Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kevin

When I was in Winnipeg the other day, I met up with my dear friend Kevin. I truly love this guy. If anyone besides my wife would be considered one of my best friends, it would be Kevin. (I think I can safely say these things here for I do not believe he actually reads this. His attention is elsewhere.) (And if he does happen to read this, then he will appreciate the joke in that last sentence.) Anyways, suffice it to say that we seem to really enjoy our sparse time together.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, or who have taken the time to read previous articles, let me put a few puzzle pieces together for you. Kevin is the one who shared with me his understanding of the Book of Revelation, and to whom I asked why God changed His style in the middle.

Oops. Maybe I never published that story. I just checked for it to see if I could link it here, but could not find it.

Oh well. No time like the present.

Aside: Hey! Guess what? I am going to share a story here about my friend Kevin. (And that just gave me the title of this article.) In fact, I think I will share a number of stories about him, just for fun. (Now I really hope he does not read this.)

I first met Kevin because his girlfriend at the time wanted to learn to make chain-mail. After just a few minutes, he and I quickly discovered our mutual love of science fiction, fantasy and religion. (They do seem to go together, don`t they?) He found in me a willing, even eager, audience to hear his understanding of the Book of Revelation. As you may know, I love to hear what other people understand about religion and talk about their ideas. (If you ever want me to treat you to a cup of coffee, or tea, just approach me with the promise of a conversation like that.)

We set aside a time to get together which was dedicated to his telling me that story, that of Revelation. He said it would take a few hours. I could not imagine time better spent.

When I got to his place, he seemed a bit surprised that I had with me 3, I think, translations of the Bible. I wanted to be able to follow along, but was also prepared to ask questions for clarification regarding possible differences in translation. It never hurts to be prepared, no matter how open you are.

He made coffee, and began to go through the Book. Chapter by chapter, verse by verse, he proceeded to unfold before my eyes what would amount to a beautiful and highly exciting science fiction movie. You only need to see the "Left Behind" series to recognize that, but this was long before I ever heard of that series.

I am not going to go through that Book here, and share what he showed me, for that would take too long. But there was one point, and I forget where, when Kevin switched the method of what he was saying. Up until that point everything was quite literal. "This happens in this manner, and this literally occurs in that way." As I had never really considered this Book literally before, it was quite interesting. But then, all of a sudden, he started saying, "This means that, and really stands for this other thing, which will occur this way. And that means this which will happen in this other way." Without warning, or any change in the Text that I could discern, it switched from being literal to metaphorical. Why, I wondered.

So I asked.

"Why does God switch His method here?"

It was the only time I questioned what Kevin was saying for something other than direct clarification.

"What do you mean?"

"Why does God  go from being literal to metaphorical here?"

And it looked as if I had just hit my friend in the face with a brick.

I can not recall anything else about that day, except that it ended shortly after that moment. Later he told me that simple question, truly asked out of curiosity and not intentional malice, completely shook his world. It made him recast his entire vision of not only that Book, but his faith, too. And really, I do not think I had  anything to do with it.

From that time on, though, he has become one of my dearest friends.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about today.

No. What I wanted to talk about was our  most recent conversation.

At one point, while we were munching on poutine, he asked me why God needed us to worship Him.

"Need?"

"Want. Why does God want us to worship Him?"

I had never really considered this before, and before I could say anything, an image of Kevin`s garden came to my mind.

"Do you need your garden to grow?"

"No. But I like it when it does."

"Why?"

We went on about this for a few minutes and both realized that it was a very apt analogy. (And no, I do not think God wants to make a salad out of us when we are ripe.) We do not require our garden to grow, but truly appreciate it when it does.

But that is not what I wanted to mention either.

Instead I wanted to share a brilliant idea that Kevin had.

Kevin, in case I have not mentioned it, is something of a computer guru. In fact, my e-mail account goes through his server, for which I am profoundly grateful. (Thanks, one more time, Kevin, in case you are reading this.)

He began to tell me about the saving of data. (Perhaps not the most interesting of topics, you may think, and not related to spiritual conversation, you may guess, but, as was I, you would be mistaken.)

He said that when you have things on your computer that you love, you back them up. You make a copy so that you do not lose the data.

If you have a vast computer system, the you regularly back up your data, and even put into place systems that can do it for you.

"God", he said, with a sly grin, "loves us. And that is why Jesus saves. Often."

