Saturday, June 30, 2007

From where does God's authority come?

This entry is in many ways a response to this essay, published in 1995. I didn't read it though until I was well on my way to finishing this post, but we certainly cover much of the same ground, come up against some of the same problems, but still think about these things in very different ways.

I've only read through it once. So I don't think I've fully mastered its argument. I'll just say this. It makes me rather uneasy because I don't think it has due respect for themes of self-justifying arbitrariness in Baha'u'llah's writings.

Be forewarned. This is a long entry. It's so long I've actually added two chapter markers.


In Plato's dialogue, the Euthyphro, the character of Socrates asks of his companion a difficult and quite perplexing question: Is piety good because it is pleasing to the gods, or is it pleasing to the gods because it is good? This is just a paraphrase. But it conveys the clear distinction there is between two ideas that are often presented together as if they were not contradictory.

On the one hand is the notion that piety is good because it is pleasing to the gods. This means that something is not good because of any inherent qualities, but rather because they have received endorsement by the sovereign authority.

On the other hand is the notion that piety is pleasing to the gods because it is good. This means that something is good because of inherent qualities that are present in themselves. In this case, the gods are just connisieurs of goodness, a reality that exists prior to the gods and their decrees. In this case, the gods are not sovereign. Rather, the good is the sovereign authority, and the authority of the gods is only in their superior ability to discern goodness.

Socrates argued for this second position. His notion of the sovereign and unified "goodness in itself" displaced the authority of Zeus, Apollo, Athena and the rest of the Athenian pantheon. Understandably this led to a charge that he discouraged the worship of the gods of the city, and promoted new gods instead. For this he was executed, and logically so.

Though this debate within Athenian religion has long since disappeared, the stubborn difficulty of this problem has persisted. Indeed it cuts right through the writings of Baha'u'llah. Taken as a whole his writings never take decisivily one position or the other. Depending on the context he uses either of the positions outlined by Plato's Socrates to defend and justify his mission to the world. The reason I want to explore this issue is because I think it has enormous consequences for how to understand Baha'u'llah, his teachings, and how his followers should relate to his teachings and the world. In particular, this issue concerns how to explain and justify Baha'u'llah's teachings to those who are not acquainted with the faith.

On the one hand Baha'u'llah is fond of remarking that God doeth what he willeth and ordaineth whatsoever he pleaseth. Since there is no higher authority for God to appeal, his action then is justified by his own act of willing it. This of course, would make his actions arbitrary, but that's the point. Something rises above arbitrariness once it can appeal to a higher authority for its judgments. The courts fall back on the law, philosophers fall back on reason, historians fall back on their sources. But this backward citation of authority must come to an end somewhere. At this point, a thing's authority is not from something higher, but rather from its very self. This is what it means to be arbitrary. Furthermore this arbitrariness is inscribed into all judgments that refer back to that arbitrary foundational principle. When Baha'u'llah remarks that God doeth what he willeth and ordaineth whatsoever he pleaseth he declares God is the sovereign authority of all things, the measure by which all judgments are made, and the source of all goodness that can be justified as such.

On the other hand Baha'u'llah cites as his authority that his teachings are in humanity's best interest. Take this passage from the Lawh-i-Manikchi-Sahib the first line is the most important but I've quoted the whole thing just because of how much I love this passage. In fact one of the first entries of this blog was on this passage. I believe it was called the Will to Salvation.

The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

In this model, the manifestation of God is particularly expert at discerning the needs of a particular time and place. His authority is not so much his will, but the needs-in-themselves that he is so skilled at diagnosing. Such a model relies on a vision of the universe in which everything has within itself a true purpose and nature inherent to it. God would know his creation better than anyone, so thus he would be the most authoritative guide to these "true needs." In this way, the authority of the manifestation is based on the practical efficacy of his teachings, and their harmony with the world, and hence science. God then, would be the superior scientist.

So, as we can see the stance that God ordaineth whatsoever he pleaseth is in clear tension with his claim to being the All-Knowing Physician. I don't want to resolve this conflict as such. For one, I have my doubts that it could ever be sufficiently resolved. At the very least though, I want to highlight these issues and point out how these themes take shape as strategies for explaining the Baha'i faith to oneself and to others.

The rubber hits the road with this distinction when responding to the question: What's so great about Baha'u'llah? If one takes the first perspective then the answer to this question would be a proof that Baha'u'llah was indeed who he said he was, a manifestation of God himself, sent to illuminate humanity with divine instruction. Since he determines what is good without any criteria beside his own will, then there is no other need to explain the social benefit of his teachings. Their authority is in God, and all discussion would only center around whether or not such teachings do in fact come from God. This strategy clearly upholds the authority of God, rather than surreptitiously subordinating his authority to human enterprises such as science, or political ideology, a problem that will be seen with the All-Knowing Physician strategy. But one clear drawback to this first approach is that it makes religion seem quite......pointless. The temptation is to conclude that this life is just a big test to see whether or not humans will do what God tells them to do. That doesn't quite do justice to Baha'u'llah's teachings, now does it?

The other strategy then would be to show that Baha'u'llah's teachings are the greatest hope humanity has to achieve collective happiness and well-being. This of course involves a lot of guess-work, seeing as how it is is extremely unlikely, if not conceptually impossible, to see anytime soon Baha'u'llah's teachings being universally put into practice "in their purity," what ever that is. Anyway, if Baha'u'llah's teachings need to be promoted then that necessarily implies that they are in need of further implementation. Thus, any argument that somebody would make for their value is in one sense a reasonable guess, and in another sense a promise without a strict guarantee. As difficult as this strategy may be, I'm a big promoter of it. Pondering the practicality of Baha'u'llah's teachings is my biggest inspiration for following his exhortation in the Kitab-i-Aqdas to Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths.

One perplexity of this strategy is that it subordinates the authority of divine teachings to whatever is the dominant vision at the time of what is and is not rational, and the people that represent that rationality. As long as their has been thought, it has been used to respond positively to the world. So anyone who is engaged in thought is also at the same time engaged in the question of how best to live in this world. Baha'u'llah is not the only one trying to be viewed as the All-Knowing Physician. This posture and promise stands at the very heart of any pursuit of expertise, whether it be scientific, philosophical, medical, political, etc. Any community from any of these fields has their own idea of what is rational and in humanity's best interest. Their influence on thought should not be forgotten when considering the rational "merit" of any religous ideas, in this case, Baha'u'llah's teachings. It's not unreasonable to argue that any one of these expert visions are arranged in such a way as to necessarily exclude anything that does not fit into their world-view. In fact, I'd say its perfectly reasonable, maybe even tautological.

