Monday, April 23, 2012

Ridvan 2012, part 3

There is just so much to say about this message.

But first, I want to write a little bit about something that came up at our Ridvan celebration. My wife and I volunteered to organize all three Ridvan holy days in our community, the 1st, 9th and 12th. We chose as our theme roses. We decided to look at the first day in terms of roses and the individual. The 9th day will be about roses and the family, as well as relationships. The 12th day will be about roses, gardens and the community.

For the first day, I had a vague idea of what to share, but, as usual, allowed the spirit to take me where it would. I told a story about a man who loved roses, and wanted to grow them. He had a small cutting, and took great care of it, looking forward to the day when that beautiful flower would emerge. He watered it every day, gave it fertilizer, and kept it free from weeds and bugs. One day, as he was examining it, he noticed a bud that would soon blossom. In his excitement, he pricked his finger and began to bleed. "How", he wondered, "could such a thorny plant possibly produce a beautiful flower?" And with that thought, depression and sadness began to set in. He forgot to water it that day, and the next. Pretty soon it began to wilt. And that was when he realized what his neglect was doing. He soon began to water it again, and sure enough, a beautiful, fragrant rose blossomed, to his surprise and delight.

Baha'u'llah, I said, gave roses to all who visited the garden during that Ridvan time. And later, He gave the world the Baha'is. We are those roses that He gave to the world. And yes, we are beautiful and fragrant, and filled with thorns. There are times when we may look at each other and be concerned about bringing friends into the community, but that is only when we are seeing the thorns. We need, instead, to turn our eyes to the flower, and then the community will naturally grow.

This story was brought to mind again when I read this message. "To observe the Baha'i world at work", we are told, "is to behold a vista bright indeed." We are so fortunate to have this perspective from the World Centre, for quite often it seems as if we, in our own neighbourhood, are doing nothing. But that is just not the case. We are doing wonderful things, and it sometimes takes the World Centre to reflect that back to us.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ridvan 2012, part 2

Ahhh, that's much better. A good night's sleep makes the world a much more pleasant place to see. Perspective. It's all about perspective.

Aside: I had a beautiful dream last night in which I was riding a bike. My wife was sitting on the seat, and I was standing while pedaling. She was holding me tight around the waist, and leaned her body against my back in a full body hug, with her head resting there on one of my shoulder blades. I fell in love with her all over again, and just smiled as I woke to see her lying there in the sunlight.

Yeah, perspective.

You may remember a recent posting I put up about how the Bab says "...utterance is a manifestation of the reality of the one who uttereth, and a mirror that reflecteth that which is in his heart." Well, at the risk of jumping ahead, let me just point out that the Universal House of Justice, in this letter, does not really offer us guidance, as I mentioned yesterday. They offer us perspective.

It has occurred to me that, in a sense, they seem to be saying that we already know what we need to do. We are, in fact, doing it. Our actions are exactly what they should be. We are, at this very moment, right on course for helping create this new world that is coming into being.

But, by this understanding given to us by the Bab, if we elevate our perspective, we will be even more effective in what we are doing, because it is the perspective, or understanding, of the protagonist the increases in the efficacy of their actions.

In that first paragraph of this Ridvan message, the importance of action is stressed. In the second paragraph, it seems to me that the importance of perspective is given importance. "(C)an anyone claim", they ask "to have glimpsed anything but an intimation, distant and indistinct, of the future society to which the Revelation of Baha'u'llah is destined to give rise?" Do any of us have a clear and precise vision of where this is all going? The answer, of course, is no. We don't. They point out that very few at the time, or probably even today, could have begun to understood the grandeur of the vision offered by the Master when He said "the human world will adapt itself to a new social form" or that "the justice of God will become manifest throughout human affairs". Today, it is possible that we have a better understanding of some of these structures that need to fall, and why it is so important that the justice of God prevail. When we see corporations destroying the environment, and then buying up those very companies and labs that are supposed to be monitoring them and researching the damage done, we can see that there are problems with the systems. We can see that justice is not being upheld.

