overcoming lethargy and apathy

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Shoghi Effendi, in a passage written not long before his passing, referred to the future of the American nation. And one of the things he mentioned as being within the future of the American nation has arrested my attention in recent years. He said, at that time, that the Bahá’ís of America faced a future challenge. And what was that challenge? In the message published in the book Citadel of Faith, Shoghi Effendi refers to a number of challenges before the American friends, one of which was that “apathy and lethargy [would] paralyze their spiritual faculties in the future.”

We, today, face that test—the test of overcoming apathy and lethargy. The test that those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world. Society around us has lost its vision. It lacks heroes and heroines. They have become discredited. Exposes have been written about them. They have been found to have feet of clay. There are no heroes. There are no heroines. There is no vision.

It is a matter of making it through day by day, being concerned only for one’s self because no one else is interested in us. You survive or not. It is a hard, cruel world out there.

That is not the Bahá’í way. We are people committed to the creation of a new society. We are summoned to heroism. We are summoned to sacrifice. We are summoned to idealism and to altruism. We are people creating a new society, a new civilization. We are people who love and are concerned about generations yet unborn and we are prepared to dedicate our lives that those generations to come, in decades and centuries into the future, may have a better life; may have a life of peace and unity and harmony and the possibility for the full development of their potential.

This is the idealism to which we are summoned as Bahá’ís. We need to overcome the apathy and lethargy of society and stand apart as people dedicated to the creation of a new world.

From a talk given by Peter Khan,
former member of the Universal House of Justice

the value of sharing

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Here are the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to noted philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, author of the essay The Gospel of Wealth.

O respected personage! I have read your work, The Gospel of Wealth, and noted therein truly apposite and sound recommendations for easing the lot of humankind.

To state the matter briefly, the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh advocate voluntary sharing, and this is a greater thing than the equalization of wealth. For equalization must be imposed from without, while sharing is a matter of free choice.

Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds the doing of which was forced upon him. And sharing is a personally chosen righteous act: that is, the rich should extend assistance to the poor, they should expend their substance for the poor, but of their own free will, and not because the poor have gained this end by force. For the harvest of force is turmoil and the ruin of the social order. On the other hand voluntary sharing, the freely-chosen expending of one’s substance, leadeth to society’s comfort and peace. It lighteth up the world; it bestoweth honour upon humankind.

I have seen the good effects of your own philanthropy in America, in various universities, peace gatherings, and associations for the promotion of learning, as I travelled from city to city. Wherefore do I pray on your behalf that you shall ever be encompassed by the bounties and blessings of heaven, and shall perform many philanthropic deeds in East and West. Thus may you gleam as a lighted taper in the Kingdom of God, may attain honour and everlasting life, and shine out as a bright star on the horizon of eternity.

Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp.114-115

“of the increase of his government and peace”

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And the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.

Isaiah 9:6-7

“i am not of the lost”

Still reeling from the shock of hearing of the tragedy in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, Bahá’í artist Munirih Sparrow was inspired to share a video of herself performing “I am not of the lost”, an original song based on words written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to a mother whose son had passed onwards into the spiritual worlds.

The song was originally written for her new album Nightsong, which was released in November 2012. I had the chance to catch up with her recently during a break from touring the USA and asked her about the song and its significance.

Originally I went searching for a prayer for mothers, in my search I came upon this prayer. It was beautiful and comforting and had a feeling of “otherworldliness”.

A few years ago a close family member of mine lost her baby girl Ocean and around the time of writing that song it would have been Ocean’s 12th birthday. As I tried to put the writing to music, I literally asked Ocean to help me. Now, I know that sounds pretty “fuu-fuu” but spirits in the next world are always inspiring us and few artists create by themselves. My family continues to grieve Ocean’s death and I just had this feeling that she was there with a message of love and comfort for her parents.

On Friday, she dedicated the song as a prayer for the mothers and fathers of Newtown who lost their children, describing the importance of prayers and music in bringing about healing and peace in the face of grief and loss.

In the wake of such sad events as we saw in Newtown I feel confirmed in my belief in the power of prayer and music. Not only is that prayer important to the families who are personally devastated by these events but also for people like you and me who do not know these families but are still so saddened and upset.

It is prayers like these that assist us all in grieving and processing our anger and sadness about this event and others going on around the world. Through prayer we make peace in our hearts and our communities.

Munirih’s words largely reflect my experience helping Quynh’s family to grieve after her father’s sudden passing in August 2010. As many have said before, there are no words for the pain felt when a loved one passes away; particularly the pain of losing a child, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá calls “heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance”. Two things helped us recover from our grief: the power of prayer—of spiritual conversation with God and intercession on behalf of those who have passed onwards—and the power of community. I suppose these are common to all humanity; we all tend to lean on each other, and on a Higher Power, when we feel overwhelmed by suffering.

Learn a little more about Munirih Sparrow, and listen to her music on her Bandcamp site.

See also: the prayer vigil offered in Newtown; a few of my reflections on the tragedy.

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