And now, like Kevin, I will never be able to hear that phrase again without smiling.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More on Wisdom, I Hope

I`m back. Well, I`m still in Montreal at my Mother-in-Law`s home, but I am back on-line again. It is just before 8 am and everyone else is still asleep, except for the dog and me. The dog is really sweet, but getting old. Her name is Frimous, which I am sure I am spelling wrong, but everyone calls her Toutoun, which I am also probably spelling wrong. Me? I call her Two-ton, the world`s heaviest dog.

Oh, and now that I have said the above, Lise, my Mom-in-Law, has awoken. Let`s see what thoughts I can get down before she is done with her morning stuff.

What is it about wisdom that it is placed so highly in the Writings? (Note to self: the ?  is still shift-6, and not the key in the lower right corner of the keyboard.)

We often find various attributes of God, or different virtues, personified in the Writings, and they each seem to have their own distinctive role. We also find various places personified, as in the Tablet of Carmel to name but one. And amidst all of this anthropomorphism, Wisdom still stands out  above the rest. Why? (Shift-6, remember?)

As usual, I am not sure, so I will see what I can figure out. And this is, of course, just  my own personal musings, nothing official.

To start, I have to wonder what is wisdom. It is that quality of knowing what is right and true, coupled to just judgement of action. It is also defined as the ability to think and act according to knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. (Thank you Mr Dictionary.)

Interesting.

I was unaware of the action component of the word.

Wisdom, I think, is knowing what to do and then doing it. This differentiates it from knowledge in that it requires the action upon that knowledge.

Which, in turn, reminds me of that first quote in all of the Ruhi Books: The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct. As I love to say when tutoring: It is all about action.

Ok. Now it  makes a bit more sense as to why wisdom is placed so highly.

Let`s look at that quote again, bit by bit, with this new insight. (And yes, I really am. This is actually new to me, and I have the quote open in another window, so I really am going back and forth, phrase by phrase until  I am called t o breakfast. Or until it seems she is ready for conversation. At which time I will leave this to you, dear Reader, to finish.)

This ability to know what is true, and to then act upon it is our greatest gift and most wondrous blessing. That makes sense. Merely knowing what is true but then not acting upon it is sort of useless. It is like knowing how to read, but then choosing not to. What good does it do, either you or the world? (Shift-6. Shift-6.) And yet, when we do act upon what is  true and correct, then miracles seem to occur. So much good happens in the world. Everyone is blessed by those actions.

This ability to know what is true and to act upon it is our unfailing protector.

When I first read that line in the original quote (see yesterday`s article), I thought it referred to my own wisdom protecting me, but now I have to wonder. Wisdom is a universal quality, an attribute that all of us have to some degree or another. And while my own actions of wisdom may protect me, I think it is the wisdom of others that may have the greater impact. Imagine if I am brought to court on some context or another. While I may have acted with wisdom in my life and done nothing wrong, such as those dear Bahaì friends in Iran, it will require the wisdom of the judge to protect me from an injustice. Wisdom, in this context, will be my unfailing protector.

And again, in this context, it aids me, which in turn gives me strength. In the example of the friends in Iran, it would give them the strength to continue teaching, knowing that they would not be persecuted for it, for Wisdom would protect them. But when Wisdom is absent, it is more difficult. Much of the strength of the individual is spent trying to protect themselves.

But for now, I must go, again, for all are up and around, and I am holed up here with the computer.

Thanks for understanding again, dear Reader. I`ll be thinking of you as we all see more of Montreal today.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Wisdom

Ok. If you haven`t noticed, I`m on vacation right now. My wife, son and I are visiting friends and family. Well, actually it began with my Mother visiting us for 10 days (thanks, Mom), and then we went to Winnipeg for 5 (but not with Mom). Now we`re in Montreal visiting my wife`s family. What a joy this is. (Of course, learning to type on the French keyboard is a bit of a challenge, but what`s like without a bit of a challenge?) (Note to self: the question mark is now the shift-6 key, not the one that actually says ?) One day next week we`ll all be going to the Shrine here. I can`t wait.

Now, where was I? (Yes, I know: Montreal. Thanks.)

Ah yes, wisdom. (Hence the title above.)

As you may remember (but why you would, I have no idea) I am reading through Tablets of Baha`u`llah, and trying to understand the reason for the order in some of the lists in those works. Why? I do not know, but it seems to me a rich and rewarding experience.

