Monday, January 20, 2014

A New Day

"Why does the Baha'i day begin at sunset? Why not midnight? Or sunrise?"

While it would be easy to say that it just is because Baha'u'llah said so, I truly believe that everything within the Faith is far more profound than that.

And what perfect timing for the question. I'm just reading a book called "Time and the Baha'i Era" by Gerald Keil, and this is exactly the sort of question that seems to get addressed in this book. But, to be honest, the first 70 pages or so are an intensely scientific and historical discussion about the various mathematical and... uhm... historical stuffs involved in figuring out a calendar system. And while this is fascinating to some, it can get overwhelming or tedious for others. But trust me, it is well worth it. This is a book I highly recommend.

Anyways, back to the question. Why does the day begin at sunset?

Well, to start, taking a tactic from this book, let's ask ourselves why the day in our culture begins at midnight. Basically there are four distinct times that we can use to begin a day: midnight, noon, sunrise and sunset. Midnight is useful in that it allows us to change a date when most of us are asleep. But the problem is how do we calculate midnight? Without a clock, this is a far more difficult thing than I had ever considered. I mean, it's a chore, and dang near impossible. So unless you want to base your system on a man-made mechanical device, midnight ain't all that great an option. (Ok. If you really want to, you can take a very, very long string, tie it to a post and begin walking just as the sun sets. If you keep a perfectly even pace, then you can mark the string when the sun rises. Cut the string in half, wait a year, and walk again at exactly the same pace on exactly the same day the following year and when you get halfway, you'll know it's midnight.) (Never mind.)

So let's turn to noon for a moment. It is not all that difficult to calculate noon. You only need to measure the shadow of a stick and figure out when it begins to change direction. But without a clock, how can you easily calculate midnight? While noon is far easier, it has the downside of changing the date in the middle of the time when most of us are awake, so that is kind of not a good option.

Really, the only reasonable choices, if you want to base your system on some sort of natural phenomenon, are sunrise and sunset. And while the obvious problem is that sunrise and sunset change time each day, or are just absent in the polar regions, they have the advantage of being evident to the casual observer. And the changing time thing can be easily side-stepped by just ignoring it. In other words, have a clock that is not tied to the date (which is what Baha'u'llah has done).

So, sunrise? Reasonable, but sunset has far more interesting implications. And what are those implications? Well, let's take a look.

The Baha'i Faith is nothing if not optimistic. And everything within the Faith revolves around God. God, as you know, can be symbolized by the sun. So it only makes sense that everything within the Baha'i calendar is based upon the sun.

With me so far?

Well, the entire calendar system is solar based. Every other calendar system out there has some tie to the moon, usually through the months, but even some base their years on the moon. But not the Baha'i calendar. Our months, as you know, are 19 days long, which has no basis on anything except perhaps math (19 x 19, or 361, is the closet perfect square to 365) or the numerical values of some letters in Arabic (such as the word "vahid", or unity, totals 19). (In the tarot cards, the 19th card in the major arcana is also the sun, so it works there, too.)

So if the whole system is based on the sun, which is a symbol for God, then we can either say that we begin with the light and move towards the darkness of the evening, or we can begin in the dark and move towards the light. Guess which one it is?

So why sunset? Because the day is just like our life. We begin in the darkness of ignorance, and move gradually towards the light of certitude. (I could throw in all sorts of quotes and other analogies here, but I don't want to bore you.)

When I searched the Writings for such phrases as "the light of", and thought about them in terms of the day, this simple calendar system of ours became even more profound than I first thought.

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