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.”

Looking back now, it probably would have served me better to stay home and rest, something that I’ve had to do since that time in order to let my body recover after dental surgery. And we should all be aware of the many references in the Bahá’í Writings to getting enough rest and preserving our health in order to better carry out our service to humanity. Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanúm, in her book The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, recalls that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had once written the following words in a tablet to Shoghi Effendi expressing concern about his health:

He is God! Shoghi Effendi, upon him be the glory of the All-Glorious! Oh thou who art young in years and radiant of countenance, I understand you have been ill and obliged to rest; never mind, from time to time rest is essential, otherwise, like unto ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from excessive toil you will become weak and powerless and unable to work. Therefore rest a few days, it does not matter. I hope that you will be under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty.

The challenge to all of us in this respect, of course, is learning the fine art of discerning genuine need for rest from attachment to comfort and ease. Sometimes rest is needed—even essential—but there is likewise a point at which rest becomes excessive and even unhealthy. (Think about what happens to one’s body if it doesn’t get proper exercise.) Discernment is needed to find that dividing line, which is as unique to each one of us as our bodies, their powers and their limitations are unique. What might be a healthy pace for one person might be too fast or slow for another; it might drive one to exhaustion and another to impatience and frustration. Our duty is to learn what we are able to do and whether we could, each day, do more than the last; to be forbearing and understanding with others as they do the same; and to encourage and accompany others in a journey of discovery and a shared path of service. The way forward along this path was illustrated for us by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Tablets of the Divine Plan, in which He urges us:

Consequently, rest ye not, seek ye no composure, attach not yourselves to the luxuries of this ephemeral world, free yourselves from every attachment, and strive with heart and soul to become fully established in the Kingdom of God. Gain ye the heavenly treasures. Day by day become ye more illumined. Draw ye nearer and nearer unto the threshold of oneness. Become ye the manifestors of spiritual favors and the dawning-places of infinite lights!

As we continue to serve in a humble posture of learning, undaunted by the awareness of our own shortcomings, we are “inspired and fortified” by the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. We “set His example before our eyes and fix our gaze upon it,” and “let it be our instinctive guide in our pursuit of the aim of the Plan”. Throughout this dynamic and profound process of building spiritual communities based on service to humanity, we learn to increase, little by little, our capacity to serve—and thus our capacity to draw forth our share from the ocean of God’s grace. The more we make teaching and service the dominating passion of our lives, the more we develop the sort of discernment needed to pursue this passion more effectively.


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