Today, we are at the very beginning of seeing all this.

By the time we get to the third paragraph, they mention some of the "well-intentioned individuals working to improve circumstances in society", and that for many the obstacles we are facing seem insurmountable. To me, and again, this is just my own understanding, given my own deficient perspective, the great effort of these individuals is just not enough. They're like band-aid solutions. They may help a bit, but they don't get to the root issues. In fact, here in paragraph 3, they talk about those "erroneous assumptions about human nature that so permeate" the world and all its structures and traditions. It is this incorrect presumption about human nature that makes the various problems we are facing seem insurmountable. but as soon as we correct these assumptions, then we also see the solutions more clearly. not perfectly, of course, but more clearly.

One thing they don't do is tell us what some of these assumptions are. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that viewing humanity as inherently evil, born with "original sin" that requires divine intervention to overcome, may be one of them. Another one that seems to be prevalent today is the idea that we are somehow inherently perfect, in no need of divine guidance, that we can do it all on our own. Both of these extremes are incorrect, while they each have a grain of truth within them. To me, this is just another sign that we are living in an age of extremes. At either end of this one spectrum we see humanity as either inherently evil or at the other end just like God. The truth seems to be that we are somewhere in the middle. We are not perfect, but have phenomenal potential, which can best be released through the study of divine guidance, and the striving to put it into action.

Another false assumption is the idea that humanity is a political creature, that all our actions can somehow be reduced to politics. Again, this is just not correct. It skews our perspective of ourselves, the importance of politics, and the possible solutions we can find.

I'm sure there are many other false assumptions about us, but those seem to be enough for now. They just clearly underline the reality pointed out by the Universal House of Justice; namely that the "state of the world reflects a distortion of the human spirit, not its essential nature."

By changing our perspective of how we see humanity, we change what we see ourselves as being capable of doing. The question, though, is how can we help change this perspective so that we ourselves have hope, as well as being able to convey that hope to others? I think the first is to make a commitment to developing our spiritual capacities so as to better be able to contribute to the process of societal change. (Yes, that's a paraphrase of that sentence in the third paragraph.)

You see, when we make that commitment, and strive to achieve it by engaging in the institute process, we can see more clearly how it is that we can take steps to effect this change. The more we do it, the more we see how to do it. And as we help others begin in this process, they, too, will begin to see those small changes in their own life. That simple invitation to a core activity, to actively work towards contributing to that process of societal change, all the while relying on the power of prayer, is akin to the Master's striking the hard earth with that axe. Although it may seem hard at first, either the act of inviting or the other person's sense of despair, those divine waters found within the sacred Writings will slowly permeate their heart, and "the flowers of true understanding" will begin to grow.

(And we're only at paragraph 3.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ridvan 2012, part 1

You knew it was coming, didn't you? I mean, every Ridvan it seems that I do a series of articles on the latest message. Why should this one be any different?

Well, it shouldn't.

And just to follow suit, this message blew me away. I mean, I'm in awe. It's incredible. And yes, I know I say that every year, but it's always true. Only this year, it's more so.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons. First, all the news about the Mashriqu'l-Adhkars. I truly never thought that I'd live to see the day where we'd be talking about actual, real, honest to goodness, true Mashriqu'l-Adhkars in local neighbourhoods. Sure, I thought I'd live to see a couple of national ones, but local ones? Never in my lifetime. It just goes to show you how much I underestimate this precious faith of ours.

The second thing that really blew me away was that there really isn't any guidance in it. They even say that, right there in paragraph 4: "So well have (the Plans) features been grasped that we feel no need to comment further on them here."

No need? Wow.

So, if there is no further guidance about the Plan, what do they do for four pages? What can they talk about for 11 paragraphs?

Well, dear Reader, let's look.

First of all, I'm presuming that you actually have a copy, that you've read it, and that you've already studied it on your own and with some friends. I would really hate to prejudice your reading of it, for then you might not share your own insights.

All that said, and the fact that is only my own understanding and nothing official, let's get into it.

