ascension of ‘abdu’l-bahá

ascension of 'abdu'l-baháWe awoke after only a brief rest, and slipped downstairs quietly. lighting candles and gathering around the fireplace, we placed His portrait before us and began to call to mind His life, His sufferings, His legacy. It was 91 years ago tonight that He, the Master, the Mystery of God, had passed onwards into the spiritual worlds, a most unique and blessed soul returning to His place of origin, having done as much as He could with the time allotted to Him in the limited, physical worlds.

We commemorated His passing with reflections on the sufferings He endured, reading a section of His Will and Testament in which He described the calamities heaped upon Him by those who broke Baha’u’lláh’s Covenant:

O MY LORD, my heart’s Desire, Thou Whom I ever invoke, Thou Who art my Aider and my Shelter, my Helper and my Refuge! Thou seest me submerged in an ocean of calamities that overwhelm the soul, of afflictions that oppress the heart, of woes that disperse Thy gathering, of ills and pains that scatter Thy flock. Sore trials have compassed me round and perils have from all sides beset me. Thou seest me immersed in a sea of unsurpassed tribulation, sunk into a fathomless abyss, afflicted by mine enemies and consumed with the flame of their hate, enkindled by my kinsmen with whom Thou didst make Thy strong Covenant and Thy firm Testament, wherein Thou biddest them turn their hearts to this wronged one, to keep away from me the foolish, the unjust, and refer unto this lonely one all that about which they differ in Thy Holy Book, so that the Truth may be revealed unto them, their doubts may be dispelled and Thy manifest Signs be spread abroad.

Yet now Thou seest them, O Lord, my God! with Thine eye that sleepeth not, how that they have broken Thy Covenant and turned their backs thereon, how with hate and rebelliousness they have erred from Thy Testament and have arisen intent upon malice.

As a testament to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life, upon His passing, the entire city of Haifa was swept by “an unprecedented stir and tumult, and filling all hearts with unutterable grief”. This grief transcended all boundaries of race, nation and creed, uniting “Jews and Christians and Muslims and Druzes, of all persuasions and denominations; Arabs and Turks and Kurds and Armenians and other ethnic groups… in mourning His passing, in being aware of a great loss they had suffered.” (H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 452.)

This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of His visit to North America, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada has asked each of us to consider how each of us might carry on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s legacy through our own actions, becoming involved, as He did, with the people around Him, striving to improve their situations and contribute to their well-being, and to be to each one of them a channel of God’s grace. Six years ago on this day, I wrote down my own personal list of “to-do” items, many of which still stand: increasing my involvement with children’s classes; encouraging others to serve in whatever capacity they are able; making effort to turn towards God each day, imploring His assistance; teaching and serving with selflessness and humility. On this day, then, I concentrate my thoughts on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and ask God to help me follow His example more closely, little by little, day by day, and to “strengthen me in my servitude“.

conquering oneself

Grabbed this wonderful quote from Melody on Facebook. (Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing much more than a few borrowed Facebook statuses starting in December, along with some other fairly significant changes.) Shoghi Effendi would know plenty about conquering the self, of course, having spent several years doing just that after he learned that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had named him to be the Guardian in His Will and Testament. I feel like I’ve been working on this myself for so long, and wish I was a little further along in my self-conquering work, but then don’t we all?

‘Now,’ he said, ‘Every Bahá’í in the world, every person in the world, has to do exactly that same thing. Whether you’re a Hand of the Cause, whether you’re a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, whether you’re a member of a national Assembly, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re a pioneer, whether you’re a administrator, regardless of what you are, with anything in the Cause, every Bahá’í must fight with himself and conquer himself. And when he has conquered himself, them he becomes a true instrument for the service of the Cause of God. And not until then! This is what every Bahá’i in the world should know.’

And this one of the main things I want you to get out of this talk tonight. The Guardian’s instructions that every individual must fight with himself, must conquer himself, must overcome his lower nature, must overcome his self, and turn himself over to God, so that the Holy Spirit can function through you. For when the Holy Spirit functions through you, then you will gain victory after victory. Because the Holy Spirit is the creative aspect of God and it cannot do other than win victories and make successes for the Cause.

