I swear by My life! Nothing save that which profiteth them can befall My loved ones. To this testifieth the Pen of God, the Most Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Best Beloved. (Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)
This is a really hard quote for those who want answers to “why is this happening to me?” No matter what life throws at us, the bottom line is that it’s happening to profit us. Somehow, it’s for our good, and that can be hard medicine to swallow, especially when we’re going through really hard times. I’ve come to understand that all of our tests serve 2 purposes: to draw us closer to God and to help us acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world.
When my brother was killed and my daughter died and I suffered through years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I felt like a victim and even for many years, blamed God. If there was a God, (and for many years I couldn’t accept that there was), how could He do these things to me? I’ve come to realize that God doesn’t think the way we do. I will never understand why He gave us free will and then stood by watching what mankind would do with it. But with these quotes, and others like it, I’ve come to recognize that my life is better with God in it. I can more easily handle everything that comes my way, I can appreciate that it’s strengthened my relationship to him, and no doubt I’ve developed a lot of virtues, resilience among them.
Knowing that all my tests are for my benefit, 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!
I hear thou art grieved and distressed at the happenings of the world and the vicissitudes of fortune. Wherefore this fear and sorrow? The true lovers of the Abhá Beauty, and they that have quaffed the Cup of the Covenant fear no calamity, nor feel depressed in the hour of trial. They regard the life of adversity as their garden of delight, and the depth of the sea the expanse of heaven. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 309)
I love to imagine ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writing this as a love note of encouragement to one of the earlier believers. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get this message in the mail? It’s as though he could reach into her heart and understand the fear and sorrow she’s feeling. Next he reminds her of who she is – a true lover of the Abhá Beauty – and the standard to reach for. This applies to each one of us who are grieved and distressed at the hand that’s dealt us and what’s happening in the world. We:
fear no calamity
don’t feel depressed in the hour of trial
regard the life of adversity as our garden of delight
regard the depth of the sea the expanse of heaven
Easier said than done, perhaps, but when we know where the bar is, we can reach towards it, like a plant reaching towards the sun.
Reminding myself of how to look at my troubles differently, I am at peace, 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!
Although you seem to feel that your prayers have not so far been answered, and do no longer have any hope that your material conditions would ameliorate, the Guardian wishes you nevertheless not to allow such disappointments to undermine your faith in the power of prayer, but rather to continue entreating the Almighty to enable you to discover the great wisdom which may be hidden behind all these sufferings. For are not our sufferings often blessings in disguise, through which God wishes to test the sincerity and depth of our faith, and thereby make us firmer in His Cause? (Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Prayer, Meditation and a Devotional Attitude, p. 239)
There have been times in my life when I believed that God hadn’t answered my prayers, and I fell into a great deal of self-pity. I started questioning the sincerity of my belief, and even my faith in God himself. As a result, it was easy to move away, little by little, from doing the things necessary for my spiritual growth and development. I was going into this place recently, when I was praying for financial rescue that didn’t seem to come. Fortunately a wise friend encouraged me to make a list of all the financial gifts that came my way every day. Some days it might only be finding a dime on the ground. Other days it was free food from being able to eat at the soup kitchen and have leftovers to take home. Some days it was a bill that I’d budgeted for, and for some reason I didn’t have to pay. Another time it was an unexpected cheque in the mail or a temporary job. All in all, it added up and somehow the bills got paid. When I allowed myself to think ahead about the big ticket items and couldn’t see how they would be covered, I fell into fear, but when I focused on all the blessings and bounties coming my way, my heart was full of gratitude and life was a lot more fun.
In today’s quote we see that there are several steps we can take when our prayers don’t seem to be answered:
Don’t allow disappointments to undermine your faith in the power of prayer
Continue asking God to enable you to discover the wisdom hidden behind your sufferings
Recognize that suffering is often a blessing in disguise so God can test the sincerity and depth of my faith, and make me firmer in His Cause
Recognizing that unanswered prayer is just another one of God’s tests, 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!
Let’s face it. Bad things happen to all of us, but when it seems like we’ve had a lifetime of suffering, it’s hard to stay strong and have hope. I thought I’d look to the Baha’i Writings and see what I could find out and share it with you.
We know that suffering leads to self-improvement:
Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self-improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness. What man considers to be evil turns often to be a cause of infinite blessings. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434)
But the suffering of children is the hardest for many of us to understand. Many children are exposed to horrific events, and then spend a life-time dealing with the after-effects.
