd.

But please remember, if they don't believe that He is from God, than there isn't any issue. They are not bound by His laws. These laws are not a social contract by which all must live. They are agreed upon with conscious recognition on the part of the believer.

If someone has a set list of criteria by which they judge different Faiths, and the Baha'i Faith does not satisfy that list, then I would just tell them not to enroll as a member of the community. There's no problem. This is what free-will is all about.

If someone has this set list, and they go on to attack anyone who has a different list, or attack a Faith that doesn't agree with them, then I would contend that they have an issue. They are attempting to deny someone else their free-will.

Just the other day I had someone verbally attack me because I believed in God. They somehow thought that my belief in God was an affront to them, and went on to attack me for it. I really had no idea why, especially as I did not initiate the conversation. They went on to do me exactly what they were accusing other people of faith of doing to others. It was kind of sad and ironic at the same time.

So, once again (and I have to admit that I'm getting rather tired of repeating this), I will defend the social and human rights of homosexuals just as I will anyone else. Just because they are gay does not make them any less human.

Well, I thought I'd have time for one more question, but this post seems to be getting rather long. Maybe I'll do this again sometime soon, for there are a few other hands raised politely out there.

Monday, December 5, 2011


One evening, a number of years ago, some time after I had moved to Winnipeg, I awoke in the middle of the night and thought, "Yeah, I'm home." That was the moment when I realized that Winnipeg was now home. Today, a year and a half after moving to Victoria, I'm still awaiting that moment.

Oh, but please don't get me wrong. I love the city here, and the people and the landscape, as well as the seascape, but it just doesn't feel like home yet. When I close my eyes and think of that magical place within my heart that resonates with the word "home", it is still Winnipeg that comes to mind.

Last night Marielle and I had a short but wonderful conversation with our son, Shoghi, who is, you may recall, only 6. Marielle, being in the military, is regularly asked about her career aspirations, and today is one of those days.

Aside - I have to admit that I find it kind of amusing and lamentable. This is the one of the busiest few weeks of the year for the band, what with their "we-can't-include-any-religion-in-our-work-but-songs-about-Jesus-and-Christmas-don't-count-and-yet-we-can't-acknowledge-any-other-faith-or-tradition-for-that-would-be-promoting-a-religion Christmas concerts", and yet they are having these interviews at this time. It really is an amazing demonstration of inefficiency and sadly taxing upon these poor people.

(And no, that wasn't a rant. Just an observation.)

So last night we talked to Shoghi about this.

We explained that there were basically three options that we had. The first was to stay in Victoria, and he already knew all about that, both the good things and the bad. The other options were to request a posting in either Ottawa or Quebec City. The advantages in those places would be that we would be much closer to Grandmaman, and some of the cousins. We would, in fact, be able to visit them at least once a month.

The little guy gave his input, and Marielle took both his and my opinions into consideration and will answer her interview questions accordingly.

But all this got me thinking about "home".

What is "home"?

Aside number two - In case you couldn't tell, I just took a one hour break. (Sorry for not warning you. I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long.) During that time I had a wonderful conversation with the young man helping out in the office today. It turns out that he's from Winnipeg, too, and moved here shortly after I did. We got to talking about home, and what is home. Talk about coincidence. Oh, and we also had a delightful conversation about spirituality and the importance of seeking your own path with conscious intent. And we talked about crisis and victory, and the political scene. A wonderful conversation all round.

Ok. So, what is home? I'm not sure. And that, dear Reader, as I'm sure you know, will lead me to the Writings. What do they have to say about a home? (You've got to love Ocean. It makes this sort of thing so much easier.)

That search being done, it seems that the Writings speak of a couple of different things, and I thought I'd just look at them a bit at a time.

The first couple of quotes that caught my attention were "Be a home for the stranger"... and "I have set out from my home, holding fast unto the cord of Thy love, and I have committed myself wholly to Thy care and Thy protection... Enable me, then, to return to my home by Thy power and Thy might." In both of these instances, home seems to refer to a place where you are comfortable. When you leave that place, you embark on a journey amidst the uncomfortable, and ask God to allow you to return to that place of comfort.

To further build on that idea, Baha'u'llah says "The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script. When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home." And so home is also a place where you expect to be understood.

