Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Paragraph 101

And now, We beseech the people of the Bayán, all the learned, the sages, the divines, and witnesses amongst them, not to forget the wishes and admonitions revealed in their Book. Let them, at all times, fix their gaze upon the essentials of His Cause, lest when He, Who is the Quintessence of truth, the inmost Reality of all things, the Source of all light, is made manifest, they cling unto certain passages of the Book, and inflict upon Him that which was inflicted in the Dispensation of the Qur’án. For, verily, powerful is He, the King of divine might, to extinguish with one letter of His wondrous words, the breath of life in the whole of the Bayán and the people thereof, and with one letter bestow upon them a new and everlasting life, and cause them to arise and speed out of the sepulchres of their vain and selfish desires. Take heed, and be watchful; and remember that all things have their consummation in belief in Him, in attainment unto His day, and in the realization of His divine presence. “There is no piety in turning your faces toward the east or toward the west, but he is pious who believeth in God and the Last Day.” Give ear, O people of the Bayán, unto the truth whereunto We have admonished you, that haply ye may seek the shelter of the shadow extended, in the Day of God, upon all mankind.

Well, dear Reader, here we are: the last paragraph of Part 1. What a journey.

Now, to be honest, looking back at the previous paragraph, we would have ended it there. It sure seems like a nice conclusion. We would have been very satisfied with it. But then, we're not Manifestations of God. (See paragraphs 1 - 100 for more details.)

Not only does Baha'u'llah give us the basic parameters for truly searching for truth (see paragraphs 1 - 6), some examples of previous Manifestations that the reader already recognizes (see paragraphs 7 - 23), and expound upon a single verse of that holy Person, Jesus, (see paragraphs 24 - 98), He also places the feet of the reader upon that path that will surely lead to the recognition of that Manifestation of God for this Day, the Bab (see paragraphs 99 and 100). Beyond that, He also lays the foundation for the recognition of Him Whom God shall make Manifest, helping us understand that the criteria for recognizing the Bab will be the same as those criteria for recognizing His own Station.

Surely that must be enough.

But really, one of those amazing things about Manifestations is that They see vistas we can't even dream about. Here, in paragraph 101, He lifts us up to that greater vista.

Now that it is fairly certain that the uncle to whom this book is addressed will recognize that high station of his Nephew and become a Babi, Baha'u'llah takes a moment to address all the Babis, those "people of the Bayan".

And what does He say? It is not enough to recognize the Bab.

We must be supremely heedful of that most important message the Bab gave. When the Pivot of the Bab's teachings declares His Mission, when Him Whom God shall make Manifest appears, we must not fall into those same old errors. We should not cling to certain verses and deny Him due to our own limited understanding, and inflict great harm to Him. For He is supreme. Baha'u'llah, after all this time helping raise our vision of Jesus, Muhammad and the Bab, helping us get a better vision of Their greatness, reminds us that the One to come is far greater.

Now, that being said, this, too, would make a great ending point. But remember, we're not Manifestations. (See above.)

Now that we can recognize the Bab, and have the tools to recognize Baha'u'llah, the question remains, "So what?" How does that change our life? What do we do about it?

That, dear Reader, is Part 2.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Paragraph 100

O affectionate seeker! Shouldst thou soar in the holy realm of the spirit, thou wouldst recognize God manifest and exalted above all things, in such wise that thine eyes would behold none else but Him. “God was alone; there was none else besides Him.” So lofty is this station that no testimony can bear it witness, neither evidence do justice to its truth. Wert thou to explore the sacred domain of truth, thou wilt find that all things are known only by the light of His recognition, that He hath ever been, and will continue for ever to be, known through Himself. And if thou dwellest in the land of testimony, content thyself with that which He, Himself, hath revealed: “Is it not enough for them that We have sent down unto Thee the Book?” This is the testimony which He, Himself, hath ordained; greater proof than this there is none, nor ever will be: “This proof is His Word; His own Self, the testimony of His truth.”

To start our look at this paragraph, we would like to look again at the last sentence of paragraph 99. "It is incumbent upon thee, by the permission of God, to cleanse the eye of thine heart from the things of the world, that thou mayest realize the infinitude of divine knowledge, and mayest behold Truth so clearly that thou wilt need no proof to demonstrate His reality, nor any evidence to bear witness unto His testimony." Our goal is to be so certain that we need no proof. But really, we just ain't there. Here, in recognition of this truth of our own state, He addresses us as an "affectionate seeker". We are still seeking. We are still looking for proof. Perhaps it is proof of the claim of the Bab, or maybe even proof of our own faith. Time and again throughout this book, Baha'u'llah has talked about the various proofs that people are seeking.

Everyone asks for proofs, but really, is there any greater proof than His own life? The Messenger's own Words? What more can we offer? Nothing.

Isn't that what faith in Them has always been based on? Their life and their words?

As we pause and consider this, we notice that Baha'u'llah has given us, yet again, another path which we can walk. We notice that this paragraph describes three states in which we can find ourselves.

First, if we are to "soar in the holy realm of the spirit", then we would recognize that God is above all things.

Second, if we are to "explore the sacred domain of truth", then we will discover that everything is only recognizable in light of the recognition of God.

Third, if we are to dwell "in the land of testimony", then we should be content with what God has revealed.

As we have said, over and over, all of Part 1 seems to be about recognizing a Manifestation of God. The questions that the Uncle of the Bab, which led to the revelation of this incredible work, were all about various proofs that he was trying to understand. But Baha'u'llah doesn't seem to be content with this. It is as if He is saying, "Great. You've recognized. Now what? What are you going to do about it?"

How many countless people throughout history have recognized a Messenger but not done anything about it? In a very real sense, this reminds us of the beginning of Ruhi Book 1. "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds..." "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

This paragraph, in one sense, is the ultimate point of Part 1. It is the culmination of recognition. We have recognized. Good for us. What are we going to do about it? And that, dear Reader, is Part 2.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Paragraph 99

Dear friend! Now when the light of God’s everlasting Morn is breaking; when the radiance of His holy words: “God is the light of the heavens and of the earth” is shedding illumination upon all mankind; when the inviolability of His tabernacle is being proclaimed by His sacred utterance: “God hath willed to perfect His light;” and the Hand of omnipotence, bearing His testimony: “In His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of all things,” is being outstretched unto all the peoples and kindreds of the earth; it behooveth us to gird up the loins of endeavour, that haply, by the grace and bounty of God, we may enter the celestial City: “Verily, we are God’s,” and abide within the exalted habitation: “And unto Him we do return.” It is incumbent upon thee, by the permission of God, to cleanse the eye of thine heart from the things of the world, that thou mayest realize the infinitude of divine knowledge, and mayest behold Truth so clearly that thou wilt need no proof to demonstrate His reality, nor any evidence to bear witness unto His testimony.

Wow. Here we are. After more than six dozen paragraphs devoted to looking at one passage from Matthew 24, we are at the tail-end of Part 1. This whole section, from the very beginning to this point, has all been about how we can begin to recognize a Manifestation of the Divine Spirit.

It all began with cleansing our heart, and looking again at some of the Messengers we already recognize. Once we see some of the things They have in common, Baha'u'llah turned our attention to that beautiful passage, that promise from Jesus Himself, and how it applied to Muhammad, and hence, how it applies to all Messengers. He showed us how much more there was in these lines than we ever imagined. There truly are more things in heaven and hell, Horatio, then we ever dreamed of.

Here, with this first paragraph of the conclusion of Part 1, He is suddenly very intimate with us again. "Dear Friend." This is someone who is close to us, We are close to Him. If we have made it this far, we must be an intimate of His, and He is helping us see how to become even closer.

There are two paths that we notice within this paragraph. Likely there are more, but we will concern ourselves with only two of them.

First, looking at the active parts within this paragraph, we can see that morning has arrived. "The light of God's everlasting Morn is breaking." We can easily see ourselves lost in the desert, like the Jewish peoples at the time of Moses, and the warm light of the sun is beginning to shed its splendor over the horizon.

Second, it is specifically the light of God's Word that is causing this light to appear, and it is appearing to everyone.

Third, we have that reference to the tabernacle again. We are reminded of its sacredness, and the fact that nothing can break or corrupt it. We were just reminded of the sacred nature of the holy Bible in the previous few paragraphs, and can apply this to all sacred Texts.

Fourth, while the Tabernacle is a specific reference to the Jewish peoples, Baha'u'llah is telling us that this time, God is reaching out to all the peoples and kindreds of the earth. He is talking to all. Nobody is excluded.

Finally, it is in our best interest to not sit back and merely look at or study the sacred Texts, important as study is, but to endeavour. We are to get up and work. We are to strive and labour, to do our utmost to reach this station. And if we are lucky, then we might be blessed enough to "enter the celestial City". Furthermore, not only are trying to get into that city, but our actual goal is "the exalted habitation". And with luck, we may be allowed to abide within it.