This admittedly is very difficult terrain, and worthy of a few books itself, certainly its own blog entry. Suffice to say, I'm not eager to explain Baha'u'llah in terms of the world's various ideologies. Many times its tempting to think about how Baha'u'llah would make a fine quantum physicist, post-Gramsci Marxist, or innovative humanist psychologist. But such projects are all just such prostitution in my eyes and I won't stand for it. I'm certainly not in the "it's-true-because-Baha'u'llah-says-so-crowd" (see above link). But as a godfearing monotheist, I will not tolerate subordinating his teachings to the latest whims of the gods of this world: the guardians of rationalities in the university, the think-tanks, government, and media.
Though it is crucially important to demonstrate the benefits of Baha'u'llah's teachings, one must always take into account who it is that influences our vision of what is and is not a "benefit" to the world. For this reason, I put a lot of faith in the assertion that God ordaineth whatsoever he pleaseth. With this principle, arbitrariness isn't a problem to be rectified. It's the logical basis of any justification. Coming to terms with arbitrariness is important inasmuch as it protects against colonization by whatever is the dominant vision of what is rational. In one sense this is about retaining independence and diversity. But in another sense its about protecting those things that are excluded from the contemporary status quo, but whose value will only become manifest in the future. So, a particular teaching may appear arbitrary to some inquiring mind. And that inquiring mind may think it is the most urgent priority to make that teaching "compatible with reason." Towards this end he or she will hammer that teaching this way and that until it is bent into conformity with whatever they regard as most reasonable. But this is always done in terms of self and the present moment. Little to no regard would be given to what may be beyond our understanding or how our prejudice towards the status quo may blind to us to sources of future hope. For this reason, I think that making peace with arbitrariness has a place in protecting the Baha'i faith from colonization by and assimilation into more powerful and influential ideologies in the world today. Not everything is going to make sense. But I don't think that that is necessarily a problem. Part of looking to the future is accepting that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

My Hair is Tall. Praise God!

In class, we were recently taught a children's song and instructed to memorize it for Monday.

The lyrics are a combination of Arabic and English. In English it reads.

I am small
My head is ball.
My hair is tall.

Praise God!

My eyes are ink.
My cheeks are pink.
My teeth are milk.

Praise God!

After thinking about this song for a while I have taken up a militant confidence in its profundity as an expression of religiosity. I say this for two reasons. For one, it draws a connection between one's basic means of worldly sustenance and God's generosity. Secondly, it violates the postures of maturity and seriousness that hinder one's recognition of this very serious, even grave, matter.

I won't lie. These aren't original ideas (as if such things could ever be conceived or even recognized as such). Rather, I have been fortunate enough to hear that Thich Nhaht Hanh (sp?) uses similar childrens' songs to instill humility and spontaneity among his students. Furthermore, I'm drawing on the Gospels. If I had a Bible with me right now, I'd find a quote. Suffice to say, there are multiple occasions in which the Apostles are arguing amongst each other about who is the greatest among them (typical electoral politics). Jesus then tells them to shut their faces and learn from the example of children. What exactly that means is sort of ambiguous, but I hope to offer an interpretation of that in the course of this entry.

Readers of the Qur'an would know that the earliest portions of the Qur'an, those revealed in Mecca, focus most heavily, and most repititiously on such foundational concepts. They are constantly reminded that God is the one who created humanity, that he is the one who makes the rain fall, and crops to grow. To make a long story short, humanity is dependent on God in all ways. For this reason we should offer praise to the one who has raised us up, and will raise us up a second time on the Last Day.

In simple language the song reminds the singer of various parts of the body that he or she might take for granted, and that they are (usually) in good condition. The song then move effortlessly towards the logical conclusion: Praise God!

Many would accuse me of being silly for writing this entry. They would say that this is all theological child's play and not the domain of serious religion. To them I would say: Stop taking yourselves so seriously, and start taking God seriously, the source of our existence.

There is a proper time for all things. For this reason, children must grow up to be adults, and take up adult responsibilities. But in the discharge of such duties, it is easy to forget the support that we recieve from God. For example, by concentrating so heavily on what "I" need to do I might ignore all those things that have already been done for me. This does not just pertain to God, but to other people as well. After all, God bestows his bounties throughout creation, especially in other people. For that reason, we should respect all people who have made contributions to our prosperity, not just those who are better positioned to claim publicly that it was "their" contribution that made all the difference. The serious business of taking responsibility must then take into account the equally serious matter of honoring contributions in the most appropriate manner.

All things come from God. And to him all things return. All powers that exist in the world are only manifestations of his power in creation. Everything we see in our lives that benefit us owes its existence to God. He is the one who makes the wind blow andthe most any one person can say is that he or she is a sail. It is upon his support that people are allowed to "set sail." Only then can we proceed with power and influence in this world. All expressions of power, even so-called independence, are necessarily dependent on other factors, worldly, or other-worldy that have been brought into existence by God.

This is why children's songs are so important. Childhood is a time when one feels very concretely this dependence on others. It's not that children are more dependent than adults. It's just that its a lot harder to deny this dependence at that age. Everybody at all times is always dependent on someone or something else. This is the reality of the universe. Recognizing it is the responsibility of all serious-minded individuals.

The song is amazing not just because it recognizes the immanence of God's generosity. But furthermore, its very form upsets the spiritual posturing that assumes otherwise. It helps point out the great absurdity of adulthood, especially among the modern middle class: that adults have achieved independence. Could lies more adulterous ever be conceived? Could such seriousness ever be taken seriously? To hell with you hubris-mongerers! From God we have come. And to God will we return. For them this song may be playtime. But for others this is a religious duty of the highest priority.

What other option is there but to Praise God!

I've included an excellent passage from the Lawh-i-Ra'is, a writing of Baha'u'llah. It too is one of the inspirations for this entry. If it helps put the passage in context, I'll say that it is bookended by unrelenting fire and brimstone. This was written immediately following He and his followers exile to Akka. It could be said this was Baha'u'llah's "angry period," and is addressed to an orchestrator of his exile in the Ottoman court.

Have ye fondly imagined your glory to be imperishable and your dominion to be everlasting? Nay, by Him Who is the All-Merciful! Neither will your glory last, nor will Mine abasement endure. Such abasement, in the estimation of a true man, is the pride of every glory.

