Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wit and Wonder, Humour and Holiness

I was recently listening to the CBC radio when an article came on about humour in faith. (Ok. Technically it was my wife who was listening to this, and she suggested that I find it in the CBC web-site, but that just didn't roll off the tongue as well when I began to type it, so I just wrote it as if it happened to me. Sorry about that.)

Now, if you haven't read Laugh Your Way to Grace, I suggest you click on this link and order it. You will find it well worth it.

As you may have figured out by now, I think that humour and religion should go hand in hand. (And if you haven't figured it out yet, for shame. Go back and read some earlier articles.) (This is one of my favorites.)

So I think it is high time that I put off my shackles and really get down to it.

Remember, a while ago I referred to a statement made by Sydney Sprague, in which he said that the Persian friends in India were so joyous, as opposed to his Puritan ancestors who approached their faith with a dour disposition. You know, this reminded me of something that I have often thought, but never quite put into words. When I was in my high school history class, my teacher tried to convince us that the Puritans were "kicked out" of Europe because of religious differences. I don't think so. I think the real reason was that they were so dour-faced that they just brought everyone else around them down, too. They weren't fun to be around, and tried to impose their misery upon others. Bleah. I can't blame people for not wanting them around (he says with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

In fact, this seems to be a symptom of anyone who is fanatical about their faith. They seem to forget to laugh. (If you fall into this category, please skip the rest of this article. I guarantee you won't find it amusing, and I would not want to risk offending you.) (Especially if you are likely to go out of your way to hurt me.) (Can't you just hear the fanatic now? "We're funny. See how funny it is when that person thrashes about?") (And no, I don't find watching someone thrash as they're hit with bullets amusing.)

It reminds me of Ruhiyyih Khanum (the humour, not the fanaticism), who said that we should take the Faith seriously, but never ourselves.

Whenever I am in danger of taking myself too seriously, someone should just hold a mirror up to my face and remind me of the hair that God gave me. That'll cure me of it right and goodly.

But don't just think that it's me and the Baha'i Faith. Oh no. I think there is humour in all the religions, if we only look. And not all of it is what I would call PG. (Final warning - If you're easily offended, please skip this one, and look at a nice site with pretty pictures of kittens or something.) (Here's a nice one for you.)

I mean, come on. Look at some of the stories in the Bible. Here we have Adam and Eve who just broke the only law that God gave them, so He was forced to kick them out of Eden. That must've just sucked for Him (well, all three of them). God must have been a little upset over all this. Can't you just see it? God creates this incredible garden and tells them to take whatever they want, except for this one little thing. And they go ahead an do it. Man, He must have been ticked. And what did He say to them? "Go forth and multiply." Doesn't that translate more literally to "F off"?

And when does that phrase come up again? In the story of Jacob. Here is Jacob, alone in the dessert, and God, out of His boundless mercy and love sends Jacob an angel. How cool is that? God has never sent me an angel (except for my wife), no matter how much I pray to Him. You've got to admit that an angel is a darn sight better than a small box of chocolates, which probably would have melted the next day anyways. And what does Jacob do? Does he say, "Wow, you shouldn't have", or "Gee thanks". No. He grabs the angel and wrestles him. Tosses him to the ground. Gets him in a head-lock or a half-Nelson. How rude is that? Yeah, I can just imagine God sitting saying, "Man, look what you did. I send you this angel and you... I mean.... An angel... Aww, jeez, go forth and multiply."

But all that's a bit far off. What about today?

There is a great letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in which he is writing someone back about a submission they sent to him. I don't know if it was a poem or a piece of music, but his reply, in part, reads, "He sincerely hopes that as the Cause grows and talented persons come under its banner, they will begin to produce in art the divine spirit that animates their soul."

Really? "As the Cause grows and talented persons come under its banner"? Just how bad was this poem?

Oh, and then there is 'Abdu'l-Baha in His meeting with Admiral Peary. How tactful He was, thanking him for relieving the concern of the public by discovering that there was nothing at the North Pole. You have to admit, that's pretty funny.

And then when the Master was in the West, a reporter asked Him some questions. Without hesitation, 'Abdu'l-Baha replied in English, to the man's surprise. And what does He say? Something profound about putting your mind to something and accomplishing it? The need for a singular auxiliary world language? Nope. He "uttered a number of complicated English words, such as 'hippopotamus', and then laughingly said, 'Very difficult English words I speak.'"

