Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ocean's Shore

"No man", writes Baha'u'llah at the very beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan,"shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth." In the opening paragraphs He goes on to explain a little bit about what is meant by detachment, so, fortunately, I feel no need to go into it here.

But what did catch my attention, about this sentence, is the phrase "the shores of the ocean".

I live on the shore of an ocean: the Pacific Ocean. And when reading this passage, I always imagined myself lost in the woods struggling to find my way to the water. To explain, most mornings I find myself walking a path through the woods on my way down to the beach. It's a beautiful walk and is very refreshing for both body and spirit. So when I read this passage, this is what I imagine.

In the mornings, I can hear the crashing of the waves in the distance, and if I didn't know the path, I would most likely end up on a cliff overlooking the ocean, not on the shore at all. But fortunately I do know this path and I can make it down to the beach without too much difficulty. (Well, except that time when I ran into a cougar, but that's another story altogether.)

Anyways, what caught my attention was just an odd little thing about the quote: the letter "s". You see, when I said that I live on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, you really don't have any idea where it is that I live. I mean, unless of course you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while. I could be living in Peru, or California. I could be on the west coast of Canada, or on the little island chain of Hawai'i. I could be in Viet Nam, China, Japan, up in the northern reaches of Alaska or way down south in Australia. The Pacific Ocean is huge.

And let's be clear: Baha'u'llah doesn't say the "shore" of the ocean. He uses a plural.

That little "s" sure is a fascinating thing.

I think, and this is just my own opinion, of course, that Baha'u'llah is very careful in His use of the plural. He seems to be telling us that we could be coming from just about anywhere.

In fact, He doesn't even specify that we are on the land. We could be floating out at sea, for all I know. Doesn't that give a whole new meaning to attaining the shore?

This little passage, with the inclusion of the tiny little "s" reminds me so much of that celebrated, and yet often overlooked passage from the Bible, John 14:2, in which Jesus talks about there being many dwellings in His Father's house. (I leave it to you to decide on the translation you wish to read.)

But let's presume for a moment that we are actually on land, and that we are searching for this ocean of true understanding. I mean, doesn't that just sound like a great place to go for a vacation? Or even better, to set up home? Sure does to me.

So there we are, trekking through the woods, trying to get to that ocean that we can hear so clearly, so nearby. We push through the undergrowth, avoid the thorns and brambles, carefully ensure that we don't get caught by the cougars (trust me, we do be careful about this). And then we likely end up at the top of a cliff. We can see the water tantalizing below us, but unreachable from where we are. We head back into the woods, after noting our location, and deciding which direction will likely get us to the water.

On the way, we probably trip and scrape ourselves a few times. We see some muddy streams making their own way down, but we are not able to follow these paths.

Eventually, though, with perseverance, we make it.

Now what? Do we sit there and say, "Hooray. We made it." And then turn around and go home?

No. Of course not. We explore the beach and get the full enjoyment out of it. We go swimming. We dive into the water. We dive deep into the ocean, exploring its depths to the best of our meager ability.

And this, of course, is just one beach. One beach of many in Canada, where I live, that I described. What about those other beaches in Canada? What about those beaches on the Cook Islands? Or the ones in Micronesia? Or on the northern straits in Russia?

Every beach is different.

Every beach is beautiful.

And there are truly a world of them to explore, more than can be seen in a single lifetime.

And then, just in case we forgot, there are also the other oceans on this planet.

This ocean that Baha'u'llah is referring to? It pales them all.

Oh yeah, that little "s" sure fascinates me.

And that's only the first line in the book.

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