Saturday, March 6, 2021

Prayer for the Fast, part 5

Ten years ago I wrote a a few articles on this prayer and only recently re-read them. And you know what I learned? It doesn't matter how often you read a particular prayer, it unfolds itself in new ways every time. I also learned that I cannot recall writing these articles at all. They read, to me, as if someone else is speaking in my voice. And so, dear Reader, I wondered what I would say today if I were to write these articles again.

Of course, as soon as I asked myself this, I opened my prayer book, said a short prayer in my heart, and then began to read.

Now, I feel I must interrupt the flow of this particular stream of thought to admit something to you before I begin. After all, I know I can trust you. We're friends, and you would never laugh at me, except when appropriate, right?

So, when I go to say a prayer, I always say a short personal prayer in my heart before turning to the Writings. Why? I don't know. It just feels right to prepare myself before approaching something so sacred, like we are told to do with the Feast. Today, I did that, as usual, and then began to re-read this wonderful prayer for the Fast. I started to feel the rhythm of the prayer, the flow of the spirit as it washed over my own soul, noted a passage that stuck out at me and gently flagged it. This, by the way, is something that my hand just does naturally without any specific conscious thought on my part. It's just a tiny dot of the pencil that touches the prayer book and later, when I'm done with the reading / praying part of the prayer, I go back and look at those dots.

Today, however, I was about halfway through the reading part of it when I realized I was reading the wrong prayer. I was reading the one that begins "Glory be to Thee, O Lord my God!" Oops. Oh well. It's still a good prayer, right? Oh, and that's a personal joke with me. Whenever a friend asks which prayer they should read, I almost always say, "Choose a good one." It's like when some friends and I were talking about the Hidden Words, and one of them was trying to remember a particular one that the other loved to chant. He couldn't recall which one they were referring to and asked, "How does it begin?" I said, "O Son of..." And there was a long pause before they both fell over laughing. Anyways, maybe I'll look at that other prayer later on during this Fast. Perhaps it was a hint from up top.

Back to today.

It is one hour after sunrise, 6 March 2021. And "I beseech Thee, O my God".

This morning there are a number of dots on the page, more than usual. Certainly more than I can write about in a single article here. Rather than try to write about the thoughts that traipse through my mind on each of them, I'll just do one at a time, in order, and maybe tackle the others tomorrow.

Of course, I should also point out that each and every word in the sacred Writings is holy and filled with layers upon layers of meaning. To focus on one is not to say that the others are any less meaningful, not at all. Instead, it is to see them as gems that catch my eye at a particular moment in my life. Focusing on an extract, a single piece of the Writings, is nothing new. After all, there are single lines taken from the verses and placed on the walls of the temple in Wilmette. We look at a single verse at a time in the first sections of the Ruhi books. Baha'u'llah, Himself, extracted a number of single lines in His great work, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. So I feel there is nothing wrong with focusing on a single line, phrase, or word, within the context of the entire piece.

Today, the first phrase that caught my attention, that moved me enough to rock forward and place that dot on the page, was "the shadow of Thy mercy".

Why is mercy a shadow in this context? If God is the Light of the world, and Baha'u'llah is the Most Glorious, why would being in a shadow be a mercy? Wouldn't this block His light from reaching us? Isn't that what a shadow does, block the light?

Perhaps, and I don't really know for this is only my own opinion and nothing official, God's light is so intense that the shadow really is a mercy, allowing us to see the light without burning up underneath it. As I write this, I am thinking of how I wear sunglasses while driving on a bright day. It protects me, and allows me to see more clearly. Maybe this is what the shadow of His mercy does.

Many times Baha'u'llah said to the friends that if He were to reveal His true glory, they would all swoon away. By standing behind a veil, so to speak, they could begin to catch a glimpse of Him.

There is also the story that He told to one of the Pilgrims about the training of a parrot. When the trainer wishes to teach the parrot to speak, they hide behind a mirror. This way, the parrot sees another parrot but hears the voice of the speaker. The bird thinks that the voice is that of another bird, and thus they begin to speak, in imitation. This, Baha'u'llah is reported to have said, is how the Manifestation teaches humanity. If the parrot were to see the human speaking, they would be frightened away, but by seeing something familiar, they learn.

Now, in the context of the prayer, it seems to me that we are standing outside the gate of the city God, waiting to be allowed to enter. When I imagine myself in that context, standing outside a city of old, waiting for the guards to let me in, I see myself standing out in the sun. Heat stroke would be a distinct possibility at certain times of the year. The shadowing cloud protecting me from the hot rays of the sun would be a distinct mercy, for which I would ardently pray. Of course, if it were raining, then a canopy would be most welcome, which is, you will note, the very next phrase.

