Wednesday, May 22, 2013

National Convention

Tomorrow morning I have the incredible bounty and honour of heading off to the Baha'i National Convention in Toronto, Canada. For some reason that I do not understand, I was elected to serve as a delegate this year. (I could make all sorts of comments,. but self-deprecation is not a good type of humour, as far as I'm concerned.)

Now, if you are not familiar with the Baha'i Administration, you may ask what that all means. Good question. (I'm glad I asked.)

Every year Baha'is all over the planet elect their national administrative bodies, and to do this, we use a secondary electoral process.

A what?

In each community we elect a delegate to represent the area at our National Convention. Those delegates, whose number is based on the proportion of the Baha'i population in the area, head off to the Convention for two different things. First, and primarily, they elect the National Assembly. Secondly, and also very important, they consult on the affairs of the Faith in their country and offer their advice to the National Assembly.

From here I could insert all sorts of incredible and inspirational quotes from Shoghi Effendi, or the Universal House of Justice, but I don't think I will. There are plenty of great web-sites that offer such guidance. Just google it, if you want.

No. Instead I want to write a bit about what is going on in my heart. After all, this is nothing official. It's only my own personal opinion, so why not get personal?

First off, what goes through my mind is a story about Hand of the Cause, Dr Muhajir. He once said to a group of Baha'is that when you go somewhere to teach, you need to go with teaching in mind. You cannot go and shop and teach. You need to teach.

Now, I'm heading off to Toronto. I could easily squeeze in a trip to China-town, and pick up some wonderful things for my wife or son. I could plan on visiting some friends I haven't seen for a long time, or even make a list of restaurants I want to hit. But instead, I am really thinking about just what it is I have been asked to do.

I have been asked to go on behalf of my community and cast my ballot for the National Assembly. That's a pretty weighty responsibility, and it is one that requires a lot of thought, as well as prayer and meditation.

I have also been asked to represent my area in the consultations at that convention. Another difficult task. It requires me to really ponder what we have done in the past year, both our successes as well as our trials. And I need to do so in the context of the current Five-Year Plan.

And I have to admit, they've really given us a lot to read this year. There is the Ridvan Message, Insights From the Frontiers of Learning, the 16 May 2013 letter addressed to delegates, the 25 March 2007 letter to the Baha’is of the world about the electoral process, and the 8 February 2013 letter to the Baha’is of the world.

It's a lot to process.

And I have to be up early in the morning, so I'm off to have a bite, read a bit, and then go to sleep.

But I just wanted to touch base with you, dear Reader, and let you know what I'm up to. And also to ask for your prayers. I am fairly certain that they are what sustain the delegates all over the world.

Oh, and just in case you think I'm a stick in the mud, I will be enjoying as much time as I can having meals with my fellow delegates. While I am not going there to eat, I will have to eat while I am there. (And if I see a book in the bookstore for my little Shoghi, I'll probably pick that up, too.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


"...(R)eading," says Baha'u'llah, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, "without understanding, is of no abiding profit unto man."

I ran across that line yesterday while reading, and probably not understanding, this Book. Now, to put it into a context, for the actual sentence begins with the word "Otherwise", Baha'u'llah is writing, once again, about those who have read the Qur'an and used it to justify their attacks on others. This, of course, applies to anyone who uses their understanding of Holy Text to justify their own selfish or capricious desires, whether it is to attack those who disagree, or their own more base desires, such as lust or greed.

And, of course, this is only my own opinion, and nothing official. If you want something official, go to

But back to my own thoughts on this.

This quote also occurs just after Baha'u'llah quoting another tradition, "'Whoso sayeth 'why' or 'wherefore' hath spoken blasphemy!'"

As you can imagine, I read that last quote and kind of sat up straight in my chair. "What", I wondered? "Why?" And then immediately wondered if I had thought a blasphemy. But then I recalled the Bab saying that it was forbidden to ask He Whom God Shall Make Manifest any question, and that Baha'u'llah had rescinded that. He, Himself, gave us permission to ask questions.

Then, as I meditated on that statement, the one above about why and wherefore, something occurred to me. There are many ways to ask "Why". The most common is probably to question something, as in questioning the validity of it. "Stop stepping on my foot." "Why? What are you going to do about it?"

