Thursday, July 4, 2019

A True Teacher

"Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children...", writes 'Abdu'l-Baha. "It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it."

What, I have often wondered, makes a good teacher? And why is it so difficult? I have taught children's classes and have experienced many ups and downs, joys and heartaches. It has been the most rewarding of all things, and at times the most painful of all things.

And you know what, dear Reader? I wouldn't miss it for anything. The greater the pain, they say, the greater the joy. The joy of teaching children is one of the greatest joys imaginable.

So what is it that I have learned?

Well, let me give you a story by way of example.

There was once a teacher by the name of Shaykh Abid. He was a gentle soul, learned and wise.

One day, a man enrolled his 6-year old nephew in Shaykh Abid's school. During one of the lessons, the students were asked to recite the opening words of the Qur'an. Now, you have to understand, this is not just some simple lesson like reading a few words off the page. These children spoke Persian, and the Qur'an is written in Arabic. While they could sound out the words, they probably had little or no idea what they meant. But like good Muslim children, they were expected to merely recite the sounds of the words.

This child, this 6-year old child, said that he would not recite them unless he was told what they meant.

Shaykh Abid, for some reason, pretended that he didn't know. It's possible that he was just tired and didn't want to explain, or perhaps he wanted to set an example for the children. He told the young boy that he himself didn't know what they meant, and so he may have been demonstrating that it was ok to recite them even if you didn't know their meaning.

Either way, whatever the reason, something special happened that day.

The young child said to his teacher, "I know what these words signify, by your leave, I will explain them." And so he did.

Shaykh Abid later recalled the incident, saying, "He spoke with such knowledge and fluency that I was struck with amazement. He expounded the meaning of ` Allah,' of ` Rahman,' and ` Rahim,' in terms such as I had neither read nor heard. The sweetness of His utterance still lingers in my memory."

This young child, as you probably know, was the Bab.

So what, you may wonder, is the lesson here for us today?

To me, it is a beautiful story showing us the wondrous gifts we open ourselves up to when we show humility as a teacher.

It would have been so easy for Shaykh Abid to recite the words in Arabic, and then add, "And they mean 'In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate'." So easy. So quick.

But he didn't.

When he declined telling the students what these words meant, for whatever reason, he opened the door for this student to do so. He could have told this student to be quiet and sit down, but he didn't. Like a good teacher, he encouraged this young Man. "Ok," I can hear him say, "let's hear what you think they mean."

By allowing the Bab to speak, even though He was only 6 years old, he demonstrated a humility that is worthy of any good teacher.

In return, he was given a priceless gift.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Journey of Prayers

The desert was, no doubt, hot and dry. And yet, it had to be crossed.

The Bab was on His way to Mecca with His beloved disciple, Quddus, and His servant, Mubarak. They were going to fulfill all the rites of Pilgrimage.

As with any journey across the desert at that time, they would start early in the morning, before the sun was even up, and then rest during the pounding heat of the day. Of course, throughout the day, they would also say their prayers, for the Bab truly understood the importance of prayer.

It was during this journey that the Bab revealed many beautiful prayers and writings, almost all of them transcribed by Quddus. Many of these were stored in a saddlebag that was likely carried at the side of the camel that He rode.

But one morning, as they were all saying their prayers, a man crept up quietly upon them and ran off with the saddlebag that had been left there.

Mubarak started to run after him, but the Bab quietly waved him back without interrupting His prayers.

Later, after the prayers had been said, the Bab told him that this was a great bounty, for this man would carry His writings deep into the desert, to places and people that would never receive them otherwise. "Grieve not, therefore, at his action," He said, "for this was decreed by God, the Ordainer, the Almighty."

There are many times in our life when things happen that we initially think are a catastrophe. It is as Baha'u'llah says, "Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God". Or like the story in the Valley of Knowledge, where the lover is chased by the night watchmen and only in the end, when he is united with his lover, praises them.

There are so many times when we can lament what occurs to us, but in retrospect see the great bounties that accrued because of those tests and trials.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A White Bird

'Abdu'l-Karim was a very interesting person.

He lived in Persia in the middle of the 19th century, and was passionate about his study of religion. He knew that if he wanted to know more about God and His Messengers, he would need to study for years and years. And so he did.

At this point I could talk about the great teachers he studied under, or the places he traveled in his search for more knowledge, but really, I can't. He didn't. Well, he did, but not quite as we would imagine.

He read a lot, and talked with many people about his passion, usually late into the night, but he only studied formally for a couple of years.

At the end of those few years, his teachers proclaimed him a mujtahid, a teacher of the Qur'an. As you can imagine, this was very sudden, for it normally took a lot longer than that to receive such an acclamation.

His family was thrilled, and wanted to celebrate this great achievement, but he asked them to wait, for he did not feel ready. He knew the wisdom that the mujtahids were expected to have, and he did not feel worthy. He knew that they were to have great insights into the wonders of the Book of God, and he did not feel that he had anything like that. He knew, deep in his heart, that he was not yet ready to receive such a title.

And so he did what he knew anyone should do when facing such questions like that in their heart: he prayed. He prayed for many hours, long into the night, and during that time he was given a vision. He saw a great man speaking to a large throng of people, giving them all wise counsel. When he turned to this man and began to walk towards him, he awoke.

Upon enquiry the next day, he learned that the man in his vision was Siyyid Kazim, in Karbila.

From there, as you can guess, he sought him out and became one of Siyyid Kazim's students. He studied with him in Karbila for some time, learned of the imminent appearance of the Promised One, and then returned to his home in Persia.

It was during this time, while he was back home, praying every night for guidance, that he received a second vision.

He saw a bird, pure as the snow, flying above his head. This bird landed on a tree near him and, in a beautiful, gentle voice, asked, "Are you seeking the Manifestation, O 'Abdu'l-Karim? Lo, the year sixty."

This vision thrilled him, and filled him with great joy, for the year sixty was only a few years away.

Over the following months, this vision continually filled his mind, and thrilled his heart.

Finally, a few years later, in the year 1260, he heard of the message of the Bab and hastened to Shiraz to meet Him. When the Bab saw him, He said, "Are you seeking the Manifestation, O 'Abdu'l-Karim?" And the voice, just in case there was any doubt, was that same sweet voice of the bird.

* * * * *

I love this story, not only for its simple fulfillment of promise, but for the humility of its main character.

'Abdu'l-Karim was, by any reckoning, a prodigy. He could easily have been full of himself, haughty with his own learning, proud of his accomplishments. He would, no doubt, have gathered a large following for himself, and become quite famous in his time.

But he was too honest for that.

He knew that he had not yet risen to his own standard of worth. He was aware of how little he knew, in comparison to what he felt he should know. He knew that the praise of his contemporaries was worth nothing if he did not feel worthy of that praise. More importantly, he knew that this praise should never sway his own opinion of himself.

This is such an important lesson for all of us.

When we are told to "know thyself", it is a very important statement to follow. We not only need to know ourselves, but we need to be honest with that knowledge, too. 'Abdu'l-Karim knew of his passion for religion, but was aware enough to know that he had not yet fulfilled his own personal expectations.

As we embark on our own quest for truth, there are those around us who may praise us for our wisdom or understanding, but only we will know how far we actually have to go.

And if we follow 'Abdu'l-Karim's example, and not allow the opinion of others to sway us, we may, just like him, discover treasures far greater than we ever imagined.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The War

Yesterday afternoon, while selling my work at a festival, an old friend came into my booth. I hadn't seen her in quite a few months. After a brief conversation about what she's been doing, and where she's moving, she asked me about my writing. Naturally, I told her about my latest project with this blog, showing the relevance of the stories about the early Babis, and began to tell her a little bit about Zaynab.

I could see that my friend had never heard of her, and so I began to tell the story, in brief.

I told her about the attacks on the Babis in Zanjan, and how they retreated to a fort in the middle of the city when they began getting persecuted. As you can imagine, being at a show, selling my wares, I didn't share too many details, but gave just the barest outline.

I told her about the military surrounding them, and how they were overwhelmed by something like 10 to 1 odds. They had swords, while the military had muskets and cannon. Naturally, all seemed hopeless. But as the army attacked, the valiant defenders would rush forth and repulse the attack. Time and again they drove the ruthless army back. And Zaynab, a young woman, wanted to lend her share of assistance.

This maiden cut off her long locks and disguised herself as a man. She picked up a sword and rushed to help defend the fort. Hurling herself at her enemies, shouting out the cry "Ya Sahibu'z-Zaman!", "O Thou Lord of the age", she fought with such valiant bravery that all were amazed.

Hujjat, the leader of this band, recognized her and called her to him to talk. This was when he recognized the Hand of God at play. And so he allowed her to continue to fight, encouraging her for over five months to help out the sore-tried defenders. He never assigned her to a particular post, but encouraged her to fight wherever she was needed. And so history finds her always in the thick of it, at the forefront of the turmoil that raged around her.

At this point, my friend's friend joined her and heard the end of this story, and I could see that her interest wasn't quite as strong. And so I said that I bet they wondered why this story might be relevant today.

Simple, really.

Women, and women in particular, are in a state of war. Amidst the old and decaying structures of our society, a new community of forward thinking individuals are coming together. They are the ones that recognize the importance of human rights, of women's rights, and they are building a new and better society for themselves. And now the attacks are coming.

All over the world these rights, which have been so hard won, are coming under assault.

And this is not just a metaphor. It really is a war. People are suffering. Many are being arrested. And even more are dying.

