Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bluster and Bombast

It is a blustery day out there. Bluster. I just love that word. It seems like it needs to be said with a mouthful of air, a loud popping on the 'bluh'-sound, cheeks aflutter as you blow past the 'st', and ending with the whole head shivering side to side with the 'er'. "Bluuuuuhhhhhhhh-sssttt-errrrrr".

I always imagine a walrus shaking his be-whiskered snout vigourously from side to side as he says this descriptive word.

But what is it? How can a day be blustery? For the weather, it means that there is a loud wind blowing, and a misty rain shooting throughout it. It can also refer to a person. It means that they are loud and boisterous, but without much substance, as in the sentence, "He was all bluster, but did nothing."

What, you may ask, does this have to do with me and the teaching of the Faith? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

Baha'u'llah tells us "Be unrestrained as the wind, while carrying the Message of Him Who hath caused the Dawn of Divine Guidance to break." How we do that is up to us.

While looking through the Writings, there were two very distinct kinds of wind mentioned. There is the gentle breeze at the break of dawn, stirring the world into movement. It is the bringer of God's "loving-kindness", His "tender mercy", His "will", His "grace" and "decree". It is the result of our desire for Him, and inclines us in the direction of His bountiful favours. It is the "Dawn of His Revelation", "His eternal glory".

Then there are those "tempestuous winds of tests (that) have caused the steadfast in faith to tremble". There are the "mighty winds of disbelief". There are "the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny", "the winds of hatred".

It seems to me that at this time, while teaching, we, too, can be full of bluster. We can talk all sorts of loud, potentially threatening things, making a storm of ourselves and our ideas, or we can be more like that gentle and refreshing breeze, sharing the teachings instead of forcing them upon others, allowing them to refresh the hearts of those with whom we share them. We can throw them in someone's face, or offer them as a gift to a king.

Personally, I know which one I prefer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Still Christmas Time...

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through my house
Both my kitties were purring
Like each had a mouse...

A number of years ago a dear friend invited me to her church's Christmas celebration. It wasn't the mass, just a celebration. it turned out the she was the emcee and had arranged the program with the consent of the Father. Well, mostly.

There came a point in the program where she walked up to the microphone and, without looking at me at all, said, "And now Mead Simon will talk a bit about what Christmas means to him as a Baha'i", and sat down.

As you can imagine, I had no warning that she was going to do this. It was only later that I understood why. You see, prior to that, at all the various interfaith gatherings that I had attended at that church, the Father was almost, but not quite, rude to me. Well, to be fair, rude isn't really the word. Cold is more like it. If he were introduced to me, he would emotionlessly say "Hi", but then quickly turn and talk to someone else. What I learned, quite a bit later, was that his nephew had become a Baha'i, and he felt that we had "stolen" him away. He had a very strong dislike, to put it kindly, towards Baha'is.

If my friend had given any hint of what she was going to do, he would have vetoed it outright. She would never have been allowed to have me speak, which, if you ask me, would have been fine, but she didn't ask me, nor the Padre.

What, you may wonder, did  I talk about, after being put on the spot like that? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

I began by saying that Christmas was fairly odd to me, as I grew up Jewish. The I talked a little bit about how, in my family, we did celebrate Christmas by giving gifts, even though we lit the menorah and gave gifts for Chanukkah, too. I finished by talking a bit about the importance of Christmas, and the importance of being able to recognize a Messenger of God. I spoke about how we come to certainty of faith, using the ideas from the Kitab-i-Iqan, both the denials that the Messengers face, as well as the indignities heaped upon Them.

It was following this that the Father came up to me and gave me a hug.

On a slightly different topic, I was reading a book about the Baha'i perspective of Satan, and the author spoke of the importance of not dismissing it when it came up. There are some Baha'is out there who, when asked about our understanding of Satan will dismissively say, "Oh we don't believe in Satan." This conveys a superior-to-thou attitude, as well as dismissing something that could be of serious concern to the one asking the question. It conveys the idea that what is important to them is of no consequence to us. It also denies the fact that Baha'u'llah speaks quite a bit about Satan, mentioning him many times in the Writings. In other words, it both insults the one asking, as well as shows off the ignorance of the one answering. Not too good.

And so, recognizing this, it makes me think twice before answering anyone who asks me about Christmas.

To start, I recognize the spiritual importance of this holy day. I try to convey the importance of it to the one asking, and not diminish it to merely a materialistic day of gift-giving.