But that was not what I was asking. I wanted to understand the reason for it. "Don't drink alcohol. It is forbidden." "Why? I'm sure there is a good reason, and I would like to get a better understanding of it, rather than merely following out of obedience." Of course, following a trusted source out of obedience is good, too, but it is far better to have a deeper understanding when we can.

Now maybe my examples aren't up to my usual standard, but I think you get the idea. "Why" can be a dare, or it can be an earnest seeking. I think Baha'u'llah was warning us about the former, but not telling us to squelch the latter.

Anyways, back to that first quote. "Reading without understanding..."

My son, as well as others, has often asked me if he should pray when his heart just isn't in it. I have always said yes, he should, for I believe that a prayer uttered hen we least feel like it will still help us get back on an even keel. When I am depressed, I really don't feel like praying, but that is when I need it the most. And when I say my prayers at those times, almost resenting my saying of them, I can still tell in retrospect that they had a very positive effect.

So I translate this.

Wouldn't reading the Holy Word, even without understanding what you're reading, be of some benefit? Even a tiny bit? Or is it really of no profit at all?

But wait. Baha'u'llah didn't say it was of no profit. He said it was of no abiding profit.

Why the qualifier? What does abiding mean, in this context? It means lasting, or enduring. In other words, if we read something without understanding it, it may profit us in the short term, but not in the long.

And that makes sense to me. When I was just learning another language, I didn't understand what the other person was saying, and so I can't recall it. But when I understood them, I remembered.

When I first began going to firesides, I didn't understand what the speaker was talking about, and that is why I can't recall a single thing that was said. But the woman who taught me the faith kept it all relevant to me. I understood what she meant. It had meaning. And that is what I recall.

Perhaps this is another reason why it is so important to truly listen to the seeker when they ask questions, or share their insights. We can better address them where they are, share with them some of the Writings that is within their understanding.

But if we read the Writings without understanding them, then we will forget. Eventually. For sure.

Another take on it is on a deeper level. The Writings are spiritually uplifting, fundamentally mystical, although practical. They have the capacity to raise our spirit, and elevate us beyond the mundane. We can read them superficially, taking, for example, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, as a mere code of laws to be followed no matter what, generally out of fear of punishment. But we all know that it is not "a mere code of laws." Baha'u'llah tells us that it is "the choice Wine".

And what is the effect of this "choice Wine"? It is heady. Intoxicating, and yet not toxic. It brings us beyond our senses.

When we immerse ourselves in the ocean of His Words we find ourselves carried beyond what we thought possible. We almost reel at the impact they have on us. This is one of the signs of immersion in them.

This is when our heart understands, even if our mind takes a while to catch up.

This is what happened when I read that initial quote. I felt as if I were at sea. I knew something was changing. I recognized that vertigo of being lifted to too great a height.

And I knew my mind needed to catch up.

Hence the writing of this.

And now, although I feel I could still write more, I need to drive my wife to work.

Slam. Back on the shore, once again.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ridvan 2013 Message, Part 1

Well, it's that time of year again. Ridvan. The Most Great Festival. And yes, I know, it was actually a few weeks ago. Sorry. I was busy with a few other things. I mean, I wasn't too busy to celebrate. I was just too busy to write much here. And besides, I only got a copy of this message a couple of days ago.

But what a message it is.

(And I was so excited to here about Mr Birkland being elected to the Universal House of Justice. First Mr Lample, and now Mr Birkland.)

Anyways, as much as I would love to look at the whole letter right now, it is getting late here, and I'm about to fall asleep. So, what to do? Simple. Look at the first paragraph and pretend that 's what I intended to do all along. Well, here it is:
"The Book of God is wide open, and His Word is summoning mankind unto Him." In such exhilarating terms does the Supreme Pen describe the advent of the day of union and ingathering. Baha'u'llah continues: "Incline your ears, O friends of God, to the voice of Him Whom the world hath wronged, and hold fast unto whatsoever will exalt His Cause." He further exhorts His followers: "With the utmost friendliness and in a spirit of perfect fellowship take ye counsel together, and dedicate the precious days of your lives to the betterment of the world and the promotion of the Cause of Him Who is the Ancient and Sovereign Lord of all."

Now, what to say about it.

Hmmm. Let me think.

(Give me sec. My brain is moving slowly tonight.)

Ok. Got it. I have an idea.

