Monday, May 17, 2010

"Our church is in our hearts and we take it wherever we go."

When I was first introduced to the Baha'i Faith, the Baha'is I knew were conducting a devotional gathering at a nearby home. The first time I gathered with the Baha'is to pray I was struck by the simplicity and focus of their approach to communal prayer. There were no rituals. Socialization waited until after prayers were done. Participants would recite prayers individually as they felt inspired. They would sing songs even if nobody else knew the words to sing with them. The devotional portion of the gathering focused entirely on prayer and meditation. And because it didn't follow a pre-established program, individuals would participate to the extent that they felt inspired. As a Catholic re-engaging with my faith tradition I found that approach to worship deeply moving. I didn't feel in any way pressured. I didn't feel like a sheep lost in my own flock. Instead, I felt united with those around me in a common purpose of worshipping our creator.

Furthermore, the conditions required for such a gathering are easy to find. All that is needed are souls desiring to commune with God and a time and place to meet together. Certainly, a few candles and some peace and quiet are helpful. But they are by no means necessary. Often when Baha'is introduce the Baha'i Faith to someone they are asked "where is your church?" This can often be a difficult question. Many communities have Baha'is centers. But the function they perform in a Baha'i community is very different than a church building in a Christian community. The best response to this question I've heard is that, "Our church is in our hearts and we take it wherever we go." I think this reply best captures the Baha'i approach to communal worship and community building. Baha'is don't wish to take people out of their neighborhoods to commune with their creator. The aim is to establish a minimal differene between the places we live and the places we worship. Prayer can be performed in a living room, under a tree, in a car, a break room, anywhere. The aim is to infuse a devotional character into day-to-day life. This is the spiritual transformation that always goes hand in hand with the social transformation aimed at in Baha'i efforts toward community building.

The holiness of devotional gatherings comes through the human soul and not from where the participants gather. Where they gather becomes holy through the act of worship performed there. In the front of most Baha'i prayer books there are words of Baha'u'llah that state this well.

Blessed is the spot, and the house,
and the place, and the city,
and the heart, and the mountain,
and the refuge, and the cave,
and the valley, and the land,
and the sea, and the island,
and the meadow where mention
of God hath been made,
and His praise glorified.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Most Exalted Pen and its Meaning in the Tablet of Ridvan

Selection XIV in Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, from the Tablet of Ridvan, will suffice for the purposes of this inquiry. It's opening is as follows.
The Divine Springtime is come, O Most Exalted Pen, for the Festival of the All-Merciful is fast approaching. Bestir thyself, and magnify, before the entire creation, the name of God, and celebrate His praise, in such wise that all created things may be regenerated and made new. (GWB XIV)