God can compensate the innocent:
He urges you to put these dark thoughts from your mind, and remember that if God, the Creator of all men, can bear to see them suffer so, it is not for us to question His wisdom. He can compensate the innocent, in His own way, for the afflictions they bear. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)
It’s comforting to know that for those souls, that suffering is the greatest mercy of God, and it will be far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world:
On this plane of existence, there are many injustices that the human mind cannot fathom. Among these are the hear-rending trials of the innocent … With regard to the spiritual significance of the suffering of children “who are afflicted by the hands of oppressors”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not only states that for those souls “suffering is the greatest mercy of God”, He also explains that to be a recipient of God’s mercy is “far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world”, and He promises that “for those souls there is a recompense in another world”. (Universal House of Justice, Letter on the Oppression of Children, 1985)
If we knew what God has destined for us, our gladness and joy would increase every hour:
If thou didst know what God had ordained for thee, thou wouldst fly with delight and happiness, gladness and joy would increase every hour. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p.363)
We’ll have true wealth:
Even if all the losses of the world were to be sustained by one of the friends of God, he would still profit thereby… The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth. (Bahá’u’lláh, Crisis & Victory, p.154)
Our reward is better than all the treasures of the earth:
So great are the things ordained for the steadfast that were they, so much as the eye of a needle, to be disclosed, all who are in heaven and on earth would be dumbfounded, except such as God, the Lord of all worlds, hath willed to exempt… I swear by God! That which hath been destined for him who aideth My Cause excelleth the treasures of the earth. (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p.84)
God has promised us days of blissful joy, in this world and in the next!
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, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.329)
When we get to the next world, we’ll get to recount all the things we’ve been made to endure:
With them [the Prophets of God and His chosen ones] that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.156)
Here’s a story of how Juliet Thomson felt God’s love in this world:
Later in the morning He sent for me. My self-consciousness, my shyness had made me feel shut out from Him, but my heart had been continually crying out, with ever-increasing love, to Him. When I entered His little room and knelt at His feet and looked up into eyes of Love which I suddenly found I could meet, He put out His hand and said, “Now; now!”
I laid my head on His knee. The tears came. He lifted my face and wiped them away. “God shall wipe away all tears.” Ah, this blessed Day! I cannot remember exactly what happened, only that Love immeasurable flowed out from Him and was reflected in my poor heart. One thing I do remember. When He lifted my face, while He was wiping away my tears, He said in a voice of infinite sweetness, like the sighing of the wind which “bloweth where it listeth and we know not whence it cometh or whither it goeth”: “Speak. Speak to Me!” His words in English sink into your very soul. What I lose by not understanding Persian! “O my Lord, may my life speak to you!” I cried. (Diary of Juliet Thompson)
It seems to me that patience, long-suffering and resignation are 3 key virtues we’re developing through our suffering.
I’d like to look at the example of Bahíyyih Khánum, Shoghi Effendi’s great-aunt and the highest ranked woman in the Baha’i Faith. Her story is a testimony to the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Shoghi Effendi wants us to follow her example, so it only seems fitting to tell you about her here.
Bahíyyih Khánum was Bahá’u’lláh’s only daughter, and was also known as the “Greatest Holy Leaf”. Her station is similar to the Virgin Mary (to Christians) and Fatimih Zahra (to Muslims). She certainly led a life of continuous suffering. She spent her early years in an environment of privilege, wealth, and love and described this period of her life as very happy. When she was 6, her father was arrested and imprisoned, the family’s home pillaged and Bahíyyih and her family were forced to live in poverty. She clearly remembered the shrieks of the Bábís awaiting their death, leaving a strong mark in her later life. Later the same year her family were exiled over snow-covered mountains, to Baghdad and later to Constantinople, Adrianople and finally Acre. Her uncle (Mirza Yahya), forbade her to leave the house to play with other children or even to let a doctor visit her newly born brother who needed medical attention — instead leaving him to die.
Bahíyyih spent almost all of her adult life as a prisoner. As a young girl she chose to remain single, so she could serve her parents, her brother and later, to serve Shoghi Effendi. This was very strange for a woman of her rank and era. After so many tests and difficulties in the early part of her life, the death of her youngest brother, Mirza Mihdi, destroyed any morale she had left, yet somehow, she found the strength to help her mother and father with serving the pilgrims who came to visit. She was very close to her mother and always concerned about her mother’s delicate heath and when her mother died, it left Bahíyyih with a huge void in her life. Later, when Bahá’u’lláh passed away, it put her into severe mourning which caused her to become thin and feeble for a time.
When she was freed at age 62, Bahíyyih opened up an orphanage in her home for non-Bahá’í and Bahá’í children, oversaw their education and taught them “prayers, reading and writing, home management, embroidery, sewing and cooking. Women from Islamic backgrounds would ask Bahíyyih to cut the shrouds in which they would wear when they die so they could rest in peace. Everyone turned to her for help and advice. During WW1, the inhabitants of Haifa flocked to the house of `Abdu’l-Bahá, where Bahíyyih cooked for them and gave them rations.
When ‘Abdu’l-Baha made his journeys to the West between 1910 and 1913, and then again when Shoghi Effendi was away on several trips between 1922 and 1924, she was the “acting head” of the Faith. During these times, Bahíyyih Khánum dealt with the affairs of the Holy Land and outside, which included meeting dignitaries, making speeches on `Abdu’l-Bahá’s behalf, meeting officials of both sexes and offering medical help for the sick and poor. She also dealt with the spiritual and administrative guidance of the worldwide Bahá’í community by writing letters of encouragement to communities around the world. During the later years of her life, she was plagued by illness and pains and needed help to stand and sit.