Of course, this adds another dimension of struggle. Abide, as you know, means to remain with in times of great trouble.

So here we are, in the wilderness of the desert, watching the sun come up. We are aware of the importance of the sacred tent behind us, and we are moving towards the Promised Land, that great city. We enter it, and with great difficulty, seek out the holy household. At the same time, we are also learning about the importance of remaining in this house even when it is difficult.

By the way, we don't feel that this is all merely in relation to Muhammad, even though it has all been about how the uncle of the Bab has come to recognize the Prophet of God. We don't feel that this is even solely about the Bab, Whom Baha'u'llah is helping this uncle to recognize. Nor do we feel that this is directly or indirectly about Baha'u'llah, Himself. We feel that all of this, from the very beginning up to this point of the book, has been about how we can recognize any Manifestation of the Divine Spirit. We feel that this has been about all of Them.

Anyways, on to that second path.

We get the feeling that there is another path hidden within these beautiful Words, namely through the quotes that He uses. In order, they read:

  • God is the light of the heavens and of the earth
  • God hath willed to perfect His light
  • In His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of all things
  • Verily, we are God’s
  • And unto Him we do return

The light is breaking, and that light is God. He is the true light of both the heavens and the earth. But let's face it, that light is blinding. It is difficult for us to see. In order for the light to be more effective, to be more "perfect", He is helping us acclimatize to it. He is giving us the means by which we can better see it. After all, if the light is out there, but we cannot bear it, what good is it to us?

No. God wants us to be able to see it, and this is one of the reasons He has sent us the Messengers.

But let's not forget, everything is within His grasp, and that includes us. It includes both the heavens and the earth. It even includes the Messengers Themselves.

Everything is God's. And to Him do we all, eventually, return.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Paragraph 98

We have also heard a number of the foolish of the earth assert that the genuine text of the heavenly Gospel doth not exist amongst the Christians, that it hath ascended unto heaven. How grievously they have erred! How oblivious of the fact that such a statement imputeth the gravest injustice and tyranny to a gracious and loving Providence! How could God, when once the Day-star of the beauty of Jesus had disappeared from the sight of His people, and ascended unto the fourth heaven, cause His holy Book, His most great testimony amongst His creatures, to disappear also? What would be left to that people to cling to from the setting of the day-star of Jesus until the rise of the sun of the Muḥammadan Dispensation? What law could be their stay and guide? How could such people be made the victims of the avenging wrath of God, the omnipotent Avenger? How could they be afflicted with the scourge of chastisement by the heavenly King? Above all, how could the flow of the grace of the All-Bountiful be stayed? How could the ocean of His tender mercies be stilled? We take refuge with God, from that which His creatures have fancied about Him! Exalted is He above their comprehension!

This basically ends His analysis of Matthew 24. And it's interesting, isn't it, that He has spent all this time referring to this text, deriving such insights and wisdom from it, and only now, at the very end, refutes the silly idea that the true Gospel may not exist? After all this, there really isn't any doubt, but still, He has to address it anyways.

Then there is the way in which He addresses this, with this list of rhetorical questions. As we could expect, it seems that there is a path of guidance within these very questions. They begin with the Book of God, one of the very proofs of the Messenger, His teachings. Once He mentions the Book, He points out that we should cling to it. From there, He introduces the Law, the very heart and essence of the book itself. Then He points out that without giving us the Law, the wrath, which is the punishment for the violation of said law, would be unjust, as would His chastisement. And since God is the very essence of justice, this notion itself is ridiculous. All grace and bounty flow from God, and the very thought that it could be stopped, even for a moment, is beyond absurd.

Again, it is very interesting. Baha'u'llah is seen here not only defending the validity of the Christian texts, but is also using them to show these profound truths. He is demonstrating not only a familiarity with them, but the incredible depth of wisdom contained within them. He is validating their authenticity and their accuracy, and by doing so is reminding us of the importance of our own study of them.

While it is, of course, important for us to know the teachings of the Baha'i Faith, it is also crucial for us to have a very good understanding and familiarity of the sacred texts of all faiths. 'Abdu'l-Baha, Himself, is reported to have said, "It is the religious duty of every Bahá'í to read and comprehend the meanings of the Old and New Testaments." Baha'u'llah has just spent over 70 paragraphs helping us comprehend the meaning of just this one singular passage from the New Testament. Imagine how much more there is to understand.

To us, this is a call to action. It is a very stark reminder of our duty to strive to understand better and better the holy texts of all faiths in light of the teachings of Baha'u'llah. It is also a reminder to us to stand up and defend not only their authenticity, but also their accuracy and relevance. As we encounter religious prejudice in our society, we are called upon to not only overcome it, but to show the profound beauty and depth of truth within every faith.

While we could go on for a long time on this extremely important theme., we will just point out one more thing that has caught our attention in this paragraph. No doubt we will be expanding on this theme in our study of Part 2 of this book, but for now, we will just point out a tidbit of it here.

Almost of all of Part 1 has been about how to recognize a Messenger of God. The first two questions in this paragraph also deal with this very important theme. We need to recognize the Messenger, and after They have ascended, it is through Their teachings that we can do this. Then, with the third question, He talks about the importance of the Law, and our obedience to it.

Recognition and Obedience.

This brings to mind, of course, the very first paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas: The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof, hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.

And our obedience is something that we give to our sovereign, our king and ruler.

All of Part 2, as we shall soon see, is about that station of sovereignty held by the Manifestation of God.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Paragraph 97

Our purpose in relating these things is to warn you that were they to maintain that those verses wherein the signs referred to in the Gospel are mentioned have been perverted, were they to reject them, and cling instead to other verses and traditions, you should know that their words were utter falsehood and sheer calumny. Yea “corruption” of the text, in the sense We have referred to, hath been actually effected in particular instances. A few of these We have mentioned, that it may become manifest to every discerning observer that unto a few untutored holy Men hath been given the mastery of human learning, so that the malevolent opposer may cease to contend that a certain verse doth indicate “corruption” of the text, and insinuate that We, through lack of knowledge, have made mention of such things. Moreover, most of the verses that indicate “corruption” of the text have been revealed with reference to the Jewish people, were ye to explore the isles of Qur’ánic Revelation.

Here is the twelfth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

He begins by saying that He is "relating these things" to us to warn us. What things? Well, He is saying that if people were to say that certain signs in the Gospel were actually perversions of the text, they're bozos. He is giving us the history, and a way to respond, besides saying that they're bozos.

So let's look back at this whole section. What is it that Baha'u'llah is doing? What is His argument?

He begins by defining angels, and then reminds us that the Word of God is "abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse". He points out to us the conditions for bearing it, and demonstrates quite clearly that the divines of His day do not meet any of those qualifications. Instead, these divines argue that the text must be corrupt. Baha'u'llah goes on to explain that "what is meant by corrupting the text" is very specific. First, it refers to a simple misunderstanding when the Jewish people, for example, rescinded a law when they did not have the authority to do so. Second, it refers to the divines unconsciously interpreting the text according to their own imagination or vain desires. Third, it refers to this same interpretation, but this time consciously. Finally, it refers to these same people consciously transcribing the Text incorrectly and claiming it is from God, in order to get money or other benefits.

Now, this is all well and good, this pattern that He is pointing out to us, but why is He putting it here? Why does He put it here in this book, and why in this section?

Quite simply, He is warning us that these accusations of perverting the text will be made of Him, and are being made of the Bab. But if we examine it, we will see that they are mistaken. The Bab and Baha'u'llah are, instead, offering a new understanding of the text, one that is both fresh and invigorating. They are offering a truth that has been right in front of us all along, and we have just missed it. And Their new message is resounding through the world like a trumpet blast, waking up the people of the world, helping them see that this is a new day. But those in charge, the various divines and such, are trying to lull the people back to sleep.

And these angels, well, they can easily be seen as those Babis who have given their lives for their Faith. So now we can clearly see how He did in fact send His angels with a trumpet blast in order to wake us up, and hopefully allow us to become like angels, too.

Finally, He finishes off with this beautiful metaphor of exploring "the isles of Qur'anic Revelation", which are presumably floating within the "ocean of true understanding", referred to way back in the very first sentence of this book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Paragraph 96

The same may be witnessed today. Consider how abundant are the denunciations written by the foolish divines of this age against this most wondrous Cause! How vain their imaginings that these calumnies are in conformity with the verses of God’s sacred Book, and in consonance with the utterances of men of discernment!

Here is the eleventh paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

Before we can talk about this paragraph, we have to ask ourselves what Baha'u'llah means when He says "the same". What is it He is referring to?

Quite simply, He seems to be referring to the condemnation referred to in the previous paragraph, namely that some people write stuff and say it is from God.

