Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Paragraph 56

Were you to ponder, but for a while, these utterances in your heart, you would surely find the portals of understanding unlocked before your face, and would behold all knowledge and the mysteries thereof unveiled before your eyes. Such things take place only that the souls of men may develop and be delivered from the prison-cage of self and desire. Otherwise, that ideal King hath, throughout eternity, been in His Essence independent of the comprehension of all beings, and will continue, for ever, in His own Being to be exalted above the adoration of every soul. A single breeze of His affluence doth suffice to adorn all mankind with the robe of wealth; and one drop out of the ocean of His bountiful grace is enough to confer upon all beings the glory of everlasting life. But inasmuch as the divine Purpose hath decreed that the true should be known from the false, and the sun from the shadow, He hath, therefore, in every season sent down upon mankind the showers of tests from His realm of glory.

This series of paragraphs, all the way up through paragraph 65, take a look at some of these tests that have tried the peoples of the past. And while the uncle of the Bab was probably most familiar with the one just mentioned, the changing of the Qiblih, he was no doubt aware of the other test that Baha'u'llah will bring up in the next few paragraphs.

Once again, just like when He was looking at the lives of some of the Messengers, He begins with what is most familiar to His audience. He talks about those stories that are very familiar, but recasts them in a new light. He shows how these stories were there to test the believers of the time.

And again, after making such a bold claim, such a strong assertion, He asks us to ponder. He does not, however, ask us to consider these things with our mind, for then the veils of education and habit can get in the way. He recognizes that we may have the very natural reflex of thinking what we had previously thought was right, and therefore rejecting something new out of hand. He asks us to ponder these things in our heart.

He also goes into some nature metaphors. He talks about the breeze, which as we know is so very refreshing in the springtime. He mentions the ocean, from which all life has sprung. He also brings up the sun, which casts its life-giving rays upon the earth. And then He mentions the seasons, and the showers. Continuing with the spring theme, these showers are what revive the barren earth of winter and give forth the plants that will grow and blossom.

Earlier, in paragraph 53, He mentioned the earth of pure and illumined hearts and distinguished them from the perishable and barren soil. So, once more, He brings up this whole idea of the earth of men's hearts and what can grow out of them.

Even given all of this, there are still two other things that stand out for us in this paragraph: the promise that we would "surely find the portals... unlocked", and the warning about the "prison-cage of self and desire".

Way back in the opening paragraphs, we made mention that there was an element of luck involved, gleaned from the words "haply" and "perchance". Here, though, it is different. This is a solid promise. But it is a promise that can be missed. He promises us that if we truly ponder these ideas, the doors or understanding will be opened, and knowledge will be unveiled before us. However, there is still a question. If the door is unlocked, will we walk through it? If the veil is removed, will we study what is beneath it? The possibility of understanding is there, but we must still embrace it.

Of course, many of us do not embrace new knowledge because we somehow think that if we do, it is an admission that we were wrong before. This is tied up with all sorts of ego things, and can be an incredible veil to understanding. We only need to see how people in the science community have reacted to those great minds like Einstein, or Newton, or Darwin, when they first proposed their new ideas. Why would we think the religious community would be any better?

Here Baha'u'llah refers to this sense of ego, this "self and desire", as a prison-cage. He says that these tests from the Messengers occur only so that we may be released from this cage, and presumably like a bird take flight.

We are struck here by the contrast with modern society, in which we are taught to be self-reliant, self-confident, thinking of ourselves as somehow special. Of course, if everyone is special, then that is normal, and nobody is special. But if we recognize our own individual talents and use them to the betterment of society, working with those around us, helping each other out in a selfless way, then we all are special. The key here is being selfless, free from that prison-cage.

In our own work with this blog, we have found an example of this. One of us finds writing more natural, while the other finds the pondering more natural. By talking regularly about this text, the writer is better able to capture the thoughts of the ponderer. Neither of us could do this on our own, but together, by sharing our specific skills, we are able to do something that would otherwise not be possible for us. And neither of us can take the credit, for that would spoil the whole process.

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