But really, what shines through, over and over again, in all the religions, is the love of laughter. It doesn't matter what faith I look at, when I look for humour within it, I find it. Really.

And as for coarse humour, well, let's just say that my threshold is a bit higher than some others. That's why the warnings above.

In the end, though, God seems to really want us to be happy in our lives. Safe and healthy, and thinking about the spiritual. And if we can't laugh, if we can't show our joy, then I think we're missing something.

So let me leave you with what has come to be regarded as the world's funniest joke: Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


So just what exactly is Ayyam-i-Ha?

To start, it is a celebratory period in the Baha'i calendar from 26 February - 1 March. As the calendar begins and ends at sunset, you can read that as "sunset on 25 February - sunset 1 March".

But what about leap year? Well, Ayyam-i-Ha sort of fits snugly in there, now doesn't it? Four days of celebration during most years, but five in a leap year, without having to change anything around. Nice, isn't it?

Sure, but what is it that we're celebrating?

Great question. To answer that, we need to look a bit at history and calendars.

To start, let's just say that most calendars are fairly crazy. Some are based on a lunar cycle, which is great for ease of remembering the months, but sucks if you want to know when to plant, say, tomatoes. You can plant them on the first day of the third month, but as a lunar calendar is only 354 days long, you end up losing a dozen days every year in relation to the sun. So a few years from now, planting them on that day means that you're planting in the middle of winter. Sucks to be you.

Some calendars are based on a solar calendar, which is great for planting crops, but generally makes the months confusing. For example, "How many days in a month?" "Well, that depends. 28, 29, 30 or 31." "How do you know?" "If it's named after a Roman ruler, 31, for sure. Otherwise, guess. Or try to remember that silly song, which only works if you speak English. Or you can do that thing with your knuckles, which I can never remember anyways, so that's pretty useless." "What thing? Rapping the person who made up this calendar?" Ok. That's just silly

So what does this have to do with Ayyam-i-Ha? Simple, really.

The Baha'i calendar is a solar calendar, which is good for farming, and has 19 months of 19 days.


I don't know. Maybe because it is the closest perfect square to 365. 19 x 19 is 361, which, you have to admit, is pretty darn close.

But about the extra 4 days?

Great question. And don't you mean to add in the bit about "or 5 in a leap year"?

Yeah, that, too.

Well, remember how I said that Ayyam-i-Ha fits snugly around that funky day at the end of February? The Baha'i calendar has 19 months in it, and Ayyam-i-Ha squeezes in towards the end there, right between those last two months.

Why those two?

Fits in well with leap day? I don't know.

Actually there may be another reason. Most calendars have a period of fasting built within them, and those times of no-food tend to be at the end of winter.


Probably because in the old times you were coming close to running out of food anyways, so hey, it's a good time to do the spiritual thing of fasting.

And you know what generally happens right before the fast? A party. Why? To eat all that food before the fast so that it doesn't go to waste. Remember? Pre-fridge. Oh, and it's also a good time to have a party celebrating the fact that you just survived winter.

So, looking at it again: Winter comes and you save all this food for the scanty times ahead. As winter winds down, you have a party, being certain to eat all that food that would otherwise rot. You can call it Mardi Gras, or whatever else you feel like. Now you're stuffed and probably want to go on something of a diet, so get fasting. Besides, fasting has all sorts of wonderful spiritual benefits, too. And now that your body has fasted, and your spirit is all spiritual-like, you can get to work for that spring planting so that you can harvest in a few months and begin this whole cycle all over again.

So just what exactly is Ayyam-i-Ha? It's a time of festive joy and gift-giving. A time in which we practice and develop our sense of generosity. It is so joyous a time that the very name means "The days of Ha!" And isn't "Ha" a happy sound? By the time you get to that fourth, of fifth in a leap year, day, you are just going around saying "ha ha ha ha" (and add in another "ha" during leap year).

It is so much fun that it is also often confused for a company that makes motorcycles and other musical instruments.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Tablet of Wisdom, part 7 - A Creation Theory

I really wish there was a way to add a subtitle to this.