At this point, I would love to keep writing, exploring more of this wonderful prayer, but my cat is insisting I spend time with him. And my wife and I need to go to the farms to get more fresh veggies for juicing during this Fast.

Thank you for joining me this morning, and I truly look forward to hearing what phrases catch your attention in this prayer. Hopefully I'll be able to explore a bit more tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Streaming Waters of Holy Utterance

Yesterday, I received a wonderful e-mail from a friend who is studying the Kitab-i-Iqan. They asked what the following sentence, found in paragraph 65, meant to me: "Verily, I say, so fierce is the blaze of the Bush of love, burning in the Sinai of the heart, that the streaming waters of holy utterance can never quench its flame."

What a great question.

I must have read this sentence at least a dozen times, and it never occurred to me just how... mystic? mystifying? puzzling?... it can be. I feel as if I had just skimmed past it, taking it in stride as a simple poetic metaphor, but never actually questioning what it could be a metaphor for.

In an attempt to come to some understanding of it, I found that I needed to look at this quote in the context of the book itself. It occurs at the end of the section in which Baha’u’llah examines the phrase, “the powers of the earth shall be shaken”. After all, Part 1 is mostly an exploration and explanation of the quote from Jesus found in paragraph 24. As you know, He goes through this quote phrase by phrase, explaining it to the uncle of the Bab to help him get a better foundation of why he is a Muslim, which he can then apply to his relationship to the faith of the Bab.

Here, Baha’u’llah is at the end of this particular phrase’s explanation, and has just alluded to the Bab for the very first time, when He said, “How severe the persecutions inflicted upon Him...” at the end of paragraph 63.

Paragraph 64 seems to be a celebration of this mere allusion to the Bab. In it He refers to “the sweet savours of God” wafting “from the day-spring of Revelation”, and talks about all the wonderous and marvelous things It does. For a full page He goes on about the glorious nature of this bounty.

Then, in paragraph 65, He offers another interlude. “The universe if pregnant”, He says. When will it give birth? When will we be able to attain the presence of the One Whom God shall make Manifest, as promised by Bab? This, to me, is the implied question in paragraph 65. I mean, I may be wrong, for this commentary is nothing official, but just my own personal opinion, but still. That seems to be the implie question.

As of the writing of this Book, Baha’u’llah has not yet revealed Himself, so He can legitimately ask “In the soil of whose heart” will all these things be born? “From the garden on whose soul” will we see all these great bounties? These are question that must have been asked by all the Babis alive at that time. “Who is He Who is promised?”

Then Baha’u’lllah seems to answer that very question. “Verily, I say, so fierce is the blaze of the Bush of love, burning in the Sinai of the heart, that the streaming waters of utterance can never quench its flame.” He continues on in a similar vein with the next few sentences, with His references to "this Leviathan" an "this Phoenix", with emphasis on the "this"es, but let’s unpack this one sentence, as my friend requested.

To begin, He is alluding, very obviously, to the Burning Bush in which God spoke to Moses, and He is further elevating the station of the heart, His heart, to that of the Sacred Mount. And remember, He has just referred to this story a few paragraphs earlier, in paragraph 57, in which He described this Burning Bush as “the King of glory from the ‘Tree that belongeth neither to the East nor to the West’.” Within that flame, “He heard the soul-stirring Voice of the Spirit speaking from out the kindled Fire, bidding Him to shed... the light of divine guidance.” In the story, He, Moese, is being asked to give to the peoples the Word of God.

Now, earlier in the Book, in paragraph 27, Baha'u'llah refers to “the overpowering majesty of the Word of God” and how it can “prevent them from attaining unto the ocean of His names and attributes”, and even “deprive them of recognizing the Lamp of God”. Of course, in that reference, He is talking about how the majesty of the Word of God as revealed by Moses or Jesus or Muhammad is so powerful that its light can blind people to accepting the light from the next Revelation.

In fact, as my wife pointed out, these "life-giving waters", the holy Word of previous Revelations, can be seen as the ocean in which He was swimming in His father's dream. Baha'u'llah, in that dream, moved as He willed, and was unharmed by any turmoil around Him.

It seems to me that He is saying, in paragraph 65, that these “streaming waters” of the Words of God cannot stop Him from giving His message. So strong is the light that He is shedding that nothing can prevent it from shining forth to all peoples. And even the next few passages give further emphasis to this point, but no need to go on here.

