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."


  1. That first 'Abdu'l-Baha reference sounds like it's talking about fractals. For those that don't know, a fractal is a mathematical object that can be infinitely zoomed, and as you zoom in, it continually re-shows the same basic patterns, from the macro to the micro.

  2. I agree, Kurt. In fact, I think that fractals are yet another example of that spiritual principle. (Hmm. I smell another article in the air.)

  3. I have read about these ideas before...except for the last writings you indicated. Where did I read that again...oh yes, the Christian Bible. This analogy works with science - the micro and the macro. Those that ponder life realize this notion by observation alone in nature. For example, quantum physics and the visible universe.

    As far as the relationship between God and man and its "evolution"...all I have witnessed is a change in laws and an injection of cultural philosophies over the course of generations. Yes, certain things have remained concrete within most of the messages as a whole, but that is because they are essential to our own vitality - instinctual (yearning for Love, Peace, and order/moral laws, etc.). It seems to me that religion is fundamental for human survival, not because it may be divine but rather a product of our sociology. We are programmed to survive, the idea of death is contrary to our nature. Thus, the afterlife. As a religious leader, being a martyr is a perfect recipe to infuse zeal into a belief system - like Baha'u'llah being like Christ. A religion is suppose to "transcend" our daly lives and dying for something certainly makes an impact.

    Personally, I have seen no "evolution" in religion. In fact, I feel the world seems more removed from our humanity than ever. We don't need more revelations or religions. We need to invoke the spirituality of the message in the first place - Love. Instead, we move to new favours and seek a "what fits me best approach". Yes, maybe there is a constant revelation in religion, maybe you are right (Maybe Mead, don't let the head swell). But if there is a God he isn't impressed. How many messengers and books do we need in order to embrace the fundamental ideas we ourselves may have created?

    As I said, I do believe in God and our talks are probably pointless as far as debate - your Baha'i' and I'm leaning toward a faith. But it's kind of fun ;)

    Take care Meathead

  4. Hi Me. Thanks again for your comment. I always enjoy reading your thoughts, too. (Perhaps you should start a blog?)

    I just wanted to comment on the last thing you said (not the MEAtheaD thing).

    I completely agree that our talks would be pointless as debate, but I just love them as far as conversation and sharing. Your perspective is fun, mainly because it's quite different from my own. If it were the same, that'd boring, wouldn't it?

    So, yeah. It is kind of fun, isn't it?

  5. I'm interested in religion and debate so naturally I'm drawn to your ideas. A blog of my own...I think not. My writing is poor and at times I have a difficult time getting a point across. For example, my third paragraph written above was a mess :) But, it's just Mead so no big deal.

    Anyway, I'll probably comment on your blog if you don't mind. Just know I'm not attacking your faith. I respect your choice. Everyone should have that, it's unfortunate many don't. I think by writing I'm actually figuring out what I believe and in the same vain learning your perspectives.


  6. Yes, and don't forget that Baha'u'llah said: "We speak one word, and by it we intend one and seventy meanings; each one of these meanings we can explain". (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 255)

    What this means to me is that the more consultation we have from different perspectives, the more rich our understanding will be. Now we have at least 2 meanings. Let's see if we can get more!

  7. I love the passage about solidity and fluidity. To me it speaks to the dynamic forces of creation, the Active and the Receptive, as they are defined in the tablet of wisdom. But I did a bit of searching and I found that Abdu'l-Baha also refers to the material world as imbued with the qualities of iron, "such as blackness, coldness, and solidity", whereas the spiritual realms can be characterized by the characteristics of fire, "such as redness, glowing, and heat." (from Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas) So perhaps solidity and fluidity can also refer to the fact that the Manifestation of God is both man and divine being, occupying both spheres of existence simultaneously.
    Here's another passage from Abdu'l-Baha:
    "On the other hand, man must acquire heavenly qualities and attain divine attributes. He must become the image and likeness of God. He must seek the bounty of the eternal, become the manifestor of the love of God, the light of guidance, the tree of life and the depository of the bounties of God. That is to say, man must sacrifice the qualities and attributes of the world of nature for the qualities and attributes of the world of God. For instance, consider the substance we call iron. Observe its qualities; it is solid, black, cold. These are the characteristics of iron. When the same iron absorbs heat from the fire, it sacrifices its attribute of solidity for the attribute of fluidity. It sacrifices its attribute of darkness for the attribute of light, which is a quality of the fire. It sacrifices its attribute of coldness to the quality of heat which the fire possesses so that in the iron there remains no solidity, darkness or cold. It becomes illumined and transformed, having sacrificed its qualities to the qualities and attributes of the fire. Likewise, man, when separated and severed from the attributes of the world of nature, sacrifices the qualities and exigencies of that mortal realm and manifests the perfections of the Kingdom, just as the qualities of the iron disappeared and the qualities of the fire appeared in their place."
    This is from The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 29 November 1912.

    Cool stuff.