When asked about why, if we recognize Jesus, we don't celebrate Christmas, I remind them that they recognize the Jewish prophets, but don't celebrate the Jewish holy days.

I am always happy to celebrate Christmas with friends, just as I presume that they are happy to celebrate the Baha'i holy days if I invite them to do so with me. And you know what? They always have been. I have never had anyone say that they were insulted by being invited to a holy day celebration.

I do not get upset when people wish me a "Merry Christmas", nor have I ever encountered someone who was insulted when I wish them a "Happy Ayyam-i-Ha". Instead, the latter has prompted many questions of "A happy what?" And the smiles I have gotten from the former have done nothing but spread a bit more joy in the world.

As for my son, we have carefully explained that there are many religions around the world, and that they all come from God. We have told him the stories of each, and taken him to many different faith centres to how they worship. We have explained that his grandmother on his Mother's side is Catholic, and that she gives him Christmas presents. We, however, are Baha'i, and we give our gifts to him mostly at Ayyam-i-Ha. Of course, in the spirit of family, we also give small gifts at Christmas, but the main time is Ayyam-i-Ha. And as for when we send gifts to our family members, we send them for Ayyam-i-Ha, too.

In the end, we try to teach him to cherish the spirit in which someone gives a gift, and honour their generosity. We also teach him to be true to his own faith, and not try to live according to the expectations of others. just because many give gifts and show generosity at Christmas, our time of celebration in a bit later.

Besides, it means that we get all the post-Christmas sales to enjoy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

It's Christmas Time...

"I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas
That's what we get here in BC
With the lawns aglisten
And the children listen
To carols sung within the rain..."

Yup. It's that time of year again, and this year I have a special treat: an iPad. my dear friend, Robert, is out of town visiting family and friends out east and his partner loaned this iPad to test and use while they are gone. So here I am, sitting in a Serious Coffee (way better than Starbucks), sipping an eggnog latte while waiting for the snow tires to be put on the car, testing and using this little device.

(Note: I haven't been able to get this blog from my iPad to either the internet or my computer, which is so frustrating, so I've finally given up and am re-typing this whole fracking thing from scratch.) (I think "fracking" is the most appropriate term for the new method of extracting oil. Don't you?)

But now the perennialquestion comes up: what do I write about?

Well, the first that comes to mind is to write about the use of an iPad versus a pen. I can't believe that I've never written about it before, but it's true: I prefer to write with a pen, as opposed to an iPad, or even a laptop computer like I usually use. (Present note: You don't have to worry about re-writing the entire thing just because your paper won't connect with another piece of paper.) There is something more personal, more intimate (and less frustrating) about using a pen and paper.

One of my joys in life has been to get really high quality handmade paper and write letters to people with it, using a very nice pen with appropriately high quality ink. There is something special about the way the ink flows out from such a pen and dances its way across the sheet, the way it gets absorbed into the fibres (cool, the iPad asked me if I wanted to spell this term the Canadian way) (I have to admit, a pen wouldn't do that, so one point for the iPad) (but still a few against it), akin to the way the words can get absorbed by the soul reading them. A good quality paper draws the ink into itself, holding it tight within its breast. A lower quality paper, well, it's like the ink just flows out, dissipating itself as if in water, diluting, sloshing its tendrils of ebon as far as they can go without ever really demonstrating their inherent or potential strength. Yeah, there is something beautiful about writing with a good pen and paper, and I just don't get the same feeling when I type. Sorry, technophiles, but I don't.

You see, dear Reader, I could write about this all day long, drawing from all sorts of quotes from the Writings about the use of the word "pen", from its "shrill voice" and on to all the other qualities that the Blessed Beauty uses in His Writings.

But I won't. Not today.

Today I want to write about Christmas, and my personal reaction to it.

When looking at such a holiday, such a holy day, we are actually looking at a number of different things. First there is the cultural celebration of it, at least here in Canada, and in the US where I grew up. You may have expected me to begin with the holy and sacred aspect of such a day, but really, here it is secondary. It has become primarily a cultural thing. And that, I believe, is a problem.

Perhaps it is the root of most of the problems with it.


Well, I think, and remember this is only my personal opinion and nothing official, that it should be first and foremost a holy day sacred to the memory of the birth of a Manifestation of God. If it were, then our cultural approach would be significantly different and a lot of the issues surrounding it would just fall away.

