Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bluster and Bombast

It is a blustery day out there. Bluster. I just love that word. It seems like it needs to be said with a mouthful of air, a loud popping on the 'bluh'-sound, cheeks aflutter as you blow past the 'st', and ending with the whole head shivering side to side with the 'er'. "Bluuuuuhhhhhhhh-sssttt-errrrrr".

I always imagine a walrus shaking his be-whiskered snout vigourously from side to side as he says this descriptive word.

But what is it? How can a day be blustery? For the weather, it means that there is a loud wind blowing, and a misty rain shooting throughout it. It can also refer to a person. It means that they are loud and boisterous, but without much substance, as in the sentence, "He was all bluster, but did nothing."

What, you may ask, does this have to do with me and the teaching of the Faith? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

Baha'u'llah tells us "Be unrestrained as the wind, while carrying the Message of Him Who hath caused the Dawn of Divine Guidance to break." How we do that is up to us.

While looking through the Writings, there were two very distinct kinds of wind mentioned. There is the gentle breeze at the break of dawn, stirring the world into movement. It is the bringer of God's "loving-kindness", His "tender mercy", His "will", His "grace" and "decree". It is the result of our desire for Him, and inclines us in the direction of His bountiful favours. It is the "Dawn of His Revelation", "His eternal glory".

Then there are those "tempestuous winds of tests (that) have caused the steadfast in faith to tremble". There are the "mighty winds of disbelief". There are "the contrary winds of oppression and tyranny", "the winds of hatred".

It seems to me that at this time, while teaching, we, too, can be full of bluster. We can talk all sorts of loud, potentially threatening things, making a storm of ourselves and our ideas, or we can be more like that gentle and refreshing breeze, sharing the teachings instead of forcing them upon others, allowing them to refresh the hearts of those with whom we share them. We can throw them in someone's face, or offer them as a gift to a king.

Personally, I know which one I prefer.

Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Still Christmas Time...

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through my house
Both my kitties were purring
Like each had a mouse...

A number of years ago a dear friend invited me to her church's Christmas celebration. It wasn't the mass, just a celebration. it turned out the she was the emcee and had arranged the program with the consent of the Father. Well, mostly.

There came a point in the program where she walked up to the microphone and, without looking at me at all, said, "And now Mead Simon will talk a bit about what Christmas means to him as a Baha'i", and sat down.

As you can imagine, I had no warning that she was going to do this. It was only later that I understood why. You see, prior to that, at all the various interfaith gatherings that I had attended at that church, the Father was almost, but not quite, rude to me. Well, to be fair, rude isn't really the word. Cold is more like it. If he were introduced to me, he would emotionlessly say "Hi", but then quickly turn and talk to someone else. What I learned, quite a bit later, was that his nephew had become a Baha'i, and he felt that we had "stolen" him away. He had a very strong dislike, to put it kindly, towards Baha'is.

If my friend had given any hint of what she was going to do, he would have vetoed it outright. She would never have been allowed to have me speak, which, if you ask me, would have been fine, but she didn't ask me, nor the Padre.

What, you may wonder, did  I talk about, after being put on the spot like that? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

I began by saying that Christmas was fairly odd to me, as I grew up Jewish. The I talked a little bit about how, in my family, we did celebrate Christmas by giving gifts, even though we lit the menorah and gave gifts for Chanukkah, too. I finished by talking a bit about the importance of Christmas, and the importance of being able to recognize a Messenger of God. I spoke about how we come to certainty of faith, using the ideas from the Kitab-i-Iqan, both the denials that the Messengers face, as well as the indignities heaped upon Them.

It was following this that the Father came up to me and gave me a hug.

On a slightly different topic, I was reading a book about the Baha'i perspective of Satan, and the author spoke of the importance of not dismissing it when it came up. There are some Baha'is out there who, when asked about our understanding of Satan will dismissively say, "Oh we don't believe in Satan." This conveys a superior-to-thou attitude, as well as dismissing something that could be of serious concern to the one asking the question. It conveys the idea that what is important to them is of no consequence to us. It also denies the fact that Baha'u'llah speaks quite a bit about Satan, mentioning him many times in the Writings. In other words, it both insults the one asking, as well as shows off the ignorance of the one answering. Not too good.

And so, recognizing this, it makes me think twice before answering anyone who asks me about Christmas.

To start, I recognize the spiritual importance of this holy day. I try to convey the importance of it to the one asking, and not diminish it to merely a materialistic day of gift-giving.

When asked about why, if we recognize Jesus, we don't celebrate Christmas, I remind them that they recognize the Jewish prophets, but don't celebrate the Jewish holy days.

I am always happy to celebrate Christmas with friends, just as I presume that they are happy to celebrate the Baha'i holy days if I invite them to do so with me. And you know what? They always have been. I have never had anyone say that they were insulted by being invited to a holy day celebration.

I do not get upset when people wish me a "Merry Christmas", nor have I ever encountered someone who was insulted when I wish them a "Happy Ayyam-i-Ha". Instead, the latter has prompted many questions of "A happy what?" And the smiles I have gotten from the former have done nothing but spread a bit more joy in the world.

As for my son, we have carefully explained that there are many religions around the world, and that they all come from God. We have told him the stories of each, and taken him to many different faith centres to how they worship. We have explained that his grandmother on his Mother's side is Catholic, and that she gives him Christmas presents. We, however, are Baha'i, and we give our gifts to him mostly at Ayyam-i-Ha. Of course, in the spirit of family, we also give small gifts at Christmas, but the main time is Ayyam-i-Ha. And as for when we send gifts to our family members, we send them for Ayyam-i-Ha, too.

In the end, we try to teach him to cherish the spirit in which someone gives a gift, and honour their generosity. We also teach him to be true to his own faith, and not try to live according to the expectations of others. just because many give gifts and show generosity at Christmas, our time of celebration in a bit later.

Besides, it means that we get all the post-Christmas sales to enjoy.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

It's Christmas Time...

"I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas
That's what we get here in BC
With the lawns aglisten
And the children listen
To carols sung within the rain..."

Yup. It's that time of year again, and this year I have a special treat: an iPad. my dear friend, Robert, is out of town visiting family and friends out east and his partner loaned this iPad to test and use while they are gone. So here I am, sitting in a Serious Coffee (way better than Starbucks), sipping an eggnog latte while waiting for the snow tires to be put on the car, testing and using this little device.

(Note: I haven't been able to get this blog from my iPad to either the internet or my computer, which is so frustrating, so I've finally given up and am re-typing this whole fracking thing from scratch.) (I think "fracking" is the most appropriate term for the new method of extracting oil. Don't you?)

But now the perennialquestion comes up: what do I write about?

Well, the first that comes to mind is to write about the use of an iPad versus a pen. I can't believe that I've never written about it before, but it's true: I prefer to write with a pen, as opposed to an iPad, or even a laptop computer like I usually use. (Present note: You don't have to worry about re-writing the entire thing just because your paper won't connect with another piece of paper.) There is something more personal, more intimate (and less frustrating) about using a pen and paper.

One of my joys in life has been to get really high quality handmade paper and write letters to people with it, using a very nice pen with appropriately high quality ink. There is something special about the way the ink flows out from such a pen and dances its way across the sheet, the way it gets absorbed into the fibres (cool, the iPad asked me if I wanted to spell this term the Canadian way) (I have to admit, a pen wouldn't do that, so one point for the iPad) (but still a few against it), akin to the way the words can get absorbed by the soul reading them. A good quality paper draws the ink into itself, holding it tight within its breast. A lower quality paper, well, it's like the ink just flows out, dissipating itself as if in water, diluting, sloshing its tendrils of ebon as far as they can go without ever really demonstrating their inherent or potential strength. Yeah, there is something beautiful about writing with a good pen and paper, and I just don't get the same feeling when I type. Sorry, technophiles, but I don't.

You see, dear Reader, I could write about this all day long, drawing from all sorts of quotes from the Writings about the use of the word "pen", from its "shrill voice" and on to all the other qualities that the Blessed Beauty uses in His Writings.

But I won't. Not today.

Today I want to write about Christmas, and my personal reaction to it.

When looking at such a holiday, such a holy day, we are actually looking at a number of different things. First there is the cultural celebration of it, at least here in Canada, and in the US where I grew up. You may have expected me to begin with the holy and sacred aspect of such a day, but really, here it is secondary. It has become primarily a cultural thing. And that, I believe, is a problem.

Perhaps it is the root of most of the problems with it.


Well, I think, and remember this is only my personal opinion and nothing official, that it should be first and foremost a holy day sacred to the memory of the birth of a Manifestation of God. If it were, then our cultural approach would be significantly different and a lot of the issues surrounding it would just fall away.

(Wow. That latte really hits the spot. The think dark bitterness of coffee, combines with the syrupy sweetness of the eggnog flavour, all blended into the creamy smoothness of the latte.) (Sorry. I took a sip and was distracted for a moment.)

But it is not primarily sacred. Instead, it has become a day in which we focus most of our gift-giving gift-receiving materialistic tendencies throughout the year, spending many months and dollars leading up to it, and many months and dollars recovering from it, only to have the whole cycle begin all over again a relatively short time later.