Anyways, there I was reading through Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih (Words of Paradise to one such as me), when I came across the Fifth Leaf. Now, before I get into that, let me say that I find it interesting.Oh, and not just the Tablet, but the very concept of the leaves themselves. From what I can tell, Baha`u`llah is referring to Paradise, in which there grows a tree (or perhaps that should be Tree). On that tree (Tree) grow some  leaves (which might be written as Leaves, if you really like capital letters), and on those leaves are written some words (probably with a capital).

(Uh oh. It looks like Maman and Marielle are ready for the day. Maybe I will just  copy the Text and say a very quick bit today and try to write a bit more in the next few days.)

Here is what we are told is written on the Fifth Leaf of that blessed Tree:

Above all else, the greatest gift and the most wondrous blessing hath ever been and will continue to be Wisdom. It is man’s unfailing Protector. It aideth him and strengtheneth him. Wisdom is God’s Emissary and the Revealer of His Name the Omniscient. Through it the loftiness of man’s station is made manifest and evident. It is all-knowing and the foremost Teacher in the school of existence. It is the Guide and is invested with high distinction. Thanks to its educating influence earthly beings have become imbued with a gem-like spirit which outshineth the heavens. In the city of justice it is the unrivalled Speaker Who, in the year nine, illumined the world with the joyful tidings of this Revelation. And it was this peerless Source of wisdom that at the beginning of the foundation of the world ascended the stair of inner meaning and when enthroned upon the pulpit of utterance, through the operation of the divine Will, proclaimed two words. The first heralded the promise of reward, while the second voiced the ominous warning of punishment. The promise gave rise to hope and the warning begat fear. Thus the basis of world order hath been firmly established upon these twin principles. Exalted is the Lord of Wisdom, the Possessor of Great Bounty.

This whole paragraph just fascinates me. Wisdom reveals the attribute of God, the Omniscient? It is through this attribute of wisdom that the loftiness of our station is made manifest? It is all-knowing?

Wait a second.Right there. Wisdom is all-knowing. Wow. What a concept. I really have to meditate more on that one.

And then, towards the end there, it is Wisdom that revealed Justice, about which we read more on the Sixth Leaf.

I could easily go on and on about this, but as I said, I am on vacation, and the family is ready to go about the day. Thank you, dear Reader, for understanding.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Prayer for the Departed, Part 2

While yesterday's post may have seemed a bit silly, it triggered a chord for many people, according to the e-mails in my inbox, not to mention the comments here. It often surprises me how my own personal experience seems to resonate with others, but hey, we are one people, after all. I guess I shouldn't be so surprised.

But I didn't just want to leave that post there. I wanted to actually look at that prayer a bit more, see some of its depth, and try to understand just what it is that I would be asking others to dive into.

As it is such a short prayer, unless you're listening to someone read it, I thought I'd post the whole thing here:

O my God! This is Thy servant and the son of Thy servant who hath believed in Thee and in Thy signs, and set his face towards Thee, wholly detached from all except Thee. Thou art, verily, of those who show mercy the most merciful.
Deal with him, O Thou Who forgivest the sins of men and concealest their faults, as beseemeth the heaven of Thy bounty and the ocean of Thy grace. Grant him admission within the precincts of Thy transcendent mercy that was before the foundation of earth and heaven. There is no God but Thee, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Generous.

(Let him, then, repeat six times the greeting "Allah-u-Abha," and then repeat nineteen times each of the following verses:)
We all, verily, worship God.
We all, verily, bow down before God.
We all, verily, are devoted unto God.
We all, verily, give praise unto God.
We all, verily, yield thanks unto God.
We all, verily, are patient in God.
(If the dead be a woman, let him say: This is Thy handmaiden and the daughter of Thy handmaiden, etc....)

See? That's a short one, if you ask me.

The first paragraph seems fairly straightforward to me, and remember, this is only my own thoughts on it, and nothing official. (Got to cover my bases, right?) Remember how I believe that every time Baha'u'llah mentions an attribute of God, I think of it as a reminder of that attribute within us, but in the lower case? Sure you do. Here, He is simply "God". This, to me, reminds us that we are, simply, human. But we are more than just an individual human: we are part of a family, spanning generations. Not only are we reminded of the person who has passed away, but also of their ancestors. Similarly this brings to mind the descendants of that person, some of whom are probably listening right at that moment.

