Sunday, December 29, 2013


"I can't do this book", she said regarding Ruhi Book 1, "in Hungarian. I don't like the translation." I refrained from agreeing with her and saying that I can't do it Hungarian either. But to be fair, Magyar, or Hungarian, was her mother tongue, and we had been going through Book 1 together to help her get a better understanding of the words she was having difficulty with. This comment arose when I asked her about the Hungarian translation she had with her.

"That's interesting", I replied, "for my wife said the same thing about the French translation." Marielle and I have talked about the Ruhi books a lot, and she often points out some significant problems with the French translation to me. As I am not fluent in French, I can't speak from experience, but only what I've heard from others.

But this lady was saying the same thing about the Hungarian translation. Why, I wondered, was I regularly hearing this? And why was the English seemingly ok, when it was a translation, too?

"Can you show me an example", I asked her, "of a line where you don't like the translation?"

She turned to the quotes in the section about backbiting, which is interesting because this is exactly where Marielle turned to when I asked her the same thing.

"Here", she said, pointing to a quote. "How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me."

Interesting, again, for this is the same quote that Marielle had a problem with.

"I don't like the word they used here for 'accursed'. It's too strong a word." She said that this word implied a very strong condemnation, a kicking out of someone, shunning them. It implied a very horrid form of damnation that she couldn't reconcile with the gentle teachings of the Faith.

"Well," I said, "it's a strong word in English, too. Sometimes I think it's a far stronger word than many of us realize. And you're right. It might be too strong. Let's see, shall we?"

And so we began to look at it.

"What would it look like if you were under a curse?" I asked the question, not really knowing where it would go, but it sure seemed like a reasonable place to begin.

What we came up with were things like lots of little stuff would go wrong in your life. You'd lose your keys. You might slip and fall. Someone might take your wallet, or you might get into a small accident while driving. Then we began to come up with some more nasty stuff, more like the curses out of the fairy tales of old. You might get a bad disease. Your family might get killed. In general, there would be mayhem and suffering. Not a fun time at all.

"Ok. Well, let's go back to the quote for a minute", I suggested, thinking this might not be getting us all that far. "There's another interesting word in there. 'Busy'. it seems to imply that we're not just mentioning the faults of others. We're busying ourselves with them. We are spending an undue amount of time focused on them." I wasn't really sure where I was going with this, but it just felt right. "Imagine that there was someone sitting right there", I said pointing to chair near us, "and all they did was point out our faults. How would you feel?"

We both agreed that we would be uncomfortable with that.

Then we agreed that they wouldn't be near the top of our list for people to invite over for dinner, nor for a party. In fact, we really wouldn't want to hang out with them at all. We would, in a sense, shun them, because we really wouldn't feel comfortable being around them.

They, through their own actions, would be, in a sense, placing themselves under a curse.

"And how do you think they would feel, inside?"

"Pretty awful. They would probably stew in their anger and even become sick from it."

As she said that last bit, it seemed that the light went on. Truly, busying yourself with the faults of others would be just like being under a curse.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad word to choose after all.

ADDENDUM - I just read this article to my wife, and she pointed out something very interesting to me. The problem, at least in the French translation, is not the word "accursed", but the word "of". Baha'u'llah says that whoever acts in this way is accursed of God. Does that mean that God places the curse upon them, or that they curse themselves and are therefore separating themselves from God? It seems to me that this is unclear in the English.

In the French, at least, there is no ambiguity. It is God who is doing the cursing.

Now the question remains, which is it in the original?

And the problem remains about accepting this Writing that shows God as being an angry retaliator. So, while I may have found a way for me to accept this in the English, due to its ambiguity, there is still a very real issue for some of the friends in sharing this in another language.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shoghi and the Temple

A few weeks ago I had the wonderful bounty of taking my son, Shoghi, to Chicago. As you may know, if you have been reading this blog for a while, Shoghi is currently 8-years old.

Well, I've got to tell you, I was impressed with him. When I was his age, if you brought me to a museum, 2 hours. That was it. After that I went kind of nuts. I was ready to climb the walls. Nutsoid. That was me.