Aside: You know the song "The 12 Days of Christmas"? Did you know that if you were to actually receive that poor bird stuck in a tree on the first day, and return it on Boxing Day, only to receive another partridge alongside two of his turtledove buddies on the second, and another one with two more turtledoves and 3 French hens on the third, and so on and so forth for all 12 days, returning a single gift every day, you would return the final gift on the following Christmas eve? And then, if you still had such a fanatical "true love", you would have a single day off from your gift-returning frenzy before it began all over again on Christmas. (Or 2 days off it were a leap year.) At least with Ayyam-i-Ha you would only get 20 gifts, or 25 in a leap year. Much more moderate.

Where was I?

Oh yes, Christmas.

When I thin of the cultural miasma that has surrounded Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is the slew of photos of hordes of people presesed up against the glass doors of Walmart, faces pressing against the glass while waiting to get in, looking like an unhealthy cross between a little child smooshing their face against the glass to see how funny a face they can make with their friends, and the zombies trying to get into the mall in George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead". (Come to think of it, that is a very appropriate combination.)

As you are aware, I could go on and on about this aspect of Christmas, but I think you get the point.

The real question I want to address is what I do about Christmas, as a Baha'i. And what do I tell my son, who is currently in grade 2, about Christmas? What do I tell my friends who ask if we celebrate it?

This seems to be such a pressing question in our community that the Spiritual Assembly even had us consult on it during our most recent Feast. We have a few new members in our community (hurray) who are recent declarants, so it seemed like a great topic to talk about.

Now obviously the easy thing to do would be to read those quotes from the Guardian that say that we, as Baha'is and especially as a community, shouldn't celebrate Christmas and try to brush the whole thing aside, but that is not only insulting to those who actually have to face these issues with their families and friends, but it also sidesteps the whole question of learning and growing, and figuring out how to apply the Writings in our daily life (the object of this blog, which is another reason why I am meandering around my way to talking about it.)

Instead of dismissing it, I want to look at it in a bit of depth.

But not today.

Today I am taking my son swimming, and the pool is about to open, so I'll write about my own thoughts on this tomorrow.

For now I will end with asking you how you answer the whole question of Christmas for yourself. How do you respond when others ask you if you celebrate Christmas? What do you tell your family members of they are not Baha'i and want to give you gifts at this time, expecting gifts in return? And how do you explain all this to your children, especially if they are being conditioned by society to expect gifts at this time of the year?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Persian Hidden Words, Number 71

Once again I find that it has been way too long since I have been able to post anything. Now that my Christmas shows are over, I actually have time again. In fact, I sustained a slight (very slight) injury to my wrist, so I kind of have to stop making chainmail for a bit while it heals. (Actually, I think it has healed, but I want to make sure.)

This morning, when I awoke, I began to think about what I wanted to post today. And you know what? I couldn't think of anything. Nothing. Nada. Zip. The big goose egg. Zilch-a-rooni. So I figured I would do what any sensible guy does when faced with such a dire situation: Ask his wife.

But then!

Just before I could ask her!!!

(Isn't the suspense killing you?)

A letter came in.

It was really wonderful and timely.

I knew it was going to be a good one when the writer said that she was reading my backlog of posts, and added "actually I'm reading them backwards (not the individual posts - even though that would be kinda cool, too :)".

So, you ask, why was that timely? At the end she asked me what I thought about a particular Hidden Word. She said, "I recently read this Hidden Word that starts with "O my friends! Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, ..." and I was wondering what your thoughts were on the part where He says "yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant." I always thought that our part of the covenant was to be faithful to the Central figures of the Faith and the Universal House of Justice and to fulfill our Twin Obligations of knowing and worshiping God (to put it in a short sentence). And while I still can imagine that no human being can abide by all the laws (even though they're trying and some are trying REALLY hard:)) and may therefore not be faithful, He goes on to say that "no trace thereof remaineth". So - maybe if you find the time - you could study that Hidden Word with us in your blog!"

Well, I can take a hint. It seems that I am supposed to write about this Hidden Word.

Which one? I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. I can always count on you to be a step (or two) ahead of me.

Aside: I'm reminded of the time when I was with some friends and one of them was trying to recall a Hidden Word. The other asked how it began. I piped in, "O Son of..."

Ok. The one my friend in the letter is referring to is the Persian Hidden Word, number 71 (hence the title of this post). It is as follows:
Call ye to mind that covenant ye have entered into with Me upon Mount Paran, situate within the hallowed precincts of Zaman. I have taken to witness the concourse on high and the dwellers in the city of eternity, yet now none do I find faithful unto the covenant. Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth. Yet knowing this, I waited and disclosed it not.

Before I give you my own meager thoughts, let's look at something that is actually official. 'Abdu'l-Baha, in Selections number 181, wrote the following about this particular Hidden Word:
As for the reference in The Hidden Words regarding the Covenant entered into on Mount Paran, this signifieth that in the sight of God the past, the present and the future are all one and the same -- whereas, relative to man, the past is gone and forgotten, the present is fleeting, and the future is within the realm of hope. And it is a basic principle of the Law of God that in every Prophetic Mission, He entereth into a Covenant with all believers -- a Covenant that endureth until the end of that Mission, until the promised day when the Personage stipulated at the outset of the Mission is made manifest. Consider Moses, He Who conversed with God. Verily, upon Mount Sinai, Moses entered into a Covenant regarding the Messiah, with all those souls who would live in the day of the Messiah. And those souls, although they appeared many centuries after Moses, were nevertheless -- so far as the Covenant, which is outside time, was concerned -- present there with Moses. The Jews, however, were heedless of this and remembered it not, and thus they suffered a great and clear loss.

I have to admit, as great as this second quote is, it kind of leaves me stumped as to how to apply anything from this Hidden Word in my own personal life. This being the case, I will look at my own unofficial thoughts on this quote, and pose a few questions of my own.

The first, and most obvious, is what is Paran?

From there, I have the following questions: What is the nature of this covenant that is being referred to here? What is Zaman? When He says "none do I find", is that a literal none, or figurative? And what of those last two sentences?

Ok. Back to the first: Where is Paran, and by extension, Zaman? In short, who cares? Does this change how I view this Hidden Word, and does the answer to this question somehow affect how I live my life? No. Not really.

But if you really, for some reason, need an answer, I refer you to the wikipedia article here. In it you will discover that nobody really knows. We do know that the desert of Paran is where Hagar and Ishmael wandered, and that the Jewish people spent some of the 40 years during the Exodus there. But where exactly is it? Nobody seems to know for sure. In eastern geography, many think it is where Mecca is.

'Abdu'l-Baha was surely aware that the very word "zaman" means "time" in Persian (think of "Ya! Sahib-u-zaman", "O! Thou Lord of the Age"), and draws together the different faith traditions in this quote, tying them together with this meaning. While aware of the Islamic subtext of this term in the Hidden Word, He also specifically draws our attention to Moses, and the Jewish context.

So, back to the question of where it is. I don't believe the specific geographic location is vital to understand, but the historic context of it is, as this helps us understand the nature of the Covenant referred to here. We go from the connection to Abraham through Hagar and Ishmael, the ancestors of the Arab peoples, to Moses and the Jewish people through their wandering from Mount Sinai to the desert of Paran, where the cloud of God rested (Numbers 10:12, if you really want to know). Oh, in case you forgot, the cloud of God lifted from off the tabernacle of the Covenant (on the 20th day of the second month of the second year) when it was on Mount Sinai, and began to move. This is why the Jewish peoples began to wander again. They followed it until it settled in Paran.

With just a quick reference, Baha'u'llah has called to mind a whole slew of stories from religious history. He has moved us through time, zaman, with the trials and tribulations of Hagar and Ishmael as they were forced to leave the presence of Abraham, to the wanderings of the Jews in the desert. In both cases reliance upon God was paramount. It is a fascinating metaphor for how the Spirit of God moves from place to place, and if we don't follow it, we become lost in the wilderness.

This is what is called to mind with these simple phrases of geography.

Given all that, what is the Covenant we have entered into with Him? This could be tricky, for there are a few different covenants. There is the Eternal Covenant, in which God has promised to always send us another Messenger. Then there are the Lesser Covenants, in which the succession of the particular Faith is assured, until the next Messenger comes. For Baha'is, this Covenant is very clear and concise. It refers to, as my friend above said in her letter, our obedience to the Master, and from Him to the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice.

But what can He possibly mean by "now none do I find faithful unto the covenant"? What about 'Abdu'l-Baha? Or the Babis or Baha'is at the time? How about Shaykh Ahmad or Siyyid Kazim, if we want to go back a bit further? I would venture to guess, and this only my personal opinion and nothing official, that He is talking in general. When we look around us at the world in general, we can readily see that things are pretty bad. There is godlessness rampant, and violence and destruction everywhere. But, and this is important, that is just a generalization.

What can He possibly mean here? I think a hint is given a bit later in the quote: "Of a certainty pride and rebellion have effaced it from the hearts, in such wise that no trace thereof remaineth."

