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We All See Reality Differently

Participants in a consultative process see reality from different points of view, and as these views are examined and understood, clarity is achieved.  (Office of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá’í World Centre, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13.  Bahá’í Library Online)

I like this quote because it reminds me that not everyone sees reality from my point of view.  Nowhere has this been more obvious than during this pandemic, where my choice to adhere to government directives and guidance from the House of Justice has been at odds with the behaviour and actions of many of my closest Bahá’í friends.

I became aware of a huge difference of opinions during the first lockdown, when they chose to gather at a cottage for our semi-annual retreat at a time when people were being asked not to come up to their cottages and to avoid the 3-C’s (close faces; closed spaces and crowded places).  I was furious that they would so blatantly disregard the lockdown and potentially put each other at risk.  I was afraid that the gulf between us had widened to such a degree that I’d never be able to find my way back.  I found myself incredibly judgemental, superior and self-righteous and at the same time, I was also jealous because they were continuing on and having fun without me.  They continued to have a retreat in the fall, when we still weren’t allowed to gather in each other’s houses, and it is now is happening again in the third lockdown.  Many of them are not planning to get vaccinated and I wonder if I will ever feel safe to go back to these retreats again.  I am swimming in a sea of poisonous, attack thoughts aimed at people I thought of as my closest friends for over 30 years.

I realized that I had a choice.  I could find a way to allow a difference of opinion and approach them with love and forgiveness; or I could let my bitterness eat away at the foundations of our friendship.  I know how to walk away when the going gets rough.  Now I’ve had to learn how to apply the things I’ve been teaching others in this blog and in my books, so I can keep these friends and at the same time keep my integrity and walk with my head held high with the effect of my decisions too.  Consultation with others has been an important key to remind me that we all have COVID-fatigue and everyone has their limits.  This has helped me be more understanding, and please God, may I continue to let go of judgement so I can hold love in my heart.

Remembering that consultation helps me see reality from different points of view, I can relax and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Consult Effectively

 

 

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Man’s Highest Station

Man’s highest station, however, is attained through faith in God in every Dispensation and by acceptance of what hath been revealed by Him . . .

This quote came to my attention at just the right moment.  My life has been fraught with so much abuse, trauma, loss and disappointment that I often long for my next life to begin.  The Bahá’í Writings promise a much better life next time round and I’m looking forward to that.  I know that one of the purposes in this life is to acquire the virtues I’ll need in the next world, so some time ago, maybe when I was a new Bahá’í, I decided to set the bar high for myself, so that I could perfect as many virtues as possible, to acquire as many “spiritual brownie points” as possible to guarantee my best possible life in the next world.  The Writings are full of “if you do this, God will do that” and being a black and white thinker, I latched onto these and strove to put them all into practice, and then beat myself up mercilessly when I couldn’t reach the standards I thought were being set for me by the Writings and the ongoing guidance of the House of Justice.

Nowhere do I feel this more keenly than when the statistics officer calls and asks what service I’m offering to my mostly inactive, very white cluster with a handful of elderly Bahá’ís who don’t have the energy to participate anymore.  Because I haven’t been able to interest the local Bahá’ís or the wider community in the core activities, most of my service is in this online environment.  My articles for this blog and for the Bahá’í Teachings blog reach so many people that I can take comfort that I am participating in a mass teaching event, and I can view the online environment as my receptive population, but none of it counts in the statistics.  None of it helps my cluster get to milestone 2 (when we aren’t even at milestone 1 yet).  None of it can I find in the ongoing messages of the House of Justice.  All of this leads me into such deep despair that I burned out trying.

I believe that God is happy with my puny efforts, and can look Him in the eye when I get to the Pearly Gates.  I see evidence that He magnifies my teaching and service activities and sends me opportunities to serve in ways that unfold easily and effortlessly.  I know at some level that I can’t bargain with God for a better future, and slowly I’ve been learning about God’s infinite love, mercy and forgiveness of my sins.  I’m learning that I don’t need brownie points.  All of this flies out the window when I read the latest letter from the House of Justice and can’t find me and my efforts in it.  For some time, I’ve been praying most fervently for God to show me in the Writings that my efforts are OK.  Through this process, I’ve come to remember that my purpose in life is to know and worship God and not to get my cluster to milestone 2.

