Thursday, May 31, 2007

the Implications of One's own Nobility

With the tenth passage, the Long Obligatory prayer takes on an increasingly personal tone. Though the whole prayer is infused with intimacy and passion, the admission of shortcoming and inadequacy that takes center stage in passage ten takes it to a deeper level. It invokes those things we'd rather not make public, those tensions between belief and practice that are either inexcusable or intractable. In short, these shortcomings are embarrassing and are most comfortably shared in the context of a loving relationship. Each person who prays this passage knows of what this speaks, even if it is only between oneself and God.

Just to go off on a brief tangent.......Sometime I need to write up a little thing on the spirituality of secrets. It's an interesting theme that weaves together humilty before others, abstinence from backbiting, and the privacy of prayer all in one fell swoop. It might even have some interesting implications for the role of language in spirituality, namely that if something is only between oneself and God it has no need of circulating as public knowledge. This could be a big deal because circulation is always an act that assimilates new and original thought into the status quo. Unspoken secrets could protect the disruptive possibility of the unconditioned will of God. Hmmm.......curious.

Where was I?

Anyway, Jalal has nudged me in the direction of recognizing the continuity between different passages. Up until now I've generally been looking at just the trees, focusing on the internal dynamics of individual passages. But it's always important to keep in mind that the Long Obligatory Prayer is a thickly wooded forest as well. How passages relate to and inform each other is important when considering the role of any one individual.

Following after the admission in passage ten of one's spiritual shortcomings comes an expression of praise and gratitude to God for leading the performer to a life of worship. All of this is shot through with a healthy dose of humility. For when God gives generously from Himself it is always entirely out of His beneficence. One of God's names is the Self-Sufficient. This means that He is in no need of His creatures. So even though we rely on Him for everything, he is in no need of us. Considering these circumstances there is no room for arrogance. Instead, there is only room for a heartfelt gratitude that God has given to us, even though He profits Himself in no way.

The theme of humility and gratitude continues on into passage twelve in which the performer confesses once again to his or her own shortcomings. Whereas the previous passage is said with one's upper half bent down and one's hands resting on one's knees, this passage is said with one's back straightened. Notice way that the change in posture and the opening sentence reflect each other. Here is the passage in full.

O God, my God! My back is bowed by the burden of my sins, and my heedlessness hath destroyed me. Whenever I ponder my evil doings and Thy benevolence, my heart melteth within me, and my blood boileth in my veins. By Thy Beauty, O Thou the Desire of the world! I blush to lift up my face to Thee, and my longing hands are ashamed to stretch forth toward the heaven of Thy bounty. Thou seest, O my God, how my tears prevent me from remembering Thee and from extolling Thy virtues, O Thou the Lord of the Throne on high and of earth below! I implore Thee by the signs of Thy Kingdom and the mysteries of Thy Dominion to do with Thy loved ones as becometh Thy bounty, O Lord of all being, and is worthy of Thy grace, O King of the seen and the unseen!

If it isn't already clear I think I'll state specifically what I think is one of the most important themes of the entire prayer: that the performer cultivates one's wealth-in-possession by recognizing that the divine attributes originate with the Creator, not the creation.

Many might be averse to the above passage because they think it promotes complacency, self-hatred, and bad conscience. If that were the case, then good riddance. These are not attributes that should be encouraged in the servants of God. But I don't think that that is the case with this passage. Instead, I see it as an elevation of standards for ourselves. The performer is less content with oneself, not out of a lack of self-esteem, but out of an appreciation for the depth of one's potential. Baha'u'llah speaks of this in Gleanings CLXII.
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.

Furthermore there is the saying in the thirteenth Arabic Hidden word, Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? So any indication of shortcoming in this prayer is only a reflection of the glory to which the performer has been called by Almighty God. We saw the dawning of this glory in the seventh passage when the performer testifies that Thy forgiveness hath emboldened me, and Thy mercy hath strengthened me, and Thy call hath awakened me, and Thy grace has raised me up and led me unto Thee. In this light there is no room for shame, only a conscientious respect for the life-long process of trial and error.

Earlier, we saw the performer begging God not to withhold from me that which is with Thee. It was decided that this refers to the manifestation of divine attributes, even names such as sovereignty or lordship. In this way humanity becomes the manifestation of God's authority, especially when this involves establishing the dominion of His teachings in creation. Throughout His writings Baha'u'llah pushes the limits of the nobility of which humans are capable. After all, he regards humanity as capable of manifesting all the names of of God, even ones such as the Self-sufficient, the Sublimely Exalted, the Judge. One might even go so far as to think that Baha'u'llah regards humans as capable of divinity. His language is so strong in places that this accusation must surely get levelled against Baha'is by Islamic courts from time to time. Nonetheless, the more informed position is that Baha'u'llah has made it clear in his writings that divinity is reserved for Him who transcends His creation. The last line of passage twelve is an example of him reaffirming this point. Its power lies not in the logical development of its ideas, but rather in the spiritual state that it elicits out of its reciters. It reads,

I implore Thee by the signs of Thy Kingdom and the mysteries of Thy Dominion to do with Thy loved ones as becometh Thy bounty, O Lord of all being, and is worthy of Thy grace, O King of the seen and the unseen!

This is of course familiar terrain in the Long Obligatory Prayer. It invokes what I have called the unconditioned arrival of the will of God, in which our own expectations and desires are made fully secondary to His. The performer asks God specifically for that which cannot be specified. Such uncertainty and vulnerability that this introduces upsets any postures of self-mastery that the performer might try to take. Submission to the unknown then defers all sovereign mastery to the will of God, mysterious and untraceable as it can be. Inasmuch as the performer opens up to the will of God, he or she becomes a vast and noble power, born along by forces beyond control, while all the while still capable of exerting this powers rigorously in the path of an unconditioned God.

The performer's power is deployed at the discretion of God, with which He doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why Praise?

Moving onward to passage 11. I last posted just a few hours ago, so if you're interested in reading things in order, check to see if you read it. It was a doozy in length. Consider yourself warned. So anyhoo, here's the new passage. It said bending down with one's hands resting on the knees, which I just discovered is news to me. I've always been saying it sitting down. It pays to go back and read the directions every once in awhile.

Praise be to Thee, O my God, that Thou hast aided me to remember Thee and to praise Thee, and hast made known unto me Him Who is the Dayspring of Thy signs, and hast caused me to bow down before Thy Lordship, and humble myself before Thy Godhead, and to acknowledge that which hath been uttered by the Tongue of Thy grandeur.

Very simple!

This passage is an expression of praise. If I had to divide it up I would say that this praise is for four things, all of which are closely related if not synonymous: that Thou hast 1) aided me to remember Thee and to praise Thee, 2) made known unto me Him Who is the Dayspring of Thy signs, 3) caused me to bow down before Thy Lordship, and humble myself before Thy Godhead, and 4) caused acknowledge that which hath been uttered by the Tongue of Thy grandeur.

Wow that was redundant!
We need to report this entry to the Redundancy Department of Redundancy.

The common thread running through all of these praises is that the performer does not come to faith by his or her own merits. Another way of saying this is that the performer is not the origin of faith. He or she is only a manifestation of such qualities. This is because the self participates in an extensive complex of interactions far larger than itself. Contribution to the performer's merit is infinitely dispersed through creation, inasmuch as no created thing can be the sole origin of some effect in the world. This means that a creature can only be wealthy-in-possession of divine attributes. Wealth-in-origination is necessarily reserved for Him who is the ground of being-as-we-know-it.