This next section of the Tablet, which is a few paragraphs, is about creation. I'm going to look at the first two of these paragraphs and just talk about my own impression of them. It won't actually be an analysis, but more my own thoughts, combining what we know from science and what Baha'u'llah tells us here. To start, though, let's look at those paragraphs:

As regards thine assertions about the beginning of creation, this is a matter on which conceptions vary by reason of the divergences in men's thoughts and opinions. Wert thou to assert that it hath ever existed and shall continue to exist, it would be true; or wert thou to affirm the same concept as is mentioned in the sacred Scriptures, no doubt would there be about it, for it hath been revealed by God, the Lord of the worlds. Indeed He was a hidden treasure. This is a station that can never be described nor even alluded to. And in the station of 'I did wish to make Myself known', God was, and His creation had ever existed beneath His shelter from the beginning that hath no beginning, apart from its being preceded by a Firstness which cannot be regarded as firstness and originated by a Cause inscrutable even unto all men of learning.
That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today. The world of existence came into being through the heat generated from the interaction between the active force and that which is its recipient. These two are the same, yet they are different. Thus doth the Great Announcement inform thee about this glorious structure. Such as communicate the generating influence and such as receive its impact are indeed created through the irresistible Word of God which is the Cause of the entire creation, while all else besides His Word are but the creatures and the effects thereof. Verily thy Lord is the Expounder, the All-Wise.
It's a bit long, compared to the other passages I've quoted, but they really do go together, in my opinion.

So, what about creation? How was the world created? Some may prefer to ask, do I believe in Creationism or evolution? Well, that last question is kind of difficult, because I don't think it's an either / or. In fact, I believe it is a bit of both.

"What? How can that be?" Yeah, yeah, I can hear that now, even through the internet.

Simple, really. I do believe that the world evolves as it revolves. You have to ignore an awful lot of facts to deny that, and that would just be silly, now, wouldn't it? But I also believe that God created the universe. After all, a painting needs a painter to create it, so to speak.

And for those who would say that evolution denies the existence of God, I would counter, "Would you deny a carpenter the use of a screwdriver just because you are aware of the tool?" Evolution is a tool in that giant toolbox in the sky, so to speak.

So there you have it. I do believe in God, and I believe in evolution. I don't think they are incompatible, unless one's mind is really small and can't hold both at the same time.

Ok. But this section is not about evolution, it's about creation. What do I believe in that regard? Do I believe that God created the universe, or do I believe in the Big Bang?

To start, let me share a little story. You see, many years ago there was a remarkable man who was most remarkable because of his secretary. The man's name was Manikchi Sahib, and his secretary was Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, one of the greatest scholars of his age and an Apostle of Baha'u'llah. Through Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, Manikchi Sahib wrote Baha'u'llah a few letters, receiving in reply what has become compiled as Tabernacle of Unity, a truly remarkable book. Evidently in the first letter he wrote, he asked Baha'u'llah which of four schools of thought regarding the nature of God and the universe was correct, and in reply received the line "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements." When asked for clarification about this reply, Baha'u'llah said that none of the four were correct. The question, as asked, was essentially unanswerable. This is how I feel about a lot of questions that people ask. The presuppositions inherent within them make them impossible to answer.

With that as a bit of an intro, let me also state that I am not a scientist, although I do have some training in the sciences, and do read quite a bit. In short, I am no expert, but I am not totally ignorant, either.

Baha'u'llah, to begin, says that science and religion are compatible. Let's start there. To me, and remember, this is just my own opinion, if a religious belief is contradictory to observable reality, then it's just not true. It means that we have misunderstood something and should go back to the source of that belief. Perhaps there is another way to interpret it.

So, Big Bang. Well, the simplistic way to get around it would be to say that God's voice is really loud, and when we read Genesis 1:1, His voice is the Big Bang. I could say that, but I don't actually buy it. That, to me, is a cop out.

So, what then?

Let's look at the Big Bang, for which there really is an awful lot of evidence, as well as still a lot of questions.

What is the Big Bang? It's the theory that all matter in the universe came from a single point, way back when (13.77 billion years ago, which makes me feel rather young and sprightly), and has been expanding ever since. It began as a tremendous explosion when the universe was tremendously hot and dense. When all the energy began to cool off, matter was formed, beginning with sub-atomic particles, and then forming various atoms, like hydrogen, helium and lithium. These massive clouds of swirling energy and basic matter then began to coalesce, forming galaxies, and then stars, and then solar systems, and so on. By tracing the various vectors of the different galaxies, we can look back and see that they all appear to have come from the same origin point, and hence the idea of the BB.

This makes sense. It conforms with observable reality, and seems fairly reasonable.

But where did all that primordial cosmic stuff come from? Where did all that energy come from? And what about what Baha'u'llah says up above?

