Monday, September 10, 2018

God's Finger

Every now and then I love to look up a single word in the Writings and see what comes of it. This time it was the result of something my mother-in-law said.

We were reading "Words of Wisdom", which is found in Tablets of Baha'u'llah. You see, dear Reader, she loves Baha'u'llah and His Writings, but is not a registered Baha'i. She is from Quebec and her primary language is French, so she has a difficult time with the English, and has said that hearing me read it aloud makes it easier for her to understand.

So there we were reading Words of Wisdom when we ran across the part where He says, "The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed."

And in her delightful Quebecois accent, she piped in "Oh, shoot, that is a funny finger."

My first thought, and I'm sure I'll hear from a Counsellor about it at some point, was "Well, now I know which finger it was."

Well, no matter which one it may have been, it has gotten me to look up "finger" in the Writings.

Now it may just be me, but I have often wondered about these fingers in the Writings, and their relation to the Hands of the Cause of God. All right. Maybe I haven't. I mean, there is a difference between them, for one refers to the finger of God, and the other to the Hands of His Cause. And as Hand of the Cause, William Sears, said, the Hands of the Cause "carry out the work and guidance from the head and heart of the Faith in its World Centre in the Holy Land."

But even then, what is it about fingers? Why are there no references to the toes of God? or His ankle? How about His kneecaps?

Nope. We're stuck with the fingers, and can only imagine the numerous jokes that can be made about them, especially in relation to His nose, which, coincidentally, is also not mentioned in the Writings.

Hey, that reminds me of something I asked my son when he was about 5. Why are gorillas nostrils so big? Because they have big fingers.

Anyways, back to the Writings.

Normally when I look up a word in the Writings, I am astonished at the consistency in its use. But for some reason, not in this case. Ate first glance, it appears to be all over the place. Here are a few examples of its use:
  • Make me, then, O my God, content with that which the finger of Thy decree hath traced.
  • The veils have, verily, been rent asunder by the finger of the will of thy Lord, the Strong, the All-Subduing, the All-Powerful.
  • Take heed lest anything deter thee from extolling the greatness of this Day -- the Day whereon the Finger of majesty and power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.
  • This He hath accomplished through the agency of but one Letter of His Word, revealed by His Pen -- a Pen moved by His directing Finger -- His Finger itself sustained by the power of God's Truth.

So far we have the finger of His decree, the finger of the will of our Lord, the finger of majesty and power (which doubles as a bottle opener), and the pen-directing finger. (I am definitely going to hear from a Counsellor on this one.) (And I guess I really should take heed, for this is not really extolling the greatness of this day, but, hey, I'm working on it.) (And I guess it's a good thing that I don't have to get this reviewed by a committee, so sayeth my wife.)

But really, my favorite finger quote has to be:
  • The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

To be clear, though, this is not the same type of finger as those above. This finger is more like Baha'u'llah's personal finger, in a metaphorical sense, getting a feel of what is happening around Him. It is a demonstration of the care and attention He brings to His awareness of the state of the world.

It is quite different from the Bab, when He says the following:
  • I am the Mystic Fane which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendour. I am the Flame of that supernal Light that glowed upon Sinai in the gladsome Spot, and lay concealed in the midst of the Burning Bush.

You see, despite all the jokes above, there are two different types of references to fingers here, as far as I can tell. The one refers to some action, often in the movement generated by the Will of God, and the other is in perceptual awareness. And while these may seem very different, I suspect they are more linked than I would first guess.

It is interesting to compare these two different descriptions of fingers with how we use them, fingers, that is. We seem to use our fingers most often to touch something. Once we have felt it, then we decide to act upon what it is that we sense. We often have to detect something, feel it, think about it, plan a course of action, and then take the steps necessary for that action to occur. But here, it is as if God feels something, like the doctor using his finger to check the patient's pulse, and that very action of feeling results in the necessary action being taken, the exertion of that divine Will.

In that first quote we are asked to be content with God's Will, for that finger, I suspect, through merely touching something, has outlined the best course of action that can be taken.

We are reminded that there are veils between us and God, but that the very finger of God has torn them all asunder. It doesn't take a lot, though, just His finger. Those veils that grievously hindered us from recognizing God, that barred us from so much, are simply swept away with only a single finger. Those thick clouds that barred our way, that prevented the sunshine from illuminating us, are dissipated by a mere brushing of that fingertip. This gives further emphasis to the attributes that are mentioned there, those of the Strong, the All-Subduing, the All-Powerful.

That third quote reminds us that this same finger, this tiny part of the incredible immensity that is God, has opened the seal, mentioned by Muhammad, allowing the Wine of Reunion to pour forth, enabling all who come near to drink of the astonishing beverage that is within.