Before going any further a few initial observations can be made. This is an announcement
of The Divine Springtime, a period generally accepted as the spiritual regeneration that follows the arrival of a new Manifestation of God. The passage is addressed to a pen, the Most Exalted Pen, Qalam Al-A'la, an expression which is also translated as the Pen of the Most Exalted. The pen is instructed to do three things: 1) to bestir itself, 2) magnify, before the entire creation, the name of God, and 3) celebrate His praise. The effect of these tasks is that all created things may be regenerated and made new. The passage ends at a similar place as it begins. Spring has arrived. In response the Most Exalted Pen is instructed to take action such that the revitalization proper to that season is realized. In the first instance, springtime is an external condition which arrives upon the Pen. But by the second instance it is an event the realization of which it assists. The first condition under which this is possible is that the Pen bestirs itself. The process does not advance automatically. The Pen must be urged on to make itself arise for the accomplishment of the tasks ahead.
Within the text, the addressee is clearly stated, the Most Exalted Pen. At the surface of the text, no reader, presumably, is ever addressed by this text. The only addressee, it seems, is the reed, the dead vegetable matter by which the original manuscript was produced by Baha'u'llah or His amanuensis. One might be led to read this is as a mere spectator, not immediately involved except as a detached observer. In that case it would be a statement of Baha'u'llah on the station of the Word of God. But there is more to the matter than that. The Pen has been commanded to bestir itself. Dead vegetable matter cannot bestir itself. This is a long established conclusion within biology. The only way that it can be moved is if someone or something moves it, a movement over which the Pen has no control. But in the passages that follow, the Pen and it's Lord discuss the reasons for the silence of the former. A few quotes will suffice.
Methinks that thou hast halted and movest not upon My Tablet...
Preferrest thou to tarry when the breeze announcing the Day of God hath already breathed over thee, or art thou of them that are shut out as by a veil from Him?..
No veil whatever have I allowed, O Lord of all names and Creator of the heavens, to shut me from the recognition of the glories of Thy Day—the Day which is the lamp of guidance unto the whole world, and the sign of the Ancient of Days unto all them that dwell therein. My silence is by reason of the veils that have blinded Thy creatures’ eyes to Thee, and my muteness is because of the impediments that have hindered Thy people from recognizing Thy truth...
Arise, and proclaim unto the entire creation the tidings that He Who is the All-Merciful hath directed His steps towards the Ridván and entered it. ...
In short, the Pen has received instructions to magnify the name of God, and celebrate His praise before all people but the desired result has not come about. The discussion is on whether this is due to the Pen's hesitation and unwillingness or purely to the spiritual blindness of the people. It goes without saying that more is at stake in the full selection than the production of manuscripts, and that one of its primary aims is the instruction of the Baha'is in teaching the faith. This is evident to any of its readers who has ever confronted the practical and spiritual issues that arise when the community sets out to bring the faith to the world. So in some way, it is any rank-and-file Baha'i who is addressed as the Most Exalted Pen.
One consequence that immediately follows is that such a person is conceived as an instrument of God, a lesser being by which God commences a different sort of writing, the form one hears in the words: Write down, then, for me the good of this world and of the world to come (PMB CXXVIII) This is the writing associated with a royal edict. It is an indication of power and authority, in this case over the tablet of the world. Say: O people! How can a fleeting fancy compare with the Self-Subsisting, and how can the Creator be likened unto His creatures, who are but as the script of His Pen? (GWB XCIII) The action of such a person is brought under the command of God; He or she becomes the means by which God writes out the Divine Springtime. But one's freedom remains intact. The dialogue, one might even call it a consultation, between the Pen and its Lord presupposes a freedom of decision in the former on how to advance a chosen course of action.
There are two conflicting directions in which this selection leads the reader. One is in the decisive unequal relation of an instrument and its user. In this case the will and thought of one is all that makes a difference. The other is a more equal relation, in which the Lord urges the pen on in a course of action. Execution of the task at hand is not automatic, as in the use of an inanimate pen. Faithfulness to the text requires that the reader not reduce one direction into the other, erasing either the instrumentality of the pen or its freedom. Baha'u'llah presents both to the reader. The truth is in the tension of these two moments, not their resolution.
The matter is not explored theoretically in the algebra of theological discourse but is dramatized in the enactment of its reality, the struggle of the act of teaching. That the pen, in all its absurdity, is the image Baha'u'llah chooses suggests that there are very few images, perhaps none, that can even adequately convey the spiritual event in question. That the freely willed action of one can be the commanding action of another is exceedingly difficult to describe and advance within any metaphor. This is by no means an indication of its error. The mere proposal of a metaphor, however coherent, is no indication of an argument's rigor; So neither is an incapacity to propose an adequate metaphor any indication of error. What is depicted in this selection makes no sense. But this is an instance in which truth breaks away from the shadows of mere sense and its articulation in a body of acquired knowledge. The act of teaching is the enactment of this truth.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oppression and its Meaning for Baha'u'llah

The coming of the end and the opening of the new comes about as a reversal of the oppression existing at the time. This is the most enduring feature of this ancient expectation and is for this reason a fundamental context within which to examine the Bab and Baha'u'llah's fulfillment of millenial hope. By examining what Baha'u'llah means by oppression, a Baha'i perspective on justice comes into view. What will become clear is that this pairing is related, fundamentally, to the diffusion, recognition, and application of divine guidance.