In recent days, down in the US, we have seen laws being passed that make women's rights a criminal activity. If a woman has an abortion, they say, they will be convicted of a felony. If someone helps them get that abortion, by either driving them or supporting them in any way, they, too, will be tried for a felony.

And you know what? A convicted felon is denied the right to vote.

This is not about the rights of the fetus. It is about denying women the right to have a safe place in their society. It is about stripping anyone who is forward thinking, and concerned about the rights of the human being, of their right to vote. You can easily see where this will lead, if it goes through, over the next few voting cycles.

This, by the way, is but a single example of the recent attacks on human rights, and especially women's rights, around the globe. It is not confined to a handful of States south of the border. It is a global resurgence of the forces of evil that are striving to maintain the old order of dominance.

And at that point, it seemed as if my friends were stunned.

Now is the time, I told them, that we all must arise and defend those people in that fort, no matter where the attacks arise. For it is a concentrated attack, and those inside are vastly outnumbered.

People are suffering.

People are dying.

And it is, quite simply, a war.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Small Gathering

"Would you be able to come and talk at my devotional gathering for, say, ten minutes?"

The request was not all that unusual, but still took me by surprise. After all, I tend to think of devotional gatherings as being for, well, prayer, not talks. And this is not a devotional gathering that I tend to go to often, mostly due to the timing, as opposed to anything else.

But the timing was good, and I am not one to say 'no' to some form of service if I am able to do it. So last night found my wife and I at a dear friend's home saying prayers with nearly a dozen people. It was truly joyous.

Before we left home, I went upstairs and said some prayers, desperately beseeching God for guidance. You may recall that one of my favorite prayers, which I have memorized, is "Oh God, HELP!" Last night, as per normal, help was given.

On the way there, Marielle asked me if I was ready, and I said that of course I was. It didn't mean that I knew what I would say, but just that the homework was done. I did, however, ask her to make sure that I asked a question at the end.

So there we were, at our friend's home, with guests arriving. And when the appointed hour struck, as they say, we were all warmly welcomed. We began with some prayers, going around in a circle, each either reading a prayer or saying one from our heart, or passing in silence, as we preferred.

Then it came my turn.

I briefly mentioned how Dorothy Baker trained herself to be a public speaker, how this sort of thing does not come naturally. I mentioned George Townshend and how in a prayer he wrote, he talked of preparing himself for when God called upon him. And I mentioned how 'Abdu'l-Baha would look at His audience and see what they needed to hear.

I then talked a bit about prayer and reflection, looking at the attributes of God mentioned within the prayer to see what it was we needed to work on to find the answer to our prayer. It was fascinating watching as different people visibly reacted with interest to each part of this 6 minute talk.

And then someone read the Tablet of Ahmad for the Baha'is of Iran, and we were asked to get some food.

This was when I reminded them that I had a question I wanted to ask.

"Marielle and I like to be in the habit of regularly reflecting on our actions. So how was tonight? How did you feel? How can we improve what we have done?"

And from there followed an absolutely beautiful 20 minute discussion.

The friends, not all of whom were Baha'i, talked about how they really love being immersed in the prayers. This, they said, is what they desperately need. Some said that they really appreciated the comments on the application of the attributes of God, and that this changed how they heard the Tablet of Ahmad. One person commented how they had never noticed that this Tablet, which was a command to Ahmad to go teach the Faith, ended with mercy and compassion, two attributes we need to develop not only towards others, but towards ourselves, too.

This seemingly simple question, posed to help us all learn to reflect on a regular basis, not only revealed some beautiful insights about the importance of these gatherings, but also carried us into the social portion of this gathering, continuing to talk deeply about spiritual issues.

Dear Reader, this, to me, turned out to be the pivotal moment of the entire evening.

Before this, it was a beautiful time of sharing prayers with like-minded souls. But by asking the friends to reflect and share how they felt, it became a meeting of greater unity. It became a conscious-raising moment when we all saw the importance of coming together to do this again. It moved it, for me at least, from a one-time event to a hopefully regular part of my life.

When you come together, whether it is for prayer or a study circle, a fireside or a cup of coffee with a friend, I would encourage you to reflect on it at the end. How was it? Should we do it again? How can we make it better? Was there something you would like to see changed? Take a moment and check in with all present.

Reflection does not have to be something that we only do once every three months as part of our cluster community life. It can be a part of every activity. It doesn't have to be long, but when we include it, we can learn so much that we may otherwise miss.

And I, for one, am really looking forward to praying with these friends again.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Crossroads

September 1848.

Mulla Husayn has agreed to leave Mashhad to go on a pilgrimage to Karbila. He had been detained by the Prince in Mashhad, and it was clear that to remain would have caused untold hardships for the friends. And so, he decided to quit the city and carry on his teaching elsewhere.

Due to the reverence that the Shi'ite Muslims hold for Karbila, it was only natural that he offer to make this pilgrimage, which was another way of politely saying that he would leave the country. But this pilgrimage was not to be. Destiny had in mind another Karbila for him.

After leaving the Prince, Mulla Husayn returned to his friends and informed them of the courtesy the Prince had extended him, as well as his own decision to make his way to Karbila.

While he was making his preparations to leave, a messenger arrived from the Bab, bearing a message that was to change the course of Babi history. The Bab bestowed His own green turban, the sign of His lineage as a descendant of Muhammad, upon Mulla Husayn, and told him to raise the Black Standard and lend his assistance to His beloved Quddus. The implications and nuances of this message are numerous, and would require a far longer story than this to explain even a small portion of them.

Suffice to say, Mulla Husayn went on his way, with the Black Standard before him, calling those who believed in the new Day to join him.

Before he left, the Prince offered him a sum of money to help pay for his pilgrimage, but Mulla Husayn asked that this money instead be given to the poor.

The captain of the artillery, 'Abdu-l-'Ali Khan, himself a believer, also offered to give whatever was needed for the journey. Mulla Husayn only accepted a horse and a sword, both of which he would carry into history with him.

They left Mashhad, riding through numerous towns, slowly increasing their numbers into the hundreds.

As they arrived at the village of Chashmih-'Ali, they came to a crossroads, one way leading to the capitol, Tehran, the other to Mazandaran. "We stand at the parting of the ways," Mulla Husayn proclaimed, "we shall await God's decree as to which direction we should take."

While many historic events were taking place elsewhere in the country, Mulla Husayn was camped under the shade of a tree. They camped for a while, with a guard continually on watch, and then, on a fateful day, a great wind arose. It was September of 1848, and that mighty wind snapped off a large branch of the tree under which he was camped.

"The tree of the sovereignty of Muhammad Shah has," Mulla Husayn remarked, "by the Will of God, been uprooted and hurled to the ground."

Three days later a messenger arrived on his way to Mashhad and gave them the news that the Shah had died.

The next morning, Mulla Husayn and his companions started out for Mazandaran, and their own Karbila.

* * * * *

I have always loved this tiny little detail of Mulla Husayn's story.

Karbila, as you likely know, is where Imam Huasyn, that great hero of the Islamic world, was martyred. It is so important in their history that the name "Karbila" has become a metaphor for the place where one is led by God to achieve a great destiny.

Here, we see a great trait of Mulla Husayn's as he awaits his sign from God, a sign that would eventually lead him to the site of his own martyrdom, his own Karbila.

There are many times in life when we have a decision to make. Like Mulla Husayn and his companions, we come to a crossroads. We can turn left, or we can turn right. Turning back is not an option.

Perhaps we have a choice between two job offers. One is higher paying, with better benefits, in a field we are passionate about. Obviously, we would choose this one.

Other times, the choice is not so clear.

It is at such times that we should pray, turning our whole attention towards God, seeking His guidance. And when we pray, after we have supplicated His direction, we should be sure to open our eyes and look for that sign. Sometimes it is clear, other times not so.

Sometimes that sign will lead us to great suffering, but perhaps that is what is needed for us to learn what we need.

Just this morning I was talking with my wife, and she mentioned how it was only when she suffered in a particular situation that she learned the importance of service to others. She was stuck in an awkward situation, being trapped in an airport for a few days, unable to enter the country, and unable to get a flight out. She could have panicked. She could have been angry. She easily could have broken down and begged others to help her. Instead, she looked around to see who she could offer assistance to while she waited for her plane.

Now, we're not just talking a few hours here. She knew that the next plane out was a few days away, and she had no access to money. Eating was going to be an issue. Finding a place to sleep was going to be a trial. She had a lot to worry about.

But she turned her attention to her fellow travelers and sought ways to help them, while waiting for a sign showing her what to do about her own situation.

At one point, she saw an old woman who was uncomfortable, and offered her sleeping bag as a cushion for her feet. Over and over she found ways to help others. They, in their turn, were able to help her get food and beverages, until she received her sign and was able to return home.

Mulla Husayn's patience is a great example to us all. His awareness of stopping to wait for that sign is an object lesson for all of us. And his insight into recognizing that sign when it occurred is also a lesson for us.

As I sat down to write this morning at the computer, I still had no idea what to say. I said a prayer in my heart for guidance, and my eyes fell on the book "Mulla Husayn" by Mehrabkhani. And it was as I saw this book that I remembered this little detail of his journey. That, to me, was my sign of what to tell today.

Over and over throughout life, when we look for them, we will see small signs such as this, helping us on our way, guiding us through our journey of life, sometimes leading us through trials and tribulations, but always on to our own high destiny.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

From a Humble Student

I want to go back to the story of Mulla Husayn.

We all know him as the first Letter of the Living, the first of those stalwart souls who recognized the Bab before He had even announced His station. We all remember his heroic deeds in the tragic battle at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. And some of us even recall those powerful words, penned by Baha'u'llah Himself in the Kitab-i-Iqan, referring to this great soul: "But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory." I've written a few stories about him already, but I want to share one more thought.