All of this to say that this quote seems to be what I was looking for.  I’ve already reached my highest station, because I have faith in God in every Dispensation and I totally accept everything that has been revealed by Him.  Thank you God for answered prayers.  Please help me remember, so I can stop abasing myself!

Knowing I’ve already reached the highest station there is, I can stop judging myself and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Letting Go of Criticizing Others

 

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God’s Invisible Justice

He hath, however, caused you to be entangled with (the) affairs (of the world), in return for what your hands have wrought in His Cause. This, indeed, is a chastisement which ye, of your own will, have inflicted upon yourselves, could ye but perceive it. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 209)

When I was first trying to come to terms with my childhood abuse, I wanted justice and it was clear I wasn’t going to get it from the legal system because the statue of limitations had passed.  Even if it hadn’t, I’d watched some of my friends go that route, and witnessed first hand how the court system retraumatizes those who’ve been abused, especially as children.

Slowly, the idea of God’s justice came to my awareness and over time, to my attention.  This quote remained in the back of my mind for many years, though, because I just couldn’t get my head around it.  Like many abuse survivors, I couldn’t understand why the perpetrators seemed to not only get away with it, but had materially rich lives as well, whereas many of us lived in poverty and couldn’t seem to get ahead no matter how hard we tried.  It didn’t seem fair, was the general consensus.

One day, something clicked when `Abdu’l-Bahá elaborated on Bahá’u’lláh’s words:

In like manner, they consider spiritual punishment—that is, existential torment and chastisement—to consist in subjection to the world of nature; in being veiled from God; in ignorance and unawareness; in engrossment with covetous desires; in absorption in animal vices; in being marked by evil attributes, such as falsehood, tyranny, and iniquity; in attachment to worldly things; and in immersion in satanic fancies—all of which they reckon to be the greatest of torments and punishments.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, 2014 ed., p. 60, #4)

And now it came together.  Being poor in all save God has its own rewards, in that I had no choice but to turn to God for my daily needs.  When we have everything, it’s easy to forget God and to think that our good fortune is of our own doing.

Being subjected to the world of nature; being veiled from God; being ignorant and unaware; being engrossed with covetous desires; being absorbed by animal vices; being marked by evil attributes, such as falsehood, tyranny, and iniquity; being attached to worldly things; and being immersed in satanic fancies is surely chastisement and the greatest of torments and punishments!  Given the choice of their lives and mine, I’m glad to be close to God and remember Him every day.

Leaving justice in God’s hands and trusting His justice, I can relax and I am grateful.

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Overcoming Abuse and Violence

 

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The Courage to be Chaste

As to chastity, this is one of the most challenging concepts to get across in this very permissive age, but Bahá’ís must make the utmost effort to uphold Bahá’í standards, no matter how difficult they may seem at first. Such efforts will be made easier if the youth will understand that the laws and standards of the Faith are meant to free them from untold spiritual and moral difficulties in the same way that a proper appreciation of the laws of nature enables one to live in harmony with the forces of the planet…’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 361)

I believe that Bahá’í laws and ordinances, including chastity, are prescriptions from our Divine Physician for leading healthy spiritual and marital lives. Having said that, sometimes I wonder if anyone has any moral principles around chastity anymore.  I think being chaste before marriage and absolutely faithful in marriage have lost their meaning, in the cult of individualism.  No one seems to consider it a sin to have sex with people they aren’t married to anymore, and anyone who has the courage to be chaste, is just labelled a misfit, in our society.

One thing I’ve noticed is that Baha’is who are trying to be chaste usually refrain from talking about their struggle, so no one knows there are others who want to know how to put up good boundaries in a relationship in order to remain chaste.

