Thursday, June 30, 2011

Paragraph 23

O the pity! that man should deprive himself of this goodly gift, this imperishable bounty, this everlasting life. It behooveth him to prize this food that cometh from heaven, that perchance, through the wondrous favours of the Sun of Truth, the dead may be brought to life, and withered souls be quickened by the infinite Spirit. Make haste, O my brother, that while there is yet time our lips may taste of the immortal draught, for the breeze of life, now blowing from the city of the Well-Beloved, cannot last, and the streaming river of holy utterance must needs be stilled, and the portals of the Ridvan cannot for ever remain open. The day will surely come when the Nightingale of Paradise will have winged its flight away from its earthly abode unto its heavenly nest. Then will its melody be heard no more, and the beauty of the rose cease to shine. Seize the time, therefore, ere the glory of the divine springtime hath spent itself, and the Bird of Eternity ceased to warble its melody, that thy inner hearing may not be deprived of hearkening unto its call. This is My counsel unto thee and unto the beloved of God. Whosoever wisheth, let him turn thereunto; whosoever wisheth, let him turn away. God, verily, is independent of him and of that which he may see and witness.

This paragraph, to us, is the last paragraph of the introduction. From here on out, in the rest of Part 1, Baha'u'llah will be examining a single passage from Matthew 24.

Up to this point, Baha'u'llah began by reminding us of the requirements for a true seeker, and then continued by reminding us of the Messengers of the past. Our heart is no doubt touched by the desire to have been there when these other Messengers were alive. Oh, how we long to have been able to meet Them.

Baha'u'llah is lovingly telling the Uncle of the Bab, who already missed the bounty of recognizing his Nephew during His lifetime, to be ready for the next Messenger, "He Whom God will make Manifest".

"Oh the pity!" To have come this far, to actually seek out Baha'u'llah in Baghdad, and then maybe not to recognize. This is like E G Browne who met Him, and really loved Him, but still failed to recognize His Station. The Messenger is not on the Earth for long, so He is telling us to "seize thy chance". Grab it before it is too late. These Words are not only for the Uncle of the Bab, but for all of us who read this in times to come. "This is My counsel unto thee and unto the beloved of God."

This reminds us both of what we each felt when we were on pilgrimage. We wanted to just sit there and bask in the glory of His presence there in the Shrines, but no. We had to leave. We had to go back and do His work. That was the purpose of the pilgrimage. We feel that Baha'u'llah is saying something similar. Those who had the incredible bounty of being with Him had to seize every moment they could to absorb as much as they could from Him, just like us when we were at the Shrines.

These are hard times, especially for those in the Babi community. Here, at this moment in history, the Bab has already been martyred. Most of the leading Babis have been killed or exiled. Baha'u'llah has been banished to Iraq, and has just returned from His self-imposed exile to the mountains. The entire Babi community is in crisis and Baha'u'llah is helping to revive it. Even though He has not yet revealed His Mission, He is reminding the friends of this incredible promise of the next messenger to come. It is with all this in mind that we come to the prophecy of Jesus in the next paragraph.

While there is a lot more we can discuss here, including the imagery that He uses, we want to pause here and really contemplate this sense of regret that He is trying to help us avoid. He knows the incredible bounty that is right there and how much we will regret it if we miss Him, and He wants to spare us this. He doesn't want us to be disappointed.

Instead of looking at all these things contained in this paragraph, we want to leave you with a single thought on the last lines. It is so similar to the Tablet of Ahmad, "Whosoever desireth, let him turn aside from this counsel and whosoever desireth let him choose the path to his Lord." Baha'u'llah is not saying that we will be turning away from God if we don't recognize Him, but rather that we are turning aside from His counsel. And what a loss that would be.

It is with this in mind that Baha'u'llah then moves into the prophecy of Jesus concerning His return.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paragraph 22

This wronged One will cite but one of these instances, thus conferring upon mankind, for the sake of God, such bounties as are yet concealed within the treasury of the hidden and sacred Tree, that haply mortal men may not remain deprived of their share of the immortal fruit, and attain to a dewdrop of the waters of everlasting life which, from Baghdad, the "Abode of Peace," are being vouchsafed unto all mankind. We ask for neither meed nor reward. "We nourish your souls for the sake of God; we seek from you neither recompense nor thanks." This is the food that conferreth everlasting life upon the pure in heart and the illumined in spirit. This is the bread of which it is said: "Lord, send down upon us Thy bread from heaven." This bread shall never be withheld from them that deserve it, nor can it ever be exhausted. It groweth everlastingly from the tree of grace; it descendeth at all seasons from the heavens of justice and mercy. Even as He saith: "Seest thou not to what God likeneth a good word? To a good tree; its root firmly fixed, and its branches reaching unto heaven: yielding its fruit in all seasons."