Extract from a talk by Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas,
transcribed from a recording made in Johannesburg, South Africa, October 31, 1958

honour the sacrifice, not the war

A friend shared the following as a status update on Facebook recently. I was going to repost it there myself, but it’s long enough to warrant its own blog post. Out of all the comments people had posted about Remembrance Day, this is the one that stood out for me the most.

As we remember those who have lost their lives in conflict, we should honour the bravery and the sacrifice of these individuals, and always think of them with great respect and gratitude. But we must be cautious that we never honour or romanticize war itself. War will never be the solution.

“Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and nonexistence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition, but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and nonexistence result. Everything partakes of this nature and is subject to this principle, for the creative foundation in all its degrees and kingdoms is an expression or outcome of love. Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests. This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. Therefore, comparison with the methods and results of ancient warfare is out of the question.

According to an intrinsic law all phenomena of being attain to a summit and degree of consummation, after which a new order and condition is established. As the instruments and science of war have reached the degree of thoroughness and proficiency, it is hoped that the transformation of the human world is at hand and that in the coming centuries all the energies and inventions of man will be utilized in promoting the interests of peace and brotherhood. Therefore, may this esteemed and worthy society for the establishment of international peace be confirmed in its sincere intentions and empowered by God. Then will it hasten the time when the banner of universal agreement will be raised and international welfare will be proclaimed and consummated so that the darkness which now encompasses the world shall pass away.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá

rest, composure, and progress

Two good friends of mine, a couple who I met while pioneering in the province of Quebec a while ago, taught me a beautiful Baha’i children’s song. I forget what it’s called, but the lyrics of the chorus are: “Follow in the footsteps of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá / And in the pathway of the Abhá Beauty”. It’s going through my head right now. Anyone who’s taught children’s classes based on the Ruhi curriculum has had the chance to memorize plenty of stories about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and can probably call them to mind at a moment’s notice: The Merchant and the Coal, Lua Getsinger and the Poor Man, The Crystal Water, The Expensive Coat, and so on. These stories form the basis of a moral structure by which children can examine situations and determine what response would be in keeping with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. What a blessing we have in the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá—a perfect example.

A few days ago I was getting ready for our weekly neighbourhood children’s class, going over the lesson and the activities we had planned. For various reasons—perhaps including the weather, a long trip we’d taken for a day-long training workshop, and the fact I’d just had a wisdom tooth taken out—I felt tired. All the same, we had planned the class for the next day, and there was no good reason to cancel or postpone it; in fact, we all agreed that we had arranged the best date for it. So with everything prepared, we drifted off to sleep, to get as much rest as we could. The next day I was still fatigued, and I could feel the insistent self in me trying to come up with ways and reasons to postpone the class. Finding none, I turned my thoughts to the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, especially to his trip to the West, when he spent every day moving from place to place, seeking no rest, continually engaged in serving his fellow human beings and in spreading the glad-tidings of Bahá’u’lláh’s Cause. As the Universal House of Justice recounted in its Ridván Message of 2011 (168 B.E.):

Tirelessly, He expounded the teachings in every social space: in homes and mission halls, churches and synagogues, parks and public squares, railway carriages and ocean liners, clubs and societies, schools and universities. Uncompromising in defence of the truth, yet infinitely gentle in manner, He brought the universal divine principles to bear on the exigencies of the age. To all without distinction—officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, sceptics—He imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies. He demonstrated by word and deed such compassion and generosity that hearts were utterly transformed. No one was turned away.

These thoughts seemed to buoy my spirit, and solidify in me the desire to serve. I was further confirmed by the positive response of friends and family—whether Bahá’í or otherwise—when I my updated my status on Facebook, saying, “Tired, but still getting ready for children’s class tonight. Thinking of the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who taught and served humanity so tirelessly his whole life through.” Continue reading