Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Ayyam-i-Ha Gifts

By John Taylor; 2007 Feb 28

Happy Ayyam-i-Ha,

The Badi year cycles around every year with a regularity that startles; face it, life in general startles me. I cannot get over it and never will, at least until I am over it.

These are the days of hospitality, of fullness (of spirit if not food), of joy and celebration, the only Baha'i holiday exclusively devoted to the Godhead. Soon we will recapitulate in our fast the fate of everything else in the universe -- and the multiverse, the worlds of God, for that matter -- the sad, deprived condition of *not* being the Godhead. Thus the Badi' year ends not with a bang but a whimper, a whimper of hunger pangs. Loftiness or Ala, the fast month, comes with realization of one's own inadequacy in the face of the Supreme. And finally, an end with no end because it is a beginning with no beginning, last stop on the trolley trip: Naw Ruz, when we pop through the Badi' birth canal into a new year.

There is not much more I can say about this happy period that I have not said on previous Ayyam-i-Ha festivals. So this year, let me just pretend that I have you over as my guest and talk casually about what has been going on. After all, hospitality is the focus of this holiday, along with gift giving. Let this essay be my gift, albeit a gift that begins and ends in words I am afraid. I will make casual observations in a hospitable spirit, and at the end offer a gift within a gift: some advice about hygiene.

On Monday night our Haldimand community had its general Ayyam-i-Ha at Anne Nichol's farmhouse, a big old heritage building on a large wooded lot which she has beautified with loving care with Baha'i meetings in mind, now with a spanking new side door and elaborate chandeliers in most rooms, including, now, a chandelier in the bathroom.

We started off with prayers for several sick people within the circle of our cognizance, including special prayers for Helen Kelly, who is gravely ill and hospitalized with liver and several other failures. Her loss would be a grave one, for she has for decades been one of the two best and boldest teachers of the Faith in the region, along with Mrs. Javid.

One of our new friends who has been attending our Ruhi study circles came along with one her young relatives. Ayyam-i-Ha with its gifts all around has got to be the favorite of the kids; the old custom offers Santa, the Badi' system offer the Supreme Being Himself, raw, unexpurgated, hard core. There were suggestions for changes in the venue but we did it the way we have in past years, slipping into autopilot -- perhaps dangerously in view of the possibility of rituals creeping in. We had a gift exchange like this: first the kids get their presents and open them. Then for the elders, a big pile of pot luck presents (costing not more than five bucks) in the middle, then go around the room each taking one present, keeping it unopened. Then we go around the room giving each a chance to exchange with someone else, and they are obliged to accept the exchange. Still, one is wise not to try it with the younger members of the community, who are likely to burst out in tears.

Now that I am healthier, with grand mal attacks become rare, I am correspondingly busier this year. I no longer empty out my to-do list than it fills up again. I had this brainstorm idea for my less than five dollar gift to the community. I would print out individual portraits of community members that I have taken over the years and give them out in the exchange in the form of an album. A photofinisher at Fortinos in Hamilton is selling prints for a mere 19 cents apiece, which would allow me to include most of our community in a little dollar store photo album. Unfortunately on our trip to Hamilton their machine happened to be down.

So I delegated the present buying and wrapping to Marie. The result was that when it came to pick out a gift from the center of the room I had no idea if it was one of ours or came from outside the family. I asked Marie across the room if I had chosen one of our presents and she refused to tell me. Her opinion was that it mattered not if I got a present from myself. No, I insisted, speaking in sign language, I need to know. To get my own gift would be as immoral and wrong and mostly unfun as incest -- call it gift-giving incest. She stubbornly refused to say, shouting, "It does not matter." But her body language had indicated that I had chosen one of our gifts. Finally, Gail Emberson, sitting next to me, took pity and when it came time for her to change presents chose to exchange mine for hers. Thus was I saved from committing an incestuous gift-receiving act.

My treasure turned out to be a box of chocolates and a funny gizmo that I could not open up to see what was inside. "An IQ test, I see," I announced. I never did figure out how to open it. Gale, the angel sitting next to me, took pity on me again and showed me how to open it and explained that it is a stubby universal screwdriver. My prudish inhibitions had kept me from pulling at it hard enough to slip the catch. Gale is either smarter or more experienced than yours truly; it amounts to the same thing, I guess. Blessings be upon her, she also agreed to fill in our tax returns for us this year, as she works for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and can do it in a trice.

The kids got as one of their gifts a CD-ROM computer game based upon one of their favorites, that excellent kid's math and science show on PBS, Cyberchase. The highlight of the day for the younger set came afterwards, when Sofia brought out a litter of three-day-old kittens. Much fondling and cooing and color comparisons.

Since I cannot give you anything physical for Ayyam-i-Ha, how about some advice? I do not check the Google News Feed of medical press releases as often as I did when it was my home page, but I did it at least once last month. There was a spate of studies going though reporting that when humans fill their stomach a set of chemicals is released in the brain that bounce around doing all sorts of technical things, the upshot being, long story short, your appetite is bunged up and you lose all sense of being sated. In other words, just by filling it up means that hunger no longer has anything to do with what the body needs. In yet other words, you start onto that insidious slide into obesity.

