Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paragraph 64

Great God! When the stream of utterance reached this stage, We beheld, and lo! the sweet savours of God were being wafted from the dayspring of Revelation, and the morning breeze was blowing out of the Sheba of the Eternal. Its tidings rejoiced anew the heart, and imparted immeasurable gladness to the soul. It made all things new, and brought unnumbered and inestimable gifts from the unknowable Friend. The robe of human praise can never hope to match Its noble stature, and Its shining figure the mantle of utterance can never fit. Without word It unfoldeth the inner mysteries, and without speech It revealeth the secrets of the divine sayings. It teacheth lamentation and moaning to the nightingales warbling upon the bough of remoteness and bereavement, instructeth them in the art of love's ways, and showeth them the secret of heart-surrender. To the flowers of the Ridvan of heavenly reunion It revealeth the endearments of the impassioned lover, and unveileth the charm of the fair. Upon the anemones of the garden of love It bestoweth the mysteries of truth, and within the breasts of lovers It entrusteth the symbols of the innermost subtleties. At this hour, so liberal is the outpouring of Its grace that the holy Spirit itself is envious! It hath imparted to the drop the waves of the sea, and endowed the mote with the splendour of the sun. So great are the overflowings of Its bounty that the foulest beetle hath sought the perfume of the musk, and the bat the light of the sun. It hath quickened the dead with the breath of life, and caused them to speed out of the sepulchres of their mortal bodies. It hath established the ignorant upon the seats of learning, and elevated the oppressor to the throne of justice.

Wow. We finally got to this point. Could that be what Baha'u'llah meant with the exclamation, "Great God"? He has written 32 paragraphs on that phrase from Matthew 24, "the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken". That is fully half of the book up to this point, all on that one part of that passage. You can almost hear the sigh of relief, and feel that sense of awe.

After getting to this point, you feel like you will never look at Scripture the same way again.

Then He says, "When the stream of utterance reached this stage..." Which stage? Is He referring back to the previous couple of paragraphs where He has introduced the idea of the Dispensation of the Bab, or perhaps to this point in the book, having just concluded a look at a single passage from Jesus? If the former, then He is giving full praise to the Revelation of the Bab, describing its beautiful effects in the most poetic of terms. But if He is referring to where He has taken us in this volume, then He seems to be describing the effect upon our soul of having been lifted to such lofty heights with this new vision of the depth of meaning hidden within the passages we thought we knew so well.

And this question, arising at such a time in the Kitab-i-Iqan, reminds us of what we have just learned: there are many, many layers of meaning within the Sacred Word. He could very well be referring to both, and much more besides.

From here we, as bloggers, are faced with a dilemma. This paragraph is so rich with metaphor and analogy that we want to talk about the meaning of a stream, the sweet savours being spread on the wind, and even the rich history evoked by the reference to Sheba. But if we do, this article would go on for way too long. Instead we are going to focus on another aspect of this paragraph, namely the effects of the "stream of utterance".

To make this easier for us, we have simply copied this paragraph and begun to delete whole portions of it, leaving only those passages that refer to the this utterance. We will bullet them, and then make some simple observations on each bullet, seeing what we can learn from the order in which He put them.

