Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Intermission

Dearly loved Readers,

This short note is to let you know that we are going to take a break for a few months. We have realized that we read and studied part 1 of this great book 3 times before we began writing this blog, but have not yet really studied the entirety of part 2 before writing about it.

We feel that this needs to be done before we continue.

Come this autumn we will continue writing again, and hopefully be able to share our thoughts about what we have learned during this time: how to apply it to our lives, to our service to the Faith, and to the current needs of the Plan.

We hope that you will continue to join us in our journey, and truly look forward to any thoughts or insights you may have.

With love and prayers,

Samuel and Mead

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Paragraph 148

Although the commentators of the Qur’án have related in divers manners the circumstances attending the revelation of this verse, yet thou shouldst endeavour to apprehend the purpose thereof. He saith: How false is that which the Jews have imagined! How can the hand of Him Who is the King in truth, Who caused the countenance of Moses to be made manifest, and conferred upon Him the robe of Prophethood—how can the hand of such a One be chained and fettered? How can He be conceived as powerless to raise up yet another Messenger after Moses? Behold the absurdity of their saying; how far it hath strayed from the path of knowledge and understanding! Observe how in this day also, all these people have occupied themselves with such foolish absurdities. For over a thousand years they have been reciting this verse, and unwittingly pronouncing their censure against the Jews, utterly unaware that they themselves, openly and privily, are voicing the sentiments and belief of the Jewish people! Thou art surely aware of their idle contention, that all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the day-springs of eternal holiness no sun shall rise again, that the Ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest. Such is the measure of the understanding of these small-minded, contemptible people. These people have imagined that the flow of God’s all-encompassing grace and plenteous mercies, the cessation of which no mind can contemplate, has been halted. From every side they have risen and girded up the loins of tyranny, and exerted the utmost endeavour to quench with the bitter waters of their vain fancy the flame of God’s burning Bush, oblivious that the globe of power shall within its own mighty stronghold protect the Lamp of God. The utter destitution into which this people have fallen doth surely suffice them, inasmuch as they have been deprived of the recognition of the essential Purpose and the knowledge of the Mystery and Substance of the Cause of God. For the highest and most excelling grace bestowed upon men is the grace of “attaining unto the Presence of God” and of His recognition, which has been promised unto all people. This is the utmost degree of grace vouchsafed unto man by the All-Bountiful, the Ancient of Days, and the fulness of His absolute bounty upon His creatures. Of this grace and bounty none of this people hath partaken, neither have they been honoured with this most exalted distinction. How numerous are those revealed verses which explicitly bear witness unto this most weighty truth and exalted Theme! And yet they have rejected it, and, after their own desire, misconstrued its meaning. Even as He hath revealed: “As for those who believe not in the signs of God, or that they shall ever meet Him, these of My mercy shall despair, and for them doth a grievous chastisement await.” Also He saith: “They who bear in mind that they shall attain unto the Presence of their Lord, and that unto Him shall they return.” Also in another instance He saith: “They who held it as certain that they must meet God, said, ‘How oft, by God’s will, hath a small host vanquished a numerous host!’” In yet another instance He revealeth: “Let him then who hopeth to attain the presence of his Lord work a righteous work.” And also He saith: “He ordereth all things. He maketh His signs clear, that ye may have firm faith in attaining the presence of your Lord.”


Which verse is He referring to at the very beginning of this paragraph? The two previously quoted at the end of paragraph 147, in which the Jewish people of that time said that God's hand was chained up.

Now, before we begin to look at various nuances in this paragraph, we want to note the flow of ideas in here: While there are many theories about the circumstances around these verses, Baha'u'llah does not seem to care about that. He is more concerned about the purpose that these verses serve. This regularly seems to be His method: look at the purpose and don't get caught up in pointless details.

So here, in this paragraph, He summarizes these verses as the Jewish peoples saying that God cannot send another Messenger. Of course, this is nothing new. This argument is used by many people of all sorts of faiths. But it is interesting to note the difference between saying that God is incapable of sending another Messenger, and just not recognizing the current One. That latter is not the argument here.