Here, He specifically uses the word "calumnies" and asks if they are in conformity with the Book of God and consonant with what discerning people say.

Ok, fine. But what does all that mean?

Looking at some of the key words and defining them will help us understand.

Calumnies are statements that are like backbiting, except for the fact that they are a lie. They are specifically designed to hurt and mislead. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha'u'llah's seminal Text, He talks about calumny in the following verse: Ye have been forbidden to commit murder or adultery, or to engage in backbiting or calumny...

We often read about how awful backbiting is, but rarely do we hear about calumny. We even seem to have a visceral reaction against backbiting in the Baha'i community, knowing how vilified it is, but often wonder about this companion word, "calumny". Well, here is an interesting thought that struck us as we began to look into this word. We believe that everything in the Writings, as we have said repeatedly, is there for a purpose. Nothing is accidental. And so, when we saw this verse, we began to wonder about it. After all, this is a strange group of four acts to condemn together in a single line. Was Baha'u'llah trying to give us a message?

We believe He was.

While we often think of murder as this horrible worst-of-all possible crimes, and in this culture seem to regard adultery as something common, and backbiting more like "yeah, whatever", we wondered at the idea that Baha'u'llah would begin with the worst, and move into a decrescendo. It didn't make sense to us. A crescendo seemed more likely. And so, looking at it in this way, we began to reconsider. Then we realized that murder, awful as it is, merely kills a single individual. Adultery, common as it is, results in the death of a family. Backbiting, we know, leads to distrust and results in the death of the bonds of trust within a community. And backbiting, heinous as it is, at least has the virtue of being true. Calumny is a lie. And so, looking at it in this way, we began to feel that Baha'u'llah is giving us a deeper message about these condemned acts.

So, here, when He refers to "calumnies", we really seem to feel the impact of that word.

"Consonant" basically means an agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions. If you are uttering or writing these appalling things about others, and purport to be spiritual, then your actions are not consonant with your words. "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

And then there is "discernment", the ability to judge well. When you look dispassionately at the actions of the Baha'is who are condemned by these calumnies, you can see the prejudice shining through these words.

Given this, we go back to the beginning of this short paragraph and notice the word "consider". Remember "consider"? Way back at the beginning of this book, He regularly asked us to "consider the past", to "reflect", to "ponder". That was our starting point, the first step of the path that has led us to this point in the book.

Now, however, He seems to be asking us to "consider the present".

And then, notice what it is that He is asking us to consider, the abundance of these denunciations.


Well, let's go back to paragraph 6 and see what He says there. "Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." And isn't that what this book is all about? Certitude?

Now, here, Baha'u'llah is referring to those people, presumably Muslim, who were writing all sorts of denunciations and uttering all sorts of slander against the Baha'i Faith, but He also seems to be giving us a warning, too. We don't just see this as referring to those condemning the "next faith" in line, but also to any person condemning any other faith. After all, in the forward to One Common Faith, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle (of the interfaith movement) has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance."

Therefore, we can ask ourselves, when we speak about another religion, or a group of religionists, are our words "in conformity with the verses of God's sacred Book"? Are our judgements "in consonance with the utterances of men of judgement"?

Whatever measuring stick Baha'u'llah uses for judging others, He will surely also use to judge us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Paragraph 95

Again in another instance, He saith: “Woe unto those who, with their own hands, transcribe the Book corruptly, and then say: ‘This is from God,’ that they may sell it for some mean price.” This verse was revealed with reference to the divines and leaders of the Jewish Faith. These divines, in order to please the rich, acquire worldly emoluments, and give vent to their envy and misbelief, wrote a number of treatises, refuting the claims of Muḥammad, supporting their arguments with such evidences as it would be improper to mention, and claimed that these arguments were derived from the text of the Pentateuch.

Here is the tenth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

Well, to start, we just want to point out that an "emolument" is a profit arising from an office, or a wage. And a "treatise" is a just a written work or argument dealing with a particular subject.

But we don't really want to dwell on definitions.

No, we're far more interested in the development of the various types of "perverting" the text. In paragraph 92, He describes how the Jewish peoples had "perverted" the text by rescinding a law, even though they did not have the authority to do so. They really believed that they were doing a good thing. And even then, the text itself wasn't changed. You could still go back and read the original law for yourself. it was only the application they changed.

In paragraph 93, He describes how the divines interpret the text according to their own imagination or vain desires. Again, they're not changing the text itself, just twisting the meaning to satisfy their own ego or wishes, probably unconsciously.

In paragraph 94, they twist the meaning again, but this time they do so consciously.

Here, they actually transcribe the text itself incorrectly, knowing that they are doing so. And why do they do this? For a small sum of money, and to give vent to their envy. They knowingly falsify the text, and then claim that it is true.

Baha'u'llah is showing us, through example, increasing levels of this "perversion". It begins with very good intentions, and we can actually understand where the people doing it are coming from. It moves through selfishness and ignorance, in which this twisting of the text is done with disregard, Finally, it culminates in a deliberate action, in which the changing of the text is calculated and premeditated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Paragraph 94

In yet another instance, He saith: “A part of them heard the Word of God, and then, after they had understood it, distorted it, and knew that they did so.” This verse, too, doth indicate that the meaning of the Word of God hath been perverted, not that the actual words have been effaced. To the truth of this testify they that are sound of mind.

Here is the ninth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

Back in paragraph 92, Baha'u'llah talked about how the Jewish people changed the application of the Law without actually changing the words of the text itself. In paragraph 93, He points out that the people couldn't just change the text itself because the text was spread all over the world. Now He is talking about those who understand the text, but then consciously distort it. They deliberately distort the meaning away from its intent.

We can understand the rationale of the Jewish people of the day, struggling to understand how to survive in their dire circumstances. They may have overstepped their bounds, but we can understand it.

Here, deliberately distorting the truth, is something that we know is wrong. Over and over again, Baha'u'llah reminds us that we need to sanctify our heart. We have to consider the past. We need to truly seek after the truth, care for it, really love it. And we must be careful with it. Over the past 70 paragraphs, Baha'u'llah has continually shown us that there are myriad meanings of each and every one of these verses, but we can't just read them any way we want. We can't allow our own passions and desires to dictate our understanding of these precious words.

There is a coherency to religion. There is a context in which all these verses are placed. And our understanding must be in line with this general understanding.

For example, the whole of the message of Jesus is "love". If we ever understand anything from the Bible that leads us to anything other than love, we can be sure that we have mis-understood.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Paragraph 93

This is one of the instances that have been referred to. Verily by “perverting” the text is not meant that which these foolish and abject souls have fancied, even as some maintain that Jewish and Christian divines have effaced from the Book such verses as extol and magnify the countenance of Muḥammad, and instead thereof have inserted the contrary. How utterly vain and false are these words! Can a man who believeth in a book, and deemeth it to be inspired by God, mutilate it? Moreover, the Pentateuch had been spread over the surface of the earth, and was not confined to Mecca and Medina, so that they could privily corrupt and pervert its text. Nay, rather, by corruption of the text is meant that in which all Muslim divines are engaged today, that is the interpretation of God’s holy Book in accordance with their idle imaginings and vain desires. And as the Jews, in the time of Muḥammad, interpreted those verses of the Pentateuch, that referred to His Manifestation, after their own fancy, and refused to be satisfied with His holy utterance, the charge of “perverting” the text was therefore pronounced against them. Likewise, it is clear, how in this day, the people of the Qur’án have perverted the text of God’s holy Book, concerning the signs of the expected Manifestation, and interpreted it according to their inclination and desires.

Here is the eighth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

This is another one of those paragraphs that is actually very straightforward in its argument, clearly re-stating an issue, outlining the problem, and identifying a simple explanation. We don't need to re-state what He has already said.

As usual, what we prefer to do is look at the implications on our own teaching work. After all, if we want to use this book to help us become effective teachers, then we really need to look at not only the methods and arguments that Baha'u'llah uses, but how they impact us, too.

For us, in the Baha'i Faith, we individuals are like the Muslim divines, in a sense. As there are no clergy in the Baha'i community, we are called upon to teach others, like the divines of old. So, for us, this paragraph is a clarion call, a reminder. We need to be very aware of our own inclinations and desires, and strive for that detachment which is the hallmark of part one of this book, ensuring that we are able to pass on the teachings as best as we are able.

We don't need to worry about altering the Text, as the original manuscripts and documents are all on file at the World Centre for all to see. This isn't our concern. Nor was it actually a concern for the people in the pat, as Baha'u'llah points out. The real "corruption" is in the interpretation. And this is where we need to continually rely on the guidance of the Master, the Guardian and even the direction set for us by the Universal House of Justice.

As far as a "idle imaginings and vain desires", we can do no better than to turn our attention to Mason Remey, and his tragic fall and collapse.