For example, I could list off various meritorious things that I have done in my life. But that I have done them is due to a whole host of circumstances over which I have no control. I did not choose what nation, class, religion, time period, etc, into which I was born. Instead, these conditions had a profound impact on the direction of my life before I even knew my own name. I am in no way fated towards one ultimate outcome. But nonetheless, my power to freely choose is circumscribed by the conditions that give it to me in the first place. This is the common sensical notion that humans are not capable of controlling every aspect of their lives. This is just as much the case with things a person likes about oneself as much as is it is with those things that are not to like. This is why arrogance isn't just annoying. It's probably incorrect inasmuch as it would be based on the fallacious assumption that the self is the absolute origin of its own merit.

For this reason, the performer praises God, because he or she cannot take account or control of all the factors that have contributed to his or her faith. It is a humble recognition that if certain conditions beyond one's control were changed the performer may not be as grounded in faith as is the actual case. One can take pride in one's faith, but only in possession, not in origination. In this light, condescension is just as misplaced as arrogance, for they are both only possible once a person has disregarded the complex conditions that bring freely choosing people into being.

One of Baha'u'llah's most oft used images is that of the mirror. For one, it is used to explain the Manifestation's relationship to God. And in the same way is used to explain an ordinary person's relationship to the Manifestation. In one sense, the mirror contains an image. But it is only a reflection. By itself, the mirror has no image. It relies on some outside light source to produce it. The mirror is by its nature poor-in-origination. And when it is granted a reflection from an outside light source it becomes wealty-in-possession, even though it is incapable of producing any rays by its own power.

I don't want to just limit this metaphor to the manifestation of the divine attributes. Rather I think it highlights an important aspect of what it means to be a created being. If everything is produced by means of prior conditions, then there is no mirror of which to speak. For even if one is a mirror, one can take pride in one's capacity to reflect light. But the origin of that capacity does not come from oneself. It too is a reflection of the conditions that brought it into being. This would mean that the mirror's very capacity to reflect is only possible as a reflection of some reflectivity. The mirror is just as unstable as the images it reflects. In this way, there is only the play of light, its reflection and counter-reflection, all the while changing and bringing about new forms and configurations. In this sense the self would not be a mirror, a stable concrete entity, prior to the waxing and waning of particular images. It would be the play of light itself: rising, dimming, reflecting, evolving.

So of whose light is the performer a reflection?

That's all for this passage.

Originally, I was going to introduce much of this post using the below quote. But I managed to get through the argument with out it. It's really good, so I thought I'd post it anyway. It's Baha'u'llah saying most of the stuff I've argued above. It is an address from God to Baha'u'llah.

Surih-i-Haykal passages 81-82

O Living Temple! We, verily, have made Thee a mirror unto the kingdom of names, that Thou mayest be, amidst all mankind, a sign of My sovereignty, a herald unto My presence, a summoner unto My beauty, and a guide unto My straight and perspicuous Path......
We have caused the oceans of inner meaning and explanation to surge from Thy heart in remembrance of Thy Lord, the God of mercy, that Thou mayest render thanks and praise unto Him and be of those who are truly thankful. We have singled Thee out from amongst all Our creatures, and have appointed Thee as the Manifestation of Our own Self unto all who are in the heavens and on the earth.

Bring then into being, by Our leave, resplendent mirrors and exalted letters that shall testify to Thy sovereignty and dominion, bear witness to Thy might and glory, and be the manifestations of Thy Names amidst mankind. We have caused Thee again to be the Origin and the Creator of all mirrors, even as We brought them forth from Thee aforetime. And We shall cause Thee to return unto Mine own Self, even as We called Thee forth in the beginning. Thy Lord, verily, is the Unconstrained, the All-Powerful, the All-Compelling. Warn, then, these mirrors, once they have been made manifest, lest they swell with pride before their Creator and Fashioner when He appeareth amongst them, or let the trappings of leadership delude and debar them from bowing in submission before God, the Almighty, the All-Beauteous.

Nearness to an Unconditioned God

Here's passage ten. It is said standing. BTW this is gonna be another long one.

O Lord of all being and Possessor of all things visible and invisible! Thou dost perceive my tears and the sighs I utter, and hearest my groaning, and my wailing, and the lamentation of my heart. By Thy might! My trespasses have kept me back from drawing nigh unto Thee; and my sins have held me far from the court of Thy holiness. Thy love, O my Lord, hath enriched me, and separation from Thee hath destroyed me, and remoteness from Thee hath consumed me. I entreat Thee by Thy footsteps in this wilderness, and by the words “Here am I. Here am I” which Thy chosen Ones have uttered in this immensity, and by the breaths of Thy Revelation, and the gentle winds of the Dawn of Thy Manifestation, to ordain that I may gaze on Thy beauty and observe whatsoever is in Thy Book.

I think this is the first reference in this prayer to sin. That sure took a while. I feel like at some point I should give a fairly detailed explanation of what is meant by sin in the Baha'i faith. One thing I can say now is that there is no original sin, so human beings start off their life with a clean slate.

What can be gleaned from the Baha'i understanding of sin in this prayer is that it is configured around this idea of proximity/nearness to God. This is from passage 104 of the Kitab-i-Iqan. It's a good explanation of divine transcendence so I thought I'd throw in a little more.

No tie of direct intercourse can possibly bind Him to His creatures. He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. No sign can indicate His presence or His absence; inasmuch as by a word of His command all that are in heaven and on earth have come to exist, and by His wish, which is the Primal Will itself, all have stepped out of utter nothingness into the realm of being, the world of the visible.

Because of this, any talk of proximity or nearness cannot be with regard to His Essence. This is because they are fundamentally heterogeneous. But humans are homogeneous with the divine attributes. One can become nearer to compassion. One can become nearer to wisdom. One can become nearer to patience. The development of these attributes is for one's own well-being. So when we are deprived of them it can be said that separation would destroy us, or remoteness from them consume us, to use the words of the prayer.

When the performer develops these divine attributes, especially wisdom, he or she begins to see that everything in this world is temporary, especially oneself. This is what it means to be a conditional being. For its existence is always conditional upon some other condition, which itself is conditional. To grow attached to these fleeting appearances is to make one's happiness dependent on things that are always in flux. So hence our happiness is in flux as well. As soon as they go one's happiness feels destroyed, consumed. But once a person understands deeply that all things are conditional by nature, then he or she is capable of living joyfully even amidst the storm of relentless flux. In short, I think this part of the prayer refers to the same ideas that are at the heart of Buddhism: desire, suffering, non-self, impermanence, etc.

On a related note, to attach oneself too feverishly to particular conditions is to be closed to the coming of new conditions whose form is not dictated by the former. This is one way that the will of God comes to us, as something foreign and unfamiliar to our expectations of it. Way back in the discussion of the second passage of the prayer, I referred to this revelation of God's will as unconditioned. In the sense employed in the above paragraph, nothing can come unconditioned. All created things are dependent on other conditions. But in another sense, we can narrow our scope and say that one particular thing was not conditioned by another particular thing. For example, I was expecting one thing and was attaching all of these conditions to it in my imagination. But instead, once it came it was something totally different. In this sense, the unconditioned arrival is something that is not constrained or dominated by something previous. It is the establishment of a new condition and new conditioning that breaks with the old. This is how the will of God is revealed when it is not already the will of humanity.

In this light I don't think it is a coincidence that the arrival of divine revelation receives special treatment in the petition that ends this passage.

I entreat Thee by Thy footsteps in this wilderness, and by the words “Here am I. Here am I” which Thy chosen Ones have uttered in this immensity, and by the breaths of Thy Revelation, and the gentle winds of the Dawn of Thy Manifestation, to ordain that I may gaze on Thy beauty and observe whatsoever is in Thy Book.

This petition is made by four things.

