Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Seed of Justice

It is said by some that everything in the Baha'i teachings is found in its seed form in the Hidden Words.

Well, that sounds kind of neat, but I wonder if it's true. After all, the preamble begins: "This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old."

He doesn't say that it's the beginning of what's to come, but instead that which was given to those "Prophets of old".

Ok. Fair enough. But given that I have read in so many other places that the Hidden Words contain the nascent beginnings of all the teachings of the Faith, I've decided to look into it for myself. The easy way to do this, of course, is to look at some teaching and then see if I can find a Hidden Word that begins to discuss it. Well, not too difficult, that. Most of the teachings I've done this with have proven this to be true so far.

But just the other day I decided to try this in reverse.

I was reading the Hidden Words, as I am wont to do, and decided to ask myself, "Self", I said, "what teaching arises from this particular Hidden Word?"

You see, rather than working backwards to try and find some starting point, I decided to look at the starting point and work forwards. It was an interesting exercise.

The Hidden Word that I was reading that particular morning was the second one in the Arabic: "O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes."

As I was reading, the thought just occurred to me, what if I read it as if He were talking about the Universal House of Justice?

And this is what came out:

O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is the Universal House of Justice. Don't turn away from them if you desire Me. And do not neglect it, so that I may confide in you.

By the aid of the Universal House of Justice, you will see with your own eyes, and not through anyone elses. With their aid, you will be able to know through your own knowledge, and not settle for those things that your neighbours believe.

Ponder this in your heart, and think about your own responsibilities in life. Really think about it, deeply. This is your responsibility.

Verily, the Universal House of Justice is My gift to you. They are the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it before your eyes.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Jack Johnson

Have you ever heard of Jack Johnson? Not the singer; the boxer.

I hadn't, until I saw the Ken Burns documentary, Unforgivable Blackness.

It's quite an amazing story in many regards. Here is a man who was born in Texas in 1878, just after the US Civil War, and suffered all the deprivations the African Americans of the day suffered. And yet, he grew up with a strong sense of self, proud of his heritage, and unwilling to compromise his own beliefs at a time when that could easily have gotten him killed. But, to be fair, the man wasn't a saint. He drank hard, and was quite promiscuous. And while he was a staunch supporter of his own rights as a human being, and unwilling to bend to the racially motivated laws of his day, he didn't appear to extend those rights beyond his own horizons.

So given all this, why am I mentioning him here?


But before I tell you more, let me tell you a bit about his story.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, he was a rising figure in the often illegal world of pro boxing. He would go to various towns and fight people for money, making more in a single night than most people of the day would make in a week. It was good money, especially for a Black boy from Texas.

By 1903 he was becoming a household name.

It was at this time that he sought the title of world heavyweight boxing champion. Unfortunately, due to racial prejudice, he was not allowed to fight for that title. There were concerns, usually unspoken, that if a Black man were to win, it would empower the downtrodden community. It would make them think that they were "above their station". The effects of racism are nasty, indeed.

It wasn't until 1908, after many years of seeking to be given the chance to fight, that he was finally able to claim the title that he so rightly deserved. After following the current title-holder around Europe, shadowing him and taunting him at all his fights, he was finally given a chance at the title in Australia. It was at this fight that he soundly walloped the champ.

But that's not where this story ends.

You see, even though he beat the reigning champion, this wasn't really the man he had wanted to defeat. Because, you see, dear Reader, the previous champion had retired undefeated. There were many among the racist boxing fans who held out that while he had defeated the current champ, he never would have been able to defeat this other man, who was, in their eyes, the real champ.

It took another couple of years before someone came up with enough money to entice this other boxer out of retirement.

In the meantime, during those intervening two years, numerous other fights were set up. It was said that if you were White, tall, and muscular, you weren't safe from the scouts looking for someone to beat Johnson. One and all, these wheat stalks fell.

For those two years, the White people in the States called on the former champion, who had been undefeated when he retired, to come out of retirement to fight Johnson and "teach him a lesson". Well, they didn't say it that nicely, but that was the intent. They called this former champion "the great White hope".

