Monday, October 31, 2011


When 'Abdu'l-Baha was in the West, so the story goes, He was looking over a dance floor with one of His companions. This companion was taken by the beauty of the moment and commented on how happy the dancers looked. "It's too bad", said the Master, "that they're all dead."

(Cue the Halloween music.)

This morning, as I was on my way in to work, I heard a very silly article about zombies, and that, for some twisted reason, reminded me of the above story. Which got me thinking about what I was going to write today. I didn't really have anything in mind, but this one just tickled my funny bone.

Over the years, my wife and I have talked a lot about the idea that all deep-rooted myths in our culture have some very serious significance that we need to learn. One that came up early in our conversations was the idea of the vampire as a symbol of the sexual predator. (And please don't read too much into it that this was the one my wife brought up.)

No, seriously. I mean, think about it. If you show them that you're religious, eeek, they run away. Or if you have bad breath or body odour, say from eating garlic, eeek, they run away. They only prey on their victims at night. And if you happen to fall for one of them, and get into a relationship with someone who is abusive, then you are very likely to either become an abuser yourself, or will generally only find yourself in the victim position. This is, unfortunately, all too common a phenomenon. The one who is abused swears that they will never abuse anyone, and then goes on to do just that, thus perpetuating the cycle.

It also seems to just drain the very life out of you, if you happen to be stuck in a relationship like that.

And how do you get rid of someone who is doing this to you? You basically have to stab them through the heart. I swear, I have never heard anyone so whiny, and crying out in pain, as the abuser who has been kicked out by their victim. They remind me of Paul Reubens (aka Peewee Herman) in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is probably the single most "dramatic" death scene in any film.

Of course, this is the negative version of what 'Abdu'l-Baha meant when He said, "I ask God that I may not repose for a moment, but that, night and day, in the love of the Blessed Beauty -- may my spirit be a sacrifice to Him!  --  I may drink from the rosy cup of the blood of the heart." (You just knew I had to find a way to get that quote in here, didn't you?)

Werewolves? I think of them as a metaphor for bi-polar, or some other illness in which the person swings into a massive depression or anger fit with regular periodicity.

The Mummy? A symbol of those who try to find fulfillment, or immortality, through material means.

And I love them all! They're tons of fun, and a joy to see at this time of year, but they still can teach us something.

Zombies, on the other hand, are a bit more tricky, less obvious. This is due to the dual nature of the word. Originally it referred to the harmless slave-like people that were said to be found in parts of the Caribbean, but this got transformed into the flesh-eating, brain-sucking monsters from the late-60s, and was further refined into the lovable shambling creatures in such games as Plants vs Zombies, a favorite of six-year olds everywhere, if they happen to live in my house.

These later zombies have become a part of our culture, a firmly embedded piece of our mythos, which, to me, means that there is something important about them.

To figure it out, let`s define them first, just to be sure we know what we`re talking about (as if I ever do). They`re fairly mindless, with a single fixation: eating brains. They are relentless in their pursuit of this... delicacy. And they`re contagious. If you suffer a bite from one of them, then, like the vampire, or that other cultural icon, the werewolf, then you become one of them.

Kind of reminds me of peer pressure. Or mob mentality. Or addicitons.

How often has someone been silenced from speaking a truth because those around them disagreed with it? There's a wonderful book for kids called Rooth Sees a Trooth (available through Baha'i distributors everywhere) (I hope), in which the main character is the only one that see from directions, left and right. Others call her mad, in a wonderful Dr Seussian sort of poetry which kids and parents love, and someone wants to "give her a pill" to help her be more normal.

This is also like the sad times when doctors gave people lobotomies when they weren't really necessary.

When we don't just shamble along with the pack, numbing ourselves through various media like television, movies, games, the internet (yes, I include the net here), and so on, then we tend to be shunned by those around us. I don't know how often I've been looked at with almost disdain because I didn't know the latest tv show characters, but I'll tell you, it's far more often than I've been told how good it is that I don't have a tv.

Some people also regularly try to get me to take a drink of alcohol, even though they know I'm Baha'i and don't drink.

It is as if, in all these cases, people want to bring others down to their level of mindlessness. Sad, isn't it? It's like they just want to suck the brain out of my left ear.

But what can you do? You just smile and say, "No thanks." And then you continue about your way.

"Verily, they are dead", to finish off this theme with a quote, "and not living; leave them to the dead and turn thy face to the Reviver of all creatures."

Then knock on the next door, and hope for better treats.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Ego

You know that inner monologue that always seems to be going inside the head? (Yeah, I've got it, too. We all do.) Have you ever been distracted by it?

You are sitting there talking with someone. They say something, and it triggers a whole whack of thoughts that run as a monologue through your mind and you suddenly realize that you've missed everything they've just said for the past few minutes. Kind of sucks, doesn't it?

We've all been there.

Eckhart Tolle, in one of his books, makes an interesting point. He says that if we are distracted by this inner monologue, then that means that it is not us. He refers to it as the ego that tries to affirm its existence, at all costs, and says that this ego is not our true self.

When I read this, it occurred to me that it was just like the "insistent ego" that Baha'u'llah talks about.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to quiet that voice? Have it speak just a bit softer? Have it use its "inside voice", so to speak?

I've noticed that ever since I started that meditation workshop, that voice has gotten quieter, and it just seems right to share some thoughts on this issue with you, dear Reader.

There are two questions that seem to be at the core of this issue. The first is what is the ego? The second is how do we keep the ego in check? We might as well look at one at a time.

What is the ego? As you know, I'm no expert on this subject. I am only going through the Writings, and looking at my own personal experience, to try and understand all this.

