Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Pen of Glory

I went to a used bookstore the other day, which isn't really all that unusual.

Aside - There's a bookstore in town here called Russell's Books, and I just love them. It's huge, with really friendly staff, and lots of books. Their selection is excellent, and they have a lot of books. Now, to be fair, it's not as huge as Blackwell's in Oxford, which always reminds me Dante's description of Hell in the way that it's lower levels are laid out (seriously, descending concentric rings of shelves), nor is it as gigantic as that 3 or 4 story used bookstore I went to in... I think it was Milwaukee. But Russell's is awesome. That's the place I went to when I sold the cases of books I had no interest in reading again. Anyways I went there the other day to look around and use a bit of my credit there. (Did I mention they have a lot of books?)

Anyways I went to a used bookstore the other day and found 2 books of Baha'u'llah's Writings. They're of that new variety from Baha'i Publishing, the US imprint, that are designed for sale in regular bookstores. They're just beautiful little paperback editions.

Anyways, one of them is called Pen of Glory. I can't remember the name of the other one, but it's a reprint of Tablets of Baha'u'llah.

So there I was, grabbing a couple of these little treasures to bring back to my community and put in my little Baha'i bookstore (I sell used Baha'i books) (just in case you need any), and they ended up sitting in a pile waiting to go into stock.

And then my wife saw them.

She picked up Pen of Glory and said that it looked neat. It looked like it would be fun to read, as she thought she had never read it before.

Having seen to other one, I said, "Oh, it's just a reprint of some previously published stuff. I'm sure you've read it."

Wrong. (Well, I thought I was wrong, but I just double checked, and it turns out I was right.) (No matter. I'll just continue anyways.)

Pen of Glory is a selection of pieces by Baha'u'llah written in response to questions by people of other faiths. it includes Gems of Divine Mysteries, and parts of Tabernacle of Unity. Now I've read both of these, but it turns out that I need to read them again, for I had completely forgotten one little gem in there: Tablet of the Seven Questions. (It turns out that this is published in Tabernacle, and I had just forgotten.)

Anyways, enough of that. The Tablet of the Seven Questions. What a remarkable little piece.

I read a bit of it to Marielle last night and we talked for quite some time about it.

The first question the man asked Baha'u'llah was, "In what tongue and towards what direction doth it behoove us to worship the one true God?"

As you can imagine, this was a big question for many people. Jews say Hebrew and towards Jerusalem. Muslims say Arabic and towards Mecca. Others say other things. There are so many claiming that their way, their words, their language, their choice of direction is best.

And this man wants to know the truth. Which is best?

Baha'u'llah, as you would expect, cuts away all the extra stuff and gets right to the point. You may think at first that He is not answering the question, but in fact He is answering the real question.

So what does He say?

"The beginning of all utterance is the worship of God, and this followeth upon His recognition. Sanctified must be the eye if it is to truly recognize Him, and sanctified must be the tongue if it is to befittingly utter His praise. In this day the faces of the people of insight and understanding are turned in His direction; nay every direction inclineth itself towards Him. O lion-hearted one! We beseech God that thou mayest become a champion in this arena, arise with heavenly power and say: 'O high priests! Ears have been given you that they may hearken unto the mystery of Him Who is the Self-Dependent, and eyes that they may behold Him. Wherefore flee ye? The Incomparable Friend is manifest. He speaketh that wherein lieth salvation. Were ye, O high priests, to discover the perfume of the rose garden of understanding, ye would seek none other but Him, and would recognize, in His new vesture, the All-Wise and Peerless One, and would turn your eyes from the world and all who seek it, and would arise to help Him.'"

In one sense, He seems to be saying that the actual words and direction don't really matter. What counts is our heart. Whatever language we speak, whatever words we choose to utter, they are the best if our heart, our thoughts, our intention is sincere.

