Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ridvan 2018 - Part 3

Well, I've only got about 45 minutes to do this right now, but I figured I should be able to get through at least a couple more paragraphs, right? Let's find out.

Where were we? Oh, yes, paragraph 6.

Here we are learning that we are using our "new capacities... to improve conditions in society..." Hey, that's great. I mean, isn't this what it's all about? But then they use a word that always jumps out at me: "kindled". Our enthusiasm is kindled. I love that word. It means, as I'm sure you know, that it ignites a flame when there is none, or makes it burn brighter when there is one. In Ruhi Book 1, we learn that prayer kindles the soul. Here, it is our study of the divine teachings that kindles out enthusiasm.

Why would that be?

As I am sure you are aware, I don't actually know, but I suspect it is because enthusiasm is generally lost when hope vanishes. Hope usually disappears when we cannot see the next step in our journey. The Writings not only give us a vision of where we are heading, but also guide us to the next steps we need to take to get there. While we may not often see these next few steps on our own, by studying with others these steps become more apparent. And this, it seems to me, would naturally kindle our enthusiasm. After all, enthusiasm comes from the phrase "en-theos", "to be filled with God". Wouldn't the writings naturally fill us with that divine spirit?

Another point that catches my attention in this paragraph is the singular word "meaningful". They talk about "discourses that are meaningful to society". How often do we find ourselves engaged in conversations that are, in essence, meaningless? And if they are meaningless, why are we wasting our time with them?

This reminds me of something that struck Marcus Bach when he met Ruhiyyih Khanum. He said "She talked as though time and conversation were intended for the deepening of knowledge and faith." We often talk about "elevated conversations", but rarely what that looks like. I believe that this insight of his on her conversations sheds light on this word, "meaningful".

In this paragraph, the Universal House of Justice gives us examples of conversations that are meaningful, such as gender equality, the role of youth in social transformation, among others, and praise us for engaging in these discussions "with growing confidence, proficiency, and insight". It is, of course, likely a result of those practices from Ruhi Book 2. And we should be cognizant of the fact that we, as a community, are becoming ever more proficient in these conversations. We have made tremendous progress in the field, and knowing this should make it even easier to feel comfortable having these conversations to begin with. So, kudos to us, and thank you Universal House of Justice for helping direct our attention to this matter.

Finally, for today, paragraph 7. Ok, wow. I had the hardest time reading this for the first time, as I was reading it aloud to my wife, and had absolutely no clue what they were going to say. I mean, the stuff about the web-site was wonderful and exciting, but I wasn't ready for the wealth of new translations that they are promising. I actually choked as I was reading this. "...(P)reviously untranslated and unpublished passages or Tablets"? "(N)ew volumes of Baha'u'llah's and 'Abdu'l-Baha's Writings rendered into English"? It is so hard to contain my excitement.

But for now, I have to. I have another engagement in just a few minutes. (I thought I would get more written, but my wife got home just now, and I had to pause to welcome her home.)

Hopefully I'll have a chance to write a bit more tomorrow, or read a bit about what you have gleaned from this breath-taking letter.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Ridvan 2018 - Part 2

Here we are at paragraph 4, where we are reminded that "this is truly a moment to give thanks to the Best-Beloved". This is such an important reminder, to take the time to remember to be thankful. They have just put the previous year into a perspective for us, showing us how much we have done and what we have learned, and even if we feel that we, personally, haven't done all that much (as I know I do), we should be thankful for all that has been done in this glorious community of ours. There really "are a great many reasons to be encouraged."

Ah, but they also remind us not to sit on our laurels. There is still a lot to be done. Fortunately they give us hat I lovingly refer to as a recipe list. We need to "maintain... a sustained focus on nurturing growth and building capacity" as well as develop our ability and discipline to "reflect on action and learn from experience". I find it interesting that they refer to this reflection and learning as an ability, as opposed to lumping it in with the other capacities. To me, the difference is like a stadium that has the capacity to seat 20,000, but only has a few people in attendance. The latter would be like the stadium being full. We begin by building this capacity, but then we have to put it to use.

In paragraph 5, they refer to the institutions "keeping this supreme need at the forefront of their thinking". Which supreme need? The "raising up and accompanying an expanding nucleus of individuals" who are both capable of and actually reflecting and learning from their experience. This nb
Further to this, by the members of these institutions taking action in this accompaniment, they are becoming more involved "in all aspects of the community's development". And this is not limited to the Baha'i community, but includes the greater community. Through this involvement, and recognizing the role that the training institute plays in this, they are still able to "maintain the community's focus on the requirements of the Plan". Of course, this leads to the question, what are the requirements of the Plan? This, dear reader, is a question that is well worth discussing in your community.

They also mention "higher and higher levels of unity", which of course leads us to ask what that would look like. Again, a great question to ask in consultation. I can just imagine an entire Feast consultation dedicated to this one question alone.

Finally, at the end of that paragraph, they talk about "cultivating in the community those conditions that conduce to the release of powerful spiritual forces". What are those conditions? How can we cultivate them? What signs will we recognize when these forces are being released?

While I may have some ideas on answers to these questions, I prefer not to look at them here right now. I think they are better suited for a community consultation, and I would love to hear what comes out of that.

