Friday, January 27, 2012

The End?

Oh, don't worry. I'm not thinking of quitting this blog. No, I just have been looking over my copy of Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah recently and a theme has caught my eye from some things I had underlined a few years ago.

Have you ever noticed that there are times when you read something in the Writings and it just sort of leaps off the page at you? It is often a curious thing what catches our attention. How often have I read a passage from Baha'u'llah and practically jumped out of my chair shouting for joy? How often has that passage said something so profound that I can't understand why it isn't posted everywhere for all to learn? And then, when I go back a day or two later, after that passage has profoundly changed my life, I can't find it. Oh sure, the whole paragraph is beautiful and profound, but nothing like what I experienced a few days earlier.

Well, today I was flipping through the pages and re-reading what had caught my eye in the past. And it was through this that I noticed the theme of trials and tribulations. For some reason, I had underlined a number of passages related to this theme. I'm not sure why, so I think I'll look at a few of them, one at a time.

Oh, before I begin, though, let me just point out that it would be so easy to read all of these passages and just lie down in despair, but we know that this is not what will help the world. Instead, I think we can look at these warnings and rise to help mitigate the trials that seem to be looming close on the horizon.

So, in no particular order, except chronologically from the book, I'd like to just read them one at a time and share what few thoughts cross my mind.
"So blind hath become the human heart that neither the disruption of the city, nor the reduction of the mountain in dust, nor even the cleaving of the earth, can shake off its torpor...

...The dust of sedition hath clouded the hearts of men, and blinded their eyes. Erelong, they will perceive the consequences of what their hands have wrought in the Day of God.

Perhaps it is just me, but this strikes me as the cause of all our woes. We have become like that frog in the pot of water. The temperature is increasing, about to boil that poor frog, and it hasn't even noticed that it is about to die. Instead, it just sits there thinking how nice and cozy the warm bath is.

When we read the news, are we even aware of how dysfunctional this world has become? We all read about natural disasters, like the devastating earthquake in Haiti, and most of us sent a few dollars. We also probably felt good about being able to help. But there are many other disasters that don't get as much of a positive response. Why not? I think it's because we are just reading about too much death and horror. We seem to have lost our perspective on the human element of the suffering. Neither "the reduction of the mountain in dust, nor even the cleaving of the earth" are failing to move many of us these days.

We sit in our homes watching the movie we just rented, or playing that fun game on the computer, ignoring the fact that even our own neighbourhood is dying around us. Oh, torpor, in case we don't know is a form of apathy, or sluggish indifference, generally caused by a very deep sleep. It is when we can't be bothered to do get up and do anything about it.

I remember sitting on a bus one day and a group of girls got on, walked to the back and starting beating up this other girl. I watched as the people near them turned away, waiting for the bus driver to do something, but he was at the other end. I had to walk all the way to the back, past many people, to tell them to stop. As they pushed past me to get off at the next stop, another passenger said, "I'm so glad you did that." I cannot tell you how upset that made me. "And why," I asked none too kindly, "didn't you do anything?"

That is torpor, as far as I can tell.

But then the second part of that quote refers to sedition, or 'action rebelling against a government'. So many of us in society wait for "someone else" to do something, and then at the same time we try and undermine the government that we expect to do something. It doesn't really make sense. If we don't support the government and the police, then they have that much less power to try and do good. But I'm sure that's just me ranting, because there are plenty of things that the various governments around the world are entrusted to do that they are just failing at.

In short, to me this quote is saying to be aware of the suffering in the world, take reasonable action, and stand up for what is right. Don't wait for someone else to stand up. And don't just sit by and think that all the crime and drug abuse are a normal part of life, for they are not. Oh, and encourage those people who work for your government. Many of them are trying their best. They really are.

The next quote that stood out for me seems to further emphasize this point about the troubles we are facing:
"The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody."
Even back in the late 1800s, the world was suffering great mental anguish. And it's only been getting worse. Back then, who would have believed the horrors we take for granted today? Lying in court? Road rage? Bullying to such an extent that those bullied commit suicide? Children murdering each other? Who could have dreamed of these things actually happening?

Baha'u'llah knew. He could clearly see the signs of where we were heading, and still are heading. But He seemed to know that if He spoke of it, we would not believe it.

And if all this wasn't bad enough, He further warns us that "there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake". What does that mean? Well, first, it seems to mean that we won't have any notice, no buildup, no time to prepare when it starts. Oh, that's not quite true, for we do have the warning. It is right there, in this quote, and in many other quotes from all the various Sacred Scriptures.

But what is it that will appear? Of that I'm not sure we know, nor can know. We do, however, know that it will be severe and "cause the limbs of mankind to quake". So, what are these "limbs of mankind"? I had often thought of it as making people tremble, sort of like having a nervous breakdown, but now I wonder. It does not talk about the limbs of men, but those of mankind. Are they the various institutions, such as political and economic, that help take care of the affairs of the world? Could it refer to other institutions, such as religious or commercial?

