Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Paragraph 80

These are the "clouds" that cause the heavens of the knowledge and understanding of all that dwell on earth to be cloven asunder. Even as He hath revealed: "On that day shall the heaven be cloven by the clouds." (Qur'an 25:25) Even as the clouds prevent the eyes of men from beholding the sun, so do these things hinder the souls of men from recognizing the light of the divine Luminary. To this beareth witness that which hath proceeded out of the mouth of the unbelievers as revealed in the sacred Book: "And they have said: 'What manner of apostle is this? He eateth food, and walketh the streets. Unless an angel be sent down and take part in His warnings, we will not believe.'" (Qur'an 25:7) Other Prophets, similarly, have been subject to poverty and afflictions, to hunger, and to the ills and chances of this world. As these holy Persons were subject to such needs and wants, the people were, consequently, lost in the wilds of misgivings and doubts, and were afflicted with bewilderment and perplexity. How, they wondered, could such a person be sent down from God, assert His ascendancy over all the peoples and kindreds of the earth, and claim Himself to be the goal of all creation, -- even as He hath said: "But for Thee, I would not have created all that are in heaven and on earth," -- and yet be subject to such trivial things? You must undoubtedly have been informed of the tribulations, the poverty, the ills, and the degradation that have befallen every Prophet of God and His companions. You must have heard how the heads of their followers were sent as presents unto different cities, how grievously they were hindered from that whereunto they were commanded. Each and every one of them fell a prey to the hands of the enemies of His Cause, and had to suffer whatsoever they decreed.

Here is the seventh of those twelve paragraphs that look at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." We've past the halfway point. Hooray!

To start, it begins with the phrase, "These are the 'clouds'..." What is that referring to? The last couple of sentences in the previous paragraph, namely the veil of "human limitations". You will recall that He mentioned some of these "limitations", such as eating, drinking, poverty, riches, glory, abasement, sleeping, waking, "and such other things as cast doubt in the minds of men". In this paragraph, He seems to go through that list one at a time, for the most part.

But He graciously allows us to presume to Whom He is referring. He is writing to a learned Muslim, who will naturally see this all referring to Muhammad. A Christian reading this will naturally see this referring to Jesus. And yet Baha'u'llah states that this refers to "other Prophets" as well.

Way back in the beginning of this book, paragraph 7 through 23, He went through a brief description of a number of Prophets that the original reader already recognized. You will recall that He didn't talk about what made each of Them unique, but rather showed what They All had in common. For example, when speaking about Noah, He never mentioned the flood. He only talked about His sufferings and the denials He encountered. Once again, Baha'u'llah is showing us what They All had in common.

We have often heard people referring to this book when speaking about progressive revelation. And when they speak about the various Manifestations, they usually tell Their stories, highlighting the unique wonders in every dispensation. But we have noticed that Shoghi Effendi told us that if we "wish to become competent and useful teachers" of the Cause, we need to acquaint ourselves, as thoroughly as we can, "with each and every detail contained in this Holy Book". Shoghi Effendi also said, "The one who ponders over that book and grasps its full significance will obtain a clear insight into the old scriptures and appreciate the true Mission of the Bab and Baha'u'llah."

What could he be referring to? Perhaps the absolute singularity by which Baha'u'llah refers to each and every Messenger. The overall purpose of His Mission is unity, and this seems to fit right in with it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Paragraph 79

By these luminous, these conclusive, and lucid statements, the meaning of "heaven" in the aforementioned verse hath thus been made clear and evident. And now regarding His words, that the Son of man shall "come in the clouds of heaven." By the term "clouds" is meant those things that are contrary to the ways and desires of men. Even as He hath revealed in the verse already quoted: "As oft as an Apostle cometh unto you with that which your souls desire not, ye swell with pride, accusing some of being impostors and slaying others." (Qur'an 2:87) These "clouds" signify, in one sense, the annulment of laws, the abrogation of former Dispensations, the repeal of rituals and customs current amongst men, the exalting of the illiterate faithful above the learned opposers of the Faith. In another sense, they mean the appearance of that immortal Beauty in the image of mortal man, with such human limitations as eating and drinking, poverty and riches, glory and abasement, sleeping and waking, and such other things as cast doubt in the minds of men, and cause them to turn away. All such veils are symbolically referred to as "clouds."

This is the sixth of those twelve paragraphs that look at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." We know that we mention it every time, but it seems useful to continually remind us of where we are in this incredible book.

Before we get into this paragraph, though, we want to share a tool that we find very useful. Way, way back in school, in English class, our teachers used the technique of having us examine the first line of a piece of literature as a way of seeing an important theme in a work.

For example, in Hamlet, the very first line is "Who's there?" This question sets up the whole dynamic of the play, in which the motives and attributes of all the characters come into question. Who is really there? Anyone who studied this play in school is well aware of it. Of course, if you studied a different piece of literature, this same technique was probably mentioned, for it is found in most classic works.

Baha'u'llah takes this ancient literary tool and uses it to an astonishing effect in many of His works.

Here, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, we find that the first line of the book, as you will recall, is as follows:
No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth.
All of part 1 of this book revolves around the importance of detachment, and that comes most clearly into focus here, in this paragraph, which is why we are mentioning it now. He lists a number of things to which we might be attached and underscores the importance of this letting go of our own beliefs.