They use 3 quotes, and I'm curious why. Why those three? As usual, I don't think that anything in this message is an accident. I think that everything, every phrase, every word, every comma, is there for a reason. Out of all the quotes they could have selected for beginning this message, why those three?

The first quote brings us right to the Word of God. At long last the Book of God is open. The seal has been broken and we can all read it for ourselves now. The Prophet Daniel would be so jealous right now, if He were capable of jealousy. And this Word is not a static thing. It is not just sitting there on the pages waiting for us to read it. No. It is active. It is actually summoning us. All of us.

That, to me, is part of the significance of this quote. Turn to the Word of God and you will find it summoning us.

This second quote seems to take it a step further. Not only are we to incline our ears to the Word, but we are also to act in such a way that we will help exalt His Cause. Of course, it is not we who exalt the Cause, but our actions, our morals, our every effort at striving to live up to the standard set in the teachings conduce to its exaltation.

And then, in that third quote, they direct our attention to a particular action we should do: "take counsel together". This, to me (remember, this blog is all about my own personal view of the Writings, and is nothing official), is what the majority of the message is about, our taking counsel together, whether in small groups of individuals, in reflection gatherings held at the level of the cluster, or at the national level. And you will note, having already studied this message, that this is something of an outline of the entire message, from its initial summary of where we are as a global community, to its focus on clusters, and even to the mention of the various offices serving national communities and the newly created Office of Public Discourse. They seem to be directing our attention to not only to the need for taking counsel together, but to the fact that we are doing it. We, as a global community, the community of the Most Great Name, are dedicating our lives to the betterment of the world. And we are becoming better and better at doing this as we continue to learn how to learn.

But more on that later.

For now, this, His servant, seeketh to sleep.

Oh, one last thing: One of my neighbours just stopped by. As you know, if you are a regular reader of this blog, I am a jeweler. A chain-mail artist, by trade. Well, a few months ago Shoghi, my son, asked Marielle and I to write on his birthday invitations that he had enough toys. He didn't want his friends to bring any gifts. Instead he wanted them to bring some money for donation to a local charity. He raised nearly $250 for them.

I took the cash and wrote a cheque. We then went down there together to deliver the money, and they took his photo for their newsletter. He also had the chance to meet some of the people there who are being fed meals by the money he raised. Mama Bear, in particular, was in tears over hearing about how he raised the money. She gave him a big hug.

Anyways, just a few weeks ago he decided that he wanted to do another fund raiser for them. You see, now they are no longer "the homeless" or "the poor". They are real people, and he knows them. He can picture them. And he loves them.

So he asked me if he could make earrings for sale on my table, with the money going to "Our Place", the shelter.

Of course, I said.

Now he and his friends are making earrings and they are selling at my booth. He has raised another $50 for them, before I even had the signs up telling people what they were.

And my neighbour, Michelle, just stopped by to ask if she could take some of the earrings to her work tomorrow. She's been telling them about Shoghi, and they want to support him, too.

It just so happens that I would normally be selling my work downtown tomorrow, but I have a meeting at the University, so I can't do my sales. Coincidence? I don't think so. Anyways, I gave her the whole display. Now she tells me that she's going to get the Our Place logo and print up a sign explaining the story, and how they are for charity.

It all works out so well when you arise to serve.

(Ok. Now to sleep.)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Monks and Monkhood

The other day a friend and I were talking about the beauty of the interfaith movement, and all the trials and victories that go with it. At one point, though, he made some odd reference that I didn't quite get.

"What do you mean", I asked.

"Well, Baha'u'llah said that there should be no more monks." He said it so simply that I felt as if it were something that I should already know.

"He did? Where?"

And thus the search began.

At first, I thought he was referring to that great line from Baha'u'llah, "From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics." But no, that wasn't it.

Finding this quote, however, did bring up an interesting point. Baha'u'llah does not abolish the clergy here. In fact, there are so many places where He praises just and wise clerics that it seems as if He does not abolish it at all. No. In the above quote, He takes away their power.

Think about it. Removing their power does not make them ineffective or useless.

