Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Paragraph 51

And now, comprehend the meaning of this verse: "The whole earth shall on the Resurrection Day be but His handful, and in His right hand shall the heavens be folded together. Praise be to Him! and high be He uplifted above the partners they join with him!" (Qur'an 39:67) And now, be fair in thy judgment. Were this verse to have the meaning which men suppose it to have, of what profit, one may ask, could it be to man? Moreover, it is evident and manifest that no such hand as could be seen by human eye could accomplish such deeds, or could possibly be ascribed to the exalted Essence of the one true God. Nay, to acknowledge such a thing is naught but sheer blasphemy, an utter perversion of the truth. And should it be supposed that by this verse are meant the Manifestations of God, Who will be called upon, on the Day of Judgment, to perform such deeds, this too seemeth far from the truth, and is surely of no profit. On the contrary, by the term "earth" is meant the earth of understanding and knowledge, and by "heavens" the heavens of divine Revelation. Reflect thou, how, in one hand, He hath, by His mighty grasp, turned the earth of knowledge and understanding, previously unfolded, into a mere handful, and, on the other, spread out a new and highly exalted earth in the hearts of men, thus causing the freshest and loveliest blossoms, and the mightiest and loftiest trees to spring forth from the illumined bosom of man.

Well, here we are, the beginning of a new section. Not really, but that was sure fun to write. It actually is still in the same section of "the powers of the earth shall be shaken". He is drawing our attention to yet another quote that explores this particular clause.

Here, He is using a quote that is often taken quite literally, and is basically showing the folly of it. Uhm, taking it literally, that is. Instead, He talks about purposefulness. He points out that were it to be literal, what would be the point? But if we look at it as a metaphor, then worlds of meanings become apparent and we can see how useful it can become.

This becomes yet another tool in our teaching box. Remember, Shoghi Effendi said that if we wanted to become effective teachers of the Cause, we should become thoroughly acquainted with the methods and arguments used by Baha'u'llah in this book.

When we are teaching someone, or even learning within our own heart, we can often get distracted by things that really serve no purpose. Sometimes it can be something as present as which political party to support, or as abstract as whether or not we believe in a particular miracle. Baha'u'llah is reminding us that we need to take a broader and more practical approach.

For example, sometimes we can get involved in a debate about whether or not we support a political issue of the day, such as abortion or gay marriage or whether or not to build a particular hydro dam, forgetting all the while to look at the underlying spiritual issues of the matter. Other times someone can try to corner us as to whether or not we accept a particular teaching of their religion, such as the virgin birth or some other miracle. In the former examples, the trick is to keep our focus on the spiritual issues, and in the latter, the question is what difference it would make in our life. Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this second point.

Baha'u'llah, later in this book, tells us that the purpose of the Manifestations of God is to change the hearts of people and effect a change in their behaviour, too. Their purpose is to shake the earth of men's hearts, so to speak. If we get involved in debates on these side issues, it is with our head, and not with our heart. The true seeker is not concerned with our interpretation of the miracles, but with the teachings of the Faith. What does Baha'u'llah teach us about gender equality? How does He help us learn how to organize a world community? What does He teach us about truthfulness, compassion, and striving for excellence? These are the things that impact our daily life and our interactions with others. The very simple question, "Of what profit would it be to man" becomes pivotal in helping us avoid these distractions.

Of course, it is always important to remain courteous and respectful when engaging in any religious discussion. The seeker is asking a question because it is important to them. After all, when Mulla Husayn first met the Bab, he had a list of requirements that the Bab "had to meet", such as "As to His age, He is more than twenty and less than thirty. He is endowed with innate knowledge. He is of medium height, abstains from smoking, and is free from bodily deficiency." This was very important to him in recognizing the Bab. But for us today, it is almost irrelevant. It is far more important to us that He prepared the way for Baha'u'llah, and instituted a whole whack of teachings that transformed the entire community. So while these things may not impact our life today, and may not be the most important things for us, they do serve their purpose.

Getting back to the point, after our own distraction here, this is a very useful tool when teaching. And the ideas we get with this perspective, that of practical purpose and looking at the spiritual issues at the heart of things, are important. Whether our insights are small or large, a tiny flower or a mighty tree, they are all grown out of the newly transformed earth of our heart. As Baha'u'llah says much later in this book, "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, December 10, 2013

Paragraph 50

The breeze of the bounty of the King of creation hath caused even the physical earth to be changed, were ye to ponder in your hearts the mysteries of divine Revelation.

And here we are, the final paragraph of these three paragraphs that talk about the changing of the earth. Whew. (We won't mention that it also falls under that clause from Matthew 24, "and the powers of the earth shall be shaken". Nope. We won't mention that.)

To recap, because that's what we love to do here, this little section began with the flowers and blossoms, and then continued with the rains. Now Baha'u'llah mentions the breeze.

The wind? What does that have to do with anything?