In the first paragraph, they talk about the Master and how He broke the ground for the raising of the Temple  in North America, in Grosse Pointe, now Wilmette, Illinois. They say that He "lifted a workman's axe". He didn't lift a spade, a hoe, a shovel, or even just an axe; He lifted a workman's axe. To me, that adjective speaks volumes. He didn't just watch other people do it. He did it Himself. He got His hands dirty, so to speak.

Then, instead of merely doing it all on His own, He invited others to join Him, people from diverse backgrounds. He asked us all, through them, to help Him build this incredible project and see it through to completion.

This is the beginning. This is what the Universal House of Justice first draws to our attention, and it becomes a theme throughout the rest of this letter.

I'm going to leave it there for now, and continue this later. It's late. My belly is full, after a wonderful night of dinner with the family. And I'm ready for some serious sleep.

Happy Ridvan, all.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"A True Mean Appeareth Even as a Firmament"

I just love coincidences. (Of course, if you think about it, it only makes sense that a coincidence would be a coincidence. I mean, it just means that two events coincide, or occupy the same place in space, the same point or period in time, or the same relative position. Only later has it come to mean two events occurring merely by chance.)

But here I speak of having recently studied (a little bit) the Kitab-i-'Ahd, and written a (little bit) about it, and now taking Ruhi Book 8, in which we read and study (a bit) of said same Text. As you can imagine, I had a bit to say about it as we began going through it paragraph by paragraph (and sentence by sentence).

Now I get to share (or inflict) some of those thoughts with you, dear Reader.

What caught my attention when we went over it last night was a single line from paragraph 2:

In the eyes of the All-Merciful a true man appeareth even as a firmament; its sun and moon are his sight and hearing, and his shining and resplendent character its stars. His is the loftiest station, and his influence educateth the world of being.

My first thought on reading this was the idea of the sun and the moon being fasting and prayer, as Baha'u'llah references in the Kitab-i-Iqan. "In another sense, by the terms 'sun', 'moon', and 'stars' are meant such laws and teachings as have been established and proclaimed in every Dispensation, such as the laws of prayer and fasting." And again, "Moreover, in the traditions the terms "sun" and "moon" have been applied to prayer and fasting..."

But then I read it again, and realized that this didn't make too much sense. It does on one level, of course, but I thought I was missing something obvious.

Then I remembered something I had read in "Gate of the Heart", that book about the Writings of the Bab. In that book, the author points out that "the words that are uttered by the Manifestation are not the same words when uttered by anyone else, even if they appear to consist of exactly the same letters and signs. The words as spoken by the Manifestation inherently contain all the multitude of His intention, while those same words as spoken, and as understood, by a human being are representations limited to that individual speaker's level of understanding..."

In other words, two people can say exactly the same thing, but the impact of those words is enhanced by the understanding of the one speaking them, and their vision of what they convey, as opposed to the vision of the one hearing them. As the Bab says, "...utterance is a manifestation of the reality of the one who uttereth, and a mirror that reflecteth that which is in his heart."

So what does that thought have to do with this quote from the Kitab-i-Ahd? I'm glad you asked.

It seemed to me that one thing that Baha'u'llah was saying was that a "true man" is like the firmament, or dome of the sky, in that he seems to cover the earth like the firmament itself, embracing the planet with its dome and holding up the vault of the sky. The "true man" seems as if he is holding up the very sky of the religion itself.

And there, within that sky, are the sun and the moon and the stars. The sun, in this quote, is his very sight, his vision, his perspective of what is happening in the world, and how the world itself actually works. This man's vision casts a light on all things, illuminates them, and even brings life to what may seem a lifeless area.

The moon, in this incredible imagery, is like his hearing. It is illumined by the sun, by his perspective or vision, and casts its influence not only upon the waters, helping to keep them moving as the tides, but also through casting its own light in the dark of the night.

His hearing is an interesting thing, for it is not quite the same as his ability to listen to mere sound waves. It can include the interpretation he spins upon what it is that he listens to. The Master, for example, would often listen to rants or insults or even downright abuse, but He would hear the germ of truth within it, and expose that. He would listen to the most awful of things, and take no insult from it, choosing instead to honour the soul behind the words. Through His very reaction He would shine a light where there was, before, only darkness.

