Friday, February 24, 2017

Shoghi's Prayers

When Shoghi, my son, was younger, he used to say the short healing prayer every evening. One night, after prayers, I asked him why he felt so moved as to say that particular prayer every time. "Because", he said, "there are so many people out there who need healing."

I was very touched by that comment. I wasn't sure what to expect, probably thinking that he was just saying a short prayer that he had memorized, only because it was short, and without much further thought behind it. But no. He had a reason. He had actually thought about it, and chose that exact prayer to say. Every night.

A few months ago he began to fixate on another prayer. Most every evening for the better part of half a year now, he has been saying the following prayer:
O God, my God! I have set out from my home, holding fast unto the cord of Thy love, and I have committed myself wholly to Thy care and Thy protection. I entreat Thee by Thy power through which Thou didst protect Thy loved ones from the wayward and the perverse, and from every contumacious oppressor, and every wicked doer who hath strayed far from Thee, to keep me safe by Thy bounty and Thy grace. Enable me, then, to return to my home by Thy power and Thy might. Thou art, truly, the Almighty, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.

It seemed sort of a strange prayer to read in the evening, just before going to sleep, but who am I to comment? And yet, night after night, I couldn't help but wonder. Was there a reason for this prayer? Did he think that his spirit was leaving the home when he was asleep? Was he sneaking out at night and having various adventures of which I was unaware? My mind boggled. I mean, he's only 11, at least for a few more days. What was his reasoning?

I finally broke down and asked. "Why this prayer, Shoghi?" What special meaning, I enquired, did it hold for him?

"I'm saying it", he told me, "for all the African American people in the US, and all the refugees around the world, who have to leave their home and are unsure if they will make it back safe."

* * * * *

I had to pause there, and I thought you might want to, also.

First, he's eleven.

Second, I had no doubt that he truly felt love and sorrow for the many refugees all over the world who have had to flee their homes in order to try and preserve the lives of their family members.

Third, he put the African American people in the same category as the refugees.

Even now, a few weeks later, I still have to think about that. And pray about it. An meditate on it. And feel sorrow.

Every evening now, when he says that prayer, so much runs through my heart and mind. I think about my time serving with the refugee centre in Winnipeg, and those people who are now braving the harsh prairie winter to escape from the US and find refuge in Canada. I think about my brother in Chicago who is a firefighter and how if I get stopped by the police for speeding there, I may get a ticket, but he might just get killed. And I think about all my other friends who are being silenced from speaking about their oppression, attacked for trying to defend their homes, and bullied by those anonymous people in their own neighbourhoods just because their skin tone is different, or they follow a different path in their life.

I think about so much when he reads that prayer.

I am so grateful for his simple wisdom and awareness of what is happening in the world today.

And I strive to learn from his compassion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Face of Anger

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is finding your starting point. You may have the whole story, or article, mapped out in your head, but still have no clue as to how to begin. Other times when you catch the starting point, the rest of the piece just follows in its wake.

This is one of those latter type pieces.

Earlier this evening, literally less than half an hour ago, I was in a study group looking at the Kitab-i-Iqan, the Book of Certitude. We read a number of paragraphs, all of which I had recently read in the past few weeks, and this time two sentences jumped out at me.

The first is from paragraph 175:
And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood.
The "them", by the way, are those leaders who ignore the counsels in the Writings due to their lust for leadership and want of discernment.

The second quote is from paragraph 187:
Thus the peoples of the world are judged by their countenance. By it, their misbelief, their faith, and even their iniquity are all made manifest.
Ok. That last one was actually two sentences. Sorry.

But still, I found an interesting train of thought following upon those few sentences.

First, given the plethora of news stories about "fake news", that first quote struck me as very timely. More and more today we are seeing people who will unquestioningly believe whatever the leader of their particular political party or group may say. And this isn't limited to one party or another, but seems to span across the board Ok. So that's just a minor observation. A sad one, to be sure, but still fairly minor. Nothing new.

Then I thought about the second quote. The people, during this time of judgment, will not be questioned about their doings, for their very faces will speak of what is in their hearts.

