Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Paragraph 21

Afterwards, the companions and disciples of Jesus asked Him concerning those signs that must needs signalize the return of His manifestation. When, they asked, shall these things be? Several times they questioned that peerless Beauty, and, every time He made reply, He set forth a special sign that should herald the advent of the promised Dispensation. To this testify the records of the four Gospels.

Just in case we thought that the only things Jesus said about His return were those two comments in the last paragraph, Baha'u'llah reminds us that every time He was asked about it, "He set forth a special sign".

Oh, and here we are wondering something. In the Gospels Jesus is asked about His return a few times. How often must He have been asked about it in His life? Can't you just imagine the Disciples all running around Him, "When are You coming back? When are You returning?" It would be like little kids going, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" But that's probably just us and our twisted imagination.

Getting back to Jesus and His "special signs", this always seems to be true of the Messengers of God: whenever They are asked a sincere question, They always give an answer. But this is not the same as answering every question. There were a number of times that Baha'u'llah was asked questions, but it was obvious to Him that the questioner was not sincere. Who can forget those memorable lines, "If thine aim be to cherish thy life, approach not our court; but if sacrifice be thy heart's desire, come and let others come with thee. For such is the way of Faith, if in thy heart thou seekest reunion with Baha; shouldst thou refuse to tread this path, why trouble us? Begone!"

It always seems to come back to the sincerity of the individual, doesn't it?

This may be another sign for us, if we are to see this as a model for teaching the Faith: always try to help the sincere seeker. When someone comes to us with a deep and burning question, we should try and help them uncover the answer to it. We may not always have the answer ourselves, but we can at least help them look.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Paragraph 20

Every discerning observer will recognize that in the Dispensation of the Qur'án both the Book and the Cause of Jesus were confirmed. As to the matter of names, Muhammad, Himself, declared: "I am Jesus." He recognized the truth of the signs, prophecies, and words of Jesus, and testified that they were all of God. In this sense, neither the person of Jesus nor His writings hath differed from that of Muhammad and of His holy Book, inasmuch as both have championed the Cause of God, uttered His praise, and revealed His commandments. Thus it is that Jesus, Himself, declared: "I go away and come again unto you." Consider the sun. Were it to say now, "I am the sun of yesterday," it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character. Conceive accordingly the distinction, variation, and unity characteristic of the various Manifestations of holiness, that thou mayest comprehend the allusions made by the creator of all names and attributes to the mysteries of distinction and unity, and discover the answer to thy question as to why that everlasting Beauty should have, at sundry times, called Himself by different names and titles.

We see this paragraph as being in two parts. In the first part, Baha'u'llah shows by quoting Them, that Muhammad and Jesus are both Messengers of God, and that They both proclaimed God's message. In the second part, beginning with the sentence, "Consider the sun", He then gives us a metaphor by which we can better understand this truth of Their unity.

As we have alluded to earlier, the reader, in this case the uncle of the Bab, recognized that the prophecies of Jesus were fulfilled in Muhammad. Throughout the previous paragraphs in this book, Baha'u'llah has consistently shown us what the Messengers all have in common. Now, for the first time, He is beginning to explain why we see Them as different.

Then He does something even more wonderful: He gives us an analogy of this truth that we can easily understand and share with others. This is the point that will stick with the reader for the rest of the book. Whenever we get a bit confused about where this is all going, we can easily recall this metaphor.

In our teaching work, for this book is supposed to be a guide for how we are to teach, we can remember the importance of giving simple analogies, usually based on nature, that are easy to understand and accept. This is something that the Master continually did. It is interesting to observe, when reading books like Promulgation of Universal Peace, how often 'Abdu'l-Baha would refer to a physical object in the room that His audience could look at. "This flower, so beautiful, fresh, fragrant and delicately scented", or "The incandescent lamps here are many, yet the light is one."