This man's character is likened to the stars, those points of light that used to guide the wayfarer at night. Today it seems to me that we often forget the power of the Pole Star, and the profound influence it had upon those who were travelling in days gone by, especially upon the sea. But here, as elsewhere in the Writings, remembering this can help us understand some of the metaphors that Baha'u'llah employs in His Writings.

As I re-read the Kitab-i-Ahd, yet again, this concept of doing all we can to ensure that there is no conflict or contention is arising in more and more places within this Text. In that second paragraph, He gives us some guidance about how to be that "true man", and gives us a glimpse of the effect we can have on the planet if we strive to attain that lofty station.

And coincidence of all coincidences is that I am reading this: I, who have such a long way to go on this journey. But at least He gives me a bit of hope by showing me some of the simple things I can to inch my way along that path. (Read paragraph 2 of the Kitab-i-Ahd if you want to see some of those steps for yourself.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fire and Water

Fire and water: They are often regarded as opposites, but are they? Really?

Look at it from the standpoint of physics: When a substance is at a low enough temperature, it is a solid. When we warm it up, it eventually hits the melting point and becomes a liquid. Right? If we heat it up even more, we eventually reach its boiling point and it becomes a gas. You with me so far? Then if you keep raising the temperature, eventually you will reach the point at which it will become a plasma, or fire.

You see? They are not really opposites. They are truly part of the same continuum. It is just a question of matter being at different states of existence.

"But what about water extinguishing fire?"

Yes, that's true, but why? It's because the water lowers the temperature below the burning point. The fire raises the temperature of the water, in turn lowering its own temperature, and if the substance gets cool enough, the fire goes out.

"Why are you mentioning this, fascinating as it is? What does it have to do with the Faith?"

I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader. A simple look in the Writings for fire and water produced some interesting quotes, and fun thoughts for me. One of them was the above. As for some of the other quotes, here they are.

First, 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "Water extinguishes fire in the same way that religious differences cause annihilation." If we see ourselves as the water, and the other person's love of their Faith as a fire, then our arguing with them can either lower the temperature of their fire and extinguish it, which would be a tragedy, or act like fuel and cause them to explode in the fire of fanaticism, which would also be a tragedy. Regardless of which way it goes, nothing good can come of it. It is as the Writings say: "If two souls quarrel and contend about a question of the Divine questions, differing and disputing, both are wrong."

Baha'u'llah says, "Let thy soul glow with the flame of this undying Fire that burneth in the midmost heart of the world, in such wise that the waters of the universe shall be powerless to cool down its ardor." To me, this speaks of the intensity of love that we should feel. While we all think that water will always put out a fire, that's not really true. There are many fires that burn hot enough that they can actually ignite the water. Even the sun burns so hot, and is so large, that a tiny bit of water won't actually extinguish it, but will instead become more fuel for it. This is how the petty arguments of others should effect us. (You know, I just typed in "otters" by accident. That gives a great image to my mind.)

It also call to mind that other famous quote: I know not, O my God, what the Fire is with which Thou didst light the Lamp of Thy Cause, or what the Glass wherewith Thou didst preserve it from Thine enemies. By Thy might! I marvel at the wonders of Thy Revelation, and at the tokens of Thy glory. I recognize, O Thou Who art my heart's Desire, that were fire to be touched by water it would instantly be extinguished, whereas the Fire which Thou didst kindle can never go out, though all the seas of the earth be poured upon it. Should water at any time touch it, the hands of Thy power would, as decreed in Thy Tablets, transmute that water into a fuel that would feed its flame.

The next quote that came up was "I know not what the water is with which Thou hast created me, or what the fire Thou hast kindled within me, or the clay wherewith Thou hast kneaded me." This is so beautiful in the context we're looking here. The imagery is so reminiscent of the Bab, where He says that the fire is within the water and the water is within the fire. It also brings to mind the image of ceramic to me, where the clay is malleable due to the water, and then, when exposed to the fire, become purified and more useful.