There is another thing, too. "The beginning of all utterance is the worship of God". It seems to me that He is reminding us that language itself is founded upon the worship of God. It is for this reason that we communicate. All aspects of our society find their root in a gift from a Manifestation, so why should language be any different. As with all gifts, though, we need to use it, practice with it, and raise to the highest level we can.

Aside: When someone tells me that my artistic talent is a gift from God, I agree. But then, I ask, what is their gift from God? I have worked very hard to develop this gift to the best of my ability. Getting this gift is meaningless if I don't practice and use it and develop it. Most people I meet also have a similar gift from God, but they never use it. They squander it, or don't believe in it. They let it go to waste, or use it frivolously.

Back to the Tablet.

It's a great little piece

There are seven questions, as I'm sure you've guessed. And He continually uses the questions to tell the reader to move their love, more their intention and devotion into the arena of service.

Just look at that first question again. He answers the true question, and then finishes with "arise to help Him". Like the artistic "gift from God", it does no good if the individual doesn't use it. Our faith, our belief, our love for God is useless if we don't use it.

That, to me, is much of the wisdom of the Pen of Glory.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Interfaith and "God Passes By"

I'm still reading God Passes By. During the summer months, when I'm selling my artwork, I don't have as much time to read as I would like. But then again, I never have as much time to read as I would like.

I got to page 100, where he is now beginning to talk about Baha'u'llah and how He received His Revelation. Before he does that, however, he writes briefly about some of the various titles and prophecies regarding Baha'u'llah from other faith traditions.

Aside: When I say "briefly", we have to remember that this is Shoghi Effendi. I absolutely love to read his writings, and especially love his use of the English language, but "brief" is truly a relative term here. I am convinced that at some point in the future people will begin using the term "Effendian" as an adjective describing the ability to go on for pages and pages to describe something with absolute precision, perfect use of the language and without being repetitive. Just the other night, as I was lying down reading this book, my wife came up to me to ask me a deep philosophical / spiritual question. I asked her if I could finish the paragraph first, before answering. But then I looked to see how much more I had to read. I was at the top left hand corner of the left hand page, and noticed that the paragraph didn't break on either of the two pages I could see. So I turned the page. And turned it again, still looking for the end of the paragraph. I decided to put the book down rather than try to finish that one "brief" paragraph. (And all of you who have read the Guardian's writings know exactly what I mean.)

Then, just after he shares a bit about the magnificence of this Revelation, as attested by all these other sacred Texts, he clarifies something, something very important. He tries to ensure that we do not become fanatical. He doesn't mince words, and points out what should be obvious in that first phrase, but goes on to remind us all of the extreme importance of honouring and respecting all other faith traditions. (At least that's how I read it, and this is, after all, only my own personal opinion.)

He says, and I put it into point format to make it more obvious at a casual read, that "the Revelation identified with Bahá'u'lláh

  • abrogates unconditionally all the Dispensations gone before it, 
  • upholds uncompromisingly the eternal verities they enshrine, 
  • recognizes firmly and absolutely the Divine origin of their Authors, 
  • preserves inviolate the sanctity of their authentic Scriptures, 
  • disclaims any intention of lowering the status of their Founders or of abating the spiritual ideals they inculcate, 
  • clarifies and correlates their functions, 
  • reaffirms their common, their unchangeable and fundamental purpose, 
  • reconciles their seemingly divergent claims and doctrines, 
  • readily and gratefully recognizes their respective contributions to the gradual unfoldment of one Divine Revelation, 
  • unhesitatingly acknowledges itself to be but one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations, 
  • supplements their teachings with such laws and ordinances as conform to the imperative needs, and are dictated by the growing receptivity, of a fast evolving and constantly changing society, 
  • and proclaims its readiness and ability to fuse and incorporate the contending sects and factions into which they have fallen into a universal Fellowship, functioning within the framework, and in accordance with the precepts, of a divinely conceived, a world-unifying, a world-redeeming Order."
12 points, each of which is worthy of an article on its own.

