Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Paragraph 76

Know verily that Knowledge is of two kinds: Divine and Satanic. The one welleth out from the fountain of divine inspiration; the other is but a reflection of vain and obscure thoughts. The source of the former is God Himself; the motive-force of the latter the whisperings of selfish desire. The one is guided by the principle: "Fear ye God; God will teach you;" (Qur'an 2:282) the other is but a confirmation of the truth: "Knowledge is the most grievous veil between man and his Creator." The former bringeth forth the fruit of patience, of longing desire, of true understanding, and love; whilst the latter can yield naught but arrogance, vainglory and conceit. From the sayings of those Masters of holy utterance, Who have expounded the meaning of true knowledge, the odour of these dark teachings, which have obscured the world, can in no wise be detected. The tree of such teachings can yield no result except iniquity and rebellion, and beareth no fruit but hatred and envy. Its fruit is deadly poison; its shadow a consuming fire. How well hath it been said: "Cling unto the robe of the Desire of thy heart, and put thou away all shame; bid the worldlywise be gone, however great their name."

This is the third of those twelve paragraphs that look at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

As you recall, in the previous paragraph Baha'u'llah ended with the phrase "true knowledge". But what is true knowledge? Here He answers that very question.

Without repeating what He says, we wanted to draw attention to the differences between these two types of knowledge, namely what results each produce. The Divine Knowledge produces patience, longing desire, true understanding and love. Satanic Knowledge produces arrogance, vainglory and conceit.

Both of these are, as we love to find, a path.

When we are talking with someone, striving to both teach them and learn from them, patience is an important starting point. When we have patience, and listen attentively, we will find a desire to learn more building within us. As this desire grows, we will listen even more closely and begin to come to a true understanding of them as an individual creation of God. This, of course, leads to true love.

The second path, which results from the Satanic Knowledge, Begins with arrogance, an overbearing and presumptuous manner. This leads to vainglory, an excessive pride in our own achievements, no matter how insignificant they may be. The final result is conceit, or an excessive appraising of our own worth.

In the end, if we look at the result of any teaching, whether it is from Baha'u'llah, or a teacher in school, or what we learn from the the media, we only need to see the results of it to determine whether it is Divine or Satanic. Does it bring us closer to God and lead us to love to other people? Or does it become a veil, preventing us from even considering the ideas and opinions of others?

There is another interesting aspect about this paragraph, in that Baha'u'llah quotes from the Qur'an, a traditional Sufi saying and an Arabic poem. He draws from all sorts of sources to help bring out His point. And this is something we can learn from. Throughout the Writings we are encouraged to study "such sciences as are useful and would redound to the progress and advancement of the people". The Guardian encourages us to read all sorts of things, from newspapers to fiction to non-fiction, and draw upon all of it in our understanding of the Faith. After all, how can we expect to talk intelligently about the harmony of science and religion if we have never read anything from the various sciences? How can we expect to talk about how the Faith can help solve the problems facing humanity today if we do not read about what is happening in the world?

There are so many instances of people only looking to their own writings, the teachings of their own Faith, and never taking the time to learn about others. Baha'u'llah seems to show us that we can immerse ourselves in the Writings, as well as study other branches of knowledge, just so long as they do not become that veil between us and God.

Baha'u'llah also, in a sense, seems to allude to the story of Adam, with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He refers to the two kinds of knowledge, which can certainly be seen in those terms. He mentions a fountain, which is indicative of a garden. The whisperings remind us of the snake in the Garden whispering to Eve. He talks of fruit and trees. Could He be moving us towards the idea that the divine Messenger bringing us the fruit of the Tree of Ever-lasting Life?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Paragraph 75

In the utterances of the divine Luminaries the term "heaven" hath been applied to many and divers things; such as the "heaven of Command," the "heaven of Will," the "heaven of the divine Purpose," the "heaven of divine Knowledge," the "heaven of Certitude," the "heaven of Utterance," the "heaven of Revelation," the "heaven of Concealment," and the like. In every instance, He hath given the term "heaven" a special meaning, the significance of which is revealed to none save those that have been initiated into the divine mysteries, and have drunk from the chalice of immortal life. For example, He saith: "The heaven hath sustenance for you, and it containeth that which you are promised;" (Qur'an 51:22) whereas it is the earth that yieldeth such sustenance. Likewise, it hath been said: "The names come down from heaven;" whereas they proceed out of the mouth of men. Wert thou to cleanse the mirror of thy heart from the dust of malice, thou wouldst apprehend the meaning of the symbolic terms revealed by the all-embracing Word of God made manifest in every Dispensation, and wouldst discover the mysteries of divine knowledge. Not, however, until thou consumest with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current amongst men, canst thou behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge.

This is the second of 12 paragraphs looking at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And here, as you can see, Baha'u'llah is specifically looking at the word "heaven". He did this earlier, back in paragraph 46, and is, in a sense, reminding us that there are many layers of meaning in every word of sacred Text. This is a theme He returns to over and over again. Whenever we think we know what sacred Text means, He seems to be saying that we must remain detached from that and be open to even more layers of understanding.

Also, like usual, nothing He does is random. Even the various quotes regarding the word "heaven" seem to have a path. There is the command, with the will to get whatever is commanded done. As we proceed on achieving this, we begin to discover the purpose, which leads us to knowledge. With knowledge, we gain in certitude. From there we can begin to use our utterance to teach the Revelation, which comes from God alone, Who is concealed behind many veils. With every instance of a list in this book, we have seen that there is a path, if we only look for it. (How was that for connecting it to the next line?)

Over and over again He reminds us that if we take the literal meaning of all these phrases, it really doesn't make any sense. He encourages us to use our mind, to be rational, to investigate these things for ourselves. And most importantly, He encourages us to be open-minded, to not let the veils of our education get in the way of seeing the truth.

But then, as usual, He says something that makes us say, "That's odd." He uses the word "malice". He says that if we cleanse our heart from "malice", then we will understand these terms.

Why malice? Malice is an ill-will, or the intention or desire to commit an unlawful act. It seems kind of a strange pre-requisite. But is it? Baha'u'llah says that "malice is a grievous malady which depriveth man from recognizing the Great Being, and debarreth him from the splendors of the sun of certitude." This whole book is all about certitude, so it makes sense that He would be very concerned in this context about it. In the Hidden Words, He says, "Purge thy heart from malice and, innocent of envy, enter the divine court of holiness." This links malice to envy, which is an ill-will. Envy is when you desire an attribute of someone else, or a possession of theirs. If we have even the least trace of envy in our heart, that trace will explode beyond belief in the presence of a Messenger of God. How numerous are the stories of those who were envious of Baha'u'llah and did all they could to tear Him down? Just look at the utter depravity of Mirza Yahya and how he did all he could to try and supplant Baha'u'llah and take over control of the Babi faith. You can even look back at Jesus with the Pharisees. They, too, were obviously jealous of His wisdom and knowledge.

So, once we have cleansed the mirror of our heart from any trace of envy, or other sort of malice, then we have the chance of seeing these things clearly. We won't be blinded by our emotional or egotistical response. With detachment, that very important attribute which is the theme running through all of Part 1 of this book, we can then begin to approach and recognize true knowledge, as opposed to that knowledge which is the product of man's fancy.

Oh, but wait! How can we tell the difference? That, my friend, is in paragraph 76.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Paragraph 74

And now, with reference to His words: "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." These words signify that in those days men will lament the loss of the Sun of the divine beauty, of the Moon of knowledge, and of the Stars of divine wisdom. Thereupon, they will behold the countenance of the promised One, the adored Beauty, descending from heaven and riding upon the clouds. By this is meant that the divine Beauty will be made manifest from the heaven of the will of God, and will appear in the form of the human temple. The term "heaven" denoteth loftiness and exaltation, inasmuch as it is the seat of the revelation of those Manifestations of Holiness, the Day-springs of ancient glory. These ancient Beings, though delivered from the womb of their mother, have in reality descended from the heaven of the will of God. Though they be dwelling on this earth, yet their true habitations are the retreats of glory in the realms above. Whilst walking amongst mortals, they soar in the heaven of the divine presence. Without feet they tread the path of the spirit, and without wings they rise unto the exalted heights of divine unity. With every fleeting breath they cover the immensity of space, and at every moment traverse the kingdoms of the visible and the invisible. Upon their thrones is written: "Nothing whatsoever keepeth Him from being occupied with any other thing;" and on their seats is inscribed: "Verily, His ways differ every day." (Qur'an 55:29) They are sent forth through the transcendent power of the Ancient of Days, and are raised up by the exalted will of God, the most mighty King. This is what is meant by the words: "coming in the clouds of heaven."

Well, here we are, on the next phrase of that incredible prophesy from Matthew 24. As you may recall, all of Part 1 from paragraph 24 on revolves around this quote from Jesus. This paragraph begins the section that looks at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." And it goes all the way through paragraph 85.

As we saw in the earlier analysis of other phrases, there are many levels of meaning hidden within the one line, and Baha'u'llah helps us explore just a few of them. To start, He begins here, with this beautiful description of the dual station of the Manifestations of God. Actually, He begins by reminding us of His earlier interpretations of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars. Then He goes on to describe this dual aspect of the Messengers. With this, He ties this back to the earlier sections of the Book, a lesson we can emulate when teaching the Faith to others.

This description appears to us to be a path of Their life. It begins with birth, with mention of the womb, and continues with life on this planet, "dwelling on this earth", and describes Their presence amongst us. He moves from the earth up to the heavens, from the feet to the wings, and describes the immensity of what They perceive. He talks about Their majesty, with the thrones, and Their everyday life with the simplicity of a seat. Although They are with us here on earth., They are, in reality, "sent forth" and "raised up".

