Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Clouds of Knowledge

Over the last couple of days I've been looking at this one quote from Baha'u'llah, found in Gleanings, number 18, if you really want to know. I've looked a bit at the sleeping, the divine alarm clock, the wool, and all sorts of things.

Well, here is the next paragraph from that same quote:

This is the Day whereon the All-Merciful hath come down in the clouds of knowledge, clothed with manifest sovereignty. He well knoweth the actions of men. He it is Whose glory none can mistake, could ye but comprehend it. The heaven of every religion hath been rent, and the earth of human understanding been cleft asunder, and the angels of God are seen descending. Say: This is the Day of mutual deceit; whither do ye flee? The mountains have passed away, and the heavens have been folded together, and the whole earth is held within His grasp, could ye but understand it. Who is it that can protect you? None, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! None, except God, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent. Every woman that hath had a burden in her womb hath cast her burden. We see men drunken in this Day, the Day in which men and angels have been gathered together.


"This is the Day whereon the All-Merciful hath come down in the clouds of knowledge..." Today. Not tomorrow. Not some time in the distant future. Now. This is wonderful news. Shocking. Surprising. But He hasn't just given us this knowledge. No. He has descended amidst the clouds of this knowledge. So it is as if this knowledge that He has given us is actually, in some way, a barrier to seeing Him. Of course, given the racism and sexism that is rampant, anyone who claims racial unity, or gender equality, automatically has a barrier between them and their audience. However, and I feel this is important, that barrier is caused by the prejudice of the listener, not the speaker. it goes back to "Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in wise reach thee." If we don't love God, then His love cannot reach us. We have placed ourselves in a position whic hit cannot reach.

"...clothed with manifest sovereignty." Well, this is interesting. Looking at the Kitab-i-Iqan, it seems that this concept of sovereignty was a big one. So much of that incredible book deals with the concern from the uncle of the Bab, trying to understand how the Bab demonstrated His sovereignty. And you will recall, of course, that the sovereignty was not what he thought. it was the same sovereignty shown by all the Manifestations, visible so clearly throughout history, not necessarily at the time of Their presence here on this planet. Today the sovereignty of Jesus, or Muhammad, or Moses or Buddha is beyond any shadow of doubt. Even though we cannot quite so clearly see that same sovereignty of Baha'u'llah yet, we are certain that it will be blindingly evident in the years to come.

"He well knoweth the actions of men." Ok. This is where I'm in trouble. I think I'll just leave it at that.

"He it is Whose glory none can mistake, could ye but comprehend it." None can mistake this glory? That's wonderful. I'll put it in the same category as the sovereignty mentioned above.

But what about "The heaven of every religion hath been rent"? "The earth of human understanding hath been cleft asunder"?  I mean, "the angels of God are descending" sounds good. But what about those first two?

Well, "rent" means to be split, torn apart, or divided. So, the heaven of every religion has been ripped open. That doesn't sound too good, but then again, if we look in the Kitab-i-Iqan, then we get a different understanding of it. "By 'heaven'", He says there, "is meant the heaven of divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation, and rent asunder with every subsequent one. By "cloven asunder" is meant that the former Dispensation is superseded and annulled."

Fair enough. That's one of the special powers of a Manifestation, isn't it? To change the laws of the previous dispensation?  All right.

And we can see what has happened to human understanding since this was written. That's a no brainer.

But "the angels of God are descending"? Well, that sounds like a promise, or more accurately a statement of what is happening. I'm not sure what it means, but it sounds good. Perhaps He is referring to those angels He describes in the Kitab-i-Iqan: "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." It seems to me that as we continue to teach, continue to study the Word of God, continue to really dive into the Writings and apply them in our lives, more and more of this new generation of Baha'is are exemplifying these words describing what a true angel looks like.

As we move on in the paragraph, we see that "This is the Day of mutual deceit; whither do ye flee?" Wow. What an indictment. "Mutual deceit". It's not just one side, or another, but all sides, and to each other. That sounds so much like what I'm seeing out there, whether in politics or the interpersonal stuff on the various social media sites.

"The mountains have passed away..." Here I'm reminded of what I wrote yesterday. Going back to that, the mountains could be those people we look up to. Now, not only are they like flocks of wool, they are dead, too. They have passed away. Well, that doesn't mean dead, does it? It could be that they have eroded away. Either way, they ain't there now.

"...and the heavens have been folded together..." If we look at the Kitab-i-Iqan again, we see that the heavens could refer to "the heaven of Divine Revelation, which is elevated with every Manifestation". And isn't this just what Baha'u'llah has done? He has folded all the Divine Revelations into one. He has helped us understand the continuity and singularity of all of the Divine Messages.