Then I thought about both of those quotes together. And I thought some more. And then I recalled seeing various pictures on the internet, which I will not share here for a few reasons. First, I am sure there are copyright issues that I don't want to get involved with. Second, I would feel bad about putting an actual face of a real person here when just describing it will do, and thus keep it anonymous.

So, here goes.

I remember seeing a saddeningly large number of pictures floating around the net of Trump supporters at various gatherings with their faces filled with anger as they kicked an African American citizen out of their midst, saying they were not welcome there. And I've seen a saddeningly large number of similar photographs floating around out there of the anger on people's faces at various rallies protesting the loss of women's rights, the "travel ban" in the US, or any number of protests by those who are against Trump and his policies.

And when I just looked at their faces, I was stuck by the similar nature displayed on both.

It doesn't matter whether I agree with the ideology of one side or the other, for the faces all display anger and hatred in their hearts.

We are living in a time where disunity is becoming more and more evident, resulting in a social mix in which people are becoming less and less likely to engage in dialogue with those who disagree with them on one point or another. And really, it doesn't matter which side is "right", if the result is anger and discontent. This can do nothing but lead to more violence.

So what is the solution? Do we just ignore what is going on around us?

Not at all. But protest, I truly believe, is not the solution. When you protest something, your primary purpose is to tear it down. Get rid of it. And this, dear Reader, just leaves a lack, an emptiness, a void. The real question is what should go in its place. What are we building?

"Humanity's crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age," said a message of the Universal House of Justice back in 2001. "It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Baha'u'llah's teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family."

That's a huge statement. A change of consciousness? Accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human race?


Quite simply, yes.

The rhetoric that has been so popular is exemplified by that slogan in the US: America first.

But it's not just in America. This mindset has been popular in many countries, to varying degrees. And we can see where it naturally leads.

It's not pretty.

It has led to some fairly disastrous situations, and will no doubt lead to more.

Baha'u'llah has said, in unequivocal terms, "It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens."

We need to learn to not only look after our own interests, which we are, admittedly, fairly good at, but to do so as long as it is not at the expense of others.

Saving a few dollars on a new shirt should not be worth it to me if it means that a child somewhere else in the world is starving. I don't need to protest about it. I should just buy my clothes somewhere else. And that's what I do. I try to raise the awareness. Everything else will just sort itself out. As awareness is raised, the business trends will shift.

If I tell people not to shop at one particular store, then I am actually doing two things. First, I am advertising the store I want to protest. I am bringing it to people's awareness. I am getting them to think about it. When they say that no press is bad press, they are calling on a fundamental idea in psychology. We will remember the name far longer than we will remember why we heard the name in the first place. Secondly, I am not necessarily telling the person where else they can shop. Suppose I really need a particular item, and I know of one store that has it. If someone tells me that I shouldn't go to that store, fine. But where else can I go? I need another option. It seems far more effective to me to say to the person that they can get this item at another store where they, say, treat their employees better. Now I will recall the other store more readily.

In the end, it is ok to disagree. There is nothing wrong with that. After all, it is through the clash of differing opinions that the spark of truth arises. But if it means that there is anger in your heart, then the change that you are seeking can never be worth it.

Friday, February 3, 2017

I'm Not Worried

For those of you who see my posts on Facebook, you may notice that I've been forwarding a lot of news articles lately, usually with the tag line "Interesting. I'm curious to see where this goes." Or something similar.

And really, it's true. I'm not trying to downplay anything, nor am I trying to make any sort of commentary on partisan politics. Quite the contrary. I'm watching the news, seeing the reactions, and am truly curious where this will all lead.

But really, I think we know where it is all heading.

And please remember, I'm not worried. Really.

Shoghi, my now-11 year-old son, was wondering how I could talk about all the things that are happening in the world and not be very concerned. Well, I am concerned, but I'm not worried.

Why not?

Glad you asked, dear Reader.

You see, I've been doing a lot of reading, and a number of things have crossed my mind.