Aside: I think that we too often respond off the cuff, giving our own thoughts on a subject before actually consulting on it with others. Or even worse, before consulting the Writings. I know that I'm horribly guilty of this. When I see something on the net, I often respond before looking in the Writings. But here, I'd like to take the moment to remind us of the importance of doing this, consulting the Writings and each other, and set the minor example by not offering my thoughts just yet on these very important issues.

Oh, and I'd like to continue writing right now, but my son just got home from school, so I'm going to end it here for today so that I can spend a bit of this beautiful day with him. See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ridvan 2018 - Part 1

Well, it's that time of year again, and the Ridvan message just came out a couple of days ago.

Along with the letter informing us of the new membership of the Universal House of Justice, the document "For the Betterment of the World", and the video "A Widening Embrace". Wow. What a collection.

As I'm sure you already have the Ridvan message, and have read it a number of times, I'm not going to copy it here. Plus, you can just google it if you need to.

Instead, I'm just going to go right into it and share my own paltry thoughts.

To start, the first thing I did, after reading it aloud to my wife, was number the paragraphs. There are 13 of them, in case you're curious. This is how I will reference it, by paragraph number. Clever, eh? (You can tell I'm Canadian. I used 'eh' instead of the American 'huh'.) (Have you ever noticed how much more upbeat 'eh' sounds? It lilts upwards. 'Huh' just sounds like you got hit in the gut, or something.)

The first paragraph, as usual, gives us a very upbeat ("eh") view of where we are, and what we have done over the past year. As they do this, though, they offer us hints or clues as to what we can focus on. Are we "more conscious of our mission"? Can we clearly state what that mission is? Beyond that, are we bringing our friends and acquaintances into contact with the Baha'i community? When put that way, it sounds so simple. And of course we are doing that. Have we learned how to "articulate how spiritual truths can be translated into sustained practical action"? All of a sudden those practices in Ruhi Book 2 seem even more relevant than ever. And most important, as we all know, we are more directly connecting the name of Baha'u'llah with "the teachings that will build the world anew". That is wonderful news.

It's when we move into the second paragraph that we begin to see some more interesting things arising. They begin by pointing out to us that the Faith has "emerged from obscurity at the national level". Back in the 1980s, they spoke of the faith emerging from obscurity on a global scale, but now it is at the national level. This is a profound shift, a quantum leap forward. The next step, of course, is to help it be more recognized on the regional and local levels. But still, this is quite an amazing thing, and truly worthy of both note and celebration.

And what is one of the factors at play here? The twin bi-centenaries. It was through the reaction to the celebration just finished that this emergence became evident. Now we know that we have to push forward even more with the bi-centenary of the birth of the Bab. To be clear, though, we have the tools. We have the experience. This is nothing new for us. We have literally decades of experience, since this current series of global plans began back in the 90s. We also see, in this paragraph, a hint of what we have learned, and how we acted. "The individual believer took initiative, the community arose in collective effort, and the friends channelled their creative energy into the plans prepared by the institutions." As we look back at these celebrations, we can reflect on what we learned and strive to do even more in the next couple of years.

This leads us right into the third paragraph, and the present plan. "(P)rogress is not uniform from country to country" is the reminder at the very beginning. We shouldn't judge ourselves according to anyone else. If our community isn't seeing the same growth as another, fine. Note it and move on. Learn from your experience and grow. It's very interesting that, at the end of the first sentence, when talking about these intensive programmes of growth, they say "the rate at which this number is rising has been steadily increasing." How do they know? Because they have the statistics to prove it. They've been monitoring the numbers for years now and they can see that this particular number, the number of intensive programmes of growth, is in fact on the rise. But then, right after that, they say, "Looking more closely". This is the analysis part of the statistics. You see, dear reader, there are still some people out there who don't see the value or use of statistics. They think they are just mere numbers. To be fair, for many of us they are just mere numbers. But to one who is literate in statistics, these numbers tell a story. By looking more closely at these numbers, there are certain things that you can discern. The sheer number of people around the globe who attended celebrations of the bi-centennial of the birth of Baha'u'llah tells us that many more people were invited. We know that not everyone invited came. The stories surrounding this event also tell us that the friends are recognizing that "their day-to-day interactions with the people around them can be infused with the spirit of teaching." This is important. It means that we have learned how to more effectively invite people to activities. If this number wasn't on the rise, then this is where we might need to focus our training. Once we have learned this skill, then we can focus our training in other areas. The statistics help us learn where to focus our energies.

Just to stay on this topic for a moment longer, I'd like to look at my own home community. We know from the letters from the World Centre that the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programmes are extremely important. There is no doubt of that. When I look at the stats, though, it seems that our strength, at this time, is in devotional gatherings. When we have focused on them, the numbers have skyrocketed. When we focus on other activities, they barely move. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. It means that we can clearly see our strength, and play to it. Once we get the devotional gatherings really moving, then we can learn to transfer that to the areas in which we may need a bit more help. The stats help us see our strength, and we are, after all, a community "moving from strength to strength".

Ok. Back to the Ridvan message. The Universal House of Justice says that "a vibrant community life is taking root" in all the communities where the work is gathering momentum. By using this particular phrase, "taking root", it seems to imply that it may not yet be visible. I imagine a small seed that I just planted in my garden. Once it germinates, it takes root. Only later can I see it breaking the ground as a small shoot. Leaves and fruit come later. So, for me, if I know from the statistics that the work is gathering momentum, then I can take heart that a vibrant community life is taking root. This is so encouraging.