So, given the context, in which this sentence is found, it seems as if He is talking about His own heart, and the light blazing within it, the light of the Love of God. And nothing, no tests, no trials, not even the overpowering Word of God, can ever cause that light to fade.

And to continue this, He goes on and seems to talk about how we can also emulate this strong, unconquerable love. "Therefore, O brother! kindle with the oil of wisdom the lamp of the spirit within the innermost chamber of thy heart, and guard it with the globe of understanding, that the breath of the infidel may extinguish not its flame nor dim its brightness." For here, He is now telling the reader to kindle this same flame within their own heart. How? With wisdom. And we are to guard this precious flame with understanding. Isn't this why He is explaining so much of the prophecy of Jesus here? So that we can better understand the profound wisdom of the past? After all, this is why He has "illuminated the heavens of utterance with the splendours of the Sun of divine wisdom and understanding". It is so that our "heart may find peace", and that we may "be of those who, on the wings of certitude, have soared unto the heaven of the love of their Lord, the All-Merciful."

Not only is He describing His own love, but also helping us understand what our love should be like.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

YouTube channel

Dearly loved Friends,

Some of you have been following me for quite some time, and may have noticed that I've been slowing down my writing. This has been due to my need to make a living. But even then, I've still tried to keep up as much as I can.

Recently, however, with the global pandemic, my summer market season has been shut down, and I find myself with a lot more time on my hands. Rather than writing, though, I've taken up to recording myself, first with a podcast on castbox, but more recently on YouTube.

To follow me on YouTube, please go to: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiwMzPGh9PVJYqriHWnUdOg/

And as usual, please feel free to comment. I would love to hear your thoughts and insights.

Oh, and also please do hit the "like" button there. This makes it easier for others to find the channel.

Thank you so much for your continued support over the years,

With love and prayers,

Mead

Friday, March 27, 2020

Naw Ruz 2020

For many years we would receive letters from the Baha'i World Centre for Naw Ruz, with only the occasional Ridvan letter. And then, perhaps in recognition that it is Ridvan that is the Most Great Festival, or maybe because it is when we elect our Spiritual Assemblies, we started receiving Ridvan messages more regularly. This year, however, we received another Naw Ruz message, which I must admit took me by surprise. I mean, it wasn't that surprising, what with all that is happening in the world. I knew it was just a matter of time before the Universal House of Justice offered their loving guidance and encouragement. I just didn't expect it to be in the form of a Naw Ruz message. Why? I don't know, but there you go.

Today, I thought I would take a closer look at it and see what hidden gems lie within. Care to join?

Of course you do. I mean, that's why you're reading this, right?

Hmm. How to do this? Copy and paste a paragraph at a time? Sure. Why not? After all, it's only 5 paragraphs, after the "Dearly loved Friends".

We feel compelled by current events to write to you at this time and not wait until Riḍván. As you will be all too aware, over recent weeks and months, an apprehensive world has been coming to terms with a rapidly evolving health crisis affecting the people in many countries, the consequences of which for society cannot yet be estimated with any certainty. We are sure that you, like us, have felt great concern for the well-being of humanity, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Seldom has it been more evident that society’s collective strength is dependent on the unity it can manifest in action, from the international stage to the grassroots, and we know that you are giving your support to the essential efforts being made in this regard to protect the health and welfare of all.

Well, the first thing that catches my attention is that they are admitting right at the beginning that this is unusual. They are writing this now, instead of waiting for Ridvan, as is their norm. And they are not just moved to do this, they are compelled. They are forced by a sense of obligation to write us at this time. Honestly, I cannot think of another time when they have felt "compelled" like this.

Then, in a single sentence, they let us know why. The world is apprehensive, fearful and anxious. We are aware that things are moving rapidly, affecting people all over the world, and we cannot foresee the consequences of it.

And finally, they remind us of our obligation. We, obviously, feel great concern, especially for those that are most vulnerable, and need to remind people that unity is what is needed most right now.

Do we need to self-isolate in this time of crisis? Yes, but in unity. Do we need to stay home? Yes, but while supporting those most vulnerable. Should we be concerned? Of course, but this concern should not disrupt our unity.

Inevitably, the current situation will have an impact on the administration of the Cause of God in many places, and in every case the relevant National Spiritual Assembly will advise on the appropriate measures to be taken. In some countries this will include cancelling National Convention, with arrangements being made for the National Assembly to be elected by other means. Similar arrangements might also need to be made, in certain places, for the election of Local Spiritual Assemblies. However, in circumstances where even this proves unfeasible, it would be permissible this year for the existing membership of a Local or National Assembly to continue on into the next administrative year. Naturally, any National Assembly giving thought to approving such a step will seek the advice of the Counsellors at an early stage.