When I was still a child and had not yet attained the age of maturity, My father made arrangements in Tihrán for the marriage of one of My older brothers, and as is customary in that city, the festivities lasted for seven days and seven nights. On the last day it was announced that the play "Sháh Sultán Salím" would be presented. A large number of princes, dignitaries, and notables of the capital gathered for the occasion. I was sitting in one of the upper rooms of the building 166 and observing the scene. Presently a tent was pitched in the courtyard, and before long some small human-like figures, each appearing to be no more than about a hand’s span in height, were seen to emerge from it and raise the call: "His Majesty is coming! Arrange the seats at once!" Other figures then came forth, some of whom were seen to be engaged in sweeping, others in sprinkling water, and thereafter another, who was announced as the chief town crier, raised his call and bade the people assemble for an audience with the king. Next, several groups of figures made their appearance and took their places, the first attired in hats and sashes after the Persian fashion, the second wielding battleaxes, and the third comprising a number of footmen and executioners carrying bastinados. Finally there appeared, arrayed in regal majesty and crowned with a royal diadem, a kingly figure, bearing himself with the utmost haughtiness and grandeur, at turns advancing and pausing in his progress, who proceeded with great solemnity, poise and dignity to seat himself upon his throne.

At that moment a volley of shots was fired, a fanfare of trumpets was sounded, and king and tent were enveloped in a pall of smoke. When it had cleared, the king, ensconced upon his throne, was seen surrounded by a suite of ministers, princes, and dignitaries of state who, having taken their places, were standing at attention in his presence. A captured thief was then brought before the king, who gave the order that the offender should be beheaded. Without a moment’s delay the chief executioner cut off the thief’s head, whence a blood-like liquid came forth. After this the king held audience with his court, during which intelligence was received that a rebellion had broken out on a certain frontier. Thereupon the king reviewed his troops and despatched several regiments supported by artillery to quell the uprising. A few moments later cannons were heard booming from behind the tent, and it was announced that a battle had been engaged.

This Youth regarded the scene with great amazement. When the royal audience was ended, the curtain was drawn, and, after some twenty minutes, a man emerged from behind the tent carrying a box under his arm.

"What is this box," I asked him, "and what was the nature of this display?"

"All this lavish display and these elaborate devices," he replied, "the king, the princes, and the ministers, their pomp and glory, their might and power, everything you saw, are now contained within this box."

I swear by My Lord Who, through a single word of His Mouth, hath brought into being all created things! Ever since that day, all the trappings of the world have seemed in the eyes of this Youth akin to that same spectacle. They have never been, nor will they ever be, of any weight and consequence, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed. How greatly I marvelled that men should pride themselves upon such vanities, whilst those possessed of insight, ere they witness any evidence of human glory, perceive with certainty the 168 inevitability of its waning. "Never have I looked upon any thing save that I have seen extinction before it; and God, verily, is a sufficient witness!"

It behoveth everyone to traverse this brief span of life with sincerity and fairness. Should one fail to attain unto the recognition of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, let him at least conduct himself with reason and justice. Erelong these outward trappings, these visible treasures, these earthly vanities, these arrayed armies, these adorned vestures, these proud and overweening souls, all shall pass into the confines of the grave, as though into that box. In the eyes of those possessed of insight, all this conflict, contention and vainglory hath ever been, and will ever be, like unto the play and pastimes of children. Take heed, and be not of them that see and yet deny.

Our call concerneth not this Youth and the loved ones of God, for they are already sore-tried and imprisoned and expect nothing from men such as thee. Our purpose is that thou mayest lift up thy head from the couch of heedlessness, shake off the slumber of negligence, and cease to oppose unjustly the servants of God. So long as thy power and ascendancy endure, strive to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed. Shouldst thou judge with fairness and observe with the eye of discernment the conflicts and pursuits of this transient world, thou wouldst readily acknowledge that they are even as the play which We have described.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


This is me last week, finishing off the essay.....

And now in the great spirit of turning, the performer turns once more, this time from the private to the public, in the spirit of mastery in service, in manifestation, in anticipation of the turning from one age to the next.

This is me this week just starting with Arabic immersion at Beloit....

swinging my arms around exclaiming dashaaj! (arabic for "chicken") with everybody else in my class because we're so excited to pick up at least SOME vocabulary thus far.

Say it with me now.....dashaaj!
Don't forget to swing those arms!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Spirituality and "the World"

As I have been warning for some time, I am at Beloit college now. I just started a summer immersion program in Arabic. For the past month I have been unemployed and have had nothing to think about all day except what I might want to post on this blog. Today was the first day of classes. Now, my life is filled with verb tables, eager instructors, and desperate attempts to mimic the words coming out of their mouths. I have been meeting lots of cool people and look forward to a month full of bilingual fun.

So, on the one hand I can't offer regular theological musings like I have every night between midnight and two am for the past month. On the other hand, I do want to keep things up. So here's some thoughts that have been running through my head.

Often there is a tendency in religious communities to think of themselves as interested in other-worldly concerns. Materiality, embodiment, contingency, and temporality are all regarded as inferior to such opposite notions as the Absolute, eternity, ideas, or even better: thought or non-thought beyond ideas. There is also a widespread tendency among the same communities to demand that religion or spirituality be grounded in living practice. Ideally, all life would be guided by these otherworldly ideas. It seems to me that these two tendencies are at odds with each other, that within these tendencies is a half truth that masks the more or less worldly, material, temporal nature of religion.

I raise this issue, not because I take an iconoclastic pleasure in "unveiling the truth about religion" or humiliating particular groups that like to think of themselves as focused on "otherworldly" concerns. Rather, I think that wrestling with this question helps deal with some of the confusion that I should hope comes up in the practice of a particular religious or spiritual tradition.

To give a more concrete spin on this let's take the example of St. Francis of Assisi. I don't think it's that presumptuous to suppose that he was wrestling with this same tension. Late in his life he was caught at a crossroads. Either he could fully devote his life to prayer, or he could continue preaching. He was in such a bind that he not only asked God for guidance, but also his fellow practitioners the Friars Minor (little brothers), something that isn't really associated with Francis' character. One would be the pursuit of a pure engagement with the other-worldly, the other an engagement with the worldly. Eventually, he decided to stick with preaching, a wise move in my opinion.

Another way of looking at this tension is to think about the sacrifices to his spirituality that by continuing to preach Francis might make. Preaching requires a very worldly engagement on a number of levels. It requires thinking about what's going to appeal to certain people, keeping up on the local news to see what topics to avoid, building alliances of friendship with people, etc. If travelling is involved it requires money, yes that disgusting archetype of worldliness, money. It requires figuring out where to sleep at night, for how long, and getting directions to places. The list goes on. And the more practical things a person has to think about, the less time he or she has to pray or meditate. Most of the time, this engagement with the world at some point involves making sacrifices in one's personal spiritual practice.