First of all, I've been looking at the cycles of history, from Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to things more recent, and a few things have occurred to me. As a Baha'i, I've come to realize that the world likes anniversaries. I won't go into all the details of how I've come to realize that, but I just want to share a few with you.

Today, right now in February of 2017, we are celebrating the centenary of the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan. These incredible letters, which are the beginning and blue print of the all the Baha'i plans since then, were written between 1916 and 1917. Today, we celebrate their centenary. Nice.

But we have another celebratory anniversary coming up this year: the bi-centenary of the birth of Baha'u'llah. What, I asked myself, was happening 100 years ago during the centenary of His birth? World War 1.

In 1944, we were celebrating the centenary of the declaration of the Bab, which started this whole Baha'i-thing off. And what was happening then? World War 2.

Now, today, what is happening? Realistically, we are heading towards another war. The signs are all there. The players are all in place. The pieces are all lined up.

I don't mean to be a prognosticator. I truly don't. It just seems like such a no-brainer to read the next line in the story of this planet.

Ok. That was the "first of all".

Second, there is the idea of building. I've been reading a lot about the building of civilizations: US, Canada, Rome, Christendom, the Islamic Empire, just to name a few. And out of all this, one thing seems fairly common: Something old is swept away and a new civilization is built in its place. A stronger foundation is laid than what was there before, perhaps after a few false starts, such as in the French Revolution, but a stronger foundation always comes into place. And from that foundation, a civilization is reared, one that keeps growing until something stops it. Now, civilizations are like buildings. They need a strong foundation and they will keep growing until the foundation is no longer sufficient. You see, a building's limitations are determined by its foundation. If the foundation is weak, then you cannot build high. Pretty simple, right?

Well, despite all that we have seen in recent times, all the advances and all the victories on so many levels, the basic foundation of the US, to name but the most obvious example, is insufficient for the structure that is reared on top of it. It is rooted in inequality and injustice, despite all the admirable strides they have made in trying to overcome both. It is based on granting the ignorant the same equal rights in the administrative process as those who have insight and wisdom. While this may not be a bad thing in and of itself, it does have limitations. And we are witnessing the extent of those limitations.

That is the "second" of all.

It's not looking too good just yet, but don't worry. Remember, I'm not worried, and I've been thinking about these things for a few years.

Yes, years.

I will not lay the blame of any of this at the feet of Trump, or any other politico, for their policies are but the symptom, not the cause. These recent policies coming out of various countries are merely highlighting the depth of the problems that have been covered for so long.

Now, why am I not concerned?

Simple. I've been reading Shoghi Effendi's letter from 1936 entitled "The Unfoldment of World Civilization". Look it up. It's worth it.

He starts off, and remember, this is in 1936, by talking about some of the things that were happening in the world at that time. This was a time when the Great Depression had recently ended. Germany had just come through the incredible injustices laid upon them by the Treaty of Versailles, and Hitler had done remarkable things by rejuvenating the German economy. Major countries were leaving the ineffectual League of Nations. War had broken out between China and Japan, and another war between Italy and Ethiopia which would soon result in the annexation of the latter. Stalin began his purges in the Soviet Union. I mean, the list goes on, but the only other one I would like to add is that the first costumed superhero, the Phantom, made his debut, further highlighting the desperation people were feeling for hope. This is just a bit of what people were seeing in the news in North America.

And then, in March, in the midst of all this, Shoghi Effendi wrote them and said that they should not "be deluded by the ephemeral manifestations of returning prosperity which at times appear to be capable of checking the disruptive influence of the chronic ills afflicting the institutions of a decaying age. The signs of the times are too numerous and compelling to allow (us) to mistake their character or to belittle their significance."

He quotes Baha'u'llah at length:
“Soon,” Bahá’u’lláh’s own words proclaim it, “will the present day Order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth and is the Knower of things unseen.” “By Myself,” He solemnly asserts, “the day is approaching when We will have rolled up the world and all that is therein, and spread out a new Order in its stead. He, verily, is powerful over all things.” “The world’s equilibrium,” He explains, “hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this Most Great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System, the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.” “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos,” He warns the peoples of the world, “can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective.”