Ok. Here's my thought, my attempt to reconcile in my tiny brain what I know of the science and what I read in the Writings.

Remember up above, where He talks about "the beginning that hath no beginning, apart from its being preceded by a Firstness which cannot be regarded as firstness and originated by a Cause inscrutable even unto all men of learning"? He then continues and says, "That which hath been in existence had existed before, but not in the form thou seest today."

To me, this perfectly describes not only the Big Bang, but alludes to some of the questions that surround it. If all energy was contained within a single point, a point so dense that time itself was warped around it so as to become non-existent, where did all that energy come from? If time itself vanished within the gravitational vortex surrounding that point, doesn't it make sense that this would be as far back as we could see, even if there was something before it? But what happened before that, if we could even talk rationally about a "before" at a moment when there is no time?

You see the problem here.

And Baha'u'llah was writing to an audience before Einstein discovered the flexibility of time, so He had an even more difficult task to do, trying to convey this to people who had no way of grasping the very fundamental concepts needed to even phrase the question.

Today we have a very different understanding of the basic construction of the universe and can read Baha'u'llah's words with a very different understanding. When I read those words, I can see that He seems to be alluding to this. How else can I think of a firstness that is not really a firstness? I think it is the first moment of this cycle of time.

And before that? In the previous cycle of time? Well, everything existed, but not in the form we see today.

Picture, if you will, that beginning, those 13.77 billion years ago. Everything in the universe in a single giant ball, with such a dense gravity that time is ground to a halt. All energy is also contained within that single point. But, as you know, this energy wants to expand outwards. Oh, there's my simplistic premise: matter wants to contract, and energy wants to expand. So, there is just too much energy within that single point for it to be contained. The Big Bang. Kaboom. Everything flies out, super fast, all energy. Slowly it cools and begins to transform into matter. This matter has gravity, that attractive force in the universe, the force gathering things together. Through this force as the various bits of matter lose more of their energy, they slow down and coalesce into the galaxies, and so on. I already described this above, so I won't bother doing it again.

Now fast forward umpteen billion years. As more and more of this energy is dissipated, more and more of this matter condenses together. Gravity overcomes the impulse of the energy to expand. Black holes form, gathering as many loose bits as they can, growing in size, merging together, until, finally, in the last days of the universe, there is only one black hole and all matter and energy are sucked back into it. All the matter in the universe is pulled by a mighty gravitational force back into a single point. Fwoomp. (I just love that sound effect.)

But this is too much. There is too much energy contained within that singular point and it all explodes forth, giving birth to the universe in a Big Bang. It expands. Grows. Cools. Condenses. Shrinks. Becomes a single point, stopping all time within that massive gravitational vortex.

But it's too much energy in a single point. Boom.

Expands. Contracts. Fwoomp.

Boom! Expands. Contracts. Fwoomp.

Over and over, time beginning anew with each explosion, a universe being born again with each cycle.

Expand. Contract. Expand. Contract.

Over and over again.

And that, to me, is like the heartbeat of God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Beautiful Sunrise

This morning I came downstairs while it was still dark, and was about to begin making my son's breakfast when I looked out the front windows. The sky was an ebon black, but there, on the horizon, was a slash of ruby red, heralding the rising of the sun.

I stood transfixed as I watched the colours get brighter, expanding from a slender line to a thicker band. It seemed as if the intensity of the colour, so dense there at that first moment of sighting, so concentrated, diffused as it got broader. Now the morning sky was beginning to lighten, brighten.

I still had to make my son's breakfast, so I turned back and went into the kitchen. Looking out the back windows I noticed the houses across the way were all glowing a golden sheen against the inky backdrop of the western sky. It was at that time that my son came downstairs.

We looked out the front windows together at the ever-brightening sky, and then the back at the magical lighting of our friends' homes.

This, we agreed, was like the Faith.

Have you ever dreamed of living in the time of the Blessed Beauty? Or any of the Messengers of God?

I think there is a reason the Guardian referred to it as the time of the Dawn-Breakers.

The whole world was engulfed in this darkness and there was only a sliver of light showing on the horizon. This is where the true illumination arose. For those with their backs to the Messenger, they would look at the "glowing houses" and remark on their beauty, never realizing that this beauty was but a reflection of the rising orb. Never realizing that without this true light, they would still be wallowing in the dark.

I am so grateful, not only for the sunrise, but for the Faith that has allowed me to see this sunrise in a new way.