But not my little guy. He was unbelievable. We got to most of the museums shortly after they opened. And 8 hours later he was still raring to go. I mean, I was tired. My legs were hurting. But he was wondering why we had to go. "What do you mean the museum is closing?"

All right. Maybe he wasn't quite like that, but it sure was close.

Anyways, at the end of our trip I asked him what his favorite thing was that he did in Chicago.

Without a moment's thought, he said, "Looking up in the Baha'i Temple."

Backtrack: When Shoghi and I arrived in Chicago, at O'Hare Airport, we went straight to the train and took a nice ride to my friend Lucki's house. This was relatively late in the afternoon, so we just went and got some groceries, talked for a while, and headed off to sleep. It was the very next morning that we went up to the Temple.

The day was fairly cool and overcast. It hadn't starting raining yet, so we thought we might be ok. We took the train up to Wilmette, where the Temple is located, and walked the few blocks there under the deep grey sky. I pointed out to Shoghi the brick street, and the asked him if he could see the Temple. He didn't realize that we were less than a block away, and was a bit awestruck at seeing it looking over us through the trees.

We went downstairs to the visitor's centre, and I explained that this was where I had enrolled in the faith. Then we proceeded to have a look around, going into the bookstore, and seeing the foundation stone. He had heard all about this stone, donated by an early believer, and he was pretty psyched about seeing it for real. We saw a few more things, like the model of the Temple built by the architect himself, and decided to head upstairs so that we could settle in before the daily devotions began.

We headed to the doors and were stopped in our tracks by the rain. It looked like someone was hosing down the doors. In all my years there, I don't think I've ever seen such an intense rain. I mean, I am sure I have, but I truly don't recall it.

We all looked at each other and said, "Let's take the elevator." So we did.

Upstairs, under the lacy dome, it was even worse. The rain, that is. The wind was blowing so hard that it was slamming the drops into the dome, resounding all throughout the building. The dome, by the way, is three layers: the external concrete dome, a steel and glass shell, and the internal concrete dome. Although you couldn't see the rain hitting the dome above, you could sure hear it.

We sat down, said a few prayers, and then the choir began to sing. Although their sound didn't quite fill the vast space, it still sounded as if angels were pealing out. Their music was so beautiful that I could scarce keep from crying. Prayers were read. More music was sung. And all the while the storm was blowing mightily out there. At times it was so intense that you could tell more than a few people were wondering if the windows would smash in. Needless to say, they didn't, but it was still a very impressive windstorm.

After the devotions concluded, I leaned over to Shoghi and whispered, "Look up." I watched as his gaze moved up one of the pillars, higher and higher. His head tilted further and further back, but his lower jaw didn't seem to move. His mouth, and his eyes, just opened wider and wider.

That was what he had said was his favorite moment of the whole trip.

My favorite moment happened just a few minutes later.

After looking up, and just sitting there for a few minutes, he got that expression on his face that told me he was thinking something through. He seemed to just sit there, staring at nothing in particular, listening to the sound of the rain on the windows.

Then he turned to me, and he whispered, "It's interesting, isn't it? It's like the faith. Everything is going to pieces out there, but in here it's safe."

Monday, December 16, 2013

"All praise..."

How do you encourage someone, while still maintaining their purity of heart? That was the essence of the question. The original phrasing asked about "not cultivating the ego", but really, I think my wife had the right idea. It's not about the ego. It's about maintaining the purity of heart.

How, we wondered, can we praise someone and encourage them without running the risk of contaminating their spirit with the ego? How can we help them maintain their purity, while doing this?

Oh, this came up while I was looking through Ruhi Book 5, Unit 2, section 20. Whenever I tutor a Ruhi Book, I talk with my wife about it a lot. This was the section we were discussing the other evening over dinner.