Firstly, it is made by Thy footsteps in this wilderness, a reference to God's manifest action in His creation. This may be a reference to the Genesis account of the creation. After Adam and Eve eat the apple they are said to have heard the footsteps of God moving through the garden. in this light it would be the foreshadowing for a coming revelation of divine judgment. In this sense judgment may not necessarily mean punishment, (though that certainly is the case in the Biblical story) but at the very least it is the revelation of a divine decision, the manifestation of His will.

Secondly, the petition is made by the words "Here am I. Here am I" which Thy chosen Ones have uttered in this immensity. The biblical passage that comes to mind is the third chapter of 1 Samuel. This is the story of how Samuel was called by God to prophethood. At the time he was only a child. As he was sleeping one night the Lord called out "Samuel, Samuel." The young boy then leapt up and ran to his father Eli thinking he had called him saying "He I am, as you called me." Eli then sent him back to bed. Then the same thing happened again, with the same result. When it happened a third time Eli figured out that it must have been the Lord who was calling his son. So he instructed his son that if he hears the voice again he should reply, "Speak Lord; for your servant is listening." In light of this story, "Here am I. Here am I" indicates the response of an eager servant to the first call of God.

Thirdly, the petition is made by the breaths of Thy Revelation. The first image that comes to my mind is one of the accounts in Genesis of the creation of Adam. I suppose I could interpret these lines outside of a biblical context. But I must say that I have grown up in a biblical context. So these are the references that come to mind. In that account God creates Adam by forming him out of clay. He brings him to life by breathing his own breath into him. Thus, there is an association here between God's breath and human life that comes from God, whether we want to think of this as either physical life or spiritual life. Though, for some reason I can't find this passage in Genesis. I know its there. So I'm really confused why I can't find it anywhere between the creation of the plants and animals and the account of the Fall. If somebody wants to find this passage for me that would be great. I have no idea why I can't find it, BECAUSE I'M SURE IT'S THERE.

Fourthly, the petition is made by the gentle winds of the Dawn of Thy Manifestation. I want to put the emphasis on that this is the Dawn, the first appearence, the moment of turning from darkness to light. In this way, the petition is made by the arrival of the will of God that disrupts the previous order to which humans have become accustomed.

Finally, it is time to look at the petition itself: to ordain that I may gaze on Thy beauty and observe whatsoever is in Thy Book. There are two concerns here, one of beauty, the other of obedience. Immediately this calls to mind an exhortation from passage 4 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas: Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty. In this way mystical seeking and rule-keeping are held together as interdependent pursuits. This is a theme that is invoked elsewhere throughout the Baha'i writings, especially in the final section in the Seven Valleys, the Valley of True Poverty and Absolute Nothingness. For this Valley sheds light on what is meant by My beauty.

Now hast thou abandoned the drop of life and come to the sea of the Life-Bestower. This is the goal thou didst ask for; if it be God’s will, thou wilt gain it.
In this city, even the veils of light are split asunder and vanish away. “His beauty hath no veiling save light, His face no covering save revelation.” How strange that while the Beloved is visible as the sun, yet the heedless still hunt after tinsel and base metal. Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him.

The central idea of this passage is contained in the hadith (reported saying of Muhammad), His beauty hath no veiling save light, His face no covering save revelation. A pervasive theme in Baha'i writings is the use of light to describe divine revelation. Any time somebody invokes light as a metaphor, they imply that something is made visible, understandable, and clear. In this case it would be by way of the divine attributes. But in the case of this hadith and this part of the Seven Valleys revelation itself is concealment. the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him. As argued before this is because the divine attributes are creation, and are thus heterogeneous to God's transcendent Essence. From this I think it can be said that this Valley is the awareness of the necessary gap between Essence and attributes, Creator and creation. God' beauty then would pertain to that unknowable essence, something that is concealed by the appearence of intelligibility.

It's a difficult passage so I get an uneasy feeling whenever I think I can explain it clearly and simply. After all, not long after this passage Baha'u'llah writes,

Ecstasy alone can encompass this theme, not utterance nor argument; and whosoever hath dwelt at this stage of the journey, or caught a breath from this garden land, knoweth whereof We speak.

Nonetheless, I believe this helps us understand the importance of gazing upon Thy beauty, even though it may be a beauty that eludes all gaze.

The divine attributes are not set entities. People can have different ideas about what it means to be merciful or what it means to be life-bestowing. So these are in no way safe approaches to Thy beauty. Furthermore people can become so blinded by their own conceptions of the divine attributes that they mistake what is human for what is God's and what is God's for what is human. Thus, we must develop a love for the unconditionality of God's essence and its manifestation in the oft repeated Baha'i principle God doeth whatsoever He willeth, and ordaineth whatsoever He pleaseth.

For these reasons, the performer must pursue the will of God however best it can be discerned. This can offer a safer pathway away from our own understandings and expectations and towards the will of God whatever that may be. The best repository for this is in sacred writings. This is why the performer hopes to observe whatsoever is in Thy book.

Monday, May 28, 2007

the Testimony of Creation

This is the ninth passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer. It is said seated, just after coming out of prostration.

I testify unto that whereunto have testified all created things, and the Concourse on high, and the inmates of the all-highest Paradise, and beyond them the Tongue of Grandeur itself from the all-glorious Horizon, that Thou art God, that there is no God but Thee, and that He Who hath been manifested is the Hidden Mystery, the Treasured Symbol, through Whom the letters B and E (Be) have been joined and knit together. I testify that it is He whose name hath been set down by the Pen of the Most High, and Who hath been mentioned in the Books of God, the Lord of the Throne on high and of earth below.

Just to simplify things a bit, the performer testifies to three things: that 1. Thou art God 2. there is no God but Thee 3) He Who hath been manifested is the Hidden Mystery, the Treasured Symbol, through Whom the letters B and E (Be) have been joined and knit together.

What I find most interesting about this passage is that all created things are also said to have made this testimony. In light of this, I want to make a simple claim. That inasmuch as we witness the conditioned and circumscribed nature of the world around us, even our very selves, this bears witness to an unconditionality that is necessarily the flip side of conditioned existence. This is what it means for all created things to testify that Thou art God.

Further on, the performer testifies that He Who hath been manifested (presumably the Manifestation of God) is the Hidden Mystery, the Treasured Symbol. This image of the Treasured Symbol is the one that most interests me. For some time we have been pursuing this prayer in terms of the 99 names of God, and their manifestation in creation. To invoke the Manifestation as a symbol is to set up a distinction between the symbol and that to which it refers: the referent, in this case God. The referent cannot become intelligible as Himself. This is because He is heterogeneous to being-as-we-know-it, which becomes demarcated in thought through language. Hence, the need for a symbol, who is homogeneous in some way to being-as-we-know-it, hence the Manifestations of God, the historical founders of the world's religions.

Once these images have been invoked the performer testifies that the Hidden Mystery, the Treasured Symbol is one through Whom the letters B and E (Be) have been joined and knit together. Being then is somehow produced by way of the Manifestation of God. I don't know the Arabic for this passage. Someday soon I will. For one, I'm not even sure if the Arabic translates roughly into the English verb Be. I wonder about this because the sentence is so dependent on the specific form of the language in which it is spoken. For example this wouldn't translate so well into a language that doesn't really even use letters, Chinese comes to mind. (Thanks Shannon for the tip on that one. BTW Correct me if I'm not getting this right.) Anyway, regardless of what it says in the Arabic it is still very revealing in the English. If the word Be is in the imperative, and thus a commandment (Hey you, Be!) then this would be a direct reference to the Qur'an. On numerous occassions the claim is made that God's utterance of the word Be! brought the universe into existence. Since the letters B and E have been joined and knit together through the Manifestation of God this would indicate that they have a part in the production of all created things. Baha'u'llah states this elsewhere. One of these instances is in passage 109 of the Kitab-i-Iqan.