Innumerable passages from the world's scriptures anticipate that moment. For the purposes of brevity two will be cited. The first is a saying of Muhammad well known all Shias eagerly anticipating at the time of the Bab the end-times and the arrival of the Qa'im. He [the Qa'im] will then make the earth abound with peace and justice as it will have been fraught before him with persecution and oppression. The second is the passage from the Gospel of Mathew upon which Baha'u'llah comments at length in the Kitab-i-Iqan:

Immediately after the oppression of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the heavens will be shaken... And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. (Mt 24.29-30)

Paragraphs 28-31 in contemporary printings of the Kitab-i-Iqan mark out Baha'u'llah's discussion of the above verse. After describing various defining features and examples thereof, Baha'u'llah poses the rhetorical question:

What "oppression" is greater than that which hath been recounted. What oppression is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it, and from whom to seek it? (KI 29)

There is justice in honoring one response a critic might offer to Baha'u'llah's question: genocide, war, famine, epidemic, racism, sexism, discrimination of any kind. These oppressions are far more grievous that that a person is deprived of spiritual truth. Such pain is irrelevant alongside the excruciating burden of material carnage. Fair enough. Such a critic has a strong sense of the challenges facing humanity today. But the focus on specific crimes is perhaps too narrow to encompass the model presented by Baha'u'llah. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas He writes: They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples. (K2) Spiritual prosperity contains within it its material counterpart. By attaining to God's most recent guidance, a soul, and the world more broadly, can make use of the highest means by which to address the horrors recounted above. to return to the Kitab-i-Iqan, one can detect the social consequences of this oppression in Baha'u'llah's introduction to the section on oppression, an unyielding condemnation of the clergy of His day.

Such a condition as this is witnessed in this day when the reins of every community have fallen into the grasp of foolish leaders, who lead after their own whims and desire.

[I]n idle fancy they have found the door that leadeth to earthly riches...

[A] number of voracious beasts have gathered and preyed upon the carrion of the souls of men. (KI 28)

By opposing oppression to the recognition of the newly revealed Word of God, one is correct in observing that, in a narrow sense, the Qa'im is not the one who fills the earth with peace and justice. After all, one of the central problems addressed in the Kitab-i-Iqan is that the Qa'im had come, was martyred, and still only a few had followed after Him. If anybody carries out the prophesied task, it is the believers who accept the new revelation following His death. And this is exactly where the material concrete dimensions of justice come into view. The Qa'im initiates a process, within which He sets the course of action by means of His writings, a process that includes and is advanced by the masses of human believers. Baha'u'llah takes up the same theme later in the Kitab-i-Iqan when He discusses the sovereignty of the Manifestation of God and that it is established only to a limited extent during His own lifetime. (KI 114-117)

One could say that Baha'u'llah dodges the real question: How could the Bab be the Qa'im if he didn't fulfill the prophecy? Fair enough. But Baha'u'llah's move is not a dodge so much as it is a deferral, a deferral to human action that is pivotal to the theological framework He sets out in the Kitab-i-Iqan. Baha'u'llah extends the conditions under which the Qa'im takes action to include the mobilization of His followers in His absence. In this world, the Qa'im is but one man. Barring a catastrophic world-miracle, He is in need of assistants to carry out such a dramatic transformation. God in His essence may be without partner. But insofar as He is made manifest with the form of an ordinary human being, the Qa'im is not.

This human assistance is born out in both Christian and Shia Islamic prophecy. In the gospels of Mathew and Mark Jesus describes His return as being accompanied by angels. And he [the Son of Man] will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Furthermore it is understood that the Qa'im will lead armies across the earth in the execution of His mission. After all, He is the Imam Al-Zaman, Leader of the Age. One can only be a leader if there are those, however few at first, who are led. Worth noting is that oppression of those days is delayed beyond the passing of the Manifestation.

By [oppression] is meant that when the Daystar of Truth hath set, and the mirrors that reflect His light have departed, mankind will become afflicted with "oppression" and hardship, not knowing whither to turn for guidance. (KI 30)

Oppression is held back not just by the Manifestation of God but also by the mirrors that reflect His light. Just as in His discussion of sovereignty later on, the influence, in these words the light of the Manifestation, is extended beyond His limited existence by the aid of a supplement, an assistant, a soul that faithfully lives by the teachings of God. The mirror does not give off its own image. It extends that of another. It takes part in the Appearence, the Mazhar of God (Mazhar usually being translated as Manifestation). In this sense there is justice in including such mirrors within the use of the word "He" in the saying of Muhammad: He will then make the earth abound with peace and justice as it will have been fraught before Him with persecution and oppression. Qa'im (He who ariseth) refers primarily to the Manifestation of God but extends to, and is extended by those who arise to serve his His Cause.