We also are reminded about a little bit of that individual, and what they have done in their life. Now, I'm not talking about being a dentist or accountant, or how many cars they owned, or what amusing things they may have done. I'm talking about their belief in God, and in Baha'u'llah. The person was obviously a Baha'i, because that is why this is being read at their funeral. They have believed in God and in His signs. They have turned their face towards Him, at the very least when saying their Obligatory Prayer every day. And they have probably tried very hard to be detached from all else save Him. (Only God would know how much they have succeeded.)

Then we are reminded of God's mercy. You see, even if we haven't succeeded very well at being detached, we can always take solace in the fact that God is merciful to us.

This leads us right into the next paragraph, in which we ask God to deal with the recently departed person according to His bounty and grace, remembering that God conceals our sins. And if God conceals our sins, can we do any less? This is a reminder, to me, that we should strive to remember the positive qualities of others, especially those who have passed on. (I sure have a long way to go here, but I'm trying.)

Then we are reminded of the next world, the next of the myriad worlds of God, and given a concept of eternity. And we are reminded to be forgiving and generous ourselves.

Then come the repetitions. Ahhh, those repetitions.

They follow the pattern of 6 Allah'u'Abhas, and 19 "We all, verily, _____ God." The blanks are as follows:

  • worship
  • bow down before
  • devoted unto
  • give praise unto
  • yield thanks unto
  • are patient in
To me, this seems to be a crescendo. We begin with worshiping God, or paying homage to Him, honouring Him. But then our sense of reverence increases a bit and we bow down to Him. It is quite possible to worship God without bowing down before Him. Many people in church do that. In the second step we actually do the bowing. We show an ever greater reverence for Him with this act.

Devotion is a bit stronger of a dedication. You are not just bowing before Him, and then continuing on your way. You are devoting your whole life to God. It is sort like the difference between bowing down in church and dedicating your life as a nun, or a monk.

Now comes the real question to me: Once you dedicate your life to God, what do you do? First you praise Him. If nothing else, giving praise to God is a great first step. Then you yield thanks, once you see all the bounties that are yours because of Him. But when you examine your life in order to see all that you should be thankful for, you also encounter those things that you may not be quite as grateful for. You begin to recognize the many tests that are coming your way in life. This is when you need to show patience and abide in the will of God.

A funeral is, for sure, one of those times. We can be grateful for having had our friend in our life, and we need to be patient during our grief, not condemn God for the processes involved in life, including death. So often people express their anger at God because of their loss of a dear one, but is that really fair? Are they not just continuing on their path? We often ask God to heal those we love when they are ill, and sometimes the best healing is to release them from their suffering. It may pain us to witness this, and grieve us when we lose them in our present life here on this planet, but it is still sometimes the best healing that can happen. We all pass away at some point, and we must be grateful for each and every breath we can take, or are given, depending on your point of view.

And in between it all, we recite, "Allah'u'Abha". God is Most Glorious.

How often do we contemplate that phrase, even though we recite it 95 times each and every day? God is not just glorious; He is the Most Glorious. He is the most brilliantly beautiful, the most wonderful, the most magnificent. So great is His glory that it is like suddenly seeing the sun in the middle of a dark night. Even more so. In fact, we are only catching the merest glimpse of His glory.

Through the passing of our friend, our loved one, we can still, if we look, see the light of God shining behind the clouds that may be obscuring our vision, or our heart. So glorious is this light that it can truly burn away those clouds and leave us standing there in the light, basking in its warmth, despite our sorrow. In fact, it can even burn away that sorrow.

So, despite my flippancy in the last article, this prayer really does move me. It really does inspire me. And it does console me when I am grieving. I can only hope that it helps others, too.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Prayer for the Departed

I was talking with Marielle and my Mom today, and we got to talking about prayers. No, seriously, we did. We began, and I have no idea how, to talk about the Prayer for the Departed. You know, that long prayer that has all the repeated lines in it? I mean, the one that you say if the Long Healing Prayer, with all of its repeated lines, didn't work the way you wanted?

"We all, verily, worship God." And then this is repeated 19 times.

"We all, verily, bow down before God." This is repeated 19 times, too.

"We all, verily, are devoted unto God." Yup. Again, 19 times.

On and on for another 3 verses.

6 verses repeated 19 times each. (That's 114 times in total, if you're counting.)

Plus all the "Allah'u'Abha"s in between?