You may recall that Mulla Husayn was not in Karbila when his master, Siyyid Kazim passed away. He was in Persia. He had been sent there by Siyyid Kazim to win over the support of some of the most formidable mujtahids of the day, in particular Siyyid Muhammad-Baqir of Isfahan. This was no minor task, for this Siyyid was very learned, and extremely well-respected. To even get an audience with him would be a difficult task. Another disciple of Siyyid Kazim had volunteered to try to perform this task, but Siyyid Kazim had warned him, "Beware of touching the lion's tail. Belittle not the delicacy and difficulty of such a mission." He then turned to Mulla Husayn and pronounced him equal to this task.

Although accounts differ, we know that he spent between two and four years in Persia at this time, both in Isfahan and Masshad at the behest of his teacher, and also in various other cities as needed. We know, for example, that he spent some time in Shiraz, but no information about that time has come to light.

When he was in Isfahan, he was able to catch the eminent Siyyid's attention one afternoon, and in a series of debates in which the Siyyid questioned him about the more difficult aspects of Siyyid Kazim's and Shaykh Ahmad's teachings, he was able to win his complete allegiance. Of this meeting, that great teacher said, "I, who fondly imagined myself capable of confounding and silencing Siyyid Kazim-i-Rashti, realized, when I first met and conversed with him who claims to be only his humble disciple, how grievously I had erred in my judgment." The written testimony of this famous scholar likely opened many other doors for the young Mulla Husayn, who was only in his mid-twenties at the time.

So let's recap.

Mulla Husayn is in his mid-twenties, and he has just convinced some of the greatest religious scholars of Persia of the truth of these unusual teachings. He has spent more than half his life studying the teachings of Islam, and risen about as high as he can get, and he is still only a young man. There is a reason that many people thronged to the mosque in Shiraz when Mulla Husayn was giving his sermons during that time between when he first recognized the Bab and the arrival of the next Letters of the Living.

This was no ordinary scholar.

Now let's fast forward a short bit.

He has already proven himself to be the most learned of the Shaykhi school of thought. He has defeated the leading mujtahid's of Persia. And in the course of a single evening, really in just a few hours, he is completely won over to the cause of the Bab. In so short a time he has become totally subservient to an unschooled merchant six years his junior.

Jesus chose an uneducated fisherman to be His chief disciple, and used the illiterate to illumine the world. The Bab chose the most learned, the best educated, the recognizable leaders of His day to demonstrate His overwhelming majesty.

To me, there are many lessons in this story that are relevant to us today.

First is the extreme humility that Mulla Husayn showed. Although I didn't mention it above, when he first went to that Mujtahid in Isfahan, he was dressed simply, even covered in the dirt of the road. This was a far cry from the other students who were there, all dressed in their finery, showing off their wealth and station to each other. It was this simple demonstration of sincerity that first caught Muhammad-Baqir's attention. This humility is further demonstrated when he meets the Bab. Although he shows reluctance to accept Him at first, causing him regret for the rest of his life, he quickly submits to the greater wisdom of the Bab, a submission that is to last to his dying day.

We, too, should strive to demonstrate such humility.

Secondly, he showed sincerity, perseverance, commitment, and many other virtues. He strove to learn all he could about Islam, and put it into practice to the best of his ability.

We, too, should do all we can to better understand these great teachings. We should strive to put all these aspects of the teachings into practice in our daily life. Mulla Husayn did not know that it was his simple austerity that would first open the door, but he still lived it according to his understanding. We, too, do not know which aspect of the faith will open the hearts of those who are watching us.

Third, he showed great courage. When we consider his life, we often think of the courage he showed during that last great battle in Mazindaran, at the fort of Shaykh Tabarsi, but really, that courage is demonstrated here much earlier. He was fearless, yet courteous, in his presentation of what he felt to be the truth.

There is a lot more to this story, and much more that we can learn from it, but this is a good beginning.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Beautiful Conversation

One of my favorite things about this time of year is that I begin my summer season at the market again. I have the joy of being outdoors, of seeing old friends, and meeting hundreds of tourists every day from all parts of this beautiful planet of ours.

Of course, seeing old friends that I have not seen since last September generally means that they ask me what I've been doing. Yesterday, one friend of mine asked me what I'd been writing. Well, as you can imagine, that led to a conversation about this blog and the various stories I've been writing about the early Babis. It was at this point that she said, "Oh yeah, I remember you telling me a story last year like that."

The story I had told her was that of Anis and the execution of the Bab. The version I shared with her can be found here, and that blue text means that it's a link to the article on which you can click. While telling her this story last year, I talked about how it was relevant to her, even though she is not a Baha'i. And that, dear Reader, is what made it stick out in her memory.

"I remember it", she said, "because you made it relevant to my life." See? I told you.

Ok, now I have pause for a long-overdue aside here. A number of years ago I was reading the Dawn-Breakers to another friend of mine in a coffee shop. For the story of that time, you can click on this link here. Now one thing that I didn't mention in that article was that while reading it we talked a lot about how it was relevant to our lives. And that, dear Reader, is what made that story stand out to my other friend who repeated it practically verbatim. Oh, the story of the martyrdom of the Bab, not the whole of the Dawn-Breakers. (See what you miss when you don't click on the link? Now go back and read it.) (You did? Oh. Ok. Never mind.)

Back to the market and yesterday.

My friend came by, and I happen to know that she is very interested in history from non-Euro-centric perspectives. This is great. She's actually loaning me a book on history from a Middle Eastern perspective, and I can't wait to read it.

I told her a bit about Tahirih, Tahirih's poetry, how much she taught us, and how her conception of Adam's wish has really changed how I perceive Jewish and Christian history.

We spoke about books, various interests, and story-telling. We talked about our lives, and the various influences different things have on us. And we talked about going out for coffee, when I would not be distracted by my work at the market and other customers. And through it all, I touched on all sorts of other stories that I have shared here over the past six months.

Now this article is not exactly about one particular story of the early Babis, but as you can see, brings together a number of stories. And the over-arching theme of it all is how people actually remember these stories even more when we help show them how they are relevant.

You see, my friend that stopped by yesterday is interested in history, poetry, world issues, and women's issues. It was only natural that we talk about Tahirih. Now she wants to read Tahirih's poetry, so I have to remember to bring one her books with me some day.

All this, dear Reader, is just to say that this is the real reason why I am doing this. This blog, for me, is practice for when I meet real people in real life. The fact that I get to share it with you is just a bonus. Now I would really love to hear from you. How have these stories helped you talk about the Faith?

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Correct Definition

"That which we call a rose", Shakespeare famously wrote, "by any other word would smell as sweet".

I love this line, not only because of its reference to those striving to overcome prejudice, but also because it speaks of the importance of understanding the meaning of words and their definitions.

This may seem like a strange introduction to this idea, but I believe it is very important to be aware of definitions, especially if we are looking to the words to have particular effects.

You see, dear Reader, not only would a rose by any other name still smell sweet, but conversely any other flower that you may call a rose would not smell as sweet.

Someone else once famously asked, "If you call a dog's tail a leg, how many legs would it have?" And the answer, of course, is still four. Just calling the tail a leg does not make it a leg.

So what, you may wonder, does this have to do with the Baha'i Faith? Great question. Thanks for asking.

For years I have heard various friends talk about having "firesides" on buses, or in coffee shops. And even way back when I was first learning about the Faith, I was brought to the Baha'i Centre in my home town for "fireside" talks. But let's be clear: those first ones are not "firesides", they are teaching opportunities. And they are wonderful! Lots of us have been introduced to the Faith through just such wonderful conversations.

Those presentations I attended at the Baha'i Centre? Those were not firesides, either. They were public presentations. And just to be clear, I became Baha'i through those very presentations. So please don't misunderstand me. I am not putting them down. I am just clarifying what they are.

Why?

Well, in a letter written on behalf of the Guardian we read that "it has been found over the entire world that the most effective method of teaching the Faith is the fireside meeting in the home." And it is those last three words that, to me, are crucial: "in the home". If we wish to have the bounty accrued by the "most effective method of teaching the Faith", then we have to use that definition. If we don't, but still call it a "fireside", then we may experience disappointment when we do not see the expected results. After all, calling that dog's tail a leg does not mean that he can walk on it, nor does it mean that the tail is not a useful part of the animal.

Another aspect of this is that of expectation.

I have to been many gatherings that are billed as "devotional gatherings", and I go to them expecting to enjoy the great bounty of worship with others. It is something I look forward to, and eagerly anticipate. But most of the time, what I actually end up experiencing is a public talk, or a small study on some aspect of the Faith.

Again, please don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of public talks and studies. I love them. But when I am expecting to immerse myself in prayer, I feel let down, and mis-led.

While there are many examples of gatherings that are often mis-labeled, I think there are a few we should consider more carefully, with the ardent hope that we will be more effective in our collective work:

  • firesides and public talks
  • reflection gatherings and community gatherings
  • devotional gatherings that segue into a public talk

Once more, let me re-iterate that these are all good, but serve different purposes. And of course, this is all just my own opinion, but I truly feel it is good to be aware of what we are doing so that we can be more effective in our work.

A fireside is an opportunity for someone to ask their most heartfelt questions, while a public talk is an opportunity for someone to hear a presentation on a particular subject that may be of interest to them.

