Friday, December 29, 2017

Depths of the Ocean

I've been studying the Kitab-i-Iqan for a number of years with my good friend, Samuel. Now, on the surface that looks pretty good, but really it doesn't tell you much. It only tells you the book, the individual, and that it's been at least two years, because, after all, two is a number, and it is plural. But really, it's been over 17 years.

It's been quite the journey.

And you know what? I feel like it's only begun.

Just the other day, a friend and I decided to look at the Iqan together here, while our children are taking part in a junior youth group. It keeps us out of their hair, and gives us something to do at the same time.

To give you an idea of what we've been doing, let me just say that we noticed that the following outline helped us break down the book into sizable chunks that we could begin to digest. The numbers refer to the paragraphs, not pages.

1 - 2  An introduction to the goal of our search.
3 - 6  Consider the past, and reflect
7 - 17  Messengers of the past
  • 7 - 8 Noah
  • 9  Hud
  • 10  Salih
  • 11 Abraham
  • 12  Moses
  • 13 - 16 Reasons for the denials
    • 13 "What could have caused such contention and conflict?"
    • 14 The motives of the people
    • 15 The motives of the clergy
    • 16 Ignorance - the main reason for denial
  • 17 Jesus
18 - 23 The Eternal Covenant

  • 18 Introduction
  • 19 "I will return"
  • 20 Unity of the Messengers
  • 21 - 23 "When will You return?
Of course, that is only the beginning. From there, paragraph 24 appears to us to be the major theme and outline for the rest of Part 1, in which Baha'u'llah looks at each phrase in the quote form Jesus (Matthew 24) and opens it up for us.

But looking at the beginning of the book again, with my friend Soraya, she pointed out things that I had never noticed before, or maybe noticed, but hadn't figured out a rationale for yet. For example, in paragraph 2, Baha'u'llah mentions that we must cleanse "(our) ears from idle talk, (our) ears from vain imaginings, (our) hearts from worldly affections, (our) eyes from that which perisheth." I mean, I noticed that He said this, and that He focused on a few attributes, but I never realized that there was a bit of a path there. It begins with the ears. We listen to what others say. This affects our mind, the way we think about things. That, in turn, affects our heart. This is one of the reasons that materialism is so dangerous. It sets our heart to focusing on the material things of life, encouraging us to neglect the more important things. This, in its own turn, changes how we see the world around us. It is like when we are happy, all seems beautiful in the world. But when we are sad, even the most beautiful thing fails to move us. And so, right at the very beginning, He is placing within this beautiful text clues about how we work, what it means for us to be human beings.

That was the beginning of realizing once again how valuable it is to study the Writings with others. Just the other night, during the junior youth group, we continued our study. We read paragraphs 7 - 12. This is what I mean about the outline helping us break it down into bite-size digestible chunks. We noticed that it was a reasonable amount, and it brought us to the end of a section.

What caught our attention was at the end of paragraph 8: "...the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, His servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns."

This was a passage I had flagged way back when Samuel and I began our own study. I sensed that there was a path there, but for the life of me, I couldn't see what it was.

That night, I feel like I began to get a glimpse. Perhaps it was Soraya, and her particular perspective that I value so much, or maybe the fact that we were fasting at the time, or more likely some combination of the two. Either way, a glimpse into this passage was offered me, for which I am very grateful.

Breaking it down into phrases, we see:

  • light from darkness
  • truth from falsehood
  • right from wrong
  • guidance form error
  • happiness from misery
  • roses from thorns

They are, of course, sets of pairs. No great insight there.

Light and dark, though, are the very most basic elements of creation, straight from Genesis 1, and that beginning of creation. From the darkness, God brought forth the light, and thus creation is occurring. Oh, that's not a typo. In the Hebrew, the verb is more accurately translated as "In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth..." It is still happening.

Anyways, from there we get truth and falsehood. Truth is defined as "that which conforms to reality", so something already exists. Truth merely expresses what has been created.

Right and wrong move up a level or complexity, for now we are dealing with moral issues.

Guidance move us up yet another level, for this comes down from God, and following this guidance leads us to that next step, happiness.

Finally, you have the roses and the thorns. The roses are presumably referring to those parts of the flowers that are attractive, from their colour and their scent, which have become that symbol of love in many cultures. The thorns, however, are that part of the same flower which repel.

Looking at those 6 pairs, if we follow the words on the left, we end up us roses, points of attractive beauty in the garden of delight. if we follow that path on the right-hand side, we become like the thorns. The choice is up to us.

This book really is quite astonishing, and its depths really are unfathomable.  I would so love to read what gems you have found in it.

Monday, December 25, 2017


One of my favorite things to do, as you may know, dear Reader, is to look at a single word throughout the Writings and see what I can glean from that. So imagine my surprise when I saw someone on-line doing just this with the word "sweetness" the other day. To be fair, they just copied and pasted a series of quotes with the word, and no analysis, so I thought I'd fill that gap.

And what word was it? I'm glad you asked.

It was sweet.

No, I mean, it was the word "sweet". Well, actually, "sweetness", but close enough.

Anyways, before I begin to look at that, I want to share a bit of a thought about sweetness itself.

What is sweet? It is the taste sensation we get when tasting something that has sugars in it.

Now, some people freak out when they hear the word sugar, thinking that anything with sugar is bad. The problem is, even if you are diabetic, you need sugars to live. This is what gives energy to your body's cells. Without sugars, you die. Plain and simple.

On the other hand, refined sugars are not good for you.

But what are refined sugars? Well, they are sugars that have been taken out of context. Beets, for example, are good for you, especially in borscht. Mmm. I love borscht. Hey, maybe I'll make some borscht for lunch today. I have a few beets in the fridge that need eating. And I can add in a nice vegetable stock, along with a few.... Oh, sorry.

Where was I?

Refined sugars. Yeah. Thanks.

Beets are good for you, but when you mush them and mash them, liquefy them, and separate out all the sugars from the rest of the beet, those sugars are no longer good for your body unless you're a hummingbird. And when you consider how fast a hummingbird's heart has to beat, that just makes sense. But hummingbirds, alas, we are not. Instead, these refined sugars, white sugars, give us a sudden buzzing boost and then are quickly used up, dropping us as fast as they let us up. They are not satisfying in the long run, and can even damage us if we subject ourselves to too much of them.

But what, I hear you saying, does this have to do with Baha'u'llah's quotes, all quoted at the bottom of this article, with the word "sweetness" in them? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. It's one of the things that makes writings these articles so much easier, your questions.

Well, let's look at one: "Pleasant is the utterance of the Friend: Where is the soul who will taste its sweetness..."

Obviously "sweetness" is referring to the Word of God here, and in many of the quotes. In others He uses it to refer to His "remembrance and praise" and also to the liberty that is found in "complete servitude to God", but mostly to His Words.

So, looking at the sugar metaphor, we can see that it is through these words that we get life. After all, without simple sugars, our cells have no energy and we die. So, too, without the simple truths in these words, we die in spirit. Oh, and that refers to all sacred Text, as far as I'm aware. It is these simple truths that we find throughout cultures all over the world, and even in the heart of the sciences, but that's surely for another article.

However, and this is a big however, if we take these things out of context, refine them to extract just the white sugar out of it, so to speak, then we find that they are actually bad for us.

What do I mean? Well, remember all the horrors in history that have occurred due to people taking religious things out of context. To me, that's a perfect example.

Another example is the phrase "turn the other cheek". I've written about this before, but let me just say it again. If you look in the Bible, you won't find that phrase in there. After all, what does it mean? Basically, it means if someone slugs you, let him slug you again. What does anyone learn? Well, for me, I'd learn pain, but I think I'd rather pass on that. Oh, and the aggressor learns that they can just beat up whoever they want. Again, I think I'll pass. If you go back to the source, though, Matthew 5:39 and the surrounding story, it specifies "If a man strikes you on the right cheek". That's pretty specific. So, by acting it out, you quickly realize that the person striking you on your right cheek is either left-handed, which is rare, or they are backhanding you. They are slapping you, as if in insult. And if you offer them your other cheek, your left one, then if they strike again, in the same manner, they will strike you square in the face. This raises the level of aggression beyond what is considered reasonable. After all, slapping someone in insult is considered reasonable by many, although it used to lead to duels. But striking someone in the face goes beyond an unspoken limit. And that's where the lesson is. By simply turning your other cheek to them, they will either back down, having learned shame, a  good spiritual lesson, or strike again, earning the condemnation of those around, which teaches the lesson of collective security, another good spiritual lesson. But by extracting that little bit of refined sugar, "turn the other cheek", it's no longer a useful lesson. It no longer provides the life that is so needed.

