Monday, April 29, 2013

"Contrary to My Wishes..."

"How was your day?"

The question seemed simple enough. I mean, isn't this what a lot of us ask our spouse when they come home after a long day at work? And this is not meant as a frivolous question. It's actually a serious one. It's sort of like, "How are you". I don't know about anyone else, but when I ask it, I really am looking for an honest and heartfelt answer. Even 'Abdu'l-Baha asked a similar question, expecting an honest answer: "Are you happy?" He would ask 3 times, which is what I have found to be the requisite number of times for a sincere and honest answer. Most people respond with a flippant "Sure", on the first try. Then they say, more hesitantly, "Yeah, I guess so." Then on the third asking they usually talk about something that is making them unhappy.

But that was all I asked: "How was your day?"

The response? "Things went contrary to my wishes today."

I could only smile at that.

A number of years ago we heard a talk by a Counsellor in which he said that his wife would sometimes ask him the same question: "How was your day". And his reply was sometimes, "Things went contrary to my wishes." His wife would smile and say, "Well, sorrow not", and she would go about her own business.
O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.

Now this is only the last bit of the long passage from Gleanings, and I have long wondered what the rest of it said. I'd read it before, but I never seem to be able to recall the context of that particular paragraph.

And so this morning, I looked it up.


Gleanings number 153 (or CLIII, if you prefer the Roman numerals).

It's quite a long passage, so I won't copy it all here, but you can click here for the complete text, if you want. In fact, I would suggest it. I mean, not only is it a passage from the Most Exalted Pen, but as I am going to be referring to it here, the rest of what I say won't make much sense without it. (Come to think of it, reading Baha'u'llah's text won't necessarily help what I write make sense anyways.)

As you can see, it begins by referring to our remoteness from God and reminds us how to get closer to that divine Presence. He talks about the dangers of our "covetous desires' and how they can destroy "the habitation wherein dwelleth My undying love for thee". That particular phrase is interesting: "covetous desires". They are not just any desires, but the ones that are covetous. They are those desires that are marked our longing for something, our extreme desire to possess something. It is, after all, acceptable to want something, like food when we are hungry, or money for our work so that we can help both our families and the poor. But when that desire becomes covetous, when it becomes extreme, it is no longer good. It is as if it begins to come between us and God. And whenever anything comes between us and God, it has ceased to be good. When we want something so much, to the point of doing anything for it, even violating the laws of God, then we have placed it at the centre of our heart. "Love Me, that I may love thee" is the command of Baha'u'llah. Actually, it is not so much a command as a law of nature, as natural as the law of gravity. If we cease to love God, if we place something else in the centre of our heart, then His "love can in no wise reach" us. Those "covetous desires" can destroy that habitation of God's very love: our own heart.

In the next clause, He points out that our "self and passion" can overcloud "the beauty of the heavenly youth". What does that mean? Well, as you know, this is only my opinion, and nothing official, but to me it is a reminder that if we are full of our self, or overly passionate in our exposition of the Faith, this can turn people off. No matter how beautiful the Writings may be, it is we who are often the first gate to someone's exploration of them. Those of us who came to the Faith on our own know that it was an individual who introduced us. Now, if that person was a know-it-all, would we have listened? I know that I wouldn't have. It would have turned me off. I wouldn't have even begun to explore the Writings. And if my teacher was overly zealous, that would have turned me off, too. Both of those attitudes would have been as clouds to Baha'u'llah's sun.

The rest of this paragraph continues on in this vein. We should be righteous, fear nothing except God, and so on. As you can see, dear Reader, this passage is filled with simple guidance that is found in all sacred Texts, reminding us to turn to God. Although it is phrased so beautifully, there is nothing here that any of us would say is particularly new. Instead, it is a reminder, in beautiful language, of what has been told to us for millennia by all the divine Messengers.

Then, in that second paragraph, He refers to that "shoreless ocean", which brings to mind the very beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan: "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you..." He goes on and refers to our search, further emphasizing that reference to the Iqan. He even reminds us of the goal of our search: to draw closer to and be united with him.