As you know, he was one of those few souls appointed to the station of Hand of the Cause by the Guardian, before his passing. Upon discovering that there was no will, and nobody appointed as his, the Guardian's, successor, in his grief he decided that he should be the next Guardian. This was pure folly, of course, but he looked at some various statements about the successorship and applied his own fancy to them. He decided that since 'Abdu'l-Baha had referred to him as His own "dear son", that this must make him an Aghsan, one of the lineal descendants of Baha'u'llah, and thus eligible. He also decided that the Guardian's appointment of him, Remey, as President of the International Baha'i Council, which was the precursor to the Universal House of Justice, must have been the Guardian giving him the blessing of successorship. Again, ridiculous, but that is the problem with the ego: it loves to play these sorts of disastrous tricks on us. Either way, it still didn't fly, because according to the Will and Testament of the Master, he still would have needed the approval of the Hands of the Cause, which he didn't have.

It may not be the strongest of examples, but it sure shows us the importance of trying to take things in context, and being aware of our own "inclination and desire".

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paragraph 92

Yea, in the writings and utterances of the Mirrors reflecting the sun of the Muḥammadan Dispensation mention hath been made of “Modification by the exalted beings” and “alteration by the disdainful.” Such passages, however, refer only to particular cases. Among them is the story of Ibn-i-Ṣúríyá. When the people of Khaybar asked the focal center of the Muḥammadan Revelation concerning the penalty of adultery committed between a married man and a married woman, Muḥammad answered and said: “The law of God is death by stoning.” Whereupon they protested saying: “No such law hath been revealed in the Pentateuch.” Muḥammad answered and said: “Whom do ye regard among your rabbis as being a recognized authority and having a sure knowledge of the truth?” They agreed upon Ibn-i-Súríyá. Thereupon Muḥammad summoned him and said: “I adjure thee by God Who clove the sea for you, caused manna to descend upon you, and the cloud to overshadow you, Who delivered you from Pharaoh and his people, and exalted you above all human beings, to tell us what Moses hath decreed concerning adultery between a married man and a married woman.” He made reply: “O Muḥammad! death by stoning is the law.” Muḥammad observed: “Why is it then that this law is annulled and hath ceased to operate among the Jews?” He answered and said: “When Nebuchadnezzar delivered Jerusalem to the flames, and put the Jews to death, only a few survived. The divines of that age, considering the extremely limited number of the Jews, and the multitude of the Amalekites, took counsel together, and came to the conclusion that were they to enforce the law of the Pentateuch, every survivor who hath been delivered from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar would have to be put to death according to the verdict of the Book. Owing to such considerations, they totally repealed the penalty of death.” Meanwhile Gabriel inspired Muḥammad’s illumined heart with these words: “They pervert the text of the Word of God.”

Here is the seventh paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

It's always worth remembering where we are in the context of this book. For example, we wouldn't have thought of this story as being a reference to "a great sound of a trumpet", but upon reflection this sure seems like a trumpet blast to us. It must have really shocked the people of the time, the Jews to whom He was talking. A real wake up call.

Here we have Muhammad, Who in their opinion would know nothing of Jewish law, proving that He knows it better than they do. In His initial speech leading up to the question, He is demonstrating that He is well aware of the history of these peoples and is referring to them with the utmost respect.

Then, when Ibn-i-Suriya responds, he does so with a sound argument. His rationale for why the law was changed sure seems to make sense. We can understand it.

But let's face it, the Jewish divines and the Amalekites, one of the Jewish tribes, got together and repealed that law, but they didn't have the authority to do that.

It opens up a very tricky question. What do you do when the conditions change, but you don't have the authority to change the law? Maybe they could have put into abeyance the penalty for the time being, but they didn't. They "totally repealed" it. They may have had the right to offer mercy, but instead they went further. That was beyond their right and authority. There were so many other options they could have chosen. They could have said that anyone who survived the massacre in Jerusalem was exempt from that penalty, provided they remained faithful to a new spouse. They could have done any number of things to provide for the dire conditions of the day, but instead, they chose a simple and expedient solution.

Worse, though, was that this was done for all time. The repealing of this law was taken for granted, so much so that at the time of Muhammad the people had forgotten all about the original penalty.

And so God, through the angel Gabriel, inspired Muhammad to say, in relation to this story, that they perverted the Word of God.

But they didn't change the Word. You could still go back to the Tanakh, the Old Testament, and see that this really was the law. The word "pervert" only refers to their interpretation and application of the law.

And so, when the people of the Bab's day claim that the Christians and Jews don't even have the Word of God, because the Text is "perverted" or "corrupted', they are quite simply wrong. In this context, "to pervert" simply means to twist the meaning of something, or to turn away from something that is good.

All this is a beautiful reminder that the Messenger of God is well aware of the truth and details of the older faiths. He was fully aware of the Text. It is also a reminder that we should go back to the original text and see what it actually says, as opposed to merely listening to what the people thin it says.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Paragraph 91

Were they to be questioned concerning those signs that must needs herald the revelation and rise of the sun of the Muḥammadan Dispensation, to which We have already referred, none of which have been literally fulfilled, and were it to be said to them: “Wherefore have ye rejected the claims advanced by Christians and the peoples of other faiths and regard them as infidels,” knowing not what answer to give, they will reply: “These Books have been corrupted and are not, and never have been, of God.” Reflect: the words of the verses themselves eloquently testify to the truth that they are of God. A similar verse hath been also revealed in the Qur’án, were ye of them that comprehend. Verily I say, throughout all this period they have utterly failed to comprehend what is meant by corrupting the text.

Here we have the sixth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

To start, this paragraph is giving us an example of an argument that was common at the time, and even today we have heard it referred to by some. The basic question is why have the Christians failed to recognize Muhammad. The response, absurd as it may be, is that the Bible has been "corrupted" and that the Christians don't have the Word of God by which they can begin to recognize Muhammad. Obviously, you know this is not true, for the beauty and wisdom of the Bible testify that it is of God.

What is actually meant by "corruption of the text" is explained in the next paragraph, so we won't go into it here. Instead, we want to look at Baha'u'llah's methodology and see what we can learn from it.

First, when the uncle of the Bab wrote his questions to Baha'u'llah, there was nothing in them about this supposed corruption of the text. Baha'u'llah is answering a question that wasn't even asked.

Why? We may wonder at His reasoning for doing such a thing. But then, when we take into account the historical time and culture in which this was written, He was aware that it would have been a common question that anyone would have asked at this point. He is anticipating the question in the reader's heart and addressing it before it even becomes an issue.

Second, He is re-affirming the validity of the Bible. The very words of the Bible itself, He says, testify to the truth that they are of God.

When talking with people of another faith path, we are, in a very real sense, walking on holy ground. The Universal House of Justice, itself, in the introduction to One Common Faith, refers to the interfaith movement, saying, "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance."

This, in one sense, is what Baha'u'llah is doing.

Remember, virtually everything that we have read is coming from that one verse from Matthew 24. The reading of the Qur'an goes hand in hand with the reading of the Bible. They compliment each other. You cannot have one without the other.

Third, Baha'u'llah is showing a tremendous amount of respect. This book, while primarily written for the uncle of the Bab, is also written for all of humanity. And this audience includes people of all faiths. Just imagine that you are a Christian, and you are told by a Muslim, "Oh, it's ok that you missed Muhammad. It's not your fault. Your Bible is corrupt." Where is the respect? Baha'u'llah is reminding us that these holy books, and not just the Bible and the Qur'an, but also the sacred books of all faiths, are considered holy for a good reason. They are transformative. They have a power that has moved and motivated people for many generations. "No other force in existence", we read in One Common Faith, "has been able to elicit from people comparable qualities of heroism, self-sacrifice and self-discipline...Viewed in perspective, the major religions emerge as the primary driving forces of the civilizing process. To argue otherwise is surely to ignore the evidence of history." "The scriptures", they go on, "have not changed; the moral principles they contain have lost none of their validity. No one who sincerely poses questions to Heaven, if he persists, will fail to detect an answering voice in the Psalms or in the Upanishads. Anyone with some intimation of the Reality that transcends this material one will be touched to the heart by the words in which Jesus or Buddha speaks so intimately of it."

If we truly believe that the Bab is from God, and that Baha'u'llah is the Promised One of All Ages, then we must acknowledge the validity of all those sacred Texts of the past. To do that, we have to honour and respect all the various Faiths.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Paragraph 90

Great God! Notwithstanding their acceptance of the truth of this tradition, these divines who are still doubtful of, and dispute about, the theological obscurities of their faith, yet claim to be the exponents of the subtleties of the law of God, and the expounders of the essential mysteries of His holy Word. They confidently assert that such traditions as indicate the advent of the expected Qá’im have not yet been fulfilled, whilst they themselves have failed to inhale the fragrance of the meaning of these traditions, and are still oblivious of the fact that all the signs foretold have come to pass, that the way of God’s holy Cause hath been revealed, and the concourse of the faithful, swift as lightning, are, even now, passing upon that way, whilst these foolish divines wait expecting to witness the signs foretold. Say, O ye foolish ones! Wait ye even as those before you are waiting!