So, what do I get out of all this? Well, it's like food. Eat the whole food, not just the refined sugars. Read the whole of a quote, not just a small portion. Take things in context, for out of context that can be very damaging. They may look good in the short term, but can have devastating long-term consequences.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the day spring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness.
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 20, paragraph 3)

O servants! Pleasant is the utterance of the Friend: Where is the soul who will taste its sweetness, and where is the ear that will hearken unto it? Well is it with him who, in this day, communeth with the Friend and in His path renounceth and forsaketh all save Him, that he may behold a new world and gain admittance to the everlasting paradise.
(Baha'u'llah, Tabernacle of Unity, p. 70, paragraph 4.10)

Were ye to taste of the sweetness of the sayings of the All-Merciful, ye would unhesitatingly forsake your selves, and would lay down your lives for the Well-Beloved.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 84)

The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven.
(Baha'u'llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 64, paragraph 125)

Were any man to ponder in his heart that which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed and to taste of its sweetness, he would, of a certainty, find himself emptied and delivered from his own desires, and utterly subservient to the Will of the Almighty. Happy is the man that hath attained so high a station, and hath not deprived himself of so bountiful a grace.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 343)

Cause me to taste, O my Lord, the divine sweetness of Thy remembrance and praise. I swear by Thy might! Whosoever tasteth of its sweetness will rid himself of all attachment to the world and all that is therein, and will set his face towards Thee, cleansed from the remembrance of any one except Thee.
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah LVI, p. 82)

Blessed is he that hath tasted of the sweetness of Thy remembrance and praise. Nothing, not even the arising of all the peoples of the whole world to assail him, can hinder such a man from directing his steps towards the paths of Thy pleasure and the ways of Thy Cause.
(Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah CXX, p. 205)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Of Miracles and Magic

"Papa", my son asked me on the way to his bus this morning, "what is a miracle?"

The question arose because in recent days we have seen a lot of disparaging comments on-line from people who claim to be Baha'is, sadly enough, ridiculing people who believe in miracles. Now, I say that they claim to be Baha'i because, honestly, I don't know them, so they might or might not be. I have no idea. Personally, I can't imagine anyone who is a Baha'i ridiculing anyone for any belief, but what do I know. I'm just one Baha'i, and whatever I say here is only my own personal opinion, as I so love to point out.

But Shoghi's question was a good one, and so I decided to turn it back on him.

"Well, I don't really know. What does a miracle mean to you?" Always a great tactic, turning a question around on someone.

He thought about it and kind of stumbled with "It's something that happens that can't really happen... I mean, it's something that can't really occur."

"Like magic?"

"Yeah. It's something that can't happen, so it really doesn't exist."

"Really?" I was curious about this idea, so I decided to try a thought experiment. "Suppose you saw someone pick up a little metal box, touch it and then begin talking to someone through it. Would that be magic?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"It would depend on what the box is, and who they're talking to."

"Well, what if you saw someone take a straight white stick and wave it over the ground and then suddenly a plant started to grow. Would that be magic?"

"Of course."


"Because that can't happen."

"Are you sure?" And with that he began to really look thoughtful. "Suppose it was a thousand years ago, or even a hundred, or actually even only thirty years ago, and you saw this person with a cel phone. Imagine seeing them touching it and then begin talking to someone. Would that be magic?"

"Oh," he began to understand, "no. It would just be something that they didn't understand yet. So, with the stick, it could be something that works, but we just don't know how yet."

You see, dear Reader, what Shoghi understood at that moment was that many things we consider miracles are just something that we haven't understood how to do yet. As Arthur Clarke so famously put it, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Now, take a careful look at this quote from Baha'u'llah.
"We entreat Our loved ones not to besmirch the hem of Our raiment with the dust of falsehood, neither to allow references to what they have regarded as miracles and prodigies to debase Our rank and station, or to mar the purity and sanctity of Our name."

Does He say that miracles don't exist? No. He says that we should not "allow references to what (we) have regarded as miracles and prodigies to debase (His) rank and station..." In other words, in my opinion, it means that we shouldn't regard Him as a Manifestation because of these miracles, but rather because of what He teaches. We shouldn't claim the wonder of the Kitab-i-Iqan because it was revealed in under three days, but rather claim it because of what it says. But that last is beside the point.

In regard to miracles, let's take a careful look at one that is reported about Baha'u'llah, namely that of the mulberry tree. As you know, the gardener was getting upset because he always had to clean under the mulberry tree because of all the fruit it dropped. Really annoying, as anyone who has ever had one knows. After a bit of pleading, Baha'u'llah agreed to take care of it. The tree never gave fruit again.

Miracle? Well, sure.

Magic? Why not?

Science? Well, yes, too. Mulberry trees are known to change their gender in the middle of their life. We know this, now.

In the end, what is the difference between any of these?

Or let's look at another famous miracle in the history of the Faith: the martyrdom of the Bab. You are surely familiar with the story of how He was suspended, with Anis, before 750 riflemen. They all fired, and after the smoke cleared, He was gone. Anis was unharmed, and the Bab was nowhere to be seen. After properly freaking out, they found Him back in His cell finishing a letter He had been dictating before being so rudely interrupted.

Miracle? Well, sure.

Magic? Why not?

Science? Let's consider. The head of the militia, Sam Khan, had spoken to the Bab beforehand and said that he couldn't see that the Bab had done anything wrong. He asked that he, as a good Christian, be excused from this task, but the Bab told him not to worry. He said that he was hired to do a job and God would not hold him accountable. I am certain that Sam Khan told his people about this, and I can easily imagine each of them thinking, "I don't want to be the one to kill Him" and raising their rifle to fire high. I can easily imagine this. Does that detract from the story? Not a bit. After all, which is more miraculous: God being a bag of hot air and moving the bullets out of the way, or changing the hearts of all 750 hardened military dudes? I vote for the latter.

And again, what difference does it make? Miracle, magic and science are so easily confused due to our limited understanding.

The Universal House of Justice said it so well when they wrote: "To any of your friends who are confused on this issue, you can explain that the principle of harmony between religion and science, while it enables us, with the help of reason, to see through the falsity of superstitions, does not imply that truth is limited to what can be explained by current scientific concepts. Not only do all religions have their miracles and mysteries, but religion itself, and certain fundamental religious concepts, such as the nature of the Manifestations of God, are far from being explicable by present-day scientific theories."

Or, in a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, "To reject miracles on the ground that they imply a breach of the laws of nature is a very shallow, well-nigh a stupid argument..." One of my favorite lines. I really like a faith that can, in an official letter from a centre of authority, call an argument shallow and stupid. It's kind of refreshing. Can't you just see the Guardian sighing in frustration at the letter that provoked this response? Oh, and even though it was only "written on behalf of the Guardian", Shoghi Effendi still read it and approved its being sent. So, yes, it is official, before any nitpickers out there try to minimize it.

But let me address one other point here which I did not talk about with my son, only because his bus arrived.

There are some Baha'is out there who are claiming that if it is not scientific, we don't believe it. They say that anyone who does believe in anything remotely miraculous or magical must somehow be ignorant or stupid.

Well, ignorant I would agree with. After all, ignorant just means we don't know. And if we knew how something happened or worked, then it wouldn't be miraculous. We would be able to explain it.

Anyways, the issue I would point out is that of prayer.

"You pray", I want to ask these people, "don't you? You say your obligatory prayer every day."

"Of course", I can hear them say. "Baha'u'llah commanded us to do so."

"What is the difference? Do you truly understand the dynamics of how prayer works? Can you explain in scientific terms what is happening? How is the effect of prayer any different from what others call magic?"

You see, dear Reader, when we accept that the miraculous does occur, even though it is not a proof of a Manifestation's authority and power, then we allow ourselves to begin to learn about the wonder of creation from all sorts of sources. We teach our children of the dreams that Baha'u'llah's father had, and I'll tell you, the Shamen I have spoken with have helped me gain a far greater appreciation of this story. We teach our children of the importance of nature, and I truly believe we can learn a lot about this from the great teachers in the animist religions.

As the House of Justice pointed out in that quote above, the Faith can help us sift through "the falsity of superstitions", but once we remove that, we can better see the truths that lay latent within those teachings.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Twigs of a Family Tree

This is something of a cop out. I'll freely admit that I'm tired of writing right now, and want to take a bit of a break. That's ok. I have a good thing to mention before getting back to my day job, which is as a fashion designer and jeweler.

In case I haven't mentioned it before now, my friend and spiritual mother, Lucki Wilder, inerviewed me a little while ago and used some of my answers, as well as some excerpts from the blog here, to write a book. It is something of a family tree, hence the title, Twigs of a Family Tree.