While we mourn the loss of the sun, the moon and the stars, we should also rejoice in the presence of the true Light from God. An interesting aspect of this is the idea that "all the tribes of the earth mourn". Is this truly the case? It is, if we begin to think about the various stages of grief, as described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. First, many people deny it. They deny, for example, that the prejudice engendered by their churches response to, say, gay marriages, or interfaith work, is anything other than a lack of love. They deny what is obvious to any outside observer. Then there is the anger, either expressed through the fanaticism that led to the world wars, or the more recent examples of Islamic fanaticism leading to terrorist activities in many parts of the world, or the fanatical Christian anger demonstrated in parts of the United States. There is also the attempt at bargaining, the denial of the reality of climate change, for example, and the attempted bargaining to keep our modern comforts while trying to stave off this impending disaster. The fourth stage is depression, evidenced by the massive upswing in cases of depression and suicide throughout the world. Finally, though, will come acceptance, as we realize the truth of the current state of the world.

Another interesting quote He uses at the end of this paragraph is "Nothing whatsoever keepeth Him from being occupied with any other thing." This is a very interesting phrase, and was seen quite clearly in Baha'u'llah's life. It was also seen in the life of 'Abdu'l-Baha. Many are the reports of 'Abdu'l-Baha as He was dictating letters to His secretaries. He is said to have been dictating one letter in Arabic, while at the same time dictating another letter to a different secretary in Persian, while at the same time writing a third letter by hand in Turkish.

In both of Their lives, it did not matter what was happening around Them, for these events could not distract Them from the all-important work that They were doing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Paragraph 73

From all that We have stated it hath become clear and manifest that before the revelation of each of the Mirrors reflecting the divine Essence, the signs heralding their advent must needs be revealed in the visible heaven as well as in the invisible, wherein is the seat of the sun of knowledge, of the moon of wisdom, and of the stars of understanding and utterance. The sign of the invisible heaven must needs be revealed in the person of that perfect man who, before each Manifestation appeareth, educateth, and prepareth the souls of men for the advent of the divine Luminary, the Light of the unity of God amongst men.

Remember how we said that part 1 can be divided into a series of sections revolving around that prophecy from Matthew 24? Well, this paragraph is the last one that focuses on the phrase "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven."

The "sign", as Baha'u'llah points out here, is two-fold: a sign in the heaven above us, otherwise known as the sky, and a sign through a harbinger, that "perfect man". It is worth pointing out that this station, that of the harbinger, is quite different from those who come after the Manifestation. He is not in the same position as an apostle, or a disciple, or even a saint. For one thing, he has to recognize the signs of the Messenger before they even appear on earth.

But what does this have to do with us? If we look at this book as a blueprint for how to "become competent and useful teachers" of the Cause, then perhaps there is a clue to that here.

Baha'u'llah is not only summarizing this section on the signs in heaven, He is tying it to a previous section, in which He explained the phrase "the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven". He is not only helping us move forward, He is also ensuring that we make the connection to previous ideas and see this prophecy from Jesus as a united whole. It is but another aspect of that unity that Baha'u'llah will infuse into His whole Dispensation. He is talking about the unity of the Prophets, and He helps us see the unity of Their signs, and ensures that we see the over-arching unity of this statement from Jesus. He makes sure that we don't take any line, or any idea, out of context. It is all about the unity and coherency of both Their message and Their selves.

This section on the harbingers also brings to mind the question of some people about their own faith. Some Christians, as but one example, don't recognize that other Messengers had Their own harbinger, or Their own star signaling Their coming. They believe that only Jesus had a John the Baptist and a star signaling the Magi. They refuse to accept the parallel signs in other faiths.

It reminds us of a story from the early 80s, Some US auto executives were going to Japan to try and understand how the Japanese automakers were outperforming their US counterparts. They went over there and were given a tour of at least one factory. Upon their return to the US, one of the Detroit executives said that the whole thing was staged. "They didn't show us", he complained, "a real factory." He said that he had been in the auto manufacturing business his whole life, had seen plenty of assembly line facilities, and knew that the ones he saw in Japan were not real. When asked how he knew this, he said that there weren't any inventories. He said that it was impossible to have an assembly line without a standing inventory on hand.

He was shown the truth and was unable to accept it because it didn't fit with his pre-conceived idea of how things had to be.

This, of course, brings us right back to the very first paragraph. "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth." If we do not sanctify our soul, and detach ourselves from our previous ideas, allowing ourselves to at least consider new ideas, then we will not see the truth even if it right in front of us.

It also reminds us of another quote from Baha'u'llah: "Consort with all men, O people of Baha, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him. Beware lest ye deal unkindly with him. A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men. It is the bread of the spirit, it clotheth the words with meaning, it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding...."

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Paragraph 72

And now concerning this wondrous and most exalted Cause. Know thou verily that many an astronomer hath announced the appearance of its star in the visible heaven. Likewise, there appeared on earth Ahmad and Kazim, those twin resplendent lights -- may God sanctify their resting-place!

We want to look at this paragraph sentence by sentence, which is fairly easy because it is so short. Also, because we haven't done that before, look at a paragraph sentence by sentence, that is.

"And now concerning this wondrous and most exalted Cause." Wow. He is finally, after more than 60 pages, directly talking about the Bab and His faith. Everything up until now has been preparing us for this, slowly, one step at a time.

"Know thou verily that many an astronomer hath announced the appearance of its star in the visible heaven." The 1840s? This was when we were discovering new planets, and on the verge of discovering galaxies. We were at the beginning of recognizing the previously unfathomable breadth and scope of the heavens, discovering that there is far more out there than we ever could have dreamed. We didn't just discover a new star; we discovered an entire universe. It is also notable that the famous astronomer, Bessel, discovered, in 1844, the previously unseen companion of the star Sirius, now known as Sirius B. This was the first time we had ever seen twin stars in the sky, just as this is the first time we have ever seen Twin Manifestations here on earth.

"Likewise, there appeared on earth Ahmad and Kazim, those twin resplendent lights -- may God sanctify their resting-place!" We know so little about any of the previous harbingers, a few lines in the Bible, or a small section of the Qur'an. We have a few oral tales here and there, but little in the way of any detail. Not so with Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. Here we have tons of contemporary records, and even The Dawn-Breakers. They were famous figures in their time, well-known to all. The stories surrounding their lives are legendary. And, for a fun fact moment, Ahmad is buried in Medina, in the shadow of the tomb of Muhammad, while Kazim is buried in Karbila near the Shrine of the Imam Husayn, regarded by many as the holiest of the Imams.

Despite all this, all Baha'u'llah does is give us a brief glimpse here. He mentions them and moves on, leaving us saying, "Wait, what? Tell us more."

Now, let's look at this from the perspective of the Bab's uncle, to whom this book was written.

Not even 20 years earlier, he had seen his society pulled apart theologically, a great schism occurring between those who followed Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, and those who followed the more traditional forms of religious leadership. He himself was a Shaykhi, and had seen a lot of turmoil caused in his community because of this. More recently he had seen how some of the Shaykhis had recognized in his Nephew the promised One foretold by Ahmad and Kazim and seen how many of them were killed. He had seen the Bab Himself rise from being an obscure merchant to being executed for heresy.

But he himself was still a Shaykhi, perhaps a shaky Shaykhi but still a follower and admirer of Ahmad.

Here, Baha'u'llah is directly mentioning these two luminaries to one of their admirers, and further elevating their station. Not only, He seems to be saying, were they great teachers, they were harbingers in the same light as all those great souls just mentioned. He is, quite simply, saying that Ahmad and Kazim are in the same position as, say, John the Baptist. And, of course, if you recognize the harbinger, then you should also recognize the Messenger that is to follow.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Paragraph 71

Likewise, ere the beauty of Muhammad was unveiled, the signs of the visible heaven were made manifest. As to the signs of the invisible heaven, there appeared four men who successively announced unto the people the joyful tidings of the rise of that divine Luminary. Ruz-bih, later named Salman, was honoured by being in their service. As the end of one of these approached, he would send Ruz-bih unto the other, until the fourth who, feeling his death to be nigh, addressed Ruz-bih saying: "O Ruz-bih! when thou hast taken up my body and buried it, go to Hijaz for there the Day-star of Muhammad will arise. Happy art thou, for thou shalt behold His face!"

This is a different type of story than the previous paragraphs. Baha'u'llah began with a simple note that a herald appeared who announced Abraham. Then He told us of a sage who brought tidings of joy, consolation and assurance before Moses. He told us a fair bit, in comparison, about John the Baptist. Here, He tells us virtually nothing about the harbingers for Muhammad, but instead relates to us the story of their servant. It is sort of a second-hand account. These harbingers rise in importance because it is their servant, Ruz-bih, who takes centre-stage. These harbingers are so important that even their servant is worthy of note.

For us, growing up in North America, we were not aware of Ruz-bih and his life, so this paragraph encouraged us to learn more. After all, Baha'u'llah continually exhorts us to "consider the past". This does not only refer to what we already know, but can also mean that we should learn about those stories from the past in cultures other than our own.

What we learned was that Ruz-Bih was a descendant of King Manuchehr, and was living in Isfahan. One day his father sent him to give a message to some farmers in the area. On the way, he stopped at a Christian church and became so enamored of Jesus that he forgot to deliver the message. His father, of course, kind of freaked out over this and sent for a Christian priest to learn more about its origins. He was told that it came from Sham, in modern day Syria. Ruz-bih eventually left Isfahan and traveled to Sham, going into service with one of the leading Christian priests there. This priest, who had a very good reputation, told him that after his passing, Ruz-bih should go serve another priest in Mosul. From there he was sent to serve two other Christian priests in Nasibin and Ammorieh. This last priest told him to go to Hijaz and await the Promised One, giving him signs to look for. He met Muhammad, became a close follower, and became known as Salman-i-Farsi.