No. Baha'u'llah wants to focus our attention on the idea that God is unable to send another Messenger. Really? That's absurd, as Baha'u'llah points out. How could God be powerless to send another Messenger? Baha'u'llah refers to the people that use this argument as both "small-minded" and "contemptible".

Why those two? Well, small-minded because they are unable to conceive of the overpowering greatness of God. Their minds are so small that they cannot imagine God being more than what is taught in their particular faith. They lack the vision to see beyond these simple ideas, and lack the vision to understand that God is found in all faiths. They are contemptible because this notion is not worthy of consideration.

So why does He mention it here? Because it has gained ground. There are many people who use this argument. Baha'u'llah is merely pointing out the absurdity of it.

But if we believe all the other things in the Qur'an, especially all those statements about "attaining unto the Presence of God", then we cannot accept this facile argument.

In many ways this brings us back to the beginning of Part 2, paragraph 103. Way back in that paragraph Baha'u'llah talks about the Messengers of God, "in whatever age and cycle they are sent down", and reminds us that "God doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth." We are never in a position to say what God can, or cannot, do.

Those quotes at the end of this paragraph really help us see a path. First, believe that God will send another Messenger. Every single Faith, including the Baha'i Faith talks about the coming of yet another One. And always remember that every Faith began with small numbers, so don't let the fewness of believers turn you away. Next, be sure to do good. If you do not "work a righteous work", what is the point of your life? Finally, remember that it is God Who orders all things, not man.

To believe that we are somehow in control, and that our knowledge is infallible, leads us only to "the bitter waters of (our) vain fancy", and not to the life-giving waters of the Lord.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Paragraph 147

When the Unseen, the Eternal, the divine Essence, caused the Day-star of Muhammad to rise above the horizon of knowledge, among the cavils which the Jewish divines raised against Him was that after Moses no Prophet should be sent of God. Yea, mention hath been made in the scriptures of a Soul Who must needs be made manifest and Who will advance the Faith, and promote the interests of the people, of Moses, so that the Law of the Mosaic Dispensation may encompass the whole earth. Thus hath the King of eternal glory referred in His Book to the words uttered by those wanderers in the vale of remoteness and error: “‘The hand of God,’ say the Jews, ‘is chained up.’ Chained up be their own hands! And for that which they have said, they were accursed. Nay, outstretched are both His hands!” “The hand of God is above their hands.”


Here Baha'u'llah is introducing a similar argument to that which was used against Muhammad, as recorded in the Qur'an. The uncle of the Bab, who, as you recall, was a devout Muslim , was most likely aware of this argument.

What is interesting to note is that Baha'u'llah is not citing the Bab, or any contemporary authors, but is strictly referring to a book that this man would regard as sacred. It is also worth noting that this argument comes quite late in the Kitab-i-Iqan. Baha'u'llah does not open with this. It is a nearly 150 paragraphs into it. By this point, Baha'u'llah has already firmed up the foundation of this man's belief, and is building His argument on what is now solid ground.

The argument, as you can see, basically says that the Jews argued that God was unable to send down another Messenger, which is exactly the same argument that the Muslim divines of the day were using against the Bab. Baha'u'llah will go more into this over the next few paragraphs.

But now that we have seen a summary, we want to look in a slightly different direction.

Quite often we like to focus on a single word or phrase and explore what we can learn from it. Here, we want to look at the attributes of God that Baha'u'llah cites at the beginning of this paragraph: the Unseen, the Eternal, the divine Essence.

He has just finished up a series of paragraphs in which He has talked about the spiritual understanding of the word "sovereign", and how it refers to the Promised One in a spiritual sense, and not in a literal sense. And here He immediately begins by reminding us that God is the Unseen. It only makes sense, in this context, that the sovereignty to which the traditions refer would also be "unseen".

He is also beginning an argument to show that God's hands cannot be tied up. For us to think that God cannot send down another Messenger really limits Him. And this limitation would not be for our lifetime, nor even for another hundred, or thousand years, but for the rest eternity. That's a long time for God to cut off communication. And really, when we stop to think about it, it just doesn't make any sense.