I'm sure you know the one.

Well, I have to admit that I love it. I hate reading it in public, but I love it, except for the fact that it means that a friend of mine just passed away. You know, besides that, I love it.

But we were wondering, how many of us really do? Do we only say that we love it because it is written by Baha'u'llah, and yet cringe inside every time we think of having to sit through it again? Or do we really love it, deep in our heart? Do we find solace and comfort in its (few) words? (I say few because it really isn't all that long on paper. It's only long when spoken.)

And why do I hate reading it in public? Not to mention why am I willing to admit that here in a public forum? Simple, really. Most people listening to it are not Baha'i, and they often seem to dislike it. I have had the bounty and misfortune of reading it numerous times at countless funerals, and while I do find that solace and comfort in its words, that does not seem to be the norm.

I was reading it at one friend's funeral and was about halfway through the repetitions when I heard someone in the front row, a family member who was not a Baha'i, quietly ask the man standing next to her, "How much longer does this thing go on?" That was refreshingly honest of her.

Now it has left me with the question, "Is this really what Baha'u'llah intended? Is it some sort of test for those of us standing there?" I doubt it. (I mean, it could be, for all I know, but it would surprise me.) And what can I do, as a reader caught in that situation, to help others to find that inspiration in its words?

I have tried many things, dear Reader, and nothing has quelled the rolling of the eyes of some of those who are stuck listening to me. I have tried varying my tone while reading, speeding up, and have even been tempted to chant it. (I'm sure you've never heard me chant, and there's a good reason for that.) I have done everything I can think of, except for abridging it, which I am not willing to do.

Nothing has helped.

Except now my Mom has given me an idea. She said that it seems very meditative to her. (Oh, she's not a Baha'i and has never heard this prayer before.)

This led to the idea of asking people attending the funeral, for I can't think of anywhere else I would read it aloud in public, to close their eyes and let the repetition of the words carry them away with their memories of their dearly loved friend. See it as a meditation, a mantra, and treat it as such. People tend to be so much more willing to go with that idea, so why not try it here?

And that, dear Reader, is what I wanted to share.

Baha'u'llah gave us His Words to uplift and inspire us, and well as to educate us. If we ever find His Words doing anything other than that, then we may want to ask ourselves how we can find that place within ourselves to allow them to edify us. If we are sharing His Words with others, we should strive to do all we can to ensure that the listener is ready and prepared to be uplifted.

The next time I find myself at a funeral, reading this incredible prayer that was revealed to help send the soul of the departed Baha'i on its flight through the myriad worlds of God, and to comfort those of us who are still plodding away on this dust heap, I think I will let the friends know what is going to be read. I will warn them of the repetitions, for without that foreknowledge, it can be quite wearisome, and suggest that they use it to meditate upon their loved one. And perhaps I will even suggest that they meditate upon those verses and how they apply to us in regards to the little time we have left here.

After all, He does say, in the very list line, "We all, verily, are patient in God".

19 times.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Passion

Someone once asked me what my passion was. "Passion", I replied.

"Yes," they said, "passion."

"No," I corrected, "passion."

"Uhm, yes," they tried to correct again, "passion."

Recognizing that we were on the way to an Abbott and Costello routine, I explained that passion was my passion. One of my favorite things to do is to ask people what they are most passionate about.

There was one time I did that and the lady I asked blushed. As you can imagine, I was expecting her to reply with something that would most likely embarrass me, but instead she said that I wouldn't believe her. "Please", I continued, "I'd really like to know."

"Jet engines."

I was actually taken aback at that, and said, "Really? Why?"

It seemed like she was ashamed to have admitted such a thing, so I went on. "No, seriously, why? They don't interest me at all, and I'd love to see what you see in them."

Her chin raised just a bit and she went from looking down towards the floor to right in my eyes. Then she began to talk. Hesitant. Unsure. But she continued, until she was a pillar of confidence. She talked about their design, their function, their elegance, their power. She went on, becoming more and more animated with every sentence, every phrase, every word. Most likely an hour passed and I swear I never noticed. She had taught me to find beauty and passion in something I had never considered before: jet engines.

This is why passion is my passion.

Everything in life, everything in the world, everything we encounter is worth being passionate about. There is no point in being listless or lifeless about anything.

One of my favorite activities for years was to go to coffee shops and talk with people and to try and discover their passion. I would ask them all sorts of questions until they finally opened up and shared what they most loved. It was so rewarding. And I learned to appreciate so many varied things in the world.

