Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Bahá’í Book of Laws

An earlier post described the corpus of the Bahá’í sacred texts. From time to time I hope to examine specific texts in that collection. This article will briefly examine one that is often called the Book of Laws. It is also called The Most Holy Book, or specifically: the Kitab-i-Aqdas, its title. It is most often referred to as simply, “The Aqdas.” This book is not an introduction to the Bahá’í Faith, in fact one may not learn much about the faith from this book. Much of its contents refer to past religions and a through grounding in the Bábi Faith and Islam is necessary to understand much of it because it abrogates much that is in those two religions (one of the reasons for a century and a half of persecution in much of the Muslim world which continues today).

This book was revealed by 1873 while Bahá’u’lláh was confined in Akka, the penal colony of the Ottoman Empire. Part of the time He was under house arrest, part of the time he was in a cell. At the very end the governor refused to enforce the decree of imprisonment and personally begged Bahá’u’lláh to leave the confines of the city walls. He did and lived a short distance away. He repeated that He was a prisoner and the governor was responsible for his whereabouts, so he did not go far.

The book is written in Arabic, but Arabic that is influenced by Persian. One person described the style as “lofty and austere” and “similar to that of the Qur’an.” It is brief and without commentary. It is not a legal treatise. In fact, much of it has nothing to do with Bahá’í law. Prayer and fasting are covered in great detail, they are essential to a person’s spiritual wellbeing, and so are marriage and inheritance, but other matters are merely alluded to or mentioned in passing. Many subjects mentioned in the Aqdas are referred to in other of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings which form auxiliary texts to the Aqdas.

The organization of the Aqdas appears to be the result of questions people sent to him asking about certain subjects. Topics appear to be in a random order. Much of the content deals with general ethical exhortations and statements directed to specific individuals, groups and even places. It might best be stated that the Aqdas is less a code of laws than a constitution providing a framework for future legislation. Bahá’u’lláh directed the Universal House of Justice, ordained in the Aqdas, to legislate on those matters not expressly delineated in the Aqdas, therefore guaranteeing flexibility in the religion.

Subjects mentioned in the Aqdas have been grouped into nearly a dozen categories.
1. the status of religious law and its importance linked to recognition of the Prophet.
2. outlining Bahá’í administrative structure – councils of consultation, not individuals.
3. Bahá’í religious practices: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.
4. personal status: marriage, divorce and inheritance modifying those of the Bábi faith.
5. criminal laws: murder, arson, theft, etc.
6. miscellaneous matters abrogating a variety of practices of previous religions, such as the kissing of hands, destroying books, etc.
7. ethical principles and standards: truthfulness, courtesy, etc.
8. social principles: the education of children, ones occupation, arts and sciences.
9. addresses to individuals (the German Kaiser, the rulers of America, etc.), groups (religious leaders, etc.) and places (Constantinople, Tehran, Germany, etc.)
10. prophecies, such as the banks of the Rhine being covered with gore (not once but twice), and others.

One unique feature of the Aqdas is that Bahá’u’lláh cautioned against implementing its features “unwisely.” For instance, one subject covered is the Baháí form of tithe. Bahá’u’lláh had refused to mention it for many years even though many followers wanted to give Him money. He finally revealed the details (generally one nineteenth of one’s excess income) and specified that only a certain individual could collect the money – then refused to name the individual! Years later the individual was named, but this law was not binding on all believers – only those who could read it in the original language. Gradually, over a century, its provisions were applied to the rest of the Bahá’í community.

After copies of the Aqdas began to be circulated among the Bahá’ís some wrote asking questions about its contents. One believer sent one hundred and seven questions. This set of questions, and their answers, form a separate work, called Questions and Answers, which form an appendix to the Aqdas. In the English translation they are included together. Other subjects were addressed later in additional letters. These are compiled and published together as Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas linking the two together. In addition, many details were filled in by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His appointed role of interpreter of the writings of Bahá’u’lláh, and others later by Shoghi Effendi in his appointed role as Guardian.

Because of the vast references to aspects of the Muslim and Bábi faiths, translations of the Aqdas have generally been inadequate. An early English translation was circulated in manuscript form in America in the early 1900s. Arabic editions were published in India in 1891 and 1896. About a third of it had been translated and included in Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh by the Guardian in 1952.