Here we are: the fifth paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

So, just as a reminder, "this tradition" refers to that one from the previous paragraph that says the Cause is sorely trying. Also, we realize that we haven't really talked about it, but we begin every session with a prayer, usually one for either detachment or for teaching. And, another thing that is interesting for us is that we have been studying this for a while. In fact, on this very paragraph, Samuel has written a note in his copy of the book that we first studied it together back in July of 2001.


All of a sudden, the few years we've spent writing this blog don't seem all that long now.

Anyways, this paragraph seems to focus on humility. The divines that Baha'u'llah is speaking of don't seem to show it, but it really is one of the most important qualities we can have when searching out the truth, or trying to share what we have discovered.

We remember a story of a dear friend of ours who was living in the west side of Chicago back in the 60s. This was a part of town that was was mostly African American, or as they used to say back in the day, Black. And a group of Baha'is showed up in the area, who were mostly White, with just a few of the "token Black folk", as our friend put it. Now this woman was a fairly militant, angry Black woman who had seen all the hypocrisy and junk that the White folk had done, and she was having none of it. So when these two Baha'is knocked on her door to talk about wonderful their faith was, she asked them some really difficult questions.

And we mean really difficult.

Now, as is the usual case, there were two Baha'is there, as we said. One was the newbie who was to do all the talking, and the other was the old hand who would reflect back and help the newbie grow. It's sort of like how we "accompany" others today, only they didn't have that word in their lingo at the time. Actually, it's exactly like how we accompany others.

Before this newbie could say a word, though, the other Baha'i turned to them and said, "These are very important questions. They are the questions that every person in this neighbourhood has in their heart. And if we can't answer them, then we have no business being here."

This respect, honesty, and humility completely defused any anger that was in her heart, and showed her that this really was something different.

Now we compare that to these divines that Baha'u'llah is describing. No humility, and even anger if they're asked questions.

But here, Baha'u'llah is, as we know, helping prepare the Uncle of the Bab to recognize Him. He shows the obvious hypocrisy of the divines of His day, and points out how they are making the same mistakes that the divines made at the time of Muhammad, not to mention the time of Jesus.

"Wait ye even as those before you are waiting!" The parallels are obvious, and Baha'u'llah is giving him the choice of taking a different stance, or, well, being foolish.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Paragraph 89

Such objections and differences have persisted in every age and century. The people have always busied themselves with such specious discourses, vainly protesting: “Wherefore hath not this or that sign appeared?” Such ills befell them only because they have clung to the ways of the divines of the age in which they lived, and blindly imitated them in accepting or denying these Essences of Detachment, these holy and divine Beings. These leaders, owing to their immersion in selfish desires, and their pursuit of transitory and sordid things, have regarded these divine Luminaries as being opposed to the standards of their knowledge and understanding, and the opponents of their ways and judgments. As they have literally interpreted the Word of God, and the sayings and traditions of the Letters of Unity, and expounded them according to their own deficient understanding, they have therefore deprived themselves and all their people of the bountiful showers of the grace and mercies of God. And yet they bear witness to this well-known tradition: “Verily Our Word is abstruse, bewilderingly abstruse.” In another instance, it is said: “Our Cause is sorely trying, highly perplexing; none can bear it except a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, or he whose faith God hath tested.” These leaders of religion admit that none of these three specified conditions is applicable to them. The first two conditions are manifestly beyond their reach; as to the third, it is evident that at no time have they been proof against those tests that have been sent by God, and that when the divine Touchstone appeared, they have shown themselves to be naught but dross.

This is the fourth paragraph referring to "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

It begins with the people, the regular folk, like us, not the leaders. And He says something quite intriguing, but doesn't really go into it. He says that it is only, and here we emphasize the word "only", due to this blind, thoughtless, imitation of the divines that the people suffered "such ills".

Of course, from there He condemns these leaders for going after temporary and dirty things, instead of striving to find God and lead exemplary lives. Then He reminds us that we will all be tested, every one of us. And finally, He implies that these same leaders seem to think that they are somehow exempt from these tests.

It's all fairly straight forward, but what can we learn from it?

First of all, we learn to avoid blind imitation. Whatever we encounter, whatever we are told, we need to examine it for ourselves. If someone says to us that work is worship, we should examine that, for it is obvious that someone whose job entails abusing their workers or the environment is not actually worshiping God while they are doing so. With a bit of research, we find that 'Abdu'l-Baha has a caveat on that phrase: Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship. So it must be done in the spirit of service.

So, in one sense, we can come back to the concept of independent investigation of the truth. That's one thing we learn from this.

Another thing we can learn is to expect tests. Muhammad said, "Think because you say you believe you will not be tested?" Baha'u'llah re-emphasizes this. If we are not a favorite of heaven, or an inspired Prophet, then He promises us that we will be tested. And really, if you are a favored one, or a Prophet, why are you reading this? No. We will be tested. It's part of life. It's part of growing.

It's also part of our Faith.

The early Christians, for example, when they came to recognize Jesus did not expect heaven. They did not expect their life to be all cheery and rosy. They didn't expect people to surround them and pat them on the back, welcoming them into a nice church community with bake sales and choir concerts. They expected the cross. They expected to get thrown to the lions.

The Babis did not have anything to look forward to from their declaration expect perhaps the loss of their job and their homes, confiscation of all their possessions and eventual martyrdom.

Baha'u'llah, here, seems to be reminding the uncle of the Bab, in a very gentle way, that the tests that he may face will be very real.

And by extension, Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this, too.

When we come to recognize Baha'u'llah, we will need to make some very tough choices in our life. We may need to stop drinking that beer that we love (alright, maybe not so tough), or perhaps quit that job as it goes against some of our core beliefs. We may need to re-think how we spend our money or our free time. We know that we will do it with joy and love, but that joy and love may take some time to recognize. We will be called on to make a sacrifice, but as we know from the Ruhi books, a true sacrifice is giving up something lower for that which is higher.

And guess what? It all comes down to detachment. Remember detachment? Way back in paragraph 1? As we become detached from all that is in heaven and on earth, we can face these tests more easily, and stand a better chance of finding ourselves on the shores of the ocean of true understanding.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Paragraph 88

As the adherents of Jesus have never understood the hidden meaning of these words, and as the signs which they and the leaders of their Faith have expected have failed to appear, they therefore refused to acknowledge, even until now, the truth of those Manifestations of Holiness that have since the days of Jesus been made manifest. They have thus deprived themselves of the outpourings of God’s holy grace, and of the wonders of His divine utterance. Such is their low estate in this, the Day of Resurrection! They have even failed to perceive that were the signs of the Manifestation of God in every age to appear in the visible realm in accordance with the text of established traditions, none could possibly deny or turn away, nor would the blessed be distinguished from the miserable, and the transgressor from the God-fearing. Judge fairly: Were the prophecies recorded in the Gospel to be literally fulfilled; were Jesus, Son of Mary, accompanied by angels, to descend from the visible heaven upon the clouds; who would dare to disbelieve, who would dare to reject the truth, and wax disdainful? Nay, such consternation would immediately seize all the dwellers of the earth that no soul would feel able to utter a word, much less to reject or accept the truth. It was owing to their misunderstanding of these truths that many a Christian divine hath objected to Muḥammad, and voiced his protest in such words: “If Thou art in truth the promised Prophet, why then art Thou not accompanied by those angels our sacred Books foretold, and which must needs descend with the promised Beauty to assist Him in His Revelation and act as warners unto His people?” Even as the All-Glorious hath recorded their statement: “Why hath not an angel been sent down to him, so that he should have been a warner with Him?”

This is a very interesting paragraph. As you know, it refers back to the quote, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet." As we read it, we came to think of it as a defense of the right to independent investigation.

By the way, we have an honoured guest today, Samuel's wife, Erin, whose name I won't mention lest she feel uncomfortable.

Anyways, back to our regularly scheduled blog (which Mead missed last week). (Sorry.)

Here, Baha'u'llah is clearly condemning the Christians for missing Muhammad, not to mention the Bab, Whom He also mentions, but not, it seems, because they missed Him. Rather, the condemnation is for clinging to literal interpretation. He says that if this literal interpretation were to come true, than we would no longer have the opportunity to investigate for ourselves. We could never deny. Our faith would never be tested, because we would never have the opportunity of saying "no".