The oppression of the Manifestation of God is comprised not so much of offenses against His person, but of a whole variety of deeds by which humanity is severed from the guidance of His teachings. Justice is the integrity of this connection. When interrrupted it has consequences on both material and spiritual prosperity. Baha'u'llah's initial banishment to Akka was oppressive because lines of communication with Iran were broken; And what accounts did get through contained slanders and news of misbehavior that confused and distracted the Baha'is from the world embracing aims of the faith. The scheming of covenant-breakers and external enemies, the criminal deeds of Baha'is in Akka all produced the same result; attention was drawn away from substantial matters of global significance towards petty controversies. The oppressors were those who squandered, for all humanity, the precious opportunity of a living Manifestation of God. Baha'u'llah was impaired in His ability to raise up a community capable of carrying His mission forward following His death. The triumphs that mark that age are evident; But history will never know to what heights the Baha'is, and with them the whole world, could have soared had the twin Manifestations not been chained up by such small minds.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

To Recognize God

And as for 'irfan, what can it mean? How does Baha'u'llah use this word?

Undoubtedly, one of the few concepts around which the entirety of the Baha'i faith could be said to revolve is 'irfan, typically tranlated as true understanding, recognition, knowledge (of which all could be addended with "of God") It names the point at which a soul enters into a relation of truth with God's manifestation, and initiates a life of service unto Him. How this comes about, when, and what outward signs it produces are currently some of the most fruitful and engaging theological discussions happening at this time within the Baha'i community; for at its heart is an inquiry as to what exactly makes somebody a Baha'i. Without directly engaging these specific discussions (I'd rather defer to "learning in action" taking place all over the world.) I'd like to capture in writing a brief impression left by the Baha'i writings on the meaning of 'irfan: true understanding, the recognition of the Manifestation of God.

It seems 'irfan is a gratification of spiritual sense, analagous to that of the five bodily senses. The parallelism of soul and body, the very invocation of the latter as metaphor, is exactly that which sets them apart, dividing bodily gratification from spiritual gratification. In the writings the turning of a soul towards its lord is indicated by means of a long series of sensual images: the beauty of the beloved, the light of dawn, the warmth of the fire, the scent of the true Joseph's garment. The soul is caught up in the pleasure of an other. These are not moments in which the soul labors for the sake of something else. They are not means towards another end. They are presented as experiences desirable for their own sake. 'Irfan is simple gratification. Each image Baha'u'llah invokes expresses in its own way a founding motivation, a pleasure irreducible to and underivable for any impetus besides itself.

In so many words, 'irfan is what comes first. This priority, this firstness, is the mark of God's sovereignty on the recognizing soul, its commissioning and setting-apart for a life distinguished by service to the object of its desire. In addition, it is the initiation of a relation of truth with the object. Here, at the risk of entrapping the new Beloved within one's own conceptions, the soul begins to learn the other and learn from the other.

Your Cat,
Mirza Qasim Al-Qatt

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Being Human" in the Day of God

In numerous places, the central figures of the Baha'i faith speak of Baha'u'llah's arrival as the sign of humanity's coming of age. Millennia of practice in the revealed religions combined with greater contact between the world's peoples have uniquely qualified this juncture in history for securing the unity and prosperity of all humanity. This maturity is in some sense already achieved with the coming of Baha'u'llah. But to a large extent it is waiting to be seized. For this reason, a long struggle is required. The following passage charts out the connection between the nobility of the human form and the realization of the new era, the Day of God.

The All-Merciful hath conferred upon man the faculty of vision, and endowed him with the power of hearing. Some have described him as the “lesser world,” when, in reality, he should be regarded as the “greater world.” The potentialities inherent in the station of man, the full measure of his destiny on earth, the innate excellence of his reality, must all be manifested in this promised Day of God. (GWB CLXII)

Baha'u'llah's designation of humanity as a greater rather than lesser world expresses a basic optimism in human nature. Human beings no doubt are worthy of both praise and rebuke. But its is humanity's power towards good, his divinely bestowed nobility that makes the difference for Baha'u'llah. So in His writings "being human" is not synonymous with lowliness. Exaltation is the rule and not the exception. This is seen whenever the Baha'i writings speak of the human form in general as distinct from particular human actions.