Now, it is also worth pointing that at this time these big fights were filmed and shown in the movie theatres across the country. While this fueled the hope and pride of the Black people, it incited the White folks. People were upset, amongst the White populace, that there were these films showing a Black man beating a White man. It got to the point where Congress was asked to pass a law making it illegal to show these films. They were afraid of fights breaking out in the theatres. Of course, the theatres at the time were segregated, so it is unclear how these fights were to begin or who was to fight whom, but that was the state of mind at the time.

Anyways, the money was raised and the fight between Johnson and the former champ was set. It was huge news. It was so tense, though, that California would not give the permit for the fight, so it was moved to Reno, Nevada, thus beginning a long tradition of sporting events going to Nevada when all else failed. In Reno, security was so tight that there were guards at all the gates who were taking away firearms from anyone entering, because they were afraid someone might try to shoot Johnson. Of course, they weren't concerned about Johnson's life. They were more concerned about someone killing him before the fight began and thus depriving them of their profits. Or so I guess.

But there was tension. People saw it as a chance to vindicate the superiority of the White people, and the newspapers made it even worse. They were so full of racist propaganda that it is heartbreaking to read. Even the New York Times said, "If the Black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their White neighbors." And it wasn't just confined to the US. Editorials in England were just as bad, not to mention many other countries. It seemed as if a large part of the planet was on edge at the thought of this fight.

Long story short, though: Johnson trounced this guy.

It was such a humiliating fight, that it seemed as if Johnson were playing with him. He even chatted with audience members while the fight was going on. Of course he made it last 15 rounds, for anything less would be too much for the delicate sensibilities of the White audience. He had to make it at least look as though the guy had a put up a good fight.

It was only after the fight, though, that the real riots began. All across the States, there were race riots. Dozens of people, mostly Black, died in these riots, and hundreds more were injured. The articles in the newspapers were scathing. The White folk were so genuinely upset that a Black man was able to beat their hero that they seemed to be looking for almost any excuse to kill a Black man in return. The newspaper headlines, articles and editorials of those days are truly frightening to read, putting to shame what was seen in them before this fight.

But even this wasn't the worst of it.

What really made the White public upset was his wife. A year after this fight, he married a White woman. A few months later, she committed suicide, but this is in no way on his shoulders. He seems to have done everything he could to try to help her. A short time after that, he was courting another White woman. By this point, the US had passed the Mann Act, which forbid transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes. As this second woman was from Wisconsin, and he was living in Chicago, Illinois, they were able to somehow get him on this charge, even though the law in no way was intended to be used against consenting adults. So now he is arrested for courting a White woman, whom, as history shows, he would later marry.

Now, why am I telling all about this?

Because this was in 1912. This whole thing was going on while 'Abdu'l-Baha was in North America.

We often hear about how much He talked about the importance of race unity, but we don't often think about the actual day to day life of the average person in that day. This was the backdrop of the time during which 'Abdu'l-Baha came to America. This was what was making headlines when He encouraged Louis Gregory and Louisa Matthew to marry.

For me, it puts His talks in Promulgation of Universal Peace into a sharper light.

Now, with this in mind, I'm going to go back to those talks and re-read them again. I suspect that they will read quite a bit differently to me now that I have heard the story of Jack Johnson.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Elevated Conversations

For years I thought that an "elevated conversation" was just somehow introducing a spiritual theme into an everyday conversation. You know, sort of like talking about the importance of unity and teamwork when your friends are talking about sports. Or perhaps talking about the natural attraction to beauty when discussing makeup, and what constitutes true beauty. That sort of thing.

But the more I watch what is happening in the world, and consider what I'm reading in the Writings, as well as thinking more deeply about the notes I took at the talk of a member of the Universal House of Justice while on Pilgrimage recently, the more I'm convinced that there is really more to it than that. And it's not that doing this, introducing a simple moral connection into a conversation, is wrong, but just that there is far more to it than I previously thought.

In the recent Ridvan message we read that "humanity's ultimate well-being is dependent upon its differences being transcended and its unity firmly established."