Man, the noblest and most perfect of all created things, excelleth them all in the intensity of this revelation, and is a fuller expression of its glory. And of all men, the most accomplished, the most distinguished and the most excellent are the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace.

That's all I have to say regarding this passage for now. I've tacked on another quote which I thought last night that I might want to include in this entry. It obviously has a lot to do with the ideas expressed above, but it stands on its own in the way it invokes the name of God, the Educator.

Gleanings XCIII

He is really a believer in the Unity of God who recognizeth in each and every created thing the sign of the revelation of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, and not he who maintaineth that the creature is indistinguishable from the Creator.
Consider, for instance, the revelation of the light of the Name of God, the Educator. Behold, how in all things the evidences of such a revelation are manifest, how the betterment of all beings dependeth upon it. This education is of two kinds. The one is universal. Its influence pervadeth all things and sustaineth them. It is for this reason that God hath assumed the title, “Lord of all worlds.” The other is confined to them that have come under the shadow of this Name, and sought the shelter of this most mighty Revelation.

So how about that. Teaching the faith of God, and God's maintenance of creation are akin to each other inasmuch as they both derive from the name of God, the educator.

A Look at Praise

Rather than totally move on to a new passage. I thought I'd begin by looking at the next one in the context of the last few lines in the passage just studied. I quoted this from so it contains the instructions on posture that are included in the text.

Thine is the command at all times, O Thou Who art the Lord of all names; and mine is resignation and willing submission to Thy will, O Creator of the heavens!

Let him then raise his hands thrice, and say:

Greater is God than every great one!

Let him then kneel and, bowing his forehead to the ground, say:

Too high art Thou for the praise of those who are nigh unto Thee to ascend unto the heaven of Thy nearness, or for the birds of the hearts of them who are devoted to Thee to attain to the door of Thy gate. I testify that Thou hast been sanctified above all attributes and holy above all names. No God is there but Thee, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious.

This should look like familiar ground. First the performer testifies to an unconditional commitment to God. This is then followed by a prostration as if before a king in which the performer testifies to God's transcendence beyond the created world. This passage is thus, very similar in content to the third passage and what comes immediately before it.

One new theme that comes in with this passage is the implications of divine transcendence on engagement in acts of praise. It comes from the recognition that praise is a creation, and thus isn't exactly going to "move" God. Furthermore, the primary way that a person would praise God is to invoke his names and attributes. But these too are creations. They pertain to God and the way he engages with His creation, but they are distinct from God inasmuch as they are bounded and conditioned by being-as-we-know-it. In this way, the radical difference between Creator and creation is felt when a person tries to engage in prayer. I could explain this in greater depth if I really wanted to, but this following selection from a prayer of Baha'u'llah does a far better job of that in His own words then I could do in mine.

Praised be Thou, O Lord my God! Every time I attempt to make mention of Thee, I am hindered by the sublimity of Thy station and the overpowering greatness of Thy might. For were I to praise Thee throughout the length of Thy dominion and the duration of Thy sovereignty, I would find that my praise of Thee can befit only such as are like unto me, who are themselves Thy creatures, and who have been generated through the power of Thy decree and been fashioned through the potency of Thy will. And at whatever time my pen ascribeth glory to any one of Thy names, methinks I can hear the voice of its lamentation in its remoteness from Thee, and can recognize its cry because of its separation from Thy Self. I testify that everything other than Thee is but Thy creation and is held in the hollow of Thy hand. To have accepted any act or praise from Thy creatures is but an evidence of the wonders of Thy grace and bountiful favors, and a manifestation of Thy generosity and providence.


That's all I have to say for this particular passage. But before I finish this post I want to begin to think about the distinction between Creator and creation. I've been realizing how pivotal it is for understanding the Long Obligatory Prayer. But as of yet, I haven't presented any systematic understanding of how I am using these terms. I didn't want to introduce philosophy jargon. But I'm afraid it might be easier than constantly opting for words used outside of the philosophy community.

For two things to be homogeneous is for them to be of more or less the same nature. This means that they would be constituted in a similar way. The opposite of this is for two things to be heterogeneous. This would mean that they are of more or less different natures. This means that they would be constituted in different ways.

Creation is homogeneous to creation. Creator and creation are heterogeneous to each other.

The way I'm using these terms, Creator and creation refers to the way in which they do or do not have their being. Creation is for something to be present in thought. It means that it is bound as a thing by differentiation from other things. This thing is this. It is not that. Creation is synonymous with another of my expressions: being-as-we-know-it

The Creator is not a thing. He transcends all thingness, especially all He-ness. He is present in thought as a thing. But this thought is only a creation. It is a way of thinking in terms of creation about what is heterogeneous to it.

The Creator is a being beyond being-as-we-know-it, who thus has no being for us. He is the ground of being-as-we-know-it. But not in a homogeneous relationship. Rather, they are radically heterogeneous. He is not transcendence as such, but merely transcendent.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

of Origins and Power

This is the seventh passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer. It is said standing, coming out of kneeling. The hands are upraised two separate times, once for each of the the first two sentences.

There is no God but Thee, the Almighty, the All-Bountiful. There is no God but Thee, the Ordainer, both in the beginning and in the end. O God, my God! Thy forgiveness hath emboldened me, and Thy mercy hath strengthened me, and Thy call hath awakened me, and Thy grace hath raised me up and led me unto Thee. Who, otherwise, am I that I should dare to stand at the gate of the city of Thy nearness, or set my face toward the lights that are shining from the heaven of Thy will? Thou seest, O my Lord, this wretched creature knocking at the door of Thy grace, and this evanescent soul seeking the river of everlasting life from the hands of Thy bounty. Thine is the command at all times, O Thou Who art the Lord of all names; and mine is resignation and willing submission to Thy will, O Creator of the heavens!

To testify that There is no God but Thee is a variation on the classical affirmation of Islamic monotheism: There is no God but Allah. It is a statement of the fundamental unity of divinity: that dominion over the world is not divided among a variety of figures but is instead unified under one absolute creator of all. This affirmation of divine unity helps bring together the various themes encountered throughout the prayer. But in particular it helps illustrate the spirituality behind this passage and the one previous. To think about the One Creator as absolute origin helps negotiate the difficulties I ran into with last night's entry on wealth and poverty.

In the course of commenting on the sixth passage of the prayer I ran into an apparent contradiction. God was described as wealthy in the divine attributes and humanity as poor. My concern was that this assumed too much commonality between Creator and creation to simultaneously maintain that the former utterly transcends the latter. The metaphor seemed to suggest that the differences between God and humanity can be reduced to one of degree: That God and humanity are both possessors of the same thing, but the former has more than the latter. The way that I resolved this was by arguing that the divine attributes are part of creation in the same way as humanity. Thus, any variation in the two can be reduced to one of degree while still maintaining the transcendence of God. (Though, I must say it opens up an interesting dilemna inasmuch as it sets up a radical difference between the Essence and attributes of God.)

I still think that this explanation works. But I don't think it fully does justice to the usage of wealth and poverty in this prayer. Instead of linking wealth and poverty to the actual possession of the divine attributes, I think it is also appropriate to link them to the capacity to originate divine attributes. In this way I want to make a distinction between wealth-in-possession and wealth-in-origination. This makes a difference when we think about how we explain ourselves and the world around us. To assign the origin of some thing is to interrupt the linear nature of time, cause, and effect. It is to say that something is a cause without prior causes. In other words it is to disregard the contributions of any others to the emergence of the thing that is originated.

