Thursday, February 01, 2007


Spirit Journey and Maids of Heaven

By John Taylor; 2007 January 31

Today I will deal with a question about the use of the term "maid of heaven" in the Baha'i Writings. But first, a brief description of this month's public meeting sponsored by our Haldimand Spiritual Assembly in the words of the speaker. It will take place on Tuesday, February 13th at 8:00 PM in the Garfield Disher Room of the Dunnville Branch of the Haldimand Public Library.

The Spiritual Journey of a Remarkable Woman, By Ron Speer

Ron Speer and his daughters will speak of the very intense personal research that their wife and mother, Mary Lou Speer, experienced as she sought what for her would be her spiritual truth.

From her roots in Wainfleet and her involvement in Sunday School and her Brethren in Christ spiritual home in Port Colbourne, her questioning mind, her determination to understand what for her was not clear proof, her persistent study of the Bible, her active involvement in Grace United, her publishing of the local United Church's "Contact" newsletter that took many hours of her time, her service to her community with Children's Aid and Marriage and Family Services as President, her single handedly writing the constitution and by-laws that Marriage and Family Services would use until they folded, to her roles as spiritual guide of her three children and her eventual discovery of the Baha'i Faith and an insatiable appetite for books, it was the Baha'i Faith that lead her down an intense period of research that brought her to a near nervous breakdown. It was in fact that very struggle that liberated her inquiring mind and freed her to follow a spiritual path that was her personal truth.

The talk will include excerpts from the immense binder of research-pages and pages of questions she had and the answers she found leading her to declare on March 20th, 1979, that she must follow her mind and her heart and embrace this new faith she had found. It will be an emotional presentation as this story is intensely personal and filled with twists and turns that are quite special. My daughters and I are looking eagerly forward to presenting this story.

Maids of Heaven

Some of the more faithful readers of the Badi' list wrote:

"Dear John, Another `dear John' letter - one after your own heart, or your mind! (We) have been discussing the Maids of Heaven. At one point I thought this referred to the Message of Baha'u'llah. We went to Ocean and saw numerous references. Might they refer to spiritual longings and desires? Do you have any thoughts on this. The last time we asked you a question you wrote a wonderful essay. Might you do so again. We will continue to look up the references and ponder them. Thanks."

Since, dear readers, you have access to Ocean, the program that searches the entire literature of the Baha'i Faith, it would be hard for me to surprise you. I can do little more than wade through the same waters, compile what turns up and hope that I noticed something you may have missed. But first, there is a small article on "Maid of Heaven" in Peter Smith's Concise Encyclopedia of the Baha'i Faith, which is not in Ocean:

"In one of his visions in the Siyah-Chal prison in Tehran (1852) Baha'u'llah saw a maiden (Huri) - the 'embodiment' of the remembrance of God's name - who addressed the entire creation to announce his mission, and whose sweet voice imparted such tidings as rejoiced his very being. This figure recurs in a number of Baha'u'llah's visionary writings, ('The Tablet of the Maiden,' (Lawh-i-Huri), 'The Tablet of the Deathless Youth' (Lawh-i-Ghulamu'l-khuld), The Tablet of the Holy Mariner (Lawh-i-Mallahu'l-quds) and 'The Tablet of the Vision' (Lawh-i-Ru'ya), the first three all written in Baghdad), luminous, garbed in white, standing in the air before him, consoling him in embrace, or alluding to his own death. Shoghi Effendi refers to the Maiden as analogous representation of the divine as the burning bush encountered by Moses, the dove that descended on Jesus, or the Angel Gabriel who appeared to Muhammad."

There is also a short article on Houri, the Arabic for "Maid of Heaven," in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which I also cite:

"Houri, also spelled huri, Arabic. In Islam, a beautiful maiden who awaits the devout Muslim in paradise. The Arabic word Hawra signifies the contrast of the clear white of the eye to the blackness of the iris. There are numerous references to the houri in the Quran describing them as purified wives and spotless virgins. Tradition elaborated on the sensual image of the houri and defined some of her functions; on entering paradise, for example, the believer is presented with a large number of houris, with each of whom he may cohabit once for each day he has fasted in Ramadan and once for each good work he has performed. Some theologians, such as al-Baydawi, preferred to give the houri a metaphoric interpretation. It has also been suggested that Muhammad reinterpreted angels he saw in pictures of Christian paradise as houris."

The origin of "huri" is not as clear cut as the Britannica article implies. The word has origins in some fruit or something, as I recall; I think I wrote in detail about this etymological controversy a few years ago but I cannot find it. It did not turn up in my keyword search -- you know you are writing too much when the mass of it expands beyond the ability of human memory or even computer searches to recall.

In any case, one of the biggest surprises I came across is that one meaning of "Maid of Heaven" could be a reference to the Bab and His Revelation. At least that is my impression from the following selection in the Qayyumu'l-Asma,

"O people of the earth! By the righteousness of the One true God, I am the Maid of Heaven begotten by the Spirit of Baha, abiding within the Mansion hewn out of a mass of ruby, tender and vibrant; and in this mighty Paradise naught have I ever witnessed save that which proclaimeth the Remembrance of God by extolling the virtues of this Arabian Youth. ... Magnify ye, then, His station, for behold, He is poised in the midmost heart of the All-Highest Paradise as the embodiment of the praise of God in the Tabernacle wherein His glorification is intoned." (The Bab, Selections, 54)

He, continuing to speak as if He were that Huri, goes on to talk about "all Paradise" wailing "in its longing to gaze on His Beauty" and of that paradise becoming like ice "locked in the heart of a frost-bound mountain." I am reminded of the savage beauty of Antarctica and the film "March of the Penguins" that inspired yesterday's essay.