We need to be aware, and admit, that this will affect us, too. We already know that most Naw Ruz celebrations were cancelled in person, and held virtually, instead. We all felt the impact of that. And likely most Feasts were cancelled in person, too. Throughout the Baha'i world we saw communities arise to find new and innovative ways to both hold our Feasts, as well as celebrate our new year. But this is just the beginning. Those methods we found last week are the same methods that we are now using for study circles, junior youth groups, children's classes, devotional gatherings, and all of our activities.

We are also certain that this will impact our Ridvan celebrations, as well as our elections. It is good to admit that now, prepare, and find ways to continue on, while being mindful of the current state of affairs in the world.

Oh, and where necessary, we also need to consult with the Institution of the Learned, our beloved Counsellors and Auxiliary Board, a well as their assistants.

Circumstances are different this year than they were in the past, we the Faith moves with it. We can react quickly, and sensibly, when the need arises.

At a time of another crisis, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered these words of counsel: “In a day such as this, when the tempests of trials and tribulations have encompassed the world, and fear and trembling have agitated the planet, ye must rise above the horizon of firmness and steadfastness with illumined faces and radiant brows in such wise that, God willing, the gloom of fear and consternation may be entirely obliterated, and the light of assurance may dawn above the manifest horizon and shine resplendently.” The world stands more and more in need of the hope and the strength of spirit that faith imparts. Beloved friends, you have of course long been occupied with the work of nurturing within groups of souls precisely the attributes that are required at this time: unity and fellow feeling, knowledge and understanding, a spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Indeed, we have been struck by how efforts to reinforce these attributes have made communities especially resilient, even when faced with conditions that have necessarily limited their activities. Though having to adapt to new circumstances, the believers have used creative means to strengthen bonds of friendship, and to foster among themselves and those known to them spiritual consciousness and qualities of tranquillity, confidence, and reliance on God. The elevated conversations that have occurred as a result, whether remotely or in person, have been a source of comfort and inspiration to many. Such efforts on your part provide a valuable service at this hour when many souls are perplexed and dismayed, unsure of what will be. However difficult matters are at present, and however close to the limits of their endurance some sections of societies are brought, humanity will ultimately pass through this ordeal, and it will emerge on the other side with greater insight and with a deeper appreciation of its inherent oneness and interdependence.
"At a time of another crisis..." This is not the first time we have faced a global crisis, and in the past, we have arisen and overcome. Remember, the world moves in cycles of crisis an victory. When a crisis occurs, we need to keep our eye on the victory that is coming. We may not know exactly how it will all play out, for "the consequences...cannot yet be estimated with any certainty", but we know the path towards that promised victory. We need to arise with firmness, steadfastness, with illumined faces and radiant brows. We need to show forth hope and strength of spirit.

And you know what? We have been training for this for years. They tell us exactly what is needed right now, all over the world. Unity. Fellow feeling. Knowledge and understanding. A spirit of collective worship and common endeavour. Isn't that what all the core activities are about?

As we have learned to rely on God and prayer, and have learned to consult together in small teaching teams, as well as in larger reflection groups, we have grown in our awareness of the spirit. We have become more tranquil and confident, two qualities that really stand out at this time. Over the past few weeks, as I've posted more on social media, expressing my personal feelings and questioning the assumptions of others, I have noticed an increase in personal messages of thanks and admiration. The very qualities the Universal House of Justice is mentioning are those exact qualities that have been mentioned by others. And I know that for every message or comment I've read, there are many more that have not been sent.

In the end, we can say with confidence and faith that we will come through this crisis, and that part of the victory we will see will be this "deeper appreciation of (our) inherent oneness and interdependence." There is no doubt of it. And as we point it out to others, they, too, will see it more clearly. ll we need to do is draw their attention to it.

This is not the moment in which to describe in any detail the accomplishments of the Bahá’í world over the past year, or the extraordinary progress made in multiplying communitybuilding activities worldwide and strengthening programmes of growth, work which continues in earnest wherever circumstances permit. Suffice it to say that, four years into the current Plan, the tireless supporters of the Cause have brought the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh to the strongest position in which it has ever been in its history. Everything you have done and are now doing is preparing the global Bahá’í community for the next stage in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan.
Now is not the time to look at ourselves, to sit on our laurels and be satisfied with all that we are doing. Now is the time for looking to the needs of others. In some ways it is like the inverse of Pilgrimage, during which we don't teach for our focus should be on our own relationship with our Creator. Today, our need is to look to others, to help them in their time of distress. We know we are on the right path, and that should suffice.