It's interesting that he begins by saying that the Baha'i Faith annuls all previous faiths, not just the laws. He seems to me to really be striving to show the independent nature of the Baha'i Faith, and helping the Baha'is realize that they cannot, in all sincerity, retain membership in another church group. This was a serious concern at the time. There were many who wanted to be Baha'i, and yet still be identified as members of another religion, too, usually for social purposes. Once again he is saying that this is not possible. And while we should freely associate with all, honour and respect the various faiths, we should not consider ourselves, nor let others mistakenly consider us, as part of another faith while being Baha'i.

Then, as soon as he says that, he immediately points out that we fully agree with those eternal truths that are to be found in all religions. They are not only found in our own faith, as has been taught by some leaders of a few other religions, but are found in all of them. They all come from God, and they all contain truths by which we can grow and learn.

Once he points that out, he then goes on to say that all the Founders of the various religions come from God. We cannot deny it, nor would we want to. Instead, we are to firmly and absolutely uphold it. If a member of one religion slams the Founder of another, we are to arise to Their defense. If a Christian insults Muhammad, or a Muslim insults the Buddha, we should uphold the dignity of both of those Manifestations of God. No matter who is doing the insulting, and no matter which Messenger of God is being insulted, we recognize them all, and uphold Their station.

Beyond upholding the Station of the Manifestations, we also recognize the divine origin of each and every sacred Scripture. I will defend the Bible as the Word of God just as readily as I will defend the divine origin of the Qur'an, the Upanishads, the Bahagavad Gita, the Zenda Vesta, and so forth. They have all contributed to the betterment of the world and the growth of humankind.

He reminds us that we do not try to lower the station of any of those Messengers, but rather raise the awareness all of Them to that high station to which They belong. We do not deride any of Their messages, but recognize the spiritual ideals found in all of Their teachings.

The next five points all overlap in my own mind. By looking at all of the religions as one continual unfoldment of truth from a divine Source, many things become clearer. The history of religion suddenly makes sense, rather than looking like the confused jumble it can sometimes seem to be. The differences between the laws of the different faiths now makes sense, based on the time in history and geographic location in which they were revealed. And most importantly, it changes our perception of each of these Faiths, including the Baha'i Faith, from appearing like the final culmination of a sequence into a link of that chain of revelations that is connecting all of human history together.

But then, just in case we want to take refuge in laws that may be outdated for our needs today, claiming some sort of absolute finality for them, the Guardian gives us a point of reference. You see, as is often obvious from a study of religious history, we humans have often modified our understanding of these laws to suit our needs or desires, or perhaps even whims. We only need to look at those who try to use the Bible or the Qur'an to justify the killing of others. Here, Shoghi Effendi reminds us that Baha'u'llah, while abrogating all the laws of previous Dispensations, has also clarified their intention for us. And remember, the laws of the Baha'i Faith are only for Baha'is, those who have recognized Baha'u'llah and have agreed to partake in His Covenant. Baha'u'llah has looked at all previous laws and teachings, seen our understanding, or misunderstanding, of them, gauged our needs, and either clarified teachings for us, or given us new laws to suit the desperate needs of today.

Finally, Shoghi Effendi sets our sight towards the future. He reminds us that the teachings of Baha'u'llah can help us to clarify the teachings of other Dispensations, without ever denying their validity, and, in fact, proclaiming their truth, while still working within the framework of the World Order of Baha'u'llah. We are the peacemakers.

For those who still follow Jesus, we help shed light on those beautiful teachings that He gave the world. For those who follow Muhammad, we can help give a fresh perspective on the teachings and laws of that divine Luminary. All the great religions of the world are true and beautiful, and every one of them can come into a sharper focus when seen through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings.

