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.