This part of the quote really makes me raise more questions than I have answers, but isn't that just the way of it? All I really know is that it seems certain there will be a major catastrophe of some sort, and that it will severely effect a significant number of people on the planet.

Then, after that dire warning, He gives us hope. He reminds us that "Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody."

Perhaps it is after this major upheaval, when people are more aware of the importance of supporting each other and demonstrating spiritual principals that things will begin to get better. You will note that it doesn't say that "Christ will return", or the world will end, or anything else along those lines. No. He says that the "Divine Standard" will "be unfurled". To me, and this is only my own opinion, this means that we who are striving to share these divine teachings with others, who are working with all our might to assist people in understanding how to apply these ideas in our daily life, will help unfold these teachings for all to see. They will see them in action, not just in theory. After all, "Until the public sees in the Bahá'í Community", says the Guardian, "a true pattern, in action, of something better than it already has, it will not respond to the Faith in large numbers." It seems to me that we are just beginning to help establish this pattern in the new behaviour exhibited in our community life.

But just in case we think this will be easy, Baha'u'llah still has many more warnings for us about the difficult times that await.
"A severe trial pursueth you, and will suddenly overtake you. Bestir yourselves, that haply it may pass and inflict no harm upon you."
"Bestir yourselves". He is telling us in clear terms that we have the option of putting the odds in our favor. Of course, it's not a guarantee, for the word "haply" reminds us of this, but still, it's better than nothing.

I am reminded of the 90 year-old guy who has smoked a pack of cigarettes and drunk a liter of whiskey every day for years, and then claims that it's not bad for you. Well, he may have lived to 90, but for every one of those guys there are hundreds or even thousands who died far earlier. Living a clean life doesn't guarantee you a long and healthy life; it just gives you better odds of having one.

"We have a fixed time for you, O peoples. If ye fail, at the appointed hour, to turn towards God, He, verily, will lay violent hold on you, and will cause grievous afflictions to assail you from every direction. How severe, indeed, is the chastisement with which your Lord will then chastise you!"
Note that He is not addressing individuals here. He says "O peoples". If we, as a people, do not turn towards God, then we are in big trouble, regardless of what may happen to us individually. Today it is very clear that as a society we have embraced greed and fanaticism, not to mention laziness and ignorance, and this is most definitely not what happens when we turn towards God. As we are clearly seeing, this can only lead us to "grievous afflictions".

"The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."
I am so captivated by that description, "lamentably defective". It is not only defective; it is lamentably so. Here in Canada, there was a lengthy study where they interviewed all out-going members of our Parliament. What they discovered was that the only problem that they had with the government was the party system. They said that it was this very party system, which is not part of our constitution, that was preventing good things from actually getting done. For these high-ranking members of government to say this, those who rode to power on the coattails of these very parties, really speaks volumes about how defective the current systems of governance are.

But Baha'u'llah is not only talking about the government. He is talking about the "prevailing order". As far as I can tell, this also refers to our banking systems, our methods of conducting business, our health systems, agriculture, and so on. I think He is referring to each and every system out there. But that's just my own take on it, for what that's worth.

"There is no place of refuge for you, no asylum to which ye can flee, no one to defend or to protect you in this Day from the fury of the wrath of God and from His vehement power, unless and until ye seek the shadow of His Revelation."
I can only think of that poor couple who wanted to go pioneering and "get away from it all". They wanted to pioneer to the most remote place they could think of, because they were trying to escape the impending convulsions. They chose the Falkland Islands, and got there literally months before the war broke out in the mid-80s.

The earth is a single place. We are causing severe imbalances in the entire system which is effecting every single place on the planet, from the deserts to the oceans, from the equatorial regions to the poles. Every culture on the planet is feeling the effect of our way of living. There truly is no place that we can go that is not being effected right now.

"The day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new world order in its stead."
It is not hopeless. It would be so easy to read all of these passages and just lie down in despair, but we know that this is not what will help. Baha'u'llah, of course, gives us the answer. If we are wondering what we can do, He tells us in no uncertain terms.
"...They who are the people of God must... be busied in whatever may be conducive to the betterment of the world and the education of its peoples."


  1. Blessed is the man whom the affairs of the world have failed to deter from recognizing Him Who is the Lord of all things (G:38).
    This, the sentence before, makes it all understandable. We who have not let the 'affairs of the world' affect us are those who recognize Baha'u'llah.
    The two paragraphs are about those with 'blind' hearts.
    Anon. because it is the words that, I hope, are valuable.

  2. Similar or worse atrocities occurred all throughout history. Although documentation is not perfect, there are some pretty horrid acts that surpass anything we hear about today. Everything else? Nothing new. Children have been killing children. Far greater controversies and occurrences have happened before of a "lie". You get the point, hopefully. It's been going on for all human history.

    So please, before you start hyping up current events as some sort of decline in human civilization, examine the past and the present. Today, far more positive events have happened in past century and this century. You just have to keep an open mind and not succumb to dogmatic doom and gloom.