Generosity and Capacity
By John Taylor; 2008 June 23, 19 Nur, 165 BE
Let me dedicate this essay to the memory of my deceased Aunt Marguerite. We just disposed of our share of her legacy by (as new pension rules demand) paying down our mortgage. I am glad that the fruits of my maiden aunt's life's work should have brought our mortgage freedom day a few years closer.
What can you say about Aunty Marguerite? She worked all her life as a CEO's executive secretary. She was an ardent Anglican and bought and read a bookshelf full of heavy books on theology; when she moved from her house to an apartment she gave the collection to a pastor for their professional library. He expressed amazement that a lay believer would have bothered to read such abstruse material.
She followed the teachings of Jesus in many ways, but most distinctively, she was the most generous person I ever knew. She was constantly giving us gifts, at Christmas, birthdays and cast-offs anytime. One Baha'i, Ruth Augustine, worked a few weeks as a temp in her office, and when she found out that Marguerite Taylor was my aunt, she said just that: Marguerite was constantly giving little gifts to her and all their coworkers. She had never worked for anybody like that.
I have been driving some student pilots to Mrs. Javid's fireside over the past few weeks, and one of them caught me off guard by saying, "You are the most generous person we have ever met." I did not know what to say to that; I would like to say that it was the example of the Master but no doubt it was the spirit and example of my recently released from this world Aunt Marguerite working through me. For one thing, Abdu'l-Baha gave until it hurt. He sacrificed necessities, and I have only been giving little things, cast-offs, and objects and possession that we are not using and do not really need.
But certainly, little things are better than nothing at all. But even the little I have given I have observed how effective it is in teaching the Cause, and, thanks to my Aunt, I can at least imagine myself giving more, on a scale like Abdu'l-Baha did. So I suppose her example of generosity may turn out to be Aunty Marguerite's greatest legacy to this family. What are a few years without mortgage payments compared to getting a glance into how the Master operated in serving and teaching? He wrote,
"Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God's loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord's mercy to man; to be the Lord's grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 3)
Centering our attention on doing good, being of benefit to all who cross our path, that means giving gifts constantly, like Aunty did. There may be other ways of benefiting others, giving time or free advice for example, but they tend to not to cost. To do what the Master suggests here, I cannot think of anything that could take the place of Marguerite's shotgun approach of constantly giving little presents to everybody who crosses our path.
Generally speaking, giving stuff away means reducing junk that blocks even material progress. Possessions complicate life; the more you own, the more you have to keep track of. Ownership operates according to a sort of Malthusian principle; the stuff you collect advances arithmetically, but their mental and spiritual worries and demands grows geometrically. Eventually, it takes so much time just to do inventory that you are better off shedding.
So, giving gifts is a material benefit to the giver; to shake off a burden is still a long way away from true generosity. But the point is the act of detachment, not the outer action. The Master said that attachment is the cause of all wrongdoing; by extension, any attachment to a thing that keeps us from giving it away is surely our main source of sins of omission. Jesus said it: "it is better to give than to receive." Mundane gifting of superfluous possessions is a long way from the sacrificial giving that spiritual detachment demands, but it is a start. Gifts, given in the right spirit, are given to God, and we never know the benefit that any donation, big or small, easy or hard, will do for others. The only thing we can measure is how much it hurts to give it away, which may be why an anti-Malthusian principle applies to generosity: the greater the pain and sacrifice the greater the fruits in love.
But the Master also advises in the above that we "improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men." In this case, that means actively teaching an attitude of generosity, as well as living up to it. That, I suppose, is the meta-gift. Thank you, Aunty, for your meta-legacy!
The Master was concerned that we learn the lesson packed into that Greek expression "meta." As a teacher, He did not want to convey information as much as to increase capacity, and beyond that to make His students capable of increasing the spiritual abilities of others. I am reading a biography of Lua Getsinger right now, and this is what I am learning from her experience as one of the Master's first students coming to Him from the West. Here is the reference,
Velda Piff Metelmann, Lua Getsinger, Herald of the Covenant, George Ronald,
Lua and her husband Edward were on that first, fateful, historic pilgrimage of Western Baha'is in 1897. I will not try to retell a story that should be told by a modern Shakespeare and made into a feature film. It is amazing that the egotistic teacher Ibrahim Kheirullah had painted a picture of a religion that was in almost every important respect diametrically opposed to every belief of the Baha'i Faith, yet these early lovers of the Master stayed faithful, even after their main teacher defected.
Edward and Lua were absolutely ravished by the Master, and their main test for over a decade was believing that He was anything less than an independent Manifestation of God. Edward had been a professional lecturer (about homeopathic medicine) before he married Lua and later became a Baha'i, yet the Master saw in Lua the makings of a great Baha'i speaker. He strove to bring that out in her. To have a spouse with a newfound gift in one's area of expertise is a major test for anybody, but especially for a husband in that pre-women's liberation era.
The Master wrote several letters to Edward counselling detachment on his part. Edward Getsinger took this advice to mean that he should devote his efforts to his "science." Since homeopathy, beyond the placebo effect, has nothing to do with the scientific method, we can be pretty sure that that is not what the Master was after. He was saying what He was saying, to develop detachment and capacity.
To his honor Dr. Getsinger
(Upon him be Beha-ullah!)
He is God!