While we were consulting on it, it became quite clear that she was the author, and so my role in its development took a different turn than I had expected. That's ok. I don't mind. As long as we were clear on it, I was ok with that.

So, in short, the book describes how Razvanieh, the woman who taught her, became a Baha'i. Following that chapter is the story of how Lucki became Baha'i. Then comes my story, and it concludes with my friend Theresa's story.

That's the super short synopsis.

The longer version has all sorts of stories within it about our personal struggles, the question we had, and how the Faith has changed our life.

I find it quite fascinating for a few reasons. First, it's interesting to see how Lucki edited my story together. Second, as I read it, it doesn't sound like my voice at all, not that many others would notice. And third, it's neat to see how some of my stories made their way into her section, as they fit better there, and how some of her stories fit into mine. This was done purely for editorial reasons, to help try and keep the flow, as well as avoiding redundancy.

There are some sections in it that make me think, "Wow, I can't believe it", and others that make we sit up and say, "That's profound."  I had a friend come by my table while I was sitting in a coffee shop reading it, and she wanted to know what I was reading. She said I seemed quite captivated by it. I read her a passage, which had her saying, "I never thought of that in that way before". I agreed, saying that I hadn't either, and then we both realized it was in my section. For the life of, though, I swear it was Lucki that wrote that.

Anyways, I fel like I'm cheating here today, because all I'm doing is writing a bit about that book, and adding in the link to it.


Here's the link:

I hope you read it, and I really hope you enjoy it. If there's anything in there that really touches you, let me know. I'm sure it wasn't written by me.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Freedom from Prejudice and Dealing with Oppression

I've noticed some interesting things recently regarding prejudice and the freedom from it. Most of it has to do with on-line ranting against this gross injustice. Oh, and that's against prejudice, not against the freedom from it. But, to be fair, I've noticed some ranting against the freedom from prejudice, too, but that's a different story altogether.

While I have seen and read a lot over the years on this issue, in recent months I have noticed a slight shift in the discussion. As with most areas of life on the net, there seems to be less and less tolerance. People seem to be becoming more polarized on this issue, as with so many others. But in this issue, it is paramount to remain united.

As with most things, though, there are many issues at play here. One is the very concept of freedom from prejudice, and another is how we respond to oppression.

To start, I just want to point out a few things that are in the Baha'i Writings, and then I will conclude with our own response to it. I only mention this so that you can better see where I hope to be going with this. Oh, and just as a reminder, this is only my own take on it, and not authoritative in any way. I'm sure others will read it a bit differently than I am, and I hope to hear from them. My only encouragement, though, is that any responses strive towards unity and leave behind the divisiveness that is so often found in replies on the net.

My starting point on this topic is Shoghi Effendi's seminal letter, The Advent of Divine Justice. In this work, he outlines three "spiritual prerequisites of success". "Upon the extent to which these basic requirements are met..." he writes, "depend the measure of manifold blessings" we can receive. He lists these requirements as "a high sense of moral rectitude", "absolute chastity", and "complete freedom from prejudice". The first two have a number of implications, such as justice, equity, truthfulness and so forth in regards to this moral rectitude, or modesty, pure-mindedness, and moderation in relation to chastity, as he points out later in the text, but freedom from prejudice does not have any implications. It just is.

With this freedom from prejudice, he is not merely talking about eliminating racism, although that is a big part of it. And he doesn't even get into the semantics of racism, which is the belief that one's race is superior to another. You see, it doesn't matter. Racism is but a subset of prejudice, and he is talking about all forms of prejudice. He addresses racism, of course, but he carefully reminds us that racism is not the only form of prejudice.

When he does talk about racial prejudice, with includes racism but is not limited to it, he says "it should be regarded as constituting the most vital and challenging issue confronting the Baha'i community". And note that he doesn't just call it challenging, even though that was the title an editor added in to the first editions. He says it is the "most vital and challenging issue". By including the word "vital", he reminds us how high the stakes are here. It is a matter of life and death.

He also lets us know that he is aware of the difficulty involved in addressing this issue. He talks about the "ceaseless exertions" needed, "the sacrifices it must impose, the care and vigilance it demands, the moral courage and fortitude it requires, the tact and sympathy it necessitates": these are formidable obstacles we must overcome. "Ceaseless exertions", "sacrifices", "care and vigilance", "moral courage and fortitude", and, just in case we forget, "tact and sympathy". That's quite the list. And just in case anybody thinks that this is the work of one side, he points out that "neither race has the right, or can conscientiously claim, to be regarded as absolved from such an obligation". This is something we must all, no matter our race or background, must work on. And these are the guidelines that we all must follow if we wish to be effective in making a difference.

Once he gives us the caution about how difficult this path will be, he goes on to give us the tools that will help us in this. He says that if we want an example in how we are to approach this issue, we can do no better than to look towards 'Abdu'l-Baha. We can "remember His courage, His genuine love, His informal and indiscriminating fellowship, His contempt for and impatience of criticism, tempered by His tact and wisdom." We can look towards "His keen sense of justice, His spontaneous sympathy for the downtrodden, His ever-abiding sense of the oneness of the human race, His overflowing love for its members". These are guiding principles that we all can, and should, remember. If we ever want to speak to this issue, we can always ask ourselves if what we say, and the manner in which we say it, will bring greater unity to the situation, or just perpetuate this cycle of prejudice.

Today it has become commonplace, and even expected, to openly criticize others. If we do not take a hard stand against an issue, then we are, inappropriately, seen as supporting it. Shoghi Effendi addresses even this point when he says "every differentiation of class, creed, or color must automatically be obliterated, and never be allowed, under any pretext, and however great the pressure of events or of public opinion, to reassert itself." This is not to say that he doesn't recognize differences of culture, or the manner in which we express things, but that we shouldn't allow class, creed, or colour to get in the way. He even goes on to say that it is our "first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation" within the fold of our Faith, but this extends beyond the boundaries of our Faith and to society at large. In fact, if there is a difference of opinion and a tie in a vote, "priority should unhesitatingly be accorded to the party representing the minority". Quite the statement that.

He also recognizes that there are different roles for different people. Obviously, the people in the majority have a different role to play than those who have been oppressed. For example, in talking about the Black-White issue in the United States, he offers the following:

Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds. Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved... Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country. Let them rather believe, and be firmly convinced, that on their mutual understanding, their amity, and sustained cooperation, must depend, more than on any other force or organization operating outside the circle of their Faith, the deflection of that dangerous course so greatly feared by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, and the materialization of the hopes He cherished for their joint contribution to the fulfillment of that country’s glorious destiny.

"Mutual understanding", "amity", "sustained cooperation": those are some of the things we must see if we hope for "the deflection of that dangerous course so greatly feared by 'Abdu'l-Baha".

That's quite a lot, and I could easily leave it here, but there really is more. After all, how are we to respond to oppression and injustice? Is it all just sweet talk and roses? Well, no. As we have just read, there is a lot to it. We must stand up with assertiveness against the oppressor, but not in a manner that leads to more prejudice. It is too easy to hate the oppressor, and thereby perpetuate prejudice. Here the Universal House of Justice holds up the Baha'i community of Iran as an example for us to see.

The following quotes are all from letters addressed to the Baha'is of Iran, and they offer us insights into how we, too, can respond to perpetual injustice.

In one letter they point out that "the proper response to oppression is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor. The victim of oppression can transcend it through an inner strength that shields the soul from bitterness and hatred and which sustains consistent, principled action." I find this one of the most important of all the quotes here. When I am looking at prejudice within myself, and my own efforts to help rid this planet of prejudice, I ask myself if I am taking"on the characteristics of the oppressor". To ask this, though, I must be aware of what those characteristics look like. And, unfortunately, when I read a lot of the comments on-line, often by those very same people who are trying to overcome prejudice in our society, I see them demonstrating those very characteristics of divisiveness and antagonism in the name of trying to help others. While it is true that "the light of knowledge will inevitably dispel the clouds of ignorance", we have to be certain that the light we shine brings people together and doesn't further divide them.