For now, our thoughts and our prayers are focused on the health and well-being of all the friends of God and all those among whom you dwell. We pray earnestly, also, for the Almighty to bestow upon you assurance, stamina, and staunch spirits. May your minds be ever bent upon the needs of the communities to which you belong, the condition of the societies in which you live, and the welfare of the entire family of humanity, to whom you are all brothers and sisters. And in your quiet moments, when no course of action other than prayer seems possible, then we invite you to add your supplications to our own and ardently pray for the relief of suffering. We turn to these words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Whose whole existence was an example of selfless commitment to the well-being of others:
O Thou Provider! Assist Thou these noble friends to win Thy good pleasure, and make them well-wishers of stranger and friend alike. Bring them into the world that abideth forever; grant them a portion of heavenly grace; cause them to be true Bahá’ís, sincerely of God; save them from outward semblances, and establish them firmly in the truth. Make them signs and tokens of the Kingdom, luminous stars above the horizons of this nether life. Make them to be a comfort and a solace to humankind and servants to the peace of the world.

Their focus is on our health and well-being, two things that are at the forefront of many people's minds today. And is our job easy? Of course not. It's simple, in that we already know what to do, but it requires a lot of effort, and a constant focus. Perhaps this is why they pray for our "assurance, stamina, and staunch spirits." They also remind us that this is the time to really look to the needs of our community, for they truly do need us. There are many out there who cannot go out to get their simple daily needs, and the require our help. Of course, this will differ from place to place, but help is needed everywhere.

And then, when we are sitting in the quiet of our homes, taking a few moments to reflect and pray, they offer us a prayer to use. Take a moment, dear Reader, and read this prayer again. Think of your neighbours as you say it. Think of the elders in your community. Think of those who are downcast and at risk. For surely, there are no greater words than these to truly express what we are all feeling in our hearts.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Pandemics and Quarantine

What an interesting time in which we live.

I'm torn between writing about Shoghi Effendi's "Promised Day is Come" and the current pandemic spreading around the world.

Maybe I'll start with the current context, just in case you're reading this at some point in the future. How's that for optimism?

As of today, many places around the world have gone into quarantine mode, trying to stem the tide of covid-19, a new virus that is rapidly spreading throughout the world. It's in the corona strain of viruses, meaning it's related to the common cold, not the flu. But two things stand out with it. First, it's a new strain, so we have no natural immunity to it, yet, which is why it is spreading so quickly. Second, the death rate from it is reasonably high, all things considered, especially in those with compromised immune systems, or who are over 60.

In regards to it being related to the common cold, just to be clear, that is like saying a lung infection is related to a stuffy nose. While true, it can also seem mis-leading.

The current steps that are being taken to mitigate the spread of this new virus are to try and slow down the spread, not stop it. It is fairly obvious that it is spreading, and there's not much we can do about that. The only trick, now, is to slow down how fast it spreads. Why? So that the emergency medical systems are not totally overwhelmed. We already know that at least half of the population of the planet will contract this virus. As of this writing, about 7% of active cases world-wide require hospitalization, while 8% of closed cases have resulted in death. As you can see, this means that 92% recover.

The real issue, though, is to try and spread those 7% needing hospitalization out over time. I mean if 7% of the population of your hometown showed up at your local hospital needing a ventilator, there is no way your system could handle it. And this is not even counting all the regular issues that hospitals have to deal with, such as heart attacks or births.

So today, many communities are staying home, and minimizing social contact, which makes the upcoming celebration of Naw Ruz quite interesting.

Oh, and for those who are confused about what it is called, it is covid-19 not corvid-19, as I have seen many write. Covid is an abbreviation of "corona virus identification", 19 referring to the year in which it started, while corvid is related to crows. This has nothing to do with a gathering of crows, which, incidentally, is called a "murder", nor does it have to do with a beer from Mexico that is best served with lime, the fruit, and not Lyme, the disease, and which Baha'is are not allowed to imbibe, the beer, not the fruit, and we also try to stay away from the disease, like covid-19. I hope that clears it up.

So, given the death rate, and the contagion rate, am I scared? Nope. Not at all.

Am I concerned? Of course.

People are panicking, and there will be many deaths in the near future.

But overall, I think this is a good thing, for it gives us a taste of how to prepare and react to a more deadly pandemic. This is a test of our health-care systems, our safety protocols, and how well we follow our mother's instructions to wash our hands before we eat.

