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.


  1. Wow, that was much more than I had expected! Thanks a lot! Coming from a Christian background I'm fairly familiar with the Gospels but that's about it. So, it was really interesting to read those stories of the Jews. And you are right about what we need to do ... if only it was that easy :) Did you know one of the meanings of the name Maria was stubborn/rebellious? That explains the trouble :)

  2. Thanks Mead. As always far beyond informative perhaps bordering on wise.;-)