Just as many aspects of the Bahá’í Faith are gradually unfolding translation and publication of the Aqdas was also gradual. An English synopsis, begun by the Guardian, was published in 1973. A full, annotated English translation with explanatory notes, a glossary and analytical index, as well as the Questions and Answers, was published in 1993. It included paragraph numbering to facilitate references between printings and to assist in translation into other languages as well.

Implementation of the contents of the Aqdas in the Bahá’í community will continue gradually into the future.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Baha'i Bible - or not?

There appears to be some confusion in the minds of many observers regarding the Bahá’í Bible. I use the term 'Bible" as a point of reference, but not an entirely inaccurate one. The term 'bible' means, literally: a collection of books. The Jewish Bible is exactly that: a collection of books written by various authors over hundreds of years. Christians added to that collection books and letters of their own written by several authors over a shorter period of time.
There was a great deal of argument among Christians for several centuries about which books and letters should be added to the Jewish Bible. The argument continues today in that Catholic Christians accept additional books that other Christians don't.
Hindus and Buddhists also have sacred scriptures that were written by various authors over hundreds of years, so many that binding them into one set of covers is impractical, so no one really things of a Hindu or Buddhist Bible.
For Muslims the situation is entirely different. Their holy book, The Recitation, or in Arabic; Qu'ran, is the result of one man who dictated the contents in sections during His lifetime. It is regarded as being directly revealed by the angel Gabriel from God with Muhammad merely a vehicle for the words to take form. These revelations were gathered together after His death and arranged by length and the Muslim 'bible' is the result.
Bahá’í scripture came about through a process similar to all of the above, except for the question of authenticity. There are three authors of Bahá’í scripture all speaking as the Voice of God. In addition there are two authors of auxiliray texts which serve to illuminate, explain and implement the teachings of the others. If this sounds confusion, remember that the 'book' of Isaiah in the Jewish Bible was written by at least four authors and the Books of Moses were not written by Moses (it is difficult for a person to write about their own death and events afterwards). The authors of the Bahá’í scripture are simply unfamiliar at this time (it is easy to forget that Christ was an unknown name to most Romans).
The primary author of Bahá’í scripture is Bahá’u’lláh, a title meaning: The Glory of God, who was a vehicle of revelation. He lived 1817-1892 first in His native Persia, then in the Ottoman Empire where He was exiled. His writings include books and letters, mostly letters, some very short, some hundreds of pages long. The Bahá’í World Center, in Haifa, Israel, has the responsibility of collecting these letters and translating and publishing them. To date some 7,000 have been collected. That is one section of the Bahá’í 'bible.'
Secondary to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh are those of His forerunner, a merchant from Shiraz, Persia who is known as the Báb (the Gate). He instituted a religion of His own but emphasized that His followers were to turn to the next Messenger of God for whom He was the Gate. And that the next Messenger was free to abrogate whatever of His scripture He saw fit. Bahá’u’lláh was in prison for being a follower of the Báb when He became aware of His own role as the next Messenger. Bahá’u’lláh did affirm some of the Báb's teachings such as the equality of women, the nineteen month calendar. So some of the Báb's writings, and certainly His prayers, are part of the Bahá’í 'bible.'
In His writings, Bahá’u’lláh apointed his son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Servant of the Glory) to head the faith after Him. It is a unique situation because never in the world's religious history has the founder of a religion legally appointed a successor. Bahá’u’lláh charged ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to speak on His own behalf, making the two one continuous authority. So, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is the second author of the Bahá’í 'bible.'
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been inprison since He was a young man (because entire families were exiled and imprisoned) and was only freed when political events changed the government of the Ottoman Empire. As in the case of His father, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote a few books but more letters. In addition, after He was freed, He traveled to Egypt, Europe and America, not to see the sights but to educate and encourage the Bahá’ís in those places. In so doing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke to numerous audiences from the NAACP to Jewish sunagogues, churches and private homes. Stenographic notes were often taken and these talks also became part of the Bahá’í bible.
Not just any notes are Bahá’í scripture, Bahá’u’lláh was very clear about this and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá upheld it. They specificed that Their words, in whatever form, had to be verified and authenticated or they could not be considered scripture. Unauthenticated words of Theirs are NOT part of the Bahá’í bible. This has resulted in some confusion by those who do not know the difference. The authentication was to be done my Themselves or the head of the faith. This clearly defines the canon of Bahá’í scripture so there is no disagreement.
'Abdu'i-Baha did not pass on His authority, He created an institution to succeed Him and appointed His oldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi, to fill the position. This is the institution of the Guardianship. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá specified the personal qualities of future Guardians, the appointment process and the election to validate the appointment. One of the responsibilities of the Guardian is to interpret and implement the scriptures revealed by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Bahá’u’lláh had outlined the system of administration for the Bahá’í community. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had begun to implement some of it, Shoghi Effendi continued this process. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had encouraged Bahá’ís to for the local councils specified by Bahá’u’lláh. It fell to Shoghi Effendi to create the secondary and international councils. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had outlined teaching plans to take the Bahá’í message to the entire world, Shoghi Effendi further implemented these.
At his death, Shoghi Effendi had not appointed a successor Guardian, there was no one who fulfilled the qualifications set by 'Abdul-Baha. Bahá’u’lláh had hinted of this possibility. Shortly after Shoghi Effendi's death the Bahá’ís of the world elected the Universal House of Justice, that international council ordained by Bahá’u’lláh with certain responsibilities, among them to interpret and implement the Bahá’í scriptures. The Universal House of Justice could also legislate on subjects not covered in Bahá’í scripture and change those decisions when necessary so flexibility was insured.
In summary there are three authors of the Bahá’í bible: Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Báb and two institutions of interpretation: the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice. In addition, for worship and devotions Bahá’ís are free to use any earlier scriptures: the Qur'an, the Christian and Jewish Bible and other scriptures for Bahá’u’lláh clearly stated: "There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose."*
So far the Bahá’í scriptures (the Bahá’í 'Bible') collected and authenticated at the Bahá’í World Center consist of 7,160 pieces by Bahá’u’lláh, 15,549 by 'Abdu'-Baha plus some of the Báb for a total of 22, 709 primary documents. In addition are another 16,370 by Shoghi Effendi and a contuning stream from the Universal House of Justice (which can be more than one email a day) of secondary guidance. It is impossible to publish all of these in one paper book, but the World Center is in the process of posting them on the internet.
So that is the Bahá’í bible.
*Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 217.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Photo Banned - Newspaper Closed