"...and the whole earth is held within His grasp, could ye but understand it." Once again, He is reminding us that we are not in charge. We do not hold supreme sway over what happens. That is God. Everything is in His power. Doesn't that just get us off our high horse? "Who is it that can protect you? None, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! None, except God, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Beneficent." This is always a good reminder.

"Every woman that hath had a burden in her womb hath cast her burden. We see men drunken in this Day, the Day in which men and angels have been gathered together." What a day indeed. A day in which the women have suffered such untold hardships that they have literally had a miscarriage. Men are drunk, too besotten to be able to hold reasonable discourse, even though this is the very day in which they could, if they were sober, actually converse with those divine beings, the angels.

That's kind of what I think of when I read this: missed opportunity.

And yes, I know, I'm only touching the merest bit on the surface. But trying to write an article this quickly, this late at night, after coming home from the Feast, knowing I have to get some sleep, what do you expect?

I'd be very curious to see what you think, dear Reader, of this paragraph.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Flocking Wool

"This is your Lord, the God of Mercy."

"Ding ding ding. Good morning. This is the God of Mercy with your early morning wake-up call."

That's kind of what I hear when I re-read that quote I ended with yesterday.

"Witness how ye gainsay His signs! The earth hath quaked with a great quaking, and cast forth her burdens. Will ye not admit it?"

"In the news this morning another natural disaster has occurred, with many thousands dying."

Can't you see? It's happening every day now. The earth, as He says in the Hidden Words, "is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you." And yet we still refuse to recognize that we are doing anything wrong.

"Say: Will ye not recognize how the mountains have become like flocks of wool..."

Alright. This is the one that got me looking more closely at this particular quote. The rest of it is fairly straightforward, in my opinion, but "the mountains have become like flocks of wool"? What the heck does that mean?

My first image is that of a huge mountain suddenly transforming into this giant pile of sheep. It seems messy for the sheep on the bottom of the pile, but I kind of get it. Yet that's not quite what it says. He doesn't say that they have become "flocks of sheep". He says that they have become "flocks of wool".

Hmmm.

So now I sort of picture a huge pile of wool. What's wrong with that? Seems like it might be kind of comfy on a cold winter's night.

But that's not what it says either. He doesn't say a "pile of wool". He says "flocks of wool".

Ok. Back to the drawing board.

A "flock of wool"? Well, I have the flock image, no problem. But I first imagine a flock of sheep. But they're not just sheep. Well, they are, but they're not the whole sheep. They're just the wool.

Ah! There's no meat. In fact, there's no brain either. They look like sheep, but they're empty. They're surface only.

Ok, so what about the mountains? After all, this flock didn't just appear out of nowhere. The mountains themselves became like these flocks of wool. Oh, wait. They didn't become them; they became like them.

So, mountains. What do the mountains refer to? Well, they are something you look up to. Perhaps at one time they might have been political leaders, but maybe they are also the heroes that people look up to. That kind of makes the most sense to me. They seem to be a metaphor for those people that the everyday individual looks up to. Whether it's an actor, or a sports figure, or a politician, it doesn't matter. When we're talking about the walking dead (remember yesterday's article?), then the heroes tend to be very superficial. We base our heroes on things such as how well they can toss a ball, or how long their legs are. We base our heroes on things like how well they can stir up the emotions of a mob, or how smooth their skin is. It's silly, really. Our heroes should be based on their virtues.

But these heroes are empty shells.

"...how the people are sore vexed at the awful majesty of the Cause of God?"

Okay, wait a second. What does this actually mean? To be sore vexed means to be displeased or upset. "Awful" doesn't mean horrible. It actually means inspiring of awe and reverence. So the people are upset and displeased at the awe-inspiring majesty of the Cause of God?

Well, I guess they are, aren't they? Due to the rise in egotism and individualism, they want to be completely in charge of their own lives, able to do whatever they want with impunity. They don't like the thought of being held responsible for their own actions. They are jealous of the dignity and beauty and stateliness of the Cause of God. And it may not be that they want the actual beauty of the Cause of God, but rather their own concept of beauty. They may not be interested in true dignity, but dignity as they understand it. They go after beauty, but since they don't understand true beauty as defined by Baha'u'llah, they settle for ornate junk, or superficial trivialities. They think that standing up and shouting what they believe constitutes stateliness.

Even with the concept of atheism as I generally see it on the internet today, I see that there. They want to understand everything, for there to be no mystery. Again, they want to be the highest authority, subject to none. So, yeah. I can see how this applies.

"Witness how their houses are empty ruins, and they themselves a drowned host."