Throughout the Baha'i writings humanity is understood as a high ranking occupant within a cosmic hierarchy of beings. God is at the top, while bare matter is at the bottom. Humanity stands imbetween God and the Animal. Each level of the hierarchy represents a particular quality. Beings exhibit those qualities represented by their level and all levels below them. Abdu'l Baha spoke frequently of this arrangement in His travels through the United States and Europe. Its language is immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with his manner of discussion. At the bottom of the hierarchy is bare matter, the Mineral. Immediately above it is the Vegetable, which in addition to bare matter is also endowed with the power of growth. The Animal in turn possesses the power of sense perception. Finally, the Human consummates and recapitulates these lower levels in the possession of an intellect. For this reason, Abdu'l Baha declares that, [t]he most noble and praiseworthy accomplishment of man therefore is scientific knowledge and attainment. (Foundations of World Unity 48-49) Science then is the expression of humanity's preeminence over lower forms of creation.

Through the possession of an intellect humanity humanity is endowed with what Abdu'l Baha regards as the most praiseworthy power of man, the ability to struggle back against the natural world. He goes on,

The earth and its myriad organisms, all minerals, plants and animals are thralls of its dominion. But man through the exercise of his scientific, intellectual power can rise out of this condition, can modify, change and control nature according to his own wishes and uses. Science, so to speak, is the “breaker” of the laws of nature. (49)

Trans-oceanic sailing, airplanes, submarines, and electric light are all offered as examples of "law-breaking." Humanity is a creature empowered in a wide variety of ways to assert his will to life over and against the natural world. To a large extent He is a creature who by means of himself is empowered to live for himself. Through the bestowal of an intellect humanity can attain to prosperity in this world as well as in the next. That salvation as well comes as a self-salvation is pivotal in understanding the role of human nature in the Day of God. Through the mobilization of powers bestowed innately on the human form the Manifestation of God expresses his dominion over humanity through the ascendency and influence of human servants. Thus the passage: The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. (GWB CXXXII)

In one particularly revealing passage Baha'u'llah rank orders God's gifts to humanity. The first is understanding, the purpose of which is to know and recognize the one true God. (GWB XCV) It furthermore empowers humanity to discern the truth in all things, leadeth him to that which is right, and helpeth him to discover the secrets of creation. Below this is vision and below it the other senses. However, the picture is incomplete if one were to suppose that humanity is his own greatest gift. Baha'u'llah trumps His earlier statements by explaining that Divine Revelation is preeminent above these earlier gifts. He goes on to state that [e]very bounty conferred by the Creator upon man, be it material or spiritual, is subservient unto this. Along the same lines He states in another writing: Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself from its dross. (GWB XXVII) In both passages Divine Revelation is the force activating those energies latent within the human form.

In an almost paradoxical twist Baha'u'llah elsewhere affirms the pivotal role of free choice and human volition in activating these latent energies. Unto each one hath been prescribed a pre-ordained measure, as decreed in God’s mighty and guarded Tablets. All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth. (GWB LXXVII) In the same passage Baha'ullah goes on to state that the foreknowledge of God does not cause human behavior, that it is instead the mere beholding of freely willed acts.

The juxtaposition of humanity's simultaneous dependence on both Divine Revelation and free will to set in motion these latent energies frames effectively the historical destiny the Baha'i writings ascribe to humanity. Though this age has been assigned as the dawning of the Day of God, humanity is not dragged along as a spectator. Action is required. Choices must be made. New beginnings must be called into being.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Number and Manifestation

The relation between the Manifestations' divine and human natures becomes most perplexing when Baha'u'llah discusses how they fit, or rather don't fit, into the cosmic hierarchy. By denying a clear position within the cosmic hierarchy, Baha'u'llah exposes a certain ineffability to the Manifestation with regard to number. In view is not just the transcendent Essence of God, but His Manifestation in this world, the point of mediation between the Creator and creation. Worth remembering are Baha'u'llah's words: O children of the divine and invisible Essence! Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me. (AHW 66)