As you probably know by now, I do not believe that there is a singular "correct" way to read most of the sacred Writings. I think they are laden with layers of meanings. (Wow. That was poetic.)

Let's look at each covenant in terms of this, and see what happens. Sound good? Thanks.

If we take this in terms of the Lesser Covenant, then we can see that there is no clear lineage of succession in any of the world religions at the time of the writing of the Hidden Words. All of them had broken up into myriad sects, each vying with the others for power and control. In all cases, the breaking of these faiths into the various sects can be traced back to "pride and rebellion".

If we look at it in terms of the Eternal Covenant, then we can again easily see that many are convinced that their faith is "the right one" and that all others are wrong. We can see that so many believe that the Messenger they follow is the last one, with no more to follow, only the return of their particular One. They have, in essence, denied the Eternal Covenant, thinking that it somehow no longer applies. We see this when some Christians say that Jesus will return, and that is that. There will be an eternity of peace and tranquility with God's Kingdom here on earth. This denies the ongoing eternal series of Messengers promised. We also see it when some Muslims claim that Muhammad's title, "the Seal of the Prophets", somehow means that there will be no more Messengers. We see it in virtually all religions today, and this, too, is a form of pride.

But I think we also see it when the ego of the individual gets out of control. When we look at the condemnation of the ego, the "Satan of self", in the Writings, we can see the manifestation of that prevalent throughout the world.

Regardless of how we read these terms, they all speak of a darkness in the heart, and when there is that much darkness, it means there is no light.

So what can we do? How does this affect our lives today?

Simple, I think. To me this all speaks of how we are to live our life, if we look back at those early examples of Hagar, Ishmael and the Jews. Using the Jewish example, they knew that God was present in the Tabernacle on Mount Sinai. It was a very real and tangible thing for them. Yet, there came a point when that divine Presence moved on. The cloud drifted away. It would have been so easy for some, at that time, to be attached to the location of the tent and not want to go anywhere else. But Moses moved them on. He was not concerned about the actual location. His heart was focused on the divine Presence, and He moved the Jewish peoples with it.

This is what we need to do. We need to be aware of the actual presence of the divine in our life and follow that. We need to let go of anything that smacks of pride, or rebellion, and be focused on the divine, going where it leads us. Today we are fortunate in that we have such clear and explicit guidance from the very Pen of Baha'u'llah, probably as clear to us as the cloud was back in the days of Moses.

Then there is also the guidance from 'Abdu'l-Baha, that presence of the divine after the ascension of Baha'ullah. He says, "The 'Covenant' mentioned in the Hidden Words is the Covenant and Testament which was entered into by the pen of the Most High in the hallowed precincts of the Paran of the love of God, the summit of timeless time. The "dwellers in the city of eternity" and the "concourse on high" are souls who are firm in the Covenant."

Wow. All that from one of the Hidden Words. And to be honest, I never really gave that one much thought before my friend asked about it.

Thanks. I always learn so much from the questions you ask.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Patience Rewarded

You may not have noticed, but I received a comment on Friday (7 December 2012) about a previous article on the Year of Waiting. In the comment the individual said... well, they asked... Ah forget it. I'll just copy the comment here and let you see it:
"Hi Mead, I'd love to hear of stories of 'successful' reconciliations as a result of the Year of Patience. In other words: do you know of stories where 'it worked' and can you share them? My husband is requesting the year of patience and I will do all I can to stay true to its spirit and to reconcile...Of course it does not only depend on me, and he seems determined to separate - but my hope had not completely died yet. Thanks."

That's what this article is in response to.

To start, let me remind you that this is just my own experience. It is nothing official, nor does it try to be comprehensive. I realize that every case is unique, just as every relationship is unique. What I am doing here is merely sharing a few of the example that I have seen in which couples have either reconciled or somehow become closer through obedience to the Year of Waiting.

To continue, let me also express my well-wishes to the woman who wrote this comment. My heart always goes out to anyone who is facing such a trial. The separation of a couple is, in my opinion, like the death of a family. It is for this reason that we go through the various stages of grief during this trying time.

Now, let me get on to the 3 stories I want to share. I will, of course, protect the anonymity of those involved, as I haven't gotten their permission to share these stories.

The first concerns a friend who I met when he came into my shop. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that we got on real well, and became good friends. He came over most every night for a few weeks, and it was during these evening discussion that I learned he was separated from his wife, although they were not yet divorced. It was also during this time that he began to learn about the Baha'i Faith. After those couple of weeks, he decided to become Baha'i.

Upon declaring, one of the first things he did was ask about the Baha'i laws regarding divorce, and wondered if the Year of Waiting would apply to him, as neither he nor his wife were Baha'i when they got married, nor was he a Baha'i when they separated. The local Spiritual Assembly met with him and said that they would backdate the beginning of his year to the date that he actually moved out.

My friend went back to his wife to explain that he had become Baha'i and wished to abide by the law regarding divorce. This intrigued her, so she began to investigate the Faith, formally declaring a short time later.

She was so impressed with his dedication that she began to re-examine why they had gotten married in the first place. Needless to say they got back together a few months later and have a very beautiful family.

That's my all-round happy story.

The second story is in regards to another friend who was Baha'i and separated from her husband. It was not a pleasant scene and things were very difficult for her. Unbeknownst to her, one of her good friends who helped her through this difficult time was actually falling in love with her. He, too, was Baha'i, and was very aware of the statements from the Guardian saying that we should not date other people during the Year of Waiting. He knew all about the Year being used to attempt reconciliation, and encouraged her to try her best, which she did. Whenever talks broke down he was there to pray with her and encourage her to not give up. He did all he could to try and help her repair her broken marriage.

When all this failed, and she did finally get divorced, he was still there by her side allowing her to cry on his shoulder. It was only after a suitable amount of time (what that means, I don't know), when she was ready to  consider another relationship, that he allowed his feelings for her to be known. And even then, he did this cautiously, supremely concerned about their friendship, wanting nothing to harm it.

They got married, and they, too, have a very beautiful family. They attribute the strength of their relationship to both of their obedience to her Year of Waiting.

While that second story is not about reconciliation, it is about success in regards to the Year of Waiting.

The third story is my own.

I was very happily married to a wonderful woman who had my deep admiration and love.

I was hoping to have a 3 or 4 children with her, but she was not overly fond of kids. She agreed that we would have 1. That was a compromise I could easily live with. However, we agreed to wait a few years before having a child, so that we could get comfortable in our marriage first.

After a few years we began to talk about the actuality of having a child, and she confessed that she did not think she would be able to go through with it. Much discussion and prayers followed, and it was recognized that this was an irreconcilable difference. We both knew that I could have talked her into it, but she would have been rightfully resentful. And we both knew that if I were to be denied the possibility of a child in my life, I would become resentful later. We looked at all the possible solutions, and nothing worked.

It was with deep sadness that we began our Year of Waiting.

Throughout this time we would frequently call on each other for comfort and solace. We cried on each other's shoulders more times than I can count, but still found no solution.

At the end of the Year, we were still very good friends, sad at the thought of divorcing, but aware that there was no other option.

Now, 20 years later, we are still good friends (although her current husband was uncomfortable with the thought that we were friends on Facebook, so we did unfriend each other in that forum), happily married to other people, and I have a wonderful son in my life.

Now, I could share other stories, but I have my last Christmas art sale this weekend, and I have to get ready for it. But I thought this was such an important request that I wanted to get something out there, for I remember how long a couple of days can seem during a Year of Waiting.

So there they are: 3 stories about Years of Waiting. Each very different, but I think they are all positive, giving hope to what may seem like a dark time in obedience to a law.

(I'll probably re-read this on Monday and make some serious editorial changes, but for now I'm off to sleep.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Father

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of fatherhood recently, and not just because I am a father. Mainly it's because I just read this incredible book by Henri Nouwen called The Return of the Prodigal Son. It is a wonderful book and I highly recommend pretty much anything by him.

That being said, let me take you on my thought train, if you wish. Feel free to get off at any time, as this train does make frequent and unscheduled stops. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the scenery.

It all begins in Luke, chapter 15. The Gospel of St Luke. In the Bible. (Just in case you somehow didn't actually know that, which I really can't imagine.)

It is here that we find the parable of the Prodigal Son. But more than that, we find 3 parables in a row, set in a very interesting context. The chapter begins by telling us that Jesus is with the tax collectors and the sinners, and that the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling about this. "Why", they basically say, "is He hanging out with such folk?"

And what does Jesus do in the face of such complaints? He offers 3 parables: that of the lost sheep, the lost drachma, and finally that of the prodigal son.

In the first, as you know, He says that any good shepherd would leave his 99 sheep who are safe in order to find the 1 that is lost. He then points out that the shepherd would rejoice in finding that one lost sheep. In the second He speaks of a woman who is rejoicing because she found a lost coin after searching her entire house for it. Finally, in the third, He talks about the prodigal son and how the father rejoices upon his return.

From a sheep to a coin to a child, He is not only giving us a series of things that are growing in importance to His audience, He is placing the lost individual above the other two, reminding us that while we celebrate the first two instances of finding something lost, we should rejoice even more with the third.

