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.

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