Then there is that passage from the Kitab-i-Iqan: Thus it is that outwardly such deeds and words are the fire of vengeance unto the wicked, and inwardly the waters of mercy unto the righteous.

Why would this be? How could the same thing be so different for different people? Again, I think of water. If your hands are cold and you put them under the warm water tap, it feels as if you're burning. But when your hands are warm, the hot water feels so good. In other words, "My will and the will of another than Me, even as fire and water, cannot dwell together in one heart." The heart is where it is, and the water from that tap can only feel hot or cold, not both at the same time. (I'm ignoring the idea of only part of the hand being cold.) Or, as He says in the Tablet of Ahmad, "Be thou as a flame of fire to My enemies and a river of life eternal to My loved ones..."

Anyways, this is all me just thinking a bit about a couple of words from the Writings, and taking a single concept and seeing where it goes.

Now, where does all this lead us? I think in a few different directions.

First of all, it is a reminder to not be that water that extinguishes the flame of love in another heart, or our own. There is so much in the Writings about being that source of encouragement, that well-spring of hope, that loving soul to whom others can turn in times of need. In this case, we can be the water that refreshes, but should be cautious not to be that water which extinguishes.

Second, I think it also allows us to use this as a tool, sort of like a thermometer. When we are teaching the Faith, sharing these beautiful ideas with others, we can see their reaction to better gauge how receptive they are to it. Do they jump back, as if it is burning them? Then we need to tone it down. Do they respond positively to these ideas? Then we should give them some more, but not so much as to drown them.

Finally, I see this all as confirming the idea that we are all on the same path to the same Creator. We are all just at different points on it. Although fire and water appear to be different things, they are in reality the same thing: matter. They are just at different states in their existence. One is a liquid, the other a plasma. Is one better than the other? I don't think so. But they do have different attributes. They are used for different things.

I think people are like this, too. While we may all be on the same path, we're not at the same point. We are sometimes at very different points. If we want to be more effective at teaching the Faith, sharing this incredible vision of Baha'u'llah's, then I think we need to recognize this, and be respectful of where everyone is. We also need to recognize what their skills and talents are and use them appropriately.

After all, I'd hate to use a cup of fire to try and quench my thirst, or a bit of water to light my way.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Body Art

"What about body art?"

Well, that's not quite the question that came in, but is really just the essence of it. How do we feel about body art within the Baha'i Faith?

Now you may remember, dear Reader, an article I did a while ago called Show it to Me, in which I talk a little bit about tattoos, and how many in the Baha'i community think they're not allowed. As you know, it's just a myth. Nothing has been found banning tattoos in the Writings.

There is, however, at least one quote from Baha'u'llah that offers us guidance on this issue. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas He says, "...make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant." This is the quote hat many have offered me when I have asked about the tattoo issue. As you may note, though, it doesn't say anything about  tattoos, and I therefore think that the connection between the two is personal interpretation.

Aside: That extract is very interesting to me, because it comes in a very odd place. Here is the full paragraph:

It hath been forbidden you to carry arms unless essential, and permitted you to attire yourselves in silk. The Lord hath relieved you, as a bounty on His part, of the restrictions that formerly applied to clothing and to the trim of the beard. He, verily, is the Ordainer, the Omniscient. Let there be naught in your demeanour of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant. Well is it with him who hath adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character. He is assuredly reckoned with those who aid their Lord through distinctive and outstanding deeds.
So what does all this tell me about body art?

Not much yet.

I guess the first thing is that it warns us to not be silly with how we dress, not to fall for the lure of what is popular in society at the moment. I mean, let's look at it another way. How often have we laughed at the pictures of the people in times gone by who were wearing those shoes that were ridiculously long and had the curling toes? Those things were nothing more than fashion designers having a laugh and trying to con the rich out of money, all in the name of fashion. How many of us had a snicker at the outfits our parents wore long before we were born? (Sorry Mom, but its true.) Do we really want to be in that position with our own kids?