Verily, We have elevated thee to the rank of one of the most distinguished among thy sex, and granted thee, in My court, a station such as none other woman hath surpassed. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Bahá’í World, vol. V, p. 171)
There are 2 quotes, which, when taken together, tend to frighten many of us:
The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 118)
Know, verily, that an unforeseen calamity followeth you, and grievous retribution awaiteth you. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 63)
Tanna is one of 83 small islands in the country of Vanuatu, which is located in the South Pacific east of Australia and west of Fiji. It is 40 kilometres long and 19 kilometres wide, with a total area of 550 square kilometres . Its population of 30,000 is scattered in pockets across a volcanic outcrop.
In 2012, the House of Justice named Tanna as one of 5 clusters where the process of entry by troops was sufficiently well advanced and conditions in these national communities were favourable for them to build a House of Worship. Progress was progressing nicely, with the whole island taking ownership of the building of the temple, Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í working together.
In 2015, within the space of just a few weeks, there was a measles outbreak; an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5; the volcano erupted for the first time in 100 years and finally there was cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms to rip through the south Pacific. It was a category 5 storm, with sustained wind speeds of up to 320 km/hour lasting over a 24 hour period. It was the second-most intense tropical cyclone on record worldwide and certainly one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Vanuatu.
The cyclone crippled Vanuatu’s infrastructure. 90 percent of the homes, schools and hospital buildings were damaged or destroyed. Telecommunications were paralyzed. There was no drinkable water left on the island. 96 per cent of their food crops were destroyed.
People needed immediate assistance for clean water, food, shelter, healthcare and psycho-social care, but relief workers were battling poor weather and communications issues for days, hampering much of their efforts to reach the outer islands. A lack of airstrips and deep water ports hampered the speed of relief operations. It was not until two weeks after the cyclone struck, that aid finally reached all of the affected islands.
In April 2017, Tropical Cyclone Cook (a category two cyclone, which generated wind gusts of up to 130 kilometres per hour near its centre), buffeted Vanuatu with strong winds, heavy rain and rough seas, causing flash flooding in some parts of the country. A month later, in May 2017, Tanna was again battered by Cyclone Donna for several days, with gale force winds of up to 205km/hr. It was another category 5 storm, listed as the strongest out-of-season storm ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.
So here’s my question: if this community, which was so united before all these calamities, that the House of Justice said they could have a local Mashrukul-Adkar, and yet, they still needed to be brought to their knees to achieve even more unity . . . then what’s it going to take for the West to be brought to her knees? I can’t even imagine, and it terrifies me! Nevertheless, I was inspired by this video, and continue to be!
Let’s look at what the Baha’i Writings have to share with us, on the topic of the coming calamity.
Is humanity already in the middle of the calamity?
Calamities are already occurring:
Behold the disturbances which, for many a long year, have afflicted the earth, and the perturbation that hath seized its peoples. It hath either been ravaged by war, or tormented by sudden and unforeseen calamities. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p.163)
The House of Justice points out that calamities have been and are occurring and will continue to happen until mankind has been chastened sufficiently to accept the Manifestation for this day. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 15 April 1976)
When will our calamity come?
Since Baha’u’llah has said it’s “unforeseen”, we can’t predict it:
The House of Justice points out that Bahá’u’lláh in no uncertain terms has said ‘O ye peoples of the world! Know, verily, that an unforseen calamity followeth you, and grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not that which ye have committed hath been effaced in My sight.’ Therefore it considers that it would be fruitless to attempt to foresee the time or the nature of a calamity which Bahá’u’lláh Himself said was ‘unforseen’. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 128)
What form will it take?
We do not know what form these upheavals will take, when exactly they will come, how severe they will be, nor how long they will last:
Although there is every reason to expect that the world will experience travails and testing as never before, we do not know what form these upheavals will take, when exactly they will come, how severe they will be, nor how long they will last.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 19 March 1981)
It won’t necessarily be another war:
While the Guardian envisaged the likelihood of further warfare in the world, he did not categorically identify such war with the “unforeseen calamity” foretold by Bahá’u’lláh. In fact, he wrote, on another occasion: “We have no indication of exactly what nature the apocalyptic upheaval will be: it might be another war. (From a letter dated 21 November 1949, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
We cannot be certain that it will be in the form of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tidal waves:
No doubt the remarkable progress being made in scientific endeavour holds true in the study by experts of geological upheavals. But we cannot be certain that predictions of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tidal waves caused by such phenomena can be identified as the cataclysmic events to which Bahá’u’lláh refers. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 128)
What are the signs of the calamity?