There is also a special place in the Writings accorded to the home. "To none", says Baha'u'llah in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, "is it permitted to mutter sacred verses before the public gaze as he walketh in the street or marketplace; nay rather, if he wish to magnify the Lord, it behoveth him to do so in such places as have been erected for this purpose, or in his own home. This is more in keeping with sincerity and godliness." It is a place best suited for our prayers. There is so much that I can read into this. For example, we should always pray from a place of comfort. If not, if we are praying from a place of discomfort, perhaps for something that we want, than we may not be praying with the pure sincerity that is most conducive for the efficacy of the prayers. Oh, and there is the obvious understanding that our prayers should not be used as a tool to show others how "spiritual" we are. But I'm focusing more on the home aspect of this quote.

Home is also a place that should be free of judgement, especially the judgement of others, as in the prayer that asks God to make "my home the seat which Thou hast exalted above the limitations of them that are shut out as by a veil from Thee."

Another place that home appears in the Writings is in the Hidden Words: "Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home, reunion with Me." Once again, this would be a place of supreme consolation and love. When we are feeling at one with God, at home in the world around us, then there is little that can faze us. We feel comfortable, protected, safe and secure. To do this, to achieve this, though, requires allowing that love of God to be within our very heart. "My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed." "Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent."

Now, my question is how to help raise a child with this understanding. How can we assist others in our society to be aware of this? What can we do to spread this understanding of "home" and aid others to feel this, no matter where they are?

One thing that comes to mind is how Baha'u'llah described marriage "as a fortress for well-being and salvation". While it is a fortress that protects in times of trouble, it can also stand wide open to allow any to enter in times of peace.

And so while I feel completely at home with Marielle and Shoghi, no matter where we live, and I also feel at home within the Baha'i community, as well comfortable in any place we happen to live, these are still questions and thoughts well worth pondering. I look forward to asking Shoghi about it when I get home later today.

I also wonder how much longer it will be before my heart realizes that the west coast is now home, and makes the trek here from the prairies, even though a piece of me will always be there, too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Long Obligatory Prayer, part 2

Well, that just sucks. I spilled tea all over my prayer book again. Why is it that you always get something wet all over your favorite book? I guess it's because you always have that book with you, so you're more likely to damage it, no matter how careful you are.

Ah well.

Would that all of life little tests were so... little.

I was looking in my drafts folder this morning, trying to see what to write about, and I noticed that there are many articles that I've begun, and many that I've said I would continue. Well, maybe I will. I mean, I'll try, but I usually write more about whatever happens to be in my field of vision at the moment, whatever it is that shows up on the radar.

Lately, as you can tell, it's been the long Obligatory Prayer.

The problem, though, as you can tell by the name, is that it's long. How do I break it up into small bite-size chunks? After all, I don't want either of us to get spiritual indigestion. That would be a whole whack of no fun.

This is what I was musing on this morning when my tea took a header into the prayer book.

Then, all of a sudden, the answer came to me in a splash! All right. I'm just joking, but the answer did seem fairly evident to me. Why not use the divisions that Baha'u'llah used? He seems to have conveniently divided the prayer for us into smaller pieces, as evidenced by the instructions for the different actions.

That's what I'll do. Instead of looking at it all at once, which would definitely tax my writing abilities, as well as your attention, I'm sure, dear Reader, I will look at one section at a time, or at least as many as seem reasonable (in other words, until I get tired or have to move on in my day).

So, after we wash, look right and left, all the while standing, we are told to say the following:

"O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens! I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence."

Why? As usual, I have to wonder why Baha'u'llah begins with those particular attributes of God. I mean, I don't think it's random. I believe that those are the exact attributes He intended to call to our attention, and I'm curious why.

Oh, and lest I forget, this is only my own personal understanding, and nothing official. Take it or leave it, as you will. And please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section. I love reading them.

To start, I think the phrase "the Lord of all names" is a reminder that all our good qualities are lower case versions of God's attributes. If God is the All-knowing, then we have some knowledge. If He is the Wise, then we can show some wisdom. There are some who may think that this is a denial of our role in developing these attributes, and I would say not at all. It is our free will that allows us to develop these attributes. Without the choice, our growth in these areas becomes fairly meaningless. A "yes" without the option to say "no" is devoid of value. Telling the truth is no great virtue when lying is not possible.

It is also a reminder to me that all those negative qualities that we see in the world are really nothing more than the absence of those divine qualities. The shadow is nothing more than the absence of the light. God is the All-knowing, and when we do not partake of that knowledge, then ignorance is the result. Ignorance is the absence of knowledge. When we fail to show forth the mercy of God, then cruelty is the result.

I believe that my role as a human being, my job in the world, is to try and emulate these attributes of God more and more in my every day life.

God is not only the epitome of all these attributes, He is also the One Who made everything we see around us. He is, indeed, "the Maker of the heavens". And we have it within us to make this world, the physical world in which we now live, a bit better, too.