This gains spiritual import when we look at how we think about origins in our immediate lives. For example, a businessman could say "I am the reason this company is successful. Before I came this place was going down the tubes. Now it is a booming enterprise because of my expertise." This is to locate something within him, in this case his expertise, as the origin of the company's success. The introduction of that expertise interrupted the downward spiral and set the company on an upward course. There is probably a grain of truth in that businessman's assertion. Because he probably participated in some important way in turning that company around. But to speak as if he is the sole reason for that turnaround is a different matter. It ignores the contributions that other people almost certainly made. On an aside, this has big implications on the way people think about class, race, gender, religion, etc. I'm sure his secretary would agree. A more reasonable way of looking at this situation is to say that an infinitely complex web of interactions resulted in the company's success. And that many of those forces were localized in the figure we call the businessman. Thus, the businessman can say that he participated in the success of the company but it would be a lie to refer to him as the origin. If he were the origin of company success it would imply that his contributions came out of nowhere, owe nothing to the world around it, and initiated a sequence of cause and effect that was otherwise not in progression. In other words, to pose as the origin, is to pose as God. And not just any god, but the One God who is the Absolute origin and transcendent beyond creation.

To be the Absolute origin is not to be at the beginning of a sequence of time. But rather to be the generating impulse of the entire sequence that all the while remains outside of that sequence. Rather, than a point at the end of a line. It is the point outside the line that makes every point in the entire line possible.

In this way God is outside of time. So long as something is "in time" it cannot be an origin, for there is always a prior moment that anticipates its being. The only way to be an origin is to be outside of this sequence. But to be outside of this sequence is to be outside the logic of befores, afters, causes, effects, and being as we know it. For being-as-we-know-it is always characterized by time and causality. In this way the Creator and creation do not share a common being. Rather the being of the Creator is fundamentally different than the being of the creation.

How did we get here? Oh yes, I was discussing the divine attributes.

In the context of the Long Obligatory Prayer, to be poor in the divine attributes means that one is unable to produce them out of nothing. Rather they are necessarily acquired from elsewhere inasmuch as one is a part of creation. A human cannot be an origin, a god. That distinction is reserved for the God, the Self-Sufficient, the Majestic, the wellspring of being-as-we-know-it and thus the divine attributes.

Following the testimony in this passage that There is no God but Thee the performer testifies to a certain wealth-in-possession, but not in wealth-in-origination. In other words, the performer testifies to the possession of the divine attributes while maintaining a dependence on God for the origination of those attributes.

O God, my God! Thy forgiveness hath emboldened me, and Thy mercy hath strengthened me, and Thy call hath awakened me, and Thy grace hath raised me up and led me unto Thee. Who, otherwise, am I that I should dare to stand at the gate of the city of Thy nearness, or set my face toward the lights that are shining from the heaven of Thy will?

Though poor-in-origination the performer is emboldened, strengthened, awakened, raised up and led unto Thee, by the influence of Thee. The performer is a dense concentration of power and enlightenment ready to face the world and whatever it throws at him or her. The next few lines appear at first to be a crude self-laceration of the soul, referring to oneself as a wretched creature, and an evanescent soul. But the otherwise in the last line quoted above indicates that this poverty is only one of origination and not of possession. Pay close attention to that last line. Who, otherwise am I that I should dare to stand at the gate of the city of Thy nearness.... This line doesn't say that the performer is unworthy to stand at said gate. It only says that this worthiness is conditional upon the above influence of God: of being shown Thy forgiveness, Thy mercy, Thy call, and Thy grace. Indeed, the performer has been empowered by that which is with Thee to stand proudly as one of God's creation, not by one's own merit, but by the merit of God, the Originator.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Passage Six: part two

I love, in this state, O my Lord, to beg of Thee all that is with Thee, that I may demonstrate my poverty, and magnify Thy bounty and Thy riches, and may declare my powerlessness, and manifest Thy power and Thy might.

Here we have that expression from the previous passage: that which is with Thee, appearing once again in its ambiguity regarding everything except its relationship to God. Once again, we'll postulate that it refers to the divine attributes, especially those most suited to humans: love, wisdom, patience, creativity......

In this passage the performer confesses to love, not so much the divine attributes themselves, but rather the very act of begging for them from God. The result of this is an increased awareness of the contrast between Creator and creation, namely that in the former there is a fullness where in the latter there is a lack. This opens up an interesting theological quandary, which will undoubtedly require more research and meditation.

The distinction between God and humanity in this context is one of degree. One is wealthy the other is poor. This assumes a consistant entity that can ebb and flow between particular circumstances while remaining essentially the same in both. In other words, there is some thing in which God is rich and humans are poor. This may potentially run up against any doctrine of God's transcendence. In that model there would be no consistant medium between Creator and creation because they are two essentially different figures. One way of dealing with this tension is to think of God as an absentee landlord. God's would posess those attributes in fullness. but it would be at a distance. The attributes would be in creation and thus created, while God's ownership of them is from the perspective of the Creator. It could be said that the divine attributes are only created effects in creation of the Creator's will. In this way they are not God, but they still pertain to God inasmuch as they help articulate a human conception of His action in creation. In this way God's wealth , in those things that humans are poor is in creation, not in his position as Creator. In this case this would be with regard to the divine attributes.

But enough already!

What's important in understanding the spirituality of this passage is that the sharp contrast between Creator and creation is in some way inspirational for the creation. The joy is in the performer's very poverty in relation to God. For some people this might be an instance of despair or helplessness. But in this instance it rejuvenates and excites the soul.

I might say more regarding this passage, but it is to a large extent beyond me. I can disect what it means conceptually. But I have not been granted the gift of understanding's its spiritual import. In other words, I can say what it means to me. But I cannot say what it means for me.

Or it may just mean I'm tired. We'll see tommorow.

Passage Six: part one

The sixth passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer is as follows.

Thou seest, O my God, how my spirit hath been stirred up in my limbs and members in it's longing to worship Thee and its yearning to remember Thee and extol Thee; how it testifieth unto that whereunto the Tongue of Thy Commandment hath testified in the Kingdom of Thine utterance and the heaven of Thy knowledge. I love in this state, O my Lord, to beg of Thee all that is with Thee, that I may demonstrate my poverty, and magnify Thy bounty and Thy riches and may declare my powerlessness, and manifest Thy power and Thy might.

In this passage, the performer expresses love and gratitude for the act of prayer itself.

The first sentence is a recognition of the way in which the desire for prayer is felt throughout the body. This is because it too takes part in the lifting up of the prayer. As a whole, the Long Obligatory Prayer is very physical. Each passage is broken up by changes in posture. Sometimes one is standing with arms raised in supplication. Other times one is in prostration with the forehead to the floor. Other times one is sitting crosslegged. Each one of these postures is in its own way suited to the passage that is then recited.

In the third passage of the prayer we saw how God's transcendence above description is part and parcel with his sovereignty. But only the first part of this equation, the transcendence above description is contained in the words of the prayer. The recognition of his sovereignty enters the equation through the posture of the body. In that particular passage, body and mind testify each in their own way to some aspect of divinity. This is the most obvious example. But the theme of the body's silent participation is consistant throughout the Long Obligatory prayer.

In the next entry I'll take a look at the second line of this passage. It continues the expression of gratitude for prayer that begins in the first sentence. But it stands very much on its own. In fact, it is easily one of the most fascinating sentences in the entire prayer.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Long Obligatory Prayer: passage five

Right now I'm trying to stay concentrated on moving through the Long Obligatory Prayer. I think if I stick to it I can get through the whole prayer before I leave for Beloit. Once I get up there I'll definitely have less time to spend on this project.

This is the fifth passage from the prayer. It is said standing like the previous passage but in this one with arms raised in supplication.

O Thou in separation from Whom hearts and souls have melted, and by the fire of Whose love the whole world hath been set aflame! I implore Thee by Thy Name through which Thou hast subdued the whole creation, not to withhold from me that which is with Thee, O Thou Who rulest over all men! Thou seest, O my Lord, this stranger hastening to his most exalted home beneath the canopy of Thy majesty and within the precincts of Thy mercy; and this transgressor seeking the ocean of Thy forgiveness; and this lowly one the court of Thy glory; and this poor creature the orient of Thy wealth. Thine is the authority to command whatsoever Thou willest. I bear witness that Thou art to be praised in Thy doings, and to be obeyed in Thy behests, and to remain unconstrained in Thy bidding.