Criticism of others:
Vicious criticism is indeed a calamity. But its root is lack of faith in the system of Bahá’u’lláh, i.e., the Administrative Order—and lack of obedience to Him—for He has forbidden it! If the Bahá’ís would follow the Bahá’í laws in voting, in electing, in serving and in abiding by Assembly decision, all this waste of strength through criticizing others could be diverted into cooperation and achieving the Plan. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
Other signs include:
The violent derangement of the world’s equilibrium; the trembling that will seize the limbs of mankind; the radical transformation of human society; the rolling up of the present-day Order; the fundamental changes affecting the structure of government; the weakening of the pillars of religion; the rise of dictatorships; the spread of tyranny; the fall of monarchies; the decline of ecclesiastical institutions; the increase of anarchy and chaos; the extension and consolidation of the Movement of the Left; the fanning into flame of the smouldering fire of racial strife; the development of infernal engines of war; the burning of cities; the contamination of the atmosphere of the earth—these stand out as the signs and portents that must either herald or accompany the retributive calamity which, as decreed by Him Who is the judge and Redeemer of mankind, must, sooner or later, afflict a society which, for the most part, and for over a century, has turned a deaf ear to the Voice of God’s Messenger in this day—a calamity which must purge the human race of the dross of its age-long corruptions, and weld its component parts into a firmly knit world-embracing Fellowship. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 332-333)
Why do we have disasters?
We should try to understand why they occur:
Bahá’ís should not be diverted from the work of the Cause by the fear of catastrophes but should try to understand why they occur. The beloved Guardian, in innumerable places, has explained the reasons for these occurrences, and since they happen from time to time as explained above we should not be concerned as to when they occur. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 15 April 1976)
The actions of men:
In Akká, January 1908, this question was asked of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “Are great calamities like this flood, the San Francisco earthquake, etc., caused by the wickedness of the people?” To this He responded: “Events like these happen because of the connection between the parts of the universe, for every small part has connection with every great part, and what affects one affects the other or all others. On account of this connection, the actions of man have effect. Whenever a promise is broken, it causes a commotion. For instance, suppose two nations have a disagreement. It is a difference in ideas only, and not a physical thing, not anything we can touch or see; yet this disagreement has a physical effect. It causes war, and thousands of men are cut in pieces. So, when man breaks his promise to God, in other words when he “violates the Covenant,” the effect is physical, and calamities appear. (Daily Lessons Received at Akká’ by Helen Goodall & Ella Cooper. Bahá’í Publishing Trust 1979, p. 21-22)
Disobedience to the Divine Commands:
According to the teaching of the Prophets, disease and all other forms of calamity are due to disobedience to the Divine Commands. Even disasters due to floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes are attributed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá indirectly to this cause. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 95)
How long will it last?
The longer Bahá’u’lláh is withheld from healing the ills of the world, the more severe will be the crises:
… but as students of our Bahá’í writings it is clear that the longer the ‘Divine Physician’ (i.e. Bahá’u’lláh) is withheld from healing the ills of the world, the more severe will be the crises, and the more terrible the sufferings of the patient. (From a letter dated 21 November 1949, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
Will the Baha’is be protected?
In such a process of purgation, when all humanity is in the throes of dire suffering, the Bahá’ís should not hope to remain unaffected. Should we consider the beam that is in our own eye, we would immediately find that these sufferings are also meant for ourselves, who claimed to have attained. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 133)
How are we to respond?
We will be affected:
Bewildered, agonized and helpless, [humanity] watches this great and mighty wind of God invading the remotest and fairest regions of the earth, rocking its foundations, deranging its equilibrium, sundering its nations, disrupting the homes of its peoples, wasting its cities, driving into exile its kings, pulling down its bulwarks, uprooting its institutions, dimming its light, and harrowing up the souls of its inhabitants. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, p. 3)
Fear doesn’t solve anything:
He does not feel that fear — for ourselves or for others — solves any problems, or enables us to better meet it if it ever does arise. We do not know what the future holds exactly, or how soon we may all pass through another ordeal worse than the last one. (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, par. 252.3-252.4)
Our job is to labor serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance:
Ours rather the duty, however confused the scene, however dismal the present outlook, however circumscribed the resources we dispose of, to labor serenely, confidently, and unremittingly to lend our share of assistance, in whichever way circumstances may enable us, to the operation of the forces which, as marshaled and directed by Bahá’u’lláh, are leading humanity out of the valley of misery and shame to the loftiest summits of power and glory. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day Is Come, p.124)
Our duty is to actively teach receptive souls and help in the consolidation of the institutions:
The important aspect for the Bahá’ís is that their attitude and actions in response to the pending catastrophe be correct. We all know that the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh is the world’s only salvation, and that our duty is to actively teach receptive souls, and to do our utmost to help in the consolidation of the institutions of the Faith. Only in this way can we contribute our share of servitude at His Threshold, and we should then leave the rest to Him. (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice, par. 252.3-252.4)
We need to teach, and build community:
Bahá’ís need to be prepared both spiritually and materially to respond to disastrous events, and to assist others to respond, as well. Recent natural disasters demonstrated some basic issues that local communities should address which are generalized below. In a real sense, Bahá’ís simply need to do two things they have always done and are becoming increasingly skilled at doing through the cluster and institute processes: teach and build community. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 27)
How are we to look at these disasters?