In one sense we are reminded of a friend who has expressed... concern... that their child is not interested in becoming a Baha'i. They say they feel like they have failed as a parent. And yet their child is a very great person. They are a good, noble, and respectable individual. Their very character testifies to the good job that our friend has done as a parent. But they judge themselves based on their child's decision.

They have forgotten about the true nature of independent investigation of truth. It is as if they were saying that it means you have the right to find the Baha'i Faith for yourself.

Here, in this paragraph, Baha'u'llah seems to be really giving us a reminder that, as He does over and over earlier on, we have the right to choose as we will.

He also reminds us again and again that there are so many interpretations that are valid, when it comes to Sacred Text. When He gives us all the interpretations of the phrase "the sun shall be darkened", for example, He seems to be telling us that we need to be careful not to limit our understanding to only one meaning. And here, these people are stuck on the most base level of interpretation, the literal.

Between the three of us, we talked a lot, for nearly two hours, and spoke of many things that were important to us. We spoke of the fear of God, the nature of angels, the humility of so many in our community, the nature of the neighbourhoods in which we live, and much much more. But in the end, this conversation was for us. What we took away was just how vast this Revelation is, and how it can lead us on in so many directions. We learned just how applicable this is, even a single paragraph, to our lives at this very moment. And that it doesn't matter whether you are a veteran Baha'i, a new believer, or from a completely different background, these Words inspire and move us to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Paragraph 87

And now, inasmuch as these holy beings have sanctified themselves from every human limitation, have become endowed with the attributes of the spiritual, and have been adorned with the noble traits of the blessed, they therefore have been designated as “angels.” Such is the meaning of these verses, every word of which hath been expounded by the aid of the most lucid texts, the most convincing arguments, and the best established evidences.

This is the last part of that wonderful quote from Jesus, found in Matthew 24, that Baha'u'llah analyzes: "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

In many ways, this is just a summation of the previous paragraph. He has already described what is meant by angels, and as these people have done this, they are called "angels". So why would He put this paragraph here? We don't believe that Baha'u'llah does anything random, so we feel there must be a reason.

Previously in this book, He gives us pauses like this when He tells us to reflect or ponder. And this is usually done just after He has given us something that is either difficult to understand, or that we may have a negative reaction to.

Following this line of thought, we wonder if this is one of those moments to pause and reflect on what has just been said.

As we do this, we realize that by "angels" is not meant those celestial beings that we had previously come to think of as "angels", but rather that this term defines a state of being to which we can strive to attain.

The question, of course, is how can we do this? The answer, we feel, can be found way back in that first paragraph: detachment. As we strive to detach ourselves from all that is in heaven and earth, the more we shall sanctify our souls. And as we sanctify ourselves from all these limitations, and strive to become more spiritual and noble, the more angelic we will become. It is the perfect summation of all that He has been telling us all along.

We feel the pause is here so that we can come to the realization that He is describing us, if we so choose. "The most lucid texts, the most convincing arguments, and the best established evidences" all refer to the sacred texts of every Dispensation. They all point the way for us to become angelic in spirit. This is their purpose. This is the reason for their revelation. It is, as Baha'u'llah says later in this very book, their objective: "...the object of every Revelation (is) to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions."

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Paragraph 86

And now, concerning His words: “And He shall send His angels….” By “angels” is meant those who, reinforced by the power of the spirit, have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations, and have clothed themselves with the attributes of the most exalted Beings and of the Cherubim. That holy man, Ṣádiq, in his eulogy of the Cherubim, saith: “There stand a company of our fellow-Shí’ihs behind the Throne.” Divers and manifold are the interpretations of the words “behind the Throne.” In one sense, they indicate that no true Shí’ihs exist. Even as he hath said in another passage: “A true believer is likened unto the philosopher’s stone.” Addressing subsequently his listener, he saith: “Hast thou ever seen the philosopher’s stone?” Reflect, how this symbolic language, more eloquent than any speech, however direct, testifieth to the non-existence of a true believer. Such is the testimony of Ṣádiq. And now consider, how unfair and numerous are those who, although they themselves have failed to inhale the fragrance of belief, have condemned as infidels those by whose word belief itself is recognized and established.

Wow. It's hard to believe that we're on to another section of that quote from Jesus. And it's the last one, at that. Baha'u'llah only spends a couple of paragraphs on it, but by this point, He has really set the tone. We know full well that there are many layers of interpretation and meaning of these words.

After reading what Baha'u'llah says here, it reminds us that in our teaching work we need to show forth humility, as well as detachment. After all, if there are no "true believers", that includes us, too. We may be striving to become better and better followers, firmer in our faith and stronger in our understanding, but will we ever truly consume those "human traits and limitations"?

By establishing the truth of this by citing such an authority as Sadiq, the sixth Imam, Baha'u'llah effectively reminds the uncle of the Bab of what he already knows, and does so without raising the possibility of any question. It is from his own tradition. He asks us to reflect on how this tradition establishes the fact that true believers don't really exist. Remember way back in the beginning of the book, how often Baha'ullah asked us to consider and reflect? Why would He ask us to reflect at this point? Perhaps because what He has just point out to us is a difficult concept to accept. With infinite mercy, He is allowing us the opportunity to step back, allow the implications to sink in, and move forward with the truth of it when we are ready.

After this reflection, He asks the uncle, and by extension us, to consider the following point: there are many, "numerous" as He says, who condemn others as infidel, and this is unfair. If they are not true believers, according to Sadiq, then they have no right to call others infidel. And not only do they condemn others, they condemn "those by whose word belief itself is recognized and established." While it would be very easy for this uncle to recognize the Imam Husayn in this statement, as well as other heroes of his own faith, Baha'u'llah also seems to be raising our vision of the martyrs of our faith. This uncle would surely have been aware of the stories of the Babis who were martyred, as well the stories of the Bab, Himself. He would know that all the Babis at that time, including Baha'u'llah, would have been condemned as infidel. And yet He says that it is by these people, who have stood firm in the face of such condemnation and trials, that help us understand the very word "belief". This brings us right back to paragraph 6, in which He says if we acquaint ourselves with the "indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God" we will appreciate the significance of the position of those oppressors. And "the more closely you observe the denials... the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." By considering these attacks again, here, our faith can become firmer. In other words, it is by reflecting upon the stories of the martyrs and those who suffered for their faith, we become more firm in our own faith. "...(B)elief itself is recognized and established."

We used to read this last phrase as something abstract. We saw it as somehow the word "belief" was defined by the actions of those believers. But now, by linking it to that quote from paragraph 6, we think it is far deeper than that. We think that it is by studying the denials thrown at the Babis, and the actions of those believers, our own belief is recognized, our own belief is established. This raises it to a far higher degree again, for us. Those martyrs, by their steadfastness, by their blood, really did water the tree of the Faith. The more we observe those denials, the more we study the stories of those who gave their life, the greater our own faith will be.

When we began writing about this paragraph, we didn't really see it as all that profound, in terms of the scope of this book. But now, with this realization of the importance of their sacrifice, importance that we had truly underestimated, we have tears in our eyes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Paragraph 85

Ere long, thine eyes will behold the standards of divine power unfurled throughout all regions, and the signs of His triumphant might and sovereignty manifest in every land. As most of the divines have failed to apprehend the meaning of these verses, and have not grasped the significance of the Day of Resurrection, they therefore have foolishly interpreted these verses according to their idle and faulty conception. The one true God is My witness! Little perception is required to enable them to gather from the symbolic language of these two verses all that We have purposed to propound, and thus to attain, through the grace of the All-Merciful, the resplendent morn of certitude. Such are the strains of celestial melody which the immortal Bird of Heaven, warbling upon the Sadrih of Bahá, poureth out upon thee, that, by the permission of God, thou mayest tread the path of divine knowledge and wisdom.

Well, here it is: the twelfth 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." We made it.

You'll notice that this paragraph is, in many ways, a summary, a pause to allow us to catch our collective breath before He moves on to the next phrase from that quote from Jesus in Matthew 24.

As we read this, we were struck by the words "these two verses" and began to wonder: Which two verses? There surely aren't two verses in this paragraph to which He could be referring, and in the previous paragraph, there are far more than just two. So we think, and we could be wrong, of course, that He is actually referring back to the two verses from Matthew 24 which we have just quoted above. These dozen paragraphs all refer to these two verses, as far as we can tell, and it just makes sense to us that He would summarize it all here, in the last paragraph of this section.

Also, in this paragraph, He mentions the "one true God". This is interesting, for Baha'u'llah is quoting Jesus, who in turn is quoting Isaiah, and showing how all of this refers to Muhammad. By extension, He helps us see that these verses also refer to all the Messengers of God, as was shown in the first 20 paragraphs or so. Here He uses various symbols to imply or refer to the sovereign power of the Messenger of God. This, as will become apparent later on, was one of the initial questions from the Uncle of the Bab. "The Qaim is supposed to show sovereign majesty, and yet the Bab was poor and persecuted." Well, so was Jesus, and we don't dispute His sovereignty. Muhammad was a merchant, a trader, like the Bab, and was also persecuted. Once again, with great subtlety, He helps us see not only the oneness of God, but also the continuity of revelation.

