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Fearing the Destroyer of the Worlds

The barking of dogs is loud on every side . . . Where are the swords of Thy vengeance, O Destroyer of the worlds?  (Baha’u’llah, Fire Tablet, Baha’i Prayers, p. 213)

Since the war in Ukraine started, I have been absolutely terrified that World War 3 is about to start, and compulsively checking the news for evidence that the “red phones” have been picked up.  I spend hours a day, lost in phone games, totally dissociated.  Very little is getting done, especially during the Fast.

Of course, most of us are upset by the war, but a quick poll of my friends leads me to believe that no one shares my paranoia, so I have to accept that something from the past is coming up to be healed.  Fortunately, this week’s homework in my survivors of incest group, is to process a trigger, and I decided to use this one.  I realized 3 things:

  1. Because of all the abuse I was going through, I wasn’t safe in my family.
  2. Because there were 3 bomb threats at school one winter, I wasn’t safe at school.
  3. Because of the Cuban missile crisis when I was 5 years old, when the USSR put medium to intermediate nuclear missiles in Cuba and the standoff between the USA and USSR came closest the world has ever come to nuclear conflict, and because there was a bomb shelter in the basement of my middle-class suburban western Canadian home, fully stocked with food and water for 2 years so we could survive a “nuclear winter”, the world wasn’t safe either.

All of this is in my face as I relive the terror of those years.  It doesn’t help to be a Bahá’í, knowing that the world has to be brought to its knees before it will turn to Bahá’u’lláh, and much though I long for the Most Great Peace, I don’t long for the calamities that will bring us through.  It also doesn’t help to know that one of the names of God is the Destroyer of the Worlds.  So what does help?  This quote gives some clues:

I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.  Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 28-30)

It takes discipline to change my thoughts of war to stronger thoughts of peace, but knowing that it will bring me happiness, I am grateful!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Fear into Faith:  Overcoming Anxiety

 

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Why We Don’t Want War

As you know from your study of the Bahá’í writings, the principle that is to infuse all facets of organized life on the planet is the oneness of humankind, the hallmark of the age of maturity. That humanity constitutes a single people is a truth that, once viewed with scepticism, claims widespread acceptance today. The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness. Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades–nay, centuries–to unfold. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

This morning Russia invaded the Ukraine.  We’ve been anticipating it for weeks.  I was appalled by a headline in the local news media:  “Why the West cares about the situation in Russia-Ukraine”.

Why do we care??!!!???

Because they are our brothers and sisters.  Isn’t that enough?

I didn’t read the article and I’m not going to comment on the substance here, because my intention is not to get into politics, but into compassion and empathy.

My heart is hurting for the Ukrainian people.  The terror they must be feeling is bringing up the terror I lived through as a child.  I’m not there, so I don’t know and yet I grieve.  Maybe that makes me a codependent, or maybe it makes me a Bahá’í.  I don’t know.

What I do know, and believe deeply, is that we are all one, and it seems so self-evident.  I don’t know why the world hasn’t understood it yet. This quote gives me a clue.  Recognition of the oneness of humanity requires the age of maturity before we see widespread acceptance, and humanity is still in the age of adolescence.

More troubling, though, is understanding that it requires a process that will take decades–nay, centuries–to unfold.  I have to let go of my impatience, and keep teaching, and keep doing the things we’re being asked to do by the House of Justice, trusting that we’re laying the groundwork that will lead to the Most Great Peace, and let go of my disappointment that I won’t see it in my lifetime.

Understanding that recognition of the oneness of humanity will take centuries to unfold, I can let go of my impatience and trust God with the process, and I am grateful!

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

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness

 

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The Relationship Between Suffering and Happiness

“Then it is impossible to attain happiness without suffering?”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. — “To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)

This week I was reading an article about toxic positivity, which reminded me that Bahá’ís often joke about having a “Feast face” that we wear to community events, masking our real feelings.  I wondered when being truly happy, serene and satisfied with all that is in our lives, crosses over the bounds of moderation and becomes toxic.  When does being chipper prevent us from being authentic?  What prevents us from being authentic in our Bahá’í communities?