As for the divine Essence, this seems to regularly refer in Baha'u'llah's writings to the source of the Manifestations. They are regularly referred to as the "Manifestations of His divine Essence", "the Mirrors reflecting the divine Essence", and so forth. It reminds us of the very source of Their power. If we consider the ourselves as created in the image of God, and that this imaging refers to our own spiritual attributes, then we might think of the Manifestations as the capital version of this divine Essence, while we would be the lower case version of that. God, of course, would be in all caps.

Another point to consider is how we reflect that attribute of God, the Eternal. While our soul may be eternal, we, in our bodies, most definitely are not. We only last around a hundred years, if we are lucky. But the Manifestations? Their dispensations tend to last a thousand years. So maybe Baha'u'llah is also alluding to the truth that only God is eternal, and that the various religions come and go. God is eternal. The Manifestations are, in a sense, around for a thousand years. We are only here for a hundred. So again we can see this progression that is so often found in the Writings

If we are only here for a hundred years, at the most, then what are we going to do with the time we have? Are we going to try to bolster our own ego by showing how great our religion of the past was, or are we going to spend our time striving to build something new? Muhammad spoke at great length about the Last Days, and isn't it worth our time to investigate to see if we are living in those days? And if God has sent down another Messenger, shouldn't we do all we can to learn His message and strive to put it into practice?

Much of the rest of this book looks at the qualities of a true seeker, and gives inspirational examples of those heroes who have given their all to help support this new Message. It seems that Baha'u'llah, here, is just beginning to get us to consider stepping off the path on which we have been walking, and begin looking at this new one.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Paragraph 146

Thus with steadfast steps we may tread the Path of certitude, that perchance the breeze that bloweth from the meads of the good-pleasure of God may waft upon us the sweet savours of divine acceptance, and cause us, vanishing mortals that we are, to attain unto the Kingdom of everlasting glory. Then wilt thou comprehend the inner meaning of sovereignty and the like, spoken of in the traditions and scriptures. Furthermore, it is already evident and known unto thee that those things to which the Jews and the Christians have clung, and the cavilings which they heaped upon the Beauty of Muhammad, the same have in this day been upheld by the people of the Qur’án, and been witnessed in their denunciations of the “Point of the Bayán”—may the souls of all that dwell within the kingdom of divine Revelations be a sacrifice unto Him! Behold their folly: they utter the self-same words, uttered by the Jews of old, and know it not! How well and true are His words concerning them: “Leave them to entertain themselves with their cavilings!” “As Thou livest, O Muhammad! they are seized by the frenzy of their vain fancies.”

At this point, it feels as if Baha'u'llah is moving on to another section in the Book. He seems to have finished His discourse on the nature of true sovereignty and is now moving on to talk more about the various arguments that the people have against the new Faith, the "cavilings", as He says, or petty arguments. Over the next number of paragraphs He will focus on various of these arguments, showing how they are the same arguments that were used against Muhammad.

It is interesting to us how He moves from these previous paragraphs about sovereignty to this new idea of these petty arguments. It seems to us that He's not actually answering any direct questions that the uncle has asked, but instead is building up the foundation of his belief so that the questions he asked are no longer relevant.

To do this, we noted that He ended the previous paragraph with the references to our feet and our heart. Here He opens this new section with a further reference to the "steps we may tread", placing those very steps in the middle of a pleasant meadow, with a gentle breeze blowing across us. We want to keep walking there. We want to follow His argument. We want to see where He is going.

Baha'u'llah is doing all He can to keep us with Him, ensuring with such gentleness that we don't get lost.

As we have mentioned previously, all those passages about true sovereignty are alluded to in the very beginning of Part 2, paragraph 102, when He talks about the Messenger having "undisputed sovereignty". Now He seems to be carrying us to the end of that same paragraph, where He says "that haply thou mayest soar on the wings of renunciation to those heights that are veiled from the eyes of men."

