Oct 202016

I think the most profound communication of one’s love for God lies in complete and radiant acceptance of others, until they feel the warmth of our affection. It doesn’t need to be a communication of ideas or concepts; the unity of God is best preached by seeing the goodness in others, independent of all earthly differences, and acting with this awareness. The more complete such a vision becomes, the more it evolves toward an inclusive experience of God, until “turning one’s heart toward God” no longer implies turning away from the world, but only what would narrow the heart again.

For on this plane the traveler witnesseth the beauty of the Friend in everything. Even in fire, he seeth the face of the Beloved. He beholdeth in illusion the secret of reality, and readeth from the attributes the riddle of the Essence. For he hath burnt away the veils with his sighing, and unwrapped the shroudings with a single glance…

For example, we might interpret “everything” as the world around us; “fire” as those characteristics that jar and annoy; “illusion”, the specious and transitory distinctions between people; “attributes” their worldly qualities; the “veils”, a cloak of manyness obscuring the One; and “shroudings”, the common perception that my neighbor is not my own, truest self. Without God, we live alone, islands of our own making; in Him, we are the sea.

 Posted by at 1:14 pm
Oct 072016
So good is my King
that I understand it not.

His words, not true, but truth itself,
Glorious, Exalted, Most Praiseworthy!

I praise Him, not for reason's sake nor desert, 
but this: He is the very meaning of the act.

If He cast me out from His great City
beyond walls and moats, alone in sadness,
forsaken, wondering what wisdom is this...

He is a most gracious sovereign!
and the greatest host!

By remoteness, He draws me near;
by darkness, sharpens my sight.

So good is my King
that I understand it not.

My love for Him must never be
conditioned on His love for me. 
 Posted by at 2:05 am
Oct 012016

I prepared the following speech for our Unit Convention today, about the current Five Year Plan:

For various reasons, I’ve been reading the Five Year Plan quite often this year, and studying it with others on many occasions. What all this study has taught me is: I am no expert on this Plan. I have no idea what its fulfillment is going to look like, even for Yolo. What I have learned is that I can only understand by putting it into practice, by failing here and there, reflecting, trying not to fail in quite the same ways, and then studying some more. It only really makes real sense in the trenches, so to speak, and there it shines rather beautifully sometimes, I must say.

Because the fact is, we’re doing something here that’s never been attempted before. If you look at the Encyclopedia Britannica, it lists the Bahá’í Faith as one of the world’s religions. If there was a card game made about religions, we’d be just one card in that deck. But this fails to recognize the truth that nothing like this has ever happened before. Not even close. Every religion of the past, all the past thousands of years, it is said, resulted in revealing just two of the letters of knowledge. With the Báb’s Dispensation, all the remaining 25 letters were revealed. All of them, all at once! That’s like 13x as much knowledge, in the past 170 years, compared to all the thousands that preceded it.

No one has ever seen a Faith like this, and no one knows what it will become. Look at the world today. We lose so much of our potential to wars, divisive politics, prejudice, hedonism, sexism — so many -isms! They say that humans, at any given moment, use no more than 10% of their brain power. I bet the world has hardly reached 1% of its collective brain power yet. We’re like a slumbering giant who has never been fully awake before. And that’s what our Plans are doing: slowing bringing consciousness to an enormous, sleeping beauty.

So what is the training institute about, really? Here’s something written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice that I think sums it up rather well:

[The agency of the training institute] …strives to engage the individual in an educational process in which virtuous conduct and self-discipline are developed in the context of service, fostering a coherent and joyful pattern of life that weaves together study, worship, teaching, community building and, in general, involvement in other processes that seek to transform society. At the heart of the educational process is contact with the Word of God, whose power sustains every individual’s attempts to purify his or her heart and to walk a path of service with “the feet of detachment”.[1]

I find this to be such a holistic description of the training institute; it talks about a joyful pattern that knits together the different aspects of human life in the context of service, with its core centered on the Word of God. The intention of the current Plans is to multiply this pattern across the world until it becomes a new model for civilization.