Though this is one of the longest passages without a change in posture, it contains only one petition:....I implore Thee.....not to withhold from me that which is with Thee, O Thou who rulest over all men!

The prayer does not specifically state what is meant by that which is with Thee, but the opening invocation gives a possible hint. First off, the invocation is of one in separation from Whom hearts and souls have melted. The implication being that it is something of God that holds hearts and souls together, such that when separated they lose their structural integrity. Furthermore the invocation is of one by the fire of Whose love the whole world hath been set aflame. Here the love between God and humanity is represented as spreading its energy throughout creation. It isn't secret. For the whole world hath been set aflame. Rather it is something that is felt in public life. As seen earlier, fire can here have a destructive connotation. But it destroys only for the sake of life. It is energetic, dynamic, spontaneous. It is life, lit, kindled and fanned into flame by the love of God.

In the wake of these twin images of extreme heat the performer implores that God not withhold from me that which is with Thee, O Thou Who rulest over all men! The flow and energy that carries over from the invocation suggest that that which is with Thee is something akin to the fire of God's love.

For the sake of getting through the whole prayer, I want to make a bit of a leap in my argumentation that I don't think I can yet fully justify.

As far as I can tell that which is with Thee refers to the 99 names of God, that attributes of His that illustrate his relationship with creation. Here is the Wikipedia link to read more,'an (This is the point where I REALLY show that this is a rough draft.) Thou in one sense these Names apply to God, they also apply to humanity inasmuch as we are empowered to manifest the same attributes. In fact this is one of the defining characteristics of Baha'i spirituality. Below is a quote from the Suriy-i-Haykal. It is an address from God to Baha'u'llah.

Bring then into being, by Our leave, resplendent mirrors and exalted letters that shall testify to Thy sovereignty and dominion, bear witness to Thy might and glory, and be the manifestations of Thy Names amidst mankind.

Throughout this really quite spectacular book, Baha'u'llah repeatedly prophesies the multiplication of His followers, consistently referring to them as ones who will manifest the Names of God. In this way the manifestation of divine attributes is a very high priority for Baha'i spirituality. It is on this basis that I believe that that which is with Thee refers to the divine attributes, embodied in the traditional list of 99.

Special mention though should be made for the 100th name, revealed by Baha'u'llah to be the greatest: Baha, meaning glory, light, splendour, brilliance. This is the name that is referred to when the petition is made by Thy Name through which Thou hast subdued the whole creation. What this is saying is that the Manifestation of God, in this case Baha'u'llah is the means by which God hast subdued the whole creation. But on the other hand He is also the manifestation of the love of God which is responsible for setting the world aflame. To subdue and to set aflame would be seen in common parlance as two opposite things. One involves the clamping down of energy. The other involves its release.

As a way of concluding I want to reflect on this tension. I believe it helps illustrate what it means to manifest the Names of God. For such a process itself involves a similar tension: that as a servant one is obedient to the master by receiving the power to take the position of master. After all, most of the Names of God speak of His Lordship, attributes that might seem out of place for His servants. In this way, the servants participate in the mastery of God while all the while still remaining servants.

For Baha'u'llah the greatest freedom is in submission to God. Not so much that we are liberated from the debt of sin, and are thus free to go about our lives without fear of hellfire. In that case freedom would be characterized by some absence. But rather, what I see in Baha'u'llah is that freedom is characterized by some presence, namely power: the power to move about freely. In this case, it would be the spiritual power of a world set aflame.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

of Fire and Water

Moving on with the Long Obligatory Prayer

Passage Four!

Coming out of prostration, the performer stands up and speaks thusly.

Make of my prayer, O my Lord, a fountain of living waters whereby I may live as long as Thy sovereignty endureth and may make mention of Thee in every world of Thy worlds.

The clear companion to this passage is the opening invocation of the entire prayer.

....I beseech make of my 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.

Whereas before one asks for fire. Now one asks for water. Clearly there is a contrast between these two images.

With the image of fire we have something that upsets the routine balance of the self. It is a singular moment of disruption that stands between two distinct states: one, a period of being veiled, blinded, and shut out, and the other, a period of vision, intimacy, and presence. This singular moment is necessary to make the transition from between states. Otherwise there is the mere repetition of what already is. But this singular moment is not a sustainable way of being in the world. In fact, it is the very disruption of any way of being in the world. It's merit is in it's vigor, spontaneity, and life not in its steadfastness. But it is steadfastness that is absolutely crucial to any human or spiritual undertaking.

The singlular moment of fire cannot complete the life of the spirit. This is why we need living waters whereby I may live as long as Thy sovereignty endureth. They are the power that makes possible a long term commitment to struggle. All great undertakings have their ups and their downs, those periods when one feels unstoppable, and those periods when failure seems inevitable. When external circumstances are no longer enough to guarentee success, one has to draw deep from one's inner resources to carry on. For this reason we must always take care to nurture and train our souls for struggle. Justice is waiting on us! We cannot let her down! This is why the performer petitions God to make of this prayer a fountain of living waters: so that God's grace and power may flow down into our souls and empower us to be steadfast in His path.

Long Obligatory Prayer: passage three

And now I finally return to the commentary on the Long Obligatory Prayer. The third passage from the prayer is the shortest, a single sentence, though it may turn out to be the most important.

Exalted art Thou above the description of anyone save Thyself and the comprehension of aught except Thee.

To think something is to put boundaries around it. It is to say that it is this and not that, that it is this on condition of that. Thought is the delimitation that gives an object its reality on a plain of equals with other objects. Though the content of the thought of that object might be that it is superior, or transcendent above other objects, nonetheless, it is one idea among many. Transcendence is a curious idea in that it can be thought about, but it cannot itself be thought. So it it is with God. Just look at the movement of thought in the following effort to explain divine transcendence.

The relationship between the Creator and creation in Baha'i thought can compared to two sides of the same coin. Though there is a necessary connection between the two at all times, they can never be present to each other face to face. Instead they remain always other, always apart, always distinct, while at the same time they are always necessarily linked.

God is transcendent, even above the affirmation of his transcendence. Thought then is just a series of language games, serious games, but games nonetheless that do not produce a one to one correspondence between the word and what it claims to refer to.

This section of the prayer is performed with the body in prostration, as if one is bowing before a king, or one might say because one is bowing before a king. Between the words of the prayer and the posture of the body is a connection between the sovereignty of God and His transcendence above thought. Both affirmations rely on the idea that God is utterly unbound, unrestrained, undetermined, and unconditioned.

This brings us back to the unconditioned coming of the will of God, that what God wants of us can be wholly foreign to our desires, expectations, and ideas about him, and that His will may only become familiar to us once we try to put it into practice. Inasmuch as God transcends our understanding of Him, then by implication what He wants of us may itself transcend our understanding. The path forward is not just about mere implementation of what is already known. Rather it is an openness to that which we do not yet understand, the unforeseen whose existence we are not even aware of.

In this way, there is a consistant theme that runs through Baha'i teachings on the order of the cosmos and how we should approach prayer, discernment, and the life of service.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Vahid and the Worldliness of Renunciation

The 52nd Arabic Hidden Word reads,

O SON OF MAN! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more.

One of my favorite anecdotes from the Dawnbreakers takes place as Vahid was preparing to flee the city of Yazd after it had just poured over into sectarian violence between Babis and Muslims. An essential part of this was abandoning his house. I think it wonderfully illustrates the spiritual themes Baha'u'llah addresses in the above passage from the Hidden Words.