It is such a shame, though, that so many people are reluctant to share their passion, either for fear of being scorned or rejected. It is as if our society has beaten it out of them. Or perhaps their inner walls have become so great that their passion can longer burst out. Either way, we need to find a way to help release these great passions in the world. For if we don't, the loss will be incalculable.

One of  the great fears about doing this, for many of us, is that those who are passionate about something will try to inflict it upon us, without any concern for our own feelings. The woman with the jet engines: if she came up to me and began ranting about the virtues of jets, I am sure I would have pushed her away, for it would have felt like being assaulted. But here, it was the reverse. She was reluctant to open up. It took some gentle encouragement, a bit of prodding, and the results were glorious. I was ready for it. I embraced it. I shared in her joy, without sharing in her passion. That, to me, made all the difference. She wasn't asking me to become passionate about what she loved, but instead to just appreciate it. And I did.

Baha'u'llah once said, "I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight."

This, to me, is a tiny bit of what He was saying.

When I saw this woman open up, it was as if she became alive, after having been dead to her own passion. It was if she was able to fly again.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Utterance


There is a good chance that I might not be writing much for the next month. My Mom is coming in town this evening (hurray), and then we'll be in Winnipeg for 5 days, then Montreal for 10. (Thanks go to Bob, our housemate, who is taking care of the cats. Thanks, Bob.) And as this is a vacation, I have no intention of taking the computer with me.

But for now, I just wanted to share a little thought about a quote that came to mind. It comes from Baha'u'llah, and is found in the "Tablet to Siyyid Mihdiy-i-Dahaji", which I like to think of as the "Tablet of the Longest Name". As I'm sure you know, the recipient of this Tablet later violated the Covenant, and so it is filled with all sorts of oblique cautions about his behaviour, in the hope that he remain steadfast. He has been described as "an eloquent teacher of the Cause and highly esteemed by the believers", and "an erudite person and a powerful speaker". It is to this man, who was obviously very gifted in his speech, that the following passage was addressed:
"Utterance must needs possess penetrating power. For if bereft of this quality it would fail to exert influence. And this penetrating influence dependeth on the spirit being pure and the heart stainless. Likewise it needeth moderation, without which the hearer would be unable to bear it, rather he would manifest opposition from the very outset. And moderation will be obtained by blending utterance with the tokens of divine wisdom which are recorded in the sacred Books and Tablets. Thus when the essence of one's utterance is endowed with these two requisites it will prove highly effective and will be the prime factor in transforming the souls of men. This is the station of supreme victory and celestial dominion. Whoso attaineth thereto is invested with the power to teach the Cause of God and to prevail over the hearts and minds of men."

This passage seems to me to be something of a logic train. Utterance needs two things. First, it requires penetrating power, which in turn requires a pure spirit and a stainless heart. Second, it needs moderation, which is obtained by using quotes, passages and phrases from the Writings.

Looking at this more simply, which is kind of necessary for me right now (I haven't had any coffee or tea today, and I'm feeling rather bleary), when we speak without "penetrating power", then our speech is rather shallow, right? Now, I had to wonder why the word "utterance" was chosen here. Although we often think that it just means to utter something, there is contained within the root of the word something of grandeur. It has within it the root "ultra", something beyond the normal. So it seems to me that Baha'u'llah is not talking about basic speech here, but rather that conversation with someone that has something more, something deeper, or, as we like to say today, a meaningful conversation.

In this passage, He seems to say that for this conversation to rise to the level of actual utterance, it must penetrate to the very heart of the matter, or else it won't have significant influence and won't be able to penetrate their heart.

In order for this to happen, He says (my interpretation, nothing official), our own heart must be pure and stainless. Why? Well, let's see. If it isn't, if we are haughty and proud, that sure comes across. If we believe that we know it all, and are deigning to teach the other person something that they need to learn, we will make them feel little, small, and bad. Surely nobody wants to hear what someone has to say who makes them feel this way.

If, however, we realize how little we know, and just how dependent we are on the Writings, and even how deficient our own understanding is, then we place ourselves below them. We help them to feel like they have something significant to share. We help them feel empowered in their own understanding of the divine.

It is as the Master described. When we place ourselves below another, it is like the ocean that places itself below all the rivers. By doing so, they are all moved to flow into it.