This is some of what I get out of this particular paragraph, and why I am so grateful to be reading this incredible look at the first century of the Baha'i Era.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Obstacles on road to a better life through religion

When I was a young teen, I decided to go church-hopping, checking out all the various churches in the area. It was wonderful. There were some fantastic Bible studies, many great people and lots to learn....

To read the rest of this article, please go to the Times Colonist web-site, here:

Friday, July 20, 2012

History in the Making

There are so many things I want to write, and so many ideas I want to share. As usual, though, time is against me. I've been working on collecting stories of individual's encounters with the Hands of the Cause, as well as making my jewelry and artwork to try and earn a living. During the summer months, this latter task takes a lot more time. In addition to all this, my son is off school right now, so I want to spend more time with him, too.

Something had to fall by the wayside, and it was this blog.

Sorry about that, dear Reader.

While there were lots of ideas that have been percolating in my brain, I felt I had to toss this one out, as it is most fresh.

I have just finished reading a most incredible series of books, and the problem with finishing a great series is "What now?" Well, I decided to put down fiction for a bit and grabbed a copy of God Passes By that just happened to be sitting in a pile next to my computer. Why that one? No idea. It was just there, and seemed like a good one to pick up again.

Then I read the first paragraph. Not the forward or the introduction. For some reason I skipped those this time around. The first paragraph.

And something struck me: the superlatives. (I think that would make a great name for a Motown band.)

Shoghi Effendi uses superlatives in a most... superlative sort of way. It reminded me of David Hofman's talks about how the Guardian used superlatives. (I sure wish I could find one of those and listen to it again, but, alas, YouTube has let me down.)

Now, before I go into that paragraph, let me just say that there are two ways that I figure people can read it. First, they can think that he is way over the top and making ridiculously exaggerated claims. Most, I would guess, would see it that way.

The second way would be to ask, "What if he's right?" What if he's not speaking in hyperbole? What if it really is an accurate assessment?

I will not presume to tell you, dear Reader, which way you should read it, but let me just say that, after much study and heartfelt prayer, I find the latter to be more accurate. And that is the perspective from which I am writing.

In this singular paragraph, Shoghi Effendi makes some astounding claims, which he proceeds to back up in the rest of that book, the only book he ever felt he needed to take the time to write. (All of his other "books" were actually letters that were compiled into books.)

If you want, you can skip all the way to the bottom and read the paragraph in full, but I want to pull out just a few of the phrases that caught my eye, those that express those superlatives, and how it influences my life (or at least my perspective).

He talks about the "most turbulent period" that opened " the most glorious epoch in the greatest cycle" in the spiritual history of humanity. He describes these 9 short years of the Bab's ministry as the "most spectacular", the "most tragic", and the "most eventful". Even given all of this, he says that it culminated with the hint of a Revelation "more potent".

Throughout the entire book he uses superlatives such as this to emphasize, and re-emphasize, his point. And what is his point? That this is not just another history book, nor are we reading about just another point in the on-going story of humanity. This is one of those rare moments in the entire span of time that humanity has been here on this planet that God has touched us with a single point of His wisdom and love. But more importantly, the Guardian shows us by the end of this epic tale that we, too, are an integral part of this story. These great heroic deeds which he has set down for all time are still going on today. Although his book finishes in the 1940's, for that is when he had the opportunity to sit down and write it (remember, he was effectively cut off from most of the Baha'i world at that time due to the Second World War) (which was, coincidentally enough just in time for the centenary of the Declaration of the Bab), the real story is still being written in our deeds today. It wasn't until well after that book came out that we saw the naming of those priceless souls as Knights of Baha'u'llah, those stalwart individuals who arose to be the first to pioneer in certain places around the globe. And it wasn't until after that book came out that we saw the first contingent of Hands of the Cause named.

Make no mistake, dear Reader, we are still living in the time of historical deeds. And Shoghi Effendi is giving us just a little peek at how future generations will see us.