Another aspect of this paragraph is that He refers back to paragraph 13 with the quote, "As oft as an Apostle cometh..." That paragraph, as you will recall, asks what could have been the cause of such persecution and violence against the various Manifestations? Of course, He asks it a bit differently, but this is the gist of it. We find that in the very middle of all those paragraphs that help us see what the Manifestations had in common. So in a very real sense, Baha'u'llah is reminding us of this argument at a time when He is also asking us to examine the clouds that may be in our way of recognizing the Bab at this moment. As a well-read Muslim, the uncle of the Bab would have found this quote very significant, as well as very challenging.

Baha'u'llah is also reminding us of paragraph 61, in which He says, "Behold how contrary are the ways of the Manifestations of God... to the ways and desires of men!" Time and again, with infinite patience, He carries us through His argument, allowing us the time to catch up to Him, to ponder on His statements, and to see how He is leading us ever forward.

Finally, even though there is so much more, He offers us two different senses of the term "clouds", both of which appear to act as a mirror for the other. In the first, He says that these clouds can be:
  • the annulment of laws,
  • the abrogation of former Dispensations,
  • the repeal of rituals and customs current amongst men,
  • the exalting of the illiterate faithful above the learned opposers of the Faith

In another sense, they can be seen as those aspects of the life of a Manifestation:
  • eating and drinking,
  • poverty and riches,
  • glory and abasement,
  • sleeping and waking,

We are so enthralled with the wondrous stories of the Messengers that many times we forget that they truly did walk this earth as one of us. We are so used to seeing, for example, the paintings of Jesus with a halo around His head that we sometimes wonder how the people of His day could have possibly missed recognizing Him. But here, Baha'u'llah reminds us that Jesus, too, had to eat.

We see these two lists as a mirror for each other because the laws of the Faith can be seen as nourishing us, like food. Good food should be kept and eaten, but when the food gets stale, we need to replace it. The new Dispensation is the greatest of wealth, but those who cling to the old are found in the depths of spiritual poverty. The rituals and customs were once the source of glory for the people when they began, but when they have shed their meaning and become empty rituals, they are the worst form of abasement. And those souls who have recognized the new Messenger are often referred to as having been awakened, while the learned of the old ways are seen as still being asleep.

If we are found to be clinging to the old ways, then we will doubt the new Message. As this entire book is to help lead us to certitude, Baha'u'llah is guiding us to the point where we can recognize these clouds that will lead us, instead, to doubt, allowing us to avoid them and arise to true faith.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Paragraph 78

We have digressed from the purpose of Our argument, although whatsoever is mentioned serveth only to confirm Our purpose. By God! however great Our desire to be brief, yet We feel We cannot restrain Our pen. Notwithstanding all that We have mentioned, how innumerable are the pearls which have remained unpierced in the shell of Our heart! How many the huris of inner meaning that are as yet concealed within the chambers of divine wisdom! None hath yet approached them; -- huris, "whom no man nor spirit hath touched before." (Qur'an 55:56) Notwithstanding all that hath been said, it seemeth as if not one letter of Our purpose hath been uttered, nor a single sign divulged concerning Our object. When will a faithful seeker be found who will don the garb of pilgrimage, attain the Ka'bih of the heart's desire, and, without ear or tongue, discover the mysteries of divine utterance?

After nearly a year's break, this is the fifth of those twelve paragraphs that look at the phrase "And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."

Now, before we begin again, we feel that we need to offer a bit of an explanation of why it has been so long since we have written here. Well, simply, Samuel got married and bought a house. As with all newlyweds, his life suddenly got far busier than he anticipated. And we both felt that it was far more important for him to spend the time getting used to his new life situation. Now, nearly a full year later, he is back into it. It also helps that his wife, wonderful soul that she is, kicked him in his spiritual behind, gave him the Virtues' Card on "certitude", and told us both to get back to it.

The first question we have, after our own digression is how is it possible for Baha'u'llah to have "digressed from the purpose of (His) argument"? And having done that, how could it serve "only to confirm (His) purpose"?

As usual, we don't really know, but we suspect that it is because they may be two different things. His argument, in this book, we think is to demonstrate the validity of the mission of the Bab to His uncle. That is Baha'u'llah's argument. But His purpose, Baha'u'llah's purpose in life, is to give forth the religion of God. When we re-read the opening sentence of this paragraph with this observation in mind, it suddenly makes a lot more sense to us.

In the previous paragraph, paragraph 77, He gave us a glimpse of why the various tribes of the earth mourn, namely through their attachments. Here, He is reminding us of this again, and then carrying us through the rest of the quote from Jesus, "the Son of man coming in the clouds". He seems to be demonstrating that not only was the Bab veiled in these clouds, but He, Himself, is, too. So many of His pearls of wisdom "have remained unpierced in the shell" of His heart. As He has not yet revealed His glorious station, "not one letter of (His) purpose hath been uttered". "Not a single sign" has been "divulged concerning (His) object". Still, after years of patiently guiding the Babis, He is awaiting that "faithful seeker".

This is another demonstration of the unity of all the Manifestations, this concealment behind the clouds. When we look back at the first couple dozen paragraphs of this book where Baha'u'llah describes the earlier Manifestations and helps us see what They all have in common, we can recognize this trend. It is part of His on-going demonstration of how we can recognize a Divine Messenger, helping to lead the uncle of the Bab to recognize his divine Kinsman, and also to help us all become closer to recognizing the station of Baha'u'llah Himself.