Looking at this metaphor again, there is an interesting aspect of perspective here. If we consider the viewpoint of the sun, the whole concept of days would just be absurd. The rotation of the earth has absolutely no effect whatsoever on the sun. The sun just shines. From the point of view of those of us on the earth, however, there are times when we don't even see the shining of the sun. There are times when its light cannot reach us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Paragraph 19

To them that are endowed with understanding, it is clear and manifest that when the fire of the love of Jesus consumed the veils of Jewish limitations, and His authority was made apparent and partially enforced, He the Revealer of the unseen Beauty, addressing one day His disciples, referred unto His passing, and, kindling in their hearts the fire of bereavement, said unto them: "I go away and come again unto you." And in another place He said: "I go and another will come Who will tell you all that I have not told you, and will fulfill all that I have said." Both these sayings have but one meaning, were you to ponder upon the Manifestations of the Unity of God with divine insight.

With this paragraph, Baha'u'llah is really moving into His main argument in Part One of this Book. He has already established the lineage of Messengers we acknowledge, and shown us what They have in common.

Now He is beginning to show another common point They have, which the reader will already acknowledge, namely that They have promised another Messenger to come. At the same time, He reminds us that we are "endowed with understanding", and that this is praiseworthy. Endowed, just to remind us, means to furnish or to bestow with talent. This, obviously, comes from God.

Also, if this is the model by which we are to teach the Faith, then we feel there is a lesson here. At no point does Baha'u'llah hint that what the reader believes is wrong. He shows the reader what he already knows, agreeing all the way. Step by step He carefully strips away any veils and shows what is truly important. He puts it all into a logical order so that each step makes a clear sense.

Just what is it He is pointing out? He is reminding us that all the Messengers have promised another Messenger to follow. But in doing so, Baha'u'llah also shows us more about Jesus and His life. He first points out that it was the "fire of the love of Jesus" that burned away the veils. It was neither His teachings nor His arguments. It was His love.

It reminds us of the story of 'Abdu'l-Baha in which the first pilgrims from the West were with Him, and they were to go to Mount Carmel for a meeting. But, unfortunately, May Maxwell was ill, and 'Abdu'l-Baha said that they would not have the meeting that day. He said that they could not leave behind one of the beloved of the Lord, for "We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy." This concern, this love for each one of them was so characteristic of Him. As May writes, "It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in the shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall." This was one instance in which the Master gave the friends a vision "of that infinite world whose only law is love".

Getting back to Jesus, once that was done and His station, or authority, was proven, Jesus then began the work of preparing His disciples for His passing. It makes sense, of course, for if His station were not established then the "fire of bereavement" would not be as intense.

There is such a close tie between this fire of love and the fire of bereavement that we felt it worth mentioning. The greater the love, the greater the grief. It is like when Baha'u'llah says in The Seven Valleys that the steed of the Valley of Love is pain.

But here, in this paragraph, the two quotes that Baha'u'llah put here are well-known to the reader, and the Uncle of the Bab, to whom this was addressed, no doubt recognized them as referring to Muhammad. But remember, Baha'u'llah has already been demonstrating the similarities between the Messengers. Jesus' promises fulfilled in Muhammad becomes the template by which the Bab fulfills the promises of Muhammad.

We find it interesting that Baha'u'llah uses the term "the Revealer of the unseen Beauty" when referring to Jesus. Why? What does this term mean? As usual, we're not sure, but we think of it in a couple of different ways. First, Baha'u'llah mentions that the the fire of Jesus' love burned away some veils. Veils obscure our vision. By burning away these veils, we were better able to see God and the world around us. Jesus revealed this beauty to our eyes. He also revealed the beauty of His own Self.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Paragraph 18

In unfolding these mysteries, We have, in Our former Tablets which were addressed to a friend in the melodious language of Hijaz, cited a few of the verses revealed unto the Prophets of old. And now, responding to your request, We again shall cite, in these pages, those same verses, uttered this time in the wondrous accents of Iraq, that haply the sore athirst in the wilds of remoteness may attain unto the ocean of the divine presence, and they that languish in the wastes of separation be led unto the home of eternal reunion. Thus the mists of error may be dispelled, and the all-resplendent light of divine guidance dawn forth above the horizon of human hearts. In God We put Our trust, and to Him We cry for help, that haply there may flow from this pen that which shall quicken the souls of men, that they may all arise from their beds of heedlessness and hearken unto the rustling of the leaves of Paradise, from the tree which the hand of divine power hath, by the permission of God, planted in the Ridvan of the All-Glorious.