Part 1, you may recall, centred around the theme of detachment. Now we are moving into the realm of renunciation, the formal rejection of a previously held belief. For us to continue on this path, we, or the uncle particularly, will have to renounce some of the concepts we previously held. And that, we feel, is why He began with such a lengthy discourse adjusting our understanding of true sovereignty.

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah does another very interesting thing in preparation for the next series of paragraphs. he reminds the uncle, and the reader, of the very arguments that are mentioned in the Qur'an that were perpetrated against Muhammad. These are the same arguments that He will later point out as being the same as those used against the Bab.

The reason that this intrigues us, and we feel is a great example for us as teachers of the Faith, is that He doesn't try to use the Writings of the Bab to press His point. In fact, He doesn't even quote a single word from the Bab. No. All His arguments stem from the Qur'an, a book that the uncle recognizes as sacred Text.

When we are trying to help someone move from their own faith path to recognize Baha'u'llah, we should also, perhaps, do the same. We should show the ardent seeker how their own sacred Book points us to the Twin Messengers. From there, they will be in a far better position to begin to recognize that divine Voice calling from the wilderness.

At the end of this paragraph, Baha'u'llah quotes that wonderful line form the Qur'an, "Leave them to entertain themselves with their cavilings!" For us, this is a reminder that we are truly free to walk away when we encounter those souls who have no further interest than mere arguing. We should feel comfortable leaving them to themselves. After all, there are plenty of people out there who are very interested in truly investigating the world around them, and sincere in their questions. This is a just a good reminder here that Baha'u'llah gave us that not everyone we encounter will be sincere in their questions.

* * * * *

By the way, Mead here. Before we conclude for this paragraph, I just want to say congratulations to my dear friend, Samuel, my co-writer here. He and his wife just had their first baby a couple of weeks ago. As we talked on the phone about this paragraph, we could hear her murmuring in the background. It was such a beautiful sound by which to study the Word of God.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Paragraph 145

It is also recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke, that on a certain day Jesus passed by a Jew who was sick of the palsy, and lay upon a couch. When the Jew saw Him, he recognized Him, and cried out for His help. Jesus said unto him: “Arise from thy bed; thy sins are forgiven thee.” Certain of the Jews, standing by, protested saying: “Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” And immediately He perceived their thoughts, Jesus answering said unto them: “Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, arise, and take up thy bed, and walk; or to say, thy sins are forgiven thee? that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” This is the real sovereignty, and such is the power of God’s chosen Ones! All these things which We have repeatedly mentioned, and the details which We have cited from divers sources, have no other purpose but to enable thee to grasp the meaning of the allusions in the utterances of the chosen Ones of God, lest certain of these utterances cause thy feet to falter and thy heart to be dismayed.


In many ways, this is the last substantial paragraph regarding "sovereignty", the next paragraph being the summation of this whole section. And isn't it interesting that He has looked to Jesus for these last two examples to explain what is truly meant by that word?

The uncle of the Bab, no doubt, would have recognized the sovereign nature of Jesus, and probably known these stories. He was, after all, fairly well-read in religion.

In the previous paragraph, the question was asked about His claim, and Jesus basically said, "Can't you see Me? Sitting on the right hand of power and might?" The uncle would obviously have understood this, even though at that point in His story, Jesus is a prisoner, and about to suffer crucifixion. He appears to all to be a lowly prisoner, and yet He claims to have this great seat.

In this paragraph, He goes to heal someone, and further extends the forgiveness of his sins. How can this be? The Jews wonder. And His reply is to the effect of "What's more difficult? Healing someone of these ills? Or forgiving their sins?" To many of us, we would say the former, for we don't understand how that miraculous healing can occur. Yet, to one who is wise, the latter would be. To the common person, merely saying these words, forgiving their sins, is easy, for there is no proof of it, but to one who understands Jesus' station, they know that the latter is infinitely more difficult.

As Baha'u'llah says, "This is the real sovereignty..."