A reflection gathering is where the cluster reflects on its recently-completed cycle of activity, and considers plans for its next cycle. It requires the presentation and study of the statistics over the past few cycles, so that the movement of the cluster can be understood by the attendees.  They can then engage in careful reflection over the implication of those statistics. This results in plans for the upcoming cycle that are a natural extension of its current activities and growth, and consistent with the movement of the cluster over recent cycles. Of course, this is often filled with stories of recent activities, artistic presentations by different groups in the community, and joy. Lots of joy.

A community gathering is less formal. It can be pretty much anything at which the community comes together and enhances its own sense of being a community of loving and united people.

Finally, devotional gatherings are an opportunity for the friends to get together to worship their common creator in an atmosphere of loving unity. This is a great opportunity for galvanizing the service of the community into a more coherent whole. Of course, as the friends come together to pray, they also have the wonderful opportunity for studying together. Their hearts and minds are more open to receive the guidance that comes from a study of the creative Word. And so many communities take advantage of this opportunity. That's wonderful! But, as with most things, it comes with a caveat. Don't leave out the time for immersion in prayer. Without that, it is just not a devotional gathering, even if you do say a couple of prayers at the beginning. If it were, then our every Feast or Assembly meeting would be a devotional gathering. So remember, prayer is good, and we should use it to begin every meeting, but in a devotional gathering, we are more fully immersed in that wonderful ocean of prayer.

Remember, in the end, if we understand the use of a tool such as a fireside or a reflection meeting, we are in a far better position to use that tool to its best and desired effect.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

360 Degrees

When Abdu'l-Baha was about four years old, Tahirih was a guest in Baha'u'llah's home. At that time, a number of people visited the home to hear her and others speak.

"One day the great Siyyid Yaḥyá, surnamed Vaḥíd," wrote 'Abdu'l-Baha, "was present there. As he sat without, Ṭáhirih listened to him from behind the veil. I was then a child, and was sitting on her lap. With eloquence and fervor, Vaḥíd was discoursing on the signs and verses that bore witness to the advent of the new Manifestation. She suddenly interrupted him and, raising her voice, vehemently declared: 'O Yaḥyá! Let deeds, not words, testify to thy faith, if thou art a man of true learning. Cease idly repeating the traditions of the past, for the day of service, of steadfast action, is come. Now is the time to show forth the true signs of God, to rend asunder the veils of idle fancy, to promote the Word of God, and to sacrifice ourselves in His path. Let deeds, not words, be our adorning!'"

This simple story, of a young child sitting on her lap, while she re-directed the great Vahid's focus, has long captured my attention. Vahid, you may recall, was the distinguished scholar who was sent by the Shah himself to ascertain the truth of the Bab's cause. Needless to say, Vahid became a Babi, and was renowned for his great learning.

But here, Tahirih shines even brighter.

Why? What is it about this story that calls to me so strongly?

I think it is because she rightly turns his, and by extension our, attention from the past to the future. Vahid is looking backwards. She is looking forwards.

This thought comes further into focus when we consider the conference at Badasht.

It was at this historic gathering that the Babi community was showing its division most clearly. Those who saw it as a reformation of Islam were fronted by Quddus, while those who saw it as a complete break were spearheaded by Tahirih. And the whole conference was managed and reconciled by Baha'u'llah, probably with the knowledge and active participation by Quddus and Tahirih.

Without going into too much detail, Quddus and his group were looking backwards, while Tahirih and her group were looking forwards. But in the end, neither were what we would call accurate. Both had their valid points, and both were missing something important.

This issue, and the solution, are both apparent in the Kitab-i-Iqan. We need to be grounded in the past, with a firm understanding of where our roots lie in history, while constantly looking towards our movement into the future.

This is what we need to learn even more today.

We need to be fully aware of our history, no matter we live in the world. We need to understand the effects of colonization, how our various governments have come about, what our traditional values are, how our religious traditions have arisen, and so on. But we always need to keep in mind where we are heading.

When looking at our traditional values, we need to see if they bring us towards greater unity. When looking at the history of our country, we need to see if we are encouraging all those various members of that community, or are some being excluded based on race?

When examining the religious traditions of the past, we need to see what effect they were trying to achieve, and ask if they are still working towards that end. If so, great. If not, how can we change them to better achieve the spiritual effect desired?

This, to me, is one of the greatest teachings of the Baha'i Faith, and the underlying importance of the story of Tahirih: Instead of only looking backwards, or only looking forwards, we need to learn to get a full 360 degree view of the world around us.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

A Vision

For over six months now I have been writing these short summaries of the stories of the early Babis and how they are relevant to us today. You see, dear Reader, back in June of 2018 the Universal House of Justice wrote to the Baha'is of the world the following:
In keeping with the overall approach to this bicentenary, it will be important to reflect on the purpose of calling to mind these remarkable narratives, which possess a merit far beyond an exploration of history.

And as I read these words, and in fact this whole message, it occurred to me that many of us see these stories as mere history. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we relate them as mere history. Inspiring, to be sure, but still historical.

The question for me, as a story-teller, is how do I relate these stories so that they are obviously relevant to the reader or listener? How do I help them draw the parallels to their own life?

That, dear Reader, was the motivation for this exercise which has consumed so much of my blog for these past months.

As I was thinking about this, and what to write this week, I realized that I have not yet talked about Tahirih. Now, I'm not going to talk a lot about her right now. I'll save that for the next few weeks.

One thing I want to mention right now, though, is how she came to recognize the Bab: through a dream. She was already a follower, and ardent admirer, of Siyyid Kazim, and knew many of his disciples, including Mulla Husayn. In fact, she was in Karbila when Mulla Husayn set off on his historic journey to search for the Bab. She was there when all the other future Letters of the Living also left Karbila on their quest. In fact, it was during this time, when all the others had gone on a retreat to a mosque in Kufa to pray and meditate, following Mulla Husayn's example, that she, too, fasted by day, and held vigil by night.

One night, during this period of holy preparation, she was given a dream, or a vision. A "youth, a Siyyid, wearing a black cloak and a green turban, appeared to her in the heavens; he was standing in the air, reciting verses and praying with his hands upraised." When she woke from this vision, she wrote down one of the verses He had said, and later discovered that it was a line from the Qayyumu'l-Asma, that very book the Bab was to later reveal on the night of His declaration.

It was at this time that she gave a sealed letter to her brother-in-law, who was one of those disciples of Siyyid Kazim who retreated to the mosque in Kufa, and told him to give it to the Promised One. And in that letter, she declared her faith to Him. The rest, as they say, is history.

But, as I say, it's also relevant to today.

There are many times in our life when we will have a brief encounter with the mystic, the sacred. And this should be honoured. We should respect this, both in our own lives, and in others.

Of course, this does not mean that we should impose our own visions on others, nor insist that others act according to them. Not at all.

But I remember a few times when friends had dreams or visions of Baha'u'llah, or the Bab or even 'Abdu'l-Baha, and they wanted to become Baha'i. In one instance, this woman I knew prayed to be guided. She had previously prayed to be led to the "correct" church, and was surprised when no answer was forthcoming. Finally she changed her prayer to being guided to the truth, and we met the next morning.

She had never heard of the Faith before that, but knew immediately it was the answer to her prayer when she overheard me mention it to someone else. Of course we warmly welcomed her into the Faith. But to tell you the truth, there were a few Baha'is who wanted to delay her enrolment until she "knew more about it".

Why?

Why not let her enrol, and continue learning after she is a member of the community? We all continue learning after our enrolment, so why should she be any different?

This is one of the great lessons I have learned from the story of Tahirih.

When someone recognizes the Truth, don't stand in their way. Even though I came to the Faith through my head, through years of study, I have no expectation that others have to arrive at this door in the same way.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Stone

Of all the stories I have read about the early Babis, there is one that stands out beyond many others for me. I have long wondered about it, and what, exactly, it is that it teaches us.

The story is of Baha'u'llah, Who, at the time, was being led back to Tehran as a prisoner. There had just been an attempt on the life of the Shah by some misguided bozos... I mean, some foolish hot-headed Babis, who somehow thought that killing the Shah would be a good thing to do, even though Baha'u'llah Himself had counselled them against it. They were so foolish in their attempt that they used bird shot, which was totally incapable of killing the Shah, and merely wounded him. As I'm sure you know, dear Reader, the outcome of this ridiculous attempt was totally disastrous. It merely resulted in the unleashed fury of both the clergy and the government, which roused the public to a savage frenzy beyond what anyone thought possible.

When this storm broke, Baha'u'llah was a guest of the Grand Vizier, Mirza Aqa Khan, in the village of Afchih. He was staying in the home of one Ja'far Quli-Khan, when news of this attempted assassination reached Him. Both the Grand Vizier and Ja'far Quli-Khan wrote to Him encouraging Him to go into hiding until things blew over. "The Shah's mother", He was told, "is inflamed with anger. She is denouncing you openly before the court and people as the 'would-be murderer' of her son. She is also trying to involve Mirza Aqa Khan in this affair, and accuses him of being your accomplice."

Baha'u'llah, like the Bab before Him, courteously refused to go into hiding, and instead met His accusers straight on.

He rode into Niyavaran, and was invited to stay at His brother-in-law's home, near the Russian Legation, where he worked as a secretary. Being so close to an army camp, though, word got out that Baha'u'llah was there, and a warrant for His arrest was immediately ordered. The Russian minister refused to give Baha'u'llah over, and instead demanded that He be escorted to Mirza Aqa Khan's home, whose guest He still was. The minister insisted that a promise for Baha'u'llah's safety be guaranteed and said that he would hold Mirza Aqa Khan personally responsible. Nevertheless, with the clamor for His arrest, Mirza Aqa Khan meekly handed Baha'u'llah over to the Shah's officers.

