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?
The world today is submerged, amongst other things, in an over-exaggeration of the importance of physical love, and a dearth of spiritual values. In as far as possible the believers should try to realign this and rise above the level of their fellow-men who are, typical of all decadent periods in history, placing so much over-emphasis on the purely physical side of mating. Outside of their normal, legitimate married life they should seek to establish bonds of comradeship and love which are eternal and founded on the spiritual life of man, not on his physical life. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Marriage and Family Life, p. 14)
This is one of the hardest quotes for many people inside and outside the Faith to understand, that our spiritual life is more important than sex. I find it hard to rise above the level of those around me, who I fear are judging me for my “holier than thou” attitude. This creates a barrier between me and other people, because I tend to avoid movies, TV shows, books and magazines that promote sex and stay away from those who who indulge in pornography and extra-marital sex. I don’t mean to be judging them. I mean only to use discernment in how to keep my own thoughts and actions pure. This leads to a lot of loneliness’ and isolation. I’m serving in an inactive cluster so find it hard to maintain relationships with like-minded people.
After a life of moving every two years, I’m coming to realize that I don’t have the ability to seek to establish friendships founded on spiritual life and I’m learning that this is a capacity I can develop, and find true love with my “best lover” and myself first, so that I have that love to give out to others.
It’s OK to rise above the level of my neighbors and put my faith in the importance of maintaining spiritual values, 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!
This is a very sensitive and much misunderstood topic in the Baha’i Faith and it’s one of the areas where we’re under attack. Sincere Baha’is want to know how to answer questions knowledgeably when they arise in teaching situations. There are so many negative articles on the internet that it’s hard to wade through them all to find a true and compassionate look at this topic.
Let’s look first at what the House of Justice has recently had to say on this topic:
Just before Mrs C left the household of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in ‘Akka, ‘He came into her room to say farewell, and seating Himself by the window looked off upon the sea in silence for so long a time that His guest began to wonder if He had forgotten her presence. ‘Then at length He turned to her and said, with that eager speech that is one of His peculiarities: “Mrs C when you go back to New York talk to people about the love of God. People in the world do not talk enough about God. Their conversation is filled with trivialities, and they forget the most momentous subjects. Yet is you speak to them of God they are happy, and presently they open their hearts to you. Often you can not mention this glorious Revelation, for their prejudice would interfere, and they would not listen. But you will find that you can always talk to them about the love of God.”’ ‘Then He went away, and Mrs C sat a long time in the gathering darkness, while the glory of the sun descended upon the glittering waters of the Mediterranean. The fragrant shadows seemed to echo softly with the last words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “You will find that you can always talk to them about the love of God.”’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 163)
Prayer for Distress and Anguish
O Lord, my God and my Haven in my distress! My Shield and my Shelter in my woes! My Asylum and Refuge in time of need and in my loneliness my Companion! In my anguish my Solace, and in my solitude a loving Friend! The Remover of the pangs of my sorrows and the Pardoner of my sins! Wholly unto Thee do I turn, fervently imploring Thee with all my heart, my mind and my tongue, to shield me from all that runs counter to Thy will in this, the cycle of Thy divine unity, and to cleanse me of all defilement that will hinder me from seeking, stainless and unsullied, the shade of the tree of Thy grace. Have mercy, O Lord, on the feeble, make whole the sick, and quench the burning thirst. Gladden the bosom wherein the fire of Thy love doth smolder, and set it aglow with the flame of Thy celestial love and spirit. Robe the tabernacles of divine unity with the vesture of holiness, and set upon my head the crown of Thy favor. Illumine my face with the radiance of the orb of Thy bounty, and graciously aid me in ministering at Thy holy threshold. Make my heart overflow with love for Thy creatures and grant that I may become the sign of Thy mercy, the token of Thy grace, the promoter of concord amongst Thy loved ones, devoted unto Thee, uttering Thy commemoration and forgetful of self but ever mindful of what is Thine. O God, my God! Stay not from me the gentle gales of Thy pardon and grace, and deprive me not of the wellsprings of Thine aid and favor. Neath the shade of Thy protecting wings let me nestle, and cast upon me the glance of Thine all-protecting eye. Loose my tongue to laud Thy name amidst Thy people, that my voice may be raised in great assemblies and from my lips may stream the flood of Thy praise. Thou art, in all truth, the Gracious, the Glorified, the Mighty, the Omnipotent.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 29-30)
This month, we’re featuring the music of Tony Valadez.
To listen to a prayer he created for the Feast of Perfection
Here are the words for those who want to sing along!
O army of God! The time hath come for the effects and perfections of the Most Great Name to be made manifest in this excellent age, so as to establish, beyond any doubt, that this era is the era of Bahá’u’lláh, and this age is distinguished above all other ages. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 71)
I don’t want to be Tahirih: Homosexuality in the Bahá’í Religion in Theology and Practice
This book by Hanna A. Langer was originally written as a Master’s Degree thesis at the Interfaculty Programme for the Study of Religion at Munich University. In it she asks 4 questions:
How do homosexuals themselves interpret and understand the core writings?