Aside - Dinner. I remember that dinner (mainly because I wrote down in my notes when preparing this article.) Halibut was in season at the time, so we were eating a lot of it. It is one of our favorite fish. That particular evening, while Marielle and Shoghi were making and hanging bird feeders, I was making dinner. They took some open pine cones (which weren't really pine cones but fir cones), tied some string on them and then covered them with peanut butter. They then went outside and hung them on the fir tree by the side of the house. While they were doing this I cut up some onion and sauteed it in olive oil. Then I took a few fresh tomatoes, fresh from one of our local greenhouse farms, sliced them and sauteed those, too. I put the halibut on top of this stuff, squirted a dash of hot and bold mustard on the fish and flipped them over and covered the pan. While this cooked, I made a greens salad, and sliced some rosemary foccacia (which my spell check doesn't like. It prefers "Iococca"). Then I got some green and black olives and put the veggie stuff on the plates. I added two small pieces of an incredible cheese, sort of like a bleu, but a nuttier flavour. I placed the now gently cooked halibut on the plate, covered it with a thin slice of a very fine Parmesan cheese, and covered it with the sauteed onions and tomatoes. Wow. What a meal. Marielle said, "I'm so glad you were inspired tonight."

I thought this was rather amusing, as I hadn't yet brought up my question for the night. Remember? This is all about that question of praising without cultivating the ego, or tarnishing the soul.

I now brought it up, and she, naturally, asked about the quotes in the section. I include part of them here for you, dear Reader.

"Verily I praise God for that He confirmed you in the service of the Cause of God in His great vineyard."

"Verily I praise my Supreme Lord for choosing you to call in His Name among the people, for attracting you to the beauty of El-Abha and for strengthening you in rendering His Cause victorious."

"God hath purified thee from iniquities when He hath drowned thee in the sea of His mercy..."

"O my spiritual loved one! Praise be to God, ye have thrust the veils aside and recognized the compassionate Beloved..."

"O ye sincere ones, ye longing ones, ye who are drawn as if magnetized, ye who have risen up to serve the Cause of God, to exalt His Word and scatter His sweet savors far and wide! I have read your excellent letter, beautiful as to style, eloquent as to words, profound as to meaning, and I praise God and thank Him for having come to your aid and enabled you to serve Him in His widespreading vineyard."

"...Well done! Well done! that thou hast turned thy face toward the invisible Kingdom. Excellent! Excellent that thou art attracted to the Beauty of His Highness the Almighty! Well done! Well done! How happy thou art that thou hast attained to his Most Great gift!"

As you can see, the praise is free-flowing, but not directed toward the individual. The praise is to God for having enabled the person to do some service, or for the emotion that the individual has in regard to their attraction to God.

What would it look like if we always praised like this?

To start, when Marielle complimented the dinner, it just felt right the way she did it. She didn't say, "Wow, you made a great meal", which it was (if I do say so myself), or "You're a great chef" (which I'm not). She expressed her gratitude that I was inspired. And that, to me, is where the praise really goes. Sure, I have taken the time to learn about cooking in my life and love doing it, but it really comes down to the inspiration. I may be the tool, and I may have taken the time to make that tool as good a tool as I can, but it still comes down to that moment of artistic inspiration. I know that without it, nothing I ever make would taste even close to decent.

It is like that prayer I allude to in the title: "All praise, o my God, be to Thee..." It's not that we don't deserve any credit, but too often we take too much credit. (I like that line. Thanks be to whichever member of the Concourse on High plunked it down in my brain.)

It often seems to me that Hand of the Cause, George Townshend, was really inspired when he wrote that prayer that, mistakenly, begins "Make of me a hollow reed". Oh, for what it is worth, he wrote the prayer in the last section of one his wonderful books (The Mission of Baha'u'llah, I think), but it was only later that someone else added that inspirational first line, to which it is now eternally linked. At the end of that prayer, he said, "Now I have no other duty than to equip myself for Thy service. With eagerness and patience, with hope and gratitude I bend to the task of the hour lest when Thy call to battle comes I be found unready."

That, to me, really sums it up. Our job is to train ourselves for service. Then, once we have done our job, we are ready to be used by that divine Hand (God, not George). Oh, and we should never forget that when it comes to service, especially military-type service, it is the commanders that truly deserve, and get, the credit. Occasionally a soldier may get a commendation, but it still the commander that gets the credit for the ultimate victory.