In addressing the Baha'is of Iran, the Universal House of Justice gives great praise to "the parents who, filled with sadness, must explain to (their children) such inhumane treatment while preventing the seeds of resentment and hatred from taking root in their innocent hearts". And that, to me, is the greatest test of all. How do we explain such actions while being careful to avoid creating resentment and hatred? I think the first is to understand the history of the issues involved, and see where the oppressor is coming from, to understand their motive. From there, we can understand their mistake, we can sympathize without agreeing with them. My favorite example of this is the Nazi party in Germany back before World War 2, and please remember that I come from a Jewish background. I fully understand that Germany was unjustly oppressed after the First World War, due to the unjust Treaty of Versailles. I can totally see that this oppression led to anger. I am aware that Hitler, despite his later actions and the unjust use of force against his own people, not to mention others, rebuilt the German economy by renovating the garment industry and the auto sector. He successfully raised them out of poverty and gave them a pride in their cultural identity again. I get that. The problem was in having a scapegoat for all their difficulties. I can easily explain the motives for the early Nazi movement, what they got right, and where they went wrong. This is something I regularly discuss with my son, pointing to similar examples in my own culture. We easily talk about the injustices we see, where people are rightfully trying to correct them, and where they are missing the mark. Because of these conversations, difficult as they are, my son is growing up with a clearer understanding of prejudice in our culture, while avoiding the resentment and hatred that is prevalent today.

Finally, I feel I can do no better than to end with the following beautiful paragraph describing the Baha'is of Iran:

You pursue your path with patience and calm and hold before your eyes these words of the beloved Master: “For ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, captivity is like unto freedom and the prison-cell a heavenly mansion. The bondage of chains and fetters is as pleasant as a stroll among flowers in a luminous garden. The lowly mat is as a lofty throne, and the depths of the pit even as the heights of the celestial realm.” Moreover, you know well that establishing the Kingdom of God in this turbulent world is no easy task. It requires unshakeable faith, complete reliance on God, high endeavour, an indomitable spirit, constant striving, and infinite patience and long-suffering. You are aware of God’s method and look upon your efforts as seeds sown by the divine Husbandman in His field. Cultivating and gathering the crop require hard work, time, patience, and sacrifice, but through the bounties of God, an abundant harvest is assured. You remain confident that just as the seed, which through the outpourings of the rain and the exertions of the gardener gradually grows into a mighty and fruitful tree, so too your selfless efforts and the labours of other Bahá’ís around the globe—vividly apparent at the Convention—will, at the appointed time, through the blessings of the Abhá Beauty, yield wondrous fruits; hearts will be enlightened, this darksome earth illumined, and the oneness of humanity ultimately realized.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Being Moved

"In an increasingly interconnected world, more light is being cast on the social conditions of every people, giving greater visibility to their circumstances. While there are developments that give hope, there is much that should weigh heavy on the conscience of the human race. Inequity, discrimination, and exploitation blight the life of humanity, seemingly immune to the treatments applied by political schemes of every hue. The economic impact of these afflictions has resulted in the prolonged suffering of so many, as well as in deep-seated, structural defects in society. No one whose heart has been attracted to the teachings of the Blessed Beauty can remain unmoved by these consequences."
You will likely recall these profound words written by the Universal House of Justice earlier this year, on 1 March, at the beginning of their letter regarding economics. I remember reading them the first time, and just how excited I was at what they were going to say in this relatively short letter. Now, you may notice that I didn't actually copy the entire first paragraph, but only part of it. There is a reason. I wanted to draw attention to that last sentence.

"No one whose heart has been attracted to the teachings of the Blessed Beauty can remain unmoved by these consequences."

You see, dear Reader, we had a presentation on the Right of God in our community the other day, and one of the things we did was study this letter. Oh, in its entirety, not just the beginning of the first paragraph.

It was a wonderful study, and I wanted to share a little bit of it here with you, since I don't think you were there.

Anyways, I could go on for many pages about the video we saw, End of an Era, and this study, but I think I'll just keep it to this one line.

"No one whose heart has been attracted to the teachings of the Blessed Beauty can remain unmoved by these consequences."

When we read this, one of the friends commented that all Baha'is are moved by these signs, those mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph: inequity, discrimination, exploitation, the prolonged suffering, the deep-seated structural defects. Every Baha'i, they said, is moved.

Now, it may just be me, and the training I have had in my life, but I didn't see it this way. I don't see where they say that this just refers to Baha'is. And I said so.

No one, they say, no one whose heart is attracted to the teachings can remain unmoved. They don't say no one who is attracted to Baha'u'llah, but to His teachings.

So what does that mean to me?

Well, to me it means that anyone who is moved by seeing these sufferings might be open to the teachings. Seeing how people react to the state of affairs in the world can be a good indication that they may be receptive.

It's not that everyone who is moved "by these consequences" will be receptive, but it is another sign that they might be. And yo uknow what? That's good enough for me.

Monday, November 27, 2017

A Conversation

Yesterday I finished by talking about unit 2 of Ruhi Book 1, and was so rudely interrupted by breakfast. Just kidding. Twasn't rude at all.

But I did want to continue this.

(Pretend I'm re-telling the intro here about summarizing Book 1, few minutes, blah blah, got to unit 2, what's the first topic, prayer they said.) (Go to yesterday's post if you really want the full into.)

So they said that the first topic in unit 2 was prayer. "You're not wrong", I replied, "but all of unit 2 is about prayer. What is the first topic about prayer that they discuss?"

After a bit of reading, someone said "Prayer is like a ladder." "Prayer", another person said, "is a fire."

"Both of those metaphors are true, but they're in section 2. And really, to understand those, you need to work your way through the metaphors. Yes, prayer can lift you up and give you a new perspective, just like climbing a ladder. And prayer is a fire? I really don't want to pray if it's going to burn me. Oh, wait, it burns through the veils. You see, this takes a bit of work. But there is another concept in section 1."

"Prayer", someone realized, "is a conversation with God."

"And why would they begin with that? Out of all the beautiful quotes about prayer and how useful and wonderful and necessary it is, why that?"

There was a bit of silence, and then someone said, "Well, anyone can have a conversation."

"Right. And why is that important?"

Now, you have to understand, I hadn't actually planned any of this. I didn't really have an answer. I was just asking questions that, given what I have seen in the the Ruhi curriculum, I suspected would lead to an deeper understanding.

And this, dear Reader, is what we learned.

Anyone can have a conversation. This is something we can all relate to. We know, intuitively, that there is no right or wrong way to do it, but there are certain things we have to do in order for it to be a conversation. We know that we need to listen. We understand that we need to talk. We even recognize the fact that if we are really paying attention to the person with whom we are having the conversation, then that conversation will be more effective, we will get more out of it.

Ok. This is all simple. So why begin the whole unit with that?

Because it is the simplest way to communicate to others what prayer is.

So many people I have met have a very difficult time with the concept of prayer. Oh, they pray, but they tend to think of it as some sort of formula or recipe. It tends to be either something led by a minister in a church with a particular ritual behind it, or some magic formula by which they can get what they want, if they only follow the directions. They don't think of saying prayers with their children by the be at night as prayer. They forget that thanking God for their food before a meal is a prayer. Quite often their life is filled with prayer, but they don't think of it as such.

When we use the very simple description, the clean and elegant definition of "conversation with God", it is as if turning on a light inside their soul.

When we all realized that this is the first concept in that incredibly rich unit on prayer, it was truly an aha moment for us.

There was an excitement in the air.

And afterwards, after we had gone through a quick review of Books 1 and 2, one of the participants said to me that they now wanted to do Book 1 all over again. They felt an excitement over that book that they hadn't felt in many years.

That was really kind of exciting all by itself.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Beautiful Morning

It's a beautiful morning and the household is just beginning to stir. The wind has been blowing hard all morning, the rain has just finished pouring down, and the sun is glowing bright on the horizon. As I looked up to watch the beautiful colours radiating in the clouds a large flock of birds just darted past my window.

It really is a beautiful morning.

It is now 26 November, and I have just a few more days of writing to meet this month-long challenge of writing an article a day. Well, actually, if the challenge was writing an article a day, I failed. Fortunately it was really publishing an article a day. Most of them were finished well ahead of time, but not this one.

And so I am stuck with trying to figure out what to write on this splendid morning.

A few different things come to mind.

First of all, this evening will commemorate the 96th anniversary of the passing of 'Abdu'l-Baha. I only mention this to put the beauty of the day into a context. Despite all the beauty, there is still a tinge of sadness. It is the same as the fact that despite all the sorrow in the world, there is still  beauty.

Secondly, we just celebrated the 200th anniversary of Baha'u'llah's birth a few short weeks ago. I mention this because it i only the beginning of various celebrations. As members of the Baha'i community, we were asked to prepare our friends to receive an invitation to a celebration for such a momentous occasion. This led me, last year, to write an article about inviting. In it I talked about how going up to a friend and saying, "Hey Joe, do you want to come to the Birth of Baha'u'llah celebration?" likely would not receive a favorable reply. It would more likely lead to, "Well, let's go bowling sometime soon."

No. To really be prepared to receive an invitation, they would need to know more about Baha'u'llah and His life, as well as His teachings. As they begin to get a better understanding of His work, then they may be more interested in learning a little bit more. A celebration might be a nice occasion to learn.