And you know what? While most of us are asleep at this time, there are a few who are awake. They were the Dawn-Breakers. They were those rare few who awaken at that hour and begin their work. But most of us are still asleep, warm and snug in the bed, oblivious of the great drama that is happening around us, lost in our dreams. We are the ones who awaken later, at what could be called a far more reasonable hour of the day, and begin our work when the sun has fully risen. We miss the incredible dramatic beauty of that early morning sky, only admiring it from afar, usually through photos and stories. We are stuck looking at the far more normal blue of the sky, the far more useful colour that lets us know the sun is doing its job of quickening the plants, and the rest of the world around us.

We are the ones who go to work sometime between 8 and 10 in the morning.

And if the time of the Twin Manifestations was the dawn, then I think it is now time for us to get to work.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Tablet of Wisdom, part 6

Well, here we are. the last paragraph of what I would call the introduction. After this, Baha'u'llah moves into a discourse about creation, philosophers, and so on. But not yet. For now, He has one last thing to tell us before He goes into some scholarly-type stuff.
O thou who speakest in My Name! Consider the people and the things they have wrought in My days. We revealed unto one of the rulers that which overpowereth all the dwellers of the earth, and requested him to bring Us face to face with the learned men of this age, that We might set forth for him the testimony of God, His proofs, His glory and His majesty; and naught did We intend thereby but the highest good. However, he committed that which hath caused the inmates of the cities of justice and equity to lament. Thus hath judgement been given between Me and him. Verily thy Lord is the Ordainer, the All-Informed. In such circumstances as thou seest, how can the Celestial Bird soar into the atmosphere of divine mysteries when its wings have been battered with the stones of idle fancy and bitter hatred, and it is cast into a prison built of unyielding stone? By the righteousness of God! The people have perpetrated a grievous injustice.

Here He seems to be addressing those who speak as if they are Baha'i. That includes me, and a whole whack of others who say they are Baha'i, and begin to talk about it. This is one of the reasons why I often, almost continually, say that these thoughts are just my own opinion and nothing official. It is some sort of hope that you will understand that these are, well, just my own personal thoughts, and that I am not some sort of spokesperson for the Faith.

So just what is it that He is addressing to us? Well, as usual, I'm not really sure. I mean, I would have expected Him to talk about how we should be careful about what we say, and how we say it. I would have expected all sorts of things about listening to the person with whom you want to share the teachings. In fact, He almost got me there. When I read "Consider the people", it actually seemed as if He was going to go in that direction.

But does He ever go where you expect? Rarely. I mean, if He did, why would He have come in the first place? He came to take us places we never dreamed of going. He came to raise our vision so that we could see things we have never seen before.

Aside - I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but so what. I'm practicing to become a grandpa (and yes, I know Shoghi's only 7, well 8 in a few days, but you can never start practicing too early), and everyone knows that grandpas always repeat their stories over and over. This whole "What would Jesus do" really drives me nuts. I mean, come on. He's a Messenger of God, for His sake. How are we supposed to know what He would have done? As it is, we rarely see the profundity in those things that He really did do, so why would we presume to know what He would have done in our situation. Chances are He never would have found Himself in our situation anyways, given that we're such bozos half the time and we find ourselves in predicaments that anyone with half a brain would have avoided. No. I much prefer looking at what 'Abdu'l-Baha actually did in a similar situation. It's far more approachable than asking myself "What would a Messenger of God do if They were in this situation?" The answer to that is almost always a very humbling "I have no idea."

So, there I am, reading this paragraph, thinking, for only a few words, that I might actually know what's coming next, and what happens? Some sort of mental whiplash. He seems to take me quite around and toss me out somewhere I didn't expect to end up.

Here I am, suddenly thinking about teaching after that single line beginning, and then I'm told to consider the people of His day and what they have done. Uhm, ok. Bloodthirsty fanatical nutcases. Slaughter and mayhem. Bodies shot from cannons. Lit candles in gaping wounds. Sure makes me want to jump right in there and begin teaching. (Yeah, I can throw in a bit of sarcasm every now and then.)

But then what does He say? He jumped right in there and began teaching. He went straight to the top. He wrote the Shah (or was it the Sultan, I can't remember offhand) and asked him to call a meeting with all the religious leaders of the realm so that He could answer their questions.

And then? Well, to start, the meeting was never called. Baha'u'llah was tortured, imprisoned and exiled. He was shown such treatment that "the inmates of the cities of justice and equity" lamented.