Baha'u'llah, in a very telling moment of what seems to us to be almost frustration, offers a bit of a condemnation to the divines here. He basically says that they have totally missed the point of these verses, and then points out that "little perception" is needed to figure this out. And yet they have still missed it. They don't even have a little bit of insight.

Baha'u'llah has put His interpretation forward for our consideration, and hopes that through the grace of God we will be enabled to achieve certitude, which is, as we love to remind you, the purpose of this book.

This is but another example for us when we are teaching. Oh, not the condemnation, but the gentleness. He offers us a little bit at a time, and then allows us the time to catch up. He gives us this paragraph to consider what He has said. He allows us that moment of rest, under that beautiful tree on which exists the branch, the "Sadrih of Baha", on which the "Bird of Heaven" is calling. When we are ready, we can get up again and continue walking on that "path of divine knowledge and wisdom", and perhaps end up at the "shores of the ocean of true understanding".

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Paragraph 84

Likewise, He saith: “On the day when the heaven shall give out a palpable smoke, which shall enshroud mankind: this will be an afflictive torment.” The All-Glorious hath decreed these very things, that are contrary to the desires of wicked men, to be the touchstone and standard whereby He proveth His servants, that the just may be known from the wicked, and the faithful distinguished from the infidel. The symbolic term “smoke” denotes grave dissensions, the abrogation and demolition of recognized standards, and the utter destruction of their narrow-minded exponents. What smoke more dense and overpowering than the one which hath now enshrouded all the peoples of the world, which hath become a torment unto them, and from which they hopelessly fail to deliver themselves, however much they strive? So fierce is this fire of self burning within them, that at every moment they seem to be afflicted with fresh torments. The more they are told that this wondrous Cause of God, this Revelation from the Most High, hath been made manifest to all mankind, and is waxing greater and stronger every day, the fiercer groweth the blaze of the fire in their hearts. The more they observe the indomitable strength, the sublime renunciation, the unwavering constancy of God’s holy companions, who, by the aid of God, are growing nobler and more glorious every day, the deeper the dismay which ravageth their souls. In these days, praise be to God, the power of His Word hath obtained such ascendancy over men, that they dare breathe no word. Were they to encounter one of the companions of God who, if he could, would, freely and joyously, offer up ten thousand lives as a sacrifice for his Beloved, so great would be their fear, that they forthwith would profess their faith in Him, whilst privily they would vilify and execrate His name! Even as He hath revealed: “And when they meet you, they say, ‘We believe’; but when they are apart, they bite their fingers’ ends at you, out of wrath. Say: ‘Die in your wrath!’ God truly knoweth the very recesses of your breasts.”

This is the eleventh 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." We keep mentioning this because we want to make sure that we keep track of where we are in the book, and as you know, this quote from Jesus is the main part of Part 1. It sort of forms the outline.

Previously we saw the gentle clouds that block the sun, and then the dark and stormy clouds. Now Baha'u'llah is describing for us those clouds of black smoke, the ones that can actually choke us and kill us.

It is worth remembering that most people who die in a fire actually die from the smoke inhalation, and not the fire itself. And this smoke gets into everything. When you have a fire in your home, the smoke damage is immense. Everything needs to be replaced.

It is also worth remembering the old adage, "Where there is smoke, there is fire." Here, Baha'u'llah tells us that this smoke, which is so destructive and deadly, comes from the fire of self. Fire, in the Baha'i writings, has two very different connotations. In one sense, it is the fire that we use for light, warmth, and as a tool. In the other sense, it is that fire which burns, causing incredible pain and destruction. Back in paragraph 19, He spoke of "the fire of the love of Jesus (that) consumed the veils". Here He is talking about that fire of self that burns in our heart. In both cases, the greater the power of the Faith, the more that fire grows. In one way, it is like He says in the Hidden Words, "My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy." To some, it makes their anger burn fiercer, to others it makes their faith firmer.

In terms of the bad fire, He says that it will give off a "palpable smoke". This is a smoke that we not only can see, but can actually touch, too. He says this will be an "afflictive torment". While we often use the word "torment" to mean pain, it more traditionally was used to refer to a great commotion. Here there is no doubt, it is a very painful commotion. When the fire of self burns high, it truly throws our life into what can only be called a painful commotion.

No matter how we read this, it's not a good thing.

If we are subject to our ego, then the fire that will burn in the heart will be a bad thing, leading to great pain and death in our life.

Baha'u'llah also, as usual, gives us a bit of a path to follow here. He says that the more these people are told about the Faith, the fiercer this fire will grow. The more they see of it, the more they will become disheartened, and this will ravage their soul. And if they were to meet a Baha'i, they would publicly agree with them, all the while cursing them in private.

This is in direct contrast to that sincere seeker who will initially hear about the Faith and feel the fire of love. Then they will see it and become awe-stricken. Finally they will meet the friends and become a confirmed believer.

It is just like way back in paragraph 6, where He says, "Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be you faith in the Cause of God." You hear, you see, you act.

In both cases, we have a fire in our heart. As long as we don't just sit idle and let life pass us by, there will be a fire in our heart. The only question is, which fire will we nurture?

That was the question facing the uncle of the Bab, and by extension each one of us.

The other question, of course, is how does this apply to our life? In the example Baha'u'llah has given, we see someone who is proud and believes they are right. As they are shown to be mistaken, they have a choice. They can either change their mind, or, as we often see, they become defensive and get angrier. The more they are shown that they are wrong, the angrier they become. It is as one author said: "It is easier to forgive someone for being wrong than it is for being right."

For us, in our daily life, we can watch for this reaction in ourselves. If we see ourselves becoming defensive and angry, then it likely means that we are probably on this path of the ego.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Paragraph 83

Gracious God! Notwithstanding the warning which, in marvelously symbolic language and subtle allusions, hath been uttered in days past, and which was intended to awaken the peoples of the world and to prevent them from being deprived of their share of the billowing ocean of God’s grace, yet such things as have already been witnessed have come to pass! Reference to these things hath also been made in the Qur’án, as witnessed by this verse: “What can such expect but that God should come down to them overshadowed with clouds?” A number of the divines, who hold firmly to the letter of the Word of God, have come to regard this verse as one of the signs of that expected resurrection which is born of their idle fancy. This, notwithstanding the fact that similar references have been made in most of the heavenly Books, and have been recorded in all the passages connected with the signs of the coming Manifestation.

This is the tenth 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."

After the heavy weight of the previous few paragraphs, in which He talks about those dark clouds, paragraphs laden with so much symbolism and direct warnings, we actually thought that this paragraph might be something of a decrescendo. We came to it thinking that we might actually get a bit of a breather and have to really struggle to find something in it worth talking about.

Initially, we thought to mention a little bit about those things that "have come to pass", such as the martyrdom of the Bab and the slaughter of over 20,000 Babis, which the uncle to whom this was written was no doubt aware. But then we decided against it, thinking that this is not really meant to be a history lesson. Besides, we're sure that you are already aware of it.

Then, out of nowhere, we noticed the phrase "the billowing ocean", and immediately were reminded of the very first sentence: "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."

As if in response to this, we noticed the phrase "idle fancy" and were reminded of the second paragraph, in which Baha'u'llah says that those who want to tread the path of faith must cleanse "their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth."

This reminded us of something that happened just last week.

A friend of ours was looking at the beginning of this book, reading those opening paragraphs, and thinking about our methodology of looking for patterns. She noticed that there was a pattern there that we had missed. Now that's really not that difficult, for there is undoubtedly a lot that we have missed, but it was still very confirming. She pointed out that Baha'u'llah moves us from our ears to our mind, to our heart and then on to our eyes. She observed that we listen to those around us. We take in what they say, and think about their point of view. This effects our mind, and can even change it. From there, our mind effects our heart. And the state of our heart directly impacts how we perceive the world around us.

All of a sudden, we saw how directly this related to the paragraph here.

In the Qur'an, Muhammad says that God will come down overshadowed with clouds. What else would we expect? But then there are those divines who have their own notion of what the Promised One will look like, how He will come, and Baha'u'llah says that this is merely their own idle fancy. Idle means that it has no basis in reality and is useless. Fancy means that they are really attracted to it. When you are attracted to something, attached to it, you feel threatened when someone tries to take it away. And here, what they are attracted to is actually useless.

The Messenger of God comes along and, in a sense, takes away their frivolous idea, supplanting it with something that is both useful and effective, and they get angry.