Anybody, who has ever tried to juggle spirituality and social activism (something often inspired by religious motives) knows the struggle that comes with bringing these concerns into balance with each other. I, in fact, feel a great deal of sympathy for many of the most rabidly political Christian leaders in the United States on this issue. I sympathize with them, not because I agree with their partiular agenda, but because I share the pain of being torn between spirituality and an activism that one regards as essential to spiritual commitments. Nearly thirty years after the election of Ronald Reagan, there is a deep fear among right-wing Christians that the most political churches have lost their soul in the attempt to reform the world. They did not successfully strike that balance. Thus, one was advanced to the exclusion of the other.

At the heart of this argument I would like to problematize the notion that spirituality and activism must be balanced, that they are mutually exclusive, that the progress of one results in the deterioration of the other. I think that this is based on an overextended vision of religion as something other-worldly. I do not promise that I can reconcile these two moments. I only hope to generate thought so that people might ask questions about what it means to "be spiritual."

It is my contention that every religious community worth its salt involves some sort of embodiment in social practice. Actually, I will correct myself. Let's take away the worth its salt. Every religious community necessarily involves some sort of embodiment in social practice. For this is it what it means to be a community. The question of whether a community is either worldly or otherworldly would then change to "what kind of world does this community seek?"

It is only when we recognize the fundamentally worldly nature of spirituality that we can begin to grapple with the tension between spiritual and social concerns. Towards this end, I think it would be valuable to see social interactions in general as the medium for our spiritual activity. The public must gain recognition alongside the personal as a core part of any spirituality.

I'm sure I'll be returning to this issue at a later time. So I will deliberately leave this discussion incomplete.

Friday, June 8, 2007

the Final Turn

Here is the way I'm concluding the essay for now. It is a discussion of the final section of the prayer.

The themes of solidarity and unity continue into section fourteen, the conclusion of the Long Obligatory Prayer. It reads as follows.

Let him then raise his head, and seat himself, and say:

I testify, O my God, to that whereunto Thy chosen Ones have testified, and acknowledge that which the inmates of the all-highest Paradise and those who have circled round Thy mighty Throne have acknowledged. The kingdoms of earth and heaven are Thine, O Lord of the worlds!

As a way of concluding, the performer steps back and reflects more generally on the affirmations he or she has made throughout the prayer. These include one’s servitude before God, His transcendence beyond thought, His sovereignty, one’s wealth-in-possession of the divine attributes, one’s poverty in origination of those same attributes, that God is greater than every great one!, that the Manifestation of God has been mentioned in all God’s scriptures, that joy is dependent on nearness to the divine attributes, and that the origin of faith is in God. This testimony is not made alone. Thy chosen ones have made it as well. And it has been acknowledged by the inmates of the all-highest Paradise and those who have circled round Thy mighty Throne.

In this last expression we have an image of enduring power: those who have circled round Thy mighty Throne. It is a reference to one of the rituals of the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. Pilgrims are required to circumambulate the Kab’ah, the cubical shrine at the center of the city seven times in a counterclockwise direction. This ritual is performed twice in the course of the Hajj. Rather than circumambulating individually, the pilgrims perform this walk all together. Seen from above, pilgrims coming from all over the world, dressed in the traditional white robes of the pilgrimage, blend together in one enormous turning wheel. At times of prayer when these same pilgrims all fall into prostration at once, the earth roars with the sound of so many knees hitting the ground simultaneously. This is the image the Long Obligatory Prayer invokes right at the end. What better way can there be to illustrate the way in which all performers of the prayer serve and worship God together?

Still, consideration should be given for what is meant by the expression Thy mighty Throne. Clearly it refers in some way to God's sovereignty and dominion, but not necessarily to the Kab'ah, Mecca, or even any physical entity. In the Baha'i writings there is a tendency to use the image of a throne to express the ascendency of God in the event of His Revelation. This would sit well with earlier discussions of securing His dominion in creation or the manifestation of His attributes, two things which by now should appear quite synonymous. Take for instance, this passage from the Kitab-i-Iqan in which Baha'u'llah praises Mulla Husayn, the first follower of His forerunner, the Bab, himself regarded by Baha'is as a Manifestation of God.

But for him [Mulla Husayn], God would not have been established upon the seat of His mercy, nor ascended the throne of eternal glory. Kitab-i-Iqan passage 248 (It also might not be a bad idea to discuss this passage way earlier, and set it against His other understanding of sovereignty in the Iqan, maybe even discuss the two clearly different interpretations He gives of the seal of the prophets.)

In this understanding of sovereignty, God does not just ascend to His throne by virtue of his transcendent nature. Rather, God ascends through the recognition of His Revelation by His creation, even if it be a single soul. Soon enough, one by one the wheel builds, gaining momentum as it extends further outwards in His creation. The greater the wheel, the greater the testimony, affirmed in the mastery of service that Thou art God, that there is no God but Thee.

The performer then testifies at last, at the conclusion of the prayer that:

The kingdoms of earth and heaven are Thine, O Lord of the Worlds!

And now in the great spirit of turning, the performer turns once more, this time from the private to the public, in the spirit of mastery in service, in manifestation, in anticipation of the turning from one age to the next.

Turning to Face the Public: part two

This is a continuation on the previous post, which begins a commentary on section 13. The text of that is as follows.

Let him then repeat the Greatest Name thrice, and kneel with his forehead to the ground, and say:

Praise be unto Thee, O our God, that Thou hast sent down unto us that which draweth us nigh unto Thee, and supplieth us with every good thing sent down by Thee in Thy Books and Thy Scriptures. Protect us, we beseech Thee, O my Lord, from the hosts of idle fancies and vain imaginations. Thou, in truth, art the Mighty, the All-Knowing.

Just to summarize, the performer praises God for two things: that Thou 1) hast sent down unto us that which draweth us nigh unto Thee, and 2) supplieth us with every good thing sent down by Thee in Thy Books and Thy Scriptures. In the first praise, the performer speaks very generally of all things that have brought us nearer unto God. It is a reminder that the spiritual path is not just for one. But that it is walked together. Further, this solidarity cuts also across time and religious boundaries. For in the next praise, the performer thanks God for all the blessings contained in Thy Books and Thy Scriptures. No distinction is made between any one of them so the performer is left to presume that these are the sacred writings of a wide number of traditions, inspired by God in different times and places. The invocation of scriptures calls to mind the public nature of the spiritual journey as exemplified in these words of Bahá’u’lláh from the Lawh-i-Maqsud.[1]

If any man were to meditate on that which the Scriptures, sent down from the heaven of God’s holy Will, have revealed, he would readily recognize that their purpose is that all men shall be regarded as one soul.