It is odd that a travel advertisement can shut down a newspaper. This wouldn’t happen in Topeka and it didn’t happen here. But it did happen earlier this month in another capital (which, oddly, also starts with the letter ‘T’) in another land. That capital is Tehran.
The action did not surprise one Topeka resident who grew up in Tehran. Mahin Stanley left Tehran in the 1960s in pursuit of education and more opportunities than were possible for women in Iran at that time. Now the times are worse.
Before leaving Tehran, Mahin watched members of the Iranian military and clergy take pick axes to the dome of the national Baha’i Center just down the street from her home. At the time an art display was exhibited inside in which a drawing of hers was entered. Needless to say, she never saw her drawing again. The building was seized for a time, trashed, then returned to the Bahá’ís (but only after Bahá’ís in thousands of communities around the world objected. Bahá’ís in Topeka sent telegrams directly to the Shah of Iran and President Eisenhower asking for the persecution to be curtailed.).
For the last thirty years the situation has been worse. Not only was the national center seized again, as well as all other Bahá’Í owned property in the country (including cemeteries, homes and businesses of individuals) but hundreds of Bahá’ís have been murdered and more tortured. Today a couple dozen Bahá’ís are in prison, some for over a year, on such charges as “spreading corruption on earth,” “provoking in insanctaties” and supporting Zionism.
What on earth can they mean?
“Supporting Zionism” is easy to understand. The world center of the Bahá’í Faith is located in Haifa, just as the Vatican is located in Rome. That location in Haifa is the result of a decree of the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1868. Bahá’ís today are being killed for it.
This is rational?
“Provoking insanctaties.” This term has no meaning to most people, but in Iran it is a capital crime. It means, as far as I can tell, that Bahá’ís do not revere Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) as the last Messenger of God. No. Bahá’ís believe Bahá’u’lláh to be the most recent Messenger of God.
In American, and most of the world, that is one’s choice. In Iran it is a capital crime and hundreds have died (and for those who are already dead, the cemeteries are bulldozed).
“Spreading corruption on earth,” is similar but can only happen in Muslim countries such as Iran. In such countries, add Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the government does not marry people or perform other actions of that nature, they are conducted solely by the religions community. And in most of those countries existence of the Bahá’í Faith cannot be acknowledged (because there can be no Prophet after Muhammad and it is illegal to think differently). The result of this is that Bahá’í marriages are not recognized as valid so every Bahá’í husband and wife is in an adulterous relationship and all the children are illegitimate – and has been so since the nineteenth century!
And what does this have to do with a travel advertisement that shut down a newspaper? The ad was promoting travel to India. The ad featured the most visited building in India (the Taj Mahal is now second) that has won international acclaim. This building, in the shape of a lotus blossom surrounded by pools of water, happens to be the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi.
And the alarms sounded!!!
The Bahá’í Faith does NOT exist (despite it being the largest minority religion in Iran), therefore there can be no photo of a Bahá’í building in a newspaper in Iran!
The fact that it was the newspaper with the highest circulation in Iran is also very interesting – and the photo ad was on the front page!
No wonder the newspaper, Hamshahri, was shut down!
And life in a totalitarian state lurches on. In just the past ten years 120 newspapers and other news outlets have been shut down with editors and reporters jailed and murdered. Most closures have been permanent. This time, oddly, the closure was only for one day. Very curious.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Religion and Modern Times