When we truly achieve this stance, this position, then others are more likely to flow from where they are to a new position. They will be moved.

The second condition is moderation.

Why? Well, come on. Who wants to listen to a windbag?

All right. I was sort of joking. But not entirely. Moderation can be seen in a few different ways. The first is in terms of time, as I alluded to above. The second is in how we speak. If we sprinkle our talk with swear words, or vulgarities, it turns a lot of people off. If we use phrases that we know are provocative, then we are ensuring that our listener will put up walls.

Imagine that we are talking with someone who is a Baptist, for example. Suppose we came out and said, "Satan doesn't exist". As this would be an immediate contradiction of something they deeply believe, they would be so busy in their own mind defending their belief that they would never be able to hear what we are saying. If, instead, we recognized that Baha'u'llah talks a lot about Satan and described Baha'u'llah's vision of the Satan of Self, they would be far more likely to listen. They might even be able to broaden their own vision with Baha'u'llah's lens. To help convey Baha'u'llah's greater understanding of this term, we would best be served by using quotes or paraphrasings from the Writings.

When we speak with another person, especially about the Teachings, they way in which we speak is a tremendous factor in what they hear. If we speak with great visual passion and ardor, jumping around, crying out in our ecstatic joy, they will likely only see the emotion and not hear anything over that. They may get caught up in the showmanship of it, and likely only remember that. But if we speak with sincere passion (not that the other isn't sincere), and a more subdued ardor, if the situation warrants it, then our faith will come through, and the words will not be overshadowed.

Aside - I went to a beautiful church service recently in which there was a great rock band playing. There was a lot of dancing and tons of music. It was awesome, but I don't remember a single thing that was said. All I remember is the music. And the friend who brought me? Same with him. He loved the show, but didn't get anything else out of it. I went to another church service in which the music was used to accent the sermon. There was a strong topic that was eloquently delivered, and the music was chosen around his theme. That one I do remember.

Yeah. Moderation is so important, for without it, all we do is raise walls where want to lower them. (And it is moderation that is leading me to end it here.) (As well as the thought of breakfast.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Reading the Guardian

So there I was, in a meeting with a group of the Baha'i friends, and I mentioned that I was reading God Passes By. I wanted to share a thought I had from it.

That was cool.

People seemed to like the simple idea I had, and even talked about it a bit.

But then something interesting happened, and I've been wondering about it ever since: Someone commented that this was the hardest book to read and that if you wanted to read it back in Iran, you had to take a course. Now while I don't think there is a prohibition in the Baha'i community against reading it, and that she may have been exaggerating just a tad, it did get me to wonder.

What is it about the writings of the Guardian that intimidate so many of us? Personally, I think it is we who intimidate each other more than anything else.

I remember when I first became a Baha'i, lo those many years ago, I was put in a deepening program about the history of the Faith. It was quite intense, and I rarely showed up, but only because everything was so out of context for me.

This deepening including excerpts from God Passes By, The Dawn-Breakers, Balyuzi's trilogy, and many other books, too. As a new Baha'i, with little money, I was expected to buy them all and then only read small parts of them. Needless to say, I couldn't do it.

But I tried.

The difficult part for me was trying to figure out a context for all of this new information. How did it fit into what I knew of human history in the 19th century? How did it fit into what I knew of religious history? Who were all these people? What was it that made Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim so special? I had no clue.

And then there was God Passes By.

The use of the language was so intense. The Guardian wrote sentences that were so precise, and conveyed so much, but with all the sub-clauses, it was difficult to figure out the main point. That was when I began to underline the main part of the sentences.

I've already written a bit about the first paragraph, and his use of superlatives. Let me show you, dear Reader, what I mean about underlining from the second paragraph. I am copying it in its entirety, and underlining what seems to me to be the main point of each sentence. If you want, you can skip it and go right to the next part, where I copy the underlined alone.