Baha'u'llah is talking about a man who is not a messenger, nor a prophet, in any way. He was ardently seeking and ended up finding the new Messenger. He was also Persian. Perhaps He is alluding to the possibilities of what the Uncle of the Bab can do if he perseveres in his quest, and by extension all of us.

Another little oddity that caught our attention was the very name "Ruz-bih". His name seems to mean either "by day" or "to day". For us, this seems to indicate the fact that he was living in a Day of God, the actual time when a Manifestation was walking the earth. Not only that, but he recognized Him during His lifetime. That's pretty incredible. Ruz-bih wasn't living in the past, looking only to the past for the signs of God. He was living ultimately in the present, in the now, today. And because of this, he was able to discover Muhammad.

We, too, have the incredible bounty of being able to recognize Baha'u'llah at the very early days of His Dispensation. And that's incredible, too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paragraphs 69 and 70

In like manner, when the hour of the Revelation of Jesus drew nigh, a few of the Magi, aware that the star of Jesus had appeared in heaven, sought and followed it, till they came unto the city which was the seat of the Kingdom of Herod. The sway of his sovereignty in those days embraced the whole of that land.

These Magi said: "Where is He that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him!"[Matthew 2:2] When they had searched, they found out that in Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, the Child had been born. This was the sign that was manifested in the visible heaven. As to the sign in the invisible heaven -- the heaven of divine knowledge and understanding -- it was Yahya, son of Zachariah, who gave unto the people the tidings of the Manifestation of Jesus. Even as He hath revealed: "God announceth Yahya to thee, who shall bear witness unto the Word from God, and a great one and chaste."[Qur'án 3:39] By the term "Word" is meant Jesus, Whose coming Yahya foretold. Moreover, in the heavenly Scriptures it is written: "John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."[Matthew 3:1-2] By John is meant Yahya.

Another review.

To continue this theme, Baha'u'llah is now drawing us forward to Jesus, showing how these two signs were present in His time, too.

While this paragraph seems to us to be very straightforward, there are a few things that we wonder about. First of all, He seems to be reminding us that these signs, and recognizing them, has led many over the centuries to the wealth, knowledge and wisdom that He mentioned at the end of the last paragraph as being the goal of sacred Texts. Remember, if we don't achieve these noble goals, then He regards "the consideration of such records a grave mistake and a grievous transgression". So here, He isn't repeating the importance of these Texts, nor is He reminding us that these stars in the invisible heaven bring consolation and assurance. He presumes that we know this, that we remember it from the last paragraph.

He also mentions an odd detail, that John was the "son of Zachariah". This tiny detail reminds us, in a subtle way, of the importance of lineage, which comes into play again with the Bab, who was a Siyyid, a descendant of Muhammad. This was very important in His claim of His station, and highly relevant to His uncle, who was also a Siyyid. It strikes us as important because Baha'u'llah has, until now, been very careful to show us only what each of the Messengers have in common, not what makes them unique. Remember, way back when speaking about Noah, He never mentions the Flood or the ark, only what He had in common with all the other Messengers. So for Baha'u'llah to mention so tiny a detail we feel is important to His argument. We believe He is preparing the ground, in a sense.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Paragraph 68

After Him came Moses, He Who held converse with God. The soothsayers of His time warned Pharaoh in these terms: "A star hath risen in the heaven, and lo! it foreshadoweth the conception of a Child Who holdeth your fate and the fate of your people in His hand." In like manner, there appeared a sage who, in the darkness of the night, brought tidings of joy unto the people of Israel, imparting consolation to their souls, and assurance to their hearts. To this testify the records of the sacred books. Were the details to be mentioned, this epistle would swell into a book. Moreover, it is not Our wish to relate the stories of the days that are past. God is Our witness that what We even now mention is due solely to Our tender affection for thee, that haply the poor of the earth may attain the shores of the sea of wealth, the ignorant be led unto the ocean of divine knowledge, and they that thirst for understanding partake of the Salsabil of divine wisdom. Otherwise, this servant regardeth the consideration of such records a grave mistake and a grievous transgression.

And now on to Moses. Baha'u'llah is moving us forward through the various revelations, beginning with Abraham, and now Moses. The main part of this paragraph, of course, deals with the star in heaven and the harbinger on earth, as will all the passages in this section. After all, this is still all about the "sign of the Son of Man in heaven".

For the most part, there is little new. The Jewish records talk about the details that Baha'u'llah mentions, and all He is doing is reminding us of them. Of course, if we do not know this, there is the implicit hint that we should study our own history. But if it is familiar, then He is connecting the dots for us.

Then comes the second half of this paragraph. "Were the details to be mentioned, this epistle would swell into a book." Maybe it's just us, but isn't it already a book?

Anyways, it's this next part that intrigues us.

He says that He doesn't want to talk about the past, and that He is only doing this because of His love for the Uncle of the Bab. And then, in that very last sentence, He says something that intrigues us. He regards "the consideration of such records a grave mistake and a grievous transgression".

It seems that the records He is mentioning are none other than the records of the sacred books He has just mentioned. If so, these are the same sacred books that He has previously, and repeatedly, told us to reflect on and consider. "Consider the past". "Refer ye... to that which hath been recorded in every sacred Book." Over and over He is drawing our attention to these Books. So why here does He regard the consideration of these same Books as a "grave mistake and a grievous transgression"?

We have three ideas about this.

The first is that later, in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Baha'u'llah says "We entreat Our loved ones not... to allow references to what they have regarded as miracles and prodigies to debase Our rank and station, or to mar the purity and sanctity of Our name." As we know from going through these various Books of the past, most of them are filled with stories of miracles. Perhaps He is trying to turn our attention away from the stories and towards the teachings. After all, it is the teachings that are important. The stories are just icing on the cake. And too much icing can one's tummy upset.

The second idea is that Baha'u'llah also tells us to "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements." These stories are all about the past. Perhaps He is telling us not to look at the past, but instead to look towards the future, in this context.

But it is the third idea that really moves us. We think that Baha'u'llah is telling us all of this so that, with luck, "the poor of the earth may attain the shores of the sea of wealth, the ignorant be led unto the ocean of divine knowledge, and they that thirst for understanding partake of the Salsabil of divine wisdom." If the perusal of these sacred Books does not lead to these ends, that is result in true wealth, knowledge and wisdom, then the study of these Texts is a "grave mistake and a grievous transgression". In other words, reading these texts, and not attaining to true knowledge can lead us to great danger and death. It can result in a violation of a law that leads to tremendous grief.

If we look back at paragraph 14, we see that by "having weighed the testimony of God by the standard of their own knowledge... and found it at variance with their limited understanding, they arose to perpetrate such unseemly acts." The people of the day of a Messenger of God did horrible things to Them, based on their misunderstanding. But if they didn't have any understanding of the Book of God to begin with, they would never have done such acts that they would later regret. It all comes back to the very first paragraph of this Book: "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth."

It's interesting, isn't it, how it always comes back to that very first paragraph? When we can make that connection, then we feel we finally got to the core of it.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Paragraph 67

Among the Prophets was Abraham, the Friend of God. Ere He manifested Himself, Nimrod dreamed a dream. Thereupon, he summoned the soothsayers, who informed him of the rise of a star in the heaven. Likewise, there appeared a herald who announced throughout the land the coming of Abraham.

This morning, as we are writing this, we have the wonderful bounty of Samuel's fiancee joining us. And with her fresh perspective, for she hasn't really read this blog yet, she has pointed out a key that we have overlooked. Or if we haven't overlooked it, it was implicit, and she has made it explicit. She has pointed out to us that the very underlying essence of Baha'u'llah's message is unity. Of course, we knew this, but she has applied it here.

Baha'u'llah is reminding us, in this section about the various Messengers, that there is an essential unity between all the religions. Whatever we think is unique to our religion is actually found in all faiths.

In Jewish tradition these signs, Nimrod's dream, the new star, and the herald, are all there, but we don't often focus on them. Baha'u'llah is, in a very simple way, reminding us that they are there, even so far back.

It's interesting, actually, that Baha'u'llah does not mention Noah in this context. Why? We think it is because He is drawing upon recorded tradition, reminding us, once again, of those things that we already know. We may have forgotten these little details, because we don't often dwell on them, but they are there, if we only look. Noah, however, has not had these traditions recorded about Him. Of course, we are certain that they were there, but as there is no record of it, it would not add to Baha'u'llah's argument here, for He could be seen as just making it up.

It's also worth noting that He could have talked about Buddha here, too. We know from the Buddhist texts that there was a star, a dream by the king, a herald, and so on, but all of this would have been irrelevant to the Uncle of the Bab, who was Muslim, and had little or no knowledge of Buddhism. Why do we mention this? Because this book is supposed to be a guide to how we are to teach the Faith, and this is an important lesson to us: keep it relevant to the listener.

On another note, today, a Nimrod is someone who is considered an idiot. Why? We think it is because Nimrod denied the signs of the coming Messenger, Abraham. Similar to Pharaoh and Herod, Nimrod ignored these signs and did all he could to hold on to temporal, or worldly, power. And really, doesn't that just make him... well... an idiot?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Paragraph 66

And now, concerning His words: "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." By these words it is meant that when the sun of the heavenly teachings hath been eclipsed, the stars of the divinely-established laws have fallen, and the moon of true knowledge -- the educator of mankind -- hath been obscured; when the standards of guidance and felicity have been reversed, and the morn of truth and righteousness hath sunk in night, then shall the sign of the Son of man appear in heaven. By "heaven" is meant the visible heaven, inasmuch as when the hour draweth nigh on which the Day-star of the heaven of justice shall be made manifest, and the Ark of divine guidance shall sail upon the sea of glory, a star will appear in the heaven, heralding unto its people the advent of that most great light. In like manner, in the invisible heaven a star shall be made manifest who, unto the peoples of the earth, shall act as a harbinger of the break of that true and exalted Morn. These twofold signs, in the visible and the invisible heaven, have announced the Revelation of each of the Prophets of God, as is commonly believed.

