The Laws of God are not imposition of will, or of power, or pleasure, but the resolutions of truth, reason and justice.
Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 154
I was so glad when I first ‘got’ the Baha’i concept of laws. I’ve always said that I’m a Baha’i because the Baha’i Faith just makes so much intuitive sense, and for me this was further confirmation. Basically, people get all down about laws sometimes because they think THE MAN is laying it down on them, tying them up with his RULES AND REGULATIONS and not allowing them their FREEDOM!!!! Except that laws (or at least the Laws of God) are actually nothing like that. They’re more like statements of the principles underlying all reality. Like, for example, the law of prayer. Baha’is must pray every day; it’s one of Baha’u’llah’s Laws. But that doesn’t mean there is (or indeed should be) a PRAYER POLICE that busts down your door and messes you up good if you don’t say your prayers every day. Prayer is a conversation between oneself and God. Baha’u’llah teaches us that we need to converse with God every day in order to further our own spiritual growth—to allow our souls to grow and be healthy. So, just as going a long time without food will make our bodies weak, going a long time without praying will make our souls weak. That’s a reality of our existence, and it’s enshrined in a Law for our own good. Human beings have free choice, so we can choose to observe or disregard that Law. That doesn’t change the facts, of course; the law will still apply. And so we continue to pray every day—it allows us to remain in harmony with the natural rhythms of the universe, otherwise known as following God’s Will.
Personal effort is indeed a vital prerequisite to the recognition and acceptance of the Cause of God. No matter how strong the measure of Divine grace, unless supplemented by personal, sustained and intelligent effort it cannot become fully effective and be of any real and abiding advantage.
From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, Feb. 27, 1938
This struck me when I read it tonight, because of what it’s saying—personal effort will make at least two things happen: 1. Recognition and acceptance of the Cause of God, and 2. Divine grace will become fully effective. Interesting, because my own understanding of those concepts—those of recognition and acceptance of the Baha’i Faith, and that of Divine grace—never really included a lot of thought about the effort needed to make them happen. I guess #1 could be somewhat understandable for someone who was brought up in a Baha’i family; to me, the Baha’i Faith made sense as a matter of familiarity before it ever became a conscious spiritual decision. As in, “of course I accept the Baha’i Faith, I’m so familiar with it.” (There’s more to acceptance than that, of course, but I won’t get into that right now.) My reaction to #2 probably shows that I don’t understand the concept of grace—and, perhaps, the concept of God Himself and of His relation to the individual—well enough. It’s as if I always figured God’s grace would pop up and fix things as long as I prayed enough, without me having to make a whole lot of effort. You know, like nine doves would suddenly settle onto my balcony, each bearing an olive branch. Heh. We sometimes end up believing strange things if we don’t bring ourselves to account properly each day…
Here are two interesting quotes from the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi—who was known for his tireless efforts to advance the Cause of God during his years as Head of the Faith—about rest and relaxation. The second one I was aware of, but the first one I’d never read before… I always imagined Shoghi Effendi was one of those people who could function with only a few hours of sleep a night.
Regarding your question: there are very few people who can get along without eight hours sleep. If you are not one of those, you should protect your health by sleeping enough. The Guardian himself finds that it impairs his working capacity if he does not try and get a minimum of seven or eight hours.
In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 15 September 1951 to two believers
…you should not neglect your health, but consider it the means which enables you to serve. It — the body — is like a horse which carries the personality and spirit, and as such should be well cared for so it can do its work! You should certainly safeguard your nerves, and force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer and meditation, but for real rest and relaxation….
In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 23 November 1947 to an individual believer
Maybe if I re-read these enough times, it’ll encourage me to get to sleep on time every night :O
Teaching is the source of Divine Confirmation. It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right.
From a letter dated 22 August 1957 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer
Tonight at the Ottawa Baha’i Centre, there’s a community potluck organized by the east-end Baha’is (from “Sector 1” as it’s habitually called). The sun isn’t down yet and already the tantalizing smell of food wafts through the air—oven-baked pasta, casseroles, persian rice, curries and meat. Fasting heightens the senses, especially when it relates to eating—the smell and taste of food seem amplified, and so much fuller. People have been slowly trickling in with bowls and platters large and small. Now, a program is starting in the main hall as I sit and type these words in the bookstore; one of the youth is delivering a presentation about his first time fasting. “Today is the fourteenth day of fasting, and I’m still going strong,” he says. “Fasting is of two kinds, material and spiritual,” he says, quoting from the writings of the Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi. “The material fasting is abstaining from food or drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual, ideal fasting is this, that man abstain from selfish passions, from negligence and from satanic animal traits. Therefore, material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting.” Prayers and devotions follow, as the Baha’is observe this “ideal fasting” in their hearts and spirits, sharing time as a community in worship of their loving Creator. One of the Persian friends, with a strong, solid, and melodious voice which reverberates in the reverent silence, chants a prayer in his native tongue, calling on God to accept our fast. Whether or not they understand the words, the friends—from every race and nationality understand the spirit of this call. He explains to me the gist of the chant once the program ends: “A lover suffers a great deal before he reaches his beloved, but in the process he teaches everyone patience.”
The time is 7:08 PM; the time of “sunset” has officially come, and my mother brings me a glass of water. Another day of fasting is done.