Well, let's look at a little story we both love. Many years ago, meaning like 30 or so, not hundreds or thousands, there was an eco-dome that was built, to test and see if we could create larger scale eco-systems, for either placing on the earth away from pollution, or even perhaps on Mars. They carefully selected the plants, and ensured that they were given plenty of water, and the appropriate amount of fertilizers. They introduced various insects and other animals, carefully ensuring all the while that everything was in balance. It all was going very well until one day, without much warning, the trees suddenly decided to fall over. As you can imagine, this puzzled the scientists. They went over all their work, carefully, one step at a time, to see what they missed. unable to find anything wrong, they did what all wise people do when faced with such a puzzle: they closed the project. Later, however, it aroused the interest of the local Aboriginal peoples, and one of the elders stepped forward to talk to the scientists. They recounted all they had done, and the elder quietly listened, and thought about it. In the end, the elder checked that they had ensured the presence of all the elements. They had the earth. The had the water. They had the sun. "And what", the elder asked, "about the wind?"

The wind, you see, is what strengthens the roots of the tree.

Similarly, it is the tests and trials that help strengthen our faith. Without those tests, the roots of our faith would never sink deep enough in our heart to gain in strength.

Another point that stood out for us was the idea that even the physical earth has been changed. So not only does this prophecy refer to the allegorical earth of men's hearts, but also the literal understanding of the very earth itself. While there are many ways to interpret even this literal interpretation, it is fairly safe to say that if someone from 150 years ago, or 1500 years ago, were to suddenly appear on earth today, they would be very surprised at what they would see.

A third point that leapt off the page for us was the idea, again, that we should ponder this in our heart. A couple of paragraphs ago, we mentioned how Peter may not have been an intellectual giant, but his heart was open, and that was what counted. We are very used to the idea of pondering things in our head, but here Baha'u'llah reminds us to ponder these ideas in our heart.

For example. if we think about it with only our intellect, we would say that the earth has not been changed. We would claim that we have only discovered more uses of the various resources of the planet, failing to see just how much has actually changed over the past hundred years.

Earlier on, way back in paragraph 13, we talked about how Baha'u'llah is encouraging us to make this sort of heart pondering a regular activity in our life, to make it a habit. In paragraph 2, He talked about how important it is to cleanse our hearts. This is all intertwined. We can even look at the very first Hidden Word, in which we are told to "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart". The heart, as we all know, is the very throne of God within us, reserved for God Himself. So when Baha'u'llah tells us to ponder something in our heart, it is a very important thing to do, and something that we all need to learn how to do. It is a spiritual habit, like prayer, that needs to become an integral part of our life.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Paragraph 49

Would that the hearts of men could be cleansed from these man-made limitations and obscure thoughts imposed upon them! haply they may be illumined by the light of the Sun of true knowledge, and comprehend the mysteries of divine wisdom. Consider now, were the parched and barren soil of these hearts to remain unchanged, how could they ever become the Recipients of the revelation of the mysteries of God, and the Revealers of the divine Essence? Thus hath He said: "On the day when the earth shall be changed into another earth." (1 Qur'án 14:48)

This is the second of three paragraphs that focus on the "changing of the earth", and these fall under the examination of the clause from Matthew 24, "and the powers of the earth shall be shaken".

He begins this particular train of thought in the previous paragraph, talking about how the hearts of men have to change, or else they won't give their flowers and fruit. And for those whose hearts haven't changed, well, they're bozos. They pride themselves on their limited knowledge, and even steal silly ideas from each other. Now, in this paragraph, He laments, "Oh, that their hearts would be changed." If so, then they might receive divine bounties. This, He says, is the meaning behind the phrase, "the earth shall be changed into another earth". If it wouldn't happen, then we'd still be bozos. Oh, and to foreshadow a moment, He also points out in the very next paragraph that even the physical earth has changed.

But looking back at this paragraph a bit closer, there are a few things that stand out for us.

First, we noticed a beautiful pattern of nature that Baha'u'llah has given us here. It all begins in the previous paragraph with the earth of the heart, and His description of how they can give flowers. Here, in this paragraph, He says that the hearts are parched, or lacking in water. Then come the rains, the rain of divine bounty. This watering literally changes the heart, just as the rain transforms the dry dirt into a rich soil in which the seeds can germinate. Then, following the rain, comes the sun. it is this light which further transforms the seeds, allowing them to grow and develop, eventually reaching fruition.

The second thing that stood out for us is the phrase "man-made limitations". It is interesting that these limitations are not imposed upon us, but the result of our own choice.

Of course, we also noticed the use of the words "haply" and "consider", which bring us right back to the very beginning of the book. Time and again He reminds us that there is always an element of luck, and that we really, really, need to reflect on all that is before us.

The last point is a bit of a tangent.That final quote reminded us of Revelation 21:1, in which we read, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea." Obviously this talks about the same thing, a transformation of the earth, presumably referring to the earth of men's hearts. But that last phrase in Revelation made us pause. "There was no more sea"? What does that mean? Well, the sea is much smaller than the ocean, so it may refer to the great breadth and scope of Baha'u'llah's revelation, especially in comparison to the other revelations.

Also, when describing the changing of the earth, in a literal sense, this is often due to an earthquake, or some other major catastrophe. We can, for example, easily imagine a major quake shifting the land around so that an inland sea now drains into the ocean. Just a thought.