God has manifested his blessings around the world from time immemorial. The us in Thou… supplieth us must then refer to the human race in general inasmuch as God has offered his blessings recent and ancient, far and wide.

Following this offering of praise, the performer petitions God to protect us…from the hosts of idle fancies and vain imaginations. In general, these two expressions, idle fancies and vain imaginations refer to a certain overextension of reason, usually arising from a misplaced confidence in oneself. It is often used polemically against those who reject the Manifestations of God when they appear. In another sense, it is used against those ideas that hinder the recognition of the unity of the human race, such as in this passage of Bahá’u’lláh.

Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you. This, verily, is the most exalted Word which the Mother Book hath sent down and revealed unto you.

That the performer begins the petition with the words Protect us expresses the way in which certain limits of the us must be guarded from dangerous forces outside of it. Certainly, this is a necessary feature of any community. But if the goal is human unity, then the us must be careful to always in act in respect of that goal. Certain ideas may not contribute to the unity of the human race, but recognition must always be given that those who hold them are also members of that distinguished us. Holding peace together amidst this tension, awful as it may become, is the surest sign that such people are ready to be regarded as one soul.

[1] Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas p.162

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Turning to Face the Public

Here is the introduction to my long overdue discussion of the final two sections. It will eventually lead into a discussion of the passage in the final section in which the performer acknowledges that which...those who who circled round Thy mighty throne have acknowledged.

Just as sections ten through twelve represent a more personal tone than sections previous, likewise the final two sections of the prayer, thirteen and fourteen take on a more public, interpersonal tone. As the performer moves closer to the end of prayer, engagement with the world comes closer in a very concrete way. These sections are a reminder that the performer is not alone. Rather he or she serves God and humanity alongside many others with whose cooperation great things can happen.
This is section thirteen. In form it greatly resembles the eleventh.

Let him then repeat the Greatest Name thrice, and kneel with his forehead to the ground, and say:

Praise be unto Thee, O our God, that Thou hast sent down unto us that which draweth us nigh unto Thee, and supplieth us with every good thing sent down by Thee in Thy Books and Thy Scriptures. Protect us, we beseech Thee, O my Lord, from the hosts of idle fancies and vain imaginations. Thou, in truth, art the Mighty, the All-Knowing.

One example of the switch from the private to the public is a very simple and seemingly insignificant choice of words. The alteration though becomes very obvious to anyone who has ever performed the prayer on a regular basis or tried to memorize it. Whereas section eleven begins with Praise be to Thee, O my God…section thirteen begins Praise be unto Thee, O our God. The change is for the most part inexplicable. The content of the praises is very similar. In both cases the performer praises God for the gift of faith. Furthermore, one might think that the prayer would have more rhetorical force if the beginning of the second expression of praise echoed the first. But instead it draws attention to the our where before their had been a my. This change is by no means irrelevant, for it draws attention to the ways in which faith is always enacted in some way at both an individual and a community level.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Turning from father to Father

This is the section immediately following the last entry. It begins with some stuff I wrote nearly a month ago. Then it moves into a commentary on a line from the second passage that I didn't even touch on in the first draft.

The second section of the Long Obligatory is a prayer of turning, not just for the turn, but a testimony of the turn itself. It is said standing with one’s hands raised in supplication.

It begins: O Thou the Desire of the world and the Beloved of the nations, Thou seest me turning toward Thee.... When one turns ones changes direction, one gains a new perspective. What was once behind is now in front. What was once in front is now behind. The simple gift of faith is to turn to Thy will, and as the prayer continues, to be rid of all attachment to anyone save Thee, and clinging to Thy cord, through whose movement the whole creation hath been stirred up. Here there is a clarity of decision-making, of action, of lifestyle. One is at peace with a life of service in the path of God.

The full text of this section is as follows

O Thou the Desire of the world and the Beloved of the nations! Thou seest me turning toward Thee, and rid of all attachment to anyone save Thee, and clinging to Thy cord, through whose movement the whole creation hath been stirred up. I am Thy servant, O my Lord, and the son of Thy servant. Behold me standing ready to do Thy will and Thy desire, and wishing naught else except Thy good pleasure. I implore Thee by the Ocean of Thy mercy and the Day-Star of Thy grace to do with Thy servant as Thou willest and pleasest. By Thy might which is far above all mention and praise! Whatsoever is revealed by Thee is the desire of my heart and the beloved of my soul. O God, my God! Look not upon my hopes and my doings, nay rather look upon Thy will that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth. By Thy Most Great Name, O Thou Lord of all nations! I have desired only what Thou didst desire, and love only what Thou dost love.

In the second sentence, the performer testifies that I am Thy servant, O my Lord, and the son of Thy servant. This line invokes two hierarchical relationships, master/servant and father/son, and employs them to understand the three way relationship between God, servant, and the servant’s father. In this passage of the prayer God is put in the place of the master. The performer is both servant and son. So the relationship between God and the performer is clear. But the relationships between God and father, and father and son are unclear. For, he is both father and servant, superior and subordinate. The janus-faced nature of the father introduces an uncertainty as to how his son should relate to him. Should he be related to as a father and thus as a superior, or as a fellow servant and thus as an equal before God.

The imagery employed here has a long history and is deeply tied up with the relationship between God’s authority, and worldly authorities e.g. patriarchal obligations to one’s father and by analogy to one’s king. One example of this is in the Gospels where God is referred to as the Father. By no coincidence whatsoever these books represent the most radical rejection of the authority of traditional family relations. For example, Jesus calls a man to follow him, but he replies that he needs to go bury his father first, the greatest duty a son has to his father. Instead Jesus shoots back at him, Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the Kingdom of God.[1] The relationship between father and son should in no way be read as limited to either males or family relations. Instead it should be seen as emblematic of any authority relationship between humans, especially any relationship that could potentially conflict with a person’s duties to God.