On page 473 Dawnbreakers reads,

That very night, Vahíd bade his companions disperse and exercise the utmost vigilance to secure their safety. He advised his wife to remove, with her children and all their belongings, to the home of her father, and to leave behind whatever was his personal property. “This palatial residence,” he informed her, “I have built with the sole intention that it should be eventually demolished in the path of the Cause, and the stately furnishings with which I have adorned it have been purchased in the hope that one day I shall be able to sacrifice them for the sake of my Beloved. Then will friend and foe alike realise that he who owned this house was endowed with so great and priceless a heritage that an earthly mansion, however sumptuously adorned and magnificently equipped, had no worth in his eyes; that it had sunk, in his estimation, to the state of a heap of bones to which only the dogs of the earth could feel attracted. Would that such compelling evidence of the spirit of renunciation were able to open the eyes of this perverse people, and to stir in them the desire to follow in the steps of him who showed that spirit!”

For Vahid, recognition of the impermanence and vulnerability of earthly wealth is inscribed into his desire for such wealth. The pleasure in gaining is the pleasure in losing. In the binary between gain and loss, Vahid's desire is situated in both.

And now for something completely different, and relatively unrelated to the above passage from the Hidden Words.

In this anecdote from the Dawnbreakers renunciation (and by implication martyrdom) is in no way passive. Instead it is a lively spectacle of Vahid's power. He gave up a comfortable lifestyle of influence, wealth, and fame for death as a Babi. Here, he makes a spectacle of this contrast by heightening the violence against himself. Rather than cowering away with whatever material possessions he could salvage he rushes headlong into his persecution, not just to make a name for himself, but to make a name for the cause he espoused. By suffering heroically, Vahid hopes others will arise to serve the faith of the Bab. Thus, his personal sacrifice becomes a political statement which in a way is a sort of threat against those who seek to stamp out the Babis.

The historical backdrop of this incident is a national polarization between the emerging Babi community and established elites among the Shia clergy and the Shah's government. As was the case in Khurasan with the Babi Jihad at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi and now with violence in the streets of Yazd this struggle had become an increasingly bloody one. In this context to leave behind his belongings is a political show of force inasmuch as 1) he has the discipline to do such an act 2) that he regards the faith of the Bab as worthy of exercising such intense discipline. There is a certain worldliness then to this act of renunciation, not in any way as a sort of hypocrisy, but rather that his renunciation was intended to have profound influence on worldly affairs and to upset the status quo of Iran in his day.

So what's the lesson here? The aggressiveness of such renunciation could be used to "shake things up," and give a reason for people to speculate why somebody would be willing to make such profound sacrifice for a given cause. It would serve to make public the intense feelings of commitment that might be forced into privacy by the apathy or hostility of a dominant culture.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reflections on the Place of Politics in the Baha'i Faith

This has ended up really long, possibly because it's such a huge topic, but here goes.

One of the more perplexing practices for Baha'is to follow is non-participation in politics. Many people don't understand how a religion that is so focused on issues of social justice can deliberately avoid running for office, campaigning for or against particular candidates, or get involved with organizations that are too "divisive." One might wonder how Baha'is expect to realize their dreams of social equality, cooperative governance, demilitarization, and enduring peace without engaging with the institutions most influentially involved in dealing with these issues.

My response to this common concern can be articulate a such:

that politics, as matters of state, is of central concern for the Baha'i faith. Politics is repressed by Baha'i communities, not so as to eradicate it, but to protect it from colonization by the social forces it seeks to challenge. Baha'is withdraw, only so that they can expand, consolidate, strategize, and organize for a time when the community can act far more effectively than at the present moment.

There is an odd assumption that the best time for political action is ASAP. Ask anybody involved in the major parties what goals their particular party has for the nation 50 years down the road, and chances are it will be indistinguishable from their goals two years down the road if you even get an answer. It should come as no surprise then that as a nation we have lost all sense of vision and purpose in our collective life. The ideological malaise can be felt anytime one turns on the news and finds more coverage of campaign strategy than of campaign issues. This isn't how you run a country.

True governance looks to the roots of any community issue. It does not assume that all the world needs is a little tweaking here and there. True governance examines the fundamental ways that we relate to ourselves and the people and world around us. How did we get here? Where are we going? To take this broad of a perspective is an endeavour so profound and so encompassing that religion is the only name that can do it justice. No other word can approach the broad scope of inquiry and still capture its necessary embodiment in individual and communal practice.

What this means is that Baha'i political activity doesn't focus on the tip of the iceberg, but rather on more fundamental issues in the spiritual life of the community, e.g. how to approach conflict, how to relate spiritually to wealth and power, how to relate to people understood as being religiously, racially, economically, or sexually different from oneself. By focusing on these basic spiritual concerns the Baha'i community takes a long term perspective on effecting change on these issues. The fundamental means for this is expanding and consolidating the community towards the end of mobilizing larger numbers of people in service to the world.

One interesting example of this principle in action is the series of events a century ago that inspired it in the first place.

Following the Babi revolts at Zanjan, Nayriz, and the Shrine of the Shaykh Tabarsi Baha'u'llah took a consistant stance against armed resistance to government. His followers were instructed not to work against the government but rather to focus on the spiritual upliftment of the people. At the time this did not mean non-participation in politics. In fact, Baha'is remained atleast as involved in politics as anyone else during this period. This changed though during the course of the Iranian Revolution of 1905. With the formation of a parliament Abdu'l Baha at first encouraged Baha'is to campaign on behalf of their co-religionists running for office. But as it became clear that the new government would be dominated by the Shia clergy, who were the faith's bitterest opponents, Abdu'l Baha withdrew the community from the new government altogether so as to focus on teaching efforts.

Had Baha'is become a player, however small, in Iranian politics Abdu'l Baha might have spent the rest of his life trying to influence the Iranian legislature, especially if immediate social reform was an item high on the Baha'i agenda. Instead though, the community's resources were directed towards spreading the faith and rearing its administrative institutions, especially in the United States. The payoff came, and is still coming today, with the subsequent expansion of the faith to nearly every nation on earth spearheaded largely by the American Baha'i community two generations later. Baha'is still have barely made a dent in influencing native Iran. But the emergence of an extremely well integrated and coordinated global community has greatly expanded the faith's potential for social change, if not now then in the future. The faith could use all of this for social action in the short term or that could be deferred so as to continue efforts to multiply the spiritual and human resources at its disposal. Clearly, there is a place for short term social action in Baha'i communities. But generally, it is not allowed to impede on the more far-sighted goal of the faith: to develop the spiritual, human, and institutional resources that are capable of effecting social change.

This process will continue until the time is ripe, when Baha'is will focus more and more of their energies towards healing an ailing world. What shape that will take is hard to tell. But when they do that generation will stand on the shoulders of giants. God willing, the efforts of contemporary Baha'is will allow them to be those giants. In time the seeds sown today will produce a rich harvest. And if Baha'is play their cards right the energy that supports future generations will be far more effectively employed on efforts in the future than if those same energies had gone directly towards social and political change today.

Return of the Cat

Alright, I'm back. I've been in Wisconsin since Wednesday visiting my sister and her fiance on account of her graduation. We got back yesterday afternoon. I might have posted something, but alas, I was exhausted. I have a few ideas floating around that I plan to turn into full-fledge entries sometime soon. It may take me a few days to get through them, so I thought I'd put something down now, lest they fall by the wayside and never get written.

For one, I'll be continuing with the Long Obligatory Prayer. I'm on what? the third section now? I'm moving rather slowly through the prayer, which concerns me because I only have a couple more weeks of free time to continue with this blog on a regular basis. But this next post should be fun. It will be on this brief passage that is recited in full prostration.