First, it seems that there are many different phrases that are used in the Writings to try and describe the same thing. Although the Master talks about a few different layers of self, I'm only going to concern myself with two: the lower and the higher self.

The lower self seems to be what is referred to as our physical self, the animal within us. It is that part of our nature that leads to the various lusts and evil thoughts. It is what is referred to in the Writings as the Satan of self, and what I think we commonly call "the ego".

The higher self seems to be more akin to our soul, and is sometimes called our spirit, or the "intelligent ego" (which makes the previous use of the term "ego" more confusing, but may be due to poor translation as it is from Promulgation of Universal Peace).

While there are many more aspects or layers involved in the reality of all this, these two seem to be pivotal to our discussion of the ego. The first is generally the bad part, while the latter is generally the good part. Shoghi Effendi describes the difference so well, as we would expect: "Self has really two meanings, or is used in two senses, in the Bahá'í writings; one is self, the identity of the individual created by God. This is the self mentioned in such passages as 'he hath known God who hath known himself etc.'. The other self is the ego, the dark, animalistic heritage each one of us has, the lower nature that can develop into a monster of selfishness, brutality, lust and so on. It is this self we must struggle against, or this side of our natures, in order to strengthen and free the spirit within us and help it to attain perfection."

In regards to our lower nature, the Master says here: "lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan -- the evil ego within us". Again, this seems to imply, to me, a distinction between the ego and our real self. This is further reinforced by many of the counsels of Shoghi Effendi. "Life", the Guardian says, "is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own 'ego'."

Let us be certain that this is an on-going, an eternal struggle, for "The only people who are truly free of the 'dross of self'", says the Guardian, "are the Prophets, for to be free of one's ego is a hall-mark of perfection. We humans are never going to become perfect, for perfection belongs to a realm we are not destined to enter. However, we must constantly mount higher, seek to be more perfect."

What does all this have to do with that inner voice? That inner monologue?

Well, I'm not entirely sure, but it seems to me that this voice is usually the prompting of the ego. When we let that voice get out of control, it interferes with our ability to listen to the promptings of the spirit, as evidenced by the fact that when we quiet it, say during meditation, we are more receptive to hear that other voice that seems to really answer our questions. Also, if that inner monologue really gets out of control, it often leads to anxiety, or in some extreme cases insanity. I truly believe that this is one of the main reasons why we are encouraged to still that voice, why we often think of the purpose of meditation as being that inner stillness. Perhaps it is also why that stillness of being is considered a sign of enlightenment. Still waters, as they say, run deep.

Now there is that second question: How do we keep the ego in check? What tools do we have to help ourselves in this eternal struggle?

And does this mean that we need to completely turn this inner monologue off? I don't think so. Look at the example of the "intelligent ego" that the Master gives here: "When you wish to reflect upon or consider a matter, you consult something within you. You say, shall I do it, or shall I not do it? Is it better to make this journey or abandon it? Whom do you consult? Who is within you deciding this question? Surely there is a distinct power, an intelligent ego. Were it not distinct from your ego, you would not be consulting it."

I think we need to be aware of the difference between those two inner voices, the one that is the insistent self, and the one that is in response to our ardent prayers and meditation.

How can we tell the difference? I think the first step is to look at what the voice is saying. Is it in accord with the Writings? If the voice is saying, "Kill, kill, kill", then I think we can safely presume that it is not that higher voice. It does not lead to love, unity and all the good virtues that are conducive to the betterment of the world. When it gives us an unexpected answer to a difficult problem, one that appears to be out of left field, is still in accord with the teachings, and seems to have some sort of bearing on the issue, then perhaps it is good. We should consider it, and think of it as a response to our prayer.

There is a wonderful story from the Master in which He talks about those friends who asked His advice in various matters. "When the believers are insistent, Abdul Baha must give them answers, and it is their wish always that Abdul Baha grants them. He knows what their wish in reality is. They must make mistakes to learn, and to unfold the higher which is within themselves. The initial wish does not come from Abdul Baha. It comes from them. It is generally clothed with such words as these: 'We only wish to do that which Abdul Baha wishes us to do.' And they are sincere in this, for they do not know the subtlety of the ego of man. It is the Tempter (the subtle serpent of the mind), and the poor soul not entirely emancipated from its suggestions is deceived until entirely severed from all save God."

And Shoghi Effendi says that "the complete and entire elimination of the ego would imply perfection -- which man can never completely attain -- but the ego can and should be ever-increasingly subordinated to the enlightened soul of man. This is what spiritual progress implies."

It is not easy, for the ego is, as 'Abdu'l-Baha says, subtle.

Meditation, though, can be of great assistance in helping us in this struggle. When we find a method of meditation that works for us, one of the natural results is that this voice tends to become quieter. It also helps us realize when that voice is getting out of control, and it gives us a tool to quiet it. Whether that meditation is based on focusing on our senses and truly listening to all we can hear in an area, or done by chanting a mantra, or even by simply looking at a flame, we can use the one that works best for us to turn that volume down when needed. There are thousands of forms of meditation, and we need to explore them until we find one that works for us.

Now I'm not saying that this is the be all and end all of what the Writings say, for obviously it isn't, but this is a simple explanation that works for me, helps me understand what is happening in my own head and spirit, and allows me to grow as best I can.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Taking It for Granted

There are so many things that we just take for granted in our life.

For all of our existence, we've taken the earth for granted, and are only now beginning to be aware of just how fragile life can be. Many of us take our food, shelter, friends and even family for granted. Of course, throughout history, and even today, many of us don't, but I'm speaking in general here. We've always been reminded to be grateful for what we have, to be aware of the gifts that are bestowed upon us, as they say.