  • Its tidings rejoiced anew the heart - The word "tidings" means news and information, but it also comes from the word "tide", which implies this ebb and flow. It speaks of this regular re-occurrence, hinting at the rise and fall of religions that He has just described.
  • imparted immeasurable gladness to the soul - Once we hear this great news, the gladness we feel is indescribable.
  • made all things new - Baha'u'llah, in His Surih of the Temple, says, "Thus have We created the whole earth anew in this day, yet most of the people have failed to perceive it." It is through His Word that the whole earth has changed, and every word has also been endowed with a new meaning.
  • brought unnumbered and inestimable gifts from the unknowable Friend - The gifts from His Revelation are infinite, and He is, after all, "more Friend to me than I am to myself".
  • Without word It unfoldeth the inner mysteries - This is interesting, for it is the utterance that His is referring to, so how can it be "without word"? Perhaps it is because it is far more than the mere words that clothe the meaning, and it is this inner meaning to which He is referring. As 'Abdu'l-Baha says, it is "a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds".
  • without speech It revealeth the secrets of the divine sayings - It is also worth noting that the Master, when He was in London, was asked what a Baha'i is. His response was "It makes no difference whether you have ever heard of Bahá'u'lláh or not, the man who lives the life according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is already a Bahá'í." It is truly beyond the meaning of the words.
  • It teacheth lamentation and moaning to the nightingales warbling upon the bough of remoteness and bereavement - But what, we may ask, is the effect of this all upon us? Well, for those of us who are far from God, and aren't we all, it helps us realize the grief our soul feels at this distance.
  • instructeth them in the art of love's ways - It helps us learn how to become closer to God by helping us realize the way in which a lover acts towards their beloved.
  • showeth them the secret of heart-surrender - It helps us learn how to surrender our will to His.
  • It revealeth the endearments of the impassioned lover - Once we surrender to His Will, He brings us to that Ridvan which will become the place of His declaration and helps us learn how to show our deep and emotional love through our actions.
  • unveileth the charm of the fair - This utterance then reveals the features of the Blessed Beauty that serve to attract us.
  • It bestoweth the mysteries of truth - Within this beautiful Ridvan garden are many flowers, one of which is the anemone, that ancient symbol of good luck, reminiscent of the word "haply", way back in paragraph 1. When we have successfully received this luck and attained "that station which God hath destined for" us, it helps us recognize those age-old mysteries of truth.
  • It entrusteth the symbols of the innermost subtleties - And isn't this what He has just done with the previous 30 paragraphs, explaining the symbolic meaning of the sun, the moon and the earth?
  • It hath imparted to the drop the waves of the sea - Now we begin to get a glimpse of the overwhelming majesty of this Revelation. The holy Spirit itself is envious. This mighty utterance can take a single drop and cause it to become a mighty ocean.
  • endowed the mote with the splendour of the sun - It can take a single grain of dust and cause it to shine out like the sun.
  • It hath quickened the dead with the breath of life, and caused them to speed out of the sepulchres of their mortal bodies - It can truly revive not only the bodily dead, but the dead in spirit.
  • It hath established the ignorant upon the seats of learning - It can raise even the most ignorant of people and cause them to be wiser than the most learned of people.
  • elevated the oppressor to the throne of justice - And it can so transform even the greatest of oppressors and cause them to show forth the greatest signs of justice, and remember, from the previous paragraph, what can happen when we look at the world with the eye of justice.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Paragraph 63

If the eye of justice be opened, it will readily recognize, in the light of that which hath been mentioned, that He, Who is the Cause and ultimate Purpose of all these things, is made manifest in this day. Though similar events have not occurred in this Dispensation, yet the people still cling to such vain imaginings as are cherished by the reprobate. How grievous the charges brought against Him! How severe the persecutions inflicted upon Him -- charges and persecutions the like of which men have neither seen nor heard!

Well, this is it. This is the last paragraph in the long section that deals with that passage, "shall the sun be darkened, the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken". The next two paragraphs are something of an interlude before He moves on to the next part of that incredible quote from Jesus, found in Matthew 24, "and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven".

But for now, let's finish this.

To start, He mentions the eye of justice. Why an eye? The eye of justice is an eye that sees what is actually occurring, instead of looking at what it is expecting to see.

Perhaps He chooses to refer to it as an eye because that is exactly what is happening. Things are occurring in the world, and we are witnessing them. While we do that, we can look for what we expect, using these events to justify whatever we want, or we can look at them afresh, and see what they are telling us.

If, for example, you believe that all people with brown eyes are mean, then you can surely find numerous examples of behaviour to support that. But if you look with the eyes of justice, you will watch people's behaviour and see what they are actually doing, regardless of eye colour. You will see that some people are mean while others are very kind. And you will readily discover a flaw in your original assumption.

Here, many people are expecting a new Messenger to come, but they have their own preconceptions of what that means. Baha'u'llah is helping us move beyond our preconceived ideas so that we can see what is actually occurring.

But let's look at that word, "justice", again for a moment. It occurs in three of the Hidden Words.

The first reference is in the second Hidden Word in Arabic:
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

Here, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, He seems to be saying that it is through justice that we will recognize the Bab, and presumably Himself. And then He calls this justice His gift to us. He calls it a sign of His loving-kindness. And isn't it just that? What greater gift gift, what greater sign of love than that which will allow us to recognize Him?

Oh, and He also, again, tells us to ponder this in our heart.