Its "differences being transcended".

What a fascinating statement.

What does that mean? And more importantly, what does it look like in our daily life?

On the surface, it means to go beyond the limitations that those differences imply. One way in which we do that is to offer new definitions of our foundational terms, for many times it is the very definitions which are our limiting factor. For example, if we look at the sciences, then we will see that we, as humanity, had to redefine the very concepts of how we understood space and time at the beginning of the 20th century in order to move beyond the simplistic mechanical model of the universe. "Through the movement of Our Pen of glory", writes Baha'ullah, "We have, at the bidding of the omnipotent Ordainer, breathed a new life into every human frame, and instilled into every word a fresh potency." Sometimes I think that this fresh potency allows us to go beyond the limitations that the previous definitions forced into the various conversations. For example, if we talk about God, but use an old concept of what "God" would mean, such as an old dude sitting on some sort of throne in the clouds with flying angels whizzing all around His head, then of course we would consider ourselves atheists, for we don't believe in that concept of a God. But when we redefine what we mean by the idea of God, then it becomes a much more acceptable idea. Of course, this takes time, and there are those that say "Well, you can't just redefine things the way you want." To which I say why not? This is how dialogue has always worked throughout the history of philosophy, religion and science. We begin by defining our terms. And if they still disagree, then just look above at the point I made about time and space being redefined.

Anyways there are plenty of other examples before us.

A few months ago there was some sort of on-line... I hesitate to use the word "debate", for it sure didn't look like one to me... argument about gun control among some of my friends in the US. Some were obviously for it, while others were obviously against it. And neither side could see any point in the other. They were arguing and arguing, getting each other more and more riled up. No point to this at all, that I could see. But then someone introduced a new point. They said that both sides were obviously concerned about security. One side, the pro-gun side, was looking at personal security and the ability to protect oneself against random attacks. The other side, the anti-gun side, was looking at collective security, and protecting themselves against a random attack by someone else with a gun. One was looking at the personal side of security, and the other at the collective side. And in the end, both groups agreed. This, to me, was a truly elevated conversation. The person elevated the discussion beyond the obvious dichotomy and got to the root of the argument from both sides, seeing where they agreed. Now, they were talking about how to ensure both sides' sense of security, and which outweighs the other when in conflict.

Another prime example of this is the idea of teaching creationism in school. On the surface, there really isn't a problem with it. Teaching anybody's perspective is probably a good thing in the long run, and isn't that why the children are there? To learn? The problem arises with the idea of teaching it under what we call "science". When setting the rules for what goes in one discipline, as opposed to another, all you need to do is look and see if it fits. Does it fall under the purview of scientific testing? If not, then it doesn't belong in the sciences. Perhaps it could be better fit in history, such as the history of religion. To dismiss it outright, though, just because one doesn't agree with it, or to randomly say that we will teach this non-scientific idea as opposed to all the others are both problematic.

Looking at these examples really helped get a better understanding of what a truly elevated conversation could be. It is so much more than the starting of point of introducing a simple spiritual concept. it is about transcending those difference of opinion and finding that common ground that can actually help people feel that they are heard, as well as share in a meaningful way different ideas. It's about learning, showing respect, especially when you disagree, and working towards a better solution that unites. After all, it is so much more important to be united than right.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

An Intro to the Upcoming Podcast


That's always a good way to begin. Hi.

I've been writing a blog since October of 2009 and was recently asked to record some of them for a podcast. The question, though, was how to begin. And so, after much soul-searching and prayer, with aplomb and a deep sense of wisdom, I came up with the perfect beginning. "Hi."

My name is Mead, and everything I say here is really just my own opinion, nothing official. You'll hear me say this many times, mainly because it's true, but also because I really don't want anyone to think that I'm some sort of authority. No, this is just my own opinion, that of one Baha'i.

Any inherent wisdom that you may find in these stories and thoughts is, of course, founded upon the teachings and Writings of Baha'u'llah. Any humour that you may see likely comes from my own peculiar way of looking at these writings. And any errors, or gross misunderstandings, well, you can blame me for that, too.