Just the other day, Shoghi, my 6 year-old son, was in a tap dance class, and was goofing off the whole time in front of the mirror. (Well, maybe not the whole time, but you get the idea.) After class, he asked me how he did, and I expressed my disappointment. The following class, I told him that if he tried to pay attention, and did well, I'd give him a handful of legos. (He just loves legos.) Wow. What a difference. He never took his eyes off his teacher, got all the moves really quickly. Even the other parents commented on his good behaviour. When he came out, he asked me how he did. "Papa," he asked, "do I get a handful of legos?" "No," I replied. "You get two handfuls!" His eyes got so wide, and he was practically crying from joy at how much I praised his behaviour. The next class he asked if he would four handfuls, and I had to explain that he wouldn't get a reward of legos every time he did well. The real reward was how he improved in his dance by paying attention, and that he shouldn't only do it in expectation of a gift. In other words, don't take it for granted.

I was reminded of all this just the other day, this concept of what it is that we take for granted. Sometimes it's the good things in life, both other times it's the way that we do things, or perceive things.

There was a group of us sitting around talking about the Faith, and we got to talking about prayers and Baha'i culture. I said that there were many things that we just presume are a part of what we think is Baha'i culture, but are really just part of the layers that we add onto it.

"Like what?"

"The way we say our prayers", was the one example that came to mind. Of course, I'm sure you recall an earlier post in which I talked a bit about the way in which we say the prayers, but that wasn't what I was thinking of the other night.

No. I was thinking, instead, about the fact that we only seem to use the revealed prayers. Oh, not there's anything wrong with them. In fact, we all know that they are far more potent than our own spontaneous prayers. But what got me was that one of the Baha'is said that it was ok for people to use spontaneous prayers, "as long as they're not Baha'i". That made me wonder. Why would spontaneous prayers be acceptable for some to say, but not others?

There are many who like to say their own prayers, and it is even part of their religious tradition. As more and more people come into the Faith, we will need to assist them in recognizing the power of the revealed prayers, but at the same time we will need to be careful not criticize them for saying their own prayers from their heart.

As Shoghi Effendi said so well, "Of course prayer can be purely spontaneous, but many of the sentences and thoughts combined in Bahá'í writings of a devotional nature are easy to grasp, and the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own."

Now this does not contradict the guidance about specific instances, such as Feast, or the Temples, in which we are only supposed to use the revealed Word. It is, instead, to talk about those other times, in which there are no particular rules. In a letter back in 2001, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "No prohibition has been found in the Bahá'í Writings against the recitation at public gatherings of prayers other than those provided in Bahá'í Scriptures." They go on in that same letter to say, "A letter dated 8 August 1942, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, indicates that while spontaneous prayer is permitted, the revealed verses are preferred because 'the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own'. The friends, therefore, must use them in their own supplications with radiant joy. This does not mean, however, that in addition to such prayers, they may not, in private, use their own words whenever they feel the inclination to do so."

The question, of course, is what constitutes "in private". Some have presumed that it means whenever one is alone, but the case can be made that devotional gatherings in one's home may also be private, even though there are others present.

I think the issue here is to allow the friends the freedom to interpret the Writings in their own way, and not to judge. I, for one, have found nothing in the Writings to prohibit the use of spontaneous prayer, although we know that the revealed ones are more potent. But this is not to say that our own prayers have no potency, just that they have less than the Messenger's. No surprise that.

But I do believe that it is important to recognize our own bias in this. There are some who seem to feel that it is just plain wrong to use our own prayers, and they can make this known with a word or a glance. And this can be devastating to another. It's like the times when I say a prayer in a charismatic style. There are those who will look at me in such a manner as to imply that what I am doing is somehow wrong, or not respectful. They don't seem to realize that it is a perfectly acceptable way to pray, and preferable in many places. What they are expressing is nothing more than a cultural bias.

Back to the non-revealed prayers, though. There are many great prayers out there that are not the "revealed Word", and I would be saddened to see us lose track of them. While the prayers of St Francis of Assisi come immediately to mind, there are many others.

In fact, one of my favorite prayers, and a favorite of many of us around the world, is the one that begins, "O Lord, make me a hollow reed from which the pith of self hath been blown." And this is from Hand of the Cause of God, George Townshend.

We are at the very beginning of building a distinctly Baha'i culture, and it seems quite important to not presume that what we are doing today is somehow "it". It isn't. This distinct Baha'i culture doesn't exist yet, and most of what we think it is, is really not much more than our own cultural bias laid over some of the Baha'i teachings. "A distinctively Bahá'í culture", writes the Universal House of Justice, "will welcome an infinite diversity in regard to secondary characteristics..."

I don't think we should just take this for granted. I think we need to carefully examine each part of what we think will go into this culture, ensure that it doesn't go against the spirit of the teachings, and does not leave people out, just because it isn't part of our own personal cultural background.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tablet of Ahmad, section 3, part 2

This one makes me nervous. Oh, not the Tablet itself, just the thought of trying to figure out what I get out of this particular line:
"Be thou as a flame of fire to My enemies and a river of life eternal to My loved ones, and be not of those who doubt."
Well, the last part is fairly straightforward, I think. Be certain in your faith. Not too hard to figure that out. (Although, I'm sure I'm missing many layers of meaning.)

But what about the first part? "Be thou as a flame of fire"? What does that mean? There have been many thoughts written on this, most notably in Richard Gurinsky's book, Learn Well This Tablet, and I'm not going to share them all here, for this would just become too cumbersome to read. Instead, I will offer some meditations on what it means to me.

Why am I focusing on this? Because it is the one line in this whole Tablet that confuses me the most, and I suspect that the rest of the sentence will unfold once I get a grip on it. (Of course, the part about the "reward of a hundred martyrs" comes a close second, as far as confusing me goes.)