And in that fourth quote, when we think of all that has been accomplished by the Pen of Baha'u'llah we are reminded that this pen is moved by the Finger of God, sustained by the power of God's Truth, that ultimate reality of all that is in creation.

What do I get out of all this? First, I get a far better appreciation of just how much greater than us God is. I also come away with a better understanding of how our awareness of God has developed over the millennia. When we look back at the early stories of creation, we see that God really had to work to do it. He spoke. He forged. He moved things around with His body. And He even had to rest afterward. But here, so much is accomplished with but a movement of His finger.

When I compare a single finger of mine with my entire body, I realize how little of me is contained in that finger. And when I look at what God has done with His finger, I can only sit here in awe of how truly awesome He must be.

You also have to understand that I am a craftsman, an artist. I work with my hands all day. My fingers are the very source of my livelihood. If there is any part of my body that I am most careful with, it is my fingers. And yet, when I read these quotes, I realize how limited my fingers really are. They are not versatile at all.

God, on the other hand, no pun intended, has extremely versatile fingers, according to these quotes. They can do everything from tearing aside those veils to lighting a candle, which, in some sense, may actually be related, too. Perhaps that is how He removed those veils, by burning them away. There are certainly enough quotes about that. He can use it as a bottle opener, a conductor's baton, a lighter: the list goes on.

But in the end, reading these quotes makes me even more amazed at just what it is that God and Baha'u'llah have accomplished. And all this with but a single finger.

Hmmm. I wonder if it's like a Swiss army finger. No. Never mind. I'm not going there.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Shoghi and Shoghi

You may have noticed that I talk about my son a lot. It's because he is very dear to my heart, and such an important part of my life. After all, "When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved." And really, is there any greater love than that of a parent for their child? Well, I mean besides their spouse, or God, or the Manifestation... You get the idea.

Anyways, Shoghi, my son, began school again today. When he came home, I suggested that we spend a bit of time together working on a few things. First of all, we looked at polynomials, since I know he will be doing them later this year. We only worked on that for about 10 minutes, but he got the concept really quickly. Multiplication of them? No prob. Factoring? Easy-peasy. He just needs practice, and I think he'll ace the unit.

The second thing we did was based on a comment he made earlier this week. He said that it was taking him some time to read a book he was supposed to finish earlier this summer because he was having trouble remembering the story. Now this is a very easy book, quite funny, very enjoyable. It should have been no trouble at all. So why the difficulty? Simple. It was written in British English, and although he is fluent in English, we live in Canada. Not quite the same. And besides that, he goes to school in French.

Underlying problem? Not understanding some of the words. Solution? Well, first of all, ensuring he's using a dictionary. After all, words like "cowl" and "horticulture" are really not all that common today. But secondly, learn to read Shoghi Effendi.

Aha! I bet you were wondering, dear Reader, what this had to do with the Faith. Well, there it is, not just that quote up above.

And so, today, at age thirteen, he began to read "The World Order of Baha'u'llah". We spent thirty minutes on the first paragraph. His tenacity, a word he just learned while reading it, was astounding. It was very impressive.

But just how did we read it, study it? Great question. Thanks for asking.

To start, I gave him a bit of background. I told him of how Shoghi Effendi had a different style of leadership from 'Abdu'l-Baha, and how this offended some people. There were some, you see, who liked the loosey-goosey style of the Master: generally allowing the Faith to grow at a reasonable pace, answering the questions of the believers and admirers, moving the groups of believers all over the world into a global community that was primarily global in name only at the time. It took the incredible skill of Shoghi Effendi to forge this nascent community into a true pattern of community based on the Writings and teachings of the Faith, a community which we are just beginning to see emerge after nearly a century.

We often forget that although there was an awareness of the laws in the West at the time of the Master, it wasn't really until the time of the Guardian that we began to see a firmer application of these laws. It was the Guardian that took the various and disparate (look it up if you don't know) administrative groups around the world and forged them all into the coherent Assemblies we know and love today.

There was one person in particular who did not like the direction that the Guardian was moving us, and she was not quiet about it. This caused such consternation that the National Assembly of the US and Canada felt they needed to write Shoghi Effendi for guidance. As you can imagine, they clearly expressed the issue, their concerns, her concerns and arguments, and all that was going on. They were, no doubt, very apprehensive, especially after the debacle of Abraham Kheiralla a couple of decades earlier. Again, if you are not aware of him, or Ruth White, who is the one I am talking about here, look it up.

In this relatively short letter, written in 1930, Shoghi Effendi begins with a single paragraph that reframes the entire issue. We looked at it one sentence at a time, as I guided him on how to edit the sentences down in order to extract the pith, underlining those words or phrases that were the very essence of the sentences. From there, we re-read the underlining, and then the entire sentence once more. I explained that by doing so, he would gain a far greater understanding of what the Guardian was saying, while at the same time would help him develop patterns of thought that would allow him to retain more of what he read.