The next sentence begins with a very interesting phrase: "I beseech Thee". We are not just asking, we are almost begging. It is a very urgent appeal. It is urgent because our very spiritual growth depends upon our attitude in seeking these qualities.

And then we acknowledge that we are beseeching God "by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious". Here we are not beseeching God directly, for we cannot know God directly. We can know a little bit about Him, and try to know more and more, but it is through these Messengers that we know the most about Him. As Baha'u'llah says so well, "...Thou hast ever been immeasurably exalted above the vain imaginations which the hearts of men have devised". "Whoso claimeth to have known Thee hath," He says later in that same passage, "by virtue of such a claim, testified to his own ignorance; and whoso believeth himself to have attained unto Thee, all the atoms of the earth would attest his powerlessness and proclaim his failure."

This is not to say, though, that we cannot pray to God directly. Of course we can. It is just that we are beseeching God through His Messenger.  "While praying", says the Guardian a few times in some of his letters, "it would be better to turn one's thoughts to the Manifestation as He continues, in the other world, to be our means of contact with the Almighty. We can, however, pray directly to God Himself."

Here, though, in this passage, there are two more attributes that are mentioned: the Most Exalted and the All-Glorious. These are double reminders to me. We, as noble creations of a Noble Creator, are exalted amidst creation. There is a lot in the Writings that speaks to this, and to that glory that we can attain when we live up to our potential as spiritual beings.

But our exaltation and glory pales in comparison to that of the Messengers, so much more in the light of God. So here, in the opening passage of this prayer, I am reminded of the three levels of creation, in this sense. We are wonderful and amazing creatures, but still only on the bottom rung of this step ladder. (Hey, come on. It only has three steps in this analogy. What do you want me to call it?) Far above us stand the Messengers of God, those divine Manifestations of the Creator. And then, even farther above them is God. (So that analogy breaks down fairly quickly, but I'm sure you get the idea.)

Now, what is it, exactly, that we are asking for? "(T)o make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence."

Ok. This is getting tough for me. I have these images in my mind, but may have some trouble getting them down, so please bear with me.

In our home, my wife has hung a number of her scarves on a curtain rod. They are not only very beautiful, but they also have the added advantage of blocking some of the light. When I think of veils, this is what I picture. They can be very beautiful, and they can also block the light.

In this instance, the veils referred to here block out the beauty of God, which I don't think is a particularly good thing to do. There are many things that can do this, and many of them are quite alluring: material objects, fame, drugs, just to name a few.

Here we are asking that this prayer be like a flame which will burn all these things away, leaving us fully exposed to, and seeing the beauty of God. Of course, when we see this beauty, we realize that all the other beautiful things in the world are but pale shadows of this beauty. For example, why is it that I love my wife? Because she reflects so many of these attributes of God, like love, wisdom, and compassion. The more she shows these attributes, the more I love her. Prayer helps me not only see the beauty of God, but also helps me to better see the beauty of God in those around me, as well as in everyday situations.

We are also beseeching that this prayer be like a light that will lead us to "the ocean of Thy presence".

Here I am reminded of growing up in Chicago. The sun rose in the east, and it was not uncommon for me to go to the beach to watch the sunrise. (And yes, I know it's a lake and not the ocean, but work with me here.) There were times when I would be heading down and actually see the light glowing on the horizon before I got there. It was as if the dawn's light was leading me down to the water.

Here, within the Faith, the prayer can be like that light. It can help lead us closer to God, or even attract others. It's beautiful, and full of promise.

Baha'u'llah also refers to the Faith, and the teachings, and the Writings, as an ocean over and over. Just type the word "ocean" into any Baha'i search engine, of which the most popular is still Ocean (go figure), and you'll see what I mean. My favorite instance is right at the beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan, in which we read, "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth."

The ocean is both broad and deep. It is the source of all life on earth. It is rich beyond measure, and we have only explored a fraction of a percentage of it. It is no wonder that Baha'u'llah compares the teachings to an ocean.

Fortunately, He doesn't compare it to a teacup, which spilleth upon the pages of divine wisdom.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Long Obligatory Prayer, part 1

Over the past few weeks a number of people have written in, or dropped by my office, or even phoned, to talk about the important of prayer and a prayerful attitude.

Obviously this is a concern, so I guess I might as well write my little bit about it.

In the past I've written a little bit about what the Writings say in regards to prayer, and how they help us grow, but today I wanted to take a slightly different approach.