At the opening of the twentieth century religion was a dominant force in society. During the century that role was invalidated by the inability of most religions to accommodate new fields of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge. As a result the beneficial moral role of religion in society was also dismissed. Into that vacuum stepped materialistic hedonism and a religious liberalism with no moral compass. Neither were able to generate the discipline and devotion necessary for providing a firm foundation and the self-sacrifice necessary for social progress.

With the failure of materialism to satisfy the deepest human needs, a renewed interest in religion has followed. But the religious traditions that could not adequately respond to the circumstances of the early twentieth century are far less able to respond to the even greater changes since then. A response to this condition has been a desire to go to the foundations of the religions hoping answers will be found there.

These supposed fundamentals of the religions are even less adequate to provide relevant answers and, in a desperate need for answers, fundamentalist fanaticism results. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim fundamentalists all have the same desperate need for order, sexism and conformity, and militant violence has resulted from them all.

All oppose the materialism which has spectacularly failed to meet the human need for moral guidance. Moral values were seen as an innate part of humanism if not human nature. The greatest failure of materialism was to not recognize that such values are the bare remnants of the former influence of the religions that materialism displaced. With the erosion of these moral values society has slipped further and further into a morass of pleasure seeking irregardless of the consequences to others.

This moral vacuum has been filled by the fanatical fundamentalists on one hand and those who have sought refuge in the multiplicity of sects and cults that have risen and flourished with amazing rapidity. Not a few of them proclaim self-indulgence as a form of self-discovery and spirituality. The wider society has put its faith in various programs of liberal social and economic development to alleviate the hardships of others through material prosperity. The resulting widening of the gap between the poverty-stricken and the affluent is adequate testimony to the ineffectiveness of this approach.

The inability of traditional faiths to address the challenges of modern times has not adequately been addressed. Several reasons contribute to their ineffectiveness. One would obviously be their time of origin. They began before the possibility of human rights ideals, globalization or modern science. Those situations, much less their implications, are not addressed in their scriptures. And their structures for interpretation and implementation are equally at a loss.
One prominent feature of the global nature of present society is the way in which diverse peoples from contending cultures are now brought into daily contact on the internet, in the work place, while shopping, in schools, in all aspects of daily life. In former centuries such peoples would never see each other and they would not interact. Now it is imperative that they learn to interact in a peaceful and productive way, but there is no guidance or basis for such interactions.

Every culture, for its own integrity, has had to consider itself as superior to every other. Each has its own “right way” to view the world and social interactions. In many cases these “right ways” are incompatible and there is no bridge between them.

In the face of these incompatible points of view, most are blinded to what they share in common. Those who see the common elements are often derided or pushed aside. And modern science has complicated the situation by raising moral questions unique to our times: what is environmental utilization or exploitation, is stem cell research a reasonable endeavor, and many more.

Attempts to answer these questions from the scriptures of traditional faiths have failed. At the most they have resulted in conflicting answers from the same traditions which are no solution at all.

These faiths are hindered in their attempts to adequately address and solve contemporary problems by their claims of superiority and exclusivity. Instead of searching for common agreements, each is motivated to insist, in increasingly stronger and more strident tones, that their perspective is the “only right way,” and dialogue is pointless. Their claims of authority often reach well past their Founders teachings. This is further complicated by insistence on concepts that were added to the original teachings through corruption of power held by religious authorities, human imagination or misunderstandings.

It might surprise many people to examine some of the common teachings of the religions followed by most of the people of the planet. These include that there is one God; this can be included for Hindus, where the lesser “gods” are really attributes of God, and for Buddhists who have “the First Cause.” What other term could be applied to the Creator of all that is? Another is that each human soul has the capacity to pray to God, and the role of the Prophet-Founder of the religion to facilitate that conversation. And there is the promise of a return of the Messenger.