(Wow. That latte really hits the spot. The think dark bitterness of coffee, combines with the syrupy sweetness of the eggnog flavour, all blended into the creamy smoothness of the latte.) (Sorry. I took a sip and was distracted for a moment.)

But it is not primarily sacred. Instead, it has become a day in which we focus most of our gift-giving gift-receiving materialistic tendencies throughout the year, spending many months and dollars leading up to it, and many months and dollars recovering from it, only to have the whole cycle begin all over again a relatively short time later.

Aside: You know the song "The 12 Days of Christmas"? Did you know that if you were to actually receive that poor bird stuck in a tree on the first day, and return it on Boxing Day, only to receive another partridge alongside two of his turtledove buddies on the second, and another one with two more turtledoves and 3 French hens on the third, and so on and so forth for all 12 days, returning a single gift every day, you would return the final gift on the following Christmas eve? And then, if you still had such a fanatical "true love", you would have a single day off from your gift-returning frenzy before it began all over again on Christmas. (Or 2 days off it were a leap year.) At least with Ayyam-i-Ha you would only get 20 gifts, or 25 in a leap year. Much more moderate.

Where was I?

Oh yes, Christmas.

When I thin of the cultural miasma that has surrounded Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is the slew of photos of hordes of people presesed up against the glass doors of Walmart, faces pressing against the glass while waiting to get in, looking like an unhealthy cross between a little child smooshing their face against the glass to see how funny a face they can make with their friends, and the zombies trying to get into the mall in George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". (Come to think of it, that is a very appropriate combination.)

As you are aware, I could go on and on about this aspect of Christmas, but I think you get the point.

The real question I want to address is what I do about Christmas, as a Baha'i. And what do I tell my son, who is currently in grade 2, about Christmas? What do I tell my friends who ask if we celebrate it?

This seems to be such a pressing question in our community that the Spiritual Assembly even had us consult on it during our most recent Feast. We have a few new members in our community (hurray) who are recent declarants, so it seemed like a great topic to talk about.

Now obviously the easy thing to do would be to read those quotes from the Guardian that say that we, as Baha'is and especially as a community, shouldn't celebrate Christmas and try to brush the whole thing aside, but that is not only insulting to those who actually have to face these issues with their families and friends, but it also sidesteps the whole question of learning and growing, and figuring out how to apply the Writings in our daily life (the object of this blog, which is another reason why I am meandering around my way to talking about it.)

Instead of dismissing it, I want to look at it in a bit of depth.

But not today.

Today I am taking my son swimming, and the pool is about to open, so I'll write about my own thoughts on this tomorrow.

For now I will end with asking you how you answer the whole question of Christmas for yourself. How do you respond when others ask you if you celebrate Christmas? What do you tell your family members of they are not Baha'i and want to give you gifts at this time, expecting gifts in return? And how do you explain all this to your children, especially if they are being conditioned by society to expect gifts at this time of the year?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Persian Hidden Words, Number 71

Once again I find that it has been way too long since I have been able to post anything. Now that my Christmas shows are over, I actually have time again. In fact, I sustained a slight (very slight) injury to my wrist, so I kind of have to stop making chainmail for a bit while it heals. (Actually, I think it has healed, but I want to make sure.)

This morning, when I awoke, I began to think about what I wanted to post today. And you know what? I couldn't think of anything. Nothing. Nada. Zip. The big goose egg. Zilch-a-rooni. So I figured I would do what any sensible guy does when faced with such a dire situation: Ask his wife.

But then!

Just before I could ask her!!!

(Isn't the suspense killing you?)

A letter came in.

It was really wonderful and timely.

I knew it was going to be a good one when the writer said that she was reading my backlog of posts, and added "actually I'm reading them backwards (not the individual posts - even though that would be kinda cool, too :)".

So, you ask, why was that timely? At the end she asked me what I thought about a particular Hidden Word. She said, "I recently read this Hidden Word that starts with "O my friends! Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, ..." and I was wondering what your thoughts were on the part where He says "yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant." I always thought that our part of the covenant was to be faithful to the Central figures of the Faith and the Universal House of Justice and to fulfill our Twin Obligations of knowing and worshiping God (to put it in a short sentence). And while I still can imagine that no human being can abide by all the laws (even though they're trying and some are trying REALLY hard:)) and may therefore not be faithful, He goes on to say that "no trace thereof remaineth". So - maybe if you find the time - you could study that Hidden Word with us in your blog!"