So, without further ado, here is the first sentence of that seminal document, "The World Order of Baha'u'llah".

I have been acquainted by the perusal of your latest communications with the nature of the doubts that have been publicly expressed, by one who is wholly misinformed as to the true precepts of the Cause, regarding the validity of institutions that stand inextricably interwoven with the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

Whew. What a sentence. To start, he had questions on three words: perusal, inextricably, and interwoven. Et voila! We got out the dictionary.

Perusal, as you know, means to read in depth, with great attention to detail. Shoghi Effendi did not take this communication from the National Assembly lightly. Next, inextricably means that it is impossible to separate. Interwoven means that it is blended closely together, woven like the threads of a fabric. In other words, the institutions are an integral and inseparable part of the Faith.

But it is still a long sentence, and not very easy to figure out what he is talking about. So let's get out the trimming shears and do a quick bit of editing. What is the main part of the sentence?

I have been acquainted... with the nature of the doubts... regarding the validity of (the) institutions...
Everything else in that sentence supports, clarifies and explains these few words.

By re-reading this extract, and then going back and reading the entire sentence again, it made far more sense to him, and he was easily able to understand what the Guardian was saying. Ok, maybe not easily, but he was able to understand.

Whose doubts? Ruth White's. Which institutions? The newly described Baha'i institutions. Easy? Well, easier.

Looking at the second sentence, it reads:

Not that I for a moment view such faint misgivings in the light of an open challenge to the structure that embodies the Faith, nor is it because I question in the least the unyielding tenacity of the faith of the American believers, if I venture to dwell upon what seems to me appropriate observations at the present stage of the evolution of our beloved Cause.
Ok. That's a bit more convoluted. There are three parts to this sentence, and we tackled them one at a time. It basically explains why he is writing this letter. He is not writing it because he sees her doubts as a real challenge to the Faith, nor because he questions the firmness of the American friends, but rather because he sees it as an opportunity to share some observations.

Or as he says, "Not that I... view such faint misgivings...(as) an open challenge..., nor is it because I question... the American believers, ...(that) I... dwell upon... appropriate observations..."

Of course, as we read this, he wondered what "tenacity" meant. Gripping firmly, holding tightly. Now it made a lot more sense to him.

So, looking at those first two sentences, in abbreviated form, we read "I have been acquainted... with the nature of the doubts... regarding the validity of (the) institutions... Not that I... view such faint misgivings...(as) an open challenge..., nor is it because I question... the American believers, ...(that) I... dwell upon... appropriate observations..."

The rest of the paragraph we dealt with in the same manner, one sentence at a time. We looked at words he didn't know, or at least I expected we would, but his knowledge of French helped him figure out all the rest of the words. We broke it down to its essence, and underlined the main parts, allowing us to read the main thought more clearly.

To start, here are the last three sentences, all at once:

I am indeed inclined to welcome these expressed apprehensions inasmuch as they afford me an opportunity to familiarize the elected representatives of the believers with the origin and the character of the institutions which stand at the very basis of the World Order ushered in by Bahá’u’lláh. We should feel truly thankful for such futile attempts to undermine our beloved Faith—attempts that protrude their ugly face from time to time, seem for a while able to create a breach in the ranks of the faithful, recede finally into the obscurity of oblivion, and are thought of no more. Such incidents we should regard as the interpositions of Providence, designed to fortify our faith, to clarify our vision, and to deepen our understanding of the essentials of His Divine Revelation.

What we came up with was, as edited, "I... welcome these... apprehensions... as they afford me an opportunity to familiarize... the believers with the origin and the character of the institutions... We should feel... thankful for such futile attempts to undermine our beloved Faith... Such incidents... fortify our faith, ...clarify our vision, and ...deepen our understanding..."

And then, after reading the edited version, my son read the entire paragraph again, and had no trouble at all understanding what the Guardian was saying.

Dear Reader, when I first became a Baha'i, I had other Baha'is tell me not to bother reading Shoghi Effendi, as he was "too difficult". Over the years I have heard some Baha'is tell me not to give Shoghi Effendi to new believers, as he is too overwhelming to try and read. I have even been told by a few earnest and sincere friends that I should not burden my son with the writings of the Guardian until he is much older.

But honestly, I cannot understand this.

Yes, Shoghi Effendi is difficult. I made no bones about it to my son. Shoghi Effendi is, at times, very difficult to read. But rather than putting him aside, we should educate ourselves to learn how to read him. By doing so we not only enrich our understanding of the writings of the Faith, but we also train ourselves to a style of excellence that will resonate throughout everything else we do.

And that, dear Reader, will undoubtedly help my son in his ability to retain more of what he reads in other areas.