There’s a great wisdom behind them:
Although outwardly cataclysms are hard to understand and to endure, yet there lies a great wisdom behind them which appears later. All the visible material events are inter-related with invisible spiritual forces. The infinite phenomena of creation are as interdependent as the links of a chain. When certain links become rusty, they are broken by unseen forces, to be replaced by newer and better ones. There are certain colossal events which transpire in the world of humanity which are required by the nature of the times. For example, the requirements of winter are cold, snow, hail and rain – but the birds and animals who live for six months, enjoying a short span of life, not realizing the wisdom of winter, chide and make lament and are discontent, saying, “Why this awful frost? Why this hail and storm? Why not the balmy weather? Why not the eternal springtime? Why this injustice on the part of the creator? Why this suffering? What have we done to be meted out with this catastrophe?” However, those souls who have lived many years and have acquired much experience and have weathered many severe winters realize that in order to enjoy the coming spring they must pass through the cold of winter. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 115)
They are bounties, gifts and God’s mercy and favor:
As to the calamities and afflictions of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: These are not calamities, but bounties; they are not afflictions, but gifts; not hardships, but tranquillity; not trouble, but mercy—and we thank God for this great favor. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 128)
They are educative and remedial, so that we turn back to God:
The suffering that follows error is not vindictive, however, but educative and remedial. It is God’s Voice proclaiming to man that he has strayed from the right path. If the suffering is terrible, it is only because the danger of wrongdoing is more terrible, for “the wages of sin is death. “Just as calamity is due to disobedience, so deliverance from calamity can be obtained only by obedience. There is no chance or uncertainty about the matter. Turning from God inevitably brings disaster, and turning to God as inevitably brings blessing. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 95)
They are paving the way for the world’s unification and ultimate redemption:
They should persevere in their task, undaunted by the rising tide of calamity and despair which afflicts the world, and which is mysteriously paving the way for its unification and ultimate redemption. (Shoghi Effendi, Dawn of a New Day, p. 87-88)
They help us attribute more importance to spiritual matters:
You seem to complain about the calamities, that have befallen humanity. In the spiritual development of man a stage of purgation is indispensable, for it is while passing through it that the over-rated material needs are made to appear in their proper light. Unless society learns to attribute more importance to spiritual matters, it would never be fit to enter the golden era foretold by Bahá’u’lláh. The present calamities are parts of this process of purgation, through them alone will man learn his lesson. They are to teach the nations, that they have to view things internationally, they are to make the individual attribute more importance to his moral, than his material welfare. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 133)
They help awaken us to the importance of our duty:
Such world crisis is necessary to awaken us to the importance of our duty and the carrying on of our task. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 133)
They will help us do a better job teaching the Cause:
Suffering will increase our energy in setting before humanity the road to salvation, it will move us from our repose for we are far from doing our best in teaching the Cause and conveying the Message with which we have been entrusted. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 133)
They promote the interests of the Faith in the world:
I am however assured and sustained by the conviction, never dimmed in my mind, that whatsoever comes to pass in the Cause of God, however disquieting in its immediate effects, is fraught with infinite Wisdom and tends ultimately to promote its interests in the world. Indeed, our experiences of the distant past, as well as of recent events, are too numerous and varied to permit of any misgiving or doubt as to the truth of this basic principle — a principle which throughout the vicissitudes of our sacred mission in this world we must never disregard or forget. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 27)
What can we do to prepare?
Move out of the cities:
Any intelligent person can understand from the experiences of the last world war, and keeping abreast of what modern science has developed in the way of weapons for any future war, that big cities all over the world are going to be in tremendous danger. This is what the Guardian has said to the pilgrims. Entirely aside from this, he has urged the Bahá’ís, for the sake of serving the Faith, to go out from these centers of intense materialism, where life nowadays is so hurried and grinding and, dispersing to towns and villages, carry the Message far and wide throughout the cities of the American Union. He strongly believes that the field outside the big Cities is more fertile, that the Bahá’ís in the end will be happier for having made this move, and that, in case of an outbreak of war, it stands to reason they will be safer, just the way any other person living in the country, or away from the big industrial areas, is safer. It is remarks such as these that the pilgrims have carried back in their notes. He sees no cause for alarm, but he certainly believes that the Bahá’ís should weigh these thoughts, and take action for the sake of spreading the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, and for their own ultimate happiness as well. Indeed the two things go together. (Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 20 June 1954)
Don’t waste time dwelling on what might befall us:
He has been told that some of the friends are disturbed over reports brought back by the pilgrims concerning the dangers facing America in the future whenever another world conflagration breaks out. He does not feel that the Bahá’ís should waste time dwelling on the dark side of things. (Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 20 June 1954)
The House of Justice is telling us the same thing they told the Tanna community, after Cyclone Pam:concentrate every ounce of energy on the winning of the goals of the Five Year Plan:
In letters to other believers who have asked questions similar to yours, the House of Justice has emphasized that the friends should not waste their time and energies in fruitless speculations on this question. Rather, they should concentrate every ounce of energy on the winning of the goals of the Five Year Plan, which they have clearly before them, confident in the knowledge that whatever may happen in the world, however calamitous it may outwardly appear, will promote God’s unalterable purpose for the unification of mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 128)
What can we do in the middle of disaster?