Any uncertainty that could exist in this prayer is immediately cleared up, for the next line of this section reads, Behold me standing ready to do Thy will and Thy desire and wishing naught else except Thy good pleasure. With this declaration, this naught else, the prayer affirms the integrity and cohesiveness of hierarchical relationship. The Master trumps the father. But this is only at the level of affirmation. The father may not go along with this arrangement and may vie for the allegiance of the son/servant/performer. In general, Bahá’u’lláh goes a long way to defuse this, by prescribing for His followers obedience to worldly authorities. But the tension is still there in asmuch as this teaching still assumes the ultimate authority of God. Furthermore, not all worldly authorities agree with Bahá’u’lláh’s message or want their subordinates following him. Thus, for Bahá’is to persist in their practice of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and work to establish the unity of the human race is an act of resistance and struggle against those worldly authorities, even if they in no way are working to unseat particular people from power. When the performer testifies that I am Thy servant, O my Lord, and the son of Thy servant, he or she affirms the legitimacy of this struggle, and recognizes the need for hands of indomitable strength and arms of invincible might.
[1] Lk 10.59-60

Monday, June 4, 2007

Community of Jihad

That obligatory prayer is a central element of Baha’i identity has already been established. Furthermore it has been shown that Bahá’u’lláh regards the purpose of religion to be the unity of the human race. What remains to been seen though, is what Bahá’u’lláh regards as the particular destiny of the people of Baha[1] in sacred history. In other words, it remains to be seen what he thinks of His community in particular, rather than just religion in general. The Suriy-i-Haykal, a writing of Bahá’u’lláh from the mid 1860’s, is an indispensable resource on this matter. In its 2002 printing, the Suriy-i-Haykal runs at 51 pages. In that space He prophecies in ten separate places the emergence of a community that would emerge in spite of His persecutions to follow His teachings and espouse His cause. At the time when this was written Bahá’u’lláh had been exiled three times in just over a decade, the first from native Iran to Baghdad in 1853, the second from Baghdad to Istanbul in 1863, and the third from Istanbul to Edirne in European Turkey. Not long after writing it, He would be exiled for the fourth and final time, this time to Akka, in what is now northern Israel. Around ten years after writing the Suriy-i-Haykal Bahá’u’lláh was at work establishing the religious law that would set the Bahá’i community apart from that of His predecessor, the Bab, and from the surrounding Muslim community. A central feature was the revelation of specifically Bahá’i obligatory prayers. Below is one of Bahá’u’lláh’s ten prophecies regarding the future of His community. It is one of the only ones to employ the provocative imagery that it does. But it is in no way uncharacteristic of the other prophecies. It is written in the voice of Divine Revelation with himself in the third person.

Erelong shall God raise up, through Thee, those with hands of indomitable strength and arms of invincible might, who will come forth from behind the veils, will render the All-Merciful victorious amongst the peoples of the world, and will raise so mighty a cry as to cause all hearts to tremble with fear. Thus hath it been decreed in a Written Tablet. Such shall be the ascendancy which these souls will evince that consternation and dismay will seize all the dwellers of the earth.

Beware lest ye shed the blood of anyone. Unsheathe the sword of your tongue from the scabbard of utterance, for therewith ye can conquer the citadels of men’s hearts. We have abolished the law to wage holy war against each other. God’s mercy, hath, verily, encompassed all created things, if ye do but understand. Aid ye your Lord, the God of Mercy, with the sword of understanding. Keener indeed is it, and more finely tempered, than the sword of utterance, were ye but to reflect upon the words of your Lord. Thus have the hosts of Divine Revelation been sent down by God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting, and thus have the armies of divine inspiration been made manifest from the Source of command, as bidden by God, the All-Glorious, the Best-Beloved.

The first section of this passage employs an image of the prophesied Bahá’i community as a legion of holy warriors, (mujahiden) engaged in religious struggle (jihad). It calls to mind the wars of conquest launched by Muhammad and His followers to expand the domain of the faith in the earliest years of Islam. Like Bahá’u’lláh, Muhammad encountered persecution and was driven out of his hometown of Mecca. But these early abasements were more than compensated by the political and religious dominance He gained in the region once He became established in Medina. Bahá’u’lláh invokes this proud moment in Muslim memory, while at the same time warning his Bahá’i readers of the difference between the two situations. He specifies that this jihad is to be fought with swords of utterance and understanding. In this way can his followers conquer the citadels of men’s hearts. Persuassion is the means of struggle, not physical violence. This is because the objective is the establishment of unity in the affairs of humanity and not the triumph of a particular religious state. Wars of conquest and terrorism must then fade into the background. Thoughtfulness, dialogue, and education would then become the new instruments of jihad. This is the image that Bahá’u’lláh presents of his future followers, one of stalwart mujahiden with hands of indomitable strength and arms of invincible might. A decade later, he wrote the Long Obligatory Prayer for them to perform daily.

In the above passage one of the prophesied achievements of these Bahá’i mujahiden is that they will render the All-Merciful victorious amongst the peoples of the world. God’s dominion then would become manifest in creation by way of human beings. But it is not the human beings that are victorious. It is the All-Merciful. His weapons of choice are swords of utterance and understanding: the spiritual powers of servants committed to producing peace where otherwise there is hatred and complacency. How this plays out in the Long Obligatory Prayer will become clearer in some of the later sections of the prayer. But as for now, it is imporant to keep in mind that passages such as this are some of the few in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings from that time that show what he was imagining for the Bahá’i community in the more-than-immediate future. Study of these passages is then a glance into the earliest illustrations of a specifically Bahá’i community identity.

[1] In Arabic Baha’i means people of glory (Baha). Throughout most of his life Bahá’u’lláh was known simply as Baha. Thus, his followers by association were called people of Baha, Baha’is. It was only late in his life that he began to be referred to as Bahá’u’lláh (Glory of God).

Baha'u'llah's Purpose of Religion

This is how I will be introducing discussion of the prayer's first passage in which the performer beseeches God to make of his or her prayer a fire that will burn away the veils that have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.

The performance of the Long Obligatory Prayer is not just about communication with God. This would assume that the one who communicates with God is a stable entity who remains a stable entity in the course of prayer. What will be seen though is that one of the prayer’s chief concerns is the cultivation of the performer’s spiritual power. And this involves a fair amount of personal transformation. It is not so much that the performer asks to have something as it is that he or she asks to become something. This becomes crucial when considering the role of the Long Obligatory Prayer not just as a private spiritual exercise but as a strategic feature of the Baha’i community’s public struggle in the name of God. The goal of this struggle is human unity, so as to fulfill the Qur’anic prophecy that the earth be illumined with the light of it Lord.[1] In one of His writings, the “Ishraqat,” Baha’u’llah makes clear His priorities for His newly founded faith.

The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife. The religion of God and His divine law are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God.

Baha’u’llah offers many explanations of the purpose of religion, not all of which be easily summed up by one of them. But in almost every iteration, the reader finds an exhortation to human unity and an appeal to make it the organizing principle of Bahá’i community life. The other explanation that Bahá’u’lláh gives of the purpose of religion is that it facillitate creation’s relationship with its Creator. Either way, both of these explanations lead the spiritual seeker back to considerations of oneself and how he or she fits or might fit into human society, and the broader cosmos in general. With this in mind, consider the opening passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer.

