The Master's Strange Love
By John Taylor; 2008 Aug 02, 02 Kamal, 165 BE
Are you depressed? I know I am. Okay, not clinically depressed. Every time there is a change in the weather I go through a series of predictably swinging emotions, all the way from giddy elation to extreme despair. When the weather steadies down, the feelings steady down. Because I am in imminent danger of a migraine attack I have to pay careful attention to these swings, as well as to certain physical signs, or prodromes. Most people are affected emotionally by the weather more than they realize, I notice. The only difference with me is that I have no choice but to pay attention to it. But even so, it gets out of hand. A careful reader will often detect evidence of this cycle in the tone and content of these essays.
But at least I am not clinical. In order to be clinically depressed you apparently have to be down in the dumps for at least six months, not six hours. In any case, the natural reaction of a Baha'i going through hard times is to rail at others for rejecting what we know is the solution to the ills of the world. That is not the answer, needless to say. The Guardian gave a believer who was evidently depressed in just this way the following advice,
"There is, unfortunately, no way that one can force his own good upon a man. The element of free will is there and all we believers -- and even the Manifestation of God Himself -- can do is to offer the truth to mankind. If the people of the world persist, as they seem to be doing, in their blind materialism, they must bear the consequences in a prolongation of their present condition, and even a worsening of it. Our duty as Baha'is is to build up such a love and unity within our own ranks that the people will be attracted by this example to the Cause. We also must teach all we can and strengthen the Baha'i community in the Administration. But more we cannot do to avert the great sufferings which seemingly still lie ahead of the world in its present evil state." (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha'i Community, 13 October 1947, p. 446)
Lua Getsinger also had to go through terrible agony during the decade before the Master anointed her the "Herald of the Covenant." Not long after the turn of the century she fell ill (calling it a "nervous breakdown," perhaps what now would be termed a depressive interlude of some kind) and the Master wrote her the following rather famous words of consolation -- words from which we take the title of today's essay, "strangelove."
"The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the more greater his knowledge becomes. Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties . . . Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows." ('Abdu'l-Baha, Star of the West, vol. XIV, no. 2, p. 41, quoted in, letter from the Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
I must say that sometimes I feel strange love for my kids. I see them taking the easy way, playing video games and reading nothing but comics and I think, if only life would deal them a tough card or two so they will not grow up into totally superficial, pleasure-loving beings. And yes, it does feel strange to think that way about these two that I love so much; I understand where the Master is coming from.
Anyway, Lua treasured this strangelove letter. Her biography contains the complete version -- this is only a selection. I have been meaning to scan the complete letter in for you, dear reader, but this is a hectic, rainy, depressing summer and the opportunity has not arisen. Another treasure in the biography is the complete version of the following prayer, of which so far a selection only has been published,
"Thou knowest, O God, and art my Witness that I have no desire in my heart save to attain Thy good pleasure, to be confirmed in servitude unto Thee, to consecrate myself in Thy service, to labour in Thy great vineyard and to sacrifice my all in Thy path. Thou art the All-Knowing and the All-Seeing. I have no wish save to turn my steps, in my love for Thee, towards the mountains and the deserts to loudly proclaim the advent of Thy kingdom, and to raise Thy call amidst all men. O God! Open Thou the way for this helpless one, grant Thou the remedy to this ailing one and bestow Thy healing upon this afflicted one. With burning heart and tearful eyes I supplicate Thee at Thy threshold.
"O God! Protect me from tests. Thou knowest full well that I have turned away from all things and freed myself of all thoughts. I have no occupation save mention of Thee and no aspiration save serving Thee." ('Abdu'l-Baha, a prayer revealed for Lua Getsinger, Quickeners of Mankind, #203, p. 88)
There are instructions on the Web for making your own book, using a handy little template of your own devising. Bookbinding is not a hobby I aspire to, but my dissatisfaction with prayer books has been mounting over the years and now I am tempted to take up the hobby just to make a prayer book that would answer my own spiritual needs. Not only are they overpriced, but they are incomplete and taken out of context as well. Take the above prayer. It is not in any prayer books, important as it is, and even if it were, the place in history of the prayer, its role in the development of the Covenant (as can be seen in the provenance of the above prayer) would not be evident. I want a prayer book with the obligatory prayer in Arabic as well as English. Muslims have no choice but learn their prayers in Arabic, but if a Baha'i wants to do that, well, fugitaboutit. The obstacles are all but insuperable, unless your community happens to have a cultured Arabic speaker willing to read the prayer into a recorder. Our community does not have a Persian speaker, much less an Arabic speaker, much less a cultured one. As a result I feel spiritually hobbled.
Before I close, here is a question for you. Our book representative tried to order the latest Baha'i World Annual Volume, but was informed that it is not being published in hard copy this year, that it will be made available online. My diligent surfing has not turned up any evidence that this has happened yet. Any news about this would be appreciated.