I think the basic principle here is to be moderate. Moderation in all things, remember?

But then there is another point that must be made. Over and over again in the Writings we read that God does not really care what our skin colour is, or our gender, or anything else except our heart. In the Kitab-i-Iqan, He says, "The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit." They don't depend on our hair style, or the colour of our eyes.

I like to think of it as a gift. The purity of our heart is like a gift that we offer to God. How we dress, what our racial background is, how we style our hair: these are all the gift wrapping.

We know that when we give a gift to someone we love, we want to wrap it nicely so that they can appreciate the care we put into it, but in the end that the gift wrapping is secondary to the gift itself. And after the gift is opened, we won't really give much more thought to it.

This is what I think about body art: I love it. I appreciate it. There are many fine examples of it that I truly admire. But in the end, it's just wrapping for the soul that is contained within.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Invitation to Enroll

"How can we invite people to join the community without feeling like we are imposing on them?"

Ah yes, that is actually one of my favorite questions. Thanks for asking.

There are some interesting underlying assumptions with that question. The first is that of proselytism. As you know, proselytism is not allowed within the Baha'i community, and many of us have used that as an excuse to not teach the Faith, whether or not we have meant to. To quickly counteract that argument, before it is even launched, let's look at a definition of what "proselytism" is. While some use the simplistic definition of "making a convert", found at such sites as, I think we can safely presume that this is not what is meant. The deeper meaning, and you have to go to more comprehensive dictionaries than are generally found on that site, is that of applying pressure on someone to convert, either through promises of reward or, more likely, threat of punishment. As the Universal House of Justice has said, "The aggressive proselytism that had characterized efforts in ages past to promote the cause of religion is declared to be unworthy of the Day of God."

Another way of phrasing this is that you can't bribe people into becoming Baha'i, for that isn't pure, nor can you threaten them with Hell if they don't, for that isn't true.

Instead, when teaching the Faith we should "Show forbearance", in the words of Baha'u'llah, "and benevolence and love to one another. Should any one among you be incapable of grasping a certain truth, or be striving to comprehend it, show forth, when conversing with him, a spirit of extreme kindliness and good-will...." In other words, we should help people to be attracted to the Faith. We should strive to draw them closer, and not try to push them into it.

There is much in the Writings about how to teach, and I'm not going to go into it here, for I'm sure you are far more versed in these points than I am. Instead, let's jump forward in the teaching process to the question itself. We're going to presume that the individual you have been teaching is attracted to the Faith, has fallen in love with Baha'u'llah, and has recognized that He has, in fact, been sent by God to us for this age.

Now what?

Well, the first question that comes to my mind is, "Do they need to enroll?" You see, we have to ask ourselves this before the question of how to help them enroll is even important. The question is, quite simply, is it important for someone who has recognized Baha'u'llah to enroll? I would say yes, it is. You see, the premise here is that the individual in question already recognizes Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God. If they don't, then the question of enrolling is moot. They should not, for being a Baha'i (or more particularly, a member of the Baha'i community) means that you recognize Baha'u'llah as this Messenger, are striving to be obedient to both His laws and the institutions of the Faith.

If the person is past all this, and already recognizes Him, then it seems to me that they would want to help establish His community, which you cannot as readily do if you are not part of it. How often have I heard of those who love the faith, recognize Baha'u'llah, but don't want to commit, and then go out and teach? Those who are being taught often ask them why, if the Faith is so great, aren't they a member? By consciously joining, you are able to lend a greater share to the building of this new World Order, the one outlined by Baha'u'llah, not the one hollowly spoken of by many politicians. You are also able to receive the confirmation from those marvelous helpers of all of us, the Concourse on High.

Ok. Now that they recognize, and we understand the importance of enrolling, how do we invite people to enroll without overstepping boundaries? Well, that was the initial question, wasn't it?

This, to me, is not really much of a problem. I mean, let's put it into another context. How would feel about asking someone to go for coffee? Would we be concerned that they might be offended?

