Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Gleaning Seven Sweets

In Memory of the Martyrs, Part I

By John Taylor; 2008 June 04, 19 `Azamat, 165 BE


Recently came hard news of the arrest and possible murder of the band of Baha'i leaders in Iran known as the friends. I have not mentioned for a while on this blog the increasingly parlous state of our brothers and sisters there. I guess I was saving the following prayer for them written by August Forel in 1927. Forel was a famous doctor and scientist, a Baha'i and an active defender of the persecuted Persian believers, at the specific request of the Guardian. His biographer explains the provenance of the prayer:


“Forel had earlier published in the Neue Freie Presse still another article called `Persecutions of the Baha'i Religion: a letter from Persia,' in which he quotes extracts from a letter from a Baha'i in Hamadan, describing the various forms of subtle and open persecution to which the Baha'is there are daily subjected. This article ends with this paragraph:


“`Be happy, friends. You are free servants of God. Fly free, sing happily, sing joyously, remember us always -- and pray for us. We all look forward to the day when we will, unhindered, be able to practice our Faith. This hope is strengthened through our guardian, Shoghi Effendi, that the thick clouds oppressing the horizon of Persia will be dissipated and the sun of freedom will shine on our land, for it is the homeland of Baha'u'llah.'


“Forel seems to have taken this request to heart. The writer has come across, in the unclassified documents in Lausanne, a small scrap of paper, with the following words in Forel's own handwriting, on one side in French, on the other in German:




 Baha'i prayer for October 1927

 O Thou, universal and unknowable God! Suffer us, poor humans on this small terrestrial globe, to work relentlessly for the social good of all mankind just as Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha and so many other courageous martyrs have done before us. Suffer us to struggle against our hereditary, voracious, hypocritical, and egotistical instincts. No sweet-sounding slogans, whether spoken or written, rather good, great and resolute acts. Only then, shall we overcome.

 Amen, (signed) A. Forel




 “On the French copy of this `prayer' there is a note, `sent 8 September, 1927', but we have no indication to whom it was addressed.” (from John Paul Vader, "For the Good of Mankind, August Forel and the Baha'i Faith," George Ronald, Oxford, 1984, pp. 57-58)




For a more recent update on the persecution of Baha'is in Iran, check out the video presentation called Quenching The Light which, according to a sympathetic Muslim, "documents the ongoing persecution of the Baha'i minority in Iran. I recommend everyone to watch this and pass it along in order to spread awareness."


Interesting, though, that Forel should have talked about actions being better than "sweet-sounding slogans." I have been thinking about sweetness, as indeed I do every time I enter our kitchen, and, lately, every time I contact Holy Writ. For the martyrs and downtrodden Baha'is in Iran, the Word must be sweet indeed, irresistible, whether spoken of or acted out. Baha'u'llah in fact said that actions, not just slogans, when performed in the right spirit, are sweet. Actions are their own enticement,


"Beseech ye the one true God to grant that ye may taste the savor of such deeds as are performed in His path, and partake of the sweetness of such humility and submissiveness as are shown for His sake." (Gleanings, 9)


There are indeed seven tastes of sweetness in Gleanings (I found them with the keywords "taste" and "sweetness," prompted by yesterday's daily reading) and I want to pass them around like fine chocolates this morning for your delectation. Not only deeds done for Him are sweet -- that was the first chocolate that you just savored -- but also the words of God are sweet,


"Were ye to taste of the sweetness of the sayings of the All-Merciful, ye would unhesitatingly forsake your selves, and would lay down your lives for the Well-Beloved." (Gl 84-85)


How often did just this happen, especially in the time of the Bab. A non-believer with a sensitive soul would glance over a verse or two of the holy words and immediately knew the truth and ran off to a glorious death at the hand of the fanatic. And even now, in our Internet age, this goes on there. Of course, a glance is never enough; the full taste of God's sayings deserve to be reflected upon long and hard. Only then is the full flavor brought out,


"Were any man to ponder in his heart that which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed and to taste of its sweetness, he would, of a certainty, find himself emptied and delivered from his own desires, and utterly subservient to the Will of the Almighty. Happy is the man that hath attained so high a station, and hath not deprived himself of so bountiful a grace." (Gl 343)


When I read that the other day I thought, Oh --- My --- God! Here I am buffeted by desires, for food, sex, sleep, for relief from pain and lassitude, and here Baha'u'llah assures me that if I had really pondered and tasted, I would now be liberated from all that! That means that I have never really done what I should have done. What a downer. But on the upside, now I know that as soon as I feel even a breeze of a desire, it just means that I have not pondered and tasted enough lately. Want something? Just taste this; it will remove your desire.


And what does it cost? A little Joie de Vivre as you read and ponder. That is it. This lesson I have learned lately -- read with verve -- and I have been repeating it with some effect in our daily Baha'i class: it does no good just to read the words of God, or even to understand them. We must effuse, effervesce, bubble over with them, read with all the joy and enthusiasm you can muster. I even have little contests with the kids to see who can read with the most feeling. Of course I lose. No adult in history has ever read with more sincerity, purity and feeling than a child.


When the kids flag in their reading I repeat what my early Baha'i teacher Nancy Campbell told her ballet students when they were about to go on stage: "You must smile as you dance, you may feel sick, terrible and awful before your performance but force yourself to smile. Even if you hold the corners of your mouth up with two fingers, smile. It does not matter if you not mean it or it is weak and wan. If you persist the lie becomes true, you cannot help but start to feel the smile and your performance will be all the better." Feeling follows action, and tasting of Holy Writ is the same.


Here, take the fourth of these seven chocolates.


"Sanctify your souls from whatsoever is not of God, and taste ye the sweetness of rest within the pale of His vast and mighty Revelation, and beneath the shadow of His supreme and infallible authority." (Gl 143)


Freedom from guilt is sweet. If you feel guilty you are not resting in the "pale of His vast and might Revelation."


Peace is sweet.


You feel peace if you are in the right space. If you rise high in the atmosphere there are no more winds, and if you plunge deep enough in the ocean, there are no turbid waves. Just calm. Inner peace, then, is a sign of having gone beyond the violence inherent to surface reality.


A religious studies scholar like Karen Armstrong might put it like this: by "tasting the sweetness" we take the Word out of Logos and put it into Mythos, out of the realm of reasoning cause and effect into that of story, meaning, feeling and completion. I think a Baha'i scholar, though, would disagree. The Holy Word is both Logos and Mythos; it straddles them like a colossus. Intoning the Word with feeling connects its meaning to our feeling and this ecstasy allows for calm afterwards; in this way heart and mind rise above either extreme.


Chocolate number five is about the sweet taste of freedom. I think we have had enough for now, so before it starts to cloy, let us put off the last three sweets till next time.

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