Now, in relation to paragraph 2, these divines talk about their own belief. Their followers listen and they believe the divines. They, too, become attached to these ideas, and their hearts are effected. When they see someone come along who believes otherwise, they attack them.

Remember, you can only see someone as an enemy if you believe that they are trying to take something you have. By being "detached from all that is in heaven and on earth", you can no longer see anyone as an enemy.

This is a crucial concept for searching for the truth. It is an essential element for consultation. And it is an important ingredient for world peace.

And all of this is but one of the elements of the teachings of Baha'u'llah.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Paragraph 82

It behooveth us, therefore, to make the utmost endeavour, that, by God’s invisible assistance, these dark veils, these clouds of Heaven-sent trials, may not hinder us from beholding the beauty of His shining Countenance, and that we may recognize Him only by His own Self. And should we ask for a testimony of His truth, we should content ourselves with one, and only one; that thereby we may attain unto Him Who is the Fountain-head of infinite grace, and in Whose presence all the world’s abundance fadeth into nothingness, that we may cease to cavil at Him every day and to cleave unto our own idle fancy.

Here is the ninth 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."

Baha'u'llah is, in one sense, reminding us we have to work hard, and rely on God's grace, to avoid these dark clouds that He has just mentioned in the previous paragraph. He also reminds us that we should not rely on our own deficient standards as a measuring stick for proof. After all, we are prone to error. We are, however, allowed to ask for a testimony of His truth. With wonderful patience and bountifulness, He is freeing us from the injunction by the Bab to not ask for any proof. But we are to only ask for one. After all, if you don't recognize Him after one, when will you recognize? Too often we ask for proof, and then say, 'Oh, that was just coincidence." And then we raise petty objections, never taking the step of recognition.

In all of this, we are reminded of two very different stories.

In the first story, a group of clergy challenged Baha'u'llah, saying that He had to perform a miracle if they were to even think about believing in Him. He agreed to this on one condition. They would need to come together and agree on a single miracle which, if He performed, would suffice for them. They would need to agree to back His claim publicly, if He did as they requested. When this was presented to them as the condition, they were unable to either agree on a single miracle, nor were they willing to back His claim if He did perform it. In short, He called their bluff.

The second story involves Mulla Husayn, the first Letter of the Living and the first to recognize the Bab. Now, before we tell this story, we need to remind you, as well as ourselves, that this is the person with such a high station that Baha'u'llah Himself, later in this very book, says, "But for him, God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory." (Wow! We really can't even begin to wrap our heads around this quote.) So were talking about quite a remarkable person here. Now, the story is that later in his life, Mulla Husayn was walking in his home town, passing by the very school in which he began his studies. His companion began to praise the school as the very place in which Mulla Husayn began his journey which resulted in him recognizing the Bab. Mulla Husayn, however, turned to him and said something to the effect of, "No, curses be upon this school, for if it wasn't for what I learned here, I would never have argued with my Lord." You see, when Mulla Husayn sat with the Bab on that fateful night, he presented a list of criteria that the Bab needed to fulfill. That was his question, and the Bab answered, demonstrating that He fulfilled all those criteria. But this wasn't enough. Mulla Husayn said that He should be careful, for this was quite the claim to make. Then Mulla Husayn gave the Bab a notebook filled with questions that he had about the teachings of Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, saying that the Promised One would be able to unravel all these questions he had. The Bab did this, too, but still it wasn't enough. Mulla Husayn then remembered that he wanted the Bab to reveal a commentary on the story of Joseph, as his own teacher had said that the Promised One would do this unasked. Only when the Bab revealed this commentary did Mulla Husayn accept.

The Bab was, of course, being incredibly gracious here. He could have turned Mulla Husayn away saying that it wasn't for the people to test God, but instead allowed Mulla Husayn to come to Him as he would.

Here, years later, Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this, that we are allowed to ask, but should content ourselves with a single proof.

'Abdu'l-Baha also gives us a bit of guidance: "Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God."

At the end of this paragraph, Baha'u'llah reminds us not to cavil, to avoid raising these trivial objections. After all, this is a habit in many cultures. We are always saying, "Oh, but what about this? what about that?" We never really seem to be satisfied. In fact, it can be asked of us when we do this, where is our humility?

"Turn to God," continues 'Abdu'l-Baha, "supplicate humbly at His threshold, seeking assistance and confirmation, that God may rend asunder the veils that obscure your vision."

By the way, here is the full quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha that we used above:
God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God. Turn to God, supplicate humbly at His threshold, seeking assistance and confirmation, that God may rend asunder the veils that obscure your vision. Then will your eyes be filled with illumination, face to face you will behold the reality of God and your heart become completely purified from the dross of ignorance, reflecting the glories and bounties of the Kingdom. - 'Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, page 75

(We really love "cut and paste".)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Paragraph 81

It is evident that the changes brought about in every Dispensation constitute the dark clouds that intervene between the eye of man's understanding and the divine Luminary which shineth forth from the dayspring of the divine Essence. Consider how men for generations have been blindly imitating their fathers, and have been trained according to such ways and manners as have been laid down by the dictates of their Faith. Were these men, therefore, to discover suddenly that a Man, Who hath been living in their midst, Who, with respect to every human limitation, hath been their equal, had risen to abolish every established principle imposed by their Faith -- principles by which for centuries they have been disciplined, and every opposer and denier of which they have come to regard as infidel, profligate and wicked, -- they would of a certainty be veiled and hindered from acknowledging His truth. Such things are as "clouds" that veil the eyes of those whose inner being hath not tasted the Salsabil of detachment, nor drunk from the Kawthar of the knowledge of God. Such men, when acquainted with these circumstances, become so veiled that without the least question, they pronounce the Manifestation of God an infidel, and sentence Him to death. You must have heard of such things taking place all down the ages, and are now observing them in these days.

Here is the eighth 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."

In the previous paragraphs, He refers to the various clouds that block our vision of the Manifestations. He mentions such things as the fact that the Messengers had to eat and sleep. These are similar, in sense, to the nice fluffy clouds that occasionally block the sun, such as the cirrus clouds.

Here He is referring to "the dark clouds", those clouds that are the harbinger of serious storms. These are the clouds that send us scampering for cover, the ominous nimbostratus clouds.

But what are they? Well, Baha'u'llah tells us that they are those traditions by which we judge whether someone is a good person or not. They are those old traditions that we know of, but do not necessarily why they exist.

Our favorite example is that of turning to Jerusalem when praying. For centuries people were told that if they wanted to pray in the right way, they were to face Jerusalem, that if they were good people they would face Jerusalem. They were told that all good people faced that way when praying. But in many cases they were not told why. They were never told that God is everywhere and so it doesn't really matter where you face, but that you faced Jerusalem in honour and remembrance of the Temple there.

When Muhammad came along, He, too, turned to Jerusalem during His prayers. But them , one day, after a falling out with some Jewish people, He suddenly turned away from Jerusalem and began to face Mecca.

Naturally, some people saw this and understood that "He doeth as He willeth", but others saw it as an indication that He was not a good person. The former became staunch Muslims while the latter fell away as infidels, confirming the statement, "Think because you say you believe, you will not be tested".

Another example of this is Jesus in the New Testament when He healed someone on the Sabbath. He understood, and even explained, that the Sabbath was created for man's benefit, and that there were times when you had to do some work on that day because otherwise it would be too late.

We, too, within the Baha'i community, can also be aware of this dynamic. For example, we face Bhaji when saying our obligatory prayer, and some choose to face it when reading the Tablet of Visitation during the commemoration of the ascension of Baha'u'llah. The latter, of course, is optional, but some of the friends occasionally try to impose it upon others. Either way, we can be aware of the importance of explaining why we face Bhaji, and not allowing it to become an empty ritual devoid of meaning.

So, how can we avoid falling in to this trap? Simple: detachment.

Baha'u'llah also gives us a taste of the effects this, this blindness causing harm in others, when He refers to the three levels of immorality. The first is the infidel, who is merely a person who doesn't believe. The second is the one who is profligate, who indulges themselves in immoral or extreme pleasure. The third, though, is the one who is wicked, who intentionally seeks to harm another.

Finally, Baha'u'llah makes mention of two interesting things at the very end: the Salsabil of detachment and the Kawthar of the knowledge of God.

Salsabil literally means "soft flowing" and is one of the fountains found in Paradise, according to Islamic tradition. Kawthar is a river in Paradise, from which all the other rivers flow. Part of its waters flow into a lake on whose shores the faithful are said to rest after having crossed the bridge that takes them over the fires of Hell.

We find these two analogies beautiful because He seems to be implying that when we apply our sense of detachment, the very essence of this first part of the Kitab-i-Iqan, we are in the heart of Paradise.

And when we apply the knowledge of God, then we can see the traps that are all there before us, avoid them, and find our rest and comfort on the shores of that lake in paradise.

Of course, we also need to remember that "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."