Here I am powerfully reminded of Moses and the Egyptians. Egypt called down a myriad of plagues on themselves, due to their stubbornness, and for many their houses and livelihood were destroyed. As for the army sent after the Jewish peoples? They were a drowned host.

The spiritual houses that so many of us have built, based on greed or fear, self-centredness or pride are just empty ruins.

It's a tragedy, really.

And that, to me, is the bottom line of this entire passage. We are witnessing a tragedy. Not just a tragedy in the making, but a tragedy today.

"This is the Day whereon the All-Merciful hath come down", Baha'u'llah continues, "in the clouds of knowledge, clothed with manifest sovereignty. He well knoweth the actions of men. He it is Whose glory none can mistake, could ye but comprehend it. The heaven of every religion hath been rent, and the earth of human understanding been cleft asunder, and the angels of God are seen descending."

Monday, November 20, 2017

Much Better

It's now Sunday morning, and the sun is rising nicely over the horizon. The house is quiet, and I feel much more refreshed this morning than I did last night. Which, I guess, is a good thing. I mean, that's the purpose of sleep, isn't it? To wake up nice and refreshed?

But what about "sleep" in the Writings?

There are ample references to sleep as a function of the body. The prayer that begins "This, Thy servant, seeketh to sleep in the shelter of Thy mercy..." is but one of many examples. And it is from this peaceful, restful sleep, in which we might find ourselves dreaming, that we ask Him to "make of what Thou didst reveal unto me in my sleep the surest foundation for the mansions of Thy love..."

Then there are the more negative references to sleep: "Speed out of your sepulchers. How long will ye sleep? The second blast hath been blown on the trumpet."

It is this second definition that I'm interested in right now.

Baha'u'llah describes, in many places, the peoples of the world as if they are fast asleep, unconscious, unaware of what is happening. They move as if they are in a daze. And this is what I see all around me in the world today. People are walking, talking, acting as if in a daze. They seem wholly unaware of the consequences of their actions. They appear oblivious of the disasters that are awaiting them. They are, for all intents and purposes, like zombies, the living dead.

I don't think it's a coincidence that Baha'u'llah, in that previous quote, asks us to hurry out of our sepulchers.

In many ways, that reference of the trumpet, and its second blast, reminds me of my alarm clock. It's already gone off once, and I have hit the snooze button. Now it's ringing a second time, and I need to get up. If I don't, there will be consequences. I might be late for work, or miss an appointment. I could even lose my job, if this is a regularly occurring thing.

Or maybe that alarm isn't my alarm clock. Maybe it's a fire alarm. If there's a fire in the house I may lose everything, including my life.

This whole metaphor just keeps going on and on in my mind.

Looking at the fire alarm aspect for a moment, what is our role in it? Obviously we need to get up. But what if there are other people in the house? We need to try and get them up, too. But what if we can't? What if we can't get to their room, and our yelling hasn't had any effect that we've noticed? Well, maybe they're already outside. We need to save ourselves, too, so we better get out of there. It's a tough call, though, isn't it? Do we fight our way to someone else's room, risking our own death, or do we get out of there and pray that they have, too?

This seems to me to be the state of the world right now. We're hoping to wake up others before it is too late. And you know what we call that? Teaching. We know the house is burning down. We know it is beyond any hope. And with the core activities, we're building a new house right now, one that is much nicer and far safer. We know for a certainty that there are many still asleep in the old house, but we also know that most of them refuse to wake. They are like the stubborn child who holds their eyes tightly shut, mumbling, "No, I won't get up", or maybe "Just five more minutes".

"This is your Lord," Baha'u'llah continues in that same paragraph, "the God of Mercy. Witness how ye gainsay His signs! The earth hath quaked with a great quaking, and cast forth her burdens. Will ye not admit it? Say: Will ye not recognize how the mountains have become like flocks of wool, how the people are sore vexed at the awful majesty of the Cause of God? Witness how their houses are empty ruins, and they themselves a drowned host."

Remember, though, this is God of Mercy. He is giving us ample chances, trying to wake us from our slumber.

And when we waken to His Revelation, you know what? It is refreshing. We do feel far more clearheaded. We are more vibrant, ready to face the day.

The only question, though, is whether we want to wake up to the cooing of the birds and the gentle rays of the rising sun, or to the blaring clang of the fire alarm. In a strange way, that choice is actually ours.

For me, I prefer to wake just before sunrise and enjoy a few moments of quiet contemplation before acting like the fire alarm for the rest of my family.

Speaking of which, gotta wake up the son. He's off to his junior youth group this morning.

Heh heh heh. Here I go!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

What to Write?

