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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?

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A New Prayer for Parents

O Divine Providence!  Immerse the father and mother of this servant of Thy Threshold in the ocean of Thy forgiveness, and purge and sanctify them from every sin and transgression.  Grant them Thy forgiveness and mercy, and bestow upon them Thy gracious pardon.  Thou, verily, art the Pardoner, the Ever-Forgiving, the Bestower of abundant grace.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Twenty-six Prayers Revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of His passing, number 13)

When I was first looking at the effects of my childhood trauma, I knew I had to forgive but I wasn’t ready yet.  The best I could do was to ask God to forgive them for me.  Because the Bab had told us that “It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents” and that “Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!”  (The Báb, Lights of Guidance, p. 230).  Recognizing that praying for my parents was in my best interest, I was highly motivated to memorize the prayer for parents and say it frequently, though I’m still not remembering to to it after every prayer!

When I was looking at the newly released prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, I was happy to see a new prayer for parents and wanted to compare the two.

In the earlier prayer we’re really just asking God to “submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace”, but in the new prayer we’re asking so much more:

  • immerse them . . . in the ocean of Thy forgiveness
  • purge and sanctify them from every sin and transgression
  • grant them Thy forgiveness and mercy
  • bestow upon them Thy gracious pardon

For this abuse survivor, this asks so much more from God, specific to what I would want for them and for myself.  I think I’ll memorize this one too.

Knowing how to ask God to forgive them and me, 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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Abuse Happens when We Come From our Lower Nature 

As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development.   (Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, to this author, 9 September 1992)

The first time my heart was broken was when I was first sexually abused by my father, and hearing my mother say in response: “I wish she’d never been born.”  With this criticism, I believed it was my fault.  Neither the abuse, nor her hurtful comment had anything to do with me, though I believed it did.

For over 50 years, I told myself things like “you’re unlovable”; “you deserve to be used for sex”; “life will always be like this” etc.  As a small child, these statements made sense as I was trying to make sense of the world the only way I knew how.  As an adult, though, the House of Justice taught me that I had to learn to separate their actions from the meaning I gave to them.  I came to realize that these beliefs (and more) were just lies coming from my lower nature, and I would be just as responsible to God for the “abuse” I was heaping on myself; as my parents would be for the abuse they heaped on me!   The scale of the sin might be different, but we were all acting from our lower natures.

Once I realized that my parent’s abusive actions arose from their lower natures, which hooked into my lower nature (when I believed the abuse had anything to do with me), I was able to get free of both my anger and my self-pity.

Learning that when I can attain this level of insight, I free myself from criticism and anger; and foster my spiritual development, 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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Praying for our Parents

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love. Verily, Thou art the Giver, the For­giver and the Kind!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers (US Edition), p. 65)

In the days when I was so angry with my parents for the abuse they perpetrated on me as an adult, and their choice not to talk to me about it; in the days when I couldn’t forgive, I found this prayer that I could use, remembering that the Bab had promised that:

Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense! (Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 217).

Although I wasn’t yet ready to forgive, I knew that I could ask God to forgive them for me, and that it would benefit me as well as them.  That’s what was in my heart, when I was saying this prayer.

I like using this prayer because it reminds me:

  • God accepts our intercession in behalf of our parents
  • Asking for God’s forgiveness for my parents is one of His special infinite bestowals
  • The service and efforts I make will submerge them in the Ocean of His grace
  • God is the Giver, the For­giver and the Kind (for both me and my parents)

Knowing that when I use this prayer, God will also forgive me, and submerge me in the Ocean of His grace, 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 Anger and Bitterness

 

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Children Learn First to Obey their Parents, and then to Obey God

Parents must exert every effort to rear their offspring to be religious, for should the children not attain this greatest of adornments, they will not obey their parents, which in a certain sense means that they will not obey God. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Education, p. 6)

Children learn to be obedient to their parents first because they are the only authority figure they know. This allegiance is then transferred to God. For children like me, who grew up with abusive parents, who never received love or mercy or forgiveness, the concept of a loving God is just an intellectual knowing.

I’m 63 and my parents are long dead, but I’m still waiting for God’s punishment and have driven myself into burnout and adrenal exhaustion trying to earn enough spiritual brownie points to earn a place in heaven.

Just this week someone helped me finally see why, after being a loyal, devoted and deepened Bahá’í for nearly 40 years, I react so strongly and negatively to Ruhi and letters from our beloved House of Justice: I’ve seen them as a growing list of tasks from God (my Father), which I have to complete on time, perfectly or I will be punished by God or His representatives on earth (the Institutions). It’s been a terrible way to live! Thank God I now understand!

Never having personal experience with anyone approaching the All-Loving, the All-Merciful or the Ever-Forgiving, I can step out in faith, trusting God to heal this deep and far-reaching primal wound, 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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When to Leave a Marriage

There is a case recorded where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to a Western believer who had sought His advice. She was told that she should remain faithful and forbearing towards her husband but, should his cruelty become unendurable, she should leave him to himself and live separately from him, as this was better and more accept­able.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 July, 1987)

We know from the Bahá’í Writings that even though divorce is “abhorred by God; “strongly condemned”; “very strongly frowned upon; “only under rare and urgent, very exceptional and unbearable circumstances be resorted to”; and that “you should … make every effort to hold your marriage together, especially for the sake of your children”,  it’s also “permissible after “prayer and self-sacrificing effort” and after “the lapse of one full year”.  When my marriage was over, I often wondered:  Are there exceptions to the rule?  That’s why this quote was so helpful.

Although my husband wasn’t deliberately cruel, his actions inadvertently triggered my childhood trauma and I no longer felt safe in the marriage.  It was a great comfort to know that while being faithful and forbearing towards him, that leaving him to himself and living separately was better and more acceptable in God’s eyes. This year of patience (or year of waiting) gave me the time I needed to consult with the Institutions, deepen in the Writings on marriage and divorce, pray and determine whether or not I felt “irreconcilable aversion and antipathy”.

Knowing I belong to a Faith that understands my situation and gives me guidance on what to do, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read through 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  Kindle

 

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