Throughout this whole paragraph there is a constant sense of movement. And this movement is natural. They speak of this "continuum of development", and how "children move seamlessly through the grades", and that the levels of the junior youth groups reliably succeed each other. These "foundational activities" become a natural part of the community in which people move from one stage to the next, uninterrupted. There is a flow. It is not forced, and it is not awkward. We think nothing of a child going from grade 2 to grade 3 in school, and in a like manner, children are moving through the various courses open to them in the Baha'i community. As it becomes "an indispensable aspect of the life of a community", we will see all aspects of the Baha'i Faith becoming a natural part of the community life, further enriching the entire community. This is a part of how a new civilization will be born. These friends will take charge of their own development and "build immunity to those societal forces that breed passivity." This right here, is a phrase that is so well worth contemplating and consulting upon. What are some of those forces of society that breed passivity? How can we protect ourselves from them? And how can we avoid those two debilitating illnesses, apathy and lethargy? As we better learn "to articulate how spiritual truths can be translated into sustained practical action", then we will be in a far better position to counteract this passivity. And as we know from the first paragraph, we are learning to do this.

The children in these classes learn so much about service and personal responsibility. The junior youth are encouraged to healthy social action, drawing upon their natural inclination towards justice. The youth lovingly encourage those just behind them, moving all towards greater feats of service. The adults learn more and more about accompaniment and how to nurture all peoples in the community, of all ages. And as we speak about these, and other, practical steps, "Possibilities for material and spiritual progress take shape. Social reality begins to transform."

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What is International Convention?

“What’s International Convention?”

My 13-year-old son and I were having breakfast the other day, chatting on this and that, when out popped this question. It was one I had not given much thought to over the years. The difficulty, of course, was to explain these things in ways that he would grasp. It was easier now that he was a junior youth, but still a challenge.

“Do you remember the Unit Convention we had a few months ago?” I asked.

“Yeah. That was where we elected someone to go to the National Convention, right?”

“Right. But, do you remember, we did something else there too.” This was so often overlooked I wanted to make sure he remembered this part of it.

“Well, we consulted on some questions while we waited for the results.”

“That’s true, but this isn’t just something that we did as an aside. It is an integral part of the Convention.” I sat back into my chair, settling in for an in-depth talk with my son about the election process within the Bahá’í Faith.

“In the Writings,” I said, “it says that the National Convention has a ‘twofold function of electing the body of the National Spiritual Assembly, and of offering any constructive suggestions in regard to the general administration of the Cause…’ This applies to the Unit as well as the International Convention. Consultation and election. Whatever works on one level of the Cause also works on other levels.”

He thought about that for a minute, and then asked, “Have you ever been to one?”

“To an International Convention? Nope. I’ve never had that bounty. I would love to be an observer, but they don’t have them. Actually, that is a difference between them. The National Convention has observers who can watch, but only the delegates can participate in the discussion on the floor. That’s something that makes the Unit Convention unique: we can all contribute to the consultation.”

“Does that mean that they’re all alike? The Unit, National and International Conventions?”

“Kind of. They all have the same basic function, just on the different levels, either local, national or global. While the first two happen every year, though, the International Convention only happens every five years.”

“How does the election happen, anyway?”

“Well, something to consider is an interesting point found in the bylaws of the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice. They say that ‘A silent and prayerful atmosphere shall prevail during the election so that each elector may vote for none but those whom prayer and reflection inspire him to uphold.’”

“Oh, so we can look to the International and National Conventions as a model for our Unit Convention.”

“Yes,” I replied, encouragingly, curious to see what he would add.

“So we could have quiet music, for example, to help people remember to keep this prayerful attitude?”

“Perhaps. It says silent, too, but that’s a good point. Maybe we could try to keep in mind other ways we can help remind people of this.”

He was silent himself for a moment before asking, “What does consultation look like at the International Convention?”

“Great question. What do you think it would look like?” I usually respond like that when I have no idea how to answer his questions.

“I remember at the Unit Convention someone from one neighbourhood had a question, and someone from another area was able to share their experience. I suppose it would be the same. A more advanced country in one field would be able to share their experiences, and perhaps gather new ideas, too?”

“Like our reflection meetings? That makes sense to me, but honestly, I have no idea.”

“I bet they would all be amazing at sharing their learnings”, he said, remembering some poignant examples from a recent gathering, “and not just go on and on with all the details of their stories.”

“Probably”, I said, laughing, knowing I tend to ramble a bit when sharing.

“Who gets to vote at these International Conventions?”

“Great question. The members of our National Assembly have the wonderful bounty of casting their votes there. Just like the delegates from our unit vote for the nine members of the National Assembly at the National Convention, so, too, the members of the National Assembly vote for the nine members of the Universal House of Justice.”

“So only members of National Assemblies can be elected?”

“Not at all. They can vote for whomever they are inspired to, so long as they are over 21 and are a Bahá’í in good standing. Remember, there is no nomination or electioneering in the Baha’i community, so people vote for who they already know.”

“But how do they know who to vote for?”

“Well, the criteria are the same for all elections: unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability and mature experience. It’s just that on the national or global level, but it’s still the same basic pattern.”

“It sounds like participating in the Unit Convention gives us a taste of what the International Convention is like.”