It's been difficult to figure out what to write about today. I was going to write about my son, and a conversation we had about the second Hidden Word, and how important it is to think for yourself. But it's just not working for me. I don't seem to be able to write much of anything on that right now.

Nah. I think I'll just look through the Writings of the Bab and see what comes out of it.

Hmmm..... Interesting...... Oh that's a nice quote...... But what would I say? Hmmmm......... Ah! There we go.

"Regard ye not others save as ye regard your own selves, that no feeling of aversion may prevail amongst you so as to shut you out from Him Whom God shall make manifest on the Day of Resurrection."

So, it seems to read very similar to the Golden Rule, but there is a bit of a difference, isn't there?

What really strikes me is the fact that our "aversion may prevail amongst you so as to shut you out from" God. I mean, think about it. What is He saying? Our aversion? Our strong dislike of something? How would this prevent us from recognizing Baha'u'llah?

I'm no authority, but it seems to me that He is saying that if we see anybody else, or another group, in such a way that we have a strong dislike of them, then we are not capable of recognizing Baha'u'llah. For really, if we see someone in such a negative way, how would we be able to see the brilliant light of Baha'u'llah?

But again, what I find fascinating is that it is not God preventing us from recognizing, but ourselves. It reminds me of that Hidden Word: Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.

Here, it is our own lack of love that prevents God's love from reaching us. In other words, it is our own perspective that keeps us back. It's like standing under an awning when it's raining. The rain is falling, but our own position keeps us from receiving its bounty.

And you know, when I think about this, the idea that our own dislike of anybody else can keep us from recognizing, it occurs to me that this stance of strongly disliking others is in fundamental opposition from the unity that Baha'u'llah is bringing.

Everything in the Writings leads us to unity. And if we take such an opposite view, then we are missing out on the basic unity that Baha'u'llah wants us to recognize. There is a fundamental oneness to creation, and by disliking something else so strongly, we are, in a sense, disliking ourselves.

That's just a thought that I'm having at 9:30 at night, with a bunch of youth yelling at the video game console and playing very boisterously tonight. It's fun, but I'm sure having trouble concentrating. Ah well.

Sleep.

I'll try to write something more coherent tomorrow.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Snares

There are many things in the Writings that catch my attention and make me think, "Well, that's odd." And when that happens, I'm reminded of Isaac Asimov, who famously pointed out that the greatest discoveries in science came about not from some "Aha!" moment, but rather from someone following through on something odd that they noticed. Now for most of you, those things that make me sit up and pay attention, those things that change my own perspective on some aspect of the Faith, are probably things that you noticed a long time ago, dear Reader. And that's ok. They're new for me.

The other day, during that conversation about the Kitab-i-Aqdas with my wife, we noticed a phrase that made us think, "Hmmm. Odd phrasing there." It's in paragraph 36, where He says:

Make not your deeds as snares wherewith to entrap the object of your aspiration...

To give a bit of context, He's talking about those people who pretend to a station of humility, but secretly want to be the centre of attention. He says that you may pretend to be humble, but that doesn't mean that God will accept your deeds as sincere. We read, in that paragraph, "Were anyone to wash the feet of all mankind, and were he to worship God in the forests, valleys, and mountains, upon high hills and lofty peaks, to leave no rock or tree, no clod of earth, but was a witness to his worship—yet, should the fragrance of My good pleasure not be inhaled from him, his works would never be acceptable unto God." Pretty explicit that.

But what exactly does it mean to make your deeds "snares"?

As usual, I won't pretend to be an authority, but it seems to me that He's talking about those people who believe that prayers and deeds are like a recipe. If you follow them, then something special will happen. It's a sort of magic. In some faiths, people believe that if you do a certain ritual, then a particular effect must happen. It's kind of like if my son were to come up to me and say, "Papa, if I jump up and down on my left foot, then I get an extra dessert." Really? I don't think it works that way. After all, I never said anything about that deal.

And then there are the faiths that have their excuse-o-meter: "Oh, well you weren't sincere enough." They like to lay the blame for the effect not occurring on some deficiency of the person doing the act.

No. I really don't think religion works this way.

Our actions are not some sort of trap by which we can force God to do whatever we want.

It reminds me of the beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan, where He says, "Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you..." The first part is up to us; we have to sanctify our soul. But after that, it's up to God. That's what "haply" means. It is with luck, by chance. It's not just a done deal. Perhaps that's one of the reasons that detachment is so important. It helps us avoid becoming bitter if we don't get what we pray for.