First of all, Baha'u'llah was very specific in this line. Of course, the Guardian was, too, in his translation, and as I can't read the original in Arabic, I'm going to presume that it was Baha'u'llah. He is not telling Ahmad to be a fire to His enemies. He is precisely pointing him to be a "flame of fire". What's the difference?

To try and figure this out, I'm going back to the Bible. Why? I don't know. It just feels right. Please bear with me while I do a quick search.

(Feel free to get a cup of tea or something. I'm sure this will take a while. There are over 60 references that I've just found.) (I'm scanning through them and will pull out the ones that catch my attention.)

Okay. You back? I'm ready, if you are.

Well, there is a reference to a "flame of fire" way back in Exodus (3:2, to be precise), when Moses encounters the Burning Bush. Here, the Spirit appears in the flame, and it doesn't consume the bush. In Psalms 104:4 and Hebrews 1:7, it says that God makes His servants "flames of fire". In Revelation 1:14, 2:18, and again in 19:12, the eyes of the Son of God are said to be like the flame of fire, but that seems to be a bit different.

In Job 18:5, there is an interesting reference: "For the light of the sinner is put out, and the flame of his fire is not shining." To me, this reads as if the flame is the light of our soul, or spirit, and that when we don't live according to the Divine Will, this flame diminishes.

Isaiah 43:2 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, and flame will not scorch you." A reference that it is the flame that does the scorching, but other than that, it doesn't see particularly relevant.

Ezekiel 21:15 "In order that hearts may become soft, and the number of those who are falling may be increased, I have sent death by the sword against all their doors: you are made like a flame, you are polished for death." This, when seen in the context of the entire passage, seems to be a reference to the sword of God exacting justice against those who are not doing God's Will. It is the sword that is made like a flame, similar to the one held by the angel outside Eden, and it is polished, as in just before a battle.

Aside from these, there are also many other references to the flames burning things, both good and bad. Too many to list here. Let's just say that flame burns.

So this imagery of a flame of fire is not new.

But what is it? I'm still not sure. One source says this refers to “the intense, all-consuming operation of his holiness in relation to sin.”

Well, that gets me thinking. It would be like the fire that consumes the veils, of which there are countless references in the Writings. It is also like the barrier that stands between the "wicked" and the good things in life. A filter, if you will. In fact, it seems to act as both at once: a veil burner and a filter. Hmm. Kind of neat, that.

It seems to me that being "a flame of fire to my enemies" could be, as many others have said before, an indication of how we are to act around those who would oppose Baha'u'llah's message. We are to share the Words and teachings with love and courtesy, dignity and steadfastness. By doing so, we may be able to assist them in burning away the veils of separation.

If they choose to still oppose, then our confidence and trust in God will be as a barrier between them and our own faith. They will not be able to touch it.

This stance, however, will give greater confidence and encouragement to those who do believe that watch us.

It reminds me of the many stories of the early martyrs and how their steadfastness in the face of awesome trials became the means by which many others either became Baha'i, or found the strength to arise and face their own tests. And this particular understanding of this line also seems very relevant to one like Ahmad, who was to go back to Iran and face tremendous trials of his own.

"Be thou as a flame of fire to My enemies": Use assertiveness, in conjunction with courtesy, to promote the teachings, with the hopes of helping burn away the veils of separation. At the same time, this will also act as a barrier to prevent  those who would try and cast doubt in your heart from being able to achieve their aims.

"And a river of life eternal to My loved ones": Your stance, your steadfastness in the face of tremendous tests and trials, can be the cause of encouragement to others, helping them see the strength of character that the Faith engenders.

"And be not of those who doubt": This is the source of that strength, isn't it? Baha'u'llah often refers to His enemies as "the agents of doubt". Just as darkness is the absence of light, doubt is the absence of certainty. This certainty of faith, which is so inspiring to others, is predicated upon there being no doubt, just as light is predicated upon there being no darkness.

Yeah, I think I like this. While I'm certain that there is so much more in there, I feel like I've gotten a bit more of a handle on this passage. I guess I'll look at the rest later, after I'd had a bit of time to digest this. After all, I don't want to get spiritual indigestion.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Early Morning Thought

I love my wife. Even at 4 in the morning, when she wakes me up after getting in from a long night at work. She is a musician in the military and had to perform for a mess dinner, which often lets out after midnight. And this particular night she got home quite late, fell asleep on the couch for a little while and eventually made her way up to bed. Hence, 4 am.

While were lying there, her still wired and me still comatose, we talked. Well, actually she talked and I sort of mumbled incoherently, which, admittedly, is not much different from our usual sort of conversation, but it was more pronounced at that early hour.

At one point I seem to recall that she was wondering if she was becoming more bi-polar. She said that she had noticed a more pronounced cycle of ups and downs, energy and lethargy, joy and despair. I pointed out that this is a natural part of life, part of that cycle of crisis and victory that we see in all other areas.

She then asked what she could do about it, how to temper it. Now she knows all about how I deal with it (as do you, dear Reader, from that article long ago called Bi-Polar Bears), but was hoping for some more thoughts.

And I guess at 4 in the morning, when my brain just isn't working all that well, or at least less well than usual, I have a better chance of being moved by that wily Concourse, or at the very least noticing that touch from that poor soul in the Concourse who is tasked with helping me.

Anyways, as she was asking, a single verse came to mind: "Be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity...:

It occurred to me, and I shared with her, that we can be so generous with our time and energy when we are in a manic high. This is the time when we have the most to give.

When we are in the low, that is when we have to be most thankful. By looking at those things that we have to be most thankful for, those things that make our life so dear, we will be able to curtail that depression.

That was all.