Now, if anyone praises me for this article, they don't get any halibut next year. After all, God deserves the credit for anything reasonable I may have said. Anything silly? Well, that's me.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Age of Babel

I don't know why, but I've been thinking about the Tower of Babel recently. Perhaps it's because I was recently asked if I spoke another language other than English. I said I did. "The native language of Jibr." Otherwise known as Jibberish.

Anyways, the Tower has come into my mind, and there it sits. So, whenever anything like that happens, I look into it. And you know what? It's a very simple story in the Bible.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar (Babylon) and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

There are a few things that stand out for me, reading this now for the first time in a long time. To start, there is the obvious mention of only a single language. Then there is the idea that humanity, as a body, moved eastward. Next comes the idea that they were technologically advanced, because they used bricks and tar. Then, of course, there is the pride involved in wanting to make a name for oneself.Then there is the interesting thing about being able to accomplish anything if we can but communicate, and God not wanting us to do that at that time.

So, here we have the entire human race, as a body, moving along through history, on a single path, if you will. We then encounter Babel, which literally means "the Gate of God". We pass through this gate and, on the other side, begin moving along many language paths. Got it? One path going in; many paths going out.

Now, thousands of years later we, once again, encounter the Gate of God, the Bab, and He sets us on the path towards a single language again.

It is as if we had to take these many paths in order to learn what we could, for each language has its own peculiar perspective of the world. Only with so many perspectives could we begin to get a three dimensional view of the world around us. With only a single view everything appears to be flat. But now that we have this understanding, we seem to be allowed to speak a common tongue again. If we took the "easy" route, and never had multiple languages, then we would never have had this understanding.

They were technologically advanced for the time, using bricks instead of stone, and tar instead of regular old mortar.

We are technologically advanced, as is evidenced by me writing these ideas on a blog, on the internet, readable from pretty much anywhere in the world. Just look at the map on the bottom of the page, if you don't believe me. Pretty awesome, no? The technology, not the map.

And what happens now? Another warning, but this time, instead of a toppling tower, something far more futuristic. Baha'u'llah, in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, says, "They have desired to ascend unto that state which the Lord hath ordained to be above their stations... Whereupon the burning meteor cast them out from them that abide in the Kingdom of His Presence."

It seems that every time we forget humility, we get into trouble. Whether it is the Tower of Babel, or the fall of Rome, humility would have gone a long way to saving us. Every time there is a great revolution of human endeavour, a lack of humility seems to be a major factor. In Rome, the Emperor thought he was a God, and treated the people appropriately. And while they may not have revolted against him, it did weaken their sense of endeavour and innovation. They seemed to expect others to obey him, and were seemingly unprepared for resistance. In France, and many other countries, the royalty and upper classes thought they were somehow entitled to greater luxury, and when things got bad enough for the average person, they revolted. If those in power had been grateful for the gifts they had, been thankful to those under them, then they would likely still be in power today.

Today we can see something similar brewing, with the incredible economic disparity that is growing around the world. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy, or working hard and earning a higher salary. When that comes at the expense of other's well-being, however, there is a problem. Nobody should be so wealthy that it forces another to starve. And today, there are numerous people using the laws and culture to build themselves up as somehow more worthy, or deserving of these bounties. They are passing more laws to ease the grabbing of more power and wealth, heedless of those who are suffering. Humility and gratitude would go a long way to curbing that unhealthy situation. Unfortunately, as that doesn't seem to be happening, and the problems appear to be multiplying, it seems that we will need to go through this lesson once again.

But we shouldn't despair. Hope is there, on the horizon.

Today, our primary concern seems to be "profit", and material profit, at that. Just think how often that cause is cited in the news. And with that as our primary concern our laws, the way we educate our children, the focus of the sciences all bend to that pathetic and destructive goal. As but one example, of which there are many, it is currently better for me tax-wise to give money to Wall Street than to charity. I will get a bigger credit on tax refund. The education system is also filled with examples of this, unfortunately.