Well, I can take a hint. It seems that I am supposed to write about this Hidden Word.

Which one? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. I can always count on you to be a step (or two) ahead of me.

Aside: I'm reminded of the time when I was with some friends and one of them was trying to recall a Hidden Word. The other asked how it began. I piped in, "O Son of..."

Ok. The one my friend in the letter is referring to is the Persian Hidden Word, number 71 (hence the title of this post). It is as follows:
Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, situate within the hallowed precincts of Zaman. I have taken to witness the concourse on high and the dwellers in the city of eternity, yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant. Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth. Yet knowing this, I waited and disclosed it not.

Before I give you my own meager thoughts, let's look at something that is actually official. 'Abdu'l-Baha, in Selections number 181, wrote the following about this particular Hidden Word:
As for the reference in The Hidden Words regarding the Covenant entered into on Mount Paran, this signifieth that in the sight of God the past, the present and the future are all one and the same -- whereas, relative to man, the past is gone and forgotten, the present is fleeting, and the future is within the realm of hope. And it is a basic principle of the Law of God that in every Prophetic Mission, He entereth into a Covenant with all believers -- a Covenant that endureth until the end of that Mission, until the promised day when the Personage stipulated at the outset of the Mission is made manifest. Consider Moses, He Who conversed with God. Verily, upon Mount Sinai, Moses entered into a Covenant regarding the Messiah, with all those souls who would live in the day of the Messiah. And those souls, although they appeared many centuries after Moses, were nevertheless -- so far as the Covenant, which is outside time, was concerned -- present there with Moses. The Jews, however, were heedless of this and remembered it not, and thus they suffered a great and clear loss.

I have to admit, as great as this second quote is, it kind of leaves me stumped as to how to apply anything from this Hidden Word in my own personal life. This being the case, I will look at my own unofficial thoughts on this quote, and pose a few questions of my own.

The first, and most obvious, is what is Paran?

From there, I have the following questions: What is the nature of this covenant that is being referred to here? What is Zaman? When He says "none do I find", is that a literal none, or figurative? And what of those last two sentences?

Ok. Back to the first: Where is Paran, and by extension, Zaman? In short, who cares? Does this change how I view this Hidden Word, and does the answer to this question somehow affect how I live my life? No. Not really.

But if you really, for some reason, need an answer, I refer you to the wikipedia article here. In it you will discover that nobody really knows. We do know that the desert of Paran is where Hagar and Ishmael wandered, and that the Jewish people spent some of the 40 years during the Exodus there. But where exactly is it? Nobody seems to know for sure. In eastern geography, many think it is where Mecca is.

'Abdu'l-Baha was surely aware that the very word "zaman" means "time" in Persian (think of "Ya! Sahib-u-zaman", "O! Thou Lord of the Age"), and draws together the different faith traditions in this quote, tying them together with this meaning. While aware of the Islamic subtext of this term in the Hidden Word, He also specifically draws our attention to Moses, and the Jewish context.

So, back to the question of where it is. I don't believe the specific geographic location is vital to understand, but the historic context of it is, as this helps us understand the nature of the Covenant referred to here. We go from the connection to Abraham through Hagar and Ishmael, the ancestors of the Arab peoples, to Moses and the Jewish people through their wandering from Mount Sinai to the desert of Paran, where the cloud of God rested (Numbers 10:12, if you really want to know). Oh, in case you forgot, the cloud of God lifted from off the tabernacle of the Covenant (on the 20th day of the second month of the second year) when it was on Mount Sinai, and began to move. This is why the Jewish peoples began to wander again. They followed it until it settled in Paran.

With just a quick reference, Baha'u'llah has called to mind a whole slew of stories from religious history. He has moved us through time, zaman, with the trials and tribulations of Hagar and Ishmael as they were forced to leave the presence of Abraham, to the wanderings of the Jews in the desert. In both cases reliance upon God was paramount. It is a fascinating metaphor for how the Spirit of God moves from place to place, and if we don't follow it, we become lost in the wilderness.

This is what is called to mind with these simple phrases of geography.