Here in British Columbia, Canada, we were asked to make sure we followed up on our invitations to this celebration, and specifically keep track of all those friends who came to follow up activities during the subsequent month. Why? Because teaching is an on-going effort. It doesn't stop with an invitation.

Anyways, why am I mentioning this? Because we have another celebration coming up soon: the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab. And this is what I am beginning to prepare for now, almost two years ahead of time. How, you may ask? I'm glad you did, dear Reader. I'm studying the stories of His life. I am reading what I can find of His writings. I am researching all I can about His teachings.

And I am getting more and more blown away.

I noticed, during the Baha'u'llah's bi-centennary celebration, that there was a lot of focus on His teachings. Makes sense to me. That wonderful movie from the World Centre, while talking about His life, really focused on the social aspect of the Faith. It was great. We could see the impact He had on so many cultures around the globe.

But what about the Bab? What can we focus on there? His prophecies about Baha'u''llah? That seems a bit off, to me.

No. I want to really learn His stories.

As much as I am being blown away by the concepts I am reading regarding the Writings of the Bab, and His teachings on unity and God, Baha'u'llah is so much more clear. I find His teachings far more illuminating.

But the stories, ah, there's what captures me even more.

I remember a Counsellor, a number of years ago, commenting that Christians all knew the stories of Easter and Christmas and everything in between; Baha'is knew the social teachings. And it seems to me that it is the stories that are so useful in attracting attention. The social teachings keep the interest, but it is the stories that attract. And while some are attracted first by the teachings, most are not.

So my study, starting a few weeks ago, has been the stories of the Bab. In preparation for this great celebration coming up in a couple years.

Finally, I am also thinking, this morning, about a gathering I went to a few nights ago. This group wants to do a study circle, but didn't know which book. I suggested going back and just reviewing the first few books before deciding. I said we were not going to do them, but just look at their outlines and remind ourselves where we came from in the sequence of these courses.

Now you've probably read my quick review from a few weeks ago of Book 1. You know that I can summarize it in under 5 minutes. "Action, because if the teachings don't lead to action, what good are they? Truth, because if your actions aren't grounded in truth, then they are not good actions. Kindliness, because you might be acting, and you could be truthful, but you might be mean. And then, ending unit 1, no backbiting. You might be acting, be truthful, think you're being kind, but accidentally be backbiting." And then on units 2 and 3.

But a couple nights ago, I added something new for me. I asked them what the first topic in unit 2 was. "Prayer", they responded.

And you know what? I'm going to save this for tomorrow, because my wife just came downstairs. Time to spend a bit of time with her.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Given what I see in the world today, especially given what passes for religion, I totally understand atheism. It really makes sense. I cannot blame anybody for being an atheist today.

But I'm not an atheist. I do believe in God. However, and here's the kicker, I think we need a new definition of God.

Baha'u'llah has said that He has "instilled into every word a fresh potency", so why not the word "God"?

In many ways, this reminds me of science. Up through the late 19th century, we had taken science about as far as we could, given the definitions that we had. If you're not studied in the sciences, this maybe difficult to explain, but it's true. Given the various definitions of things like "time", "space", "energy", "atom", and all sorts of other things, we had taken science about as far as we could. But then, in the early 20th century, Einstein gave us a new scientific definition of "time". It was no longer this thing that flowed forward at the rate of one second per second, although that sort-of definition describes our every day life with it. Nor was it the mare dictionary-esque "the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole". No. Einstein postulated a flow of time that was directly related to its proximity to a gravitational source. All of a sudden that not only eliminated some discrepancies that arose from the old definition, but showed us many new possibilities that we hadn't even considered.

All because our definition was limited.

Now let's look at God, not as some mystical entity, but as a word.

For a long time, God was seen as a superhuman being that was worshiped because it had some power over nature and our lives. In fact, this definition not only worked for poly-theistic religions, but also describes the common Christian concept of God, too. While Christianity, in general, would see God as the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority, they still view God as "superhuman".

And you know what? This definition has gotten us as far as we can go with it.

Muhammad, and Islam in general, seems to define God mostly through the virtues. This, too, is a good, but limiting definition.

The Baha'i Writings elevate God even above His attributes, removing Him from any direct connection to His creation. The concept of all creation "emanating" from God is quite remarkable. The fact that Baha'u'llah says "And if I proclaim Thee by the name of Him Who is the All-Compelling, I readily discover that He is but a suppliant fallen upon the dust, awe-stricken by Thy dreadful might, Thy sovereignty and power", truly astonishes me. It made me completely rethink my very concept of God.

So when an atheist tells me that they don't believe in God, I usually suggest that it might be a question of definition. After all, Baha'u'llah Himself says, "Whoso claimeth to have known Thee hath, by virtue of such a claim, testified to his own ignorance."

Changing definitions to be more accurate, closer to the truth, can change so many things. This is really hitting home as I read more of the Writings of the Bab. The way that He equates the understanding of how God interacts with the world, recognition of His own station as a Manifestation, and our service to the world shows me more and more how important this subject is.

And again, when I think about just how much the world itself changed with this new definition of time, and space, and the very matter that makes up our universe, I can only imagine the changes that will occur as we, as a society, begin to come to terms with these new definitions that Baha'u'llah has given us.

These words really have been given a new potency.

Friday, November 24, 2017


Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison. It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man's station.

This quote, from Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, is a very interesting one. Which, given that it is from the Pen of Baha'u'llah, is not surprise. I mean, it's kind of like when someone asks me to read a "good prayer". Well, it's kind of difficult not to. So, yeah, this is an interesting quote from the Blessed Beauty.

To start, "Every word..." Not just one or two, a few or even a lot, but all of them. "Every word is endowed with a spirit..."

But what does that mean, to be endowed with a spirit? Well, to be endowed means to be given or to have a quality or ability. In one sense, it could mean that every word has a particular quality to it. The best explanation I ever heard for that was from Edgar Allen Poe, in his essay on how to write a short story. He mentioned the idea of looking at synonyms and finding the one that had the write sound, the tone you wanted in the story. To me, that speaks of the spirit of the word, beyond its definition. For example, "majestic" just sounds much grander than "awesome", even though they are very similar in definition.

Now, beyond the sound of the word, there is also the mystical side of it, in which every word actually has a meaning in the spiritual realms. It is as if they are alive, in some sense. This strikes me in the same way as when Baha'u'llah is addressing, for example, Mount Carmel in the Tablet of Carmel. He talks to it as if it were a living entity. And perhaps, in the realms of the spirit, it is. Who am I to question this?

Here, in this passage, Baha'u'llah seems to imply that there is far more to our words than we imagine.

I mean, we could easily read this passage as simple guidance to choose our words carefully, or we can see a deeper meaning in it. I feel that the choice is ours. We can read this to whatever degree of mysticism we desire.

And that, to me, is a beautiful thing. It makes me feel even more like these little articles I write are like little children put out into the world.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Little Gem

But hear, O My brother, My plaint against them that claim to be associated with God and with the Manifestations of His knowledge, and yet follow their corrupt inclinations, consume the substance of their neighbour, are given to wine, commit murder, defraud and slander each other, hurl calumnies against God, and are wont to speak falsely. The people attribute all these deeds unto Us, whilst their perpetrators remain shameless before God. They cast aside that which He hath enjoined upon them and commit that which He hath forbidden. Yet it behoveth the people of truth that the signs of humility should shine upon their faces, that the light of sanctity should radiate from their countenances, that they should walk upon the earth as though they were in the presence of God and distinguish themselves in their deeds from all the dwellers of the earth. Such must be their state that their eyes should behold the evidences of His might, their tongues and hearts make mention of His name, their feet be set towards the lands of His nearness, and their hands take fast hold upon His precepts. And were they to pass through a valley of pure gold and mines of precious silver, they should regard them as wholly unworthy of their attention.
These people, however, have turned aside from all this and placed instead their affections upon that which accordeth with their own corrupt inclinations. Thus do they roam in the wilderness of arrogance and pride. I bear witness at this moment that God is wholly quit of them, and likewise are We. We beseech God to suffer Us not to associate with them either in this life or in the life to come. He, verily, is the Eternal Truth. No God is there but Him, and His might is equal to all things.

I was reading a bit of Gems of Divine Mysteries, that wonderful book by Baha'u'llah, when I ran across the preceding passages. I was going to just look at the second paragraph, but realized that it needed to first one to explain who "These people" are. I apologize, dear Reader, you are stuck reading 2 paragraphs instead of just one. Well, I'm not really sorry. I mean, it is the Writings of Baha'u'llah, after all.

So, let's begin at the beginning.