If you ever have any particular requests, quotes you'd like to get my take on, or questions you have on what I say, feel free to leave comments. I look at them all, and even try to answer most of them.

If you have any insights you want to share, know that I'll likely read them aloud, too.

Anyways, in the meantime, I'm going to go back to the beginning of my blog and just start reading one article at a time, recording the ones I still like.

But for now, I just want to thank my wife, Marielle, for getting me to do this, and her recording expertise. *

Abide in Our Love

O Son of Man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory.

As you know, dear Reader, I have been looking at the Four Valleys recently, and so I decided to also take a bit of time and look at the Hidden Words again, too. After all, they both come from the days Baha'u'llah was in Baghdad, before His declaration, and so are of a kind together.

For some reason, as I paged through the book, the above Hidden Word, Arabic number 14, jumped out at me. Why, I wondered.

Well, let's see.

It begins like most others, with the invocation of "O Son of" something.

Aside - A number of years ago, I was in a meeting and we were talking about the Hidden Words. A friend of mine asked another person in the group if he could chant "that Hidden Word". "Which one? How", he asked, "does it begin?" Before my friend could reply, I said, "O Son of..."

Anyways, this one begins with the most generic of intros, the believe-it-or-not gender neutral "O Son of Man". It really does relate to all of us. Every single person on this planet. (Talk to someone who read Arabic for an explanation. I don't, so I'm just taking their word for it.)

From there, He lifts us up, and reminds us of our inherent nobility. We are His dominion, and will never perish. He is the King, and we are that kingdom over which He rules. We are His light, and what a brilliant and magnificent light that is. Not only that, we are also His robe, that glorious vesture which God wears ever-so nobly. And really, this robe is quite remarkable, not shabby at all.

Makes us feel pretty good about ourselves, right?

Well, the next line is what really caught my attention. "Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory."

A number of years ago I was invited by my friend Nabil to join him for an interfaith gathering at his university. This sounded like such a nice little opportunity, I could not pass it up. But, before the interfaith prayer meeting there was a student church group having their meeting in the same room. I asked if we could sit in, as I was curious. As we were warmly invited, we both sat at the table and listened. The student pastor began with a Bible quote, a good way to begin, and talked about the importance of abiding in the love of God.

He spoke at length about living in God's love, and how His love will protect us from all harm. For nearly 45 minutes he went on about this topic, seemingly saying that if our faith was strong enough, we would never suffer. Now, obviously this is not how I would see it, as Jesus suffered at the hands of His enemies, and so did all the saints. So, by their very text this is not an interpretation I would agree with.

When he was done, he asked, "Are there any questions?"

Well, as you can imagine, I raised my hand. Now, to be honest, I did this in all innocence. I really did have a question, and did not want to question his authority or anything, but was looking for an understanding of something I didn't know.

Nabil, however, looked as if he were getting ready to duck under the table. Can't imagine why.

"What", I honestly wondered, "does the word 'abide' mean?"

The pastor looked a bit confused and said, "Doesn't it mean a home?"

"No", I replied, "that's abode."

One of the students, though, had already gotten the dictionary and looked it up. "To remain with, in times of great tests and difficulties."

Well, so much for his interpretation. I mean, I really didn't mean to shoot him down like that, but it did lead to a nice little discussion about how important it is to, well not only know your word meanings, but to stick with God when the going gets tough.

And that's what really hit me with this Hidden Word. "Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory."

After this high praise, reminding us of our noble heritage, and easing any concern we may have about our own destiny, He throws this line out to us. "Abide". In other words, life isn't going to be easy, just because we believe. Remember, even Muhammad said, "Think because ye say ye believe, ye will not be tested?"

But it is through this testing, when we remain firm in our love for God, that we get to a better appreciation of the true glory of God. It is sort of like my wife. It's really easy to be with her when life is all nice and wonderful and rosy. But when things get tough, when things around us are going to heck and gone, and we still stay strong in our love, that is when I really and more deeply appreciate her. During the nice times, I love her and enjoy her company. During those tests and trials that regularly occur in life, it would be so easy to run away, but by staying with her she shines even more gloriously in my eyes.