It doesn't seem like much to me, but it was a nice little insight that Marielle found useful.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy the Spirit

As you probably know by now, I write a week's worth of articles for the spiritual blog in my local newspaper, The Times-Colonist. Well, this is my week again. (I wonder: Is it considered work on a holy day if you publish an article you wrote a few days ago?)

If you've been wondering why my output has slowed down a bit over the past while, it's because of these articles, as well as learning about my role as a chaplain at the local university. I now feel like I'm getting back into the writing mode, so my output here should go up again. Thanks for your patience.

In the meantime, here is the first of this week's articles in my local paper. It's a bit more provocative than I usually write, but c'est la vie. Enjoy, and please feel free to comment. (The editors like that.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tablet of Ahmad, section 3

There I was, lying down with a bright light shining square in my face, with two people staring down at me. Unable to speak, I began to recite the Tablet of Ahmad in my head, over and over. Well, my intention was to recite it over and over, but I found that I couldn't recall most of the third section. It was a jumbled mess in my mind.

Oh, but let me start over again. I was at the dentist's office having a gap between two of my back teeth closed up. This was a minor but annoying problem that had been bugging me for a while, and the dentist decided to just help me out. (For a fee, of course.) He said that it would probably be better for me in the long run as this would likely prevent decay in the future. (If only all such problems were so easily solved.)

So there I was, mouth wedged open, and mind bored. After all, you can only look at those holes in the ceiling tiles for so long. That was when I decided to recite the Tablet. And that was when I realized that I couldn't recall the order of anything in that third part of it. What to do? Study it, was my answer.

It has been a long time since I've looked at this Tablet. Oh, I mean I still read it quite often, but it has been a while since I've looked at it here. One of my first articles looked at the verbs in the second sentence, and then I did a longer study of part 2 (here, here and here). Those articles have firmly fixed that half of the Tablet in my mind. Because I was able to find some sense as to the order of what is them, I find that I can never quite forget them. And thus it occurred to me this morning, as I was wondering what to write about, that I've never looked at either parts 3 or 4 here, and that is why I couldn't recall the order of various phrases in the third part.

To start, let me just remind you (not that you need it, dear Reader) of how I am defining the different sections of this Tablet: Ahmad's name. Baha'u'llah mentions his name three times in this Tablet, and that splits it into four smaller sections, if you will. (You know: part 1, "Ahmad", part 2, "Ahmad", part 3, "Ahmad", part 4.) It's not an authoritative way to look at it, nothing official there, just the way that makes it more manageable for one as dim as myself.

So here it is; the third section of the Tablet of Ahmad:

O Ahmad! Forget not My bounties while I am absent. Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. And be thou so steadfast in My love that thy heart shall not waver, even if the swords of the enemies rain blows upon thee and all the heavens and the earth arise against thee.

Be thou as a flame of fire to My enemies and a river of life eternal to My loved ones, and be not of those who doubt.

And if thou art overtaken by affliction in My path, or degradation for My sake, be not thou troubled thereby.

Rely upon God, thy God and the Lord of thy fathers. For the people are wandering in the paths of delusion, bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes, or hear His Melody with their own ears. Thus have We found them, as thou also dost witness.

Thus have their superstitions become veils between them and their own hearts and kept them from the path of God, the Exalted, the Great.

Be thou assured in thyself that verily, he who turns away from this Beauty hath also turned away from the Messengers of the past and showeth pride towards God from all eternity to all eternity.

Remember, to me this all falls under the category of "informing the severed one of the message which hath been revealed by God", which is also just my own interpretation. (See that first article from way back when.)

How, you may ask?

Well, this section seems, in a sense, like information to me. "Forget not My bounties". "Remember My days". "...(B)e... steadfast in My love". "Be... as a flame of fire... and a river of life eternal". "Rely upon God". These, among others, are all information about how Ahmad is to be. Baha'u'llah also imparts other information, facts about other people, like the fact that they " are wandering in the paths of delusion, bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes, or hear His Melody with their own ears". He also tells him that whoever "turns away from this Beauty hath also turned away from the Messengers of the past". There is lots of information in this one section.

So, let's take it from the top.

O Ahmad! Even though He is addressing Ahmad in particular, I often feel as if He is also addressing me personally. I believe that He is addressing each one of us through the person of Ahmad, and even though that is also only my personal interpretation, it works for me.

Forget not My bounties while I am absent. First and foremost in this section, we are to remember the many bounties in our life. While I could go into the many bounties in Ahmad's personal life, such as all the time he spent with the Blessed Beauty, I like to read it in a more generic manner. You see, Baha'u'llah is not here, present physically in my life. He is absent. He has passed on to His other Kingdom. But His bounties are still here, through His Writings and His institutions. Now all this is also in addition to the other many bounties that are present in my life, such as family, friends, health, the beauty of a sunrise, a caterpillar hanging on a leaf, and so on and so forth. When I recall all these bounties, I cannot help but wonder at how blessed my life is.

What a great place to begin.

Of course, it's not all peaches and roses. (Where on earth did that phrase come from?) There are some difficult moments in life, too.

Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. But then again, my troubles are so minuscule compared to His. You see, when I think about all the blessings in my life, I am naturally drawn to remember some of the problems, too. I don't know why. Perhaps it's a human thing, for I've heard that others have this same problem. And while I don't think I have to worry too much about two empires conspiring to throw me into prison, there are other things that are real and happening to many other people around the world that put my own problems to shame. So the dishes aren't all nice and orderly, so what? At least we have dishes. At least we have a kitchen, and a home. So the siren from the military base goes off every morning, quite often before my alarm clock goes off, so what? At least I'm not being awoken by the sound of bullets of bomb blasts.

