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.

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