The second reference to justice is in the Persian Hidden Words:
Whither can a lover go but to the land of his beloved? and what seeker findeth rest away from his heart's desire? To the true lover reunion is life, and separation is death. His breast is void of patience and his heart hath no peace. A myriad lives he would forsake to hasten to the abode of his beloved.

Doesn't this just beautifully describe our state as we are searching for the Promised One? And how many lovers gave up their very lives for the beauty of the Bab?

The third reference occurs towards the end of the Persian Hidden Words:
In the night-season the beauty of the immortal Being hath repaired from the emerald height of fidelity unto the Sadratu'l-Muntaha, and wept with such a weeping that the concourse on high and the dwellers of the realms above wailed at His lamenting. Whereupon there was asked, Why the wailing and weeping? He made reply: As bidden I waited expectant upon the hill of faithfulness, yet inhaled not from them that dwell on earth the fragrance of fidelity. Then summoned to return I beheld, and lo! certain doves of holiness were sore tried within the claws of the dogs of earth. Thereupon the Maid of heaven hastened forth unveiled and resplendent from Her mystic mansion, and asked of their names, and all were told but one. And when urged, the first letter thereof was uttered, whereupon the dwellers of the celestial chambers rushed forth out of their habitation of glory. And whilst the second letter was pronounced they fell down, one and all, upon the dust. At that moment a voice was heard from the inmost shrine: "Thus far and no farther." Verily We bear witness to that which they have done and now are doing.

Once again it is about this search, and this day. The Messenger has gone back to His home and is crying. Why? Because nobody is showing fidelity, and the doves of holiness are being attacked. When asked who, the reply is given out in spelling. "B". Really? What is the second letter? "A". And? "Nope. That's all I'm giving you for now." So is He spelling out the Bab, or Baha'u'llah?

All of this through the simple reference to the word "justice".

And you know what? This, we think, is the very first time that Baha'u'llah directly mentions the Bab in this text. Even if it isn't, it surely is the first time that He refers to this Day as a new Dispensation.

What a proclamation. What a statement.

Also, He has just spent 62 paragraphs describing "that which they have done", and is now beginning to refer to that which they "now are doing".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Paragraph 62

And now, take heed, O brother! If such things be revealed in this Dispensation, and such incidents come to pass, at the present time, what would the people do? I swear by Him Who is the true Educator of mankind and the Revealer of the Word of God that the people would instantly and unquestionably pronounce Him an infidel and would sentence Him to death. How far are they from hearkening unto the voice that declareth: Lo! a Jesus hath appeared out of the breath of the Holy Ghost, and a Moses summoned to a divinely-appointed task! Were a myriad voices to be raised, no ear would listen if We said that upon a fatherless Child hath been conferred the mission of Prophethood, or that a murderer hath brought from the flame of the burning Bush the message of "Verily, verily, I am God!"

"...(O)f those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the earth shall be shaken..." Remember that? Way back in paragraph 24? Matthew 24? Baha'u'llah is still commenting on this passage.

This is all about how we are shaken, and how much things change. In the past few paragraphs He has given us a lot to think about, particularly in relation to what we commonly believe. He has been straightforward in telling us how we would have reacted if we were alive when Moses or Jesus were alive. And you know what? He's right.

What makes us think that we would recognize a Messenger of God today? Do we really believe that we have that high a spiritual capacity? After all, in the time of Jesus there were only a few dozen who recognized Him on the day of His crucifixion, and even then one of the greatest of those Apostles denied Him.

Baha'u'llah begins this paragraph by addressing the Uncle of the Bab as "Brother". He seems to be doing all He can to help lower those very natural barriers which would have us deny this Message. He is saying that this man is someone who is very dear, very close. He is saying that we are all in this together. He is reminding us that He doesn't mean us harm, and truly loves us.

And He is also reminding us that now, looking back in history, we recognize all the signs that heralded these great Teachers. Do we not see the same signs today? This is a very real question that He is getting us to ask.

When we read this, we were reminded of that famous scene from Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov", in which Jesus returns and is immediately thrown in prison. And isn't that just what happened?

If Baha'u'llah, or the Bab, or any Messenger were to come today, can you imagine the news media taking Him seriously? Can't you just picture Him either locked up in prison as a menace, or being institutionalized as insane? How many people would really take the time to investigate His claims?