When I was a child, even up until my late teens, I so longed to have lived at the time of Moses or Jesus, and been witness to all those things I read about in the Bible. Can you imagine what it must have been like to have seen Moses part the waters? Or to have been one of those who ate of the loaves of bread or the fish that Jesus multiplied? Can we even begin to imagine what it must have been like to have heard His sermon on the Mount?

Shoghi Effendi is telling us that we can. Right now. Today.

Those stories that he recounts in this book, God Passes By, are so near to us. While the time of the Bab may be a bit beyond our personal reach, I myself have met people who met people who saw Baha'u'llah. I knew a man who, as a child, sat on the Master's lap. I know a few individuals who had the bounty of meeting of the Guardian. And I myself actually met some of the Hands of the Cause. I even gave a ride to a Knight of Baha'u'llah from her home to a conference many hours away. These are the things that those Baha'i children of the future will only dream about.

By accepting the Guardian's superlatives as accurate, and not as hyperbole, I find that I see myself as living in  the very next chapter of the story that he is writing. I see those great deeds that were performed such a short time ago, and find myself longing to perform similar deeds that will be worthy of being written down just a few pages later.

When I pass away, (many years from now, I hope), I want my son to be able to look at his children and say, "Yeah, that was my Dad. He was the first Baha'i in our family, and worked for the Baha'i World Congress in 1992. He was one of those who studied the entire Ruhi sequence during that first intensive campaign in Canada. And we were there when our cluster moved from being a few Baha'is scattered in their activities to the blossoming, vibrant community you see today." I hope to be able to do some deeds that may be worth his telling his children and grandchildren about, and that he, too, will perform deeds that his descendants will talk about. For we are the first Baha'is in our family: my wife and I, and our little son, Shoghi. We are living history, creating history, right now.

It may not be as bloody, nor as turbulent, as that which the Guardian describes in those opening pages, but it is still significant and worthy of note. And we need to perform such deeds as may be worthy of these pages.

* * * * *

May 23, 1844, signalizes the commencement of the most turbulent period of the Heroic Age of the Bahá'í Era, an age which marks the opening of the most glorious epoch in the greatest cycle which the spiritual history of mankind has yet witnessed. No more than a span of nine short years marks the duration of this most spectacular, this most tragic, this most eventful period of the first Bahá'í century. It was ushered in by the birth of a Revelation whose Bearer posterity will acclaim as the "Point round Whom the realities of the Prophets and Messengers revolve," and terminated with the first stirrings of a still more potent Revelation, "whose day," Bahá'u'lláh Himself affirms, "every Prophet hath announced," for which "the soul of every Divine Messenger hath thirsted," and through which "God hath proved the hearts of the entire company of His Messengers and Prophets." Little wonder that the immortal chronicler of the events associated with the birth and rise of the Bahá'í Revelation has seen fit to devote no less than half of his moving narrative to the description of those happenings that have during such a brief space of time so greatly enriched, through their tragedy and heroism, the religious annals of mankind. In sheer dramatic power, in the rapidity with which events of momentous importance succeeded each other, in the holocaust which baptized its birth, in the miraculous circumstances attending the martyrdom of the One Who had ushered it in, in the potentialities with which it had been from the outset so thoroughly impregnated, in the forces to which it eventually gave birth, this nine-year period may well rank as unique in the whole range of man's religious experience. We behold, as we survey the episodes of this first act of a sublime drama, the figure of its Master Hero, the Báb, arise meteor-like above the horizon of Shiraz, traverse the sombre sky of Persia from south to north, decline with tragic swiftness, and perish in a blaze of glory. We see His satellites, a galaxy of God-intoxicated heroes, mount above that same horizon, irradiate that same incandescent light, burn themselves out with that self-same swiftness, and impart in their turn an added impetus to the steadily gathering momentum of God's nascent Faith.

Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 1

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The R Word

Just in case you want to read it, here is my latest article published in my local newspaper: http://blogs.timescolonist.com/2012/07/07/the-r-word/