Soon, though, this endless desire for more will no longer be our goal. We will, sadly, come to such a state that we will recognize its cancerous-like power, and be forced to change our primary concern. Perhaps we will choose unity, or the well-being of each individual on the planet. And then our laws will bend to that.

As we begin to care for each other more, as we begin to educate our children to more concerned for each other, as we begin to enact laws that look after the well-being of the masses instead of the corporados, then we will find new and more innovative ways to look after each other.

One thing that will go a long way to ensuring the safety of all will be when we can all communicate with each other. One world language. A language that we would all learn, in addition to our mother tongue.

And then, when we can all communicate, God made a very interesting statement way back there in the story of Babel: "Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How to Study a Prayer

Over the past few years, I feel like I have posted on a number of topics and looked at a variety of excerpts from the Baha'i Writings. And while I began with a list of things that I wanted to accomplish with this blog, such as emphasize the importance of the Administrative Order, I quickly exhausted my list. The request was put out for your favorite quotes or prayers and I looked at each and every one, and tried to write a bit on all of them, but I may have missed one or two in the backlog.

It was only recently that I received a short comment saying, "Now I know why to study a prayer, but my question is how?" (I'm paraphrasing, but it's fairly close.)

What a great question. "How do I study a prayer?" And as with any great question out there, I can answer it both truthfully and honestly: "I don't know."

You see, to me that question implies that there is a particular method that we need to uncover and then we will know all that we need to know about studying the prayers of this great faith of ours. Of course, I'm sure that is not what was meant by the one asking the question, but that is what I read in it.

And so, to begin an exploration of studying a prayer, I feel that we must begin by recognizing that there is no one way in which to do it. Remember, Baha'u'llah said that His Writings were like an ocean. How do we study an ocean? We can look at single drop of the water under a microscope, or we can map out the currents that move over many thousands of miles. We can examine the various fish that swim along the surface waters, or we can dive deep within it and explore the mysterious and sometimes monstrous creatures that lie hid in its depths. We can find a warm sandy beach on one of its shores and lie down in the hot sun with our eyes closed and listen to the meditative sound of the waves, or we can make the trek along its icy polar shores studying the manner in which the glaciers form, fracture or reflect the light.

The possibilities open to us for this exploration are so numerous as to nearly defy description.

In some ways it reminds me of attempting to know God.

As we are aware, we can never truly know God. He is so far beyond our understanding that even Baha'u'llah seems to balk at attempting to describe Him. We only need to look through Prayers and Meditations to get a glimpse of that. And yet there are still things that we can know about God. For example, we know that He loves us, which is why we have been sent so many Messengers to help guide and educate us. We also know that God is not a "He", for the would imply a duality that cannot be ascribed to God.

So while it may not be possible to know everything there is to know about the Ocean that is Baha'u'llah's Writings, there are certain things that we can begin to understand about them. And the more that we learn about one aspect of them, the more we begin to understand about the whole.

Also, while there may not be a single answer to "How do we study a prayer", it is a great injustice to the one asking to merely brush it off by saying something as useless as "Any way you want".

So let's take a look at a few ways in which we can study a prayer, keeping in mind that this list will not be exhaustive, although it may become exhausting.

One of the ways in which I study a prayer is a method I learned in English classes in both high school and university. I look at the opening words and see how they foreshadow the entire prayer. In the case of Baha'u'llah's Writings, the opening words tend to be an invocation of God through one or more of His attributes. And these attributes, in my own personal (non-authoritative) opinion are a reflection of those very attributes within us. In other words, if God is the All-Knowing, it means that we have a bit of knowledge. If God is the All-Merciful, then we can show some mercy. Whatever God is in the capital, we are in the lower case. Given this, I believe that the very attributes Baha'u'llah uses in any of His prayers are the very same attributes that we need to cultivate in order to help in the fulfillment of that prayer. For more on this, you can click here and see how it is applied in a study of the Long Obligatory Prayer. Of course, this is not limited to those attributes mentioned in the very beginning of a prayer, but can be used whenever we run across an attribute of God in the Writings.