Given all that, what is the Covenant we have entered into with Him? This could be tricky, for there are a few different covenants. There is the Eternal Covenant, in which God has promised to always send us another Messenger. Then there are the Lesser Covenants, in which the succession of the particular Faith is assured, until the next Messenger comes. For Baha'is, this Covenant is very clear and concise. It refers to, as my friend above said in her letter, our obedience to the Master, and from Him to the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice.

But what can He possibly mean by "now none do I find faithful unto the covenant"? What about 'Abdu'l-Baha? Or the Babis or Baha'is at the time? How about Shaykh Ahmad or Siyyid Kazim, if we want to go back a bit further? I would venture to guess, and this only my personal opinion and nothing official, that He is talking in general. When we look around us at the world in general, we can readily see that things are pretty bad. There is godlessness rampant, and violence and destruction everywhere. But, and this is important, that is just a generalization.

What can He possibly mean here? I think a hint is given a bit later in the quote: "Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth."

As you probably know by now, I do not believe that there is a singular "correct" way to read most of the sacred Writings. I think they are laden with layers of meanings. (Wow. That was poetic.)

Let's look at each covenant in terms of this, and see what happens. Sound good? Thanks.

If we take this in terms of the Lesser Covenant, then we can see that there is no clear lineage of succession in any of the world religions at the time of the writing of the Hidden Words. All of them had broken up into myriad sects, each vying with the others for power and control. In all cases, the breaking of these faiths into the various sects can be traced back to "pride and rebellion".

If we look at it in terms of the Eternal Covenant, then we can again easily see that many are convinced that their faith is "the right one" and that all others are wrong. We can see that so many believe that the Messenger they follow is the last one, with no more to follow, only the return of their particular One. They have, in essence, denied the Eternal Covenant, thinking that it somehow no longer applies. We see this when some Christians say that Jesus will return, and that is that. There will be an eternity of peace and tranquility with God's Kingdom here on earth. This denies the ongoing eternal series of Messengers promised. We also see it when some Muslims claim that Muhammad's title, "the Seal of the Prophets", somehow means that there will be no more Messengers. We see it in virtually all religions today, and this, too, is a form of pride.

But I think we also see it when the ego of the individual gets out of control. When we look at the condemnation of the ego, the "Satan of self", in the Writings, we can see the manifestation of that prevalent throughout the world.

Regardless of how we read these terms, they all speak of a darkness in the heart, and when there is that much darkness, it means there is no light.

So what can we do? How does this affect our lives today?

Simple, I think. To me this all speaks of how we are to live our life, if we look back at those early examples of Hagar, Ishmael and the Jews. Using the Jewish example, they knew that God was present in the Tabernacle on Mount Sinai. It was a very real and tangible thing for them. Yet, there came a point when that divine Presence moved on. The cloud drifted away. It would have been so easy for some, at that time, to be attached to the location of the tent and not want to go anywhere else. But Moses moved them on. He was not concerned about the actual location. His heart was focused on the divine Presence, and He moved the Jewish peoples with it.

This is what we need to do. We need to be aware of the actual presence of the divine in our life and follow that. We need to let go of anything that smacks of pride, or rebellion, and be focused on the divine, going where it leads us. Today we are fortunate in that we have such clear and explicit guidance from the very Pen of Baha'u'llah, probably as clear to us as the cloud was back in the days of Moses.

Then there is also the guidance from 'Abdu'l-Baha, that presence of the divine after the ascension of Baha'ullah. He says, "The 'Covenant' mentioned in the Hidden Words is the Covenant and Testament which was entered into by the pen of the Most High in the hallowed precincts of the Paran of the love of God, the summit of timeless time. The "dwellers in the city of eternity" and the "concourse on high" are souls who are firm in the Covenant."

Wow. All that from one of the Hidden Words. And to be honest, I never really gave that one much thought before my friend asked about it.

Thanks. I always learn so much from the questions you ask.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Patience Rewarded

You may not have noticed, but I received a comment on Friday (7 December 2012) about a previous article on the Year of Waiting. In the comment the individual said... well, they asked... Ah forget it. I'll just copy the comment here and let you see it:
"Hi Mead, I'd love to hear of stories of 'successful' reconciliations as a result of the Year of Patience. In other words: do you know of stories where 'it worked' and can you share them? My husband is requesting the year of patience and I will do all I can to stay true to its spirit and to reconcile...Of course it does not only depend on me, and he seems determined to separate - but my hope had not completely died yet. Thanks."

That's what this article is in response to.