A "plaint" is an accusation or a charge, so Baha'u'llah is making an accusation against a group of people. Specifically, He is accusing them of saying that they believe in God, but then lists a whole whack of things that they are doing that goes against the Divine teachings. They "follow their corrupt inclinations, consume the substance of their neighbour, are given to wine, commit murder, defraud and slander each other, hurl calumnies against God, and are wont to speak falsely." They accuse Baha'u'llah of these very crimes, yet commit them themselves with impunity.

Then, as we would expect, He counsels us as to how we should behave. It's quite the list, and worthy of study.

The first thing He says is that "the signs of humility should shine upon their faces". This is interesting, for it determines, to an extent, the first impression we make on others. And we all know how important first impressions can be. But to try to make this an expression on your face? Wow. That's difficult. I have a hard time imagining it. It seems to me that the face would be relaxed, with a soft look of love, never showing any sneering sign of superiority. But to shine? It seems to me that this implies a smile of some sort, and we know, from Haji Mirza Haydar-Ali, that Baha'u'llah loved to see a face wreathed in smiles.

The second part is "that the light of sanctity should radiate from their countenances". It seems to me that this is a step above the first. You can be humble, but still be a fairly wretched person, mired in all sorts of issues. I just imagine the stereotypical broken-down drunk. There may be a humility to them, more from being humiliated, but not the light of sanctity. So here He seems to be saying that humility is a good first step, but our actions must also be pure and free from sin.

Then He says that we "should walk upon the earth as though they were in the presence of God". Ok. Sometimes when I'm all alone, I'll slouch a bit, or be a bit more bedraggled in my attitude. Guilty as charged. But what if I were to always recognize the fact that I'm in the presence of my Lord? I would hold myself, carry myself quite differently. And this, I feel, is quite important. We never know who's watching. More importantly, it will become an ingrained habit. And there's something about carrying ourselves with dignity: we feel more dignified.

Finally, He says we must "distinguish (ourselves) in (our) deeds from all the dwellers of the earth". To be honest, that's not that difficult these days. With so many people mired in complaining about injustices, lusting after material wealth, working the merest minimum amount they can get away with, this is not too difficult. We can distinguish ourselves by standing up to injustice through encouragement to others, practicing detachment and contentment, and striving for excellence in all that we do. I'm not saying it's easy, but just that compared to the world around us, even trying to do things distinguishes us.

"Such must be their state that their eyes should behold the evidences of His might, their tongues and hearts make mention of His name, their feet be set towards the lands of His nearness, and their hands take fast hold upon His precepts. And were they to pass through a valley of pure gold and mines of precious silver, they should regard them as wholly unworthy of their attention." We must learn to see God in everything, speak only that which upholds the underlying unity of all creation, and feel that unity deep within our very heart, for it is that unwavering love of all that will help us better understand this message that Baha'u'llah has brought. And we must continually walk that straight path He has laid out before us, striving with all our strength to help build His promised kingdom. And as for money? It's only a tool that we can use in our efforts, worth no more than that.

But really, the reason I shared this paragraph was so that I could look at the next one.

The people that Baha'u'llah condemns in the beginning of that first paragraph are the ones who "have turned aside from all this and placed instead their affections upon that which accordeth with their own corrupt inclinations." They don't care about justice or integrity. They only care about their own base desires, doing whatever they feel is good for them at the moment, with no regard for others or the future.

Interestingly enough, He says that they are wandering "in the wilderness of arrogance and pride". What an interesting turn of phrase. I had never thought of arrogance and pride as a wilderness, but really, is there anything else further from a true civilization? And this is not the nice nature of a Disney movie, the kind of sweet forest I love to walk around during the day. no, this is a wilderness, harsh and dangerous, deadly, where every moment of survival is a struggle. That, to me, describes arrogance and pride, for I see within the hearts of those who have succumbed to their lure that very struggle every moment. It is such a sad waste of time and energy, so much effort to maintain for so little reward. Ah, the dangers of the ego.

"I bear witness at this moment that God is wholly quit of them, and likewise are We. We beseech God to suffer Us not to associate with them either in this life or in the life to come." And if hell is defined as remoteness from God, well, you can't be more remote than that.

"He, verily, is the Eternal Truth. No God is there but Him, and His might is equal to all things."

Ok. This is what really caught my eye, thanks to my loving wife.

"Eternal Truth", sure. No problem. Truth being that which accords to reality, it makes sense. No God but Him? Again, no problem, for there is only one reality.

"His might is equal to all things." Hmmm.

Might is power or strength, a form of energy that is used in action.

Equal to? Well, that just means they have the same value, can be exchanged for each other.

All things. Every bit of matter in all of creation.

So God's might, His energy, is equivalent to all of creation, every bit of matter in the entire universe. They are equivalent. Of course, like two different currencies, there is an exchange rate involved.

And what would that exchange rate be?

E = mc2

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Clouds of Knowledge

Over the last couple of days I've been looking at this one quote from Baha'u'llah, found in Gleanings, number 18, if you really want to know. I've looked a bit at the sleeping, the divine alarm clock, the wool, and all sorts of things.

Well, here is the next paragraph from that same quote:

This is the Day whereon the All-Merciful hath come down in the clouds of knowledge, clothed with manifest sovereignty. He well knoweth the actions of men. He it is Whose glory none can mistake, could ye but comprehend it. The heaven of every religion hath been rent, and the earth of human understanding been cleft asunder, and the angels of God are seen descending. Say: This is the Day of mutual deceit; whither do ye flee? The mountains have passed away, and the heavens have been folded together, and the whole earth is held within His grasp, could ye but understand it. Who is it that can protect you? None, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! None, except God, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent. Every woman that hath had a burden in her womb hath cast her burden. We see men drunken in this Day, the Day in which men and angels have been gathered together.

"This is the Day whereon the All-Merciful hath come down in the clouds of knowledge..." Today. Not tomorrow. Not some time in the distant future. Now. This is wonderful news. Shocking. Surprising. But He hasn't just given us this knowledge. No. He has descended amidst the clouds of this knowledge. So it is as if this knowledge that He has given us is actually, in some way, a barrier to seeing Him. Of course, given the racism and sexism that is rampant, anyone who claims racial unity, or gender equality, automatically has a barrier between them and their audience. However, and I feel this is important, that barrier is caused by the prejudice of the listener, not the speaker. it goes back to "Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in wise reach thee." If we don't love God, then His love cannot reach us. We have placed ourselves in a position whic hit cannot reach.

"...clothed with manifest sovereignty." Well, this is interesting. Looking at the Kitab-i-Iqan, it seems that this concept of sovereignty was a big one. So much of that incredible book deals with the concern from the uncle of the Bab, trying to understand how the Bab demonstrated His sovereignty. And you will recall, of course, that the sovereignty was not what he thought. it was the same sovereignty shown by all the Manifestations, visible so clearly throughout history, not necessarily at the time of Their presence here on this planet. Today the sovereignty of Jesus, or Muhammad, or Moses or Buddha is beyond any shadow of doubt. Even though we cannot quite so clearly see that same sovereignty of Baha'u'llah yet, we are certain that it will be blindingly evident in the years to come.

"He well knoweth the actions of men." Ok. This is where I'm in trouble. I think I'll just leave it at that.

"He it is Whose glory none can mistake, could ye but comprehend it." None can mistake this glory? That's wonderful. I'll put it in the same category as the sovereignty mentioned above.

But what about "The heaven of every religion hath been rent"? "The earth of human understanding hath been cleft asunder"?  I mean, "the angels of God are descending" sounds good. But what about those first two?

Well, "rent" means to be split, torn apart, or divided. So, the heaven of every religion has been ripped open. That doesn't sound too good, but then again, if we look in the Kitab-i-Iqan, then we get a different understanding of it. "By 'heaven'", He says there, "is meant the heaven of divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation, and rent asunder with every subsequent one. By "cloven asunder" is meant that the former Dispensation is superseded and annulled."

Fair enough. That's one of the special powers of a Manifestation, isn't it? To change the laws of the previous dispensation?  All right.

And we can see what has happened to human understanding since this was written. That's a no brainer.

But "the angels of God are descending"? Well, that sounds like a promise, or more accurately a statement of what is happening. I'm not sure what it means, but it sounds good. Perhaps He is referring to those angels He describes in the Kitab-i-Iqan: "By 'angels' is meant those who, reinforced by the power of the spirit, have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations, and have clothed themselves with the attributes of the most exalted Beings and of the Cherubim." It seems to me that as we continue to teach, continue to study the Word of God, continue to really dive into the Writings and apply them in our lives, more and more of this new generation of Baha'is are exemplifying these words describing what a true angel looks like.