“Pretty much,” I agreed. “I mean, there are some obvious differences, but the pattern is the same. It’s like prayer. Praying at home is wonderful, but do you remember how powerful it was to say our prayers in the Shrines last year on pilgrimage?”

“Oh, wow. So, International Convention must really be out of this world.”

“Yeah, I would think so.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

That Blessed King

Baha'u'llah, in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, writes, "How great the blessedness that awaiteth the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me! Such a king is numbered with the companions of the Crimson Ark—the Ark which God hath prepared for the people of Bahá. All must glorify his name, must reverence his station, and aid him to unlock the cities with the keys of My Name, the omnipotent Protector of all that inhabit the visible and invisible kingdoms. Such a king is the very eye of mankind, the luminous ornament on the brow of creation, the fountainhead of blessings unto the whole world. Offer up, O people of Bahá, your substance, nay your very lives, for his assistance."

I ran across this quote again last night, and it got me thinking. Why, I wondered, is there such an exalted and high station for such a king? I mean, I can think of lots of reasons, but most of them came down to me thinking, "Well, gee, that's nice of him." I figured there had to be more than just that. And so I find myself sitting at the keyboard, typing away, pondering on this issue.

To start, I note the difference between the "Cause" and the "Faith". It has long seemed to me that the "Cause" refers to something larger than the singular faith that we call the Baha'i Faith. The Cause of God, to me, and this really is just my own opinion, somehow seems to refer more to all the various Faiths constituting what we love to refer to as progressive revelation. When I read Shoghi Effendi's writings, this distinction somehow becomes clearer to me, but I would be at a loss as to explain why here. And so I note that this station of the king is more exalted when he arises to "aid My Cause".

The next part specifies that this king will aid His Cause "in My kingdom". So, where is this kingdom of God? Or perhaps the more accurate question is what is this kingdom of God? 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "O ye beloved of the Lord! The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul. Strive ye then with all your heart to treat compassionately all humankind..."

In other words, what I think it means to me is whoever arises, as a ruler, to help promote the eternal Cause of God, and all the various forms that takes, and rules with equity, justice, mercy, compassion and kindness, will accrue these various benefits that Baha'u'llah mentions.

All right. That seems reasonable.

But let's look a little deeper into this.

Why would this be? Is it some sort of magical formula? If you do these things then the angels on high will bop down with their little magic wands, boop you over the head, and presto, you get these wonderful gifts? Somehow that just doesn't seem right to me. I mean, sure, Shoghi Effendi said, "The Bahá'í Faith, like all other Divine Religions, is thus fundamentally mystic in character." But is this what that means?
To better explain my thoughts on this, I want to share a bit of a story with you. Do you mind? Thanks.

A few years ago I was tutoring a Ruhi Book 1 study circle and we ran across that Hidden Word which says, "How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me." Half the group jumped at the word "accursed". They were really rattled by it. From their perspective, this was basically God saying, "If you do this, you're damned to Hell for all eternity." It was real hellfire and brimstone stuff to them. Naturally, I didn't want to tell them to "take a chill pill, folks", so instead I asked them to explore it.

"What", I asked them, "would it look like to be under a curse?" They came up with all sorts of things. "Your friends would leave you." "You would lose your job." "Your health would go downhill fast." "People wouldn't want to be around you." "You'd feel miserable." All sorts of good things there. I mean, all sorts of good answers.

Then we looked at the quote again.

He doesn't just say "If you happen to notice other people's faults", or "If you occasionally mention the faults of others". No. He says if you busy yourself with those things, then this curse will fall on you. Stress on the word "busy". In other words, if you constantly dwell on this.

All right. What would happen if you did this? What if you always talked about other people's faults, all the while ignoring your own? What do you think would happen? "Well, your friends wouldn't want to be around you." 'Your co-workers would complain to your boss about this." "You would probably feel horrible always seeing the bad in others, and probably worry about it." "Hey, that could literally make you ill." 'Yeah, you'd be really miserable."

In other words, all those things that were mentioned as the result of being under a curse would naturally occur as a result of this bad habit. Hmmm. You would be, in a sense, cursed by God as a natural result of your actions, sort of like having your hand burned by touching a hot stove. It's not an imposed punishment, but a natural effect.

This is how I see most of the effects mentioned in the Faith. "You do this, and you will suffer that." Why? Because that is how nature works. Similarly, "You do this other thing, and these wonderful benefits will happen." Hooray for us.

Now, looking at this quote in the Kitab-i-Aqdas again, what would be the results of defending the rights of a religious minority, for if we are honest with ourselves, the Baha'i Faith is still a minority pretty much everywhere? What if a king were to rule with equity, justice, mercy, compassion and kindness?

Can we not see how this king would be blessed? Wouldn't their kingdom prosper? Wouldn't all the people glorify such a king? Oh yes, a ruler such as this would be "the very eye of mankind, the luminous ornament on the brow of creation, the fountainhead of blessings unto the whole world."