With this paragraph, Baha'u'llah seems to be taking us to a new level of discourse. He begins with the next verse from Matthew 24 and goes straight into two explanations of it. As you can see, the first is the literal meaning of a new star in the nighttime sky, and the second is that of a herald or harbinger for the upcoming Manifestation. Previously, He had taken a verse and given us a single meaning at a time, allowing us to come to terms with it before going on to another explanation of the same verse. Here He gives us both at once. It is as if He trusts in our ability to comprehend more of the meanings of the sacred Text.

If this book is to be a blueprint for how we are to teach, then this could be a very interesting lesson: do not underestimate the one whom you are teaching. Baha'u'llah seems to trust that we are now at a level of understanding where we don't need such long and drawn out explanations. We can make the leap towards truth more easily.

Over the next few paragraphs, up to 73, Baha'u'llah describes some of the previous Messengers again. You may recall that He did this earlier in the Book, way back in paragraphs 7 through 17. He began to show a number of similarities between Them, affirming not only Their station, but also establishing a common starting point between Himself and the reader. Here He adds an additional point of similarity. When He gets to paragraph 73, He summarizes everything up to that point. The reasons for this will become more obvious when we get there.

In looking at His previous explanations of the various phrases from Matthew 24, it becomes obvious that He is using something of a scattering effect. He is giving us many explanations of the various phrases, scattering them to the wind, in a sense, but none of them are explained in any great depth. It is as if He is carefully disabusing us of the idea that there is a single "correct" explanation for any of these verses, and helping us see that there are many layers of meaning, all of which shine the light of truth. But now, here, He begins to go into greater depth, leaving us to wonder what else we can fathom in this mighty Ocean of God's Revelation.

He also continually reviews for us. He places the current phrase in the context of the whole, ensuring that we don't get lost. He does this by going back to the earlier Messengers, as well as letting us know where He is in that verse from Jesus. It should also be mentioned, of course, that all of this is in the context of that very first sentence in paragraph 1, "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is heaven and on earth." True understanding and detachment are the central themes throughout part 1 of this Book.

In this paragraph, He begins by telling the quote that He is now going to examine, and immediately reminds us where it is in the context of that whole quote in Matthew 24. He basically recaps the sentence up to that point. Then He gives us the literal meaning of it, namely that a star will actually appear in the nighttime sky, as well as a metaphorical meaning, that a harbinger will appear on the earth.

One thing in this paragraph that really stood out as unusual for us, was the phrase, "the standards of guidance and felicity have been reversed". They haven't been torn down, or fallen, or obscured. He says they have been reversed. What does that mean? Actually, we can also ask what those two standards are. Guidance is advice that is given by someone, usually an authority, to help solve a problem. Felicity is that which causes happiness. Here He says that they have been reversed, or swapped. That which causes happiness has been taken as a standard of guidance. Just take, for example, the number of Hollywood performers who give advice on diet. Those standards of guidance are now being seen as some form of entertainment. We only need to look at the number of doctors with their own tv shows, to recognize this.

Baha'u'llah is also reminding us of the promise that accompanies all of this. A new star appears in heaven and a harbinger appears on earth: both of these signify that "the Day-star of the heaven of justice shall be made manifest, and the Ark of divine guidance shall sail upon the sea of glory".

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Paragraph 65

The universe is pregnant with these manifold bounties, awaiting the hour when the effects of Its unseen gifts will be made manifest in this world, when the languishing and sore athirst will attain the living Kawthar of their Well-Beloved, and the erring wanderer, lost in the wilds of remoteness and nothingness, will enter the tabernacle of life, and attain reunion with his heart's desire. In the soil of whose heart will these holy seeds germinate? From the garden of whose soul will the blossoms of the invisible realities spring forth? Verily, I say, so fierce is the blaze of the Bush of love, burning in the Sinai of the heart, that the streaming waters of holy utterance can never quench its flame. Oceans can never allay this Leviathan's burning thirst, and this Phoenix of the undying fire can abide nowhere save in the glow of the countenance of the Well-Beloved. Therefore, O brother! kindle with the oil of wisdom the lamp of the spirit within the innermost chamber of thy heart, and guard it with the globe of understanding, that the breath of the infidel may extinguish not its flame nor dim its brightness. Thus have We illuminated the heavens of utterance with the splendours of the Sun of divine wisdom and understanding, that thy heart may find peace, that thou mayest be of those who, on the wings of certitude, have soared unto the heaven of the love of their Lord, the All-Merciful.

This is it: the last paragraph regarding the sun, the moon and the powers of the earth. The last paragraph before He goes on to the next phrase from that quote from Jesus in the Book of Matthew "And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven."

Here, in this paragraph, Baha'u'llah brings on this majestic journey of imagery, beginning with a pregnant universe and alluding to heaven with Kawthar, that river found in Paradise. Then He talks about plants, and the beautiful blossoms that appear on them, and continues with mixed images of fire and water, bouncing back and forth between them. He continues by going back to the human heart, this time referring to it as a lamp, that small object that lights our way in the dark, and finishes with the heavens and those mighty orbs that light not only our own small place, but the entire planet.

It's a beautiful journey that leads us right into the very next paragraph, moving us from the earth and upwards towards the heavens. It's a journey begins in the desert, almost as if you have to be lost first, and then there is what feels like a wedding scene, reunion with the beloved in the tent.

Then you get those rhetorical questions in the middle. "In the soil of whose heart will these holy seeds germinate? From the garden of whose soul will the blossoms of the invisible realities spring forth?" Here we want to jump up and down and cry out, "Me! Me! Pick me, O Lord!" From love and marriage to the new growth of those holy seeds, reminding us that the universe itself is pregnant.

And, of course, the imagery itself is laden with meaning:
  • Kawthar, as we said above, is a river in Paradise mentioned in the Qur'an.
  • The tabernacle, of course, was the holy tent that the Jewish peoples used when wandering lost in the desert. It is the tent they used to house the Ark of the Covenant.
  • Gardens, as you well know, are always referring to Eden, or some other holy place of rest. For us it can even be an oblique reference to the Garden of Ridvan, where Baha'u'llah would finally give birth to the Revelation of God.
  • The burning Bush and Sinai refer back to Moses, which calls to mind once more the tabernacle and their wanderings.
  • The Leviathan is found in the Tanakh, while the Phoenix is more often seen in Persian and Greek mythology. They both have references that are just too numerous to list here, but still bring to mind danger and loss.
Of course, these are only a few of the many, many meanings. We have to be careful not to think that we have found it all, or somehow have "the" answer. Remember, Baha'u'llah is going on for many pages showing us numerous meanings of a single phrase. He could, no doubt, do the same here.

After these phrases comes the encouragement. Light that candle of the heart, become the enkindled one. And to do so, we have to use the oil of wisdom. Without oil a lamp will only burn for a short time. But expect attacks, and guard against them with true understanding, that glass globe that protects the flame from being blown out.

And all this brings us back to that very first paragraph, with the "shores of the ocean of true understanding", and the encouragement to "enter thus the tabernacle" that has "been raised in the firmament of the Bayan."

With each and every phrase that He explores, Baha'u'llah shows how they all refer back to the very beginning of this Book. They all lead us to the next Messenger of God, and to those divine shores.

"Thus have We illuminated the heavens of utterance with the splendours of the Sun of divine wisdom and understanding, that thy heart may find peace, that thou mayest be of those who, on the wings of certitude, have soared unto the heaven of the love of their Lord, the All-Merciful."

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paragraph 64

Great God! When the stream of utterance reached this stage, We beheld, and lo! the sweet savours of God were being wafted from the dayspring of Revelation, and the morning breeze was blowing out of the Sheba of the Eternal. Its tidings rejoiced anew the heart, and imparted immeasurable gladness to the soul. It made all things new, and brought unnumbered and inestimable gifts from the unknowable Friend. The robe of human praise can never hope to match Its noble stature, and Its shining figure the mantle of utterance can never fit. Without word It unfoldeth the inner mysteries, and without speech It revealeth the secrets of the divine sayings. It teacheth lamentation and moaning to the nightingales warbling upon the bough of remoteness and bereavement, instructeth them in the art of love's ways, and showeth them the secret of heart-surrender. To the flowers of the Ridvan of heavenly reunion It revealeth the endearments of the impassioned lover, and unveileth the charm of the fair. Upon the anemones of the garden of love It bestoweth the mysteries of truth, and within the breasts of lovers It entrusteth the symbols of the innermost subtleties. At this hour, so liberal is the outpouring of Its grace that the holy Spirit itself is envious! It hath imparted to the drop the waves of the sea, and endowed the mote with the splendour of the sun. So great are the overflowings of Its bounty that the foulest beetle hath sought the perfume of the musk, and the bat the light of the sun. It hath quickened the dead with the breath of life, and caused them to speed out of the sepulchres of their mortal bodies. It hath established the ignorant upon the seats of learning, and elevated the oppressor to the throne of justice.

Wow. We finally got to this point. Could that be what Baha'u'llah meant with the exclamation, "Great God"? He has written 32 paragraphs on that phrase from Matthew 24, "the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken". That is fully half of the book up to this point, all on that one part of that passage. You can almost hear the sigh of relief, and feel that sense of awe.

After getting to this point, you feel like you will never look at Scripture the same way again.

Then He says, "When the stream of utterance reached this stage..." Which stage? Is He referring back to the previous couple of paragraphs where He has introduced the idea of the Dispensation of the Bab, or perhaps to this point in the book, having just concluded a look at a single passage from Jesus? If the former, then He is giving full praise to the Revelation of the Bab, describing its beautiful effects in the most poetic of terms. But if He is referring to where He has taken us in this volume, then He seems to be describing the effect upon our soul of having been lifted to such lofty heights with this new vision of the depth of meaning hidden within the passages we thought we knew so well.