The same is even more true, to the nth degree, with God.

This is what I really get out of this particular Hidden Word. When things get tough, if we can just keep in mind those promises of God, how He sees us, and then keep our love for Him going, things will work out quite well in the end. Of course, it usually isn't how we expect or hope, but that's a different question altogether.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Controversial Quote

“Know thou for a certainty that whoso disbelieveth in God is neither trustworthy nor truthful. This, indeed, is the truth, the undoubted truth. He that acteth treacherously towards God will, also, act treacherously towards his king. Nothing whatever can deter such a man from evil, nothing can hinder him from betraying his neighbour, nothing can induce him to walk uprightly.”

The above is a quote from Baha'u'llah that was cited on Facebook yesterday. The individual who cited it said, "I find it highly controversial and would love assistance in explaining it!"

Well, of course. On the surface, it sure seems controversial to me, too. But, when I think about Baha'u'llah's overall teachings, I have to wonder if I'm missing something. Let's see.

To start, if we want, we can check out the source of the quote, which is Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, passage number CXIV. It is an extract from a letter to Sultan Abdu'l-Aziz, and is cautioning him about his ministers. While some people have tried to imply that this only in relation to those ministers, I don't see that limitation in the quote, or in the context of the whole passage. But, to be fair, there are some aspects of it that definitely do apply.

That said, let's look at this passage and see what it does say, and also what it does not.

To start, the first thing that I notice is that Baha'u'llah seems to be describing two sets of people here: those who disbelieve in God, and those who act treacherously towards God. They are you will note, not quite the same. Well, they are, in fact, quite different.

In terms of the first, He says that this person is neither trustworthy nor truthful.

What is "trustworthy"? Well, quite simply, it means to worthy of trust, deserving of confidence. It also means reliable. And this, to me, is the sticking point. Here, perhaps, it might be worth remembering that He is talking to the Sultan. He is also, more specifically, talking about his advisors. In the previous paragraph, He cautions the Sultan not to gather "around thee such ministers as follow the desires of a corrupt inclination". We can easily understand why. So in terms of this, perhaps He is reminding the Sultan that a theist who is concerned about the wrath of God is less likely to be corrupted. They are more likely to follow the laws of God and strive to look after the best interests of the people, and less likely to be susceptible to bribery. Now, this is not to say that all theists are incorruptible. Not at all. But rather to point out that the short list  of who to consider might best be in that pool.

As far as truthful goes, that, to me, is self-evident.  Remember, truthfulness us not the same as honesty. Honesty has to do with what you believe. Truthfulness has to do with reality. If you believe something that is not true, then you can be honest about it, while still not being truthful. So Baha'u'llah is just saying that they are wrong, plain and simple. There doesn't seem to be any moral judgment in that statement, beyond saying that they are wrong. He is also not saying that there is a proof of God's existence, nor even offering one. He is just  pointing out that God exists, and that this is a truth, whether or not we believe it.

Again, I'm not seeing this particular passage as a heavy-handed condemnation of the atheist, as much as just a simple, unemotional statement. When it comes to standing up for ones values, a staunch believer will do even unto death, but someone without that assurance of the afterlife will not. They are, perhaps, worthy of a degree of trust, but completely trustworthy. They may have some degree of truthfulness, but are missing a basic point.

This is just how I read it, and I am not, of course, an authority. It's only my own opinion, so you can take it or leave it. For me, it's how I make sense of this first part of the quote.

Now there is the second part of this quote: "He that acteth treacherously towards God..." Well, nothing good can really result from that.

And just to be clear, acting treacherously towards God is not the same as not believing in Him. When you act treacherously towards someone, you betray their trust. Again, Baha'u'llah is cautioning the Sultan about his advisors. They are betraying God, Who has placed the peoples of the realm under the custodianship of the Sultan and his advisers. They are clearly betraying this trust. And if they betray this fairly basic trust bestowed upon them by God, their very job, then what it is to stop them from betraying their King?