Have perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God:
When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)
Remember that we have the capacity to match any challenge that may confront us:
Having said all the foregoing, we pause to assure you of our full awareness of the great burdens you carry and of the ceaseless calls upon you to render services in the absence of adequate resources. Do not despair. Your capacity to respond will match any challenge that may confront you in these troubled times; you have only to act on principle. Your community’s past has been glorious; its future is great beyond calculation. The divine promises to your community are certain; the blessings of Bahá’u’lláh are assured as you strive to fulfill His purpose. The wings of the beloved Master remain spread over you that you may succeed in discharging the tasks He has especially entrusted to your care. And our love ever surrounds you and your cherished community, growing stronger at every moment. Step forward then to meet the requirements of the hour with undiminished hope and confidence. (Universal House of Justice, Rights and Responsibilities: The Complementary Roles of the Individual and Institutions, p. 49-50)
Use this prayer:
On the appearance of fearful natural events call ye to mind the might and majesty of your Lord, He Who heareth and seeth all, and say “Dominion is God’s, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of creation.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p 23)
When will the calamities end?
Humanity must suffer until it becomes spiritually awakened:
There is nothing in the teachings to tell us exactly how much longer the present turbulent state of the world is going to endure; but we do know that humanity must suffer until it becomes spiritually awakened, and that the Most Great Peace will come, as promised by Bahá’u’lláh.” (From a letter dated 26 February 1946, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
It will end when the spirit of the Cause permeates the heart of man, and its universal teachings pull down the existing barriers:
The world with the various calamities that have befallen it, will be completely ravaged and its civilization demolished, if the Bahá’ís do not come to its help and embue it with the spirit that Bahá’u’lláh has brought to the world. The economic factions, political parties, national hatreds, racial prejudices, and religious antagonisms, will continue to bring about devastating wars until the spirit of the Cause permeates the heart of man, and its universal teachings pull down the existing barriers. Let us be reminded of our duty by the misery we see around us, and arise for the prosecution of our noble duty.” (From a letter dated 24 November 1931 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the American National Spiritual Assembly)
So here’s the thing: in the midst of all of this chaos, when they had to rebuild everything, the Tanna Baha’i community continued to fast, focused on finding ways to celebrate Naw Ruz with the whole villages (not just the Bahá’í community), and were totally obedient when the House told them to continue the core activities. They didn’t say rebuild first – they said “keep going”. And I think that’s what we all must do. If the Bahá’ís get caught up in all the fear-mongering (no matter how real it may seem), we won’t have any energy to focus on what’s really important.
I really think we need to stay calm in the middle of the hurricane, knowing that (as the House of Justice said in this year’s Ridvan Message):
Far from disheartening you, let the world’s prejudices and hostilities be reminders of how urgently souls all around you need the healing balm that you alone can present to them.
How has this been helpful? Post your comments below.
Is there a difference between empathy and sympathy? Is one better than the other, and if so, why?
Brune Brown has a wonderful video on the differences between sympathy and empathy:
She seems to imply that there is something we can do to become more empathetic but as wonderful as her explanation is, I’m not sure it’s possible.
One of my readers wrote:
I have done some research of Baha’i Holy writings on empathy and so far all writings use the word sympathy to refer to empathy. I think the translators didn’t see the distinction between empathy and sympathy at the time of translation. Maybe your extensive research has found more references on empathy.
From my experience as a psychotherapist and as a victim of abuse, I can immediately experience the results of someone being empathetic and someone being sympathetic. Basically empathy brings people closer together to inspire the victim to create their own healing plan and sympathy pushes people apart and creates more fear.
This caused me to want to see what the Bahá’í Writings had to say, and see if they can shed some light on this important distinction.
First, let’s see what the dictionary can tell us:
The two words are synonyms for each other, so it’s not surprising that there is some puzzlement over the difference.
Sympathy is defined as:
Sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration
Empathy is defined as:
The psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another
So with empathy, we understand what others are feeling because we have experienced it ourselves or can put ourselves in their shoes; and in sympathy we acknowledge another person’s emotional hardship and provide comfort and assurance, that may not be received as helpful if the recipient sees you don’t understand.
We sympathy we recognize the person is suffering; with empathy we feel their suffering and suffer with them.
Both sympathy and empathy imply caring for another person, but with empathy, the caring is enhanced or expanded by being able to feel the other person’s emotions.
Sympathy conveys caring and concern, but does not convey shared distress.
A Bahá’í Perspective
The Baha’i Writings seem to suggest that religion must be the source of empathy:
Religion must be, he says, a source of unity and concord, of compassion and empathy. (Baha’u’llah, The Tablet to Mirza Abu’l-Fadl Concerning the Questions of Manakji Sahib, Provisional Translations, Tablet on Hinduism and Zoroastrianism – Cole)
Does that mean we can learn empathy through the Writings?
The concluding statement in a letter from the House of Justice to some parents, indicates they feel empathy:
With deep empathy for you as parents challenged with the onerous task of raising your children in a world beset with unprecedented problems and difficulties, the House of Justice assures you of its ardent prayers in the Holy Shrines on your behalf. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Oct 28, Manner of Appealing to Youth)
So perhaps we can learn empathy by studying the Writings, and how the Central Figures modelled it.