"Hey, do you want to go for coffee?" "Oh, I can't believe you just asked me that. I've never been so insulted in my life. How dare you? Don't you know that I don't drink coffee? I only drink tea. I am so offended."

Yeah, that just doesn't sound like it would really happen, does it? I'm sure the person, even if they are an avid tea drinker, would recognize the loving intention.

"Want to go for coffee?" "Sure, I'd love to. I'll order a chai latte." "Chai? Heathen. I'm never asking you for coffee again."

Alright. Just joking.

But seriously, why would we be concerned that someone might get offended at a loving invitation? "Would you like to be a member of the Baha'i community?" That's really all it is. If they already recognize Baha'u'llah, and are striving to put into practice His laws and teachings, what more is there?

I think the real issue is not concern about imposing on others, but our own fear of impure intentions. Why are we asking them to enroll? Is it so that we can brag about having taught someone? Or is it to see them take the next step on their own path towards their Creator? Obviously the latter.

As with all aspects of teaching, the problem is never the other person, but our own fears and insecurities. If we truly listen to the other person, then we will see when they are either willing or eager to take that next step, and really, it has nothing to do with us, but is all about the other person.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"The Gate of the Heart"

I'm finally sitting down and reading a book I've had on the shelf for awhile: The Gate of the Heart, Understanding the Writings of the Bab, by Nader Saiedi.

Before I tell you anything about it, even though I'm sure you've already read it, dear Reader, I want to say that it is brilliant. It completely changes the way I read the Writings of the Bab. Well, that's not quite true. It doesn't really change it. It enhances it.

One of the things that attracted me to the book in the first place was the back cover. In the reviews on the back someone said, "Written in a clear and engaging style..." And to that reviewer, I would like to say, in all sincerity, "Poppycock."

This is not to take away from the brilliance of the work, for I have never read a study of the Writings like this one, and am astonished at the ingeniousness (is that the correct term here?) of it. But "clear"? I don't think so. "Engaging"? Maybe. But let me tell you, it's a real slog to try and get through it. And I don't think this is a fault of the author, not at all. It is a very difficult thing that he is doing, and quite near impossible to do it in layman terms. Despite my lack of a doctoral degree, I am loving this book. There are many fascinating ideas in it, and many things I hope to share, in my own inadequate and personal sort of way.

When I was talking about this book with a friend of mine, they asked me what I meant by difficult language. My response? (I was proud of it.) I said that in the introduction, it would say something like, "When discussing hermeneutics, your pedagogical perspective will often unduly influence your theological conclusions."

Ok, not quite. But here is an example from the introduction: "While modernist Islam is more flexible in adopting some superficial elements of modern culture, it has never questioned the fundamental premises of the traditionalistic model." And that, dear Reader, was honestly and truly taken at random.

So what is it that the author is trying to say? Quite a lot, and I'm only going to choose one thing that struck me.

Early on, in the intro, he talks about the perception of religion that many people have. He says that fundamentalists, and here I read "fanatics", believe that religion is eternal and unchanging. They see religion as something that is eternal, and the particular Words they read as never being altered in any way whatsoever. This view will, naturally, lead to conflict between the various religions.

He then goes on to point out that sociologists of religion tend to see religion as something that is born out of culture and has no connection to the divine, or spiritual. This, too, he says, will lead to conflict as there is no point of connection between them, since the cultures are all separate from each other.

What the Bab does in His Writings is bring these two points together. He says that the religions arose from the interaction of the Word of God and the culture in which it was revealed. He says that yes, the Word is eternal and unchanging, but that this Word is not the same as the written texts of the various Faiths. This Word, which I presume is the same as found referenced in the beginning of the Gospel of John, is that which inspires the Messengers and is contained in Their vision, which is not necessarily the same as that which is understood by Their followers. In other words, the Word is eternal, but the words used to try and convey it are not. These words are filtered through the culture in which they are expressed.