First, I find that I just feel so much better when I take the time to pray. I'm not sure I've ever mentioned that. Taking just a few minutes every day to sit down, read a prayer or two, meditate upon them, and see how that impacts what I will do during the day, suffices. Of course, when I can take a longer amount of time, the benefits are just that much greater.

And what are some of those benefits? Well, I'm sure they vary from person to person, but this is what it does for me. I feel a lot more relaxed. I'm able to think more clearly. My general state of health seems to be better. I notice that more things just go well for me. Like what? Like finding my keys, or that parking spot where I need it, or noticing something in the store that just happens to be what I was looking for, even though I forgot. That sort of stuff. It's as if the universe just aligns itself with me. In fact, what I think it really is is that I align myself with the world.

Now, I'm going to share a bit of a story, and then embark on yet another epic journey, to which you are more than welcome to join.

Yesterday, I was meeting with a financial advisor (at least, that's what I'd call him), and he had to go out of the office to get something. It took a few minutes, during which time I sat, waited and prayed. When he had to go out a second time, I presumed that he would be a few minutes again, so I got out my prayer book and began to look at the long Obligatory Prayer.

When he returned, he saw my prayer book, and very reverentially asked if he could see it. He did this with so much respect, that I was touched. We had a marvelous conversation about the importance of religion, and he said that if I ever wanted to talk about spiritual matters, I should just give him a call. My spidey-sense went a-tingling, and the upshot of it all is that we are beginning Ruhi Book 1 with a group of his friends.

I attribute this to prayer.

This also got me thinking about studying the long Obligatory Prayer, so here goes.

You know, dear Reader, when I first started writing down a few thoughts about this, I began with the first phrase you say: "O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens!" That's where I began, and that's where I was going to start.

But then, as I was waking up this morning, I realized that this is not where the prayer begins. Nosiree, and I'm sure you know that. It begins with the ablutions. It begins with the washing of the hands and then the face. Why those in that order? Well, it's kind of silly to wash your face with dirty hands, isn't it? Clean your hands first, and then use your clean hands to wash your face.

The next step is found in the portion before the text itself, in the little paragraph printed at the beginning of the prayer:

Whoso wisheth to recite this prayer, let him stand up and turn unto God, and, as he standeth in his place, let him gaze to the right and to the left, as if awaiting the mercy of his Lord, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate. Then let him say:
(And yes, I included that last little sentence, but this isn't the part that you're supposed to say.)

First you wash your hands and face, then you stand and turn to God. What does that mean? Some have said that God is everywhere, so you turn to Him in your heart, and while that is true, that isn't what is meant here. This was clarified by Someone (but I'm not sure Who), either Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha. This currently refers to the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, and will for at least the next 850 years or so. If you're not sure where that is, there are many great apps that will find it for you. Just google "Baha'i qiblih locator" and you'll find one fairly quickly.

Once your facing the right direction, while standing in place (in other words, not running, walking, driving, skipping or swimming), you gaze to the right and then to the left. Why? I have no idea. And how are you supposed to "gaze to the right and to the left, as if awaiting the mercy of" God? What does that look like? No clue.

Personally, if it were up to me, and I were awaiting God's mercy, I would probably be looking down at my feet, afraid to look up, or anywhere else for that matter. Not having any idea what it is Baha'u'llah expects me to do, I just kind of glance right and then left. Sort of over my shoulder a bit. Is this the "correct" way to do it? Of course it is. It's what works for me, and that's good enough. It reminds me that even though I'm facing Baha'u'llah's Shrine, God is really everywhere else, too.

Is that what it is supposed to do? I have no idea. That's just what it does for me. Will it do the same for you? Or will you have another experience? I'll never know unless you share your experience with me.

Oh, I almost forgot. There are two attributes of God listed there: "the Most Merciful, the Compassionate". As I'm sure you know by now, I see this as a reminder to myself that I should show mercy and compassion. I should show these qualities not only to others, but to myself as well.

Am I perfect? Of course not. I make tons of errors. But I still need to be merciful to myself. I need to allow myself the opportunity to grow and develop. I need to be compassionate to myself and not judge myself too harshly, much less others. (I'm sure that Shoghi will remind me of this in the years to come.) It would probably be best if I were to leave my inner perfectionist by the door, and strive for excellence without being too hard on me.

So I still need note cards or a prayer book to recite this prayer, so what? So I still have trouble remembering what to say when my forehead is bowed to the ground, so? Who cares if I sometimes have to lift my head a bit to read that particular passage (you know the one I mean)? The intention is there. And that, my friend, is what counts, as far as I'm concerned.

Once I am showing myself the proper attitude of love, mercy and compassion, then I'm ready to begin.