In the Bahá’í World, we find an article in the section “Essays and Reviews”, which is a talk based on a chapter called ‘The Germination of Worlds’ that describes the Sixth Mystery in a book entitled “The Seven Mysteries of Life”, by Guy Murchie, in which he says:
The fourteenth factor of germination is the rise of the human spirit which must be swiftly, if invisibly, evolving — along with man’s more obvious material and mental progress — and must, Bahá’u’lláh tells us, soon unite all people in a common bond of empathy that will bring such harmony and peace as was never before known on Earth. (Guy Murchie, Baha’i World Volumes, Volume 16, p. 665)
Although this is not authoritative, it seems to suggest that empathy is a quality we can or will develop, and indeed that we must develop if the world is to know peace.
We’re encouraged to help each other by suffering with and for them:
With reference to your question as to whether individuals can help each other by accepting to suffer for each other’s sake. Surely such sacrifice for our fellow-humans can have helpful results. This law of sacrifice operates in our own lives, as well as in the lives of the Divine Manifestations. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 118)
Surely such sacrifice for our fellow-humans can have helpful results!
‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us to regard the sick with sympathy followed by action:
The sick one must . . . be regarded with sympathy and affection and treated until he is healed. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 433)
And to show sympathy to those souls deprived of great benefits due to excessive difficulty:
As to the souls who are born into this world radiant entities and who through excessive difficulty are deprived of great benefits and thus leave the world — they are worthy of all sympathy, for in reality this is worthy of regret. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 542)
A friend of mine once said that people accuse her of not having any empathy, but when I questioned her further, I discovered that she used to run support groups for people who had the same physical ailment that she had. She was able to be empathetic with them, because she’d “walked a mile in those moccasins”! But she was only able to be sympathetic to those who’ve had different life experiences than she’s had.
To those like her, Shoghi Effendi said:
You should not consider yourself unfeeling because you see in this world agony the birth of a new and better world. This is just what the Bahá’ís should teach to others. However much pity and sympathy we may have for humanity, we nevertheless realize that people today are suffering for their own sins of omission and commission. We must help them to see this and to turn their thoughts and acts into the channels Divinely prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 129)
Sympathy in this case also shows an action we are to take.
If we want to learn how to be more sympathetic, we’re to study ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s life:
He feels you should by all means show your husband the greatest love and sympathy; if we are ever in any doubts as to how we should conduct ourselves as Bahá’ís we should think of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and study His life and ask ourselves what would He have done, for He is our perfect example in every way. And you know how tender He was, and how His affection and kindness shone like sunlight on everyone. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 227)
His sympathetic heart was as wide as the universe:
When a Turkish man, living in Haifa, lost his position, he, his wife and children were in desperate need. They went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for help and were naturally greatly aided. When the poor man became ill, again the Master stood ready to help. He provided a doctor, medicine and provisions to make him comfortable. When this man felt he was to die, he asked for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and called his children to him. ‘Here‘, he told the children, ‘is your father, who will take care of you when I am gone.’
One morning four small children arrived at the home of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and announced, ‘We want our father.’ The Master, hearing their voices, knew who they were. They shared their sorrow with Him—their own father had died. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá brought them in and gave them drink, sweets and cakes. He then went with them to their home. Their announcement had been premature—their father had merely fainted, but the next day he passed away. The Master arranged for the funeral and provided food, clothing and travel-tickets for the family to go to Turkey. His sympathetic heart was as wide as the universe. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 66)
Here’s how ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed sympathy:
One who sought the presence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá realized the father-like sympathy which is his. Speaking of his and others’ love for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the reply was: “I know that you love me, I can see that it is so. I will pray for you that you may be firm and serve in the Cause, becoming a true servant to Bahá’u’lláh. Though I go away I will always be present with you all.” These words were spoken with the greatest loving sympathy and understanding of difficulties; during the moments of this little talk ‘Abdu’l-Bahá held and stroked the speaker’s hands, and at the end took his head and with a gentle touch drew it to him kissing the forehead of the young man, who felt that he had found a father and a friend. (Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 111-112)
provided a doctor, medicine and provisions to make the sick comfortable
took care of orphaned children
shared the sorrow with others
gave things to eat and drink
arranged for funerals
provided food, clothing and travel-tickets
affirmed the love He saw showered on Him
prayed for him
told him what He was praying for
reassured him of His presence
understood his difficulties
held and stroked his hand
kissed his forehead
Here’s how ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed the difference between empathy and sympathy:
On the day I arrived at Haifa I was ill with a dysentery which I had picked up in the course of my travels. ‘Abdu’l-Baha sent His own physician to me, and visited me Himself. He said, “I would that I could take your illness upon Myself.” I have never forgotten this. I felt, I knew, that in making this remark ‘Abdu’l-Baha was not speaking in mere terms of sympathy. He meant just what He said. Such is the great love of the Kingdom, of which ‘Abdu’l-Baha spoke so often and so much. This is a love that is difficult, almost impossible, for us to acquire — though we may seek to approximate its perfection. It is more than sympathy, more than empathy. It is sacrificial love. (Some Warm Memories of ‘Abdu’l-Baha — by Stanwood Cobb)
Although it was more than either sympathy or empathy, it seemed to combine the elements of both.