This is a transitional paragraph, leading us into the whole idea of the Eternal Covenant.

He begins, as you can tell, by referring to Gems of Divine Mysteries, and what He wrote there. That book, in our own opinon, is sort of like a spiritual cross between The Seven Valleys and this Book. Here, in the Iqan, He has taken some of the themes he introduced in Gems and expounds further upon them here.

But there seems to be another aspect to this, too. He is taking what was revealed in Gems in Arabic and is now reiterating them here in Persian. Why do you think this would be?

We feel that this is a reminder of the importance of our mother tongue. When we hear the Words of God in our mother tongue, it seems to touch our heart even deeper than if we hear it in a language we learned later in life, or one that we don't even speak. Perhaps Baha'u'llah is offering a model of behaviour for us. We need to be ever-mindful of the importance of touching people's hearts in any we can.

It also seems as if, up to this point, one could argue that every Messenger came for a particular people. But here, Baha'u'llah is far more inclusive. He doesn't just reveal the verses in a single language, but goes out of His way to include many tongues.

As we were talking about this, it reminded us of how each language offers a different perspective on the world, in a similar way that different musical instruments can offer a different perspective on a piece of music. If you have ever heard a full symphonic version of "Ode to Joy", and then heard someone play it on the guitar, you will know what we mean. While it is not necessarily the case that one version is better, they are still very different and each offer something new to the listener. And then, if you are familiar with Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, you will really understand what we mean when you hear it played on the ukelele. Wow. Talk about a different perspective that is still quite wonderful. (Oh, and we linked both of those references to videos, just in case you're interested.)

In this paragraph, Baha'u'llah, once again, gives us some marvellous imagery to really sink our spiritual teeth into (hmm, that seems too violent a metaphor, but you know what we mean).

In the first couplet, "the wilds of remoteness" and "the ocean of divine presence", we are reminded of the very first paragraph. But you knew we were going to mention that, didn't you? It seems that we now have a bit of an image of where we were before we actually got down to "the shores of the ocean of true understanding". Before we got to those marvelous shores, we were in the wilds of remoteness.

He also gives us this image of moving from the "wastes of separation" to the "home of eternal reunion". This is so comforting. We all can relate to the idea of being lost in a dessert, distant from that we which we love. And here, Baha'u'llah is warmly welcoming us back home.

In the third, He seems to indicate how this is done. We have been wandering in the "mists of error" and He has shone the "light of divine guidance". We all know how easy it is to get lost when the mists are out, and what a relief it is when we see the light guiding us home again.

This reminds us of the story of Aqa Rida, who was one of Baha'u'llah's companions in His exiles. When they were on their way to Baghdad, Aqa Rida lost his way one night. He had fallen asleep and not woken in time to see where the caravan had gone. Anxious and afraid, he wandered around looking for some sign of His Lord. Suddenly, in the distance, he saw a glowing light and rushed towards it. It was the fire in the brazier of the tea-maker, Aqa Muahmmad-Baqir. It was this light that had led him back to Baha'u'llah.

Like Aqa Rida, we, too, are fast asleep, but we are on our "beds of heedlessness". And, like Aqa Rida, we require other people to show us the light and lead us on our way.

We know that the "mists of error" have arisen from human misunderstandings, and that these mists, like the mists over the ocean, dissipate with the warmth of the morning sun. For us, today, we have the duty to be those human hearts on the horizon who are showing the light to others, and turning their attention to the "rustling of the leaves of Paradise", which grow on the tree "planted in the Ridvan of the All-Glorious". And with this Book, Baha'u'llah is giving us an example of how we can show this light to others, without blinding them.

(You'll note that we even refrained from mentioning that "haply" is mentioned twice in this paragraph. Wasn't that good of us?)