"The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh," he writes, "whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed... as marking the last and highest stage... of man's collective life on this planet."

He likens the development of the planet and its political scene to that of the founding of the United States: "Such a unique and momentous crisis in the life of organized mankind may, moreover, be likened to the culminating stage in the political evolution of the great American Republic—the stage which marked the emergence of a unified community of federated states. The stirring of a new national consciousness, and the birth of a new type of civilization, infinitely richer and nobler than any which its component parts could have severally hoped to achieve, may be said to have proclaimed the coming of age of the American people. Within the territorial limits of this nation, this consummation may be viewed as the culmination of the process of human government." And then he points out that the movement of nation-states towards a global government is natural and necessary. In fact, he refers to the limitation of the nation model when he points out, "The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax." By its very nature, it is anarchical and limiting.

But he says that this sort of change will not come easy. It never has. While we could, as a species, decide to just adopt these ideas, we never have. We've always clung to our outdated ideals, our "outworn shibboleths", and been forced to watch as they have crumbled in our hands.

And yet we know that something magnificent is waiting. We have never successfully envisioned the great advances that have always occurred when we have let go, and just moved on. Not once. We, as a human race, have always given in to our fear of change. So only after great suffering have we seen the great bounties that have resulted.

"For the revelation of so great a favor", he predicts, "a period of intense turmoil and wide-spread suffering would seem to be indispensable." With sadness, he says that it seems that we must "be overshadowed by such moral and social gloom as can alone prepare... humanity for the prize she is destined to inherit." "Into such a period we are now steadily and irresistibly moving."

Then he turns his gaze to the religions of the world.

He quotes an eminent Christian theologian from the US, who said that if Christianity wishes and expects to serve the world in the present crisis, it must "cut back through Christianity to Christ, back through the centuries-old religion about Jesus to the original religion of Jesus." Shoghi Effendi goes on to say, so poignantly, "When... the light of religion is quenched in men’s hearts... a deplorable decline in the fortunes of humanity immediately sets in... Human character is debased, confidence is shaken, the nerves of discipline are relaxed, the voice of human conscience is stilled, the sense of decency and shame is obscured, conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty are distorted, and the very feeling of peacefulness, of joy and of hope is gradually extinguished."

When describing what this looks like in our daily life, he says:
The recrudescence of religious intolerance, of racial animosity, and of patriotic arrogance; the increasing evidences of selfishness, of suspicion, of fear and of fraud; the spread of terrorism, of lawlessness, of drunkenness and of crime; the unquenchable thirst for, and the feverish pursuit after, earthly vanities, riches and pleasures; the weakening of family solidarity; the laxity in parental control; the lapse into luxurious indulgence; the irresponsible attitude towards marriage and the consequent rising tide of divorce; the degeneracy of art and music, the infection of literature, and the corruption of the press...—these appear as the outstanding characteristics of a decadent society, a society that must either be reborn or perish.
I read this, and see it as a list of the ills of today.

"The whole world," he goes to say, "wherever and however we survey it, offers us the sad and pitiful spectacle of a vast, an enfeebled, and moribund organism, which is being torn politically and strangulated economically by forces it has ceased to either control or comprehend."

This, dear Reader, is where I see us right now

It is a long and heartbreaking synopsis of what I think we are all seeing around us, and the prognosis for the near future is bleak, very bleak.

But again, I am not worried.

For what I see around us is nothing more than the snow castles that were once majestic in the early winter, sparkling beauty now succumbed to the melting warmth of the coming spring. We can strive to gather more snow and reinforce what is melting before our eyes, or we can plan for the true full-colour beauty of the flowers that are on their way. We can ensure that the tulip bulbs are planted, and that the ground is prepared. We can put away the snow shovels and ice picks, and ensure that the garden tools are well oiled and ready for their use.

And while I am truly concerned for the suffering that I know is coming, and strive to do all I can to mitigate it, I also know what lies beyond, for I recall the true beauty of the summer and am not disheartened by the few weeks of winter left before us.