To start, let me remind you that this is just my own experience. It is nothing official, nor does it try to be comprehensive. I realize that every case is unique, just as every relationship is unique. What I am doing here is merely sharing a few of the example that I have seen in which couples have either reconciled or somehow become closer through obedience to the Year of Waiting.

To continue, let me also express my well-wishes to the woman who wrote this comment. My heart always goes out to anyone who is facing such a trial. The separation of a couple is, in my opinion, like the death of a family. It is for this reason that we go through the various stages of grief during this trying time.

Now, let me get on to the 3 stories I want to share. I will, of course, protect the anonymity of those involved, as I haven't gotten their permission to share these stories.

The first concerns a friend who I met when he came into my shop. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that we got on real well, and became good friends. He came over most every night for a few weeks, and it was during these evening discussion that I learned he was separated from his wife, although they were not yet divorced. It was also during this time that he began to learn about the Baha'i Faith. After those couple of weeks, he decided to become Baha'i.

Upon declaring, one of the first things he did was ask about the Baha'i laws regarding divorce, and wondered if the Year of Waiting would apply to him, as neither he nor his wife were Baha'i when they got married, nor was he a Baha'i when they separated. The local Spiritual Assembly met with him and said that they would backdate the beginning of his year to the date that he actually moved out.

My friend went back to his wife to explain that he had become Baha'i and wished to abide by the law regarding divorce. This intrigued her, so she began to investigate the Faith, formally declaring a short time later.

She was so impressed with his dedication that she began to re-examine why they had gotten married in the first place. Needless to say they got back together a few months later and have a very beautiful family.

That's my all-round happy story.

The second story is in regards to another friend who was Baha'i and separated from her husband. It was not a pleasant scene and things were very difficult for her. Unbeknownst to her, one of her good friends who helped her through this difficult time was actually falling in love with her. He, too, was Baha'i, and was very aware of the statements from the Guardian saying that we should not date other people during the Year of Waiting. He knew all about the Year being used to attempt reconciliation, and encouraged her to try her best, which she did. Whenever talks broke down he was there to pray with her and encourage her to not give up. He did all he could to try and help her repair her broken marriage.

When all this failed, and she did finally get divorced, he was still there by her side allowing her to cry on his shoulder. It was only after a suitable amount of time (what that means, I don't know), when she was ready to  consider another relationship, that he allowed his feelings for her to be known. And even then, he did this cautiously, supremely concerned about their friendship, wanting nothing to harm it.

They got married, and they, too, have a very beautiful family. They attribute the strength of their relationship to both of their obedience to her Year of Waiting.

While that second story is not about reconciliation, it is about success in regards to the Year of Waiting.

The third story is my own.

I was very happily married to a wonderful woman who had my deep admiration and love.

I was hoping to have a 3 or 4 children with her, but she was not overly fond of kids. She agreed that we would have 1. That was a compromise I could easily live with. However, we agreed to wait a few years before having a child, so that we could get comfortable in our marriage first.

After a few years we began to talk about the actuality of having a child, and she confessed that she did not think she would be able to go through with it. Much discussion and prayers followed, and it was recognized that this was an irreconcilable difference. We both knew that I could have talked her into it, but she would have been rightfully resentful. And we both knew that if I were to be denied the possibility of a child in my life, I would become resentful later. We looked at all the possible solutions, and nothing worked.

It was with deep sadness that we began our Year of Waiting.

Throughout this time we would frequently call on each other for comfort and solace. We cried on each other's shoulders more times than I can count, but still found no solution.

At the end of the Year, we were still very good friends, sad at the thought of divorcing, but aware that there was no other option.

Now, 20 years later, we are still good friends (although her current husband was uncomfortable with the thought that we were friends on Facebook, so we did unfriend each other in that forum), happily married to other people, and I have a wonderful son in my life.

Now, I could share other stories, but I have my last Christmas art sale this weekend, and I have to get ready for it. But I thought this was such an important request that I wanted to get something out there, for I remember how long a couple of days can seem during a Year of Waiting.

So there they are: 3 stories about Years of Waiting. Each very different, but I think they are all positive, giving hope to what may seem like a dark time in obedience to a law.

(I'll probably re-read this on Monday and make some serious editorial changes, but for now I'm off to sleep.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Father

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of fatherhood recently, and not just because I am a father. Mainly it's because I just read this incredible book by Henri Nouwen called The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is a wonderful book and I highly recommend pretty much anything by him.