First, the implications of God's transcendent unity must be made clear. To grasp or contain is to form a bounded unity. As a hand closes around something it restricts its movement within a limited space. It sets an interior apart from an exterior and secures their clear separation. This is the movement of minds and hearts that fails when performed on God. To think of God as an interior thing with a non-Divine exterior is to conceive of Him as one would a body, inasmuch as it is through this interior/exterior distinction that all "bodies" become present in perception. The failure of the grasp is due to the error of conceiving God and bodies horizontally, as comparable beings on a common plane. Under such an assumption God's unity would come about by drawing a distinction between God and not-God. It is a unity that at once requires a multiplicity, a duality with not-God. Consider then these words:

He is a true believer in Divine unity who, far from confusing duality with oneness, refuseth to allow any notion of multiplicity to becloud his conception of the singleness of God, who will regard the Divine Being as One Who, by His very nature, transcendeth the limitations of numbers. (Gleanings LXXXIV)

It should not be concluded though, that God's unity is only possible once any idea of not-God is abolished, thus making all things God. Such a conclusion would wrongly assume that God and any ideas composed about Him perfectly correspond to each other, that their inner orders are interchangable. The alternative, indeed the only one, is to think of God within a provisional but impossible framework for which no possible replacement is conceivable. This is that ideas about God take place within multiplicity but refer to that which is outside this world of distinction, the place of placelessness, the outside of outsideness. With this in mind the unity of God can be thought of as a total absence of distinction, distinguishing it from this world of distinguishability. It might be said that God is invisible not so much because we are blind to Him, but because nothing can be seen in pure light or pure darkness. The contrast between light and shadow is needed to make out, grasp, and contain distinguishable forms. Without contrast it is utterly concealed. Such is the unity of God, a purity which no mind can grasp nor heart contain.

One such provisional but impossible framework is to think of God as occupying a station, a proper place within a hierarchy of the cosmos, that situates Him in relation to other things, each with their own station. Humanity, animals, plants, and minerals can then be thought alongside God within a united and coherent order. Everything within the hierarchy is understandable inasmuch as they can be confined to a particular station. This confinement though is of course the same attempt at grasping and containing encountered in the Hidden Words.

Baha'u'llah features the hierarchical model in His writings. But in a way He undermines it by including within it its very impossibility. He does this by assigning two stations to each of the Manifestations of God, two stations which he at no point condenses into one. This means that the Manifestation of God is not a station. Instead it is the simultaneous occupation of two. The first is the station of essential unity and pertains to that of God made manifest in each of them. From this perspective the Manifestation is sovereign. The other is the station of distinction and pertains to the human aspect of each one. From this perspective they are each the servants of God. (KI 191) The double station of the Manifestation appears as an anomaly, a logical impossibility within the hierarchical model that troubles the entire theological edifice. One must be either here or there. Both cannot be the case simultaneously. But if that is their appearance, their manifestation, then the hierarchical model cannot give an account of the event for which it is deployed to make understandable. In its grasping and containing, the event in question slips through its fingers and is made manifest as a double station. So the double station must be understood as the failure of the grasp rather than its fruit. It is a statement of ineffability and not of systematic structure.

With that in mind, the task of thinking the Manifestation of God must consider the matter that brought about the double station, the question of the Manifestation's number. By exceeding classification within a single station the Manifestation exceeds being grasped as one. Furthermore, the Manifestation exceeds being grasped as the sum of two terms, which itself is a sort of unity. Furthermore, the first term in the equation is God, Who transcendeth the limitations of numbers. One station pertains to the transcendent unity of God. While the other pertains to the plurality of humans who have been the thrones and messengers of that unity. Within each Manifestation there is a tension and overarching embrace between God's transcendent unity and the corporeal nature of each human, which within itself is marked by plurality. Bounded off from other creatures on one end, while open to God on the other, the double station requires the Manifestation to be thought as neither singular nor plural. The "number" of the Manifestation must be distinguished from "numbers." As the form of the grasp, the number one is out of the question. And with it goes any other number inasmuch as it is derived from the addition(s) of one onto itself.

the number of the Manifestation could possibly be left alone as a theological obscurity like the Trinity or the Immaculate Conception were it not for the implications it has on the relationship between the Manifestations of God and the rank and file of the communities they represent. This is because the relation between God and the Manifestation is analogous to the relation between the latter and His believers. Both use the imagery of light in a mirror. The two relations reflect in each other the theme of reflection. Consider this passage of Baha'u'llah.