When I was going through a really tough time, no one in the Bahá’í community wanted to hear of it, and I felt lonely and abandoned by my community.  There are lots of places in the Writings which told me to “be happy”, but I just couldn’t force myself into that emotion, and I learned to stuff it down.  I read that teaching and service was the path to happiness, so I made sure that this was the focus of each day, until I burned out from trying too hard.  I felt like a mouse in a maze, searching for this chimera called happiness.  The more I tried to will it into being, the more elusive it felt.

To me, suffering and joy seemed poles apart until I read this quote and realized I couldn’t have one without the other.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to deny or minimize the suffering arising from my traumatic childhood, and now that I’m starting to face what happened, allow the feelings to surface and recognize how unprocessed trauma effects my behavior, I’m starting to feel lighter and more peaceful.  Not happier, exactly, but I’m getting there.

Understanding there’s a link between suffering and happiness, I am grateful!

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

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

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Moving to the Will of God

May your movement and your stillness be guided by the gentle winds of His Will, and may He bestow upon you the enduring bounty of being enabled to serve Him in accordance with His wish.  (Universal House of Justice, to the Auxiliary Board members throughout the world, 3 January 2022)

When I first read the 20 or so pages coming out of the series of letters from the Counselors’ conference, outlining the goals of the 9 year plan and the general plans for the next 25 years, I was, as I often am, overwhelmed with the enormity of what we are being asked to do.

I’m still recovering from burn-out and not actively participating in the affairs of my local community, and it all seems totally daunting and overwhelming.  Finally, at the end of reading all 4 letters, the House of Justice concluded it all with the above quote, and I immediately recognized it as coming from one of the prayers I often say and burst into tears of relief and gratitude.  They understand me and my limits!

Yes, the task ahead of us is rigorous and herculean; and yes, all of the institutions are going to need our support and our best effort, and yes, it’s OK to “let my movement and my stillness be totally directed by God”.  In the past, I’ve let the urgency of the plans, and the inactivity of the Bahá’ís around me, cause me to push myself to try to do it all, way beyond the point of endurance and it’s taken a real toll on my physical and mental health.

It’s such a relief to know that the House of Justice has given me permission to be still when I need to be, within the context of these plans!  It’s not just Bahá’u’lláh saying this to the world in Prayers and Meditations, it’s the House of Justice saying it in the context of the next 25 years.  I don’t have to do it all, and I don’t have to do it today, if today I need to rest.  I can forgive myself for not being a “good Baha’i”.  Such an incredible relief!

Having permission to move according to the will of God, I am profoundly grateful!

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

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

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The Definition of Heroism

These, indeed, are the days when heroism is needed on the part of the believers. Self sacrifice, courage, indomitable hope and confidence are the characteristics they should show forth, because these very attributes cannot but fix the attention of the public and lead them to enquire what, in a world so hopelessly chaotic and bewildered, leads these people to be so assured, so confident, so full of devotion? (From a letter dated 26 October 1941 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, in Living the Life, p. 17)

When Shoghi Effendi wrote these words in 1941, the world was in a very different place.  When I think of heroism, I often think of the soldiers fighting in World Wars 1 and 2, or the firefighters who rushed to save people on 9/11.  So  many acts of bravery and heroism that came out of those times.

In this wonderful age, we’ve been given a new definition of heroism.  Today’s heroes are the community builders, who sacrifice their time, money, and sometimes even their educations and careers to focus on engaging the wider community and winning the goals of the plans.

I’ve learned just how much courage is needed for me to step outside my comfort zone to invite people to participate in the core activities.  I have faith, hope and confidence in the plans set before us by our beloved Universal House of Justice, and somedays I can even reach between the veil of now and the future, and see people engaged in all the core activities in every street of my neighborhood.  I long to find the stamina needed to help these community building initiatives keep going, sometimes in the face of the world’s indifference and contention.

I’m thrilled to see in learning sites all over the world, Baha’is and non-Baha’is are working together for the betterment of their communities, and to witness first hand how these activities act as magnets, drawing the confirmations promised by the Central Figures.  In communities such as these, we see first hand how the general public are wondering what leads these people to be so assured, so confident, so full of devotion, in a world so hopelessly chaotic and bewildered and long to join in.

Knowing what it takes for me to be a hero in today’s world, and seeing heroes all over the world, I am grateful!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Getting to Know Your Lower Nature

 

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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.