O thou who art directed to the Light of Guidance! Verily, I read thy new letters & inhaled the breath of severance (from all save God) from the garden of its meanings, & my heart became thereby dilated.
Truly I say unto thee! Verily, the nostrils of 'Abdu'l-Baha can only be perfumed by a fragrant odor emanated from an ideal severance from all else save God.
By the Life of God! If thou become endowed with all the virtues, they could not be compared as equal (to the virtue of) being separated, sanctified, & purified from all else save God. Verily, separation (from all else save God) is the light of "Baha", & severance from the worldly cares is the breaths of the Spirit of "Baha".
Verily, I beseech God to increase thy joy & fragrance, & to clothe thee with the embroidered garments of Sanctity, in the Paradise of Separation (from the world).
This is that by which thy face shall be illuminated in the
Do thou beseech God to make thee as a sanctified light shining forth from the Horizon of Severance (from all else save God), so that thou may'st become like unto an Angel in the image of man, among people.
Know thou, verily, the supplications of 'Abdu'l-Baha shall surely assist thee under all aspects & states; for I invoke God, every morn & even to make thee a sign of the word of Guidance, & a humble & submissive servant unto the Threshold of Baha.
Upon thee be greeting & praise!
(Translated in Washington, D. C. by A. K. Khan 28th Dec. 1901; from Lua Getsinger, Herald of the Covenant, pp. 48-49)
Later, when Baha'is were persecuted in
(He sends) "greetings to the maid-servant of God, thy revered wife, announce to her the Grace of her Master and the Gift of her Ancient Lord. I beseech the Glorious Lord to enable her to serve in His extensive Vineyard, to make her fluent in praising Him among the maid-servants of the earth, to draw her by the magnet of His Love, with such attraction as may make her as a ball of fire ablaze with the heat of the Love of God. Upon her be greeting and praise!" (Herald, p. 49)
Sometimes, I suppose, we develop our capacity inwardly, by fighting off envy of those close to us who show forth more capacity! I will close with a selection from what should be called Abdu'l-Baha's "Capacity Talk," as well as the prayer for capacity that ends the address.
AB on capacity (Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 148)
from: Promulgation of Universal Peace (new Edition), pp. 203-207
Paragraph 3, p. 205:
"Behold how the sun shines upon all creation, but only surfaces that are pure and polished can reflect its glory and light. The darkened soul has no portion of the revelation of the glorious effulgence of reality; and the soil of self, unable to take advantage of that light, does not produce growth. The eyes of the blind cannot behold the rays of the sun; only pure eyes with sound and perfect sight can receive them. Green and living trees can absorb the bounty of the sun; dead roots and withered branches are destroyed by it.
"Therefore, man must seek capacity and develop readiness. As long as he lacks susceptibility to divine influences, he is incapable of reflecting the light and assimilating its benefits. Sterile soil will produce nothing, even if the cloud of mercy pours rain upon it a thousand years. We must make the soil of our hearts receptive and fertile by tilling in order that the rain of divine mercy may refresh them and bring forth roses and hyacinths of heavenly planting.
"We must have perceiving eyes in order to see the light of the sun. We must cleanse the nostril in order to scent the fragrances of the divine rose garden. We must render the ears attentive in order to hear the summons of the supreme Kingdom. No matter how beautiful the melody, the ear that is deaf cannot hear it, cannot receive the call of the Supreme Concourse. The nostril that is clogged with dust cannot inhale the fragrant odors of the blossoms.
"Therefore, we must ever strive for capacity and seek readiness. As long as we lack susceptibility, the beauties and bounties of God cannot penetrate. Christ spoke a parable in which He said His words were like the seeds of the sower...
Capacity Closing Prayer (paragraphs 5-9, 206-7)
O Thou forgiving God! These servants are turning to Thy kingdom and seeking Thy grace and bounty. O God! Make their hearts good and pure in order that they may become worthy of Thy love. Purify and sanctify the spirits that the light of the Sun of Reality may shine upon them. Purify and sanctify the eyes that they may perceive Thy light. Purify and sanctify the ears in order that they may hear the call of Thy kingdom.
O Lord! Verily, we are weak, but Thou art mighty. Verily, we are poor, but Thou art rich. We are the seekers, and Thou art the One sought. O Lord! Have compassion upon us and forgive us; bestow upon us such capacity and receptiveness that we may be worthy of Thy favors and become attracted to Thy kingdom, that we may drink deep of the water of life, may be enkindled by the fire of Thy love, and be resuscitated through the breaths of the Holy Spirit in this radiant century.
O God, my God! Cast upon this gathering the glances of Thy loving-kindness. Keep safe each and all in Thy custody and under Thy protection. Send down upon these souls Thy heavenly blessings. Immerse them in the ocean of Thy mercy and quicken them through the breaths of the Holy Spirit.
O Lord! Bestow Thy gracious aid and confirmation upon this just government. This country lieth beneath the sheltering shadow of Thy protection and this people is in Thy service. O Lord! Confer upon them Thy heavenly bounty and render the outpourings of Thy grace and favor copious and abundant. Suffer this esteemed nation to be held in honor and enable it to be admitted into Thy kingdom.
Thou art the Powerful, the Omnipotent, the Merciful, and Thou art the Generous, the Beneficent, the Lord of grace abounding.