When I look at my problems, and compare them not only to those of Baha'u'llah, but weigh them in comparison to my own blessings, they fall away to nothingness.

More than that, though, is that when I recall Baha'u'llah's life, I'm not only seeing the immensity of the problems He faced. but also the manner in which He faced them: with dignity and honour, forgiveness, compassion and love. Can I do any less? (Ok, the honest answer is yes, and I have, but I'm really trying to do better. Really, I am.)

So now I have been reminded not only of all the good things in my life, but also of how I should respond to some of the not-so-good things.

And be thou so steadfast in My love that thy heart shall not waver, even if the swords of the enemies rain blows upon thee and all the heavens and the earth arise against thee. But let's be serious, it's not easy. There are many times in my life when I get angry, and not just at other people, but at God. (Less often in the last twenty years than in the first, but still...) When some really awful things happen, it is very easy to try and lay the blame at God's feet. (That conjures up an interesting image. Feet of the Cause? Never mind.)

Looking at the structure of this line, it seems that there is a lot in it. The time to be steadfast is when things are most difficult. It's easy to be firm when things are going well, but the true test is when things are tough.

It's also relatively easy to be steadfast when it is your enemies who are causing you the pain. They are the enemy, after all, and that's what enemies do, right?

But when it is your friends who are the source of pain, when the very "heavens and the earth arise against thee", that's another story. It's not as easy then.

When it's an institution of the Faith, I'm sure it's much harder to be that detached. Imagine, for example, that I'm hurt, perhaps by another Baha'i that I feel wronged me in some way. And, of course, they feel the same. I go to my Assembly and ask for help. If they decide against me, and feel that I was the one in the wrong, that could be a source of tremendous pain. It might feel as if the very heavens were arising against me. But let's face it, they're probably right. I probably am the one in the wrong. It is at this exact time that I really need to be steadfast, not allow my heart to waver, and be obedient. Perhaps I will learn from it, and maybe even grow in strength and capacity.

If I fall away at this time, of all times, am I really doing anything other than giving in to my own ego? Probably not.

Now, dear Reader, I'd love to continue this right now, and work until the end of the section, but I have a meditation workshop I'm supposed to conduct in about 20 minutes. So I have to go. Thanks for bearing with me on this one, and I look forward to any of your thoughts or insights before I finish the section.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thanks, Mom

Another year has passed. One more trip around the sun. 365 sleeps, not including naps. Yes, that's right, it's my birthday once again.

And this year I've decided to thank my Mom.

Well, alright. I thank her a lot for many things all the time, but this year I've decided to look in the Writings and see just what it is that I really need to thank her for. Oh, I mean, besides life, sustenance, a good family, education; I'm sure the list can go on. I know it can. There are just way too many things to thank her for, if I begin to include all the things she's done for me in my life.

Like what? Let's see.

First of all, she was the one who held me "in the matrix", as 'Abdu'l-Baha puts it. It was there, in the womb, that I "passed from condition to condition, from form to form, from one shape to another, for this is according to the requirement of the universal system and divine law."

But more than that, this womb-life was also a metaphor which I can carry with me for all eternity. "The beginning of the existence of man", says 'Abdu'l-Baha, "on the terrestrial globe resembles his formation in the womb of the mother. The embryo in the womb of the mother gradually grows and develops until birth, after which it continues to grow and develop until it reaches the age of discretion and maturity. Though in infancy the signs of the mind and spirit appear in man, they do not reach the degree of perfection; they are imperfect. Only when man attains maturity do the mind and the spirit appear and become evident in utmost perfection."

So there I was, growing my body, getting it ready for the day that I would make an appearance here in this world, 44 years ago this very afternoon. And there, ta da, I came. Of course, being me, I stuck my foot out (yes, I was a breach baby) (and a month early, too), wiggled it around, and tried to climb back in. I'm sure I thought it was too cold in that delivery room. But then what? I had to grow, for I was only a baby, after all.

This is what I always try to remember. No matter how old I get here on this world, no matter how much experience I may think I'm getting, it is all like the babe in the womb. When I shuffle off this mortal coil, and enter into the next world, I will be as inexperienced as that tiny infant who was born from my Mom. I will need to spend a lot of time and energy, a lot of effort learning to grow and develop into what will pass for maturity in that next world.

This is one of the things that I learned from my Mom, whether or not she realizes it.

So there I was, a new born child, already demonstrating a gift for precociousness (month early, remember) and humour (I'm not even going to go there), and what did she do? Mom was my first educator. She showed me love right from day one. She provided for me, helped guide me and nurtured me. She was my world.

Aside - You know, to this day I still recall some of my dreams from when I was 3 years old, and they all centre around this theme of love and nurturing. I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it is that those are my earliest memories. Oh sure, I was chastised, yelled at, spanked, and all that other stuff, but it is the love that I recall clearest.

And what did I offer her in return? Well, 'Abdu'l-Baha says "a father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children". In my case, I think they endured this "from" this child.

Another aside - When I was still in my crib, my parents gave me a wonderful set of Batman and Robin pillows. (This may explain why I so love comic books and stuff.) I was barely able to stand, but I thoroughly enjoyed my life. And I loved those pillows. But one afternoon, when I was supposed to be taking my nap, I noticed something odd: there was something sticking out of my pillow. Naturally, being the curious little monkey that I was (as opposed to the curious big monkey that I am), I pulled on it. Boop! A single, fluffy feather popped out of the pillow and flew up into the air. Neat, I thought, as I watched it drift back and forth in its downward motion. I looked back at the pillow and there was another feather ready to make the same little trip. Well, I obliged to help it. Who am I to stop one from such a lovely little journey? Boop! There it went, up and floating down. Oh, and there was another one wanting to go, too. Boop!