He was bastinadoed, and stripped of His turban and outer garments, before being marched some fifteen kilometers to Tehran, and the infamous dungeon, the Black Pit.

It was at this time, as He entered the city, that an old woman, filled with rage, tried to catch up to them. She wanted to fling her stone at the Prisoner. Baha'u'llah, hearing her pleas with the guards to slow down, interceded on her behalf. "Suffer not this woman", He told the guards, "to be disappointed. Deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God."

And this is where I pause.

We never hear what happened after that.

Did she fling her stone? Was she filled with shame, that "faculty which deterreth (us) from, and guardeth (us) against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly", and put her stone down? We don't know.

And that, to me, is one of the beauties of this story, because, for us, it doesn't matter. She is not the main character. Baha'u'llah is. She is not the one who can teach us a lesson. He is.

The choice she made is her own, and Baha'u'llah does not tell us what her decision was. He really is the "concealer of sins".

But even that does not matter to me.

What captures my attention, and what I am left with, is how Baha'u'llah honoured her right to make that choice. He does not praise that act, nor does He condemn it. Instead, He reaches into her heart and recognizes that her intention is to do something pleasing to God, something that she believes is meritorious.

This story is, to me, the ultimate expression of God's granting us free will.

In fact, we actually see the importance of free-will throughout this story, and many others. Here, we see Him allowing the Russian minister to come to His defense, and Mirza Aqa Khan being allowed to turn Him over to the authorities. In fact, we even see it when Baha'u'llah decides to go back to Tehran, allowing those who call for His arrest to do with Him as they please. Whatever they wish to do, it will not affect His path. He will move as He wills, and not cower or hide from anything. Instead, He will allow them to pursue their heart's desire without impediment, and thus they arrest Him.

We see an identical example of this when the Bab is returning from His Pilgrimage, and the governor of Shiraz calls for His arrest.

We even see a similar example years later when the cowardly and jealous Mirza Yahya poisons Baha'u'llah. Do we really think that He didn't know the teacup was smeared with poison? Do we really believe that He didn't know what was consuming His half-brother's heart? Of course not. So why did He drink that poison? Because He always allowed others to do as they wished. He would counsel them, of course, and talk about the importance of good actions, but He never interfered.

That, to me, is an example that we can strive to live up to today. There are many times when friends of mine do things that I would not consider doing. Sometimes it's investing in a particular property, or taking a particular job. Oftentimes I feel like I'm watching a slow-motion train wreck, and I truly feel sorry for them. But I realize that it is their life. It is their choice. I offer counsel or guidance, point out certain things that I think are wrong, but, in the end, I know it is their choice, not mine.

Of course, this doesn't apply to children in the same way. There were many times in my life where I stopped a child from doing something harmful. After all, they are children and need to learn.

But when an adult makes a decision like taking a drink or marrying a particular person, it really is their choice, and I need to respect that.

There are even times when their decision will hurt me. And you know what? That's ok, too. They can make their decision. They will have to live with it, and the consequences. And I will make my decision, too. This is the bounty, and the curse, of free will.

No matter what they choose, I have to respect their God-given right to free will. I may not respect the decision they choose, but I have to honour their right to that choice.

And when I do so, I often remember that old woman with the stone and wonder what choice she made.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Dream within a Dream

Edgar Allan Poe famously wrote "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream." This sounds very Sufi in tone, in that it speaks to the mystical nature of reality.

It also reminds me of Shoghi Effendi's statement, "The Bahá’í Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character." And while it is very popular to talk about how the Baha'i Faith has no superstitions, and believes in science, I often find myself overlooking the mystical side of the Faith.

It seems to me that we use a very narrow definition of superstition, namely "a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences". But we tend to forget, at least in our common parlance, that it is more accurately defined as "a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary". But what is the difference between these definitions? The first is unjustified, such as the notion that the number 13 is unlucky. There does not appear to be any truth to this, when we actually look into it. The latter definition goes against tangible evidence. For us, prayers, which today are often regarded as superstition, are justified. The evidence suggests that they do have an effect, even though that effect may not always be what we desire.

It seems to me that it is worth constantly reminding ourselves that "the core of religious faith", as the Guardian said in that same letter, "is that mystic feeling which unites Man with God". It is "not sufficient", as he continues, "for a believer merely to accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality which he can acquire chiefly by means of prayer."

I don't know about you, dear Reader, but I know that I often tend to shy away from such talk. The very idea of talking about the mystical side of the Faith seems to scare a lot of people away today, but this is exactly what I want to look at here.

Baha'u'llah's writings during His time in and around Sulaymanyyih are some of His most mystical in tone. I've often wondered why. Why is it that He writes "in the mystic tongue" in many of the works of this point in His ministry?

Perhaps it is because He was still hidden behind the "veil of concealment".

The nature of these, and other, mystical writings is that they speak in allusion. They require a particular state of mind for the reader in order for them to see past the metaphors and into the heart of the issues being discussed. Later, after He revealed His station, He speaks far more plainly. But here, at this time, He is still speaking in a veiled language.

It was during this time that a Shaykh of Sulaymaniyyih had a dream of the Prophet Muhammad. Now this Shaykh had some property near Sar Galu, where Baha'u'llah was in His retreat, and in this dream, Muhammad told to seek out this solitary dervish near there.

It was very quickly recognized that this was the same dervish who occasionally came into town and stayed at the seminary. He was that same dervish Who had so impressed the people of the area with His silent wisdom, and His magnificent calligraphy.

Through the influence of this Shaykh and his dream, and through the repeated requests of another Sufi leader, Shaykh Isma'il, Baha'u'llah finally acceded to the request to move into the seminary. It was this move which led to a furthering of His reputation, and His eventual return to Baghdad and the Babi community.

To me, this story of a powerful dream, and its influence on the life of the one who had it, is a stark reminder of the mystical side of the world. It reminds me that we are often guided by those mysterious forces that are beyond our comprehension, if we would only open ourselves up to them.

Of course, we also need to look at this guidance that we receive, ensure that it is within the bounds of reason, and not contrary to the essential guidance of the Faith. There are times when this "guidance" is just our own fancy, encouraging us to do nothing more than boost our own ego. But if we look at these messages that we get through either inspiration or dreams, and see that no harm can come from them, we will often be surprised at the great results that occur.

There are many times in my life when I have been moved by such a feeling, or such a dream, to go up to someone and say "hi", or ask them where they are from, and every single time that I have followed through on this simple mystical inspiration, wonderful things have occurred.

This Shaykh of Sulaymaniyyih and his dream remind me, so clearly, that life is about the mystical. It is about following that guidance from the other realms. And it about trusting that there is far more to life than we can imagine.

Compared to those myriad worlds of God out there, we really are living in "a dream within a dream".

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Bit of Homework

There are many stories we hear within the Baha'i community that are classic tales, but with the Central figures of our faith put into the place of the hero. And while they are good stories, both inspirational and educational, they are just not accurate. It doesn't mean they are not good stories, but only that we need to exercise caution with them.

There are a few stories told of the Master, for example, that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old, and when the people who know the original from their own culture hear the Master being stuck in the middle of their story, well, their reaction can be less than ideal.

But there are other stories that just keep coming around again and again, true in the past, and true of the heroes of today. Whether it is the story of the woman warrior who inspires all the men around her in battle, or a simple line of spiritual truth repeated over and over by all the great Teachers in history, these tales keep repeating because they contain lessons we still need to learn.

One such example is that of the great Teacher helping a child with their homework, thus revealing themselves as the great hero They are.

I have heard many incarnations of this particular story regarding Baha'u'llah during His time in Sulaymaniyyih, but with a little bit of research, it seems that this version may be the closest to what actually happened.

Baha'u'llah, as you know, would often stay at the local seminary when He was visiting Sulaymaniyiih. While there, He would maintain silence, and was often very reserved. But one day, it seems, a young student who was waiting on Him needed some help with his homework. It was through this kind assistance that a sample of Baha'u'llah's exquisite handwriting was seen. Now, it should be remembered that calligraphy is considered the high art form in the Islamic world, just as painting or sculpture were considered the high art forms in the Christian world. When the teachers saw a sample of His masterful writing, they, of course, wanted to know more about this silent hermit.

But what does this have to do with us today?

Well, to me it has to do with the importance of doing things well, striving for excellence. Baha'u'llah could have, for example, just quickly written a few lines to help him out, but instead He took time and care to write to the best of His ability. And it was through this care, in addition to his magnetic personality, that led the people there to request Him to stay with them. And this, in turn, led the friends back in Baghdad to hear about Him. Which, in turn, led to His return.

When we set out to do something, we, too, should strive to do our very best. We should take the time and care to put our best effort into any project we do. And who knows where that can lead us?

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Quiet Hermit

Last week I wrote a little bit about how Baha'u'llah left Baghdad and headed to the mountain, Sar Galu, where He began His two year retreat. While He was there, He would occasionally visit the small town of Sulaymaniyyih.

Now, to be clear, this was not just a visit to town, like you or I would make. It was not merely heading out the door, going for a pleasant walk to get some groceries, and coming back home again. This was a three-day walk, pretty much through the rugged mountains.

Three days. Three days of walking through the mountains and foothills to get to the town, doing whatever was needed, such as getting some necessities like milk and rice, going to the public bath, and then heading back again for another three-day hike.

This was a full-fledged trek. A camping-out-under-the-stars-hoping-it-wasn't-going-to-rain sort of hike, with no tent or shelter, and no North Face jacket to keep you warm.