I was in a gathering of assistants to the auxiliary board one time, and we were taking a course on something or other.  Somehow the topic of sex was brought up and the whole discussion got sidetracked.  Everyone was longing to talk about sex.  Every single one of those assistants had a struggle with it at one level or another.  It was really good to see that – but we didn’t get to talk about it for very long.  And of course, by the time lunch was served, everyone had gone back to “Baha’i-mode” and we couldn’t finish the discussion.

My goal as a teenager was to wait till marriage to have sex, and in the end, I had sex hoping it would lead to marriage, and after a couple of misses, it worked.  But the marriage wasn’t based on spiritual foundations and eventually floundered and died.  As a Bahá’í, I learned why.  Shoghi Effendi, in Lights of Guidance tells us:  “Briefly stated the Bahá’í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practised by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life.”

I tried to teach my son about the importance of waiting till marriage, but he saw hypocrisy when my deeds did not match my words.  I think all parents (including me) can take some of the blame for young people today not even having the concept of waiting till marriage – as the Universal House of Justice points out so clearly in its 28 December 2010 letter to the Counsellors:

What needs to be appreciated in this respect is the extent to which young minds are affected by the choices parents make for their own lives, when, no matter how unintentionally, no matter how innocently, such choices condone the passions of the world – its admiration for power, its adoration of status, its love of luxuries, its attachment to frivolous pursuits, its glorification of violence, and its obsession with self-gratification.

In the same letter, the House says:

Exhortations to remain pure and chaste will only succeed to a limited degree in helping them to resist these forces.

While I was struggling with how to encourage my son to make different choices than I made, in a world where no-one is modeling chastity, I was at a conference where Sue Johanson was the guest speaker.  She won the distinguished “Order of Canada” for being Canada’s foremost sexual educator and counsellor.  For over 35 years, she had a live radio talk show called “Talk Sex with Sue Johanson”, where listeners could call in and ask any question they wanted about sex.  She was in her 70’s when I met her and was still on the air.  I was both uncomfortable and disturbed by the explicit nature of her discussions, which sounded pornographic to me.  I had an opportunity to talk to her at the break.  I told her as a Bahá’í, I was trying to teach my son about abstinence, and she was encouraging young people in their desire to experiment.  She said something I’ve never forgotten:  She said “We have to teach them how their bodies work, so that they understand when they are starting to get into the danger zone.  If no one gives them a vocabulary and teaches them what’s going on in their bodies, they won’t be able to say no, but will just get caught up in the moment.”  This made a lot of sense to me.

Because of the sexual abuse I experienced as a child, I was left with a belief:  “If you touch me, I’ll have to sleep with you.”  So (without making excuses) I had two relationships outside of marriage.  One gave me an opportunity to claim back my body, and the other taught me that I could have a healthy sexual relationship with another human being.

Now I understand the wisdom behind the law of chastity, I plan to be chaste in the future.  In the meantime, I’m not in a relationship, not tempted and very grateful.  But even though I intend to be chaste the next time round, part of me is OK with the idea of never having another relationship if it means I have to be tested again.   I’m not sure if, in this culture, I’d ever find a man willing to respect my boundaries.   Who can I talk to for support in this area?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could share our struggles around sexuality with each other?  My hunch is that if we started doing more home visits we would have the 1:1 time to get to know each other, that’s currently missing when the only time we get together is for Bahá’í activities.  In the absence of clergy to tell us what to do, I’m gaining a much better appreciation of the importance of home visits to help us get to know each other better and share our burdens.  Perhaps then we’ll truly begin to learn how to do as Shoghi Effendi suggests in Living the Life:

“draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to fully draw on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith . . .

It’s not easy to find the courage to be chaste.  Let’s start a dialogue where people can feel safe to talk about their struggles and support each other.  What do you think?

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my books  which can be found on Amazon.  