Such primary commonalities strongly suggest that there is a common foundation or source for those teachings; such is a basic teaching of the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’u’lláh states that all revealed religions are part of a continuous process, initiated by the Creator, to gradually and progressively reveal guidance to the human race for our continued development. More fundamentally, all religions are essentially chapters of the same religion.

These chapters have come at different times and places for the benefit of all mankind. Gradually over the centuries, interpretations and other ideas have been added. Additional confusion can arise due to the emphasis necessary by the Founder to eliminate certain pernicious evils of the society in which they appeared (Muhammad and idolatry, for instance).

The greatest crisis now facing society is that of unity. Disunity has paralyzed or crippled most social endeavors. On a global scale it can be catastrophic. Humanity now has the ability to destroy all life on the planet and no effective restraints, especially by disgruntled terrorists. Only a global, unifying moral consciousness and force can effectively deter such a result.

The Bahá’í community offers itself as a model for that solution. In the Bahá’í community no person has authority over another, the diversity of the human race is celebrated, decisions are made by councils in consultation and each person has equal access to the Divine. The Bahá’í community has been described as the most diverse, yet united, group of people on the planet. It is a remarkable achievement.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nov. 26 - The Day of the Covenant

Day of the Covenant

In addition to being Thanksgiving day in the U.S. for Baha’is the world over, Nov. 26 is a holy day. It is ‘The Day of the Covenant.’ This holy day commemorates Baha’u’llah’s appointment of His eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha, as the protector of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah. This was established by Baha’u’llah to ensure the unity of the Baha'i Faith. He also defined his true followers as those who abide by his covenant.

As protector of the Covenant, Abdu’l-Baha, (sometimes referred as the Center of the Covenant), was charged with safeguarding and protecting the Baha’i Faith against schisms, making it impossible for anyone to create a new sect or faction of belief. He, in turn, appointed Shoghi Effendi as the first Guardian of the Baha’i Faith and set forth conditions for future Guardians. He also encouraged Baha’is to create the local councils which Baha’u’llah had ordained to guide the affairs of local Baha’i communities. All are elements of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah.

The Covenant of Baha’u’llah is unique in religious history. No other world religion’s sacred scriptures provide such explicit instructions for succession and the organization of the community of believers after the founder’s passing. As a result the Baha'i Faith is the first religion in history that has survived its critical first century with its unity clearly established. And, in addition, it has a blueprint for a divinely ordered global civilization to bring unity to the world.

After the death of Baha’u’llah in1892, Abdu’l-Baha assumed the role he was appointed to. He carried forth his father’s mission until he died in 1921 at age 77. Abdu’l-Baha was known as an ambassador of peace, a promoter of justice and the head and authority of the new religion. During visits to Europe and more than 40 cities in the United States and Canada in 1911-1913, he was greeted with respect and honor by Baha’is and others. In city after city, he was invited to speak at churches, synagogues and organizations promoting the improvement of society. This resulted in establishing the Baha'i Faith as a new force for social reform and religious renewal.

Affirming that "Love is the most great law" and that the "supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity" among all its peoples, Abdu'l-Baha reached out to all – to every soul who crossed his path. He was so well-regarded that his funeral, on Mt Carmel in the holy land, was attended by 10,000 mourners from all persuasions and denominations. He is buried in a vault on the north side of the Shrine of the Báb now surrounded by terraced gardens that are the pride of Haifa.

Two days after the Day of the Covenant is the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha, marking the anniversary of his death in 1921.

In the decades since the passing of Abdu’l-Baha, the efficacy of the Covenant has been proved time and time again. At the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the conditions for future Guardians were not possible, so the Baha’i community elected the Universal House of Justice in 1963. This agency had been ordained by Baha’u’llah to be the supreme governing council of the Baha’i community.

Baha’is see the power of the Covenant operating on an on-going basis in the functioning of their administrative order, the system of governing councils on the local, national and international levels with their auxiliary agencies and appointed individuals. There is no professional priesthood or clergy, the work of the Faith is carried out exclusively by lay members. From remote jungle villages to the most cosmopolitan urban centers, the Baha’i community is a self-governing society based on the same spiritual and administrative principles in over 130,000 communities worldwide. That, in itself, is some kind of miracle.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

As the time of Thanksgiving approaches we can appraise those things which we are thankful for. Baha’is strive to be thankful every day for the bounties of God in our lives, but Thanksgiving is a time when all of society is more conscious of it. When Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith visited the U.S. in 1912, He shared these thoughts about giving thanks.