Baha'u'llah seems to be responding to the above plaint of the Bab in the following paragraph:

"Cry out before the gaze of the dwellers of heaven and of earth: I am the Maid of Heaven, the Offspring begotten by the Spirit of Baha. My habitation is the Mansion of His Name, the All-Glorious. Before the Concourse on high I was adorned with the ornament of His names. I was wrapt within the veil of an inviolable security, and lay hidden from the eyes of men. Methinks that I heard a Voice of divine and incomparable sweetness, proceeding from the right hand of the God of Mercy, and lo, the whole Paradise stirred and trembled before Me, in its longing to hear its accents, and gaze on the beauty of Him that uttered them. Thus have We revealed in this luminous Tablet, and in the sweetest of languages, the verses which the Tongue of Eternity was moved to utter in the Qayyumu'l-Asma'." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, 283)

I think your idea that "huri" means spiritual longings is probably not far wrong, since in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner especially she is seen to lament the fate of Baha. Having just re-read that mysterious and incomprehensible Tablet, this new interpretation that the Maid may be the "female" Revelation of the Bab united in relation to Baha, does seem to give the poem more clarity.

There also seems to be a distinction between "Maid of Heaven" and maids of heaven. The Maid may be the Bab, sometimes. Other times maids may signify angels, or perhaps the eternal souls of past and future Manifestations of God, in which case it is capitalized. For instance, the Master's words in His Will and Testament speaking first of Baha'u'llah, then the Bab, and then of capital "M" Maids, as capitalized by the Guardian.

"I swear by the most holy Abha Beauty and by the Light shining from His Holiness, the Exalted One (may my soul be a sacrifice for Their lowly servants), that because of this iniquity the dwellers in the Pavilion of the Abha Kingdom have bewailed, the Celestial Concourse is lamenting, the Immortal Maids of Heaven in the All-Highest Paradise have raised their plaintive cries and the angelic company sighed and uttered their moanings." (Abdu'l-Baha, Will and Testament, 5)

It is pretty clear that the tears of the Maids are shed here because of the betrayal after the public reading of the Kitab-i-Ahd of the Master, the appointed heir, by His family, an event that Baha'u'llah in the Holy Mariner Tablet prophesies at length. In other passages, though, Huris are symbols of unexpressed and ineffable inner meanings within the Holy Word Itself.

"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." (Q55:56) 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." (Iqan, 70-71)

Let there be no mistake, this is the third dimension of the Word of God. We look at the words, and know that in the heart of the Speaker are universes of depth and breadth beyond, unsaid. Paradise is a garden of wise words, and the Word of God is a garden. One translation of part of the Qu'ranic passage that Baha'u'llah cites here goes like this,

And for him who fears to stand before his Lord are two gardens... Which then of the bounties of your Lord will you deny? Having in them various kinds... In both of them are two fountains flowing. In both of them are two pairs of every fruit. Reclining on beds, the inner coverings of which are of silk brocade; and the fruits of the two gardens shall be within reach. In them shall be those who restrained their eyes; before them neither man nor jinni shall have touched them. As though they were rubies and pearls. Is the reward of goodness aught but goodness? (Qur'an 55:46-60, Shakir)

In this garden everything is twin, as is this Revelation, initiated as it was by twin Manifestations. Coral and pearls, then, would be their scripture, revealed in the twin languages of Arabic and Persian, the former Semitic and the latter Indo-European. The reference to "no man having touched them," then, would signify the newness of this Scripture, specifically the dozen or Baha'i principles that the Master expounded (twice, in two talks in New York) as without precedent and unique to this Revelation. A houri is translated as "those who restrain their eyes." An alternate translation is,

"They will recline on Carpets, whose inner linings will be of rich brocade: the Fruit of the Gardens will be near (and easy of reach)... In them will be (Maidens), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched;- Like unto rubies and coral." (Yusuf Ali)

Bashful maidens, then, are symbols of this yawning gap between the outer meaning and what the Word could say, in the Heart of the Twin Manifestations, but does not, out of wise restraint. The above passage of the Iqan, by the way, is the only place where the Guardian does not translate "Huri" into the English, "Maid of Heaven." Interestingly, in view of this meaning of Huri as the dimensionality of the Word, one of the intentionally lost Writings, saved from destruction at the request of a secretary, is called the "Prayer of the Maid of Heaven." This further underlines the symbol of Maid as something in Holy Writ that is hidden, veiled and permanently blocked from understanding:

"There was a time, during His sojourn in Baghdad, when Baha'u'llah would order Mirza Aqa Jan to let the Tigris carry away the outpourings of His Pen. In a Tablet, revealed long after in 'Akka Baha'u'llah mentions this fact. Nabil recalls that some of those writings were saved, because of the pleading of Mirza Aqa Jan, and these included the Tablet of the Munajat-i-Huriyyih (the Prayer of the Maid of Heaven)." (H.M. Balyuzi, Baha'u'llah - The King of Glory, 166)

And, how ironic is this? The fellow who saved that prayer from being destroyed, Mirza Aqa Jan, turned out later to be one of the betrayers of the Covenant and who caused, in the imagery of both Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'u'llah, the Maids of heaven to shed bitter tears over his base actions. Elsewhere, the Maids also are clearly meant to cover the clear as well as the concealed meaning in Holy Writ.

"O My servants! Through the might of God and His power, and out of the treasury of His knowledge and wisdom, I have brought forth and revealed unto you the pearls that lay concealed in the depths of His everlasting ocean. I have summoned the Maids of Heaven to emerge from behind the veil of concealment, and have clothed them with these words of Mine -- words of consummate power and wisdom." (Baha'u'llah, Gleanings, 327-328)

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