The articles just reported raw data but to me this has big implications for everybody's lifestyle and hygiene. There must be a clear dictum: do not fill your stomach, ever. Fill your gas tank if you will, but not your gut. True, this is not news for Baha'is. Baha'u'llah in the Tablet to the Doctor advises us to get up from the dinner table with a little hunger still being felt. But you could read that and think, okay, but surely that does not mean every time. I can food binge every once in a while with no ill effect. After all, feasts are part of the Badi' year. No, do not do it, ever. Binge eating is every bit as bad as binge drinking, and it is now known that overeating changes the brain and makes it food-addictive.

I have been having some success with limiting myself. I no longer belly binge and find after many months that the nibblies are no longer nearly as strong as before. I also stopped using big plates to eat on. At home I use a saucer instead of a plate to eat off of, and after some months I am used to it and feel just as sated after eating about half as much, or less.

At the pot luck after the Ayyam-i-Ha gift giving I went down the chow line and happened not to notice and took a "children's" plate (it was still bigger than the saucer I usually use). Only when my little plate was empty did I notice that all the adults around the table were eating off plates large enough to hold a blue whale's mid-afternoon plankton snack. Most of the poor devils, following human psychology, had taken enough food to fill their oversized plate, which meant not three or four servings but eight or ten. By my estimate they ate a good three times more than me. Thus, without thinking about it a roomful of believers and their friends had broken the dictum of God and now of science, "Do not fill your stomach, ever." Fast, Baha'u'llah might have said, even when you feast. I would add, pick the right plate and you can do it without even feeling deprived.

My spiritual father, Jim Millington, sends the following joyful news, which I share here for those who may not know them but still want to see some photos of House members at a recent wedding:

Jim Millington fragment

Thanks for that John, trusting you and your family are well. We just got back from Haifa a couple of weeks ago with Jared's new bride, Clorin. He got married in Haifa.

There were about 200 present from the world centre and around the world (truly) and among them several House Members and Teaching Centre members and their families."

What did we do to deserve such a bounty? I mean that in all humility. Anyway, Jared and Clorin are now living with us...

As a (matter of) policy the House members and there family will not gather for a group photo. It was kind of neat knowing that if anything went wrong we had a quorum and (could) get direct guidance from God. As it turned out we did not need that guidance.

Here are a few pictures of the wedding.

Play slideshow <{cab87c03-6bec-41b2-890a-d2e58228d5ec}&image=E590A5C2A91F149!380&imagehi=E590A5C2A91F149!378&CID=1033868980425716041>

Since I am a spiritual son to Jim, his son, Jared, would be a sort spiritual brother. I asked them all to come to Dunnville. I have some Hindu friends who run our local video store, "Video Tonite," and since the bride comes from India they all might be interested to come to dinner at our place before the presentation at our fireside. That is, if I have the guts to come out of my shell and invite them. I am shy about such things.

Before closing for today, let me offer one more gift, a gift of gratitude. In Ayyam-i-Ha it seems appropriate to count our blessings. First of all, thank God for our prosperity. True it is physical prosperity, mostly caused by the extreme productivity of China and India as they rise to prominence in the world, and physical wealth is stunted compared to spiritual, but thank God for it anyway. I go through the dollar stores and am amazed at what you can get for a buck; thank God for the advancement of China! And also, increased wealth has brought about a new kind of equality, a physical, literal equality that I had not realized before and it took economist Paul Krugman to point it out. As a student of history I should have known but did not.

"We have come to take it for granted that in advanced nations almost everyone can at least afford the essentials of life. Ordinary people may not dine in three-star restaurants, but they have enough to eat; they may not wear Bruno Maglis, but they do not go barefoot; they may not live in Malibu, but they have a roof over their heads. Yet it was not always thus. In the past, the elite were physically superior to the masses, because only they had adequate nutrition: In the England of Charles Dickens, the adolescent sons of the upper class towered an average of four inches above their working-class contemporaries. What has happened since represents a literal leveling of the human condition, in a way that mere comparisons of the distribution of money income cannot capture." (Accidental Theorist, 188-189)

It makes you think. No wonder racism became so strong at that time. If rich people were bigger, no wonder people got the false idea that it was somehow in their genes -- okay, genes had not been discovered then, but you know what I mean -- and that intermarriage with the literally "lower orders" would somehow do harm to the aristocracy. Now that poor people are usually just as big and smart as the rich, you would think we would get over racism faster than we are. But it is on the retreat and we can thank the Godhead for that.

We can also thank God for advancement in God's greatest bounty, religion. Parochialism in religion is on the retreat. We have more knowledge of the history of religion and it is getting harder for demagogues to subvert religious agendas with impunity. People now are aware of just how dead wrong their leaders can be. Remember the words of the Master about this,

"Consider the superstitions and mythology of the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians; all were contrary to religion and science. It is now evident that the beliefs of these nations were superstitions, but in those times they held to them most tenaciously.
"For example, one of the many Egyptian idols was to those people an authenticated miracle, whereas in reality it was a piece of stone. As science could not sanction the miraculous origin and nature of a piece of rock, the belief in it must have been superstition.
"It is now evident that it was superstition. Therefore, we must cast aside such beliefs and investigate reality. That which is found to be real and conformable to reason must be accepted, and whatever science and reason cannot support must be rejected as imitation and not reality. Then differences of belief will disappear. All will become as one family, one people, and the same susceptibility to the divine bounty and education will be witnessed among mankind." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 175)

Here is a link to an early draft of An Inconvenient truth, an old film on global warming by Frank Capra, made in 1956, my birth year.

Here is a link to a photo album of our family, made up by Marie for her Czech friends. If it does not work, email us and we will send you an invitation direct to your email address:

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