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.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

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.


  1. Just wanted to say thanks for starting to post more again! I appreciate your writings! They really help me to look at things from a different perspective than mine. So thank you!

  2. Interesting technique, that, pulling out the primary points & then reading them in one fell swoop. I used to be daunted by a lot of what Shoghi Effendi wrote, until I learned that he used to speak his sentences aloud as he wrote them; they are meant to be read aloud. (Considering the times & technology when he was writing, I wonder if he didn't just assume that, say, his letters to American Baha'is would be read aloud to avid listeners by one person in a mtg.) When I started reading his work aloud (remembering to breathe occasionally whether the sentence was done or not), it actually became less daunting. Which left me with the REALLY daunting task of eventually trekking thru Baha'u'llah's "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf". It took me the power of the Fast one year to get thru (or even past page 10 of) that letter ... talk about density of language & concept.