“Thankfulness is of various kinds. There is a verbal thanksgiving which is confined to a mere utterance of gratitude. This is of no importance because perchance the tongue may give thanks while the heart is unaware of it. Many who offer thanks to God are of this type, their spirits and hearts unconscious of thanksgiving. This is mere usage, just as when we meet, receive a gift and say thank you, speaking the words without significance. One may say thank you a thousand times while the heart remains thankless, ungrateful. Therefore, mere verbal thanksgiving is without effect. But real thankfulness is a cordial giving of thanks from the heart. When man in response to the favors of God manifests susceptibilities of conscience, the heart is happy, the spirit is exhilarated. These spiritual susceptibilities are ideal thanksgiving.

There is a cordial thanksgiving, too, which expresses itself in the deeds and actions of man when his heart is filled with gratitude. For example, God has conferred upon man the gift of guidance, and in thankfulness for this great gift certain deeds must emanate from him. To express his gratitude for the favors of God man must show forth praiseworthy actions. In response to these bestowals he must render good deeds, be self-sacrificing, loving the servants of God, forfeiting even life for them, showing kindness to all the creatures.” In essence, our actions are evidence of our thanksgiving.

He continued by giving specific examples. “Physically and spiritually we are submerged in the sea of God's favor. He has provided our foods, drink and other requirements; His favors encompass us from all directions. The sustenances provided for man are blessings. Sight, hearing and all his faculties are wonderful gifts. These blessings are innumerable; no matter how many are mentioned, they are still endless. Spiritual blessings are likewise endless -- spirit, consciousness, thought, memory, perception, ideation and other endowments. By these He has guided us, and we enter His Kingdom. He has opened the doors of all good before our faces. He has vouchsafed eternal glory. He has summoned us to the Kingdom of heaven. He has enriched us by the bestowals of God. Every day he has proclaimed new glad tidings. Every hour fresh bounties descend.”

--Excerpt from a talk given by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá and published in Promulgation of Universal Peace, pg. 236-237.

Being thankful is a continual process for Bahá’ís. For that reason Bahá’ís do not generally say prayers before meals, but there is a very appropriate prayer if one wishes to do so. It was revealed by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá.

“He is God! Thou seest us, O my God, gathered around this table, praising Thy bounty, with our gaze set upon Thy Kingdom. O Lord! Send down upon us Thy heavenly food and confer upon us Thy blessing. Thou art verily the Bestower the Merciful, the Compassionate.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Problem in White and Black

I want to share this statement from Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, that he addressed to American Baha'is. It is the only practical advice I'v read about the black and white problem in this country.

“Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds.

Let the Negroes, through a corresponding effort on their part, show by every means in their power the warmth of their response, their readiness to forget the past, and their ability to wipe out every trace of suspicion that may still linger in their hearts and minds.

Let neither think that the solution of so vast a problem is a matter that exclusively concerns the other. Let neither think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved. Let neither think that they can wait confidently for the solution of this problem until the initiative has been taken, and the favorable circumstances created, by agencies that stand outside the orbit of their Faith. Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country. Let them rather believe, and be firmly convinced, that on their mutual understanding, their amity, and sustained cooperation, must depend, more than on any other force or organization operating outside the circle of their Faith, the deflection of that dangerous course so greatly feared by Abdu’l-Bahá, and the materialization of the hopes He cherished for their joint contribution to the fulfillment of that country’s glorious destiny.”
- Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice

This statement makes it clear that every person, on both sides of the color line, can contribute to the solution. How to implement action is a challenge. I have taken a tiny step that seems to make a little difference on a one-to-one basis.

When I have an exchange with a person of another color I try to make phycial contact in a very general, non intrusive way. If money is changing hands, it is easy to briefly touch the hand of the other person. The interaction begins with a distant attitude on the part of the other person. We conduct the business at hand. When money is changed, and I touch the other hand briefly, I can see a relaxation come over the other person. They also become more friendly toward me. The interaction ends on a much friendlier, more human level than it began.

It's just a little thing, but it brought us closer together as human beings and brightened both our days. Touch is very powerful. When you touch someone in that way you indicate your acceptance of them. That means a lot to another human being. Maybe it can even bring down walls!!!