As we move on in the paragraph, we see that "This is the Day of mutual deceit; whither do ye flee?" Wow. What an indictment. "Mutual deceit". It's not just one side, or another, but all sides, and to each other. That sounds so much like what I'm seeing out there, whether in politics or the interpersonal stuff on the various social media sites.

"The mountains have passed away..." Here I'm reminded of what I wrote yesterday. Going back to that, the mountains could be those people we look up to. Now, not only are they like flocks of wool, they are dead, too. They have passed away. Well, that doesn't mean dead, does it? It could be that they have eroded away. Either way, they ain't there now.

"...and the heavens have been folded together..." If we look at the Kitab-i-Iqan again, we see that the heavens could refer to "the heaven of Divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation". And isn't this just what Baha'u'llah has done? He has folded all the Divine Revelations into one. He has helped us understand the continuity and singularity of all of the Divine Messages.

"...and the whole earth is held within His grasp, could ye but understand it." Once again, He is reminding us that we are not in charge. We do not hold supreme sway over what happens. That is God. Everything is in His power. Doesn't that just get us off our high horse? "Who is it that can protect you? None, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! None, except God, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent." This is always a good reminder.

"Every woman that hath had a burden in her womb hath cast her burden. We see men drunken in this Day, the Day in which men and angels have been gathered together." What a day indeed. A day in which the women have suffered such untold hardships that they have literally had a miscarriage. Men are drunk, too besotten to be able to hold reasonable discourse, even though this is the very day in which they could, if they were sober, actually converse with those divine beings, the angels.

That's kind of what I think of when I read this: missed opportunity.

And yes, I know, I'm only touching the merest bit on the surface. But trying to write an article this quickly, this late at night, after coming home from the Feast, knowing I have to get some sleep, what do you expect?

I'd be very curious to see what you think, dear Reader, of this paragraph.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Flocking Wool

"This is your Lord, the God of Mercy."

"Ding ding ding. Good morning. This is the God of Mercy with your early morning wake-up call."

That's kind of what I hear when I re-read that quote I ended with yesterday.

"Witness how ye gainsay His signs! The earth hath quaked with a great quaking, and cast forth her burdens. Will ye not admit it?"

"In the news this morning another natural disaster has occurred, with many thousands dying."

Can't you see? It's happening every day now. The earth, as He says in the Hidden Words, "is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you." And yet we still refuse to recognize that we are doing anything wrong.

"Say: Will ye not recognize how the mountains have become like flocks of wool..."

Alright. This is the one that got me looking more closely at this particular quote. The rest of it is fairly straightforward, in my opinion, but "the mountains have become like flocks of wool"? What the heck does that mean?

My first image is that of a huge mountain suddenly transforming into this giant pile of sheep. It seems messy for the sheep on the bottom of the pile, but I kind of get it. Yet that's not quite what it says. He doesn't say that they have become "flocks of sheep". He says that they have become "flocks of wool".


So now I sort of picture a huge pile of wool. What's wrong with that? Seems like it might be kind of comfy on a cold winter's night.

But that's not what it says either. He doesn't say a "pile of wool". He says "flocks of wool".

Ok. Back to the drawing board.

A "flock of wool"? Well, I have the flock image, no problem. But I first imagine a flock of sheep. But they're not just sheep. Well, they are, but they're not the whole sheep. They're just the wool.

Ah! There's no meat. In fact, there's no brain either. They look like sheep, but they're empty. They're surface only.

Ok, so what about the mountains? After all, this flock didn't just appear out of nowhere. The mountains themselves became like these flocks of wool. Oh, wait. They didn't become them; they became like them.

So, mountains. What do the mountains refer to? Well, they are something you look up to. Perhaps at one time they might have been political leaders, but maybe they are also the heroes that people look up to. That kind of makes the most sense to me. They seem to be a metaphor for those people that the everyday individual looks up to. Whether it's an actor, or a sports figure, or a politician, it doesn't matter. When we're talking about the walking dead (remember yesterday's article?), then the heroes tend to be very superficial. We base our heroes on things such as how well they can toss a ball, or how long their legs are. We base our heroes on things like how well they can stir up the emotions of a mob, or how smooth their skin is. It's silly, really. Our heroes should be based on their virtues.

But these heroes are empty shells.

" the people are sore vexed at the awful majesty of the Cause of God?"

Okay, wait a second. What does this actually mean? To be sore vexed means to be displeased or upset. "Awful" doesn't mean horrible. It actually means inspiring of awe and reverence. So the people are upset and displeased at the awe-inspiring majesty of the Cause of God?

Well, I guess they are, aren't they? Due to the rise in egotism and individualism, they want to be completely in charge of their own lives, able to do whatever they want with impunity. They don't like the thought of being held responsible for their own actions. They are jealous of the dignity and beauty and stateliness of the Cause of God. And it may not be that they want the actual beauty of the Cause of God, but rather their own concept of beauty. They may not be interested in true dignity, but dignity as they understand it. They go after beauty, but since they don't understand true beauty as defined by Baha'u'llah, they settle for ornate junk, or superficial trivialities. They think that standing up and shouting what they believe constitutes stateliness.

Even with the concept of atheism as I generally see it on the internet today, I see that there. They want to understand everything, for there to be no mystery. Again, they want to be the highest authority, subject to none. So, yeah. I can see how this applies.

"Witness how their houses are empty ruins, and they themselves a drowned host."

Here I am powerfully reminded of Moses and the Egyptians. Egypt called down a myriad of plagues on themselves, due to their stubbornness, and for many their houses and livelihood were destroyed. As for the army sent after the Jewish peoples? They were a drowned host.

The spiritual houses that so many of us have built, based on greed or fear, self-centredness or pride are just empty ruins.

It's a tragedy, really.

And that, to me, is the bottom line of this entire passage. We are witnessing a tragedy. Not just a tragedy in the making, but a tragedy today.

"This is the Day whereon the All-Merciful hath come down", Baha'u'llah continues, "in the clouds of knowledge, clothed with manifest sovereignty. He well knoweth the actions of men. He it is Whose glory none can mistake, could ye but comprehend it. The heaven of every religion hath been rent, and the earth of human understanding been cleft asunder, and the angels of God are seen descending."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Much Better

It's now Sunday morning, and the sun is rising nicely over the horizon. The house is quiet, and I feel much more refreshed this morning than I did last night. Which, I guess, is a good thing. I mean, that's the purpose of sleep, isn't it? To wake up nice and refreshed?

But what about "sleep" in the Writings?

There are ample references to sleep as a function of the body. The prayer that begins "This, Thy servant, seeketh to sleep in the shelter of Thy mercy..." is but one of many examples. And it is from this peaceful, restful sleep, in which we might find ourselves dreaming, that we ask Him to "make of what Thou didst reveal unto me in my sleep the surest foundation for the mansions of Thy love..."

Then there are the more negative references to sleep: "Speed out of your sepulchers. How long will ye sleep? The second blast hath been blown on the trumpet."

It is this second definition that I'm interested in right now.

Baha'u'llah describes, in many places, the peoples of the world as if they are fast asleep, unconscious, unaware of what is happening. They move as if they are in a daze. And this is what I see all around me in the world today. People are walking, talking, acting as if in a daze. They seem wholly unaware of the consequences of their actions. They appear oblivious of the disasters that are awaiting them. They are, for all intents and purposes, like zombies, the living dead.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Baha'u'llah, in that previous quote, asks us to hurry out of our sepulchers.

In many ways, that reference of the trumpet, and its second blast, reminds me of my alarm clock. It's already gone off once, and I have hit the snooze button. Now it's ringing a second time, and I need to get up. If I don't, there will be consequences. I might be late for work, or miss an appointment. I could even lose my job, if this is a regularly occurring thing.

Or maybe that alarm isn't my alarm clock. Maybe it's a fire alarm. If there's a fire in the house I may lose everything, including my life.

This whole metaphor just keeps going on and on in my mind.

Looking at the fire alarm aspect for a moment, what is our role in it? Obviously we need to get up. But what if there are other people in the house? We need to try and get them up, too. But what if we can't? What if we can't get to their room, and our yelling hasn't had any effect that we've noticed? Well, maybe they're already outside. We need to save ourselves, too, so we better get out of there. It's a tough call, though, isn't it? Do we fight our way to someone else's room, risking our own death, or do we get out of there and pray that they have, too?

This seems to me to be the state of the world right now. We're hoping to wake up others before it is too late. And you know what we call that? Teaching. We know the house is burning down. We know it is beyond any hope. And with the core activities, we're building a new house right now, one that is much nicer and far safer. We know for a certainty that there are many still asleep in the old house, but we also know that most of them refuse to wake. They are like the stubborn child who holds their eyes tightly shut, mumbling, "No, I won't get up", or maybe "Just five more minutes".