Aside - I can't believe that I didn't put any of the above as an aside, but there you go. Anyways, the recommended way to wash your hands is with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you recite the medium obligatory prayer three times per day, the first part is to recite the first paragraph while washing your hands.
Strengthen my hand, O my God, that it may take hold of Thy Book with such steadfastness that the hosts of the world shall have no power over it. Guard it, then, from meddling with whatsoever doth not belong unto it. Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Most Powerful.
This, incidentally, takes about 20 seconds. Coincidence? Hmmm.


To sum up, we are currently experiencing a global pandemic with a low to medium mortality rate, and this is forcing many communities to come up with new ways of celebrating Naw Ruz, such as a teleconference or much smaller family gatherings.

It is also heightening the sense of receptivity in many places around the world.

In Italy, for example, where the people have been quarantined for over a week already, the Baha'i youth and junior youth are being of great service to the elders, who are requiring much assistance. They are engaging in many conversations, offering service, and beginning many new activities within the scope available to them under these circumstances. The stories are truly uplifting, and many thanks go to the Regional Baha'i Committee of Northern Italy, who has shared these stories with the world.

It is as 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals."

By patiently continuing on with what we are doing, with the education of children, the spiritual empowerment of the junior youth, the studies with the youth and adults in our communities, service to all who are in need, and community-wide prayers, all in a manner in which current circumstances allow, we attract the attention of those around us. As the Guardian wrote, "Self-sacrifice, courage, indomitable hope and confidence are the characteristics they should show forth, because these very attributes cannot but fix the attention of the public and lead them to enquire what, in a world so hopelessly chaotic and bewildered, leads these people to be so assured, so confident, so full of devotion? "

So perhaps this is what I really wanted to mention today. Most of the world is focused on the message in the first few paragraphs of The Promised Day is Come, scared, lost and hopeless.

They are becoming more aware of the warnings in those opening lines:
“The time for the destruction of the world and its people,” Bahá’u’lláh’s prophetic pen has proclaimed, “hath arrived.” “The hour is approaching,” He specifically affirms, “when the most great convulsion will have appeared.” “The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: ‘Taste ye what your hands have wrought!’” “Soon shall the blasts of His chastisement beat upon you, and the dust of hell enshroud you.” And again: “And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake.”

But it is the closing lines to which we, the followers of the Most Great Name, must keep our focus:
Not ours, puny mortals that we are, to attempt, at so critical a stage in the long and checkered history of mankind, to arrive at a precise and satisfactory understanding of the steps which must successively lead a bleeding humanity, wretchedly oblivious of its God, and careless of Bahá’u’lláh, from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection. Not ours, the living witnesses of the all-subduing potency of His Faith, to question, for a moment, and however dark the misery that enshrouds the world, the ability of Bahá’u’lláh to forge, with the hammer of His Will, and through the fire of tribulation, upon the anvil of this travailing age, and in the particular shape His mind has envisioned, these scattered and mutually destructive fragments into which a perverse world has fallen, into one single unit, solid and indivisible, able to execute His design for the children of men.
Ours rather the duty, however confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources we dispose of, to labor serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which, as marshaled and directed by Bahá’u’lláh, are leading humanity out of the valley of misery and shame to the loftiest summits of power and glory.

We may not know what is coming in the next few months or years, but we know where it is going. And we have the guidance of the World Centre to help us keep to the path that will get us there.

Today, it is a minor pandemic, with a relatively low mortality rate, but we can already see countries coming together in unity and compassion to help each other out. What, we may wonder, will the next trials bring?

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Artistic Dimension

"All art", said 'Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in The Chosen Highway, "is a gift of the Holy Spirit." And like all gifts, it should not be squandered, but used and treasured.

Sometimes, to our surprise, the arts transcend what we think of as the norm, and not just in the way they are presented. Sometimes the very message goes far beyond what we, perhaps as the artist, ever dreamed.

There is a beautiful story in The Dawn-Breakers of Mulla Husayn visiting the Bab in the prison of Mah-Ku. They were looking over the river Araxes, when the Bab said, "That is the river, and this is the bank thereof, of which the poet Hafiz has thus written: `O zephyr, shouldst thou pass by the banks of the Araxes, implant a kiss on the earth of that valley and make fragrant thy breath. Hail, a thousand times hail, to thee, O abode of Salma! How dear is the voice of thy camel-drivers, how sweet the jingling of thy bells!' The days of your stay in this country are approaching their end. But for the shortness of your stay, we would have shown you the `abode of Salma,' even as we have revealed to your eyes the `banks of the Araxes.'"

Nearby the prison was another town called Salmas, which was the reference in the poem.