But let's look at that third parable again. After all, this is what got me started and led me to my ruminations on fatherhood.

We all know about how the son has returned and the father is celebrating. But what about the details? This is, after all, a Messenger of God Who is telling us this story, and the details often prove enlightening. The first two parables are quite short, and this third one is much longer, so there must be some reason for that. At least, I presume there is a reason for that. As usual, though, please don't take my word for it. Let's take a look at the parable itself.
“There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he rcame to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might ecelebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
As you can see, there are three central characters in this story: the prodigal son, the elder brother and the father. Moving from youngest to eldest, we can easily imagine ourselves to be in the position of the younger brother, who was prodigal. We can easily imagine ourselves in such a position, casting away all that had been given to us for a few moments of selfish pleasure. We can read into the story the concept that this son had effectively told his dad that he was as dead to him, hence the "give me my inheritance" line and the moving to a foreign country. I could go on about this, but Nouwen already does, and he does it so well.

We could also see ourselves as the elder brother, becoming angry at the thought of the younger brother being so easily forgiven, and even rewarded upon his return. We can see the injustice perceived by the older brother and easily find ourselves rising with similar anger in our heart.

But then comes the response of the father: "All that is mine is yours." This younger brother already received his inheritance, and squandered it, but the remaining wealth will go to the one who remained faithful. We are never told if the older brother went back in to the party, but we can readily see the father calling him to find gladness and joy where he can.

This, Nouwen tells us, and I agree with him, is the heart of the story. It is not merely a call to come back to a good life if we have strayed from that, nor is it to celebrate the return of those who have made such a journey. I think it is a call for us to find that compassion of the father deep within our heart and act on it every chance we get.

I could easily end this at this point, but there are a couple of other things that have caught my attention on this little journey of my train of thought.

The first is one of the last phrases that Jesus said, while He was on the cross: "Father, why hast Thou foresaken Me?" So often I see this as referring to some sort of indication of despair that Jesus may have felt at that particular moment. This just does not make sense. He was a Messenger of God, and He knew exactly what was happening. He chose, even during that tortured and troubled moment to offer us another lesson. He was quoting Psalm 22. I would encourage you to read it now, and see how it relates.

The second stop on this train of thought is the concept of compassion with the parable of the Prodigal Son. It seems to me that we are being called to rise to this station of divine compassion, and yet, at the same time, Jesus said "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

It was Baha'u'llah Who came to bring peace, the One Who came in the Glory of the Father. And here, in this parable, we can begin to see a little glimpse of what is He has done, and what it is that He is asking us to do. He is asking us not to be like the children in this parable, either wasting away our life and treasures, nor to act in self-righteous anger, thinking ourselves better for showing piety and obedience. He is asking us to grow into understanding the actions of others, and to still love them for who they are, noble children of a noble father, worthy of love, respect and compassion. He is asking us to be like that loving parent who loves their children under all conditions, and at all times. He is asking us to recognize our own maturity as a human race, and encouraging us to help others recognize it, too.

I think this is where I shall get off the train. I hope you enjoyed the ride. (Perhaps you can tell me what is further down the track.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

"We have to..."

I was studying Ruhi Book 8 the other day with some friends and a very interesting conversation arose. It seems that at a recent Baha'i gathering, someone was ranting against the institute process and the Ruhi Books. Now that may not be a huge problem in and of itself, although it's not all that cool, but it does raise some very interesting questions.

Before I continue, let me just clarify one point. As you well know by now, these are just my own thoughts on the matter, and nothing official. You can take them or leave them as you will.

To start, this sort of rant is not cool because of the negative critical attitude. As Shoghi Effendi once wrote, "The good that you think can be done by such criticism is far out-weighed by the harm it does." He also encourages us to remember the Master and "His contempt for and impatience of criticism, tempered by His tact and wisdom."

But let's also be clear: I don't think this violating the Covenant, for they are not speaking against the authority of the Universal House of Justice, but as I said, it's just not cool. You see, it's one thing to say "This just doesn't work for me", and it's another thing entirely to say "I don't think anyone else should do it". The first is fine, acceptable, and perhaps even an admirable admission of one's own preferences, while still maintaining a humble attitude in support of the work of the Faith. The other is presumptuous and borders on egotistical, as the presumption is that what works for oneself, or not as the case may be, should work, or not, for everyone else. (This is getting to be fun to write.)

But regardless of how cool, or not, something may be to say, what is it the Universal House of Justice is actually asking us to do? Are they, in fact, asking all of us to take the Ruhi Books? Is this, somehow, a mandatory part of our spiritual growth? And why does there seem to be such a visceral reaction against the Ruhi Institute by a very few people?

Quite simply, I think the answers to those questions are "look in the guidance", no, no, and "I'll explain in a moment my own thoughts on that"

I would like to look at these questions one at a time, ignoring, for now, the various side issues that arise.

Is the Universal House of Justice asking us all to take the Ruhi books? (Yes, I know. This actually covers the first two questions, but really, I think they are the same.) I don't think so. To really find the answer to that question, we need to look at the 28 December 2005 message to all National Spiritual Assemblies. This is where they explained the purpose of the training institute (again), and their rationale for asking us to focus on the Ruhi books. They explain that back in 1995 when they clarified the importance of the training institute, and the need for something more systematic than we had been seeing within the general Baha'i community, there was not enough evidence to justify their "recommending a specific set of materials to be used by training institutes throughout the world". With a few more years experience, as well as a number of communities choosing to use them, it became evident that those who had adopted the use of those materials were well ahead in community growth when compared to those who tried to create their own materials. It seems that it was for this reason that in 2005 they "reached the conclusion that the books of the Ruhi Institute should constitute the main sequence of courses for institutes everywhere, at least through the final years of the first century of the Formative Age".

To be clear, this does not mean that any other studies are now being discouraged. Not at all. Deepening programs are still a major activity within the Baha'i community. But they are not a core activity. In terms of the purpose of the core activities, and the training institute in particular, they have decided that the global curriculum is to be the Ruhi books. Why? Because they have proven themselves to be the most effective, and we don't have the time right now to develop anything better. This will come, of course, but in time.

And in regards to the idea of core activities, they are just that: core. They are not the only activities Baha'is participate in, but they are central to the health and vitality of the community. Imagine an apple, and look at the purpose of the core. It is not the entire apple, but it does bear the seeds for the next generation of trees. And if the core is not good, the rest of the apple will rot in short order. Here, in the Ruhi Institute materials, they have found a good core.

But it is not mandatory for every individual. In a letter to an individual, written on 31 May 2001, the Universal House of Justice wrote that "it is entirely acceptable for you not to participate in the institute process, following your own way of studying the Writings as you have done in the past." They go on, in that same letter, to remind the individual "that occasional courses of instruction and the informal activities of community life, though important, had not proven sufficient as a means of human resource development." In the end of that letter, they point out "clearly such participation is not a requirement for every Bahá'í, who, in the final analysis, can choose the manner in which he or she will serve the Faith. What is essential is that the institute process be supported even by those who do not wish to take part in it."

This, to me, is the essence of how this beautiful faith of ours seems to work. Nobody coerces anyone in anything. When we look at the guidance from the World Centre, it is just that: guidance.

So again, I haven't seen anywhere in the guidance where it says that we have to take the Ruhi courses. We are encouraged to study, and this is from Baha'u'llah Himself, and the Universal House of Justice has noticed that the Ruhi courses seem to be the most effective in getting us off our butts and into the field of actual service to humanity. Oh, that's my paraphrase, and not from the Writings.

So, what about that second (third) question? Are these courses mandatory for our spiritual growth? Of course not. There are many ways that we can grow spiritually, but these courses sure appear to be the most effective tool we have at this time.

The Universal House of Justice seems to be asking us to see how effective our studies of the Writings have been in moving the friends, and ourselves, into the arena of service. Most often our studies tend to be more theoretical without much actual application. And what good is that? I mean, yes it introduced most of us to the Faith, and that is wonderful, but we have not really experience any degree of sustainable large scale growth before the adoption of the Ruhi Institute materials on a global scale. 'Abdu'l-Baha said, in Paris Talks, "What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless." These seemingly simple workbooks have been very effective in helping us translate these thoughts into the world of action.

As a Counsellor once said, "If someone is already teaching the Faith, and helping confirm people in their beliefs, and those friends are going out and teaching others, then why should they take Book 1? They are already doing what the courses are trying to help us learn to do. But if they aren't, then perhaps they can learn something by going through the institute courses."

Finally, why does there seem to be such a visceral reaction against the Ruhi Institute materials by a very few people?

Let me answer with an example. I was just at a conference in which we broke into small groups to discuss some issues. In my group someone said that we were "supposed to work in neighbourhoods". It was inadvertently phrased in such a way as to say that if we weren't working in some sort of a neighbourhood context, we were somehow doing something wrong. (I say it was inadvertent because I actually asked her about this later.)

This was not the first time I had heard such a strong statement, and is, to me, the root of the issue. We tend to, out of our enthusiasm for what we perceive to be obedience, phrase things in a sort of imperative way. "We have to do this..." "We should be doing that..." "We must do this other thing..."