That, to me, is the basic point of the second part of this paragraph. If they are willing to violate the command of God, their very position as advisor of the realm, then you better watch out. If the threat of divine  retribution doesn't stop them, then what will? "Nothing whatever can deter such a man from evil, nothing can hinder him from betraying his neighbour, nothing can induce him to walk uprightly."

Ok. That's a condemnation. No getting around it.

In other words, if they don't believe in God, you may want to be cautious about putting them in a high position of trust or power. But if they betray God Himself, then don't even think about it.

So, next time I'm in a position of hiring those great advisors of the realm, at least I have some guidance to fall back on. Good to know.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Intro to Four

So I'm sitting in a café the other day, reading the Four Valleys with my wife. We begin reading it aloud, and she comments that she'd like to skip the intro and go right to the first valley. She's not that interested, she said, in Baha'u'llah's use of the stylistic letter writing of the day, even though she knows He uses it to good effect.

I just stare at her, over the top of my glasses, and begin to smile.

"Do you remember what happened the last time we 'skipped' sacred text?"

The last time was over fifteen years ago when we were looking at the compilation on consultation. I sort of skipped over a small passage that was just chock filled with the "this-of-one-that"s, and she stopped me. "You're skipping over sacred text", she chided. Don't do that, was the unspoken comment that followed. And so we looked even more closely at that passage, found all sorts of amazing hidden gems within it, and, long story short, we ended up getting married.

Long story short, we decided to look a bit more closely at this introduction to the Four Valleys.

Now, at this point, I have a choice. I can either copy the whole thing, almost 3 pages of printed text, or I can just copy it at the bottom. My inclination is to copy it here, and go through section by section with annotations underneath. What do you think?

Ok. Thanks.

There it is, at the bottom of this article. And so, dear Reader, I would encourage you to read it first, or just kind of skip along with me, if you have a hard copy.

As you know from the notes in the book, He is using a classic style of Persian writing which emulates the Jewish mother: "You never write. You never phone. What have I done wrong?" It appears on the surface, to be a classic guilt trip.


Come on. I just can't imagine Baha'u'llah doing that, so there must be something more.

What would happen if we read this not merely as a simple introduction in a common Persian style, but instead as a purposeful clue to the rest of the book? I mean, that seems more worthy of the Baha'u'llah I know and love.

"I am wondering why the tie of love was so abruptly severed, and the firm covenant of friendship broken"? What if He is serious? What if this love was actually broken? And what of this covenant? If we read this as a factual statement, as opposed to a mere poetical exercise in stylism, then could He be alluding to humanity abandoning God? Could He be referring to our failure to hold firm to the Eternal Covenant?

Did His devotion ever lessen? Did God's deep affection for us ever fail? Of course not. And yet isn't it true? Haven't we forgotten Him and blotted Him from our thoughts?

When I read this as a simple but loving chastisement, then this whole introduction takes on a completely new meaning for me.

The very next quote, "What fault of Mine hath made thee cease thy favors" suddenly makes me ask that very question of myself. Why have I abandoned my true love for God? Am I truly saying my prayers, with sincere and heartfelt devotion? You see, this whole introduction places me in the stance of asking many questions, as I am sure it is meant to do. There is a reason that almost every sentence here has been a question.

"Is it that We are lowly and thou of high degree?" Oooh. That's hitting a bit below the belt, isn't it? Has our ego gotten so out of control that we feel we know better? That we are better? Do we actually see ourselves higher than God?

Or better yet, have the difficulties involved in being a sincere person of religion become too difficult in our modern society? Has that single arrow driven us from the battlefield? If so, then we would do no better than to recall the importance of faithfulness. Over and over again, in these few lines, He tells us to go straight on this path. Then, just in case, He reminds us that He is doing as He was bidden, and bringing this message, "Whether it give thee counsel or offense."