 

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False News

One of the unfortunate features of the present age is the difficulty of attaining truth, which seems to be an inherent characteristic of the process of disintegration that is assailing humanity in its transition to a new order. “In these days truthfulness and sincerity are sorely afflicted in the clutches of falsehood,” Bahá’u’lláh lamented, “and justice is tormented by the scourge of injustice.” Of course, there are a number of Bahá’í teachings that directly bear on this dilemma. To the extent to which the friends imbibe and hold fast to these teachings, they can guard themselves and their communities from the tumult buffeting society and contribute to its protection and transformation.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 11 February 2021)

How do we find truth quickly online in this day and age?  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation and fake news shared on the web and on social media these days and it’s sometimes hard to know the truth without a lot of fact-checking and digging.  Some fake news websites are structured to make visitors believe they are visiting trusted news sources.  Facebook alone has over 2 billion users (over a quarter of the world’s population), making it hard to police.  Anyone trying to sway people to their own point of view finds an eager, ready, and waiting audience online.  Sadly, the fictions and fabrications that comprise fake news are only a subset of the larger bad news phenomenon, which also encompasses many forms of tabloid journalism as well as shoddy, unresearched, error-filled, and deliberately misleading reporting.

I was happy to see the House of Justice direct this issue head on recently, as we see in the quote above.  It came as somewhat of a relief to be reminded that finding truth seems to be an inherent characteristic of the process of disintegration that is assailing humanity in its transition to a new order.  I should have figured this out on my own, but I didn’t and this helped.

Although we may think that fake news is a new phenomenon, the House points us to a passage where Bahá’u’lláh lamented in the 1800’s: “In these days truthfulness and sincerity are sorely afflicted in the clutches of falsehood, and justice is tormented by the scourge of injustice.”  Surely we see evidence of this in the persecution of the early believers up to this day.

The House of Justice reminds us that there are a number of Bahá’í teachings that directly bear on this dilemma.  This begs the question, which teachings specifically are they thinking of?   Perhaps studying quotes on truth, truthfulness, independent investigation, and lying would be good places to start.  Why, because we’re told in this quote that the extent to which we imbibe and hold fast to these teachings, we can guard ourselves and our communities from the tumult buffeting society and contribute to its protection and transformation.

Knowing where to focus my morning and evening study of the Bahá’í Writings for the tools to contribute to the protection and transformation of our communities, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Making Friends with Sin and Temptation

 

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Healing the Stress Caused by the Pandemic

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 meditation, but for real rest and relaxation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 296

One of my readers asked:

I am interested in perspectives on the healing of the mental and spiritual stresses placed on so many by the forced isolation caused by the pandemic.

There are lots of great articles on the internet about the importance of balancing physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs for optimal health at this time.  Things we can do in each area include:

Spiritual

  • Prayer and Meditation (Reading the Bahá’í Writings morning and night with care and attention)
  • Make God your Best Friend: when we’re missing our loved one, God is always available to us, 24/7, and deepening our relationship with Him helps us achieve our purpose in life
  • Spend time finding God in nature each day

Mental

  • Immerse yourself in the Writings (perhaps by attending a Study Circle)
  • Set goals, preferably in alignment with the direction given by Bahá’í Institutions
  • Stay positive. There’s lots that we can’t control; and lots that we can’t know, but we can watch our thoughts and focus our attention on the positive, perhaps by finding things to be grateful for several times every day
  • Pay attention to your fears and give them to God instead of making them bigger

Emotional

  • Journal your stressors every day – I do it in the form of a “Dear God” letter
  • Make phone calls – hearing other people’s problems can give us a relief from our own
  • Pray with people – reciting the prayers out loud has an effect on our souls and the souls of everyone around us

Physical

  • Healthy eating
  • Lots of water
  • Lots of exercise
  • Lots of good quality sleep
  • Rest and relaxation

All of these things work together synergistically.

Knowing there are lots of practical ways I can care for my body and safeguard my nerves at this time, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

 

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