Now, this is where it gets interesting for me. He dos not condemn all the people for this. He does not lash out and bewail His troubles. No. He says it is merely between Him and the ruler. The judgement, in this circumstance, was between the two of them, and no one else.

What follows appears to be a rhetorical question. He asks, "how can the Celestial Bird soar into the atmosphere of divine mysteries when its wings have been battered with the stones of idle fancy and bitter hatred, and it is cast into a prison built of unyielding stone?"

And while I would think He can't, I would be wrong. For isn't this just what Baha'u'llah was doing? Wasn't He raising the Call in that prison? And while He was severely burdened, and we know that His Pen was stilled for times, precious moments of Revelation lost to us for all history because of those unbearable burdens, He did still reveal some of those divine mysteries.

So I ask myself "How?" How was He able to do this? "Consider". Time and again in the Writings, He asks us to consider, to ponder, the reflect. While I can think of various virtues and attributes that would have allowed Him to continue, it is this process of considering that is most valuable. Pondering on His circumstances, and what He did under those conditions, changes something in me. It shifts my view. It swells my heart. It also makes me slow down my own pace as I consider His circumstances.

And then I ask myself how can this help me become a better teacher of the Faith in the face of those small and trivial problems that I face? Maybe, just maybe, that question wasn't actually rhetorical after all.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Tablet of Wisdom, part 5

I remembered the "The" this time in the title. Hooray for me.

An intro, a downer, a solution for all, specific advice for us: Now what? Well, He's given the advice for what we should be doing, so now how about a bit about our attitude? How about our goal?

By My life! Thy grievances have plunged Me into sorrow. Regard not the children of the world and all their doings but fix thy gaze upon God and His never-ending dominion. Verily, He calleth to thy remembrance that which is the source of delight for all mankind. Drink thou the life-giving water of blissful joy from the chalice of utterance proffered by the Fountainhead of divine Revelation -- He Who hath made mention of thee in this mighty stronghold. Endeavour to the utmost of thy powers to establish the word of truth with eloquence and wisdom and to dispel falsehood from the face of the earth. Thus directeth thee the Dayspring of divine knowledge from this luminous horizon.

I may be mistaken, but it seems to me as if He is addressing someone specifically, and through them, all of us. It reads as though this person, great as he may have been, was sharing some grievances with Baha'u'llah. Perhaps he was complaining about someone, or maybe he was just sharing a bit of the trials that he was suffering in His path. As we all know, this Tablet was written for Nabil-i-Akbar, and this poor but eminent man suffered greatly for the Faith. He was also a very well-known scholar. There are many things he could have complained about, ranging from the treatment he suffered at the hands of the enemies, to the bozoid things that his fellow believers were doing. The fact is, though, we don't know. All we know is what Baha'u'llah has written here. The grievances of Nabil-i-Akbar plunged Baha'u'llah into sorrow.

Well, that should be enough.

Can you imagine saying anything that would plunge Baha'u'llah into sorrow? Whoa. That would give me pause for thought.

Now, again, I might be going out on a limb here, but hey, that's what I do. These are only my own thoughts, so why not?

The very next sentence seems to imply that it is something of what I just said. Whether it is the enemies of the Faith, or the bozos within it, Baha'u'llah tells him, as through him us, to disregard the "children of the world" and instead look to God. The enemies may strive to hurt us or even extinguish the light of the Faith, but we know they will not succeed. Well, I mean they may hurt us individually, either through being annoying, or torture or even martyrdom, but they won't hurt the Faith. And as for the bozos within the Faith? We can rely on the fact that the Faith is truly marching forward. Today, if someone writes a silly article about the Faith without getting it reviewed by an Assembly, there is enough valid stuff out there that it probably won't do much harm. There are even some Assemblies that, through their maturing, may make some silly decisions. But you know what? It's ok. It's part of the learning process.

This is a very important thing. In the letter from the Universal House of Justice to the US NSA, dated 19 May 1994, they build upon this theme. "As to your worry about over-controlling the friends: by appreciating the nature of the power of action which they possess, you will be able to gauge how best to guide and direct them. A wide latitude for action must be allowed them, which means that a large margin for mistakes must also be allowed. Your National Assembly and the Local Assemblies must not react automatically to every mistake, but distinguish between those that are self-correcting with the passage of time and do no particular harm to the community and those which require Assembly intervention. Related to this is the tendency of the friends to criticize each other at the slightest provocation, whereas the Teachings call upon them to encourage each other. Such tendencies are of course motivated by a deep love for the Faith, a desire to see it free of any flaw. But human beings are not perfect. The Local Assemblies and the friends must be helped through your example and through loving counsel to refrain from such a pattern of criticism, which stunts the growth and development of the community. You should also be fearful of laying down too many rules and regulations. The Cause is not so fragile that a degree of mistakes cannot be tolerated. When you feel that certain actions may become trends with harmful consequences, you may, instead of making a new rule, discuss the matter with the Counsellors, enlisting their support in educating the friends in a manner that will improve their understanding and their conduct."