Over and over, throughout history, God has sent us these Messengers, whether or not we care to listen to Them. This is the same message, in a single line, as can be found in the opening couple dozen paragraphs of the Kitab-i-Iqan. Over and over, these Messengers are sent to us, and They deliver this message, no matter the response. But, like the Messengers of old, Baha'u'llah is giving us a new message. He is abrogating all the old laws, and bringing in a new dispensation. "This new love hath broken all the old rules and ways."

From here, He talks about this new love, and how it is wiping away all the old standards of love from the past. When I think of the heroes of the early days of the Faith, both Baha'i and Babi, this line seems even more poignant. With the advent of the Bab, and remember Baha'u'llah had not yet declared His Station at this time, it seems as if the very definition of a hero of religion has taken on a completely new meaning, a higher meaning.

But then, in those last two paragraphs, He seems to explain just what it is He is hoping to do with this little volume. He mentions that He has heard that the recipient has traveled to these different places for the purpose of teaching. This, as you can imagine, is a praiseworthy activity. How often, in the Baha'i Writings, do we see high praise for those who travel and teach? Quite often, I can tell you. Far more times than I care to quote here.

It is then that He offers this man a bit of advice. "Those who progress in mystic wayfaring are of four kinds. I shall describe them in brief, that the grades and qualities of each kind may become plain to thee."


Why would He do this?

As I'm sure you are aware, dear Reader, I don't actually know. This is just my own opinion, my own thoughts on this little book, and nothing official.

It seems to me that He is trying to help this man become a more effective teacher. "I understand you want to go and teach. Here are the four types of people who actually make progress on that mystic path." He doesn't say that there are only four types of people in the world, but instead points out that there are only four that actually make progress. The rest of us, presumably, are standing still, or maybe even going backwards. And really, as a teacher, why would you even bother with those other types? You can only teach those who want to learn. Anything else is a waste of time and effort. Shoghi Effendi, over and over, emphasizes this point. We want to be effective in our work, and not just work for the sake of working.

To be effective, one of the best things we can do, when teaching the Cause, is to be very aware of the state of our listener. Here, these four phenotypes are most useful. There are four types of people who actually want to learn, He seems to say, and here is how they learn.

All of a sudden this book is no longer just a small mystical volume from the Pen of Baha'u'llah, but is now a very useful short treatise on how to be an effective teacher.


There are four types of people in the world who want to learn, and here is the method of reaching each of them.

When you identify the method of learning for an individual, you can be a more effective teacher for them.

Now, when I go back to those four Valleys, I can see a greater use for each of them. Sure, they help me see in which Valley I journey, but they also make me more aware of which Valleys my friends move in. And remember, none of them are bad. Sure, the first three have their limitations, but they are all viable and reasonable paths towards God. The hardnosed scientist has just as much chance of finding God through his method of investigation as the spaced out hippy does with theirs. We cannot, in good conscience, condemn any path that leads someone towards God.

And for that, I am so immensely grateful.

I'm also grateful to my wife who allowed our conversation to go back and look at this intro a little bit more than she originally wanted. I'm curious what will come of it.

* * * * *

He is the Strong, the Well-Beloved!

O light of truth, Hisám-i-Dín, the bounteous,
No prince hath the world begot like unto Thee!

I am wondering why the tie of love was so abruptly severed, and the firm covenant of friendship broken. Did ever, God forbid, My devotion lessen, or My deep affection fail, that thou hast thus forgot Me and blotted Me from thy thoughts?

What fault of Mine hath made thee cease thy favors?
Is it that We are lowly and thou of high degree?

Or is that a single arrow hath driven thee from the battle? Have they not told thee that faithfulness is a duty on those who follow the mystic way, that it is the true guide to His Holy Presence? “But as for those who say, ‘Our Lord is God,’ and who go straight to Him, the angels shall descend to them….”

Likewise He saith, “Go straight on then as thou hast been commanded.” Wherefore, this course is incumbent on those who dwell in the presence of God.

I do as bidden, and I bring the message,
Whether it give thee counsel or offense.

Albeit I have received no answer to My letters and it is contrary to the usage of the wise to express My regard anew, yet this new love hath broken all the old rules and ways.