"This is your Lord," Baha'u'llah continues in that same paragraph, "the God of Mercy. Witness how ye gainsay His signs! The earth hath quaked with a great quaking, and cast forth her burdens. Will ye not admit it? Say: Will ye not recognize how the mountains have become like flocks of wool, how the people are sore vexed at the awful majesty of the Cause of God? Witness how their houses are empty ruins, and they themselves a drowned host."

Remember, though, this is God of Mercy. He is giving us ample chances, trying to wake us from our slumber.

And when we waken to His Revelation, you know what? It is refreshing. We do feel far more clearheaded. We are more vibrant, ready to face the day.

The only question, though, is whether we want to wake up to the cooing of the birds and the gentle rays of the rising sun, or to the blaring clang of the fire alarm. In a strange way, that choice is actually ours.

For me, I prefer to wake just before sunrise and enjoy a few moments of quiet contemplation before acting like the fire alarm for the rest of my family.

Speaking of which, gotta wake up the son. He's off to his junior youth group this morning.

Heh heh heh. Here I go!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What to Write?

It's been difficult to figure out what to write about today. I was going to write about my son, and a conversation we had about the second Hidden Word, and how important it is to think for yourself. But it's just not working for me. I don't seem to be able to write much of anything on that right now.

Nah. I think I'll just look through the Writings of the Bab and see what comes out of it.

Hmmm..... Interesting...... Oh that's a nice quote...... But what would I say? Hmmmm......... Ah! There we go.

"Regard ye not others save as ye regard your own selves, that no feeling of aversion may prevail amongst you so as to shut you out from Him Whom God shall make manifest on the Day of Resurrection."

So, it seems to read very similar to the Golden Rule, but there is a bit of a difference, isn't there?

What really strikes me is the fact that our "aversion may prevail amongst you so as to shut you out from" God. I mean, think about it. What is He saying? Our aversion? Our strong dislike of something? How would this prevent us from recognizing Baha'u'llah?

I'm no authority, but it seems to me that He is saying that if we see anybody else, or another group, in such a way that we have a strong dislike of them, then we are not capable of recognizing Baha'u'llah. For really, if we see someone in such a negative way, how would we be able to see the brilliant light of Baha'u'llah?

But again, what I find fascinating is that it is not God preventing us from recognizing, but ourselves. It reminds me of that Hidden Word: Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.

Here, it is our own lack of love that prevents God's love from reaching us. In other words, it is our own perspective that keeps us back. It's like standing under an awning when it's raining. The rain is falling, but our own position keeps us from receiving its bounty.

And you know, when I think about this, the idea that our own dislike of anybody else can keep us from recognizing, it occurs to me that this stance of strongly disliking others is in fundamental opposition from the unity that Baha'u'llah is bringing.

Everything in the Writings leads us to unity. And if we take such an opposite view, then we are missing out on the basic unity that Baha'u'llah wants us to recognize. There is a fundamental oneness to creation, and by disliking something else so strongly, we are, in a sense, disliking ourselves.

That's just a thought that I'm having at 9:30 at night, with a bunch of youth yelling at the video game console and playing very boisterously tonight. It's fun, but I'm sure having trouble concentrating. Ah well.


I'll try to write something more coherent tomorrow.

Saturday, November 18, 2017


There are many things in the Writings that catch my attention and make me think, "Well, that's odd." And when that happens, I'm reminded of Isaac Asimov, who famously pointed out that the greatest discoveries in science came about not from some "Aha!" moment, but rather from someone following through on something odd that they noticed. Now for most of you, those things that make me sit up and pay attention, those things that change my own perspective on some aspect of the Faith, are probably things that you noticed a long time ago, dear Reader. And that's ok. They're new for me.

The other day, during that conversation about the Kitab-i-Aqdas with my wife, we noticed a phrase that made us think, "Hmmm. Odd phrasing there." It's in paragraph 36, where He says:

Make not your deeds as snares wherewith to entrap the object of your aspiration...

To give a bit of context, He's talking about those people who pretend to a station of humility, but secretly want to be the centre of attention. He says that you may pretend to be humble, but that doesn't mean that God will accept your deeds as sincere. We read, in that paragraph, "Were anyone to wash the feet of all mankind, and were he to worship God in the forests, valleys, and mountains, upon high hills and lofty peaks, to leave no rock or tree, no clod of earth, but was a witness to his worship—yet, should the fragrance of My good pleasure not be inhaled from him, his works would never be acceptable unto God." Pretty explicit that.

But what exactly does it mean to make your deeds "snares"?

As usual, I won't pretend to be an authority, but it seems to me that He's talking about those people who believe that prayers and deeds are like a recipe. If you follow them, then something special will happen. It's a sort of magic. In some faiths, people believe that if you do a certain ritual, then a particular effect must happen. It's kind of like if my son were to come up to me and say, "Papa, if I jump up and down on my left foot, then I get an extra dessert." Really? I don't think it works that way. After all, I never said anything about that deal.

And then there are the faiths that have their excuse-o-meter: "Oh, well you weren't sincere enough." They like to lay the blame for the effect not occurring on some deficiency of the person doing the act.

No. I really don't think religion works this way.

Our actions are not some sort of trap by which we can force God to do whatever we want.

It reminds me of the beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan, where He says, "Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you..." The first part is up to us; we have to sanctify our soul. But after that, it's up to God. That's what "haply" means. It is with luck, by chance. It's not just a done deal. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that detachment is so important. It helps us avoid becoming bitter if we don't get what we pray for.

Anyways, this quote also reminds me of the story of Mulla Husayn when he first met the Bab. He had that book of his in which he had written down a lot of the puzzling and abstruse teachings from Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, and he had decided that whoever could unravel its mysteries would be the Promised One. He had forgotten, as the Bab lovingly pointed out, that it is not for us to test God. Mulla Husayn had inadvertently tried to make his book a snare by which he could trap the Promised One into revealing Himself.

It is an interesting statement, and has gotten me to think about it a lot. Am I somehow guilty of making my own actions a snare? Do I do something thinking that somehow I will be rewarded for it? Am I, somehow, trying to trap God into doing what it is that I want? An excellent question, and it sure gets me to look again at my own personal motives.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pure Perfume

Another section that Marielle and I looked at in the Kitab-i-Aqdas were those passages on cleanliness. There are quite a few of them, mostly dealing with getting rid of the concept of something being considered "unclean", and keeping your clothing free of dirt. Of course with the clothing, Baha'u'llah gives us an out: "Whoso falleth short of this standard with good reason shall incur no blame." And that's wonderful news if you're a gardener.

But one part of paragraph 76 caught our attention:
Make use of rose-water, and of pure perfume; this, indeed, is that which God hath loved from the beginning that hath no beginning, in order that there may be diffused from you what your Lord, the Incomparable, the All-Wise, desireth.

That sounds good, but what about those people who are allergic to perfume?

Well, He does say "pure perfume". So what exactly does that mean? As usual, I'm not sure, but I have a sneaky suspicion. For those of you who don't know, I used to work as a perfumer, years back. I would smell the wrist of a client and design a perfume around their own personal scent. It was quite an interesting job. It helped me gain a greater appreciation of the diversity of people out there.

One thing I learned though, was that most perfume out there is really, quite simply, cheap junk. It's usually a base of cheap rubbing alcohol, or other forms of solvents, with a minuscule amount of essential oils in it. Personally, when I smell this stuff, either on a person, or when forced to walk through the perfume department of some store, I want to gag. Literally. It actually makes me feel a little bit ill.

But when I smell essential oils, I don't get that sensation at all. Not even from civet, which is a very rank and stinky scent, second only to that of a skunk, but is still used in the perfuming industry. (Don't ask.)

So what are essential oils? They are the volatile aromatic compounds of a plant. There are numerous ways of extracting them, but the simplest is to crush the flowers, or stems, or whatever part of the particular plant in question which has the oils you seek, and then soak them in some sort of a solvent. Over time the oils will leech out of the plant matter into the solvent.

If you take a pound of rose petals, for example, crush them, and then soak them in water, you will over time notice a thin layer of oil floating on the water. That oil is the essential oil of the roses. The trick now is to get the oil without getting the water. There are numerous ways to do this, but let's just say that it's not too difficult.

Anyways, most of the people I know who are allergic to perfume are actually allergic to the solvents. I know. We've tested this. Of course, there are some people who actually are allergic to the essential oils, but they really are a rarity.

However, and this is the point I really wanted to make, please people "Whatsoever", Baha'u'llah tells us, "passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence."

That's all.