As you can probably imagine, He didn't just stroll into town, do what He needed to do, and head out again later that afternoon. No. He likely stayed there for a few days. And actually, we know that He did, for when He was there, He would stay at the local religious school.

Now, here, dear Reader, I have to clarify something. Baha'u'llah did not actually stay at Sar Galu for two years. He only spent about a year there. The rest of the time He was in Sulaymaniyyih, at this seminary. More on that later.

But back to Sar Galu for a moment. While we don't know what He did while He was there, alone on the mountain, we do know what He wrote about it. "From Our eyes", He reminisced in the Kitab-i-Iqan, "there rained tears of anguish, and in Our bleeding heart there surged an ocean of agonizing pain. Many a night We had no food for sustenance, and many a day Our body found no rest. Alone, We communed with Our spirit, oblivious of the world and all that is therein..." This was not an easy time for Him, no doubt. He was likely in great anguish, considering what was happening to the Babi community.

It is also worth noting that while He was there, on the mountain, He likely came in contact with the migrant farmers who worked the fields during the sowing and harvest times. There were also, possibly, some travelers that met Him, although even today roads are few and far between. And again, while we're not sure, we do know that reports and rumours started circulating about Someone Who had chosen to live an ascetic life there in the wilderness, away from human society.

Again, He would occasionally come into town, and stay at that seminary. While there, He was reserved and usually silent. It was known that He had not taken a vow of silence, but He rarely spoke. Even then, all who were there wished to know more of this silent hermit, Who, by His very bearing, impressed them.

And that, dear Reader, is the point I wish to focus on this week: His silence.

While people are naturally curious about a stranger who comes into their midst, this was a bit more than that. Something caught their attention. These people were studying all about religion and spirituality, striving to become closer to their Lord. They knew all about asceticism and various religious practices, and here, among them, was One Who was living it. And not just living it, but living it in an exemplary way.

Of course His very presence raised their curiosity.

And yet, still, He was silent.

Shortly after His return to Baghdad, in the passages in the Kitab-i-Iqan in which He describes the True Seeker, He would write, "He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vainglory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence, and refrain from idle talk."

He, Himself, at this time in Sulaymaniyyih, demonstrated the attributes of that True Seeker, even though there was nothing He needed to seek. "In truth," He said, "matters have come to such a pass that silence hath taken precedence over utterance and hath come to be regarded as preferable." "My silence", He later wrote, "is by reason of the veils that have blinded Thy creatures' eyes to Thee, and my muteness is because of the impediments that have hindered Thy people from recognizing Thy truth."

But there, in that seminary, amongst those who wished to know more, He found some pure hearts who were, later, the recipients of some of the most treasured writings from his mighty Pen. We know they must have been sincere, for as He said, "It behoveth every one in this Day of God to dedicate himself to the teaching of the Cause with utmost prudence and steadfastness. Should he discover a pure soil, let him sow the seed of the Word of God, otherwise it would be preferable to observe silence."

And so, for one year, He was quiet. Choosing to leave Baghdad due to those who would seek leadership for themselves, who would cause such discord as to almost wipe out the infant Faith of God, He retreated in silence until He found a hearing ear.

He lived such a remarkable, yet simple, life, that it attracted those around Him.

Today, we, too, are constantly in the spotlight, even though we do not often realize it. People watch us. They know we are Baha'i, and they look at our actions to see if we stand out above the crowd. For myself, I know that most often I don't.

But occasionally, every once in a while, I will do something that you or I just take for granted, as we are influenced by these great teachings, and the effect that it has on those around me will often astonish me. Sometimes it can be something as simple as picking up a piece of garbage on a trail in the woods, or lending a helping hand to someone who is having a bit of difficulty.

No matter what it is, we should always strive to remember His great example in Sulaymaniyyih, and the truth to those words of wisdom:

The essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds; he whose words exceed his deeds, know verily his death is better than his life.

The essence of true safety is to observe silence, to look at the end of things and to renounce the world.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

"The First Call of the Beloved" - part 2

O YE PEOPLE THAT HAVE MINDS TO KNOW AND EARS TO HEAR!

The first call of the Beloved is this: O mystic nightingale! Abide not but in the rose-garden of the spirit. O messenger of the Solomon of love! Seek thou no shelter except in the Sheba of the well-beloved, and O immortal phoenix! dwell not save on the mount of faithfulness. Therein is thy habitation, if on the wings of thy soul thou soarest to the realm of the infinite and seekest to attain thy goal.


Well it looks like the fast got the better of me yesterday, and I never got around to writing this article. Sorry about that. I hope your fast is going well, dear Reader. Oh, and I guess the fact that I have to reassemble our kitchen after the military redid our floor and cupboards might have had something to do with it, too. By the way, if you ever have to have kitchen renovations, or have them done to you, I would suggest not doing them during the Fast.

Now, where were we? Oh, yeah.

In the main body of this Hidden Word, we seem to be referred to as a bird. Before I go into that, though, I should point out that the middle section, "O messenger of the Solomon of love" was in the original a reference to the Hoopoe bird. Shoghi Effendi understood that the English readers would likely not know the story of Solomon and the Hoopoe bird, who carried his messages to the Queen of Sheba, so he translated it to "messenger" for our benefit.

Either way, there are three birds that Baha'u'llah references as a metaphor for us, or our spirit: the "mystic nightingale", the "messenger of the Solomon of love", and the "immortal phoenix".

Each of them has their own home, or destination. The first is "in the rose-garden of the spirit". The second is "in the Sheba of the well-beloved". And the third is "on the mount of faithfulness".

While Baha'u'llah is encouraging us to the highest ideal, for example "the rose-garden of the spirit" as opposed to just any old rose-garden, I believe that there is value in exploring what I call the "lower case" version of each of these. By doing so, we see a path that is so beautifully laid out in front of us. Same thing with the three birds referenced. We can look at any old nightingale, no particular hoopoe bird, and pretty much any phoenix out there, and again, we will see a path of progression.

As Baha'u'llah begins with the birds, let us do the same.

A nightingale, a hoopoe, and a phoenix.

To be honest, I didn't really know much about these birds before beginning this article, so I had to do a bit of research.


The nightingale, as I'm sure you know, dear Reader, is a songbird. It has a stunningly beautiful song, and has been revered through the ages. From Homer and Sophocles, to Chaucer and Shakespeare, the nightingale has long been used as a symbol for lament and love. Due to its spontaneity of song, it is also used as a symbol for inspiration and creativity. It is, however, a fairly plain looking bird.





The second bird Baha'u'llah uses here is the hoopoe. This bird has a much more varied symbolic history. In Leviticus, it is considered non-Kosher, and the Jewish peoples were forbidden to eat it, but in 2008 it was voted the national bird of Israel. In the Qur'an, it is the hoopoe who brings news to Solomon of the Queen of Sheba, and proceeds to carry letters back and forth between them. In Persia, they were seen as an emblem of virtue, having guided the other birds through the seven valleys to the King of Birds, the phoenix, which, it turns out, is actually the group of 30 birds that were successful in their journey. By stressing the importance of their unity, the hoopoe bird shows them that they themselves are actually that "King of Birds", as long as they remain united.

Does this begin to sound familiar?

Oh, and the hoopoe is quite a beautiful bird, especially when its crown of feathers is fully displayed.




Finally, there is the phoenix, that mythical bird symbolizing the sun, time, the Empire, resurrection, life in Paradise, and the highest state of man. Any picture I put here would likely pale in comparison to the image you have in your own mind.



As you can see, we go from the drab to the beautiful to the mythical, ever increasing in splendour. We go from creative inspiration, to the teacher or messenger, to the magical. We also go from the simple lover of the flower that grows on this plane to the bird that guides all the others to their heavenly state, to that bird that only exists in the highest paradise.

No matter how I look at it, this path is filled with wonder and meaning, from the bare basics to the most splendid of all, it is a path that Baha'u'llah is encouraging us to walk, or perhaps fly.

But where is this path leading? The rose-garden, the Sheba of the well-beloved, and the mount of faithfulness.

A rose-garden is so beautiful, with so much to delight the senses. Whether considered with the visual and all the myriad colours, or the olfactory with the beautiful scent wafting through the air, a rose-garden is a true delight to the senses.

Sheba, however, is shrouded in mystery. It has long been thought to be Saba, one of the oldest and most important kingdoms in southern Arabia. The wealth of this kingdom was, and still is, legendary. But perhaps most important was the willingness of their Queen to go to Solomon and learn from his wisdom.

Finally, the mount of faithfulness, a mountain so difficult to attain that only the truly faithful are able to scale its heights. It is, in the Qur'an, the Mother of all mountains, extending all around the world. But in mystic symbolism of the middle East, it is often used as a symbol for the human heart.

From a small garden to an entire country, and eventually to the entire planet, this path also leads us onwards and upwards.

And we can even look at the attributes of these different places: the rose-garden of the spirit, the Sheba of the well-beloved, and the mount of faithfulness. The spirit, the well-beloved, and faithfulness. It is our spirit that is first attracted to the well-beloved, to which we must remain faithful.

Or perhaps we wish to look at the attributes of the birds? The mystic nightingale, the messenger of the Solomon of love, and the immortal phoenix. It is the mystic, in this case, who walks this path, finding the love of God and sharing it with others, and thus earning their immortality.

No matter how we look at it, this Hidden Word is just the beginning of our journey to our Beloved.

And that, dear Reader, is a journey we all should take, "if on the wings of thy soul thou soarest to the realm of the infinite and seekest to attain thy goal."