I believe it is our enthusiastic manner of suggesting that something is required, and anything else is wrong, has put off a number of the friends. We need to guard against that. We should try and remember how guidance is phrased in the Writings and strive to emulate that. We should encourage and guide, but not insist.

The Ruhi materials are sort of like the neighbourhood thing. We are most effective when we teach within our own neighbourhood. But, if you are like me, you may not have the opportunity to tutor a study circle in your own neighbourhood. I do, however, have the opportunity to go through Book 1 with some friends in a nearby city. If I had so many opportunities that I had to prioritize my time and choose between tutoring in my own area or another, I would choose my home area. But, unfortunately, I don't get to choose at this time. The only opportunity is in that nearby city.

So to sum up, there is no "have to" in this beautiful and open Faith of ours. There is a lot guidance, and tons of encouragement to be as effective as possible in our work, but the final choice of what we do sure seems to be up to us. (Well, except for following the laws. That we really should do.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Point of View

For years I have been looking for a copy of Mahmud's Diary, the diary of Mahmud-i-Zarqani as he journeyed with 'Abdu'l-Baha across North America. Finally, this past weekend, I got a copy.

Wow. What a read.

His evident love of the Master, and his ability to capture the essence of what he saw around him, is quite astonishing, especially given the many other demands upon his time.

Through it all (and I'm only on page 54), though, one thing has really caught my attention, and that is the difference in perception between what he saw, and what the Western believers saw. Neither view is better than the other, but they are so different, and they seem to reflect something about how people of differing backgrounds can see the same thing with such different eyes.

While I could go into all sorts of detail about that, one singular passage caught my attention.

The date was Sunday 21 April, and the Master was giving a talk in Washington DC. Mahmud decided, for some reason, to reproduce the entirety of that talk, as he heard from the Master's own lips in Persian. At the same time, Joseph Hannen took notes and recorded what he heard from the translator in English.

This is what Mr Hannen faithfully recorded, and which Howard MacNutt included in The Promulgation of Universal Peace:

The Prophets come into the world to guide and educate humanity so that the animal nature of man may disappear and the divinity of his powers become awakened. The divine aspect or spiritual nature consists of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. The second birth of which Jesus has spoken refers to the appearance of this heavenly nature in man. It is expressed in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and he who is baptized by the Holy Spirit is a veritable manifestation of divine mercy to mankind. Then he becomes just and kind to all humanity; he entertains prejudice and ill will toward none; he shuns no nation or people.
The foundations of the divine religions are one. If we investigate these foundations, we discover much ground for agreement, but if we consider the imitations of forms and ancestral beliefs, we find points of disagreement and division; for these imitations differ, while the sources and foundations are one and the same. That is to say, the fundamentals are conducive to unity, but imitations are the cause of disunion and dismemberment. Whosoever is lacking in love for humanity or manifests hatred and bigotry toward any part of it violates the foundation and source of his own belief and is holding to forms and imitations. Jesus Christ declares that the sun rises upon the evil and the good, and the rain descends upon the just and the unjust -- upon all humanity alike. Christ was a divine mercy which shone upon all mankind, the medium for the descent of the bounty of God, and the bounty of God is transcendent, unrestricted, universal.
This is what Mahmud recorded, from the original Persian:

The teachings of the Prophets were solely directed to educate humanity in order to subdue the animal side so that persons under the yoke of nature may find salvation and the heavenly aspect may rule victorious. This divine aspect is the bounty of the Holy Spirit, it is the second birth. He who possesses the divine aspect is a well-wisher of mankind and is most kind to all. He will entertain no enmity toward any Faith and will not belittle any religion, for the foundations of the religions of God are one. If we refer back to these foundations, we shall become united. But if we turn toward imitations, we shall be at variance, for imitations differ but the foundations of the divine religions are one and the same. Imitation leads to differences and trouble but the foundations of the divine religions cause love and union.

While I truly love the first, there is a power within the second that touches my heart even more.

What had caught my attention, and why I searched out the other version, was, quite simply, the idea that "He who possesses the divine aspect... will entertain no enmity toward any Faith and will not belittle any religion..." While the concept is prevalent throughout the Writings, I was fairly certain that I had never seen that clear a phrasing of it before.

Now I know why I had been searching so long for this wonderful book.

Thank you, Mahmud, for taking the time, and exerting the effort, to write this book.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Little Time Off

As some of you may know, I am a jeweler and artist by profession. I sell most of my work by going to various shows and setting up a booth at them. In case you wonder what this means in my daily life, it means that there are certain times of the year that are busier than others.

This is one of them.

This past summer my work sold so well (thanks be to God) that I am now struggling to make enough work to sell at my winter shows. (Why are they called winter shows? They are Christmas shows. And they happen in the autumn. Winter doesn't begin until 21 December.)

If you want to find me, and I'm not in my office at the university, then you will most likely find me at home in my living room sitting on the couch with my lap desk, working away on my chain-mail. (Yes, I actually make chain-mail for a living. How weird is that?)

Oh, and while I'm working away, I usually have a movie on. Sometimes I'll watch silly stuff like the Avengers (awesome, but silly), and other times I'll watch more interesting movies. Just yesterday, for example, I watched the 4 DVDs on the Hands of the Cause. It was so inspiring to listen to them. I just wish that I had more movies like that.

But all of this is not to say, despite what you may think from the title, that I am taking some time off from writing this blog. Not at all. It is precisely because I am sitting down working so much that I find I have a lot more things to write about. The problem, though, is finding the time to type it all up.

Today, though, I was looking through a book called "Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on Christian Life", by Henri J M Nouwen. It is a very interesting book, and I highly recommend it. It is always worth reading about the spiritual from a perspective that is not your own, even though there are times when you may have to translate some words of phrases into your own spiritual language.

Aside: It always saddens me when I hear people say that they won't read anything from a spiritual path that is not their own. Why is that? Are they so insecure in their own beliefs that they can't handle reading anything that might possibly change it? How else do we grow? For me, as a Baha'i, I read whatever I can and try to see it through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings. Nouwen's work, for example, is quite marvelous, but there are some points on which I disagree with him. He does, however, allow me to explore my own spirituality from a fresh perspective, which most Baha'is cannot do for me. I already agree with nearly everything they say.

In this book, in the very opening pages, he quotes the Gospel of Mark, verses 1:32 - 39:
That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.
Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. Simon and those with him tracked him down.  When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”
He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.
Why does he quote this? And why am I bringing it up here, in the context of my own busy life?

Because there, softly nestled within the Text, amidst all the business of His ministry, is an indication of His daily life. Between those epic sentences jam-packed with all those who needed healing, and His travels throughout the region preaching His Word in the synagogues, His casting out of demons, and dealing with His impatient disciples, He finds a moment of peace: "Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer."

As Nouwen says, "The more I read this nearly silent sentence locked in between the loud words of action, the more I have the sense that the secret of Jesus'ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn."

No matter what else is going on, He takes the time in His life to commune with His Creator. He finds the time. He makes the time.

How many examples of this do we have within the Baha'i Faith? During the Bab's journey from Kashan to Tabriz, He left His guard in the middle of the night and walked along the road to Tehran, returning just before they were to leave. He was often said to have arisen before the sun to go and commune with God in the early hours of the morning.

Baha'u'llah, in one of His prayers, says, "I have risen from my couch at this dawntide", and in one of the longer prayers for the Fast, it reads as if He is welcoming the coming dawn like a lover welcoming his beloved. In the garden of Ridvan, Nabil testifies that He never saw Baha'u'llah sleep during that time. He was always communing with God, or revealing verses, walking around in his tent praising God for the majesty and beauty of this Day.

The Master was often seen to walk alone during His action-filled visit to the West, taking the time to pray and commune with His Father's spirit.

The examples are endless.

Even in the long obligatory prayer, we admit that we are "turning toward Thee, and rid of all attachment to anyone save Thee". This is but a single moment in my day when I am completely leaving behind all those burdens of the day that are weighing down my spirit, and allowing it to soar in the heights of communion with God. (At least, I'm trying to do that.)

This, to me, is one of those things that the Manifestations of God have always asked us to do: Take the time to look after your spiritual needs.

Today, though, I watch so many people running around, striving to merely make ends meet, usually so that they can afford all those "time-saving" devices that they feel they need. Even yesterday, while getting some materials for a show I'm doing, there was a lady in front of me in line who was busy texting while trying to simultaneously get out her credit card to pay for her stuff. How sad, I thought. How many of us cannot turn off for even a few moments and take the time we need for the health of our spirit, not to mention to our body?

In the Baha'i community, how often have we heard a few people say that they don't have the time to take a Ruhi course, or do the pracitices associated with it? How often do people say that they can't attend a Feast because they have errands, or can't take the time for a Reflection Meeting? Obviously this is not the norm, but they are things I have heard in the past, or even been guilty of saying myself. And while we all make our own choices, I cannot help but recall the sadness in the Master's face when He asked a professor if they didn't teach the things of the spirit. "Oh," was the response of the man, "we don't have time for that."