With this lofty goal in mind, He continues, in the third paragraph, by cautioning us against that which can distract us from this goal: our own vain imagination. As we walk the path of truth, we can easily misunderstand things, misinterpret them. We can easily read a single passage out of context and start to believe in something that is totally wonky. Many, for example, have read that incredible passage in the Qur'an, in which Muhammad is referred to as the Seal of the Prophets, and have taken this to mean that none shall ever come after Him. This is similar to those who have read in the Bible the statement by Jesus that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that none shall come to the Father except by Him. They have taken this to mean that God's hands are tied and no other Messenger shall ever continue the Message Jesus gave, despite the many verses to the contrary. These interpretations have hindered many from even beginning to search. Baha'u'llah, incidentally, has promised us that another Messenger shall come. It is a guarantee. But, as He said, it will be at least 1000 years, so we don't need to worry about searching until then. And whether that means 2817, 2844, 2863 or 1000 years from the date of the revelation of that particular passage, who knows. Either way, it doesn't affect us, or even our great-great grandchildren, so we can put it out of our mind for now.

In the fourth of the nine paragraphs, He tells us to "Retrace your steps". Now that we admit our own shortcomings, and recognize that we can misunderstand sacred Text, He directs us back to those same Texts. Go back to the Writings. Make sure that we understand everything within them in light of their sanctified and exalted character. If there is something within them that leads us to hate, or to think that we are somehow better than another, we can be certain that we have misunderstood. Look at them again in a fuller context. They should always lead us to compassion, love and humility.

Paragraph 5 opens with a beautiful metaphor: "Deprive not yourselves of the unfading and resplendent Light that shineth within the Lamp of Divine glory. Let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts. Feed it with the oil of Divine guidance, and protect it within the shelter of your constancy. Guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light." It is so worth examining this metaphor in detail. It is the love of God that is the flame in this lamp, and whether that is our love for God, or God's love for us, I leave up to you to decide. Either way, it is this love that is visible to others, this love that shines the light that guides the way in the dark world. Personally, I think it is our love for God, as it is fed by our obedience to God's laws, and protected by our continued obedience. The glass that protects this flame from blowing out by the slightest, or even strongest, breeze is our trust and detachment. I could easily go on and on about this metaphor, but I think it would just bore you. It is far more rewarding to contemplate it for yourself. one of my favorite exercises was to actually get one of these old-style oil lamps and study how it actually worked. It was interesting to remove the globe and see how it affected the flame. It was fascinating to remove the metal piece that held the wick and to see what happened. It was enlightening to see how the flame burned when the oil was gone. There is so much more in this simple metaphor than I first thought, and I encourage you to experiment with it yourself.

Then He goes back to the Ocean and the shores of the Ocean. It is interesting to remember that the ocean has more than one shore. Oceans are vast, and can be approached from so many different ways. I currently live on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, but this shore is in Victoria, BC, Canada. It is quite different from the shores of California, or Hawai'i, or Vanuatu, or Japan, or Peru, or Easter Island, or Kamchatka, all of which are also on the shores of this same ocean. If we think for a moment that only our beach has access, we should go back to those Writings and think again. And lest we think the beach is far away, He reminds us that it "is near, astonishingly near".

Then He gives us a glimpse of ourselves. He reminds us of those inestimable treasures that He has placed within our very souls. And He, at the same time, reminds us of how fragile those treasures can be if we fall prey to insincerity, or petty desires, or even hate and envy.

From this to paragraph 7, He shows us, again, how we can free ourselves of these impediments. By diving deep in the Ocean of his Words we can find those pearls of power and wisdom that will help us in our quest. And just in case we missed it, He reminds us again of Muhammad when He says that He has unsealed that choice wine. Over and over again he guides us from wherever we may be, ever forward closer and closer to our Creator.

Now, in paragraph 8, He describes Himself. He describes the purity of His Words. He reminds us in more detail of those admonitions from the very beginning of this passage. Follow God. Be faithful to our pledge. Don't get distracted by worldly things.

And then, in the very end, that passage that started this whole article: "Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain."

What a vision. What a promise. So much more than we normally dream. Baha'u'llah raises our vision not only of ourselves, and this world, but also of those worlds to come.

Now, when I come home this afternoon and Marielle asks me how my day was, how can I even begin to answer?

No comments:

Post a Comment