Baha'u'llah is still leading us to paragraph 24, in which He will begin to discuss that prophecy from Jesus, in Matthew 24. That is the one instance that He cites, as He mentions in the first sentence.

To continue the theme from paragraph 21, there are conditions upon us when we try and help the seeker, and Baha'u'llah outlines some of them here. However, even if we are in full obedience to all of these conditions, that is still no guarantee that our aim will be fulfilled. This is why we find the word "haply" here.

There is also a rich tapestry of poetry being woven within this paragraph. There are multiple references to both Eden (the sacred Tree) and the Exodus (the bread that descendeth from the heavens), and even the ministry of Jesus (the bread that can never be exhausted). Once again, Baha'u'llah is carrying us through religious history. Interestingly enough, He is also using three references to bread in order to do this.

For us, coming from a Judeo-Christian Western background, we often think of the Tree as having an apple on it. But in one legend from Islam, the "bread tree" is the tree that Adam and Eve ate from, which was why they were exiled from Paradise. It seems to be a reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In one book we found on the internet it says, "In those days wheat still grew on the bread tree. Every one of its branches sprouted seven golden ears and in each ear there grew five snowwhite grains of wheat. Having been tempted, Eve ate one of the grains and liked it more than anything she had ever tasted." Once Adam had also tasted of it, the book goes on to say "At once, his golden crown left his head and rose up to heaven."

This led us to a reconsideration of Adam, as a Manifestation of God.

Let's go back for a moment. Here, Baha'u'llah is actually using three metaphors of bread, linking Adam to Moses to Jesus. Adam ate from the Bread Tree, but we're still not sure what that means.

Moses, as we know, fed His people with the Bread from Heaven when they were wandering in the desert. Jesus fed the masses with this bread that never ran out. But how does this relate back to Adam?

What does the Tree symbolize? What does the Bread symbolize? Is the Tree the Manifestation, and the Bread His Word? If this is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, then this makes perfect sense.

There is a fascinating poem by Tahirih in which she talks about this, called Adam's Wish. She recognizes Adam as a Messenger of God, and wonders why it is that we seem to think of Him as "fallen from Grace". She suggests that, perhaps, this is the test of Adam. Remember, earlier Baha'u'llah pointed out that every Messenger has had their test for their followers. Moses, for example, was seen as a murderer, and was also a stammerer. Jesus was seen as being fatherless at a time when the stigma of this was quite harsh. This could be our test regarding Adam.

Baha'u'llah also says, elsewhere in His Writings, that if we look at the Messengers with a discerning eye, we will see Them all "uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith." How does this work for Adam?

Tahirih suggests that it was Adam who saw "the end in the beginning", and ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, setting humanity on this path of spiritual growth in order that we would be ready to receive the Revelations of the Bab and Baha'u'llah. And that He did so knowing that He would be vilified throughout history as the One who condemned humanity to sin.

Now we can see more clearly. We can begin to see the pattern that Baha'u'llah has spent so many pages unveiling before our eyes. We can see how Adam, too, fits within this pattern.

This reconsideration of Adam is also allowing us to be more open to reconsidering our understanding of the prophecies of Jesus, which will come in paragraph 24.

It also bring into clearer light this last quote that Baha'u'llah offers us here in this paragraph: "Seest thou not to what God likeneth a good word? To a good tree; its root firmly fixed, and its branches reaching unto heaven: yielding its fruit in all seasons."

In terms of Adam, the fruit gave us the knowledge of good and evil. Is this not a good thing? Is it not praiseworthy to be aware of the difference between the two? And is it not for this reason that God has always sent down His Messengers?

It seems that the more we consider it, the more we recognize that all of the Messengers really are "abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith".

And if we look closely, we'll see Adam right up there with the rest of Them.