Another method of study would be to look at themes, such as the development of verbs used in a prayer. For example, in the Tablet of Ahmad, the first paragraph contains the verbs "proclaiming", "calling", "informing", and "guiding". Proclaiming is done over a great distance. You call to someone across the room. You can inform someone standing next to you. And guidance is from within. With each of these verbs, Baha'u'llah is bringing us closer and closer. You can click here to see a little more about that in the Tablet of Ahmad, or here in a glance at the prayer that begins "Create in me a pure heart..." In the second example, I noticed that there was a repetition of style within the prayer itself and merely pulled out the pieces to look at them in order.

Of course, another example of themes would be to look at how a theme, say of nature, is developed within a piece of the Writings. In a piece on consultation, the Master uses some aspects of nature to help make His point. My wife and I explored this in our initial studies of the Faith together, and you can read about that here. In essence, the section we looked at was, "they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden". Marielle noticed that they could be divided into couplets, the first being references to water, the second two referring to light, and the third pair to plants. Each couplet also moves from micro to macro.

Another method is to look at a single phrase at a time, as I did when looking at the prayer that includes "Unite the hearts of Thy servants..." (click here for that one). What really stood out for me with this prayer was the realization that it began and ended with the heart.

I could go on and on about the various ways in which we can study a prayer, but really the point is that it is endless. No matter how many ways we may find to study a prayer, there are always more ways to do it.

And you know what? I would love to hear about some your explorations in the Writings.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Happy Holidays?

Well, my holiday sales season is just about over, which means that I finally get a chance to get back to my work here. As you may know, I make my living as a jeweler / artist, in the medium of chain-mail. It's a strange way to make a living, but hey, I like it.

Anyways, I recently had my second to last show for the season, and it was my big one. Huge venue, large booth, tons of people (but not much money this year which kind of sucked), and many, many people wishing me a happy holidays.

Thus it begins: ye merry olde "generic holiday of your choice" season.

But wait a minute. This isn't a generic holiday season. It is a very specific one, with a long history, and rich with meaning. While there are a few different traditions that have celebrations at this time, though not all do. And it is generally considered the Christmas season at this time, in this culture, because that is the predominant faith here.

So why do many of us wish each other a happy holiday? Why not a merry Christmas?

Many people claim that it is somehow showing respect to those who are not Christian.

Really? How?

You see, as far as I can tell, we live in a very diverse community, filled with people from all sorts of backgrounds, each with their own rich heritage, each worthy of celebration.

Rather than wishing someone a nameless "holiday" greeting, why not wish them a merry Christmas? Or a happy Chanukkah? Or a joyous Ramadan? Why should we strip away the diversity of faiths out there and try to wish everyone a non-denominational, meaningless holiday greeting? If we want to celebrate diversity, we must begin by acknowledging it.

The flip-side of this is that some people feel they may inadvertently insult another person by wishing them a merry Christmas, or whatever their particular holiday greeting may be. They especially try to lay this burden on immigrants, who may not be Christian. But you know what? I have never heard an immigrant say that they are insulted by someone saying "Merry Christmas". In fact, I have heard many say that they actually feel hurt that others think a joyous well-wishing would somehow insult them. Strange, isn't it?

When someone wishes me merry Christmas, I smile. They have just wished me well, from a point of joy in their own heart. How can I not appreciate this? And why would I possibly want to deny them this? Why should they have to hide their faith when wishing me joy?

This is not a season for quietly hiding in our corners, afraid that we may insult another. It is a time for exuberance. It is a time for celebration. It is a time for getting out there and overcoming the cold, dark onset of winter and reminding each other that we are both loved and loving.

So let others wish us a boisterous Bodhi day, or a wild Diwali, or a bountiful birthday of Guru Nanak, or a raucous Ridvan. Let us celebrate their joy with them.

In fact, if we want to wish someone a happy holiday, let us do it year-round, for it seems that every week has a holiday in it, if we only look hard enough.