By the time my Mom thought to check on me, the pillow was sadly less stuffed than it had been, and my room looked like it was preparing me for all the snow that I would experience later in my life.

My poor Mom had a dickens of a time cleaning up all those feathers.

By the time she was finished, my Dad got home and asked her how her day was. She told him, with the full weight of exhaustion in her voice, about my experiments with the pillow, and the fluffy consequences.

My Dad, wonderful soul that he was, began to ask, "Didn't he have two..." But before he could finish his question, a look of horror came over both their faces as the full realization hit of what it meant by Batman and Robin each having their own pillow in my bed. They dashed upstairs just in time to see me pulling what must have been one of the last feathers out of that second pillow.

Oh yes, 'Abdu'l-Baha was right. My parents did endure troubles and hardships for me. Of course, I caused most of them, but still, I try to follow His advice. What else does He say? "Comfort thy mother and endeavor to do what is conducive to the happiness of her heart." I try. Oh, how I try. (And I can just hear my Mom saying now, "Yes, he is very trying.")

My Mom also helped shape my destiny. Not only did she give me the name "Mead", which is decidedly medieval in feel, but she is also an artist. She is a wonderful painter, and I so remember her many experiments in different fields of work. In fact, for a while she was making jewelry and even dabbled in chainmail, my own chosen profession. You see, without even realizing it, she was following the Master's statement: " is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son, to nurse them from the breast of knowledge and to rear them in the bosom of sciences and arts."
While it was my Dad who gave me my love for science and math, and even inadvertently encouraged me in my lifelong study of spiritual matters, it was my Mom who cultivated my love of the arts. (Except for opera and classical music. I have to give Dad credit for those.)

So whereas there are many wonderful things I can say about my Dad, it really is my Mom that I credit the most. As it says in the Writings, "The first trainer of the child is the mother. The babe, like unto a green and tender branch, will grow according to the way it is trained." If there are any roses that are growing on the branch of my being, it is to Mom that the credit goes.

The thorns? Well, those are all mine.

_ _ _ _ _

Post writing addendum: I just read this to my wife and asked her how it was. She said, with much laughter in her voice, that it was wonderful for those who know both my Mom and me. She said, though, that for those of you who don't know me, you might not realize that every story in this article is absolutely true. And that my Mom and I really do act as silly as I portray us. They are, and we do. So, there you go.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gleanings CXXVIII, take 3

See? I told you I'd get back to this again. It was just a matter of being patient. Thanks.

So where was I in this quote? Oh yes:
"Say: Should your conduct, O people, contradict your professions, how think ye, then, to be able to distinguish yourselves from them who, though professing their faith in the Lord their God, have, as soon as He came unto them in the cloud of holiness, refused to acknowledge Him, and repudiated His truth? Disencumber yourselves of all attachment to this world and the vanities thereof. Beware that ye approach them not, inasmuch as they prompt you to walk after your own lusts and covetous desires, and hinder you from entering the straight and glorious Path."
Now please remember, I'm reading this entire quote as if it were all a guide towards our teaching of the Faith. I'm not saying this is how it is supposed to be read, nor am I claiming any official status in my reading of it. It's just how I'm choosing how to look at it today.

As you recall, Baha'u'llah begins this passage by reminding us that our hearts have to be pure. We cannot truly claim to be a follower if we harbour bad thoughts in our heart.

Now He is moving us towards our conduct, our actions. After all, right thought leads to right action, says the Buddha.

Oh, and when Baha'u'llah uses the word "professions", He is not referring to our job. He seems to be talking about our words, our declaration of belief. If our actions are not indicative of our words, well... "Beware, O people of Baha, lest ye walk in the ways of them whose words differ from their deeds."
Here Baha'u'llah is placing this concept in a particular context, namely that of differing ourselves from others. There are many of us who love to talk about our faith, to tell other people about what we believe. As Baha'is, we need to be visibly different from those others who, in the days of the Manifestation, spoke loftily but perpetrated the most unseemly of acts. (Wow, that's lofty language there.)

In other words, there were some who spoke of the love of God, and yet attacked those who believed differently from them. This did not show their sincerity, and did not speak well of their faith.

But then, after this, He cautions us to get rid of attachment to worldly things. I think this is a reference to being attached not only to material stuff, but also to the thoughts and opinions of those around us. In other words, our faith should be between us and God, and not based on the opinions of others. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so many have denied the Messengers of the past during Their lifetimes.

But then, just as we think we may have a handle on this, He continues:
"Know ye that by "the world" is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The "life to come," on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable. Whatsoever deterreth you, in this Day, from loving God is nothing but the world. Flee it, that ye may be numbered with the blest. Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him. Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties. Render thanks and praise unto Him, and be of them that are truly thankful."
He gives us a definition of "the world". What is the world? Anything that comes between us and God.

In the past, and even today, many have believed that material things were bad, and spiritual things were good. Poverty, they said, was a blessing. Gold was evil.

And yet here, Baha'u'llah turns it on us. If we wish to wear fine clothes, or enjoy the good things of this world, fine. As long as it doesn't stop us from worshipping God. He reminds us that all the good things in the world were created for our enjoyment, as long as we remember to be honourable and loving towards God. Of course, this doesn't mean that we can abuse the world, for then we are not being respectful.

No. We can enjoy the bounties that this world offers us, but we always have to remember God and let nothing come between us and our Creator.

And if something does? If we discover that we don't, for example, have time to say our Obligatory Prayer because we are rushing off to a movie? Nope. "Flee it". The prayer comes first, for that is our obligation to God.

If we don't want to pay of Right of God because we want to buy that new computer? Then it has come between us and God. Not good, that.