That being said, let me take you on my thought train, if you wish. Feel free to get off at any time, as this train does make frequent and unscheduled stops. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the scenery.

It all begins in Luke, chapter 15. The Gospel of St Luke. In the Bible. (Just in case you somehow didn't actually know that, which I really can't imagine.)

It is here that we find the parable of the Prodigal Son. But more than that, we find 3 parables in a row, set in a very interesting context. The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus is with the tax collectors and the sinners, and that the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about this. "Why", they basically say, "is He hanging out with such folk?"

And what does Jesus do in the face of such complaints? He offers 3 parables: that of the lost sheep, the lost drachma, and finally that of the prodigal son.

In the first, as you know, He says that any good shepherd would leave his 99 sheep who are safe in order to find the 1 that is lost. He then points out that the shepherd would rejoice in finding that one lost sheep. In the second He speaks of a woman who is rejoicing because she found a lost coin after searching her entire house for it. Finally, in the third, He talks about the prodigal son and how the father rejoices upon his return.

From a sheep to a coin to a child, He is not only giving us a series of things that are growing in importance to His audience, He is placing the lost individual above the other two, reminding us that while we celebrate the first two instances of finding something lost, we should rejoice even more with the third.

But let's look at that third parable again. After all, this is what got me started and led me to my ruminations on fatherhood.

We all know about how the son has returned and the father is celebrating. But what about the details? This is, after all, a Messenger of God Who is telling us this story, and the details often prove enlightening. The first two parables are quite short, and this third one is much longer, so there must be some reason for that. At least, I presume there is a reason for that. As usual, though, please don't take my word for it. Let's take a look at the parable itself.
“There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he rcame to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might ecelebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
As you can see, there are three central characters in this story: the prodigal son, the elder brother and the father. Moving from youngest to eldest, we can easily imagine ourselves to be in the position of the younger brother, who was prodigal. We can easily imagine ourselves in such a position, casting away all that had been given to us for a few moments of selfish pleasure. We can read into the story the concept that this son had effectively told his dad that he was as dead to him, hence the "give me my inheritance" line and the moving to a foreign country. I could go on about this, but Nouwen already does, and he does it so well.

We could also see ourselves as the elder brother, becoming angry at the thought of the younger brother being so easily forgiven, and even rewarded upon his return. We can see the injustice perceived by the older brother and easily find ourselves rising with similar anger in our heart.

But then comes the response of the father: "All that is mine is yours." This younger brother already received his inheritance, and squandered it, but the remaining wealth will go to the one who remained faithful. We are never told if the older brother went back in to the party, but we can readily see the father calling him to find gladness and joy where he can.

This, Nouwen tells us, and I agree with him, is the heart of the story. It is not merely a call to come back to a good life if we have strayed from that, nor is it to celebrate the return of those who have made such a journey. I think it is a call for us to find that compassion of the father deep within our heart and act on it every chance we get.

I could easily end this at this point, but there are a couple of other things that have caught my attention on this little journey of my train of thought.

The first is one of the last phrases that Jesus said, while He was on the cross: "Father, why hast Thou foresaken Me?" So often I see this as referring to some sort of indication of despair that Jesus may have felt at that particular moment. This just does not make sense. He was a Messenger of God, and He knew exactly what was happening. He chose, even during that tortured and troubled moment to offer us another lesson. He was quoting Psalm 22. I would encourage you to read it now, and see how it relates.

The second stop on this train of thought is the concept of compassion with the parable of the Prodigal Son. It seems to me that we are being called to rise to this station of divine compassion, and yet, at the same time, Jesus said "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

It was Baha'u'llah Who came to bring peace, the One Who came in the Glory of the Father. And here, in this parable, we can begin to see a little glimpse of what is He has done, and what it is that He is asking us to do. He is asking us not to be like the children in this parable, either wasting away our life and treasures, nor to act in self-righteous anger, thinking ourselves better for showing piety and obedience. He is asking us to grow into understanding the actions of others, and to still love them for who they are, noble children of a noble father, worthy of love, respect and compassion. He is asking us to be like that loving parent who loves their children under all conditions, and at all times. He is asking us to recognize our own maturity as a human race, and encouraging us to help others recognize it, too.

I think this is where I shall get off the train. I hope you enjoyed the ride. (Perhaps you can tell me what is further down the track.)