So I may be drawing an incorrect conclusion, but I don't think so. I believe that Baha'u'llah is introducing this theme here.

It is so easy to get side-tracked, or even depressed, if we dwell on the things we are doing wrong. And, friends, let me tell you, it's even more depressing if you are like me and are the source of many of those wrongs.

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah is reminding us to look to God. Don't get upset by the small obstacles that always get in our way. Keep your vision on the goal. That's what this says to me.

It begins with sorrow, but then He goes on to talk about "the source of delight" and "blissful joy". He lifts us up, out of sorrow, beyond the pettiness of our grievances.

He reminds us to strive with all our might to to teach the Faith. We need to teach with eloquence and wisdom, and do all we can to get rid of falsehood.

And you know what? There is a profound wisdom to this.

I remember one community where there was a lot of backbiting. It was a huge problem and was causing lots of issues. In this same community, there was a couple who were getting divorced. There was lots of strife and contention, and it was, by all accounts, just not a nice place to live. The Assembly was not sure what to do about it. And so they consulted the Writings. Not having served on that particular Assembly I have no clue what Writings they consulted, but I would sure love to know. All I know is that they continually found references like this. Don't grumble; teach. Don't complain about others; teach. Don't worry; just teach.

And that"s what they did.

They began a teaching campaign, finding ways to involve everyone. They even had a particular task that they asked of the couple.

In the end, the backbiting was gone, and even the couple stayed together.

And you know what? This makes me think twice about complaining. I mean, I sure would hate to be responsible for bringing sorrow to the heart of Baha'u'llah, much less plunging Him into it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Tablet of Wisdom, part 4

I can never get the name of this right. Sometimes in the title I put "The Tablet of Wisdom", and other times I leave the "The" out. Ah well. The joys of being just a regular human being.

So, we already covered the beginning, the downer, and the upper paragraphs. What's next?
"O ye beloved of the Lord! Commit not that which defileth the limpid stream of love or destroyeth the sweet fragrance of friendship. By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened. Abase not the station of the learned in Baha and belittle not the rank of such rulers as administer justice amidst you. Set your reliance on the army of justice, put on the armour of wisdom, let your adorning be forgiveness and mercy and that which cheereth the hearts of the well-favoured of God."

The previous paragraph was addressed to the peoples of the world, which sure seems to include everyone. This paragraph is addressed to the beloved of the Lord. Who are they? Well, in my personal opinion this refers to the members of the Baha'i community. After all, in the Will and Testament of the Master, 'Abdu'l-Baha says that the "beloved of the Lord must obey him and turn unto him", referring to Shoghi Effendi. In fact, all instances of this phrase that I could find in the Writings refer specifically to the Baha'is. So, Baha'u'llah addresses this paragraph to the Baha'is, and the directions He gives us are a little bit different than the general advice He gives all of humanity.

To start, He warns us not to do anything that will defile, or ruin, the "limpid stream of love". What, I wondered, did that mean? Limpid means that which is crystal clear, as well as free-flowing. It also means free from worry and distress. Isn't that a beautiful way to think about love? Shouldn't the one you love receive a love that is pure and clear, truly refreshing, and free from all worries or concern? Truly we should behave in such a way as to not be a cause of concern or stress for our loved ones. And that love should be free-flowing, always available in great abundance.

Then He warns us not to do anything that could destroy the "sweet fragrance of friendship". Again, another beautiful image. Our friendship should give off a very beautiful aroma that is detectable from far away. And as one who used to blend perfumes (no, really, I did), it occurs to me that it is heat that destroys the sweet scents that waft on the breeze. How often have friendships been destroyed by the flame of words? Remember, "the tongue is a smoldering fire" and "the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul". The Master once said, "The beloved of God must be friendly even with strangers and intimate even with outsiders -- how much more with others among the righteous (i. e., believers)!" It seems to me that we must be very careful to treasure our friends and take no chance at destroying those bonds of love.