And yes, I would be very willing to offer up my substance, my wealth, and my very life to aid such a ruler in so noble a task.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Gems of Divine Mysteries - Study, paragraphs 71 - 80

Day 15, and I have a conference to attend this weekend, over the next three mornings, where I'll be selling my artwork. I wonder how I'm going to write this. Maybe in the evenings, instead? Before I go to sleep? Ah, we'll see.
Say: O people! The Tree of Life hath verily been planted in the heart of the heavenly paradise and bestoweth life in every direction. How can ye fail to perceive and recognize it? It will in truth aid thee to grasp all that this well-assured Soul hath disclosed unto thee of the essence of the divine mysteries. The Dove of holiness warbleth in the heaven of immortality and admonisheth thee to array thyself with a new vesture, wrought of steel to shield thee from the shafts of doubt concealed in the allusions of men, saying: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again.” 71
This paragraph intrigues me. "The Tree of Life hath verily been planted"? And it bestows "life in every direction"? Now we just read that life, in this context, means knowledge. Specifically that knowledge that leads us to recognition of the Manifestation.

Where else have we seen the Tree of Life, in a histori-religious context? That's right. Genesis 2. Verse 9, if you want to be specific. "The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." It shows up again later in the story of Adam and Eve.

We all know how Adam and Eve had to leave Eden because they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, but that's not quite true, is it? It wasn't the Tree of Knowledge. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It's a very specific form of knowledge.

God does not condemn knowledge there, contrary to popular understanding of this story. He merely says that if they ate of that fruit, they would die. Or perhaps they would now understand death, and how they would face it. In this context, they would understand the difference between the life of faith and the death of unbelief.

But remember, the Tree of Life was barred from them. That's why God set a Cherubim at the gate of the garden, armed with a flaming sword. "After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[a] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." To me, this seems to speak of the tests and trials that we, as humanity, will need to face to reach this Tree of Life, this knowledge of which Baha'u'llah speaks.

It is as if He is saying that the way is now open, thanks to the sacrifice of the Bab, and His followers.
Wing then thy flight unto this divine Tree and partake of its fruits. Gather up that which hath fallen therefrom and guard it faithfully. Meditate then upon the utterance of one of the Prophets as He intimated to the souls of men, through veiled allusions and hidden symbols, the glad-tidings of the One Who was to come after Him, that thou mayest know of a certainty that their words are inscrutable to all save those who are endued with an understanding heart. He saith: “His eyes were as a flame of fire”, and “brass-like were His feet”, and “out of His mouth goeth a two-edged sword”. How could these words be literally interpreted? Were anyone to appear with all these signs, he would assuredly not be human. And how could any soul seek his company? Nay, should he appear in one city, even the inhabitants of the next would flee from him, nor would any soul dare approach him! Yet, shouldst thou reflect upon these statements, thou wouldst find them to be of such surpassing eloquence and clarity as to mark the loftiest heights of utterance and the epitome of wisdom. Methinks it is from them that the suns of eloquence have appeared and the stars of clarity have dawned forth and shone resplendent. 72
Come to this tree, He says. Take those ripened fruits that are ready and guard them. It is worth noting, of course, that fruits are the very purpose of a tree. They are refreshing to eat, nutritious and even contain the seeds of the next tree.

Then comes one of those words that we see so often in His writings: "Meditate".