But for what else was time created?

No matter how busy our life, no matter how busy our day, we should always ensure that we can take the time, those precious moments, no matter how few they may be, and find a deserted place where we can be alone in prayer.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Ship of Friends

I love my friends. In case you haven't noticed by now, I love to be with them, talk with them, joke around with them. I love their ideas, their insights, their challenges. I have even been known to laugh at some of their jokes. And hey, they've even been known to laugh at some of mine! Yeah, I just love my friends.

And so, when a letter came in the other day, I had no choice but to try to arise to the challenge within it: "Can you write about friendship?"

Well, that's not exactly what she said, but it's close. "For the past few months in my life", she write, "I have been blessed with the company of a dear friend. She is so many wonderful things and means a lot to me. But with having this close of a friendship, I have also had to learn and accept a few things. One one of them being that, even though I love her greatly, sometimes you have to be apart for each of you to grow."

How true. I know, in many cases, that my love for my friends grew when we were apart. In fact, I have often said to my friends that I don't miss them terribly; I miss them very well. I am almost a professional at missing them. (Oh no. That reminds me. I forgot to call a friend back last week. Eek.) (In case I haven't mentioned, I suck with phones. If I don't call you, it's not because I'm not thinking of you, or don't like you, or anything. It's because I don't like phones.)

But back to this letter. She asked if I could share some thoughts on friendship.

"You mean I haven't?" That was the question I asked myself, and, after a quick look, I realized that she was right. I haven't. Well, not directly.

Then, me being me, I sort of turned it back on her and asked her if there were any quotes form the Writings that she would recommend be included in such an article. She came back with two, and they were two that I hadn't thought of in my own searching. (I just love readers who share what they have found in the Writings. It adds so much more to my own vision.)

"Some of the creatures of existence", writes 'Abdu'l-Baha, "can live solitary and alone. A tree, for instance, live without the assistance and cooperation of other trees. Some animals are isolated and lead a separate existence away from their kind. But this is impossible for man. In his life and being cooperation and association are essential. Through association and meeting we find happiness and development, individual and collective."

In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, we find the following quote: "...If between the friends true love--based on the love of God--could become manifest, the Cause would spread very rapidly. Love is the standard which must govern the conduct of one believer towards another."

And then, if that wasn't enough, she shared a few of her own beautiful thoughts on this subject: "I have learned that true friendship is not based on superficial things. You find joy in simply being with that person and serving with them... (A) true friend is someone who you love and think about even if it seems like they don't do the same for you."

(You know, I could end this here, and I'm sure I would look very wise. I have always thought that one of the keys to appearing wise is to ask someone else what they think, listen attentively, and agree with all they say. But if I did this, I don't think I would be meeting her challenge to put my own thoughts down on... screen.) (Come to think of it, it would be very easy for me to put my own thoughts down. "They're silly and superficial. They're so obvious, even a monkey could think of them, but a monkey would dismiss them as less interesting than a banana peel." See?)

So, you may be wondering, what about my thoughts? Well, after such an inspiring introduction, I'm not sure my thoughts will stand up to scrutiny.

As always, I began with a simple search in the Writings.

"Do not be content", was the first quote that crossed my mind, "with showing friendship in words alone..." But that only tells us to make our friendship more than just words. It doesn't tell us what friendship is.

In another quote about how good friendship is, He says, "Unless these thoughts are translated in the world of action, they are useless."

Ok, but how? He says that we must show "forth to all the utmost loving-kindness, disregarding the degree of their capacity, never asking whether they deserve to be loved". He says that we must "be worthy of trust", "be exceedingly kind and loving toward each other, willing to forfeit life in the pathway of another's happiness", "willing to accept hardships... in order that others may enjoy wealth... enjoy trouble... that others may enjoy happiness and well-being." He says, "You must love your friend better than yourself; yes, be willing to sacrifice yourself."

And there are those to whom I feel that. Perhaps someday I will be able to feel that for all people, but I am most definitely not there yet.

My friends are those I love. They are the ones I will go so far out of my way to spend time with. (A man once said to the Master when He was visiting North America that he had traveled a hundreds of miles to be with Him, and the Master replied that He had traveled thousands of miles to be with him. I can see, once again, that any thought I may have about my friends was magnified ten-fold by the Master. But this is where I am at, and I can only be grateful that my friends accept this.)

My friends are those dear souls that I love. They are the ones that I want to see succeed in all their endeavours. They are the ones I know well enough to see their strengths, the virtues in which they are strong, and I will do all I can to encourage them and help them grow. And they, by some blessing in my life, do the same for me, just as 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise."

My friends are those precious souls with whom I serve. They are the ones who stand by me, even as those who "do battle for His Cause in serried lines", which, as the Master pointed out, means, "crowded and pressed together, one locked to the next, each supporting his fellows". They are the ones who are "weaponed with pure intent, with righteous motives, with counsels helpful and effective, with godly attributes, with deeds pleasing to the Almighty, with the qualities of heaven." They are of that cohort of angels who are giving their all for the "education for all mankind, guidance for all men, the spreading far and wide of the sweet savours of the spirit, the promulgation of God's proofs, the setting forth of arguments conclusive and divine, the doing of charitable deeds."

This is how I view my friends, though they may call me delusional.

They are there when I need them, helping me rise when I fall, guiding me when I am lost, comforting me in times of pain, and loving me when I am most unlovable. They are the ones who cried with me in times of loss, laughed with me in times of joy, and just went out to the movies with me because we felt like it.

My friends are the art work that adorn the walls of my existence, those priceless volumes that fill the bookshelves in the rooms of my soul. They are my companions on those walks in the forest of my life.

Most of all, friendship is, to me, like an ark.

Like Noah's ark, it can carry us through times of disaster, help guide us to safety and peace during the dark floods of troubling times, and yes, remind that sometimes we have to put up with the crap of our companions. And if we don't toss that part of it away, we will be inundated with the stench and disease that follow.

Like the Ark on Mount Carmel, it is a thing of beauty that can inspire those who see it. Some will wander, in love, with the beauty of the gardens that grow there, filled with plants of all varieties, colours and scents. Others will cherish the messages of love that are sent forth from the holy spot. And still others, those few who are closest, will see that divine Source of inspiration that is "the heart and center of what may be regarded as nine concentric circles" in life. "The outermost circle" can be seen as "none other than the entire planet", while that innermost circle can be viewed as the heart, "round which the Concourse on high circle in adoration".

That, to me, is the bounty and the beauty of the sacred ship of friends.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Test of Prayer

I owe a very big thank you to one of the ladies in my meditation group. Why, you ask? I'm so glad you did, dear Reader.

Last week, after the meditation session, as we were sitting around chatting, she questioned me on some of my basic beliefs. She got me thinking about questions that I hadn't really thought about for 30 years, or so. You see, she said that hadn't seen anything that made her believe in God, which is certainly fair enough.

This led to a wonderful discussion about the follies of blind faith, and only believing something because your parents said so. We talked about the importance of an independent investigation of truth, and how this related to learning from our teachers at university or school, in general. We explored a little bit about the border between trusting a teacher when we either don't understand, or just plain disagree, and our own personal search for truth.

There is, after all, a boundary there.

I mentioned that I, for example, trusted the criteria for hiring teachers at my university, and therefore gave them the benefit of the doubt.

But then she pointed out something that I hadn't given thought to for years. She said that those professors may be experts in their chosen field, but that didn't make them experts in other fields. How, she wondered, could I trust anyone to be perfect. In essence, she was asking how I was able to trust Baha'u'llah in whatever He said.

At my university, I could trust my professors by looking at the criteria by which they were hired, and accepting that. This meant that any teacher hired had already earned my trust. I didn't need to examine each and every one of them, for someone I trusted had already done so. In fact, why would I have paid so much money and invested so much time if they didn't have my trust?

But what about Baha'u'llah?

For years I have said that there were many things I disagreed with in Baha'u'llah's teachings when I was investigating the Faith, but that time and experience had shown me that He was right. I have described how eventually I came to sort of passively accept that He must be right. But that isn't quite true. It wasn't really all that passive.

I had actually forgotten most of what I did to test the validity of the Faith, and it was through my friend's questions that I began to remember those times of 3 decades past.

What were those sort of things? Well, I'm sure that I have forgotten most of them, but she helped me remember one, in particular: the importance of the obligatory prayer.

When I was investigating the Faith, and had begun to think beyond the simple idea of the niceness of it, I started to look at those things within it that would actually require a change in my own life. Before this, I saw it as a collection of good ideas that might help the world become a better place. Once I made this shift, though, I started to look at those things that would change my daily behaviour, such as bringing myself to account each day. Another one of those things was daily prayer.

I had started to pray more regularly, but nothing that I would have called systematic. Now it was time to begin looking at prayer through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings. He said that we should pray each day, and even gave us some prayers that are specifically to be used each and every day. You, of course, know that I am referring to the Obligatory Prayers.

As a newbie, wanting to test the effects of this for myself, I chose the short one. Perhaps I should have chosen the long one, but I was, to be honest, lazy.