In the Baha'i community the Counsellors have no power. (Caution: Personal opinion here.) While they are responsible for the winning of goals, they do not have the power to accomplish them. That rests with the individual Baha'i. Instead, the Institution of the Learned is given respect. It used to be that the individual cleric had power, authority and respect. Well, as Baha'u'llah has said, power has been stripped from them. Power rests with the individual. Authority resides with the Institution of the Rulers (the Universal House of Justice, National Assemblies, and so forth), and respect is given to the Counsellors, and those that serve under them.

Working in Multifaith Services at the University of Victoria has shown to me that the clergy here really do good work. They provide a valuable and important service to the community. But, interestingly enough, they have no power on campus. In the office we act as advisors, offering spiritual advice to those who need it, or going into classrooms and talking about the spiritual connection to their class. (Or sometimes I sit and write this blog, if it is slow, like today.)

So now that we are reasonably clear on what was said, and not said, in the above quote, let's go back to what began this: monks.

My friend said that there were to be no more monks in the world.

But is this true? Has the world moved beyond the need for the service that the monks have offered humanity in the past?

As usual, I like to go back to the Writings and see what is said there.

My favorite reference is, "Say: O concourse of monks! Seclude not yourselves in your churches and cloisters. Come ye out of them by My leave, and busy, then, yourselves with what will profit you and others."

You will notice that Baha'u'llah does not tell them to cease being monks. He tells them to come out of seclusion.

He continues in that same passage to say, "Seclude yourselves in the stronghold of My love. This, truly, is the seclusion that befitteth you, could ye but know it. He that secludeth himself in his house is indeed as one dead. It behooveth man to show forth that which will benefit mankind. He that bringeth forth no fruit is fit for the fire."

So He tells them to move in the world and do good things, be of benefit to humanity. He also warns them that doing nothing only makes you "fit for the fire", something that would really resonate with them of a Christian background.

He also goes on, in that same passage, to tell them to marry. "Enter ye into wedlock, that after you another may arise in your stead. We, verily, have forbidden you lechery, and not that which is conducive to fidelity."

As I'm sure we all know, there was rampant lechery in some of the monasteries. He reminds them to put that aside and obey the laws of their own faith. He points out that Jesus's holiness and importance was not due to the fact that He didn't marry. It was due to the fact that He was a Manifestation of God, like Baha'u'llah.

He goes through all the things that distinguish most brotherhoods of monks and clarifies what is really important. He purges them of superstition. Seclusion? Don't bother. Lechery? Give me a break. Bachelorhood? Why? You may as well get married, if you want, for being single does not make you more holy.

But notice that He doesn't say anything about their vows of poverty, or their living a simple life. Those are good things. They are admirable and even beneficial.

He does not condemn them for praying or studying the Sacred Writings. Not at all. He even encourages them in these endeavours, for they are pivotal to a good spiritual life. At no point does he tell them to stop those things.

He goes even further in Glad Tidings and says, "The pious deeds of the monks and priests among the followers of the Spirit (Jesus) -- upon Him be the peace of God -- are remembered in His presence. In this Day, however, let them give up the life of seclusion and direct their steps towards the open world and busy themselves with that which will profit themselves and others. We have granted them leave to enter into wedlock that they may bring forth one who will make mention of God, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of the Exalted Throne."

It is the same message, with one addition: Their pious deeds are remembered. What a great assurance that is. By implication it seems to say that their impious deeds are forgotten, which resonates so well with other things He has said. It is like Jesus when He told the sinner to go, and sin no more. But more. He says that their good deeds are remembered, which is so different from what we see around us today, when a single bad deed will be remembered in the media for a very long time.

So, if Baha'u'llah has not told us to get rid of monks, and monkhood, what does it all mean? Well, I think it's fairly straightforward. To start, I would ask what the purpose of the monks is. They make a conscious effort to study the Writings, pray regularly, and offer a service to their community. Doesn't this sound familiar?

Throughout the Writings, Baha'u'llah brings everyone into line with His Teachings. This Faith is not for the few. It is for everyone, and that includes the monks. They have served a purpose in the past, and they continue to serve a purpose today. To help them in that purpose, Baha'u'llah offers them simple guidance. Work in the world, and marry, if you want.

And you know, it's the same guidance He offers us. Their purpose is our purpose. It is exactly what the Universal House of Justice is guiding us to do, too. Pray. Study. Serve. Is there anything more noble?

So I don't think we should get rid of the monkhood. No. I think we should all arise and become monks, in the way that Baha'u'llah encourages.