But if we have paid our Right, purified our wealth, as He says, then why not?
Anyways. This is all just my own thought on it. For now I have to go off and do another workshop on meditation. I'm sure I'll have more to write about this later.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


I'm still thinking more about Gleanings CXXVIII, really. I am. It's just that other things keep coming up that I want to share.

Let me back up for a moment, and explain.

I was recently asked to serve as a chaplain for he Baha'i community at the University of Victoria here in BC. Why? I don't know, but I was.

And yes, I'm well aware of the fact that we don't have clergy within the Baha'i Faith, but it's not the same thing at all. A chaplain, in this context, is the official representative of a faith community, helping to look after their spiritual needs, while, at the same time, aiding other students and faculty in their spiritual path as needed. (Hmm. That actually sounds pretty good. I should keep that for when others ask me what I do.) It is, in a sense, a legal definition, as opposed to a theological one. It is just like when an Assembly asks one of its members to serve as a marriage registrar. Depending on the laws of the area they should be registered as a clergy, as opposed to a lay person. The reason is that they are acting on behalf of the legally recognized body of the Faith. Even though they themselves are not "clergy", the legal definition would usually warrant them taking on that role on behalf of the institution. Besides, its free that way. As a layperson, you often have to pay.

But that's all besides the point. I only write it because so many have questioned the idea of a "Baha'i Chaplain", and I just wanted to set it straight.

Anyways, where was I? Oh yes, distractions. (Not that I would know anything about distractions. Not me.) (He says, whistling innocently.)

Aside - You know, it's awfully difficult to keep focus. Since I've started writing this article, my family and I went out mushroom hunting, I've watched a movie, done a crossword puzzle, and all sorts of other myriad things. I've even decided that I should write an article about the spiritual quality of mushrooms, just so that I can have a story with a good morel. (Where's the rim shot when I need it?) Oh, and I even played a few levels of a video game. Woo hoo.

Now, why am I talking about distractions? Good questions, and one that I've been wondering about for the last little while. You see, dear Reader, in my work as a chaplain, it has come to my attention that most of the students want to learn about meditation. When I was talking with some of the friends in the counselling office, they also mentioned that the majority of the students they see are trying to deal with anxiety. Now it may just be me, but I see these as related.

On a seemingly bizarre side note, I have also been conducting a workshop in my own home community on how to invite people to things. You see, it had been noticed that we had all examined our life, looked at our circumstances, made friends, found people who were interested in some of the Baha'i teachings, and were beginning to invite them to things. (This is from the outline offered by the Guardian in the Advent of Divine Justice, which I'm sure you knew.) And that is where we stuck. While the courtesy was there, people were generally not coming to stuff. After looking through Ruhi Books 2 and 6, we focused our attention on what our friends were talking about, where their interests lie, and the words we used to convey our invitations. (People seemed to be more interested in spiritual things than religious things.) After a few weeks of this, another thing came up: we were interested in talking about our faith, but not as good at listening to others talk about theirs. It seems that when our friends were telling us about what they believe, our inner voice was whirling a mile a minute, getting ready to tell them what we believed.

And this led to an understanding that we needed to learn to still that inner voice.

Which led to talking about meditation. Which, in a sense, is about focus and ignoring distractions.

Which I am not doing well, as evidenced by how little I've been writing lately.

But back to the point at hand.

When I began serving as a chaplain, I had no clue what to do, so I asked some others. In the end, I realized that they didn't really know either. And so when the students began to show up for the classes this term, I went around and talked to them. What did they want? What did they feel they needed? What would they like me to do?

The main thing that came up was "something about meditation". I suggested that they go to the meditation workshops already being offered, and many countered that "this method doesn't work for me" or "I can't relate to that style". So I decided to offer Meditation 101, an exploration of many styles of meditation so that people could find a method that works for them. It is this that I offer twice a week for those interested. (Mondays and Thursdays at 12:30 at the Multifaith Chapel at the University of Victoria.) (Blatant plug.)

At the beginning of each session, I ask the participants what they think meditation is. Once they have all responded, I offer that it could be the listening part of the conversation with our Creator. After all, if prayer is conversation with God, there has to be a time when we listen, right? Otherwise we're the ones doing all the talking, and that's just not a conversation. It's a monologue.

Then I take a moment to introduce the style of meditation we're using for the day. One method, for example, was to simply experience a flame of a candle.

"Get comfortable", I told them. "If you like to sit up straight, feel free to do so. If you prefer to slouch in your chair, or even sit on the floor, fine. The point is to be comfortable." When I said this, I could see a bit of relief on the faces of some of the friends. They weren't being told what they "had" to do. They were being allowed to do what worked for them.

"Look at the flame", I said, about this style. "You don't have to think about it, just experience it. If your inner voice starts to analyze it, or goes on about other things, fine. Gently bring your attention back to the flame. And don't worry about 'doing it wrong'. Ignore your inner perfectionist. Simply congratulate yourself for noticing that you've drifted, and gently go back to the flame."

At the end, I don't ask them what they thought of the exercise; I ask them how they felt. More than a few people have said how uplifting it is to them to reconnect with their heart, and not continually dwell on the head. So I ask that at each session, too.

It's been pretty good so far. The feedback has been positive.

This has also been a useful tool for the friends who are looking at being more effective in inviting people to things. Taking a moment to just quiet yourself allows you to better listen to the person with whom you are talking.

It also allows us better listen to the promptings of our heart, which is invaluable when teaching the Faith. After all, that is how the Concourse on High seems to communicate with us.

You know, it just occurred to me that 'Abdu'l-Baha talks about how prayer "engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence". And isn't that part of it? Who knows? Could be.

Well, I think it's time to make dinner. I wouldn't want to be distracted from that now, would I?