Tell us not the tale of Laylí or of Majnún’s woe—
Thy love hath made the world forget the loves of long ago.
When once thy name was on the tongue, the lovers caught it
And it set the speakers and the hearers dancing to and fro.

And of divine wisdom and heavenly counsel, [Rúmí says]:

Each moon, O my beloved, for three days I go mad;
Today’s the first of these—’Tis why thou seest me glad.

We hear that thou hast journeyed to Tabríz and Tiflis to disseminate knowledge, or that some other high purpose hath taken thee to Sanandaj.

O My eminent friend! Those who progress in mystic wayfaring are of four kinds. I shall describe them in brief, that the grades and qualities of each kind may become plain to thee.

Four Directions

I have written a little bit about a lot of different passages from the Baha'i writings, but I realize that I have never written about The Four Valleys.

Why not?

Well, dear Reader, I think it was because I never had anything to say about it. But just the other day, I was reading it again, and decided to talk about it with my son. This is always a good thing, as he is only twelve right now. By talking with him, he gets me to think about it in very simple terms. For those you who have been reading my blog for years, you have seen many of the conversations I have had with the little guy and know that one of the most challenging things in the world is to try and explain the writings to a child. Even at twelve, it's still no different. Of course, it's no different when talking with an adult, too. Now I have an even greater admiration for Baha'u'llah and how He must have felt trying to explain things to us.

Anyways, the Four Valleys.

Aside - As if I didn't take one already. Heck, I haven't even begun the main point of this article yet! But I'll do an aside anyways. I've noticed over the years that, as a general rule, which means that there are exceptions, of course, so don't write me telling me that you're the exception, just pat yourself on the back and move on, that women tend to prefer the Four Valleys while it seems most men prefer the Seven. And I don't think it's a size issue. I think it's because the Seven Valleys is very linear. You go from one to two to three and so on. The Four Valleys is not. And it is this linearity that most men seem to like, while women tend to prefer the more holistic approach in the Four. And maybe, just maybe, that might be the reason I haven't written about it before now.

Aside from the aside - Wow, was I wrong. It seems that I have written about this little book before now. In fact, I have written two whole articles about it. The first time was when my wife was sitting with me and explained her thoughts on it. I thought they were wonderful enough thoughts to write down, and so I did. Re-reading them just now, I find that I have to agree with myself. They are wonderful  thoughts The second time was a little more of a look at the fourth valley. And now that I have re-read these two articles, I find that what I want to say is even more appropriate, for I have some more ideas on this little text.

Ok, so where was I? Right. The Four Valleys.

This time, looking at it afresh, there are some other things that I noticed. Plus there is the way I talked with my son about it.

In our conversation, I pointed out that the four valleys are not sequential, but rather identify four different approaches that we can take to try and approach our Creator. Of course, it's not really our Creator that we are approaching, but rather the Manifestation of God, which is about as close as we can get.

Anyways, the first is through understanding your self, your true self. By looking within, you can find the traces of God. This is found in many different faith traditions and beliefs. The very concept of being created in the image of God is based on this idea, and there are many quotes from all sorts of sacred teachings, including Baha'i, that support this.

The second method is through the rational. You can find God through your study of the sciences, or any other rational methodology. This is a great way to understand the world around you, and approach God.

The third is by your intuition. This method defies rationalization. You can actually find God through your feelings, trusting in your intuition. There are many people who have come close to their Creator through this method.

The fourth, which is regarded as the best of the four, is through a combination of the previous three.

Why would this be the considered the best? And if it is the best, then that  seems to imply that there are some issues with the previous three. And if there are, then why hasn't He mentioned those concerns? Perhaps it is because He doesn't want to condemn any method of getting nearer to God or risk dissuading anyone from their preferred method. Maybe He is more concerned with ensuring that everyone begins on this path than insisting on this fourth path. After all, it is always easier to steer a car that is moving, as opposed to one that is standing still. And therefore maybe, just maybe, His primary concern here is to just get us moving on one of these paths.