And this question, arising at such a time in the Kitab-i-Iqan, reminds us of what we have just learned: there are many, many layers of meaning within the Sacred Word. He could very well be referring to both, and much more besides.

From here we, as bloggers, are faced with a dilemma. This paragraph is so rich with metaphor and analogy that we want to talk about the meaning of a stream, the sweet savours being spread on the wind, and even the rich history evoked by the reference to Sheba. But if we do, this article would go on for way too long. Instead we are going to focus on another aspect of this paragraph, namely the effects of the "stream of utterance".

To make this easier for us, we have simply copied this paragraph and begun to delete whole portions of it, leaving only those passages that refer to the this utterance. We will bullet them, and then make some simple observations on each bullet, seeing what we can learn from the order in which He put them.

  • Its tidings rejoiced anew the heart - The word "tidings" means news and information, but it also comes from the word "tide", which implies this ebb and flow. It speaks of this regular re-occurrence, hinting at the rise and fall of religions that He has just described.
  • imparted immeasurable gladness to the soul - Once we hear this great news, the gladness we feel is indescribable.
  • made all things new - Baha'u'llah, in His Surih of the Temple, says, "Thus have We created the whole earth anew in this day, yet most of the people have failed to perceive it." It is through His Word that the whole earth has changed, and every word has also been endowed with a new meaning.
  • brought unnumbered and inestimable gifts from the unknowable Friend - The gifts from His Revelation are infinite, and He is, after all, "more Friend to me than I am to myself".
  • Without word It unfoldeth the inner mysteries - This is interesting, for it is the utterance that His is referring to, so how can it be "without word"? Perhaps it is because it is far more than the mere words that clothe the meaning, and it is this inner meaning to which He is referring. As 'Abdu'l-Baha says, it is "a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds".
  • without speech It revealeth the secrets of the divine sayings - It is also worth noting that the Master, when He was in London, was asked what a Baha'i is. His response was "It makes no difference whether you have ever heard of Bahá'u'lláh or not, the man who lives the life according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is already a Bahá'í." It is truly beyond the meaning of the words.
  • It teacheth lamentation and moaning to the nightingales warbling upon the bough of remoteness and bereavement - But what, we may ask, is the effect of this all upon us? Well, for those of us who are far from God, and aren't we all, it helps us realize the grief our soul feels at this distance.
  • instructeth them in the art of love's ways - It helps us learn how to become closer to God by helping us realize the way in which a lover acts towards their beloved.
  • showeth them the secret of heart-surrender - It helps us learn how to surrender our will to His.
  • It revealeth the endearments of the impassioned lover - Once we surrender to His Will, He brings us to that Ridvan which will become the place of His declaration and helps us learn how to show our deep and emotional love through our actions.
  • unveileth the charm of the fair - This utterance then reveals the features of the Blessed Beauty that serve to attract us.
  • It bestoweth the mysteries of truth - Within this beautiful Ridvan garden are many flowers, one of which is the anemone, that ancient symbol of good luck, reminiscent of the word "haply", way back in paragraph 1. When we have successfully received this luck and attained "that station which God hath destined for" us, it helps us recognize those age-old mysteries of truth.
  • It entrusteth the symbols of the innermost subtleties - And isn't this what He has just done with the previous 30 paragraphs, explaining the symbolic meaning of the sun, the moon and the earth?
  • It hath imparted to the drop the waves of the sea - Now we begin to get a glimpse of the overwhelming majesty of this Revelation. The holy Spirit itself is envious. This mighty utterance can take a single drop and cause it to become a mighty ocean.
  • endowed the mote with the splendour of the sun - It can take a single grain of dust and cause it to shine out like the sun.
  • It hath quickened the dead with the breath of life, and caused them to speed out of the sepulchres of their mortal bodies - It can truly revive not only the bodily dead, but the dead in spirit.
  • It hath established the ignorant upon the seats of learning - It can raise even the most ignorant of people and cause them to be wiser than the most learned of people.
  • elevated the oppressor to the throne of justice - And it can so transform even the greatest of oppressors and cause them to show forth the greatest signs of justice, and remember, from the previous paragraph, what can happen when we look at the world with the eye of justice.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Paragraph 63

If the eye of justice be opened, it will readily recognize, in the light of that which hath been mentioned, that He, Who is the Cause and ultimate Purpose of all these things, is made manifest in this day. Though similar events have not occurred in this Dispensation, yet the people still cling to such vain imaginings as are cherished by the reprobate. How grievous the charges brought against Him! How severe the persecutions inflicted upon Him -- charges and persecutions the like of which men have neither seen nor heard!

Well, this is it. This is the last paragraph in the long section that deals with that passage, "shall the sun be darkened, the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken". The next two paragraphs are something of an interlude before He moves on to the next part of that incredible quote from Jesus, found in Matthew 24, "and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven".

But for now, let's finish this.

To start, He mentions the eye of justice. Why an eye? The eye of justice is an eye that sees what is actually occurring, instead of looking at what it is expecting to see.

Perhaps He chooses to refer to it as an eye because that is exactly what is happening. Things are occurring in the world, and we are witnessing them. While we do that, we can look for what we expect, using these events to justify whatever we want, or we can look at them afresh, and see what they are telling us.

If, for example, you believe that all people with brown eyes are mean, then you can surely find numerous examples of behaviour to support that. But if you look with the eyes of justice, you will watch people's behaviour and see what they are actually doing, regardless of eye colour. You will see that some people are mean while others are very kind. And you will readily discover a flaw in your original assumption.

Here, many people are expecting a new Messenger to come, but they have their own preconceptions of what that means. Baha'u'llah is helping us move beyond our preconceived ideas so that we can see what is actually occurring.

But let's look at that word, "justice", again for a moment. It occurs in three of the Hidden Words.

The first reference is in the second Hidden Word in Arabic:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

Here, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, He seems to be saying that it is through justice that we will recognize the Bab, and presumably Himself. And then He calls this justice His gift to us. He calls it a sign of His loving-kindness. And isn't it just that? What greater gift gift, what greater sign of love than that which will allow us to recognize Him?

Oh, and He also, again, tells us to ponder this in our heart.

The second reference to justice is in the Persian Hidden Words:
Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart's desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.

Doesn't this just beautifully describe our state as we are searching for the Promised One? And how many lovers gave up their very lives for the beauty of the Bab?

The third reference occurs towards the end of the Persian Hidden Words:
In the night-season the beauty of the immortal Being hath repaired from the emerald height of fidelity unto the Sadratu'l-Muntaha, and wept with such a weeping that the concourse on high and the dwellers of the realms above wailed at His lamenting. Whereupon there was asked, Why the wailing and weeping? He made reply: As bidden I waited expectant upon the hill of faithfulness, yet inhaled not from them that dwell on earth the fragrance of fidelity. Then summoned to return I beheld, and lo! certain doves of holiness were sore tried within the claws of the dogs of earth. Thereupon the Maid of heaven hastened forth unveiled and resplendent from Her mystic mansion, and asked of their names, and all were told but one. And when urged, the first letter thereof was uttered, whereupon the dwellers of the celestial chambers rushed forth out of their habitation of glory. And whilst the second letter was pronounced they fell down, one and all, upon the dust. At that moment a voice was heard from the inmost shrine: "Thus far and no farther." Verily We bear witness to that which they have done and now are doing.

Once again it is about this search, and this day. The Messenger has gone back to His home and is crying. Why? Because nobody is showing fidelity, and the doves of holiness are being attacked. When asked who, the reply is given out in spelling. "B". Really? What is the second letter? "A". And? "Nope. That's all I'm giving you for now." So is He spelling out the Bab, or Baha'u'llah?

All of this through the simple reference to the word "justice".

And you know what? This, we think, is the very first time that Baha'u'llah directly mentions the Bab in this text. Even if it isn't, it surely is the first time that He refers to this Day as a new Dispensation.

What a proclamation. What a statement.

Also, He has just spent 62 paragraphs describing "that which they have done", and is now beginning to refer to that which they "now are doing".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Paragraph 62

And now, take heed, O brother! If such things be revealed in this Dispensation, and such incidents come to pass, at the present time, what would the people do? I swear by Him Who is the true Educator of mankind and the Revealer of the Word of God that the people would instantly and unquestionably pronounce Him an infidel and would sentence Him to death. How far are they from hearkening unto the voice that declareth: Lo! a Jesus hath appeared out of the breath of the Holy Ghost, and a Moses summoned to a divinely-appointed task! Were a myriad voices to be raised, no ear would listen if We said that upon a fatherless Child hath been conferred the mission of Prophethood, or that a murderer hath brought from the flame of the burning Bush the message of "Verily, verily, I am God!"

"...(O)f those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken..." Remember that? Way back in paragraph 24? Matthew 24? Baha'u'llah is still commenting on this passage.

This is all about how we are shaken, and how much things change. In the past few paragraphs He has given us a lot to think about, particularly in relation to what we commonly believe. He has been straightforward in telling us how we would have reacted if we were alive when Moses or Jesus were alive. And you know what? He's right.

What makes us think that we would recognize a Messenger of God today? Do we really believe that we have that high a spiritual capacity? After all, in the time of Jesus there were only a few dozen who recognized Him on the day of His crucifixion, and even then one of the greatest of those Apostles denied Him.

Baha'u'llah begins this paragraph by addressing the Uncle of the Bab as "Brother". He seems to be doing all He can to help lower those very natural barriers which would have us deny this Message. He is saying that this man is someone who is very dear, very close. He is saying that we are all in this together. He is reminding us that He doesn't mean us harm, and truly loves us.