There is a passage from Baha'u'llah, which I naturally cannot find right now (I can't quite come up with a keyword for a search) (but I'm sure some kind reader will send it to me in a comment, so check below for the reference), in which He says that the Faith is akin to the result of His being impregnated with the divine Spirit. He is like the mother that is giving birth to the religion.

The Bab's introduction of this unity of perspectives opened the gate (yes, I know) for Baha'u'llah to further expound the idea of true unity.

So, how does all this help me in my daily life? (I mean, I'm not likely to experience that impregnation, so I have to find relevance on another level, right?)


When I'm sharing the ideas of the Faith with others, this is another tool that I can use. God saw that this concept was so important that it was revealed in a religion on its own. It was a vital step leading up to the advent of Baha'u'llah. Without this concept, the path leading us from Jesus to Baha'u'llah would be interrupted. It had to go from Jesus to Muhammad, and then to the Bab, before culminating in the Revelation of the Blessed Beauty.

When I am teaching the Faith, it is quite probable that the person with whom I am talking will be stuck in this dichotomy of thinking of religion as either unchangeable or merely cultural. What the Bab did was show me how to take them to the next step in preparation for hearing about Baha'u'llah's teachings. Of course, not everyone will need this, for many accept the idea of the oneness of religion when they first hear about it. but for those who don't, for those who are really stuck in this battle between differing faiths, this is a very important tool to have in our teaching handbook.

Now I can't wait to get to the rest of the book, presuming I can figure out what it is he's trying to say. Then again, I guess it's what I should have expected. It is published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, a good university press if there ever was one.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Gift of Life

How would you respond to this situation?

Before I describe it, let me point out three things:

First, as you may know, I am a big fan of marriage. I think the public declaration of marriage is marvelous thing, and generally far more important to building healthy communities than cohabitation. As usual, this is only my own opinion, and I don't impose it on anyone else. I have many friends who are not married, but consider themselves as being in lifelong relationships, and that's good enough for me. After all, it's their life, and their view is the one that matters there.

Secondly, I think sex is also great. (I'm not a prude, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.) But I believe that sex should be within the bounds of marriage. To me, it is a great way to enhance intimacy within a relationship, and helps bring two souls ever closer together.

Finally, I think that kids are an absolute treasure. "Children are", in the words of the Universal House of Justice, "the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. They bear the seeds of the character of future society which is largely shaped by what the adults constituting the community do or fail to do with respect to children. They are a trust no community can neglect with impunity."

That being said, I have had a lot of friends in recent days call to say that they are pregnant. Now this may not seem like any cause for anything other than rejoicing, but most of them are not married, and this has made me think a lot about these issues in recent days.

I know that many fundamentalists would condemn these people, and consider their children to be somehow less "worthy" for being created outside of the bonds of matrimony. There are some very dear friends who were kicked out of their communities for having children out of wedlock. This, to me, is just ridiculous.

But what would you say to someone who is going to have a baby without the safety net, if you will, of a healthy marriage?

Me? I think that my personal view is irrelevant. It is not my life, and nobody else is bound to live by my particular moral view.

I am so happy for the mother. And the child. When I offer my congratulations, it is both sincere and heartfelt.

When I say a prayer for both of them, that prayer is both sincere and heartfelt.

When I say how excited I am to be able to meet and greet this new soul when they are born into this world, that, too, is both heartfelt and sincere.

But I am also a little concerned.

I think that when you are pregnant and not married, you run into three possible situations:
1. The mother is unsupported without the father in the situation
2. You rush into marriage, or some other form of a life-long commitment, without investigating character, and are badly hurt
3. You marry (or... see above) and get lucky.

But I am not going to go into this at the time of hearing about the wonderful gift of life that has just been bestowed upon the lucky family. No. Instead, I will do whatever I can to assist them falling into that third category. I will talk with them about the wonderful responsibility of having a child, and the tools Marielle and I used, and continue to use, with Shoghi. I will also help them find the resources for creating and sustaining a healthy relationship, as well as offer whatever assistance I can in helping them identify and achieve their own goals.

Of course, this is what Marielle I do whenever we hear of any friends getting married, so the issue of... issue... isn't an issue.