O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens! I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence.

[1] 39.69

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Introductory Remarks on Baha'i Obligatory Prayer

I'm planning on beginning the essay with a thesis paragraph in which I immediately summarize everthing that I intend to argue. Following that will be these paragraphs. This isn't terribly heady stuff. Most of it is intended for a non-Baha'i audience who doesn't already know the mechanics of Baha'i obligatory prayer. The last paragraph though is intended to replace the first paragraph from the Saturday post entitled "the Place of Human Unity in Obligatory Prayer." It can be thought of as an Islamic/Baha'i challenge to the individualism and internalism of contemporary Western spirituality.

The question guiding this essay is as follows. What does the Bahá’i Long Obligatory Prayer ask of God? And likewise, what does it asks of the one who performs it? While on the one hand the prayer is a petition and testimony offered up to God by the performer, it has on the other hand a standardized text written by Bahá’u’lláh. There is no doubt that it was written with the understanding that it would be performed innumerable times in a person’s lifetime. With this in mind, it is more than reasonable to argue that Bahá’u’lláh intends for the prayer to produce in the performer the spiritual desires that it invokes. In other words, the prayer is a means by which the performer develops desires best suited for Bahá’i spiritual quest.

At no point is a Baha’i required to perform the Long Obligatory Prayer. But all Baha’is are required to perform obligatory prayer. And for that there are three prayers from which to choose, the Short, the Medium, and the Long. Thus, anyone who gets in the habit of praying the Long will most likely perform it an enormous number of times, even though he or she may alternate between other options. The names by which the different obligatory prayers are distinguished are no misnomers. The Short weighs in at 51 words and is to be said once between noon and sundown. The Medium is 490 words. It is said three times in the day, once each between dawn and noon, noon and sundown, sundown and midnight. The Long is a sprawling 1590 words and is said once in the course of 24 hours. The Long Obligatory Prayer consists of 14 different passages ranging in length from one sentence to seven. Each section is divided up by a change in posture. Throughout the course of the prayer the performer is instructed to adopt such postures as kneeling, standing with hands raised in supplication, prostration with forehead against the floor, bowing at the waist and others. In this way, the prayer employs body language in addition to verbal language as part of its performance.

Another question that has guided this essay is this: What would happen to the way we think about prayer if we regarded its influence as at least as much public and external as it is private and internal? One reason I ask this is because the Long Obligatory prayer is not just any prayer. It is one of three whose performance are mandated upon entrance into a faith community. In this way, daily obligatory prayer is closely tied into Bahá’i identity. Obligatory prayers should be expected then to contain certain features whose purpose is to build up this faith community. Although obligatory prayer can only be said in private (a deliberate rejection of Islamic tradition) the public life of the soul is an ever present concern. One is never alone when one prays. For the private life of the soul necessarily concerns the way that we interact with people outside of private space.

Mastery and Service

I in no way intend to refer to Abdu'l Baha in this passage either subtly or explicitly. It may need some rewriting to make that clear though.

If God secures his dominion in creation through the mediation of human beings, then the proper place of the human is not one of pure submission. Rather, the human is at once both master and submitter. Service to God is the manifestation of His mastery. In this way, the servant of God occupies the space of the Master by the very act of service, no matter how humble or self-effacing he or she behaves. One sense of this is the meaning of Jesus’ saying, anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of man himself came not to be served but serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.[1] The more one manifests service, the more one manifests God’s mastery in creation. To think oneself as a participant in this arrangement presents a difficult spiritual challenge. For one, to occupy the space of God’s representative is for the most part to position oneself as God. In this case it is a quick leap to unreflectively demand from others their submission to oneself. Certainly, this arrangement only posits that the servant is only a manifestation and not the figure Himself of dominion. Thus, the servant is only that, a servant. Thus, it would be a violation of contract to act as the final word. But it must be said that the instability and fragility of this arrangement introduces the ever present possibility that people will occupy the position of the master so as to actively struggle against the Master as His will becomes present in history.

[1] Mark 10.43-45

This is how I introduce the discussion of passages 1-4. This sets up a discussion in which I show that Baha'u'llah introduces what I'm calling the "arrival of the unconditioned will of God" as a solution to this problem.

And if you really want to see just how screwed up the problem is then go to my post "the Will to Salvation" way back in the first week of this blog. I'm currently at a loss for how to grapple with the problems it introduces.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

the Place of Human Unity in Obligatory Prayer

Daily obligatory Prayer is closely tied into Bahá’i identity by the simple fact that it is enjoined on Bahá’is as soon as the enter the faith. The Long Obligatory Prayer is not itself obligatory. It is only one of the three options that the performer can choose from on any given day. But one of these must be performed. For this reason, obligatory prayer should be expected to contain certain features whose purpose is to build up a faith community.

One of these is that all three prayers have a standardized text. Although they are performed in a number of languages, the basic ideas are held in common by all performers. The uniformity of obligatory prayers can provide a starting point for discussions about differences in interpretation across cultural and linguistic lines. This is particularly opportune for the Bahá’i faith. Despite its small size in comparison to the major world religions, it is easily one of the most diverse communities on the planet. Sizable Baha’i communities are present in almost every nation on earth, coming from all walks of life and a wide variety of religious backgrounds. Baha’i obligatory prayer contains fascinating potential for cross-cultural dialogue inasmuch as its spirituality is a part of daily life for almost every one of these Baha’is, no matter their location. The possibility of such discussions gives concrete form to the unity in diversity of the community.

Another feature of obligatory prayer is that it performed facing a single point on the Earth surface. This is in Northern Israel where Baha’u’llah is buried. It is known as the Qiblih, or point of adoration. For Muslims, the Qiblih is in Mecca. In both cases, the practice represents a form of global solidarity and a world-wide demonstration that God cannot be monopolized by any one nation. At their most immediate level these two features of Baha’i obligatory prayer manifest the unity in diversity of the Baha’i community. But a minimum amount of reflection leads to a broader conclusion: that the unity in diversity of the international Baha’i community is only possible on the basis of the underlying unity of the human race. In this way, the performance of obligatory prayer is tied in concretely to any emercence of global citizenship, and the transformation in human affairs that this necessarily implies.