Now it begins to look like the Kitab-i-Iqan again. He is taking a single verse and analyzing it for us. He begins by pointing out that a literal interpretation is impossible.
Behold, then, the foolish ones of bygone times and those who, in this day, await the advent of such a being! Nor would they ever bear allegiance unto him except that he appear in the aforementioned form. And as such a being will never appear, so too will they never believe. Such indeed is the measure of the understanding of these perverse and ungodly souls! How could those who fail to understand the most evident of the evident and the most manifest of the manifest ever apprehend the abstruse realities of the divine precepts and the essence of the mysteries of His everlasting wisdom? 73
Look, though, at the people who await such a mythical being. They are being foolish. Of course, the natural question is are we awaiting such a mythical being? If so, then are we foolish, too? And if we can't see that this is a metaphor, then what chance do we have of actually understanding the real mysteries latent within the divine teachings?
I shall now briefly explain the true meaning of this utterance, that thou mayest discover its hidden mysteries and be of them that perceive. Examine then and judge aright that which We shall reveal unto thee, that haply thou mayest be accounted in the sight of God amongst those who are fair-minded in these matters. 74
Fortunately, Baha'u'llah comes to our rescue. Not only are we to ponder, meditate, reflect, and consider, we are also to examine.
Know then that He who uttered these words in the realms of glory meant to describe the attributes of the One Who is to come in such veiled and enigmatic terms as to elude the understanding of the people of error. Now, when He saith: “His eyes were as a flame of fire”, He alludeth but to the keenness of sight and acuteness of vision of the Promised One, Who with His eyes burneth away every veil and covering, maketh known the eternal mysteries in the contingent world, and distinguisheth the faces that are obscured with the dust of hell from those that shine with the light of paradise. Were His eyes not made of the blazing fire of God, how could He consume every veil and burn away all that the people possess? How could He behold the signs of God in the Kingdom of His names and in the world of creation? How could He see all things with the all-perceiving eye of God? Thus have we conferred upon Him a penetrating vision in this day. Would that ye believe in the verses of God! For, indeed, what fire is fiercer than this flame that shineth in the Sinai of His eyes, whereby He consumeth all that hath veiled the peoples of the world? Immeasurably exalted shall God remain above all that hath been revealed in His unerring Tablets concerning the mysteries of the beginning and the end until that day when the Crier will cry out, the day whereon we shall all return unto Him. 75
With His eyes He burns away the veils, allows us to see the truth He is teaching, and then separates the gold from the dross. After all, if we have been shown the truth and still deny, then what good are we?
As to the words “brass-like were His feet”, by this is meant His constancy upon hearing the call of God that commandeth Him: “Be thou steadfast as thou hast been bidden.” He shall so persevere in the Cause of God, and evince such firmness in the path of His might, that even if all the powers of earth and heaven were to deny Him, He would not waver in the proclamation of His Cause, nor flee from His command in the promulgation of His Laws. Nay rather, He will stand as firm as the highest mountains and the loftiest peaks. He will remain immovable in His obedience to God and steadfast in revealing His Cause and proclaiming His Word. No obstacle will hinder Him, nor will the censure of the froward deter Him or the repudiation of the infidels cause Him to waver. All the hatred, the rejection, the iniquity, and the unbelief that He witnesseth serve but to strengthen His love for God, to augment the yearning of His heart, to heighten the exultation of His soul, and to fill His breast with passionate devotion. Hast thou ever seen in this world brass stronger, or blade sharper, or mountain more unyielding than this? He shall verily stand upon His feet to confront all the inhabitants of the earth, and will fear no one, notwithstanding that which, as thou well knowest, the people are wont to commit. Glory be to God, Who hath established Him and called Him forth! Potent is God to do what He pleaseth. He, in truth, is the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. 76
What can I really add to this? He is so clear in His explanation that it doesn't need any further comment. I could, of course, make mention of the order in which He states these things, it doesn't seem to add much to what has been written before.
And further He saith: “Out of his mouth goeth a two-edged sword.” Know thou that since the sword is an instrument that divideth and cleaveth asunder, and since there proceedeth from the mouth of the Prophets and the Chosen Ones of God that which separateth the believer from the infidel and the lover from the beloved, this term hath been so employed, and apart from this dividing and separating no other meaning is intended. Thus, when He Who is the Primal Point and the eternal Sun desireth, by the leave of God, to gather together all creation, to raise them up from the graves of their own selves, and to divide them one from another, He shall pronounce but one verse from Him, and this verse will distinguish truth from error from this day unto the Day of Resurrection. What sword is sharper than this heavenly sword, what blade more trenchant than this incorruptible steel that severeth every tie and separateth thereby the believer from the infidel, father from son, brother from sister, and lover from beloved? For whoso believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him is a true believer and whoso turneth away is an infidel, and such an irrevocable separation occurreth between them that they will cease to consort and associate with each other in this world. And so it is between father and son, for should the son believe and the father deny, they will be severed and forever dissociated from each other. Nay rather, thou witnesseth how the son slayeth the father and the father the son. Consider in the same light all that We have explained and related unto thee. 77
Again, what can I add? He is not being ambiguous at all, but rather as clear as can be. Time and time again He is showing us how much more powerful and true these words are when we read them as metaphor, as opposed to taking them as literal. This is such a major part of His Writings at this time, helping us see past the literalism of His day and understanding the truth that is latent within these words.
Wert thou to behold all things with the eye of discernment, thou wouldst indeed see that this divine sword doth cleave asunder generations. Would that ye could understand it! All this is by virtue of the word of separation that is manifested on the Day of Judgement and Separation, were the people to take heed in the days of their Lord. Nay, couldst thou but sharpen thy sight and refine thy heart, thou wouldst witness that all the material swords which in every day and age have slain the infidels and waged war against the impious proceed from this divine and invisible sword. Open then thine eyes, that thou mayest behold all that We have revealed to thee and attain unto that which none other hath attained. We verily exclaim: “Praise be to God, He Who is the Lord of the Day of Reckoning!” 78
This is it, isn't it? If you take these prophecies literally, then you have missed the point and are likely in the same camp as the fanatics who have blindly followed the religious leaders of the past. You will likely make similar decisions as those of old did, hurting or killing someone believing that this is somehow virtuous. All the while, though, you are forgetting that basic principle of love. He is doing all He can to ensure that we don't all into that sad trap.
Yea, inasmuch as these people have failed to acquire true knowledge from its source and wellspring, and from the ocean of fresh and soft-flowing waters that stream, by the leave of God, through hearts that are pure and stainless, they have been veiled from that which God hath intended by those words and allusions and have remained confined within the prison of their own selves. 79
Why would He refer to this as "the prison of their own selves"? I'm not sure, but I suspect it might be because this attitude of literal belief, and defending it with such animosity arises from this "I'm right" attitude. For so many people the ego is so strong that if anything appears to go against it, it feels as if it is an attack on their very life. By taking so strong a defense, they are in fact imprisoning themselves within their own very limited belief structure. They point to others and say, "See? So many of us can't be wrong. We must be right." And this further prevents them from trying to see a different point of view.

Today this is as important as ever. With the way that the internet is structured, we tend to only see those perspectives that reinforce our own. this is the way the search engines are built. This is the way that the advertising is designed. We are not challenged in our views, but rather have our views bolstered by surrounding ourselves with those that agree with us. The internet has, in essence, become one of the greatest tools of the collective ego.