One of the nice things about the most recent Plan is that it lays out for us a unfolding description of what the results of the Plan look like at various stages, as the capacities of each community develop, and certain developmental milestones are achieved. It starts with just a small group of devoted friends, wishing to begin the educational process; and ends with thousands upon thousands being served, maybe even with ties to the functioning of local government.

Because one of the things we’re doing in this epoch of the Formative Age is to pivot on a global scale, and to turn our focus outward. Success for us is not found in personal salvation, or admittance into heaven. We are called upon to be the servants of all humanity, and our success is the happiness of the world. And this has never been attempted before. No Prophet in past memory has ever given His followers the mandate of ministering to the needs of the whole Earth.

Now, that does sound like a pretty tall order, and I know it can often seem like it’s very far away; as if my actions today don’t even have that much of an impact. So I wanted to say something about the value of individual initiative, and how important even the smallest of efforts is in this Cause. Bahá’u’lláh writes:

This Day a door is open wider than both heaven and earth. The eye of the mercy of Him Who is the Desire of the worlds is turned towards all men. An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror.[2]

And in the Gleanings, He says:

One righteous act is endowed with a potency that can so elevate the dust as to cause it to pass beyond the heaven of heavens.[3]

One of the principles of our Faith is the harmony of science and religion, and a beautiful thing about this principle is that it allows us to look toward the physical world to gain understanding of spiritual principles. In fact, in the Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh said,

… if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms, and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths.[4]

So where can we look to see the principle of a drop becoming a sea? If you remember the movie Jurassic Park, one of the scientific ideas popularized by that movie — not bringing dinosaurs to life from a drop of mosquitoes’ blood, though — was chaos theory. Well, one thing we’ve learned from chaos theory is that the world is an intensely interdependent system, with each part interacting with every other part. In such a system, the beating of a butterfly’s wings in the south China sea can, through a chain of events, build up to a hurricane in the Atlantic. Even though this chain of events is bound by the laws of science, it remains completely unpredictable because of the sheer number of variables involved in the equation.

Such a phenomenon explains how relatively minor events can have disproportionately large outcomes. One person’s prayer in America could become the impetus for a large surge of activity in India, though we’d never know it.

Or look at history. During the last ice age, average temperatures on Earth were only twelve degree cooler than they are today. Here in West Sacramento, you can often see forty degrees of difference within twelve hours! But these twelve degrees, on a global scale, resulted in towers of ice one mile thick covering large parts of North America.

What we’re doing with these training institutes is not just about education. There are many organizations that know a lot about education. What we’re teaching people is about their own nobility, their amazing potential, and the extremely positive prospects offered by a world in unity. We’re striving to communicate the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, which have the power to warm and thaw human hearts. We’re starting slowly, and we’re a small group, but if we warm these hearts by just a few degrees, the interdependent nature of the two worlds — this Earth and the Abhá Kingdom — will, at some point suddenly end this ice age of spiritual darkness we’ve been stumbling through, and bring about the dawn of our maturity as a species. It’s not a long hill we have to climb over thousands of years; all it requires is a small but determined impetus, the beating of a butterfly’s wings across the world, for forces to be set in motion that can change everything. And that begins right here, during this Plan.

I would like to end with these words from `Abdu’l-Bahá:

Lift up your hearts above the present and look with eyes of faith into the future! Today the seed is sown, the grain falls upon the earth, but behold the day will come when it shall rise a glorious tree and the branches thereof shall be laden with fruit. Rejoice and be glad that this day has dawned, try to realize its power, for it is indeed wonderful![5]

Footnotes: [1] Extract from a letter dated 19 April 2013 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a number of individual Bahá’ís resident in Europe

[2] Bahá’u’lláh, cited by Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 117-18

[3] Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 287

[4] Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, p. 32

[5] `Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 68

 Posted by at 5:30 pm
Sep 162016
Dear reader!

You are the unsought treasure.
The jewel mistaken for glass.
The sleeping queen taken for a peasant.

Awaken your true self!
You are the gateway, the hidden door,
the catalyst for what might be.

