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Waiting on God’s Direction

However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

It’s hard for me to rely on God when I’m impatient for something to happen or a quick decision to be made and I’m learning that it’s at these times I need to hold tight to His cord even more.  Test number one!

It’s even harder to do it with patience, let alone “utmost patience”.  Test number two!

It’s harder still to submit to God’s will, especially if I have to be “utmost patient” for years, as I’ve had to do with several important issues that apparently, it’s not within my power to rush.  And even harder when God’s given me a disappointing NO!  Test number three!

It’s also hard to be resigned (or worse yet, radiantly acquiescent) in the face of so many tests.  Test number four!

And calm?  Really, God?  On top of everything else, you want me to be calm, when so many emotions are churning around inside me? Test number five!

And finally, to not let anyone know I’m struggling, to wear that “Feast face”, so that everyone around me would think that I’m “in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity”.  Test number six!

So many tests embedded in that one quote.

Knowing that reliance on God comes with other things I have to consider, and that all He wants is for me to strive, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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Have Hope. This Too Shall Pass

Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Fire Tablet, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 317)

Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Fire Tablet, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 317)

Have hope. It will not always be so.  (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2015)

As we were entering into our 4th (this time semi) lockdown, with the rapid spread of the Omicron virus, I began to despair.  Not this again, I thought.  I can’t bear it.  But of course, I can, and I must and I will.

I was contemplating these three quotes and trying to elevate my thoughts and overcome my despair, when I came across the following perspective from a someone on Facebook.  I’m not sure how it popped up on my feed, as I don’t know him, and don’t have any mutual friends, so I can only believe it was the hand of God, trying to reassure me.

For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million.

When you’re 29, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet.

When you’re 41, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills six million. At 52, the Korean War starts and five million perish.

At 64 the Vietnam War begins, and it doesn’t end for many years. Four million people die in that conflict. Approaching your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could well have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening.

As you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends. Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How do you survive all of that? A kid in 1985 didn’t think their 85 year old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet those grandparents (and now great grandparents) survived through everything listed above.

Perspective is an amazing art. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Let’s be smart, help each other out, and we will get through this. In the history of the world, there has never been a storm that lasted. This too, shall pass.

It gave me such hope, that I posted it on my own Facebook page, and my cousin reminded me that our grandmother had been born in 1900 and moved on a horse-drawn covered wagon from Nebraska to Edmonton, in western Canada with her family, for the free land grants.  Not only did she endure every one of the calamities above, but her entire world also changed in that move.  Could I withstand so many ordeals?  I really doubt it!  Leaving my “severe mental tests” from childhood trauma aside, all I have to deal with is “stay home to stay safe”.  It seems like such a small thing, in comparison with everything she suffered.

I have a hard time relating to Bahá’u’lláh’s suffering, but I can certainly understand my grandmother’s.  If she can do it, it’s in my DNA and I can too.

Knowing I have resilience built into my DNA, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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The Truth About Unbearable Tests

No one should expect, upon becoming a Bahá’í, that faith will not be tested, and to our finite understanding of such matters these tests may occasionally seem unbearable. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 341)

This Plan will test their stamina, their willpower, and the strength of their love for those who dwell alongside them. (Universal House of Justice, to the Bahá’ís of the World, 4 January 2022)

I’ve just been reading 19 pages from the last 3 letters arising from the meeting between the Counsellors and the Universal House of Justice, outlining the upcoming 9-year Plan, including the most recent letter which came out today.  Needless to say, it’s overwhelming!

Several things stand out in my mind – the focus seems to have gone from community building to society building, which is really exciting!  And there will be more focus on developing LSA’s again, when so many have been lost.  International pioneering will again be a focus.  Ruhi will be revising but not creating new branch courses – that will be the responsibility of the institute boards.  And more than any plan I’ve thought I’ve understood before, the focus seems more than ever, on the working in groups of people.