sent His own physician
wanted to take the illness on for him
demonstrated the love of the Kingdom
‘Abdu’l-Baha was so sympathetic, that he couldn’t understand how people could be indifferent to the wholesale slaughter of thousands, while being excited by the deaths of twenty:
So sensitive and sympathetic was the Master to human suffering that He admitted to surprise that others could be quite oblivious to it. In Paris, He expressed His feelings: ‘I have just been told that there has been a terrible accident in this country. A train has fallen into the river and at least twenty people have been killed. This is going to be a matter for discussion in the French Parliament today, and the Director of the State Railway will be called upon to speak. He will be cross-examined as to the condition of the railroad and as to what caused the accident, and there will be a heated argument. I am filled with wonder and surprise to notice what interest and excitement has been aroused throughout the whole country on account of the death of twenty people, while they remain cold and indifferent to the fact that thousands of Italians, Turks, and Arabs are killed in Tripoli! The horror of this wholesale slaughter has not disturbed the Government at all! Yet these unfortunate people are human beings too.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 68)
So what is better? Empathy? Sympathy?
I think the Bahá’í Faith also teaches compassion, which transcends them both.
One author suggests:
Compassion is the tie that binds every human being to each other and to the mystery of creation. It is the common thread of all religions, meditations, and community structures. Compassion does not acknowledge the artificial social, economic, and religious barriers we place between ourselves and others. It acknowledges the common cry of human longings, aspirations, and tragedies. When a reflex reaction causes us to help a stranger, with no motivation other than that person is in need, or maybe in peril of his life, our compassion is in action.
The dictionary defines compassion as:
a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
Let’s look at how ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed compassion:
He had left orders that none were to be turned away, but one who had twice vainly sought his presence, and was, through some oversight, prevented from seeing him, wrote a heartbreaking letter showing that he thought himself rebuffed. It was translated by the Persian interpreter. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at once put on his coat, and, turning towards the door, said, with an expression of unspeakable sadness, “A friend of mine has been martyred, and I am very grieved. I go out alone.” and he swept down the steps. One could then see how well the title of “Master” became him. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 109)
The demands on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s time were constant. The English Bahá’ís tried to organize the flow of those seeking interviews and instituted a system of official appointments. One day, a woman appeared at the door and asked if she could see ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. When asked if she had an appointment, she admitted that she had not and was promptly told, “I am sorry but He is occupied now with most important people, and cannot be disturbed.” Sadly, the woman slowly turned away, but before she could reach the bottom of the steps, a messenger from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rushed out and breathlessly said, “He wishes to see you, come back!” From the house came the powerful voice of the Master: “A heart has been hurt, hasten, hasten, bring her to Me.” (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p.36)
Two days earlier, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had granted a final interview to Harriet Cline and Henrietta Wagner, who were to leave for California, the following day. They waited for their interview with many others until someone announced, “there will be no more interviews this morning.” The two women were crushed and sat there in shock at the thought of going home without seeing the Master one last time. But then came the Master’s melodious voice calling, “Mrs. Klein then Mrs. Wagner.” When Mrs. Klein entered ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s presence, He put an arm around her and said, “You are my daughter, you are my daughter. I have prayed for you many, many times.” Her tears poured out uncontrollably until she looked up into ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s eyes. His smile and happiness suddenly filled her and, she said, “a sense of great inner calmness took possession of my soul.” (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 118)
From these stories we can see that He couldn’t bear to know that anyone’s heart had been hurt, and did everything in His power to soothe broken hearts.
As Bahá’ís we believe in the oneness of humanity, and this is the standard we need to attain:
Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words 68)
When we walk with the same feet we’re being empathetic and we can’t help but be sympathetic and compassionate as well.
When we reach this standard, everyone will live in undisturbed peace and absolute composure!
If the learned and worldly-wise men of this age were to allow mankind to inhale the fragrance of fellowship and love, every understanding heart would apprehend the meaning of true liberty, and discover the secret of undisturbed peace and absolute composure. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 260)
Some people can be so bound up in the lives of others that they can eventually be overwhelmed by the negative feelings they take on from their relationships and encounters with other people. In those cases, they need to guard against depleting their forces and having breakdowns:
The Bahá’ís, in spite of their self-sacrificing desire to give the last drop of their strength to serving the Cause, must guard against utterly depleting their forces and having breakdowns. For this can sometimes do more harm than good, because they are so bound up in the lives of others. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 279)
They also need to take care of their health and build up their reserves:
If you take better care of your own health, and build up your reserves, it would certainly be better for you and for your work. Then your sensitive, yearning heart, although you may still often suffer for and with others, will be better able to withstand its trials, and you will not get so exhausted, which is certainly no asset to your work for the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 279)
So whether we’re showing empathy, sympathy or compassion, the key seems to be moderation.