A painting in a lightless cave
  is equal to the pressing void.
You were made to catch the light;
to reveal its beauty secrets.

Your nature is never far from Him.
Only: the unlit candle
  knows nothing at first
of Heat and Flame.
 Posted by at 9:01 am
Sep 092016

What follows are some musings on the following Hidden Word:

O Son of My Handmaid! Didst thou behold immortal sovereignty, thou wouldst strive to pass from this fleeting world. But to conceal the one from thee and to reveal the other is a mystery which none but the pure in heart can comprehend.

When the Writings speak of this world and the next, it can also refer to the world of self, and the world of nearness to God:

Know ye that by “the world” is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The “life to come,” on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable.

Viewed in this sense, the first sentence of the Hidden World could be saying that if we only knew the station of a pure heart, devoted to God, we would impatiently cast away our selves.

In another Hidden Word He writes:

Possess a pure, kindly, and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty, ancient, imperishable and everlasting.

Here again we see the image of an immortal sovereignty, but it refers to a condition of heart, and not the worlds after physical death. And the phrase “strive to pass from this fleeting world” reminds me of another verse along these lines:

O My Brother! A pure heart is as a mirror; cleanse it with the burnish of love and severance from all save God, that the true sun may shine within it and the eternal morning dawn. Then wilt thou clearly see the meaning of “Neither doth My earth nor My heaven contain Me, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me.” And thou wilt take up thy life in thine hand, and with infinite longing cast it before the new Beloved One.

But why is the glory of this station concealed, and the unreality of self allowed to hold sway over both our understanding and our perceptions, such that we must battle life-long to overcome it?

Maybe, in order to know God, we must first perceive what is “not God”; that is, acutely know the pain of His absence, until we are able to perceive even the least hint of His presence; until, “Each and every thing, however small, would be to him a revelation, leading him to his Beloved, the Object of his quest”, and where, “none shall contemplate anything whatsoever but that he shall see God therein”.

For example, a thirsty man perishing in the desert knows far more about water than the fish who swims in it always. That man can perceive its life-giving potential in a single drop — savoring its sweetness, longing for it with all his heart — while the fish remains ignorant in the very heart of the sea!

God’s revelation is like that sea, and to truly recognize it for its own sake — and not for the benefits it may confer — we must endure the dark, to sensitize our eyes; we must endure pain, to know the sweetness of mercy; we must feel the anguish of separation, poignant and deep, to savor the joy of reunion.

Within the contrast between what is and what could be, between “this fleeting world” and the joys of “immortal sovereignty”, lies a mystery both awesome and dreadful: “For the head raised up in the love of God will certainly fall by the sword, and the life that is kindled with longing will surely be sacrificed, and the heart which remembereth the Loved One will surely brim with blood.”

Again, if “head” and “life” are taken as references to selfhood, and “falling by the sword” and “sacrifice” refer to what must happen in order for us to die from self and live in God, then the brimming of our hearts with blood is a beautiful mystery — and one I believe is also addressed quite eloquently in the Fire Tablet.

 Posted by at 9:23 am
Sep 022016
Two men prayed to God:
One said only one word
and was given a life of bounty in response.
The other prayed for decades...
but received only a drop.

Of these two,
I think the latter was much more fortunate.

Because,one day, these two will approach God.
To the first, He will ask:
"I gave you a life-time of bounty; why just one word?"
To the other He will say:
"For only a drop, you pledged your life."

If this life gives you suffering
  in answer for your prayers:
perhaps He answers another prayer,
to be asked by a future self.
 Posted by at 10:54 pm
Aug 262016

God is nearer to us than our life’s vein, and we are always “but one step away from the glorious heights above, and the celestial Tree of Love.” I don’t think the Abhá Kingdom is a place we are debarred from until we are worthy, because we are never worthy. “Should God punish men for their perverse doings, He would not leave on earth a moving thing.”

The real paradise for human souls lies in recognition of the Manifestation of God. I mean, really, truly knowing who He is, and what He represents. If we knew this, we would cry for joy until expiring from this life. This is the Abhá Kingdom, and to reach it requires changing our vision, our perception, the very fabric of who we think we are.