Friday, March 8, 2019

"The First Call of the Beloved" - part 1

O Ye People That Have Minds To Know And Ears To Hear!
The first call of the Beloved is this: O mystic nightingale! Abide not but in the rose-garden of the spirit. O messenger of the Solomon of love! Seek thou no shelter except in the Sheba of the well-beloved, and O immortal phoenix! dwell not save on the mount of faithfulness. Therein is thy habitation, if on the wings of thy soul thou soarest to the realm of the infinite and seekest to attain thy goal.


You know, dear Reader, it's been a long time since I've really explored a small piece of the Writings here. I don't know about you, but I miss it. And besides, it's the Fast, so I tend to look at a single book during the Fast and kind of dive into it.

This year I was hoping to explore The Call of the Divine Beloved, but my kitchen is being renovated right now. Oh, we live in military housing and they decided that they needed to redo our kitchen, and chose this week to do it. And while I appreciate it, it means that there is a large cabinet in front of the book shelf that happens to have my copy of The Call. For some reason I put it on that bookshelf instead of the one that has the rest of Baha'u'llah's writings, so I guess I'll look at something else instead. After all, I can take a hint.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with the quote that I put above, and I'm glad you asked, dear Reader. That is the quote I've decided to look at today. Why? Why not?

Ok. Here's my thinking.

I've been posting a lot of stories of the early Babis, as you may have noticed, as well as reading quite a bit of Baha'u'llah's earlier, mystical works. I've also been reading A Treasure House of Mysteries, by Dariush Maani, which is a study of the Hidden Words. And through that volume, which seems to focus on the Persian Hidden Words, I realized that I've always been more drawn to the Arabic, and know those a lot better. So why not go beyond my comfort zone, as they say, out on a limb, and look at the Persian Hidden Words, instead? Right? Right.

Before I do, though, I just want to share a quote from the Hand of the Cause of God, George Townshend. "...(F)rom the Arabic Hidden Words", he writes, "we get the impression that a loving teacher speaks to us, whereas in the Persian part we feel that a lover teaches us." I just love that perspective.

Anyways, on to the quote itself.

Let's look at that invocation: O ye people that have minds to know and ears to hear.

Interesting. The first thing I notice is the reference to Jesus, Who said "Let those who have ears to hear, hear" numerous times in the Bible. Seven times, if I'm not mistaken. And He also said "He who has eyes to see, let him see", thus adding in a second sense into it. But it's interesting to see the mind and knowledge thrown into that mix, seeming to take it a step further.

But there is something else that crosses my mind. In Bible studies, it is often pointed out that you can close your eyes, but you cannot really close your ears. Well, you can stuff cotton in them, or put your hands over them, but you can't really close your ears as you do your eyes.

The mind, though, is something different, entirely. The mind needs to be trained. You go through a process of taking in sensory perceptions, analyzing them, studying them, and then formulating your thoughts. The senses, such as hearing, are more direct.

Here, in the first of the Persian Hidden Words, Baha'u'llah is helping lead us towards God. So we can presume that these are not the ordinary senses about which He is talking. He is probably referring more to the mystical aspects of these terms, especially since this beautiful little book comes in the midst of His most mystical writings.

Perhaps He is alluding to the idea of our having minds to know God, to contemplate reality and come to a better understanding of Him, and eventually moving on to that state of being in which we can know God a bit more directly, hearing His divine melodies with our own ears, as the case may be. Of course, we can't know God directly, or hear Him physically, but we can know Baha'u'llah. We can hear those divine melodies that He has revealed with our own ears. We don't need an intermediary, such as a priest or a member of the clergy, to hear it for us. We can use our own minds to know, and our own ears to hear.

This invocation, especially as it is the first of them, really speaks to me of moving beyond the mere mind, and into the realm of the spirit. It is, if you will, the goal of the journey upon which we embark as we begin our adventure into the Hidden Words.

And whereas I could continue writing about the main body of this Hidden Word, I think I'll leave it for tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

"Enough is Enough"

On 10 April 1854, Baha'u'llah had disappeared.

His family awoke to discover that He was gone. Although we do not know what the daily life of the family looked like at the time, we can presume that they thought He had gone for a walk on a pleasant spring morning, perhaps for a cup of coffee, or something. They probably did not dream that it would be around two years before they would see Him again.

Baha'u'llah, for His part, was walking with His friend, Abu'l-Qasim-Hamadani, who, interestingly enough, was not a Babi. He was a devout Muslim. Together they walked 200 miles north of Baghdad to the small town of Sulaymaniyyih, in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains, where He gave Abu'l-Qasim a small sum of money to help him set up as a trader.

The question, though, is why did He leave?

For that, dear Reader, we must look back at the history of the Babi Faith of that time.

Just a few years earlier, the Babis were renowned for their uprightness, trustworthiness, integrity, and high moral conduct. Then the persecutions began in earnest. There was the misguided attempt on the life of the Shah, and the massacres, resulting in over 20,000 martyrs for the Faith. It is no exaggeration to say that every leader of the community, with the singular exception of Baha'u'llah, was killed at that time.

By the time Baha'u'llah was settled in Baghdad, the community was essentially leaderless. There were those who found comfort and inspiration in Baha'u'llah's presence, but Mirza Yahya, His half-brother, was ostensibly the one that the Babis were to turn to. And he was in hiding. He refused to meet with anyone, or go out on the street. He was so afraid for his life that he hid away in his home. And there were others, notably Siyyid Muhammad-i-Isfahani, who were becoming jealous of Baha'u'llah's growing prestige. They began to spread rumours about Him, casting Him in a dim light and sowing the seeds of discord within the community.

The Babis, for their part, were also afraid. If they got together in small groups, there was the very real possibility that they would be killed. Many of the Bab's writings had been destroyed, so there was little guidance to which they could turn. And all their leaders had been killed. The very people to whom they could turn for help were no longer there.

And Baha'u'llah, the only One to Whom they could turn with any real hope, was in exile, and vicious rumours were coming back about Him.

In the end, Baha'u'llah seems to have said, "Enough is enough." If He continued to stay in Baghdad the flames of jealousy would only be further aroused, and so He left.

He left the Babis to their own devices, as if to say, "All right, you work it out for yourselves."

He went to the lonely mountains of the Zagros range, to Sar Galu, a three day walk to the nearest human habitation. Living in a cave, or occasionally in a small stone hut built by local farmers when the weather was especially bad, He communed with His own spirit, "oblivious of the world and all that is therein".

For One Who was so sensitive to the spiritual nature of those around Him, Who was witnessing the downward spiral of those who had professed belief in the Bab, it must have been absolutely heartbreaking to see what was happening in the community. And so, finding refuge in a cave in the distant mountains, spending all the time He desired in prayer and meditation, away from the spiritual turmoil that must have constantly wore on Him, was most likely a blessing, despite the physical deprivation such an isolation entailed.

It was during this time that He revealed such prayers as the one that begins, "Create in me a pure heart, O My God, and renew a tranquil conscience within me, O My Hope! Through the spirit of power confirm Thou me in Thy Cause, O my Best-Beloved, and by the light of Thy glory reveal unto me Thy path, O Thou the Goal of my desire!"

When I read this prayer, and contemplate the situation in which the Blessed Beauty found Himself at that time, it reads like a completely different prayer than when I just say it for myself.

Knowing of this time, reading the history of what was going on, I realize that it is ok to walk away from a bad situation. There are many times in which the very best thing you can do is just leave those involved to themselves.

There are a few times in Baha'i history, this being the most notable, when Baha'u'llah closed the door of His presence so that the friends could just take the time they needed to decide for themselves what they wanted, without the overpowering influence of His personality.

And there are times in our life, too, that we just need to walk away and look after our own needs, our own spiritual well-being.

I will write more about this tumultuous time in His life over the next few weeks, but I wanted to start with this, the background. Although we often talk about His retreat as if it is a bit of a blank, it was actually a time of great ferment. Many things happened, and there was a lot learned, too much for just one short story, as this.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Not Quite the Lap of Luxury

When 'Abdu'l-Baha was a child of four years old, a very special meeting occurred in His Father's home. He was sitting there, on the lap of a woman, behind a curtain, as the men talked in the next room over.

The woman's name was Tahirih, and there, in the other room, were Baha'u'llah, Who was hosting this gathering, Vahid, the former envoy of the Shah, and a number of other men, most of whom were likely Babis. Vahid was speaking, and he was quite eloquent, as he was a very gifted and insightful speaker.

As she held the young 'Abdu'l-Baha in her lap, listening to the powerful oration, she began to grow tired of the continual talk in which the men were engaged. Did they not realize that this was a new Day? This was the promised Day of the Qa'im. Speeches and proofs were no longer needed. What was required was action.

"Cease idly repeating the traditions of the past", she said from her place behind the curtain, "for the day of service, of steadfast action, is come. Now is the time to show forth the true signs of God, to rend asunder the veils of idle fancy, to promote the Word of God, and to sacrifice ourselves in His path. Let deeds, not words, be our adorning." And with that short speech, interrupting some long forgotten discourse, she galvanized the men of that room, helping transform them from those who would sit and comfortably talk about their great knowledge into those who would arise and act upon their understandings, sacrificing their all for what they knew was right.

Today, especially with the rise of instant communication, we see more and more people getting involved in social discourse, but only a small percentage arising to take meaningful action on those very points they argue. Tahirih's example of speaking from behind the curtain, and challenging the men of that day to cease their discussions of the issues of the day and do something about them, rings ever louder than it has in the past, calling us to put our own words into effective action.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Pure Quest

In 1844, Mulla Husayn was returning from a successful journey in which he performed an important and delicate task for his master, Siyyid Kazim. When he returned to Karbila, instead of the joy of a successful completion to his mission, he discovered the sorrow of the passing of his teacher.