So where do I fit in?  This seems to be answered on page 6 of the 30 December 2021 letter to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors:

The challenge facing the friends serving at the grassroots is essentially the same in every place.  They must be able to read their own reality and ask:  what, in light of the possibilities and requirements at hand, would be fitting objectives to pursue in the coming cycle or series of cycles?

As an isolated believer in an inactive cluster, serving an online community and loving to serve the Faith from behind my computer screen in my pajamas, where does that leave me?  Don’t expect not to be tested!  I may have to give up my comfort zone and detach from the things I hold most sacred, in order to enable the Faith to grow according to God’s will and not my own.

Ya Baha’u’l-Abha!

Seeing the end in the beginning, through the vision of the House of Justice, I am grateful!

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Days of Blissful Joy 

O my servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)

Funny story: In the early days of my recovery, I wrote to the House of Justice for guidance, and they sent me this quote without attribution, so for a very long time, I thought it was written by them, just for me! Imagine my surprise when I discovered it was written by Baha’u’llah for the whole world! My ego was crushed, probably a good thing!

When I first studied this quote in the context of healing from my abusive past, it gave me great comfort knowing that better days were to come.  Since then, I’ve had what seems to have been a lifetime of “things contrary to my wishes” happen to such an extent that I’ve stopped hoping and dreaming.

It’s possible I could be alive for another 30 years and I want the rest of my life to be different.  I don’t want to spend any more days waiting to die, so I can have a better life.  This quote promises that I can have days of blissful joy in this world, so I want to hold onto that hope and look for these days.  It’s possible they may have come (and be coming) in ways I didn’t anticipate.

I might never get anything I pray for, but if I approach life with radiant acquiescence, I might find the joy in the tests and struggles and spiritual growth.

Finding solace and confirmation that I won’t always get what I want, I can accept life on life’s terms 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!

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Adjusting our Motives 

First and foremost, one should use every possible means to purge one’s heart and motives, otherwise, engaging in any form of enterprise would be futile. It is also essential to abstain from hypocrisy and blind imitation, inasmuch as their foul odour is soon detected by every man of understanding and wisdom.  (From a letter dated 19 December 1923 to the Bahá’ís of the East—translated from the Persian, in Living the Life: Excerpts from the Writings of Shoghi Effendi, Third Edition (New Delhi: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1997), p. 2, from Give me Thy Grace to Serve Thy Loved Ones, Compilation for the 2018 Counsellors’ Conference, [5])

For so many years, I turned myself into a pretzel, trying to be whoever “you” wanted me to be, so that I could get the love and respect I didn’t get as a child.  I didn’t even know I was doing it.  I looked at other people who were successful and I copied what they were doing, and mostly I did it so well that I fit in and felt as if I belonged.  Sometimes I felt like a fraud, but mostly I believed I was on the right track.  Then I found this quote, and in studying it, several things came to my mind:

  • When I looked at my motives, I could see that I was trying to manipulate others into liking my falsely created self.
  • The hypocrisy was that when I was in “blind imitation” of other people, I wasn’t being the Susan that God created.

But having this awareness, didn’t stop the behavior, because who was I if I wasn’t the person I thought I was?  It’s taken several years in 12 step recovery to let go of this false self, strengthen my relationship with God, and learn to take my direction from him.  This process is taking me further away from who I wanted to be, and I’m not sure where I’m going, but I trust God with the process.

One day at a time, I’m reclaiming my nobility and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

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‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Love for the Sacrifices Made By the Poor and Lowly

When we read biographies of the early heroes and heroines of the Faith, we often read about people who were able to find time and money to serve the Faith, but we seldom read about how ‘Abdu’l-Baha regarded the sacrifices made by those with extremely limited means.