This sort of sea change cannot come about through study or reflection; not even by action alone. It must be accompanied by sacrifice, pain, and constant testing. We are all iron ingots, being pounded into shining blades of steel. There is no moment’s rest, no greater joy than to be fashioned into our perfect state, hammer blow by hammer blow.

If this does not accord with our current definition of happiness, then our concept of happiness must be changed for something greater. A seed is quite happy far under the ground, but this is not fitting for a tree; the infant must endure being born if he is to live, no matter how happy a place the womb world might be.

Is this process hard, difficult, arduous? Of course it is. And the reward is equally wondrous, delightful, and amazing. If we only knew!

 Posted by at 9:00 am
Aug 192016

If the Manifestation only wished for people to know the truth of things, this could be achieved with a single Word. So I do not think the objective is our understanding. After all, does it change anything to know whether Huri and Dijnn are figurative or literal?

Within the treasury of Our Wisdom there lieth unrevealed a knowledge,
one word of which, if we chose to divulge it to mankind, would cause
every human being to recognize the Manifestation of God and to
acknowledge His omniscience, would enable every one to discover the
secrets of all the sciences, and to attain so high a station as to
find himself wholly independent of all past and future learning.

God gives to each soul a priceless opportunity to recognize Bahá’u’lláh for His own sake, and not according to his own understanding. Since the mind can never know God, or even the nature of its own self (!), the heart is what is tested.

But I don’t mean this in the sense of blind faith. Imagine an explorer who believes something about the world around him, based on principles he discerns without certain knowledge — even when others tell him he is wrong — and who demonstrates his faith by acting on that knowledge. If the truth of things were clear from the outset, the beauty of such courage would never be.

 Posted by at 9:13 am
Aug 142016

I believe that this world is a crucible, within which the pure of heart are tested, and distinguished from the false and self-seeking.

Everything revolves around the Manifestation of God, and discovering who is true in their devotion to Him. Is it because they want something from the exchange, or do they love Him only for the sake of His Beauty?

None of this is to God’s benefit. He can dispense with everything. He creates this opportunity for us, out of perfect Mercy, so that we might, ourselves, discover the value of that recognition.

Imagine a wealthy father who intends to bestow on his child a boundless inheritance. If the child is going to be without want for the whole of his life, would it not sweeten his appreciation if he were made to endure poverty at the beginning of that life, so that he comes to know the value of every coin? And while doing so, the father discovers which of his sons are pure in heart, and who only hungers for power and advantage.

All of this is truly a bounty to us, that we might come to know God — a knowledge like the thirsty and gasping fish who rediscovers the ocean, and not like those who remain unaware of its existence their whole lives. Just as knowledge of light requires darkness, and only then can a man appreciate the magnificent bounty of the Sun’s light. If he were born in the neighborhood of the sun, he would either be blind, or unable to perceive the infinite variety of colors that potentially dwell within that Light.

Say: My creatures are even as the fish of the deep. Their life dependeth upon the water, and yet they remain unaware of that which, by the grace of an omniscient and omnipotent Lord, sustaineth their very existence. Indeed, their heedlessness is such that were they asked concerning the water and its properties, they would prove entirely ignorant. Thus do We set forth comparisons and similitudes, that perchance the people may turn unto Him Who is the Object of the adoration of the entire creation.

Giving people knowledge of the ocean is only one kind of knowledge. `Irfán requires, at first, a deep and lasting thirst, so that within a single drop one may taste the sweetness of the Kawthar fountain.

 Posted by at 12:07 pm
Aug 052016

A quick analogy occurred to me concerning the different between Ilm and Irfán, that is, between acquired knowledge and the deep understanding of a thing.

The former is reading that animals are treated poorly, and that hot dogs are made of terrible things, yet it doesn’t stop you from enjoying them. The latter is visiting the factory, and then the treatment plants, and having your appetite forever removed by that knowledge, by an awareness you can’t unknow.

 Posted by at 9:43 am