Anyways, this quote also reminds me of the story of Mulla Husayn when he first met the Bab. He had that book of his in which he had written down a lot of the puzzling and abstruse teachings from Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim, and he had decided that whoever could unravel its mysteries would be the Promised One. He had forgotten, as the Bab lovingly pointed out, that it is not for us to test God. Mulla Husayn had inadvertently tried to make his book a snare by which he could trap the Promised One into revealing Himself.

It is an interesting statement, and has gotten me to think about it a lot. Am I somehow guilty of making my own actions a snare? Do I do something thinking that somehow I will be rewarded for it? Am I, somehow, trying to trap God into doing what it is that I want? An excellent question, and it sure gets me to look again at my own personal motives.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Pure Perfume

Another section that Marielle and I looked at in the Kitab-i-Aqdas were those passages on cleanliness. There are quite a few of them, mostly dealing with getting rid of the concept of something being considered "unclean", and keeping your clothing free of dirt. Of course with the clothing, Baha'u'llah gives us an out: "Whoso falleth short of this standard with good reason shall incur no blame." And that's wonderful news if you're a gardener.

But one part of paragraph 76 caught our attention:
Make use of rose-water, and of pure perfume; this, indeed, is that which God hath loved from the beginning that hath no beginning, in order that there may be diffused from you what your Lord, the Incomparable, the All-Wise, desireth.

That sounds good, but what about those people who are allergic to perfume?

Well, He does say "pure perfume". So what exactly does that mean? As usual, I'm not sure, but I have a sneaky suspicion. For those of you who don't know, I used to work as a perfumer, years back. I would smell the wrist of a client and design a perfume around their own personal scent. It was quite an interesting job. It helped me gain a greater appreciation of the diversity of people out there.

One thing I learned though, was that most perfume out there is really, quite simply, cheap junk. It's usually a base of cheap rubbing alcohol, or other forms of solvents, with a minuscule amount of essential oils in it. Personally, when I smell this stuff, either on a person, or when forced to walk through the perfume department of some store, I want to gag. Literally. It actually makes me feel a little bit ill.

But when I smell essential oils, I don't get that sensation at all. Not even from civet, which is a very rank and stinky scent, second only to that of a skunk, but is still used in the perfuming industry. (Don't ask.)

So what are essential oils? They are the volatile aromatic compounds of a plant. There are numerous ways of extracting them, but the simplest is to crush the flowers, or stems, or whatever part of the particular plant in question which has the oils you seek, and then soak them in some sort of a solvent. Over time the oils will leech out of the plant matter into the solvent.

If you take a pound of rose petals, for example, crush them, and then soak them in water, you will over time notice a thin layer of oil floating on the water. That oil is the essential oil of the roses. The trick now is to get the oil without getting the water. There are numerous ways to do this, but let's just say that it's not too difficult.

Anyways, most of the people I know who are allergic to perfume are actually allergic to the solvents. I know. We've tested this. Of course, there are some people who actually are allergic to the essential oils, but they really are a rarity.

However, and this is the point I really wanted to make, please people "Whatsoever", Baha'u'llah tells us, "passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence."

That's all.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Fine

Back to my conversation with Marielle, the woman for whom I have the bounty of being her husband, about the Kitab-i-Aqdas. As I mentioned a few days ago, we sat down over tea, while our son was in a Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment group, and we looked through the Aqdas together. A few things stood out, only one of which I've mentioned so far.

Here's another:
We have decreed that a third part of all fines shall go to the Seat of Justice, and We admonish its men to observe pure justice, that they may expend what is thus accumulated for such purposes as have been enjoined upon them by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

Wow. Wait, what? A third of all fines? So if I am late in returning a library book, and have to pay $1.50 for being overdue, $.50 goes to the House of Justice? If I get a speeding ticket, and have to pay a fine of $999, then $333 goes to the House of Justice? (You like how I kept the math simple?)

Interesting.

Now, or at least when this law comes into effect, if we break a rule, then it is no longer just a local matter, with a fine payable to some local institution. Of course, we can, at that point in time, presume that the laws are just and the fines appropriate. And we can see that in the example of an overdue library book I may have caused a minor inconvenience to the person awaiting it (like the DVD I'm waiting for someone to return to my local library), but a dollar more than covers it. With speeding, the danger is greater, and the fine is greater.

But just imagine the rippling effect with this "inconvenience". When we break a rule, this law seems to be saying, it has an effect on the whole planet. And when you violate a rule, you need make restitution to the whole world.

Interesting.

And when I think of all the local libraries around the planet, all the people speeding, or parking illegally, or doing anything else for which there is a fine imposed, and then contemplate all that money flowing into the hands of the Universal House of Justice, I can see so much good coming out of it.

I feel like I am just beginning to get a glimpse of the implications of this subtle law.