Every day, for a solid month, I made it a point to say this short prayer between noon and sunset. In fact, I said it over lunch. It was easiest to remember at that time. Still is.

During that month I can't say that I noticed anything in particular. There were no majestic messages in the clouds. There weren't any miracles that I noticed. I didn't even win the lottery. But life felt better. It seemed as if my mood picked up. I would find a bit of change on the sidewalk. My keys were right where I left them. There was nothing concrete that I could put my finger on, but it just felt as if life was a little bit better.

Then, to be fair, I went for another month without saying it. And again, there wasn't anything in particular. The roof didn't collapse. No elephants fell on me from the sky. My house didn't explode. Nothing. Except... well, there was one thing. I didn't quite feel as good. My mood was down. And little things just seemed to be going wrong all around me. A pencil would break. A pen would run out of ink. Those keys, once again, showed that they had a will of their own. Little niggling things.

And when I went back to saying that prayer the next day, life just seemed a little bit better.

Now I take it for granted: life is pretty good. I am very grateful for all the good things that come my way, but, to be honest again, it took that question from my friend in the meditation group to remind me of where this all comes from.

And so I thank her, here, in public. Today, when I see her again, I will thank her in person.

It is always good to be questioned in a polite and inquiring sort of way, to be reminded of one's own path and search. It helps reinforce the walls of one's faith to have someone chink at the various bricks that make it up, helping test them for solidity and integrity. And perhaps this is another reason of why we we have a month called "Questions", for it sure isn't an obvious attribute of God. But God sure does seem to seem to send these little tests our way to help us check out all those little things we take for granted.

So, one more time, thank you.

And yes, my keys are still there in my pocket, right where I left them.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Another Brick in the Wall

"The Baha'i Faith", I told the kids, "is like a wall. Each and every brick is a village, or a town, or a city, or an Assembly. It takes lots and lots of bricks to make a big, strong wall. But what else does it take?"

The children all looked at me, wondering what I was asking about. We looked at the wall near us, and then one of them spotted it. "Glue", she shouted.

"Yes, that's right," I said, "glue. And did you know that they use a very special glue to hold brick walls together? This gray, rocky glue is called mortar. Can you say that?" They were mostly fairly young, and a Mr Rogers approach seemed about right. "Do you know what the mortar is that holds all the Baha'i communities together?"

"Love." "God." "Respect." "Truthfulness." "Generosity." They all began shouting out virtues and all sorts of other nice things, and all I could do was sit there and smile.

"Yes, yes", I laughed, "those are all wonderful types of glue to hold things together. But there is a very special glue, one that is so special it is as different from those as regular glue is from mortar. It is called the Covenant."

They had all heard this word many times, but it really seemed as if none of them knew what it was. I had the same problem when I first became a Baha'i. Everyone said that I had to be firm in the Covenant, but nobody told me what that meant. Oh, they said wonderful things like, "'Abdu'l-Baha is the centre of the Covenant", and "The Covenant is the pivot of the Baha'i community", but they never actually told me what it was. I couldn't do that to these children.

"The Covenant is a promise. It's like a pinkie promise, but even more. Baha'u'llah promised us that God would guide us if we trust Him and were obedient to His teachings. He promised us that 'Abdu'l-Baha would guide us if we followed Him. And that Covenant went on to Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. By listening to the Universal House of Justice, all the different communities of the world are held together in one strong wall."

They seemed to get that analogy, and they liked it, too. I went on with it a little longer, but I won't bore you with it here, dear Reader, because I then went somewhere else with it.

"And did you know that a family is like a wall, too?"

I just love those quizzical looks.

"The mother, the father, the sisters and brothers, the aunts and uncles and cousins, and even the third cousins twice removed! They are all the individual bricks in the wall of the family." I didn't say that some are thicker than others. Nope. Not me. I didn't even think it. (Well, maybe a little.) "Now, do you know what the mortar is in the wall of the family?"

There was a nice quiet pause before one little girl said, "Love."

"That's right. Love is the glue that holds a family together. And if one of the bricks doesn't feel that love, what happens?"

"It falls out," said the little boy, with a bit of sadness.

"That's right. That's why it is so important to love each and every member of your family. Remember, you get to choose your friends, but God gave you your family to love, so that's a very important job."

And there was still one more thing I wanted to say. It was the reason that I was there. It was why I was talking to the children. I wanted to say something to their parents, but didn't know how.

"And did you know that your own community is like a wall, too? Every brick in your community is a whole family, all working together to be as strong as possible. What do you think the mortar is there?"

The silence lasted longer, and then a few tentative voices piped up. "Love?" "The Covenant?" Nobody felt that either of these were exactly right.

"You're very close," I said. "It's the Feast. It is the celebration of the Feast that brings the entire community together and helps bind it together, through the Covenant, with the bonds of love. By praying together, your hearts become closer. By consulting together, you work more closely, hand to hand. And by eating together, you become better friends. The Feast is that great glue, the mortar that makes each individual brick become part of that mighty wall."

That was long ago. And given some of those recent phone calls, and comments from friends, it seems timely to share it again.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Children of the Feast

I received a phone call the other day that hearkened to a series of conversations I have had with many friends over the years. "How", they asked, "can we get our community to be more active?"

As usual, I was able to supply a quick answer that was both honest and truthful: "I don't know."

I said honest and truthful; I didn't say helpful.

The conversation, as you can expect, was quite one-sided, since I asked the person to describe their community. After all, how can you begin to work together to try and find a solution if both parties are not aware of the problem? Once I filtered through the emotion, the scenario was not all that unusual. It is something I have heard about time and again. The community is a small one, on the verge of becoming medium-sized. In other words, there are about 30 - 40 people.

"32", she said, "if you don't include the kids."

And that, to me, was at the heart of the issue: "if you don't include the kids". After all, "Our Faith is just as much for children", it says in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, "as for older people". How can we talk about a community if we don't include the kids? Mind you, this isn't unusual. A lot of people do it. But it does raise a lot of questions.

It seems that this particular community has a lot of families with young children, and the average attendance at Feast is between 2 and 5. People, not age.

"Why?" That seemed like the logical question to ask, and the response was exactly what you would expect. "People are too busy."

Anyways, let me pause here to say that I don't have any answers for this community, but I have heard variations on this theme for long enough to know some questions that can be asked. And I am very happy to say that this particular community is beginning to ask them.

What are they? I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader.

First of all, is the Feast family-friendly? And I don't mean do people say hi when you come in. I mean, is the Feast in a place that is accessible the children, and at a time when families can attend? My son has to get up at 6:30 in the morning to get ready to catch his bus to go to school I cannot ask him to attend a Feast that begins at 7:30, much less 8:00 at night. He would be a total zombie the next day. And while that might be kind of cool around Halloween, it doesn't bode well for his capacity to learn the rest of the year.

I am very happy to say that in my own community the Feast begins a little bit earlier than in most others. They are very accommodating to families with small children.

Oh, that also brings up the issue of dinner. Many of us in this society get home from work between 5 and 6, and then have to prepare dinner. Of course, we then need to eat it and get ready to go to the Feast, by which time it is already 7:30 or 8:00. What do we do in those circumstances?

Well, it may just be me, but that seems like a no-brainer (speaking of zombies): Eat together. (But don't eat brains.) I can think of no better way to prepare for a Feast than to join those I love in a meal together. If there are some in the community who can help out by preparing food for those who may have less time, even better. There is nothing like service to help unite a community, so why not get together for a community dinner and then have the Feast? On most days I'm home by 3, and that's only if I'm out to begin with. I work out my home office. It's quite easy for me to prepare a meal for 20 during the day, and let it simmer while I work. And for those with the time, but not the money, I'm sure the community would be willing to buy the food for someone who can prepare it.

So that is one thing done: have it at a time when families can actually attend. Oh, and don't presume. Actually go out and ask them. Consult. Figure it out. There is nothing that says we have to begin our Feast at 7:30. We are only told to try and have it "on the first day of the Bahá'í month, that is to say the Bahá'í day, beginning at the sunset", or sometime from sunset on the evening before the day to sunset of the day itself.

Now that we know when to hold the Feast, the next question is what to do. We all know that we begin with prayers, but the Writings do not say how long that has to be. If the children are not in the habit of sitting for 20 or 30 minutes of prayer, it takes a peculiar kind of sadist to try and make them sit still for that long. Why not have the next few Feasts with fewer prayers? If you know that you will have a large number of children who are unaccustomed to long prayers, try having the prayers sung. "Music", the Guardian said, "is permitted during the spiritual part -- or any part -- of the 19 Day Feast." If the community wants, they can even have the children move during the devotions. Again, there is nothing in the Writings that says you have to sit still. This is just a cultural bias. There are many parts of the world where you show your respect and devotion by the way in which you move with the words. We just need to teach the children respect, which is a condition of the heart, not a state of the body. Oh, and don't take my word for it. Read "Stirrings of the Spirit", and see what that compilation on the Feast says about the devotional portion of the Feast, and what it doesn't say.

But what about the Administrative portion? Surely the children shouldn't be there for that.