And He is also reminding us that now, looking back in history, we recognize all the signs that heralded these great Teachers. Do we not see the same signs today? This is a very real question that He is getting us to ask.

When we read this, we were reminded of that famous scene from Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov", in which Jesus returns and is immediately thrown in prison. And isn't that just what happened?

If Baha'u'llah, or the Bab, or any Messenger were to come today, can you imagine the news media taking Him seriously? Can't you just picture Him either locked up in prison as a menace, or being institutionalized as insane? How many people would really take the time to investigate His claims?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Paragraph 61

Behold how contrary are the ways of the Manifestations of God, as ordained by the King of creation, to the ways and desires of men! As thou comest to comprehend the essence of these divine mysteries, thou wilt grasp the purpose of God, the divine Charmer, the Best-Beloved. Thou wilt regard the words and the deeds of that almighty Sovereign as one and the same; in such wise that whatsoever thou dost behold in His deeds, the same wilt thou find in His sayings, and whatsoever thou dost read in His sayings, that wilt thou recognize in His deeds. Thus it is that outwardly such deeds and words are the fire of vengeance unto the wicked, and inwardly the waters of mercy unto the righteous. Were the eye of the heart to open, it would surely perceive that the words revealed from the heaven of the will of God are at one with, and the same as, the deeds that have emanated from the Kingdom of divine power.

As you can see, this idea of testing is a very important one. Baha'u'llah has spent a lot of time already in this Book discussing it, and is still continually reminding us of it. Here, in this paragraph, He reminds us that these tests, the manners in which these Messengers behave, are ordained by God. They are not from the Messengers. They are from God. Jesus did not choose to be regarded as "fatherless", nor did Moses choose to commit murder. These things were done by God. Jesus did not decide that it would be a good thing to get a group of lowly fishermen as His disciples. They were placed there, ready and willing, by God. Even Muhammad turning towards Mecca, instead of Jerusalem, was ordained by God. he did not turn there through His own choice, but was told to do so by the angel. We people, judging things by our own deficient standards would have made different choices, had the choice been ours, but that is our test.

As we come to better understand these ways, we will better understand the purpose of God, according to Baha'u'llah. So what is that purpose? To test the people. And not just to test the followers, but to test all people. It is through these tests that the depth of our belief, our sincerity, can be proven.

But this can be very confusing. After all, many of the tests we face seem to go contrary to what is written in these books. We are told to marry before having sex, and yet Mary was pregnant. We were told to turn to Jerusalem, and yet Muhammad turned away. But if we look past all that, we will see that they were, before all else, obedient to God. Mary was still a virgin, whether or not anyone believed her. She knew, and God knew. Muhammad was told to turn towards Mecca. He knew, and God knew. We can either rely on what we believe we are told, or we can see past the immediate and trust in God. We can look for alternative explanations and trust that we will come to understand. As Baha'u'llah says, these words and deeds are synonymous: they are all there to help us grow.

Looking at these same tests, He says that they are fire to the wicked and a water to the righteous. There is an inherent dichotomy within them. For those who are full of pride, who have succumbed to the temptations of the ego, they will suddenly find themselves being challenged. And if they do not let go of their pride, they will react as if burned. For those who are willing to put their own ideas aside and listen to something different, they will find such new ideas as to make them feel refreshed, reborn, soaring as if on wings. They will see new vistas of knowledge opening before them. If you cling to the past, you will break, but if you bend towards the future you will grow and progress.

In this same sentence, He refers to this fire as "the fire of vengeance". Vengeance is what occurs when you are being punished for something? What are they being punished for? Perhaps for the problem of the ego. And maybe it is like the child with the hot stove. A loving parent tells a child to keep away from a hot stove, for they are aware of the nature of the child's hand and the heat of the element. They know that if the child touches it their hand will burn. Perhaps this is what God is doing. He is warning us that if we cling to the ego, the idea that we somehow "have the answer", this will be like burning us. These trials and tests will be like fire, and like that loving parent, He doesn't want to see us hurt. He would rather see us open up and grow from these same tests.

Then there is another interesting phrase. He refers to the "eye of the heart". We don't often think of the eye as being related to the heart. We usually think of the eye of the head. Now if it is closed, this eye, that can either mean that we are asleep, or just keeping it closed. He's not clear about that, but it doesn't really matter. When the eye is closed, it cannot see. So once again, He is reminding us that what counts is the heart. We need to somehow learn to see with our heart, and allow our heart to respond. Way back in paragraph 2 He said that if we want to "tread the path of faith" we need to cleanse our heart "from worldly affections". "Ponder a while those holy words in your heart," He says in paragraph 5, "and, with utter detachment, strive to grasp their meaning."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Paragraph 60

And now, meditate upon this most great convulsion, this grievous test. Notwithstanding all these things, God conferred upon that essence of the Spirit, Who was known amongst the people as fatherless, the glory of Prophethood, and made Him His testimony unto all that are in heaven and on earth.

Once again, Baha'u'llah is asking us to meditate. And it's interesting; He calls this a "most great convulsion".

Now, do you remember what He is referring to? The Virgin birth. (Yeah, we know. It says it right there.)

It's interesting that He points this out with such exactitude. There are plenty of other convulsions He could have asked us meditate on, but this is the one He chose. Why?

Well, looking at this from the perspective of the time, it was a very major issue. To start, we need to clarify a few things. Being born out of wedlock, while not cool, was no reason for any stigma on the individual in question. Being born from two parents who were not allowed to be married, nor could have been married, was.

The former, known as being an illegitimate child, or a bastard, was not a problem for life. The latter, known as mamzerim, had a huge list of prohibitions that lasted not only in your own lifetime, but was also passed on to your descendants.

Jesus, while born out of wedlock, would not have been considered mamzerim, since it was possible for Mary and Joseph to wed, even though they had not yet been married. Jesus would have had no stigma attached to Him for that reason.

However, a different problem arose. Mary did not appear to disclose who the father was. And since there were many people in the area who she would not have been allowed to marry, for many different reasons, the suspicion of mamzer would have been cast upon Him.

If she told the truth, nobody would have believed her. And yet she couldn't lie about it.

This made it a huge issue for many at the time.

The problem with being mamzer is that you are not allowed in the Temple, amongst other things. And while Mary's recognized moral behaviour was generally considered high enough to prevent this label being cast upon Jesus, there was still the lingering question.

Either way, Jesus would certainly not have been allowed to be ordained as a Rabbi, since He could not prove His lineage. So what gave Him the right to teach as He did? That, dear Reader, is the question.

Now, could God have prevented this? Of course. There would have been nothing preventing Him from giving Mary Jesus after the marriage. But instead, it became a test.

You will note, though, that we don't say much about the birth itself. If you want more information on that, we suggest that you read what 'Abdu'l-Baha says, in Some Answered Questions, sections 17 (The Birth of Christ) and 18 (The Greatness of Christ is Due to His Perfections).

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Paragraph 59

Likewise, reflect upon the state and condition of Mary. So deep was the perplexity of that most beauteous countenance, so grievous her case, that she bitterly regretted she had ever been born. To this beareth witness the text of the sacred verse wherein it is mentioned that after Mary had given birth to Jesus, she bemoaned her plight and cried out: "O would that I had died ere this, and been a thing forgotten, forgotten quite!" (Qur'an 19:22) I swear by God! Such lamenting consumeth the heart and shaketh the being. Such consternation of soul, such despondency, could have been caused by no other than the censure of the enemy and the cavilings of the infidel and perverse. Reflect, what answer could Mary have given to the people around her? How could she claim that a Babe Whose father was unknown had been conceived of the Holy Ghost? Therefore did Mary, that veiled and immortal Countenance, take up her Child and return unto her home. No sooner had the eyes of the people fallen upon her than they raised their voice saying: "O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of wickedness, nor unchaste thy mother." (Qur'an 19:28)

This is the second theme in a series of paragraphs describing some of the various tests that God has given us over the ages. And all of this falls under the general category of "the powers of the earth shall be shaken", in this context referring to the earth of men's hearts.

Baha'u'llah has just described the test of Moses being seen as a murderer, and is now moving forward to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Once again, He is moving forward chronologically. When the Guardian said that we needed to understand the methods and arguments Baha'u'llah used in this Book, this is one of them. He is not bouncing around randomly. He is moving forward methodically, step by step, making it as easy as possible for the reader to follow His train of thought.

He is also connecting two very different stories that we don't normally put together. And while this story seems like it is about Mary, isn't it really about the test that many faced when trying to accept Jesus? Isn't it really about us, and how we feel when we face these tests, too?

We could talk about Mary and what she went through, but really, she is an exceptional case. Instead, let's turn this back to ourselves, and see how it describes us.

Baha'u'llah uses many powerful words in this paragraph, words that evoke deep and unsettling emotions: perplexity, grievous, bitterness, regret, bemoaned, consternation, despondency and lamenting. And all of this was caused not by anything she did, but by the censure and the cavilings of others. Are these not what we feel when we are faced with these potentially overwhelming tests? Here Baha'u'llah is reminding us of Mary, and how she faced them. Mary, who is so highly regarded, faced all these issues. She was innocent, and yet judged harshly. She wept with bitterness, but arose with such magnificence.

Could Baha'u'llah be calling on us to do the same?

At the very beginning of this paragraph, He asks us to reflect upon her "state and condition", her inner being and her external circumstances. She comes from a good background, and everything seems to be in her favour, but her current condition is seemingly the exact opposite. She appears to be on the verge of a breakdown, and is crying out. Yet, she is still the Virgin Mary. She arises to the station of a saint.