By deliberately seeking out other perspectives, though, and by challenging our beliefs to stand up in the face of testing, we not only encourage the attitude of independent investigation, we actually strengthen our own beliefs. How? Well, if there is a weak spot in our belief structure, then challenging it will expose it, and we can make it stronger. It's like testing the foundation of a building. If there is a weak spot, then the building is likely to collapse later on. If we test it, however, we can discover the weakness ahead of time and fix it.
We render thanks unto God for that which He hath bestowed upon us of His grace. He it is Who hath caused us to be assured of the truth of His Faith—a Faith which the combined forces of earth and heaven are powerless to resist. He it is Who hath enabled us to acknowledge Him in the day of His presence, to testify unto Him Whom God shall make manifest in the latter Resurrection, and to be among them that have believed in Him ere His appearance, that His favour may be made complete unto us and unto all mankind. 80
And don't take my word for it. Test it. Try it. This Cause is so strong that nothing can break it. Oh, sure, our understanding of it may have it weaknesses, and this is why we need to continually study. This is why we need to test this faith of ours in the field of action. Nothing short of this can prove its strength. The attacks on the Covenant had to be so brutal and fierce in order to prove its strength.

Today, we can truly thank God for this sheltering Faith, for nothing can resist it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Gems of Divine Mysteries - Study, paragraphs 63 - 70

Day 14 of the Fast and I don't think I'm anywhere near where I want to be in this study, Maybe I should keep fasting every day until I'm done? Nah. That just doesn't seem right. Or maybe I can just go until the end of this Fast and then continue it next year? Ah, we'll see. in a few days.

For now, let's continue.
At this hour, when the sweet savours of attraction have wafted over Me from the everlasting city, when transports of yearning have seized Me from the land of splendours at the dawning of the Daystar of the worlds above the horizon of ‘Iráq, and the sweet melodies of Ḥijáz have brought to Mine ears the mysteries of separation, I have purposed to relate unto thine eminence a portion of that which the Mystic Dove hath warbled in the midmost heart of Paradise as to the true meaning of life and death, though the task be impossible. For were I to interpret these words for thee as it hath been inscribed in the Guarded Tablets, all the books and pages of the world could not contain it, nor could the souls of men bear its weight. I shall nonetheless mention that which beseemeth this day and age, that it might serve as a guidance unto whosoever desireth to gain admittance into the retreats of glory in the realms above, to hearken unto the melodies of the spirit intoned by this divine and mystic bird, and to be numbered with those who have severed themselves from all save God and who in this day rejoice in the presence of their Lord. 63
Wow. I must be getting tired. My first thought is that of commuting on the morning train in Chicago, back when I was a kid. The city, the transport, the dawn. Ok. Focus.

He's only giving us a portion of what He knows. Obviously he knows more, but as Jesus said, we cannot bear it. He's only going to tell us what we can handle.

Know then that “life” hath a twofold meaning. The first pertaineth to the appearance of man in an elemental body, and is as manifest to thine eminence and to others as the midday sun. This life cometh to an end with physical death, which is a God-ordained and inescapable reality. That life, however, which is mentioned in the Books of the Prophets and the Chosen Ones of God is the life of knowledge; that is to say, the servant’s recognition of the sign of the splendours wherewith He Who is the Source of all splendour hath Himself invested him, and his certitude of attaining unto the presence of God through the Manifestations of His Cause. This is that blessed and everlasting life that perisheth not: whosoever is quickened thereby shall never die, but will endure as long as His Lord and Creator will endure. 64
Now we're getting back to a style like the Kitab-i-Iqan. Life, here, has two meanings. The first meaning is the most common definition and pertains to the body. This is what we often think of as the literal meaning.

But this is not what He is concerned about. His second definition is life as knowledge, which, when you think about it, is really quite a remarkable definition. In a single word, it explains so much, with layer upon layer of meaning.

Then, of course, He qualifies it. This is not just the everyday knowledge we are talking about here, oh no. Nor is it the useless trivia so popular amongst the vast multitudes. This knowledge refers us to the Manifestation. It is the knowledge that allows us to recognize His signs, as well as the certainty that we will encounter Him. this absolute awareness of His Presence is what is meant by everlasting life.
The first life, which pertaineth to the elemental body, will come to an end, as hath been revealed by God: “Every soul shall taste of death.” But the second life, which ariseth from the knowledge of God, knoweth no death, as hath been revealed aforetime: “Him will We surely quicken to a blessed life.” And in another passage concerning the martyrs: “Nay, they are alive and sustained by their Lord.” And from the Traditions: “He who is a true believer liveth both in this world and in the world to come.” Numerous examples of similar words are to be found in the Books of God and of the Embodiments of His justice. For the sake of brevity, however, We have contented Ourself with the above passages. 65
This first definition of life leads only to death, for all that lives will surely perish. But this second definition pertains to the knowledge deep within our soul and leads us forward, upward, outward, to the eternal realms. It is this second definition, that definition of knowledge that leads us to eternal life. There are so many quotes from the sacred Books that He can use to defend this position, but those on their own would fill volumes. We know that, and so He doesn't have to.
O My brother! Forsake thine own desires, turn thy face unto thy Lord, and walk not in the footsteps of those who have taken their corrupt inclinations for their god, that perchance thou mayest find shelter in the heart of existence, beneath the redeeming shadow of Him Who traineth all names and attributes. For they who turn away from their Lord in this day are in truth accounted amongst the dead, though to outward seeming they may walk upon the earth, amongst the deaf, though they may hear, and amongst the blind, though they may see, as hath been clearly stated by Him Who is the Lord of the Day of Reckoning: “Hearts have they with which they understand not, and eyes have they with which they see not.…” They walk the edge of a treacherous bank and tread the brink of a fiery abyss. They partake not of the billows of this surging and treasure-laden Ocean, but disport themselves with their own idle words. 66
Now it gets personal. Moving away from the dictionary, we see how this will apply to our life.

