Thursday, August 2, 2012


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.)

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