No matter what external tests we face, we can still call to mind Mary's tests and remind ourselves that there is nothing she could have said to silence her critics. So what did she do? She took up her Child and went back home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Paragraph 58

And now ponder in thy heart the commotion which God stirreth up. Reflect upon the strange and manifold trials with which He doth test His servants. Consider how He hath suddenly chosen from among His servants, and entrusted with the exalted mission of divine guidance Him Who was known as guilty of homicide, Who, Himself, had acknowledged His cruelty, and Who for well-nigh thirty years had, in the eyes of the world, been reared in the home of Pharaoh and been nourished at his table. Was not God, the omnipotent King, able to withhold the hand of Moses from murder, so that manslaughter should not be attributed unto Him, causing bewilderment and aversion among the people?

This is the second of two paragraphs here talking about Moses. As we know from the previous paragraph, Pharaoh is not sitting atop the throne of certitude and peace; God is. In the previous one we were given the story. Here we are asked questions about it, and told to ponder about it in our heart.

Specifically, we are asked to note the commotion. What commotion was this? The reaction to the murder? Probably. And the commotion could refer to refer to the populace calling for the trial of a murderer, and it could also refer to Moses' fleeing. That was also a commotion, mostly in His heart. There was also the commotion within Pharaoh. Remember, they were raised as brothers, so for Pharaoh to ask Moses, "Are thou not he..." is showing a distance that has arisen between them. Of course he would recognize Moses. How could he not? So this seems to show that there was some commotion within his own heart.

Then we are told to reflect. And what is it we are to reflect upon? The "strange and manifold trials". What does that mean? Well, it means that they are not your typical tests. They are odd, unusual, weird. They are also manifold, which means many and diverse. Here Baha'u'llah lists three. Moses was "guilty of homicide". Moses "acknowledged His cruelty". He was also "reared in the home of Pharaoh", which, for many who are suffering under the yoke of poverty, can also be a big test. They would presume that anyone raised in such luxury could never relate to them. All of these are tests for the people, and you have to admit, they are a bit odd.

Now comes the question: Couldn't God have stopped this? Of course He could have. But why would He? These are tests, veils if you will, to ensure sincerity upon the part of the believers. A teacher in school could avoid giving a test at the end of the term, but then they would never really know who learned the material.

In some ways, tests can be seen like tilling the soil. We have often heard reference to the "earth of men's hearts", so let's go with that. Why do farmers till the soil? For many reasons. It helps aerate the soil, which makes it easier for the farmer to plant the seeds deeper. It also makes it easier for the plants to grow their roots further down. It helps mix up the various nutrients, moving the compost deeper while bringing other nutrients closer to the surface. It also exposes pests that live deeper down, allowing birds to eat them or the weather to kill them. All of this can be seen within the metaphor of tests and the human heart. When someone is under a test, those "pests" within their character show more clearly. They are, perhaps, more likely to be irritable if that is their tendency, or maybe more cruel if that is their bent.

Here, in this example, Moses did kill someone. And this was a test for many people. it caused, as Baha'u'llah said, "bewilderment and aversion". Not only did it make things confusing, but it also caused an intense dislike towards Moses for many people. They did not necessarily want to follow someone who professed to have been cruel and even went so far as to kill someone, either intentionally or not.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Paragraph 57

Were men to meditate upon the lives of the Prophets of old, so easily would they come to know and understand the ways of these Prophets that they would cease to be veiled by such deeds and words as are contrary to their own worldly desires, and thus consume every intervening veil with the fire burning in the Bush of divine knowledge, and abide secure upon the throne of peace and certitude. For instance, consider Moses, son of Imran, one of the exalted Prophets and Author of a divinely-revealed Book. Whilst passing, one day, through the market, in His early days, ere His ministry was proclaimed, He saw two men engaged in fighting. One of them asked the help of Moses against his opponent. Whereupon, Moses intervened and slew him. To this testifieth the record of the sacred Book. Should the details be cited, they will lengthen and interrupt the course of the argument. The report of this incident spread throughout the city, and Moses was full of fear, as is witnessed by the text of the Book. And when the warning: "O Moses! of a truth, the chiefs take counsel to slay Thee" (Qur'an 26:19) reached His ears, He went forth from the city, and sojourned in Midian in the service of Shoeb. While returning, Moses entered the holy vale, situate in the wilderness of Sinai, and there beheld the vision of the King of glory from the "Tree that belongeth neither to the East nor to the West." (Qur'an 24:35) There He heard the soul-stirring Voice of the Spirit speaking from out of the kindled Fire, bidding Him to shed upon Pharaonic souls the light of divine guidance; so that, liberating them from the shadows of the valley of self and desire, He might enable them to attain the meads of heavenly delight, and delivering them, through the Salsabil of renunciation, from the bewilderment of remoteness, cause them to enter the peaceful city of the divine presence. When Moses came unto Pharaoh and delivered unto him, as bidden by God, the divine Message, Pharaoh spoke insultingly saying: "Art thou not he that committed murder, and became an infidel?" Thus recounted the Lord of majesty as having been said by Pharaoh unto Moses: "What a deed is that which Thou hast done! Thou art one of the ungrateful. He said: 'I did it indeed, and I was one of those who erred. And I fled from you when I feared you, but My Lord hath given Me wisdom, and hath made Me one of His Apostles.'" (Qur'an 28:20)

Ahh yes, here we are again. "Meditate". Were we to meditate upon the lives of the Messengers, then we would easily come to understand Their ways. Doesn't this just seem to bring us all the way back to paragraphs 7 - 17? This time, though, Baha'u'llah doesn't go all the way back to Noah. He begins with the story of Moses, one that we all know very well. But once again, He doesn't tell it in quite the way we tend to think of it. He emphasizes certain points to make it even easier for us to see. And He continues to do this over the next few paragraphs, with Mary and Jesus, too.

But what exactly is it that stands out here? Well, there is the fact that Moses fled from the threat of execution, but then, later, saw the Burning Bush. After that encounter, He came back and confessed to His crime. He had formerly feared Pharaoh, but no longer does. He now relies upon God.

So we presume you are familiar with the story, and you have just read this paragraph, so we don't need to go into any of that. Instead we want to talk a bit about some of the odd phrases that stand out to us.

There seems to be this repetition of movement here, beginning with the veils of desire leading to the fire of divine knowledge, and ending up at the throne. Then we get the main part of the story, and end up with a similar movement afterwards. Moses is in the wilderness, and sees the fire, which He is to use to shed the light of guidance. The people are to move from the shadows of the valley up to the meadows of delight. They are to cross the river Salsabil, sometimes referred to as a fountain, and up to the peaceful city. From the fire to the throne. The peaceful city, by the way, is a literal translation of the name Jerusalem. So, in a sense, this can also be seen as a retelling of the entire story of the Exodus and the Jews. The Jews moved from the Pillar of Fire and across the Red Sea. They were lost in the wilderness for 40 years before crossing the river to the Holy Land, in which we find Jerusalem, the city of peace.

All of this can also be seen as a metaphor for the journey of the soul.

Now, another thing that stands out for us is the very end in which fear and wisdom appear to be contrasted. Moses says he feared Pharaoh, but God gave Him wisdom. He so feared Pharaoh that He ran off at the threat of execution. But later, when He saw the burning Bush, He truly understood fear. I mean, look at this. He freaked out over the thought of Pharaoh, runs to the desert, ends up following this sheep later on, and sees this burning Bush. Wow. He is now so far beyond fear it's ridiculous. "Take off your shoes", says the mighty Voice. "Okay." His shoes are off. "This is holy ground", says this Shrub. "Okay, I'm on my knees." Anything that He feared before this now just pales in comparison. Pharaoh? Pfah. He's just this guy. He ain't got nothing on this shrubbery.

It brings to mind this verse from Words of Wisdom, "The essence of wisdom is the fear of God..." And again He says, "Know ye that true wisdom is to fear God, to know Him, and to recognize His Manifestations." In Proverbs, 9:10, it also says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom..."

Now wasn't that easy? All right maybe not. Perhaps Baha'u'llah's definition of what is easy is a bit different from ours. Maybe we just need to meditate a bit more.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Paragraph 56

Were you to ponder, but for a while, these utterances in your heart, you would surely find the portals of understanding unlocked before your face, and would behold all knowledge and the mysteries thereof unveiled before your eyes. Such things take place only that the souls of men may develop and be delivered from the prison-cage of self and desire. Otherwise, that ideal King hath, throughout eternity, been in His Essence independent of the comprehension of all beings, and will continue, for ever, in His own Being to be exalted above the adoration of every soul. A single breeze of His affluence doth suffice to adorn all mankind with the robe of wealth; and one drop out of the ocean of His bountiful grace is enough to confer upon all beings the glory of everlasting life. But inasmuch as the divine Purpose hath decreed that the true should be known from the false, and the sun from the shadow, He hath, therefore, in every season sent down upon mankind the showers of tests from His realm of glory.

This series of paragraphs, all the way up through paragraph 65, take a look at some of these tests that have tried the peoples of the past. And while the uncle of the Bab was probably most familiar with the one just mentioned, the changing of the Qiblih, he was no doubt aware of the other test that Baha'u'llah will bring up in the next few paragraphs.

Once again, just like when He was looking at the lives of some of the Messengers, He begins with what is most familiar to His audience. He talks about those stories that are very familiar, but recasts them in a new light. He shows how these stories were there to test the believers of the time.

And again, after making such a bold claim, such a strong assertion, He asks us to ponder. He does not, however, ask us to consider these things with our mind, for then the veils of education and habit can get in the way. He recognizes that we may have the very natural reflex of thinking what we had previously thought was right, and therefore rejecting something new out of hand. He asks us to ponder these things in our heart.

He also goes into some nature metaphors. He talks about the breeze, which as we know is so very refreshing in the springtime. He mentions the ocean, from which all life has sprung. He also brings up the sun, which casts its life-giving rays upon the earth. And then He mentions the seasons, and the showers. Continuing with the spring theme, these showers are what revive the barren earth of winter and give forth the plants that will grow and blossom.