To go on a bit of a tangent, we just want to look at the concept of Jesus' healing for a moment. Baha'u'llah, in Gleanings, writes, "Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him, the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified." He continues by pointing out, "Leprosy may be interpreted as any veil that interveneth between man and the recognition of the Lord, his God."

To look at this again, we realize that any doctor can basically heal the body. And while we know that healing is also dependent upon God, this physical healing is something that more and more people can accomplish today. But here, Baha'u'llah links these stories of healing by Jesus to the education of humanity.

Today, we see various social ills running rampant. Racism, for example, is on the rise. And we know that racism is based on ignorance, and is considered a disease. So when we think about healing humanity from this illness, racism, we can see how the education given through the holy Writings can be a great source for healing us, and our society, from this horrendous disease.

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah quotes Jesus pointing out that it is the spiritual that is far more important. Sure, healing the body is wonderful and all, but healing the soul, forgiving the sins, is of far greater import.

Hasn't this been His message throughout regarding sovereignty? Earthly sovereignty pales in comparison to that divine sovereignty.

And here, we can see that it is Their ability to heal these dreadful ills of both the individual and society that are, again, far more important than anything else.

There is also an allusion to the importance of recognizing the Messenger. Baha'u'llah says that the Jew "recognized Him", and perhaps that is why Jesus was able to forgive his sins. By placing this point here in the text, perhaps Baha'u'llah is adding the reminder to the uncle that he needs to recognize his Nephew if he also wants his sins forgiven.

Now that He has finished His explanation of true sovereignty, it seems timely that He introduce the importance of recognizing. And don't forget, part 1 was centered around this whole issue of being detached from one's own beliefs and understandings so that recognition was possible. Here, we seem to be coming back to that theme again.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Paragraph 144

Similarly, call thou to mind the day when the Jews, who had surrounded Jesus, Son of Mary, were pressing Him to confess His claim of being the Messiah and Prophet of God, so that they might declare Him an infidel and sentence Him to death. Then, they led Him away, He Who was the Day-star of the heaven of divine Revelation, unto Pilate and Caiaphas, who was the leading divine of that age. The chief priests were all assembled in the palace, also a multitude of people who had gathered to witness His sufferings, to deride and injure Him. Though they repeatedly questioned Him, hoping that He would confess His claim, yet Jesus held His peace and spake not. Finally, an accursed of God arose and, approaching Jesus, adjured Him saying: “Didst thou not claim to be the Divine Messiah? Didst thou not say, ‘I am the King of Kings, My word is the Word of God, and I am the breaker of the Sabbath day?’” Thereupon Jesus lifted up His head and said: “Beholdest thou not the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and might?” These were His words, and yet consider how to outward seeming He was devoid of all power except that inner power which was of God and which had encompassed all that is in heaven and on earth. How can I relate all that befell Him after He spoke these words? How shall I describe their heinous behaviour towards Him? They at last heaped on His blessed Person such woes that He took His flight unto the fourth Heaven.

"Similarly"? Similar to what?

In the previous number of paragraphs we have seen how the wealth and sovereignty wielded by the Manifestations are not the wealth and sovereignty that most people think of when they consider these terms. And so similarly Jesus was sitting at the "right hand of power and might", although to those around Him He seemed devoid of those things.

Again and again Baha'u'llah is showing us how those standards by which we judge those around us fail when considering the Messengers and the Holy Ones.

This is another example of how we often fail to look at the spiritual reality, dwelling instead on the material.

But let's look at this from the perspective of the uncle of the Bab. How would he have seen this example?

To start, he was probably not all that familiar with Christian apologetics, so we won't go into that. But we know that he recognized Jesus as a Manifestation of God, and he would have agreed with what Jesus was saying. He also would have likely made a connection between this story from the Bible and the stories of Muhammad being asked to prove His Station, too. When asked to demonstrate a miracle, Muhammad pointed out that the Qur'an itself was a miracle. Was Muhammad a ruler over men, in the material sense? Of course not. Was He a sovereign? Again, not in the material sense.