Now there is a bit of an intermediary sentence: "By the righteousness of the Lord!" What does that mean? And why is that here? Well, righteousness is that which is characterized by morality, that which is upright and justifiable. "By that which is moral and justifiable of God"? Ok. That seems to describe the basic essence of unity to me. Anything which brings us together in closer bonds of love? Sure. Why not? I'm not sure what else to say here, so I may as well go on.

"Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour." That's a nice reminder. Don't do anything that will harm love or friendship, a reminder of righteousness, and now a statement of intent. This is why we were created. I mean, it's good to talk about what not to do, don't defile or destroy, but it is far more helpful to tell us what to do. Show love. I could talk a lot more about this sentence, as opposed to the previous one, but I think that the rest of the paragraph follows on it. All the rest demonstrates some of the various ways we can show this love.

The first step in demonstrating this love is to be aware of what really counts. "Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures." You see, it ain't all that great to just love yourself. I mean, don't get me wrong, you should love yourself, but that's nothing to be all that proud of. Even way back a few thousand years ago we were told that it was no great shakes to love your friends, that what was more tricky was to love your enemies. Here it is not just yourself, your community, or even your enemies: it is all creatures. As usual, I'm not sure, but I think that includes animals, too.

So now that we have love for all living things, what else? "Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind." While it is perfectly natural to love the place in which you grew up, this should not be at the expense of anywhere else. I love Chicago. It will always have a special place in my heart for it, but this does not mean that I don't love New York, or Beijing, or Paris, or Calcutta, or anywhere else. Just because somewhere deep in my heart I think of myself as primarily American, and now Canadian, too, this does not mean that I actively dislike Russians, or Argentinians, or Iranians, or Zimbabweans. That would just be silly. Love can actually include everyone, from everywhere. (It's kind of like my mind. It can hold two mutually contradicting ideas at the same time. Neat, eh?)

While it is great to say "love everyone", what does that look like? "Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened." I am not sure, but I suspect we all know this quote from Ruhi Book 1. As I learned in many discussion on this quote, it's probably best to take it one at a time.

Let your eye be chaste. To be chaste means to be free from defilement. I can probably do no better than to quote the Guardian here with one of my favorite quotes. "Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one's carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. It calls for the abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures. It requires total abstinence from all alcoholic drinks, from opium, and from similar habit-forming drugs. It condemns the prostitution of art and of literature, the practices of nudism and of companionate marriage, infidelity in marital relationships, and all manner of promiscuity, of easy familiarity, and of sexual vices. It can tolerate no compromise with the theories, the standards, the habits, and the excesses of a decadent age. Nay rather it seeks to demonstrate, through the dynamic force of its example, the pernicious character of such theories, the falsity of such standards, the hollowness of such claims, the perversity of such habits, and the sacrilegious character of such excesses." Imagine if we were actually that careful in what we subjected ourselves to in all these areas of life. How differently most of us would think.

Let your hand be faithful. Once our vision is cast upon those things that are good and pure in life, then those are the things we shall reach for. It is so important to ensure that our actions, those things that our done with our hands, be true to our vision. If we're talking about loving other people, this is a good place to begin.

Let your tongue be truthful. Well, that's pretty straightforward. Only speak the truth. Those things we talk about should reflect that vision we have of the world around us. And it also fits in nicely with keeping our hands faithful.

But most of all, more important than what we see, what we do, or what we say, is how we feel. Let our heart be enlightened. Again, I could go on about this, but I think I've said enough.

Now that we have some idea about how to treat those around us, what about the bigger picture? Like on a societal level? "Abase not the station of the learned in Baha and belittle not the rank of such rulers as administer justice amidst you." There are different levels in society. While we all have the same rights, we are not created equally. Some are brighter, some are faster, some are stronger. We all have our individual strengths, and those "learned in Baha", those Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members, deserve our respect. And we should never, not even for a moment, belittle the work done by those who rule with justice, whether in the political realm or within the Baha'i Administrative Order. There is so much in the Writings praising those who rule with justice that we would do well to consider the virtue of those who accomplish such a daunting task.

And finally, if we wonder how the world can move closer to these ideals, we only need to look at those gems contained within this last sentence of this paragraph. "Set your reliance on the army of justice, put on the armour of wisdom, let your adorning be forgiveness and mercy and that which cheereth the hearts of the well-favoured of God."