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.