Over and over Baha'u'llah is showing these, and similar stories, reminding us that we should not judge the Bab by these deficient standards. It is as Baha'u'llah says, way back in the first couple paragraphs of this book: that no one "shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding" until we cease "to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets".

Interestingly enough, we were looking at this and wondering where we had seen this notion of a deficient standard. We knew that there was a quote we had read about it that sort of nailed it, but could not remember where it was. And then, after a quick search, we discovered, to our vast amusement, that it was in the first two paragraphs of this book. Even now, so far into it, Baha'u'llah is still bringing us back to the very beginning of this same volume.

Now, as for how this applies to us, it is nothing short of a stark reminder that we, too, need to keep the standard of God firmly in our sight. It is so easy to be distracted by the arguments of those who would deny this Faith, claiming that it does not fulfill the various prophecies or promises in the way that they would demand. Here, Baha'u'llah is alluding to that quote from Gleanings, number 42, "Follow thou the footsteps of thy Lord, and remember His servants even as He doth remember thee, undeterred by either the clamor of the heedless ones or the sword of the enemy.... Spread abroad the sweet savors of thy Lord, and hesitate not, though it be for less than a moment, in the service of His Cause."

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Paragraph 143

This poverty and these riches, this abasement and glory, this dominion, power, and the like, upon which the eyes and hearts of these vain and foolish souls are set,—all these things fade into utter nothingness in that Court! Even as He hath said: “O men! Ye are but paupers in need of God; but God is the Rich, the Self-Sufficing.” By ‘riches’ therefore is meant independence of all else but God, and by ‘poverty’ the lack of things that are of God.

Way back in paragraph 102, the first paragraph of Part 2, you will recall He wrote, "He verily is independent of all earthly dominion, though He be utterly destitute." Here, Baha'u'llah is continuing to help us redefine what we think of as common terms: sovereignty, wealth, power, dominion, and the like.

In fact, by citing this particular verse from the Qu'ran, 35:15, He is also reminding us of the entire Surih in which it is found. This Surih, or chapter of the Qu'ran, begins by warning the people not to be deceived by those whose motives are satanic, and then continues on by giving examples of contrasts that are not equal. He reminds us in this Surih, that not all things are equal. There is a great difference between the darkness and the light, the living and the dead. And we would do well to remember this.

It seems to us that every time Baha'u'llah quotes a passage from the Qu'ran, He is not merely quoting that particular passage, but in fact is reminding us of the entire context of the quote itself.

In Part 1 of this book, the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah gave us multiple meanings of those phrases from Jesus, found in Matthew 24. Here, in Part 2, He is redefining basic terms so that these meanings can make sense.

For example, if we think of wealth as the mere acquisition of worldly property, then the statements about the wealth of the Messenger of God make no sense. Neither Jesus nor Muhammad were what we would call wealthy. And if we try to apply this limited definition to the Bab, then we would see that it doesn't apply to Him either.

But when we look at Baha'u'llah's new definition, wealth and riches being independent of all save God, then we recognize the true wealth of all the Messengers and saints.

Whether in science or philosophy or religion, if we have poor definitions of our terms, then we can only go so far in our understanding before things break down. But when we get a better set of definitions, miracles can seemingly occur. The best example we have of this is Einstein redefining our concepts of time and space. Before his new definitions, we had found the limitations of the Newtonian definitions, and could not get any further in our discoveries. But with Einstein's new definitions, we had breakthroughs in various fields like chemistry, nuclear physics, computer technology, and discovered all the wonders and miracles of the modern age.

The same holds true with these new definitions that Baha'u'llah is giving us, too. When we apply the old definitions, we find that we can only go so far in our understanding of the world. Various quotes and traditions make no sense when we examine them closely. But when we use His new definitions, then wonders open up before our eyes, and everything seems so much clearer.

As we discover these new meanings, and begin to embrace them in our lives, and our vision of the world around us, it is as 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "Thou shalt surely behold wondrous traces and shalt discover the signs of thy Mighty Lord."