Earlier, in paragraph 53, He mentioned the earth of pure and illumined hearts and distinguished them from the perishable and barren soil. So, once more, He brings up this whole idea of the earth of men's hearts and what can grow out of them.

Even given all of this, there are still two other things that stand out for us in this paragraph: the promise that we would "surely find the portals... unlocked", and the warning about the "prison-cage of self and desire".

Way back in the opening paragraphs, we made mention that there was an element of luck involved, gleaned from the words "haply" and "perchance". Here, though, it is different. This is a solid promise. But it is a promise that can be missed. He promises us that if we truly ponder these ideas, the doors or understanding will be opened, and knowledge will be unveiled before us. However, there is still a question. If the door is unlocked, will we walk through it? If the veil is removed, will we study what is beneath it? The possibility of understanding is there, but we must still embrace it.

Of course, many of us do not embrace new knowledge because we somehow think that if we do, it is an admission that we were wrong before. This is tied up with all sorts of ego things, and can be an incredible veil to understanding. We only need to see how people in the science community have reacted to those great minds like Einstein, or Newton, or Darwin, when they first proposed their new ideas. Why would we think the religious community would be any better?

Here Baha'u'llah refers to this sense of ego, this "self and desire", as a prison-cage. He says that these tests from the Messengers occur only so that we may be released from this cage, and presumably like a bird take flight.

We are struck here by the contrast with modern society, in which we are taught to be self-reliant, self-confident, thinking of ourselves as somehow special. Of course, if everyone is special, then that is normal, and nobody is special. But if we recognize our own individual talents and use them to the betterment of society, working with those around us, helping each other out in a selfless way, then we all are special. The key here is being selfless, free from that prison-cage.

In our own work with this blog, we have found an example of this. One of us finds writing more natural, while the other finds the pondering more natural. By talking regularly about this text, the writer is better able to capture the thoughts of the ponderer. Neither of us could do this on our own, but together, by sharing our specific skills, we are able to do something that would otherwise not be possible for us. And neither of us can take the credit, for that would spoil the whole process.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Paragraph 55

None of the many Prophets sent down, since Moses was made manifest, as Messengers of the Word of God, such as David, Jesus, and others among the more exalted Manifestations who have appeared during the intervening period between the Revelations of Moses and Muhammad, ever altered the law of the Qiblih. These Messengers of the Lord of creation have, one and all, directed their peoples to turn unto the same direction. In the eyes of God, the ideal King, all the places of the earth are one and the same, excepting that place which, in the days of His Manifestations, He doth appoint for a particular purpose. Even as He hath revealed: "The East and West are God's: therefore whichever way ye turn, there is the face of God." (Qur'an 2:115) Notwithstanding the truth of these facts, why should the Qiblih have been changed, thus casting such dismay amongst the people, causing the companions of the Prophet to waver, and throwing so great a confusion into their midst? Yea, such things as throw consternation into the hearts of all men come to pass only that each soul may be tested by the touchstone of God, that the true may be known and distinguished from the false. Thus hath He revealed after the breach amongst the people: "We did not appoint that which Thou wouldst have to be the Qiblih, but that We might know him who followeth the Apostle from him who turneth on his heels." (Qur'an 2:143) "Affrighted asses fleeing from a lion." (Qur'an 74:50)

This paragraph continue the train of thought that was started in the last paragraph, and asks a basic question that does not seem to be asked often. Why was the point of adoration changed? What was the reason? Was it because Mecca is somehow better than Jerusalem? Or because Muhammad had something against the Jews?

In the last paragraph, we are given a bit of a glimpse into this. We were told that there were a few Jews who had said some "unseemly words against Him". But this, in and of itself, was not enough to cause the changing of the Qiblih. It hurt Him, and He "strongly resented these words", but still faced Jerusalem while praying.

Then, after this continued for a while, the angel Gabriel gave Him permission to face where He wanted. Yet He still faced Jerusalem. It was only later, in the middle of His daily prayers with the friends, when the angel explicitly told Him to face the Ka'bih that He turned. It is as if He was unwilling to follow His own desires, no matter the pain that it caused Him. We are given clear indications that this law was not changed because of anything Muhammad felt or wanted, but for another reason altogether, possibly related, but still different.

And obviously, given what we read in this paragraph, it doesn't matter where we face, because in the eyes of God all places are one and the same, so it wasn't changed due to some inherent superiority of Mecca.

So why the change? To test the believers.

This is such an important point that Baha'u'llah talks about it not only here for two paragraphs, but continually throughout this book brings it up, beginning in paragraph 8.

Perhaps one reason for this is that many people seem to think that leading a pure and holy life will somehow free you from tests, but in fact, it seems to be the opposite. When you say you believe, you will be tested.

But how do you know when it is a test? One way is that you feel that sense of confusion or consternation. Imagine if you had been facing Jerusalem your whole life whenever you prayed. Your parents, your grandparents, everyone you ever knew, or even heard about, all considered facing Jerusalem while praying as a sign of holiness. In this sort of circumstance, we know that we would have felt uncomfortable if we were there when Muhammad suddenly changed where He was facing. The test, though, was to see if we would unhesitatingly obey the One that we recognized as a Messenger from God. If not, then we would have been placing tradition above the Messenger. We would, in a sense, be saying that we knew better.

This is a point that Baha'u'llah really seems to want to make to help us better understand our natural feelings of unease when facing these tests from the Bab, or later from Himself.

He may be giving us warning that if we feel that extreme discomfort to the point where we want to say, "That just cannot be", and walk away, we might want to see if it is just a test.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Paragraph 54

And likewise, reflect upon the revealed verse concerning the "Qiblih." When Muhammad, the Sun of Prophethood, had fled from the dayspring of Batha (Mecca) unto Yathrib (Medina), He continued to turn His face, while praying, unto Jerusalem, the holy city, until the time when the Jews began to utter unseemly words against Him -- words which if mentioned would ill befit these pages and would weary the reader. Muhammad strongly resented these words. Whilst, wrapt in meditation and wonder, He was gazing toward heaven, He heard the kindly Voice of Gabriel, saying: "We behold Thee from above, turning Thy face to heaven; but We will have Thee turn to a Qiblih which shall please Thee." (Qur'an 2:144) On a subsequent day, when the Prophet, together with His companions, was offering the noontide prayer, and had already performed two of the prescribed Rik'ats (prostrations), the Voice of Gabriel was heard again: "Turn Thou Thy face towards the sacred Mosque." (Qur'an 2:149) In the midst of that same prayer, Muhammad suddenly turned His face away from Jerusalem and faced the Ka'bih. Whereupon, a profound dismay seized suddenly the companions of the Prophet. Their faith was shaken severely. So great was their alarm, that many of them, discontinuing their prayer, apostatized their faith. Verily, God caused not this turmoil but to test and prove His servants. Otherwise, He, the ideal King, could easily have left the Qiblih unchanged, and could have caused Jerusalem to remain the Point of Adoration unto His Dispensation, thereby withholding not from that holy city the distinction of acceptance which had been conferred upon it.

This has been a very interesting exercise for us. Oh, not just reading this book in such detail, and studying it paragraph by paragraph, but reading this particular paragraph after a hiatus of a few days. We found that we initially began looking into the origin of this story, looking at the quotes cited from the Qur'an and reading the story around it. We then discovered that this story isn't actually from the Qur'an. It is from the Hadith. And then we began to talk about story telling and sacred text and how stories get changed and how Baha'u'llah has affirmed this story from the Hadith, as well as many others, while never mentioning some of the more wonky ones, and went on and on and talked about all sorts of other things only to discover that we had become distracted from what we feel is the main point.

And isn't that easy to do? Get distracted?

But then, when we said a prayer, which we always do before looking at this book together, and glanced over the previous few paragraphs, and checked where we were in the overall outline of the book, we realized that we had become distracted.

So, looking back at the outline, once again, we realized that this paragraph, this very story, falls under the section of that quote from Jesus, "The powers of the earth shall be shaken..."

"Their faith was shaken severely." Baha'u'llah does not choose His words lightly.

But let's look again at the placement of this story. This paragraph comes just after a reminder of symbolism in religion. He has just spent quite a number of paragraphs on this theme, and is still continuing to talk about it. He is not only stating what should be an obvious truth, He seems to also be reminding the Uncle of the Bab, and by extension us, of that other truth from Muhammad: "Think because ye say ye believe ye will not be tested?" We will be. Baha'u'llah seems to be preparing us for those inevitable tests.

Using a story that must have been very familiar to the reader, He reminds him that even the point towards which we turn is but a symbol.

This is quite important, given the status to which Mecca has been elevated in the Muslim community. He seems to be saying that even something so major, so iconic as the Ka'bih itself is merely a symbol, when in relation to God. In short, this becomes, as it was in the time of the Prophet, a test of detachment and obedience.

Let's be clear, God doesn't care where we face, where we turn our bodies. He is more concerned about our heart. Are we more attached to tradition, or is obedience more important to us? After all, just a few lines earlier in the Qur'an, it says, "So wherever you [might] turn, there is the Face of Allah." (Qur'an 2:115) The Uncle of the Bab would have been very familiar with this.

And so, once again, Baha'u'llah is leading us carefully onwards to help us get ready to recognize and accept a new Messenger. He is carefully pointing out what we already know, and the pitfalls that likely await us.

Finally, there is one other thing that really stood out for us, and that is a small phrase near the beginning. He tells us that "the Jews began to utter unseemly words". He is very specific. He is not anti-Semitic, to be sure, but is just reporting a specific historic fact. Our question, though, is whether this is a bit of foreshadowing, or not. Is Baha'u'llah planting the seed that will later grow into the law prohibiting backbiting? Were the Jews unseemly words a form of backbiting? If so, then look what was lost due to that: the supremacy of Jerusalem. This could be seen as but one result from the corrosive effects of backbiting.