Finally, obligatory prayer builds up a faith community inasmuch as it is to be performed every day. There are exceptions when one is sick or travelling. But for the most part it is a part of the performer’s daily routine. On the one hand, this runs the risk of undermining the prayer’s spiritual power. If it is performed every day the prayer may have little more impact on one’s life than the grim satisfaction of getting it out of they way. On the other hand, when the prayer is performed with proper reverence it has the power to awaken the performer to his or her duties and responsibilities as a Bahá’i to God and humanity. The daily cultivation of this power holds out the promise of one day breaking the molds that bind us to unjust social arrangements. Like a wedding vow, obligatory prayer is performed to express commitment. But unlike a wedding vow it is said every day. Imagine how marriages might turn out differently if married couples renewed their vows daily, or at least regularly. Such a practice would remind people of the commitments they have made to each other and spur thought on how best to keep them.

between Thought and Emotion

Guiding this project has been two central convictions, or hypotheses if you will. One is that Baha'i theology and spirituality are totally inseparable from each other, a claim that should in no way be limited to the Baha'i faith. In fact it is a bizarre modern prejudice that these two things CAN be separated. Secondly, I am of the conviction that this prayer is inseparable from Baha'u'llah's social agenda. Namely, that manifestation of God's dominion on Earth takes place through the practice of his social and spiritual teachings. The Long Obligatory Prayer plays an important part in this by being the spiritual incubator if you will of these agents of social action. I am yet to write this second part. It will be long and will probably address Baha'u'llah's fundamental understanding of what it means to be a Baha'i. Anyhoo, this next paragraph is part of the rough draft.

For one, I have been guided by a conviction that the spirituality of Baha'u'llah's prayers is inseparable from His teachings on the structure of the cosmos. Many might skim through His denunciations of pantheism, or His intricate explanations of the Manifestation of God and doubt the usefulness of such abstract intellectual endeavours. But rather than provoking dry academic discourse such ideas provide key structural components to His rich spirituality. For example, large portions of the Long Obligatory Prayer come most alive for the performer when considering God's transcendence beyond human conceptions about Him. So for Baha'u'llah, the prayer life of individuals, social order, and the structure of the cosmos are all interconnected in one unified account of the relationship between Creator and creation. This is in contrast to the modernist tendency to compartmentalize knowledge into distinct "fields" isolated from each other by methodology, world-view, and vocabulary. In this way, Baha'u'llah's spirituality is a movement of thought. Feeling and emotion are central components as well, but their integration into the prayer as a whole depends in many ways on how well they are informed by the theological issues to be addressed in this essay. Hence, my methodology for this project is to examine the ways in which thought and emotion express rather than exclude each other in the performance of the Long Obligatory prayer. This work is personal inasmuch as it is based on my experience performing the prayer. But it is also professional, inasmuch as it draws on long traditions of scholarly writing. As a writer this presents a challenge. Modern school systems train students to express themselves either personally or professionally, but rarely both at the same time, or both as inseparable from the other. In a way, this essay represents an attempt to produce writing that is both "devotional" and "scholarly," while at the same time eschewing both genres. The hope is that this methodology is best attuned to draw forth the power with which this prayer is invested.

Summary of Findings

This is how I'm going to distill my observations of the prayer in to simple points that readers can take away with them.

In the course of preparing this book I have observed two distinct themes emerge most frequently in the prayer’s petitions. They are not the sum total of ideas contained in the prayer. But they are the dominant threads that weave together the many textures of this rich work. Though these two themes play out on parallel tracks from the prayer’s beginning to its end, it will be shown that they share a common concern with the manifestation of God’s dominion in creation.

First, the prayer’s performer shows a persistant desire that God reveal and carry out his will without restraint by or compromise with the performer’s own hopes and expectations. In this way, obedience to the will of God is not made conditional upon any fulfillment of prior requirements. Instead, it is granted regardless of a person’s expectations of what God would or would not will. This presupposes that there is no law higher than that of God. For this reason, God is above all law, especially His since He is the one who decides the bounds of its authority. This principle is enshrined in the oft repeated saying of Baha’u’llah that God doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth.

Secondly, the performer’s spirituality is oriented around manifesting the divine attributes. Otherwise known as the names of God, these are expressions that help illustrate His relationship with creation. Some examples are the Guide, the Self-Sufficient, the Wise, the Compassionate, the Raiser of the Dead. To manifest these attributes is to reflect God’s goodness, and to present before creation what was otherwise latent and concealed within each person. Pivotal to this vision of spirituality is the idea that God as God transcends creation. Thus, any action that He takes in the world must be under cover of one of his creatures. For this reason He brings forth what Baha’u’llah calls the Manifestations of God, particular human beings, empowered to manifest the divine attributes in a unique way. Each one of the Manifestations is called to a specific mission to found and reform religion so humanity can worship before God and live in harmony with one another. In the same way that Manifestations are commissioned by God, so ordinary humans are commissioned by the Manifestations. They are the manifestations of the Manifestations, and thus also participate in the revelation to creation of the divine attributes. In this way, Baha’u’llah describes a hierarchical model of the cosmos in which lower figures are called by higher figures to carry out particular missions. Furthermore, the purpose of this arrangement is to manifest in creation the dominion of a transcendent God. For the prayer’s performer to manifest the divine attributes is to participate in this cosmic struggle.

Friday, June 1, 2007

the Concluding Passages

Here is passage thirteen from the Long Obligatory Prayer. It is said in prostration with one's forehead to the floor.

Praise be unto Thee, O our God, that Thou hast sent down unto us that which draweth us nigh unto Thee, and supplieth us with every good thing sent down by Thee in Thy Books and Thy Scriptures. Protect us, we beseech Thee, O my Lord, from the hosts of idle fancies and vain imaginations. Thou, in truth, art the Mighty, the All-Knowing.

This passage is a clear variation on the offering of praise that was seen a couple of passages before. God out His benificence grants the performer the means to further manifest the divine attributes.

I don't really have anything new to say about this passage besides for this. If anybody wants to throw in their two cents they are more than welcome. Otherwise I think I'm just going to let it be. I'm also at a loss regarding the next passage, the conclusion of the prayer.

I testify, O my God, to that whereunto Thy chosen Ones have testified, and acknowledge that which the inmates of the all-highest Paradise and those who have circled round Thy mighty Throne have acknowledged. The kingdoms of earth and heaven are Thine, O Lord of the worlds!

The final line of this passage and of the prayer is well is a profound affirmation. But I think I've covered everything I'd like to say about it for now already, especially near the end of my post on the twelfth passage. Maybe when I turn this into a more integrated work, I will present one something on Divine Unity and its implications on spirituality.

Other than that, it appears that the "experimental" phase of this project is done. I guess the next step is writing a provisional introduction and conclusion.

What?! Mr. Cat has a cell phone?

My Dad decided that he would like to have a stable way of contacting me once I leave home. Hence a phone. The number is 812-599-8628.

I'm still not getting on Facebook though.