Every one of them is a mirror of God, reflecting naught else but His Self, His Beauty, His Might and Glory, if ye will understand. All else besides them are to be regarded as mirrors capable of reflecting the glory of these Manifestations Who are themselves the Primary Mirrors of the Divine Being, if ye be not devoid of understanding. (Gleanings XXX)

Both relationships are understood in terms of the reflection of light from another. So it is understandable then that the same perplexities encountered between God and the Manifestation should be reflected in the analogous relationship. If it could be said that the former relationship primarily concerns the Revelation of the Word of God then the latter relationship primarily concerns the believer's action commissioned by that Word. The relation between the designations divine and human should next be considered as it pertains to this action.

Your Cat

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Transcendence and Manifestation

Any examination of salvific action, of any sort of interpenetration of divine and human action, must proceed from its theological basis in divine transcendence. This is the logical order expressed in the opening paragraphs of the second part of the Kitab-i-Iqan, the most well-known, concise, and perhaps most comprehensive explanation Baha'u'llah offers of these themes. It is these passages that provide an effective starting point for pursuing salvific action throughout Baha'ullah's writings, from Baghdad to Bahji.

Baha'u'llah argues that God in His essence is absolutely different from His creatures. Corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress are human forms that do not apply to Him. He standeth exalted beyond all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. All creation and its accompanying order has come into being through His Primal Will. Because He is the one who decides upon the form and content of the law He is not bound by it. But knowledge is only possible where such law is binding. For this reason, God is invisible to His creatures as their creator even though He is the one that makes their vision possible. The unreciprocality of this arrangement is well stated in the Quranic verse Baha'u'llah quotes, no vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision. He is the Subtle the All Perceiving. (6.103) The transcendence of God rules out any sort of direct one-to-one encounter between the Creator and creation at the Day of Judgment. (K104 p.90)

The manifestation of Divine Sovereignty must in some way be from creation-to-creation so as to remain visible and knowable, but at the same time remain in the necessary downward motion of Creator-to-creation. Baha'u'llah lays out His doctrine of the Manifestation of God in the tension between these two dynamics. There must then be a mediator who represents both the Creator and creation. Baha'u'llah writes,

The door of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace...hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence. (KI106 p.91)

The divinely ordained Founders of Religion are made to stand at the threshold of the visible and the invisible so as to mediate between God and other humans. They are the mouthpiece of God in human history and the pivots on which turns His manifest sovereignty. Baha'u'llah uses the metaphor of a mirror reflecting the light of the sun to explain the mediating role played by such souls. The central concept undergirding this doctrine is Baha'u'llah's understanding of the names and attributes of God.

Within the metaphor the essences of God and the human correspond respectively to sun and the mirror. The names and attributes of God correspond to the light that originates in the former and is reflected in the latter. All knowledge, dominion, and love come from God, the unknowable essence. But they can be made manifest in this world making them the content of manifestation and the bridge that crosses the otherwise unbridgeable void between the Creator and creation. This is the model Baha'u'llah adopts for explaining how a transcendent god manifests His will within His creation.

Baha'u'llah outlines three levels at which the names and attributes of God are made manifest. The first of which is all things. He writes, within every atom are enchrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that most great Light. Methinks but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist. (KI107 p.92) The second of which is humanity, who not only manifests the names and attributes to a supreme degree but is also capable of manifesting all of them. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God...All these names and attributes are applicable to him. Baha'u'llah supports these assertions using a number of Quranic verses and Islamic traditions, including the saying He hath known God who hath known himself. After repeating the capacities of all things and humanity, He explains a third and final level, the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. (KI109 p.94-95) Whereas all names and attributes are potentially revealed in man, they are actually revealed in the Manifestations. Furthermore, all else besides these Manifestations live by they operation of their Will, and move, and have their being through the outpourings of their grace, all of this in the noble form of the human temple. So pervasive a power and so universal an influence is all potentially revealed in the spiritual form given to all humanity by God.

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