Continuing on, the Bab further remarked, "It is the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit that causes words such as these to stream from the tongue of poets, the significance of which they themselves are oftentimes unable to apprehend. The following verse is also divinely inspired: `Shiraz will be thrown into a tumult; a Youth of sugar-tongue will appear. I fear lest the breath of His mouth should agitate and upset Baghdad.' The mystery enshrined within this verse is now concealed; it will be revealed in the year after Hin." This, of course, is a reference to Baha'u'llah, and His time in Baghdad.

As an artist and a writer, I find this idea that the artist is unaware of the significance of what they are doing intriguing. But that is part of the beauty of being open to the worlds of the spirit. "Treasures lie hidden beneath the throne of God; the key to those treasures is the tongue of poets."

Another beautiful example many of us are familiar with is that marvelous song, Battle Hymn of the Republic. Julia Ward Howe heard the tune as part of a regimental military review. It was suggested to her by Reverend James Freeman Clarke that she write new lyrics for the piece. I can only imagine what the old lyrics were, but I suspect they were less than appropriate. That night, 18 November 1861, while Baha'u'llah was in Baghdad, she had the following experience, which she described later:
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, "I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them." So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pencil which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.

How often have we heard of artists who, upon suddenly having a vision, rush to put down what they have seen, only to look back in wonder at the profundity of it.

Here are some of the words she wrote down that wondrous morning:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
(Chorus)
Glory, Glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
Over and over we read of such incredible happenings, such profound, and yet unrecognized, insights into the spiritual realm. It reminds me of those words at the end of the Book of Daniel where the prophet wrote down all these beautiful visions, but had no clue what they were about. "Go thy way, Daniel", said the Lord, "for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end."

So why, you may be wondering, am I writing about this today? What triggered this article?

I'm glad you asked.

For those of you who don't know, mathematics is one of my first loves. My father used to say that I could count before I could speak. I probably would have been a maths teacher if it were possible to teach in the current educational systems in North America, but that's another issue altogether.

Anyways, one of the books that has long fascinated me is Flatland, by Edwin Abbott. I've known about it for a long time. I also loved the explanation Carl Sagan gave of it in the original Cosmos series. But the other day, as I was talking with my son, I realized that I'd never read it myself. So I went to the library and got a copy.

The story, as you probably know, is about a square in a two-dimensional world. His name, astonishingly enough, is Square. Since the whole world is just 2-d, everyone in it is also 2-d. You have the lines, the various triangles, the squares, and on and on up to the highest of classes, the circles. He gives a marvelous description of the society, even though it is quite sexist by today's standards, and a detailed analysis of how they all see each other and interact.

One night, Square has a dream in which he is talking to someone in Lineland, a one-dimensional world. He tries to describe width to these people who can only experience length, and, of course, they just don't get it. In fact, they get angry with him for talking such nonsense.

When he wakes up, he thinks about this experience a lot, and is still puzzling over it that evening, when they are getting ready to celebrate the new millennium. The book, written in 1884, is set in the year 1999.

At the end of the day, as he's getting ready to head off to bed, he is visited by a stranger, a circle that miraculously appears and then gets bigger and bigger. It turns out that he is being visited by Sphere, a mysterious creature from the third dimension.

Now he finds himself in the same position that the people in Lineland were in when he visited them in his dream.

A conversation ensues, and by this point, I am beginning to see this entire book as a metaphor for Baha'u'llah visiting this world.

But when I turn the page, as Square is angry with Sphere for spouting such nonsense, and even goes to attack him, I read something that stops me in my tracks. I read it again, and then I go find my wife to read it to her.

Sphere, wondering how to convey the truth to Square, says, "I had hoped to find in you - as being a man of sense and an accomplished mathematician - a fit apostle for the Gospel of the Three Dimensions, which I am allowed to preach once only in a thousand years: but now I know not how to convince you. Stay, I have it. Deeds, and not words, shall proclaim the truth."

From that point forward, I was fairly convinced that Abbott had been inspired by someone in that Concourse on High to write this book.

Sphere goes on to talk about how he can see, not only the outlines of the people as Square can, but into the very hearts of the people, too. He can reach into seemingly locked boxes and remove their contents, as if it were a miracle. He even lifts Square off the page, allowing him to get a glimpse of this miraculous new perspective, that of three dimensionality.

By looking down, from this new vantage, Square is momentarily able to see his whole planet from above, instead of from the side. He, too, can see inside what were previously viewed as borders. He, too, would be able to life things up and out of sealed areas, if he were to stay there.