Why not? look at this quote from the Universal House of Justice: "...children should be trained to understand the spiritual significance of the gatherings of the followers of the Blessed Beauty, and to appreciate the honour and bounty of being able to take part in them, whatever their outward form may be. It is realized that some Bahá'í observances are lengthy and it is difficult for very small children to remain quiet for so long. In such cases one or other of the parents may have to miss part of the meeting in order to care for the child. The Spiritual Assembly can also perhaps help the parents by providing for a children's observance, suited to their capacities, in a separate room during part of the community's observance. Attendance at the whole of the adult celebration thus becomes a sign of growing maturity and a distinction to be earned by good behaviour."

They recognize that "some Baha'i observances are lengthy", but that doesn't mean they have to be. In a large community, sure. But there you would have the resources to provide for a good children's program. In a small community, what is it that you are consulting about that is so important that the children cannot participate? When we learn to include the children in our consultations, which is fairly easy in a smaller community, then we build stronger bonds between the various age groups. We enhance the training of our children int he ways of our community. We reap the incalculable benefits of their ideas, and encourage them to share their insights.

They learn the value of consultation, as well as the importance of discipline. Just because the children are welcome, and truly welcome in all areas, does not mean that the rest of the community should be held hostage by them. There will, of course, be times when some of the children may be unruly, and it is at times like that when the parents need to remove them. "This is not", says the Universal House of Justice, "merely necessary to ensure the properly dignified conduct of Bahá'í meetings but is an aspect of the training of children in courtesy, consideration for others, reverence, and obedience to their parents."

It is during this consultative time that the parents need to show great patience in allowing the children the time to formulate their ideas. The adults themselves will also need to learn to speak in such a manner that the children understand what is going on. Not only is this good for the community in their consultations, but it also develops various skills that help us explain the teachings of the Faith to those who may not be aware of them. After all, if we can explain things to a child in the Feast, then we have a better chance of adults understanding what we say, too.

Finally, there is the social portion of the celebration of the Feast. (Have you ever noticed that the table of contents in the compilation from the World Centre on the Feast refers to the Feast Celebration?) In other words, the party. What kid doesn't love to eat and play with others? And as a parent you can even make it a bit of a reward. "Because it is the Feast, you can stay up an extra 30 minutes tonight." What a great way to help further instill the love of the Faith (he says, with his tongue in his cheek.)

But seriously, we can truly make the Feast something that the children look forward to attending. Hey, we can even make it something that the parents look forward to attending. This is what it should be, anyways: a time of joyous celebration with those you love. as well as an opportunity to talk about those things that matter most to you and the community.

When we do this consciously, and fully aware of what the Writings say about the Feast, then we all become children of that great institution of our Faith: the Feast.

"It is the hope of the House of Justice that every Feast will be a feast of love when the children will give and receive the tangible affection of the community and its individual members."

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rethinking Adam

I wrote a post about the Tree of Life a while ago, and have, since then, wanted to write a bit more about my own understanding of Adam. Now as you know, dear Reader, this is only my own perspective, and nothing official. I don't claim infallibility, or even reasonable accuracy. I only offer my own meager thoughts on the subject. So, a usual, you can take them or leave them, as you will.

When looking at the story of Adam, there are a number of sources you can look at. For myself, I chose to use the Stone translation of the Tanakh, which is often called the Old Testament, as well as the Yusuf Ali translation of the Qur'an. Why those? Well, the Stone translation is, in my opinion, absolutely brilliant. It really conveys the meaning of the passages from the Jewish cultural perspective. As for the Yusuf Ali translation, it was recommended to me, and I like it. Can't say much more than that.

Now at this point, I could go into the differences between the two perspectives of the story of Adam, but it really seems to me that there is so much out there already from people who are so much more qualified than I am that it would be silly for me to do so.

Suffice to say that Western history has generally not been kind to Adam. Many seem to portray Adam as a buffoon, who easily fell prey to the desire to please Eve and thus condemned all humanity. This, to me, does not seem a fair representation. In Islam, however, Adam is seen as a Prophet of God, for God did speak directly to Him.

But then we run into the seeming contradiction of Adam being a Prophet, Who is righteous and good, and yet He disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Oh, I think I should put in a bit of an aside here. For a long time this story was used as a basis for the persecution of science. Not the only one, to be sure, but still it was a stone in the foundation of this attack. When you ask most people why Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden, they will usually say it was because they ate an apple from the tree of knowledge. Well, that's just not accurate. It was specifically the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And so, when there were persecutions against scientists, people of knowledge, which was the result of "eating the forbidden fruit", that seemed to be based on an error of memory.

Also, by putting the initial blame on Eve, as it does in Genesis, this has also been a source of "proof" of the inferiority of women. At least in the Qu'ran, Adam and Eve are equally blamed, so this has also fallen by the wayside.

But there is another question that arises. In the Bible, we read that by eating of the fruit of the Tree, Adam would surely die. It is obvious that Adam was not going to die only because He ate of the fruit, for if that were the case, then why would there have been any concern about the Tree of Life? And besides, there is also that long standing question of why didn't He die as soon as He ate of it? Obviously there is more to this than meets the eye.

And this, dear Reader, is where Tahirih comes into the picture for me. Why Tahirih? Yes, I can hear you, dear Reader. I know. We didn't mention her before this, so how does she come into it now?

Simple. She wrote a poem which has been called Adam's Wish, and it is this masterpiece of a poem that initiated my original thought train on this particular track.

What if we presume that Baha'u'llah and the Qur'an are both correct, and that the Bible has a hidden story for us, if we but care to dig a bit deeper?

Let's see.

Oh, and for those who wish to look to 'Abdu'l-Baha, and who doesn't, I would highly recommend His analysis of one interpretation of the story of Adam that He gives in Some Answered Questions. At the very end of it, though, He tells us, "This is one of the meanings of the biblical story of Adam. Reflect until you discover the others." And so I am. Here is a bit of what I have found for myself.

To start, Adam is a Manifestation of God, the very One Who began the entire Adamic cycle, a progressive series of revelations from God to humanity including all the Messengers from Adam through Muhammad and the Bab. "...(H)ad the religion taught by Adam not existed," writes the Bab, "this Faith would not have attained its present stage."

Given that Adam is a Manifestation, then He must have known what He was doing.

On one level, we could look at the story in a way suggested by 'Abdu'l-Baha: Remember how Adam and the others once dwelt together in Eden. No sooner, however, did a quarrel break out between Adam and Satan than they were, one and all, banished from the Garden, and this was meant as a warning to the human race, a means of telling humankind that dissension -- even with the Devil -- is the way to bitter loss. This is why, in our illumined age, God teacheth that conflicts and disputes are not allowable, not even with Satan himself. But it is fairly sure that this is not the one and only way of looking at this story of Adam.

Time and again the Master reminds us that it was Adam Who gave us our physical life. "Know that there are two natures in man: the physical nature and the spiritual nature. The physical nature is inherited from Adam, and the spiritual nature is inherited from the Reality of the Word of God, which is the spirituality of Christ. The physical nature is born of Adam, but the spiritual nature is born from the bounty of the Holy Spirit. The first is the source of all imperfection; the second is the source of all perfection." It is His being the source of imperfection that has been taught to us throughout history.

But does it make sense to think of the results of the teachings of a Manifestation as the source of all imperfection? Surely not.

Perhaps we can see it, instead, as that which impelled us to find our limits. It is, after all, when we find our natural limits, test our boundaries, explore our horizons, that we are able to grow. In the womb, when we were but a small cluster of cells, we bumped into the uterine wall and it is that very spot in which we bumped that our nervous system began to develop. As we continued to grow, it was when we expanded as much as we could, and were pressing against the limits of the uterus (and probably our mother's patience) that we were impelled to move through the trauma of birth and enter into this world. It is here, as a young child, that we began to explore our physical limits and were told "no" by our parents, and that is when we began to learn a bit about our own safety, growing into confidence as we moved more cautiously and carefully. Now, as we interact with others, we are impelled to develop our virtues so as to better mingle and merge with the world around us.

By setting us on this journey, it was Adam Who began this whole process that has allowed us collectively, as humanity, to grow and develop, finally maturing enough to receive the Revelation of Baha'u'llah.

"Contemplate with thine inward eye", He say, "the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestation of Adam with that of the Báb. I testify before God that each one of these Manifestations hath been sent down through the operation of the Divine Will and Purpose, that each hath been the bearer of a specific Message, that each hath been entrusted with a divinely-revealed Book and been commissioned to unravel the mysteries of a mighty Tablet."

And here we come to Tahirih. It was in her poem that I first read of the idea that Adam was very aware of what it was He was doing. He accepted to be blamed for all our ills so that we might embark upon this mighty course. It was He Who saw that by this action we would, 6000 years later, be ready to hear the Messages of the Bab and then Baha'u'llah. It was He who knew that there is no inherent virtue in telling the truth when lying is not even possible, and so allowed us to develop the various spiritual virtues by having us understand their absence.

It was Adam, that first Messenger in the whole cycle described by Shoghi Effendi, who took us on that first step of this long and miraculous journey of spiritual growth.