Immediately, with the phrase, "O My brother", He draws us in. We are not just a friend, we are a brother. This is such a close relationship that we want to respond in kind. And what an honour, too, to be called "brother" by so eminent a Person.

Then, with the very next phrase, He challenges us. The challenge, though, is an interesting one, and not quite as explicit as I would expect. He is asking us, in a way, to be aware of what our desires are, for how else would we be able to forsake them? What is it that we really want? The implication is strong that our desire is not to know God, but it should be, and we are being asked to correct this. The implication is also there that many have taken their own desires to be their highest value, their god, that which they would do anything for. Obviously this is not a good thing, and we are being cautioned not to fall into this same trap.

Then, as if this wasn't enough yet, He tosses out another fascinating phrase: "Him Who traineth all names and attributes". This really struck me as something new. Here, God is elevated from being seen as the All-Merciful to the One Who trains the All-Mericful how to show mercy. It's a fascinating progression, historically. Every Dispensation we seem to be given a higher understanding of the nature of God. We have gone from the old guy in the garden, to the Manifestation being God, to the God of the attributes such as the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. Now we see Him as even beyond that. Every time we think we have as big a vision of God as we can get, the next Manifestation raises our sights once again.

If we think of life as knowledge, then turning away from this greater vision is turning away from knowledge itself. No wonder it is referred to as death. We have a mind to learn, but choose not to. It really is the same as having eyes but not seeing, or ears and not hearing. It is the having of a faculty and not using it for its intended purpose.

Following this, we are reminded that we are at a critical junction here. It will be very easy to fall back into habit, allow ourselves to continue thinking of the world as we have done before, and as most of society does. This will topple us into that abyss. We can either consider this new perspective and embrace it, or make play with idle words that do nothing to benefit either us or the world.
In this connection We will relate unto thee that which was revealed of old concerning “life”, that perchance it may turn thee away from the promptings of self, deliver thee from the narrow confines of thy prison in this gloomy plane, and aid thee to become of them that are guided aright in the darkness of this world. 67
Here, Baha'u'llah is looking back again, giving us that opportunity to keep up. It is as if He is looking over His shoulder and asking, "You still with Me?" And don't forget, if you follow the "promptings of self", you will find this world to be a gloomy place and the world will be dark before your eyes.
He saith, and He, verily, speaketh the truth: “Shall the dead whom We have quickened, and for whom We have ordained a light whereby he may walk amongst men, be like him whose likeness is in the darkness, whence he will not come forth?” This verse was revealed with respect to Ḥamzih and Abú-Jahl, the former of whom was a believer whilst the latter disbelieved. Most of the pagan leaders mocked and derided it, were agitated, and clamoured: “How did Ḥamzih die? And how was he restored to his former life?” Were ye to examine carefully the verses of God, ye would find many such statements recorded in the Book. 68
Here we, or more accurately he, are reminded of two people from Islamic history that we should know well. As a good Muslim, the recipient of this Tablet would regard Hamzih as a hero He would know this story as well as any Christian or Jew would know the story of Noah. We know, in this context, the metaphorical manner in which the term "life" was used. And we are being asked to consider ourselves in the same position. Do we wish to be like Hamzih, or more like Abu-Jahl?
Would that pure and stainless hearts could be found, that I might impart unto them a sprinkling from the oceans of knowledge which My Lord hath bestowed upon Me, so that they may soar in the heavens even as they walk upon the earth and speed over the waters even as they course the land, and that they may take up their souls in their hands and lay them down in the path of their Creator. Howbeit, leave hath not been granted to divulge this mighty secret. Indeed, it hath been from everlasting a mystery enshrined within the treasuries of His power and a secret concealed within the repositories of His might, lest His faithful servants forsake their own lives in the hope of attaining this most great station in the realms of eternity. Nor shall they who wander in this oppressive darkness ever attain unto it. 69
Here, oh here, we long to be a "pure and stainless" heart. We want to receive that sprinkling of the life-giving waters. We long to soar in that heavenly realm. And yes, we even feel that longing to be able to arise to be a hero of the Faith and lay down our life for this Cause.

But there is a secret that Baha'u'llah cannot yet reveal, and what potential this secret promises. He is still not ready to reveal His own Station.
O My brother! At every juncture We have restated Our theme, that all that hath been recorded in these verses may, by the leave of God, be made clear unto thee, and that thou mayest become independent of those who are plunged in the darkness of self and who tread the valley of arrogance and pride, and be of them that move within the paradise of everlasting life. 70
Over and over, Baha'u'llah keeps us close to His heart. Time and again He repeats His theme, giving us every opportunity to understand just what it is that He is saying. And with every step He reminds us not to be ensnared by the prevailing beliefs of the day.

This message is just as relevant today, with its rampant atheism and religious fanaticism, with its stifling materialism and superstitious mysticism, we need to continually find our way on that razor-thin middle way. We know that God is unknowable, but we still recognize the importance of religion. We know that material goods have a place in our lives, but need to ensure that they don't consume us. And we know that religion is, at its core, mystical, but should always remain practical, too.