He respected even the most humble contributions:

The following touching incident took place one day when we were seated at table with the Master.  A Persian friend arrived who had passed through `Ishqabad,. He presented a cotton handkerchief to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who untied it, and saw therein a piece of dry black bread, and a shrivelled apple.  The friend exclaimed: “A poor Baha’i workman came to me: `I hear thou goest into the presence of our Beloved. Nothing have I to send, but this my dinner. I pray thee offer it to Him with my loving devotion.'”  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spread the poor handkerchief before Him, leaving His own luncheon untasted. He ate of the workman’s dinner, broke pieces off the bread, and handed them to the assembled guests, saying: “Eat with me of this gift of humble love.”  (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway)

Once, when I lived in Baghdad,” He [‘Abdul-Bahá] went on, “I was invited to the house of a poor thorn-picker. In Baghdad the heat is greater even than in Syria; and it was a very hot day. But I walked twelve miles to the thorn-picker’s hut. Then his wife made a little cake out of some meal for Me and burnt it in cooking it, so that it was a black, hard lump. Still that was the best reception I ever attended.”  (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

Even the contribution of one small coin was important to ‘Abdu’l-Baha:

All the Bahá’ís in Iran loved and respected Haji Amin, and many wonderful stories are told about his sincerity and devotion.  Once, when he was about to set off for the Holy Land, a very poor woman gave him a small coin to take with him.  Haji Amin thanked her and put it in his pocket.  As soon as he arrived at the home of ‘Abdul-Bahá, he presented to Him the donations he had collected, as he always did.  The Master would usually thank him and praise him for his untiring labours.  Haji Amin’s integrity was not to be questioned, and he had never made a mistake in his calculations.  Indeed, it was not difficult for him to keep his accounts as he never had any money of his own.  This time, however, to his utter astonishment, when ‘Abdul-Bahá was presented with the money, He looked at Haji Amin kindly and said something was missing from the amount.  Haji Amin left the Master’s presences with much sadness, unable to understand what could have happened.  He went to his room in tears and prostrated himself in prayer.  As he did so, he felt a hard piece of metal under his knee.  It was the small coin the poor woman had given him to take to the Holy Land as he was leaving.  The coin had slipped through a hole in his pocket into the lining of his long coat.  Haji Amin immediately took the coin and went to ‘Abdul-Bahá.  The Master showered His praises on him . He kissed the coin and said this was worth more than all the other donations because it had been given with the greatest sacrifice.  (Gloria Faizi, Stories about Bahá’í Funds, p. 47-48)

He knew people’s circumstances, appreciated their sacrifices and wished they would have kept the money for themselves:

One day ‘Abdu’l-Bahá learned that a lady had cut her lovely hair in order to contribute to the building of the House of Worship in Wilmette.  He wrote to her with loving appreciation:  ‘On the one hand, I was deeply touched, for thou hadst sheared off those fair tresses of thine with the shears of detachment from this world and of self-sacrifice in the path of the Kingdom of God.  And on the other, I was greatly pleased, for that dearly-beloved daughter hath evinced so great a spirit of self-sacrifice as to offer up so precious a part of her body in the pathway of the Cause of God.  Hadst thou sought my opinion, I would in no wise have consented that thou shouldst shear off even a single thread of thy comely and wavy locks; nay, I myself would have contributed in thy name for the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar.  This deed of thine is, however, an eloquent testimony to thy noble spirit of self-sacrifice.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 113)

In the afternoon He called me. He kept me in the room a long, long time, seeing many others while I sat there. When He had dismissed them all, He came close to me and took my hand.  “There is a matter,” He said, “about which I want to speak to you.  The photographs of the portrait you painted of Me, you have offered them for the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. I know your circumstances, Juliet. You have not complained to Me, you have said nothing, but I know them. I know your affairs are in confusion, that you have debts, that you have that house, that you have to take care of your mother. Now I want you to keep the money” (for the photographs) “for yourself. No, no; do not feel unhappy,” (as I began to cry) “this is best. You must do exactly as I say. I will speak about this Myself to the believers. I will tell them,” He laughed, “that is it My command.”    I thanked Him brokenly.   (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

He loved when the poor prayed for Him:

One day the Master, with one of His daughters, approached a native woman, dirty and almost savage-looking.  Hers had been a hard life as the daughter of a desert chief.  Though she was not a Baha’i, she quite naturally loved the Master, who was so genuinely kind.  Lingering a moment, she bowed and greeted the Master.  Kindly He made reply and, somehow knowing her need, ‘pressed a coin into her hand’ as He passed by.  Obviously, she was filled with appreciation.  One of the Master’s daughters told an observer that this woman had, in that brief encounter, said to the Master that ‘she would pray for Him’, and graciously He had thanked her.  (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 91)

When ‘Abdu’l-Baha was knighted by the British, He chose to drive by horse and carriage, with His faithful servant, instead of in the chauffeured car that was sent for Him:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá consented to accept the knighthood – but He was not impressed with worldly honour or ceremony. Even a formality must be simplified. An elegant car was sent to bring Him to the Governor’s residence, but the chauffeur did not find the Master at His home. People scurried in every direction to find Him. Suddenly He appeared ‘… alone, walking His kingly walk, with that simplicity of greatness which always enfolded Him.’ Isfandiyar, His long-time faithful servant, stood near at hand. Many were the times when he had accompanied the Master on His labours of love. Now, suddenly, with this elegant car ready to convey his Master to the Governor, he felt sad and unneeded. Intuitively, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá must have sensed this – He gave him a sign. Isfandiyar dashed off – the horse was harnessed, the carriage brought to the lower gate and the Master was driven to a side entrance of the garden of the Governor. Isfandiyar was joyous – he was needed even yet. Quietly, without pomp, ‘Abbas Effendi  arrived at the right time at the right place and did honour to those who would honour Him when He was made Sir ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas, K.B.E. – a title which He almost never used. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá)

Here’s a story that always moves me to tears!  It’s the story of Nettie Tobin, a poor woman whose husband had died the day before, choosing a rock which ‘Abdu’l-Baha used as the corner-stone for the temple in Wilmette:

The story of the dedication stone is interesting in its own right.  When the Temple had been first proposed in 1903, a Persian Baha’i, had sent a letter to the American Baha’is saying that “the glory and honor of the first stone is equivalent to all the stones and implements which will later be used there.”  This excited Nettie (Esther) Tobin, a loving, humble woman who earned a meager living as a seamstress.  Praying that God would send her something she could offer as a gift, she went to a nearby construction site, told the foreman about the Temple, and asked if she could have an inexpensive building stone.  The foreman liked her story and showed her a pile of broken limestone blocks that were no good for building and said she could take one.  With the help of a neighbor, she wrapped her stone in a piece of carpet, tied on a clothesline and dragged it home.  To get the stone to the Temple site, it was carried by hand on two different streetcars, dragged on the ground, and carried in a wheelbarrow.  One of the streetcar conductors was not thrilled to have a rock on board, but finally allowed them to put it on the back platform.  The last six blocks from the closest streetcar station were the most difficult.  At first, Nettie, her brother Leo Leadroot, and Mirza Mazlum, an elderly Persian Baha’i neighbor, tried to carry the stone, but after three blocks, they were exhausted.  Corrine True and Cecelia Harrison had been waiting at the Temple site for them and finally went to look for them.  Mirza Mazlum had three women put the stone on his and he managed to stagger another half block before coming to the end of his endurance.  The stone was left there overnight.  Nettie came back the next morning with a homemade cart.  Trying to load the stone into the cart by herself, she managed to break the handle of the cart and injured her wrist.  A helpful fellow repaired her cart and helped her load the stone into it.  With two blocks to go, Nettie managed to persuade the newsboy to help her get the cart to the western corner of the Temple land and onto the site, where the cart promptly collapsed into pieces.  There, the stone stayed.  People in other parts of the world, including Abdul-Bahá, sent stones for the Temple, but none ever arrived.  So, on the day He broke the ground, only Nettie Tobin’s contribution of the “stone which the builders refused” would be available to serve as the marker dedicated by Abdul-Bahá.  (Earl Redman, Abdul-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 114-115)

I also love the book Stories About Baha’i Funds, by Gloria Faizi, which contains many poignant, inspirational, and even humorous stories of the sacrifices made by poor people to the Fund.