But, alas, he doesn't. He has to go back to his own 2-dimensional plane and try to share what he has learned with others.

So what happens? Well, as you can guess, he is not believed, arrested, and put into prison for life, knowing this greater truth, but only able to share it with those that are truly pure in heart and open to radical new concepts.

Shoghi Effendi, in numerous Pilgrim notes, encouraged us to read a variety of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, spiritual and secular. He said that it would help us get a broader and more comprehensive view of the Writings and how they apply to the world.

I knew for years that I had wanted to read Flatland, but I never dreamed that it would give me that significant a new perspective on the world. You never know which artist has been inspired by the light cast by Baha'u'llah, to what degree, and how their perspective will add to your own.

"The light which these souls (the Prophets and Messengers of God) radiate is responsible for the progress of the world and the advancement of its people. They are like unto the leaven which leaveneth the world of being and constitute the animating force through which the arts and wonders of the world are made manifest." Baha'u'llah - Gleanings, page 157

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Representation

I have been thinking about the Conference of Badasht for some time now.

It's interesting. I mean, this seems like a strange connection, but 'Abdu'l-Baha, in The Secret of Divine Civilization, says that "The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness..." And the Conference of Badasht, although ostensibly organized to discuss how to rescue the Bab from His imprisonment, was actually there to make a complete break from Islam. Every day, as you probably know, discussed some new law of the Bab's and put it into effect.

Present at the conference were 81 Babis, including Baha'u'llah, Quddus, and Tahirih. In a sense, this conference also allowed the friends to explore the apparent dichotomy that was occurring within the community, namely the one between those who wanted to remain Muslim in character, and those who wanted to break from Islam. Quddus, in effect, represented those Babis who wanted to continue to follow the laws of Islam and maintain a definitely conservative attitude within the Babi faith, while Tahirih represented those who seemed to want to separate completely. In many ways, it was similar to those early Christians who wanted to keep the laws of Judaism, and those who wanted a complete break.

Baha'u'llah, of course, was the moderator of it all, and at the end of each day showed how the two sides could be reconciled.

Ok. Now what about "happiness"?

It has occurred to me that while these two philosophical sides were represented, there was more representation going on that just that.

Tahirih, the only woman present, in effect represented fully 51% of the human race: the women. Out of 81 people, she was the only female there, thus representing all the women on this planet.

As you probably know, the station of women at that time, and still today in some areas, was considered far below that of men. The ostensible reason for this was the interpretation of religious ideas. Here, at this conference, they were discussing these various ideas and moving them from a staid and dusty past into a vibrant future. And the "primary purpose, the basic objective" of all this was, in the words of 'Abdu'l-Baha, "human happiness."

Tahirih, that heroine of Qazvin, was the only one there who was representing the happiness of women.

Today, a century and a half removed from that historic event, we generally only think of one thing when we consider that conference. We don't know anything about the discussions of the various laws. We don't know any of the arguments. We don't know any of the resolutions that occurred at the end of each day.

All we really know revolves around a singular act.

We know that Baha'u'llah was ill, and was in His tent talking with Quddus, while others gathered around them. We know that Tahirih summoned Quddus, who refused to go to her. She summoned him again, and again he refused. The messenger said that he was determined to have Quddus join him, and if he didn't, Quddus would need to take his life, for he was not leaving without Quddus. To the surprise of some, Quddus drew his sword and looked ready to comply.

It was at that moment, when Quddus was holding his sword, looking angry enough to kill this man, with many stunned witnesses looking on, that Tahirih entered the tent. Without her veil.

We can all picture this scene. We have heard it told numerous times, and probably seen many renderings of it, as imagined by various artists over the years. We know of the confusion, the anger, the panic. We know of the man who cut his throat, because he had seen her face unveiled. We can imagine the frantic scene of turbulent rage, as this one man's blood sprayed around. It is a scene of horrified, spiritual panic.

Amidst this all, though, we envision the serene countenance of Tahirih, announcing the arrival of gender equality at this point in human history.

Imagine this. Out of weeks of intense theological discussion, with such incredible perspectives by Baha'u'llah, Quddus, and Tahirih, all we remember is this one moment.

The reaction to it is also quintessential. The masculine response was classic. Historic. It was what we would expect. It was, in essence, the epitome of what we consider masculinity.

But, again, as 'Abdu'l-Baha has said, "The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced."

It is only natural that this defining moment would exemplify this observant quote so well. In an age when men so dominated the scene, a singular woman, who was representing more than half the human race, who was helping shift the entire direction of all of civilization, would define the only moment we would remember.