After everything settled down, with the visitors expressing their sorrow to him, the time with his teacher's family, and so forth, Mulla Husayn gathered the other students together to hear from them his master's last wishes. They all, each in their own way, told him that Siyyid Kazim had said that the Promised One was here, ready to reveal Himself. They should all, they were told, leave their homes and scatter to the winds, search far and wide in their quest for Him. They would need to, they were advised, purge themselves of all earthly desires and dedicate themselves completely to this pursuit. "Nothing", Siyyid Kazim had told them, "short of prayerful endeavour, of purity of motive, of singleness of mind" would succeed in removing the veils between them and Him.

So then why, Mulla Husayn wondered, have you all remained here in Karbila?

And again, one by one, they each and all, in their own individual ways, gave their excuses. "We must remain in this city", one replied, "and guard the vacant seat of our departed chief." "I have to", said another, "take care of the Siyyid's family." On and on the various reasons came, each pretext seeming reasonable, but failing to recognize the importance of this grand mission before them.

Finally, Mulla Husayn had had enough. He left them to their own devices and idle pursuits, and went off to fulfill the dearest wish of his late master.

How often have we seen something similar in our own lives? There is something great that we hope to accomplish, but it is the innumerable little things that get in our way. If only we can keep firmly in our sight the importance of our own mission, perhaps not as great as finding the Bab, but great nonetheless, then we will discover that everything we hope to do will eventually get done. But if we let those small things distract us, we will still find ourselves right back where we started, never having left the Karbila of our starting point.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

An Interesting Question

Last weekend I had the wonderful bounty of attending the Alberta Winter School. Not only was it a good reminder that -20 isn't all that bad when it's dry outside, but I learned a lot, too. And even better, my son was there with me. That was just light upon light, as they say.

During one of the sessions, about being relevant, the idea of an elevated conversation was brought up, and how it wasn't just mentioning a virtue, or saying the words "Baha'i" or "Baha'u'llah", wonderful as that is. No. It was pointed out that a far more relevant example would be if you were talking to two people, one of whom was adamantly pro-guns, and the other extremely anti-guns, and recognized that they were both concerned about security. One is more aware of personal security, while the other is more concerned about communal security. When you raise the discussion to this level, then you help bring them together on a real topic where they can discuss the issue at hand, and not just talk past each other based merely on a sound-bite.

Anyways, it was a very interesting discussion, and a few different points were brought up.

But what really interested me was the gentleman who asked how you would bring together two people arguing over both sides of the abortion issue. First, it was pointed out that it's not "pro-choice" and "pro-life", for the division there is actually artificial. Also, those who are generally "pro-life" are actually "pro-birth", as their interest in the life of the child generally seems to end with their birth, if their stance on other issues is at all accurate.

The discussion on that particular issue didn't really come to any conclusion, other than to dive into it and ask them why they each have their particular stance. Asking questions to learn more about why they believe what they do seemed to be the prevalent conclusion.

But this is not what I really wanted to talk about today. No. This was just an intro to my real story.

You see, dear Reader, the day after the Winter School my son and I went to the mall to meet up with a friend and her son. I hadn't seen my friend in over twenty years, and we were both real excited to get together again. Meeting occurred, lunch was eaten, and a good time was had by all, especially since ice cream and bubble tea were involved. But as always happens, our getting together had to come to an end. It was time for her hubby to pick them up.

So we headed over the pick-up point, and discovered we still had about 10 minutes.

What did we do? We walked into an electronics store. Both our sons are sort of geeks. (Don't tell.)

While the two kinder were looking at various thingies, my friend and I were standing around. One of the employees, Jay, came over and asked if we had any questions.

Now, dear Reader, I must tell you, the friend I met is not a Baha'i, but she sure is conversant with the Faith. And she knows me really well. So when I said that yes I did in fact have a question, she was just waiting to see what I would bring up.

"How would you", I asked Jay, "help bring together in conversation two people who are arguing both sides of the abortion question?"

Jay looked at me a bit curiously, wondering if I was serious or not.

My friend piped in, "You never said the question had to be about electronics."

"Fair enough," he replied, and proceeded to answer the question cogently, coherently, and with a fairly good spiritual insight into the concept of unity. The resultant conversation was pretty awesome. And we learned that the reason he was so good at bringing about unity to differing viewpoints was that he is Hindu and his girlfriend is Muslim. He's had lots of practice.

I often hear people say that it takes time to talk about spiritual ideas, and honestly, I don't know why that would be. When you're given an opening, grab it. Talk about the big issues. Ask the difficult questions. Don't lead with what you believe, because most people don't really care. But when you ask what they believe, or what they would do, then you're off and running. Once they explain their perspective, many will also ask for yours. And you know what? When you ask their opinion first, you often learn a lot.

So I just wanted to share that today. It was a great weekend, and it got me thinking about a difficult issue. The next day when I was innocently asked if I had a question, well, I did. I was still thinking about it.

Now I think I'll make sure that I always have a question on the go.

Oh, and when my son and I walked past the same store the next day, Jay recognized me and remembered the conversation. It had gotten him thinking, too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ten Years Ahead

Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that the Universal House of Justice tends to release compilations and documents and all sorts of wonderful things about ten years before we actually need them.

No. Seriously. Hear me out.

I mean, I realize that my learning curve tends towards the horizontal, but look at it. The compilation on Entry By Troops came out 1994, and when I read it a few weeks later, it was incredible. It was educative, inspiring, visionary, and a whole whack of other awesome adjectives.

Very brief aside: A whole whack? Yeah. Like it whacked me upside the head with all that it pointed out.

Anyways, I read it, studied it, consulted with others about it, and really tried my best to get my head wrapped around a lot of the ideas that were in it. But it wasn't until about 10 years later that it began to be relevant in anything other than a theoretical way.

Tabernacle of Unity? That was released in 2006, and look what happened in 2016. The disparate elements in society became even more schismed, if that's a possible phraseology, than they had been in a very long time. The very desperate need for unity became even more evident than ever.

Over and over again, as I look through recent Baha'i history, this trend of giving us what we need ten years ahead of time just seems to be a real thing and not just my imagination. Whether it's the compilation on the Counsellors, or Women, or Trustworthiness, they all seemed to be there about a decade before it became obvious that we desperately needed to know this stuff. It's like they give us a decade to study before we have to pass the exam.

And so, with each new release, I begin to consult with others, and seriously study what comes out, with an eye to that ten year mark.

So why am I mentioning this? Well, we just received the compilation on the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar back in September of 2017. And while some people call it the compilation on the Temple, I'm not sure that's quite accurate. It's really a lot more than that. It seems to be more about the intimate connection between the Temple and the Baha'i community's service to humanity, this link that joins the concept of both worship and service. And while we all know that it's important, I am wondering what's coming down the line in, oh, about 8 years to which this concept will be pivotal in our communal life. I don't know. I'm really wondering.

And now, just a very short time ago we were given a new compilation of Baha'u'llah's Writings: The Call of the Divine Beloved, a selection of the mystical works of Baha'u'llah.

Interesting.

While we had the eleven valleys, both the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, in previous translation, it seems that those translations weren't good enough for our upcoming needs. And the emphasis on the mystical? Well, that just fascinates me.

When I look back at a lot of the teaching materials from, say, the 1950s, there was a great emphasis on the social principals, and not a lot on the mystical side of it. In fact, there seemed to be a bit of a prejudice in much of the literature of the time from the generic Baha'i population that sort of pooh poohed anything that wasn't scientific, sort of saying it smacked of superstition. Oh, and this was not a universal. There were definitely some pretty radical things out there in the Baha'i publication world, but this is more of a general overall feeling. And this whole phase of really pushing away anything that might be superstition lasted for quite some time, prayer being a very notable exception to this rule.

But today, with the extreme rise in those who are not interested in religion at all, over 25% of the population here in Canada, according to recent surveys, and the greater divide between those who support science versus those who are seemingly against science, I am wondering why this recent book. I mean, it seems fairly obvious, in a sort of theoretical way, that we need to embrace the overlap between the scientific and the mystical, but I suspect there is far more than that.

I have to wonder what it is.

So this year, from now to the end of the Fast, I will be reading, studying, consulting with friends, and otherwise exploring this new volume, trying to wrap both my head and my heart around these incredibly beautiful teachings.

Already this morning, while reading it through for the first time over coffee, I found myself drifting off in meditative contemplation, thoroughly enchanted by the beauty of the poetry and the sublimity of the ideas. Even a few people around me asked about what I was reading, which doesn't happen all that often.

So, dear Reader, I would really appreciate any thoughts you have on specific sections, passages you feel particularly attracted to, any aspect of this slender volume that you care to share. I feel that we are all at the very beginning of a thrilling new direction for this wonderful Faith of ours, carefully directed by the Universal House of Justice.

And I, for one, am very curious just why it is that they are giving us, at this particular time, so much more stuff about both the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar and the mystical side of the teachings.

Oh, and if you can show how Gems of Divine Mysteries fits into this concept, I'd love to hear it. I mean, that brilliant work was first published in English in 2002, and as you know, it is kind of the Missing Link between the Book of Certitude and the Seven Valleys, so it seems as if they were easing us into this mystical stuff, but I'm sure there's more.

Maybe if I actually finished my coffee this morning, it would make more sense to me.