How do they apply this understanding to their personal lives?
How do they experience community life within the Baha’i Faith?
What is the Institutions’ and believers’ approach towards them?
The book takes a look at different narratives which show that “the homosexuals” are not a homogenous group of people who share common goals or a common understanding of the writings but instead are as diverse as the broader community is. Therefore some people tell about their efforts to live in accordance with the religious law and abstain from sexual relationships, others are welcomed with their same-sex partners and others are shunned. Not everyone experienced a welcoming atmosphere within his or her community, but the book does neither try to sugar coat nor to dramatize. The author believes the story of homophobia in the Baha’i Faith needs to be shared worldwide, and Hannah’s book is helpful to those who feel they are still being treated as second class citizens.
I’ve written a book on homosexuality, of which the House of Justice has said:
The House of Justice has indicated in the past its preference that a compilation of materials on the subject of homosexuality not be published. The House of Justice reaffirms this previous policy and asks you not to publish this booklet. However, you are entirely free to reproduce and use the material in courses and deepenings facilitated by you. (Universal House of Justice to the author, 17 February 2005).
If you are interested in reading the book, write and tell me how you will use it and if I feel you meet this criteria, I will be happy to send you a copy.
Mary K. Radpour
Mary K. Radpour is a psychotherapist with more than 30 years’ experience and extensive training in a variety of therapeutic modalities. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, teaching in the areas of psychology, social work and women’s studies; is a founding member of the Baha’i Association of Mental Health Professionals and a board member of the Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse. www.bnasaa.org She has served as an Auxiliary Board Member and is a Faculty Member of the Wilmette Institute.
She is a frequent speaker at Bahá’í schools and conferences, on the topics of spirituality, sexuality, and mental health and has worked with individuals, families and groups, focusing on these and the following issues:
Post-trauma symptoms, resulting from physical, emotional and sexual abuse
Depression and dysthymia
Family and Relationship conflicts
Gay and lesbian relationships
Sexual issues, such as gender confusion, sexual addiction, and sexual confusion resulting from rape or abuse
In addition to being a Certified Mediator, Mrs. Radpour has trained in the following therapeutic modalities:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Family systems and strategic family systems therapy
She prefers to work in person, but does offer telephone consultations which focus on problem-solving, with individuals who are feeling distressed related to situations or circumstances in their current lives.
Jeffrey Reddick is a Baha’i filmmaker best known for creating the Final Destination horror film franchise, which spawned four successful sequels as well as comic books and novels. Final Destination centers on a character who has a premonition of a terrible accident that will kill numerous people. While they escape from the scene of the accident before it happens, they are later killed in a series of complex, bizarre accidents. The series is noteworthy amongst others in the horror genre in that the “villain” of the movies is not the stereotypical slasher, but Death itself whose intent is to claim the lives of those who manage to escape their fates.
Jeffrey is also known for a thriller called Tamara; the story of an unattractive girl, who is picked on by her peers and returns after her death as a sexy seductress to exact revenge; and the remake of George Romero’s classic, Day of the Dead, where a small Colorado town is overrun by the flesh hungry dead and a small group of survivors try to escape in a last ditch effort to stay alive.
Recently he produced his first 10 minute short, directed with Rainn Wilson, called Good Samaritan which deals with the consequences of not helping someone in need and overcoming your fears to do the right thing. It’s an intense horror short about a man who gets brutally assaulted while witnesses stand by and do nothing. There is some is some scary and intense imagery that may not be appropriate for everyone. But if you want to see a creepy morality tale you can see it here:
I liked your story and compilation on divorce. What struck me personally as being a little unusual was the following description after the compilation: “Zia Holte: This month, we look at the music of Zia Holte – a singer songwriter with a clear, versatile, vocal range from sex kitten to mother next-door. Her voice can be heard on audiobooks, documentaries, jingles, movie trailers, radio, television and videogames.” I was wondering why Zia’s range needed to include sex kitten. You wrote the book, “The Courage to be Chaste in a Sexual World”. Doesn’t the description “sex kitten” belong in the sexual world? Is it an apt description for a human being? Just curious. It did occur to me, of course, that the description wasn’t written by you, and that you had just copied it off somewhere. (Sarmad Garmroud)
Good catch Sarmad! I’m embarrassed I didn’t catch that myself – was hurrying to get it done, with my mind in several places. I’ve deleted that whole phrase. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Thx it is beautiful (Sophie Tekie)
Thank you dear Susan for all you do. The angels of the Abha kingdom so graciously assist us all. (Loren Ritacca)
Susan, Definitely worth the wait. Thank you. (Robert Moshrefzadeh)
This is the first time I’ve received your newsletter. Thank you so much for your service! (Ladjamaya Green)
Dearest Susan. Good Grief! I can’t believe just how much you do for us, your readers. I am so thankful for the nature and quality of your work, and that you want to and are able to get it to us. You are a wonder! (Patrice Henderson)
Thanks to all who write in! Your encouragement really keeps me going!
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See you next month! Hope it’s a month filled with perfection on many levels!