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He Who communicated the original impulse to so incalculable a Movement was none other than the promised Qá'im (He who ariseth), the Sáhibu'z-Zamán (the Lord of the Age), Who assumed the exclusive right of annulling the whole Qur'ánic Dispensation, Who styled Himself "the Primal Point from which have been generated all created things ... the Countenance of God Whose splendor can never be obscured, the Light of God Whose radiance can never fade." The people among whom He appeared were the most decadent race in the civilized world, grossly ignorant, savage, cruel, steeped in prejudice, servile in their submission to an almost deified hierarchy, recalling in their abjectness the Israelites of Egypt in the days of Moses, in their fanaticism the Jews in the days of Jesus, and in their perversity the idolators of Arabia in the days of Muhammad. The arch-enemy who repudiated His claim, challenged His authority, persecuted His Cause, succeeded in almost quenching His light, and who eventually became disintegrated under the impact of His Revelation was the Shí'ah priesthood. Fiercely fanatic, unspeakably corrupt, enjoying unlimited ascendancy over the masses, jealous of their position, and irreconcilably opposed to all liberal ideas, the members of this caste had for one thousand years invoked the name of the Hidden Imam, their breasts had glowed with the expectation of His advent, their pulpits had rung with the praises of His world-embracing dominion, their lips were still devoutly and perpetually murmuring prayers for the hastening of His coming. The willing tools who prostituted their high office for the accomplishment of the enemy's designs were no less than the sovereigns of the Qajar dynasty, first, the bigoted, the sickly, the vacillating Muhammad Shah, who at the last moment cancelled the Báb's imminent visit to the capital, and, second, the youthful and inexperienced Násiri'd-Dín Sháh, who gave his ready assent to the sentence of his Captive's death. The arch villains who joined hands with the prime movers of so wicked a conspiracy were the two grand vizirs, Haji Mirza Aqasi, the idolized tutor of Muhammad Shah, a vulgar, false-hearted and fickle-minded schemer, and the arbitrary, bloodthirsty, reckless Amir-Nizam, Mirza Taqi Khan, the first of whom exiled the Báb to the mountain fastnesses of Adhirbayjan, and the latter decreed His death in Tabriz. Their accomplice in these and other heinous crimes was a government bolstered up by a flock of idle, parasitical princelings and governors, corrupt, incompetent, tenaciously holding to their ill-gotten privileges, and utterly subservient to a notoriously degraded clerical order. The heroes whose deeds shine upon the record of this fierce spiritual   contest, involving at once people, clergy, monarch and government, were the Báb's chosen disciples, the Letters of the Living, and their companions, the trail-breakers of the New Day, who to so much intrigue, ignorance, depravity, cruelty, superstition and cowardice opposed a spirit exalted, unquenchable and awe-inspiring, a knowledge surprisingly profound, an eloquence sweeping in its force, a piety unexcelled in fervor, a courage leonine in its fierceness, a self-abnegation saintly in its purity, a resolve granite-like in its firmness, a vision stupendous in its range, a veneration for the Prophet and His Imams disconcerting to their adversaries, a power of persuasion alarming to their antagonists, a standard of faith and a code of conduct that challenged and revolutionized the lives of their countrymen.

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He Who communicated the original impulse... was none other than the promised Qá'im... The people among whom He appeared were the most decadent race in the... world... The arch-enemy... was the Shí'ah priesthood... The willing tools... were... the sovereigns of the Qajar dynasty... The arch villains... were the two grand vizirs... Their accomplice... was a government... The heroes... were the Báb's chosen disciples...

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How's that for an outline? Simple. Straight to the point. Easily understood. All the parts that I cut out enhance this little bit, give it depth, profound context, all clothed in beautiful poetry.

As you know, dear Reader, the Guardian follows a very simple style in his writings, especially here in God Passes By. And while it is simple, it is also profound. He continually reiterates what he has just said, and then adds the next step or two for us. Much of God Passes By is actually synopsis of what he just said in the previous pages. It is almost as if he is taking 2 steps backwards and then 3 steps forward, just to make sure we don't get lost. It is as if he is leading us on this magnificent trail. He runs ahead a couple of steps and says, "This is where we are going", with all the enthusiasm of his heart. He then jumps back to us, grabs our hand and says, as he walks with us, "And these are the couple of steps I just took." Then he runs ahead again, "This is where we're going next." And then he comes back and gets us again, because we are standing there awestruck at the beauty of the place to which he just took us. (I accidentally typed in "awestuck", and I think that is exactly what happens. We are awe-stuck.)

I love reading God Passes By, and anything else I can from the Guardian. His writing and his vision are so elevating.

And I sincerely hope that others can learn to read him on their own, too. We should never be held back from the Writings, especially by each other. No. Instead, we should find our own way to move forward, embracing these beautiful books, devouring them in our eagerness, and learning how to apply them in our own way, in our own lives.