Exalted art Thou above the description of anyone save Thyself, and the comprehension of aught except Thee.

I've also got thinking up something on charismatic leadership within the faith, namely that there is a strategic spiritual advantage in having the Universal House of Justice be really quite dull as a leadership body.

Finally, I want do a piece on the place of politics within the Baha'i faith. The basic thrust will be that politics is too important to the faith for its members to get involved in particular expressions of politics this early stage in the faith's development. I'm writing this as somebody who has struggled and still struggles with the Baha'i principle of non-involvement in politics. But out of this struggle I have seen the value of the practice in a more concrete way then I would ever be able to had I not brushed up against it. It should be a fun post inasmuch as the personal and intellectual dimensions of this pursuit reinforce and encourage each other forward.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

away message

This blog will probably go silent for a few days. My sister is going to be crowned a PhD and my family is driving up to Wisconsin for the coronation ceremony. Soon she will be a Dr. Cat.

I think I'll be back sometime Saturday. It will probably be late though.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

So who is invoked in Baha'i prayer?

Is prayer addressed to God? Is it addressed to Baha'u'llah? Is it directed to both inasmuch as they are the same person? This is no easy question, and there are no easy answers, or difficult ones for that matter. This analysis takes up Baha'u'llah's doctrine of the Manifestation of God, and what it means for prayer. But what is more interesting is what it specifically doesn't mean. For what becomes apparent is that there appears to be no being to speak of that hears prayers. All the while, no doubt is ever entertained that such prayers are in fact heard.

In the Kitab-i-Iqan Baha'u'llah addresses the status of the Manifestations of God, the founders of the major world religions. His explication of the doctrine on the Manifestation of God begins with the assertion that God is transcendent above all creation and thus cannot appear as Creator within His creation. They are like two sides of a coin. At every moment they are necessarily united, but they can never meet face to face. For this reason, God empowers particular people at particular times to manifest his attributes, such as love, wisdom, and sovereignty. These are the Manifestations of God, the founders of the world's major religions.

Rather than taking an either/or position on the divinity of God's messengers Baha'u'llah takes a middle road of sorts by arguing that there are two aspects to the Manifestations of God. Whether or not they are divine depends on the perspective one takes.

One of these is the station of unity. This is the perspective that they are all one inasmuch as the same God speaks and manifests His attributes through each one of them. Because of this it is possible to speak of the one Manifestation that encompasses all of them. The other station is the one of diversity. This is the perspective of history, that each Manifestation is assigned a specific mission in a different time and place from every other. One way of looking at these two different stations is to think of the station of unity as divine and the station of diversity as human.

On this subject Baha'u'llah writes in the Kitab-i-Iqan,

sections 194,196
Viewed in the light of their second station—the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards,—they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: “I am the servant of God. I am but a man like you".......[and with regard to the station of unity] Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: “I am God!” He verily speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto. For it hath been repeatedly demonstrated that through their Revelation, their attributes and names, the Revelation of God, His name and His attributes, are made manifest in the world.

In section 109 of the Kitab-i-Iqan he writes,
Nay, all else besides these Manifestations, live by the operation of their Will, and move and have their being through the outpourings of their grace.

This means that the Manifestation of God doesn't just play a role as messenger. The Manifestation also participates in the emergence of the cosmos. God as the Absolute gives way in almost every sense to God as the Manifestation, the delegate, the vicegerent. This is why it is so hard to pin down to whom one invokes in Baha'i prayer. You have to know who is dispensing grace. Though God as the Absolute would be the ultimate source, this passage locates this role in the Manifestation. In short, it could be said that the Manifestation always defers to the Absolute. But the Absolute always defers back to the Manifestation.

To get back to the twofold station of the Manifestations, one noteworthy aspect of the doctrine is that the truth of both stations seems to be both/not. Rather than trying to produce a logical and syntactically coherent account, Baha'u'llah revels in the perplexity this doctrine produces. Pay attention to the usage of first and third person pronouns in this passage from the Suriy-i-Haykal, a work from just a few years later.

Sections 44-45
Say: Naught is seen in My temple but the Temple of God, and in My beauty but His Beauty, and in My being but His Being, and in My self but His Self, and in My movement but His Movement, and in My acquiescence but His Acquiescence, and in My pen but His Pen, the Mighty, the All-Praised. There hath not been in My soul but the Truth, and in Myself naught could be seen but God.

Beware lest ye speak of duality in regard to My Self, for all the atoms of the earth proclaim that there is none other God but Him, the One, the Single, the Mighty, the Loving. From the beginning that hath no beginning I have proclaimed, from the realm of eternity, that I am God, none other God is there save Me, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting; and unto the end that hath no end I shall proclaim, amidst the kingdom of names, that I am God, none other God is there beside Me, the All-Glorious, the Best-Beloved. Say: Lordship is My Name, whereof I have created manifestations in the world of being, while We Ourself remain sanctified above them, would ye but ponder this truth. And Godhead is My Name, whereof We have created exponents whose power shall encompass the people of the earth and make them true worshippers of God, could ye but recognize it. Thus should ye regard all Our Names, if ye be endued with insight.

The flow of the prose suggests that this is monologue but the back and forth movement of God from the first to the third person upsets the unity and clarity of the speaker. What is known is that there is speech, but whether it comes from one or from two is not determined. My understanding of this is that the Manifestation of God stands between the one and the two, Creator and Creation, unity and diversity. It is both, and simultaneously it is neither. The mighty figures depicted in this passage seem to be little more than figures of speech, and speech without speaker at that.

The doctrine of the Manifestation of God is an insult to the self-certain authority of language and a mockery of logical inference.

So who is invoked in Baha'i prayer?
I don't know, which is not to say that there is necessarily an answer to be known. My estimation is that the one invoked is not in the order of the knowable, nor a one for that matter.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Turning toward "Thy will and Thy desire:" part two

A couple posts back I began a commentary on the second passage of the Long Obligatory Prayer. In that post I interpeted up through the sentence beginning Behold me standing ready... In this post I will take on the rest of it, starting from I implore Thee by the Ocean of Thy mercy....The section as a whole reads 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 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 the Lord of all nations! I have desired only what Thou didst desire, and love only what Thou dost love.

In part one we looked over the image of the supplicant who stands ready to do Thy will and Thy desire. Poised to perform the will of God, the servant does all that can be done to prepare for the performance, but does not in fact begin carrying out the will of God. This is because the decree has not yet come.

I implore thee by the Ocean of Thy mercy and the Daystar of Thy grace to do with Thy servant as Thou willest and pleasest.

The prayer is not for this or for that thing that the servant happens to want. Instead the prayer is for what God wants, whatever that may be. In this petition we see the most explicit presentation of the will of God as unconditioned and foreign to the self of the servant.

For something to be conditioned means quite simply that it must meet certain conditions. It must be constricted and bound within certain rules of engagement. A thing is acceptable if it conforms with my understanding of justice. A thing is acceptable if it confirms the legitimacy of such and such institution. A thing is acceptable if it doesn't interfere with my relationship with this person. Conditioning is the act of self-preservation. In fact it is the production of the self in the first place. It is the demarcation between the legitimate and illegitimate in such a way that secures the position that does so. The internalization of this conditioning process is desire. In this way desire isn't purely natural. It is produced and...yes...conditioned to support a particular arrangement.

Thus, the unconditioned coming of the will of God is something that breaks apart the unity and integrity of the self as desire. It is done on God's terms and God's conditions, which are foreign and exterior to that of the servant. In this way, there is an openness to the construction of a new self, a new standard for legitimacy. It is the production of new desires, and the discipline to follow them.

The tension between the old and the new is highlighted in the second-to-last line of the passage.
Look not upon my hopes and my doings, nay rather look upon Thy will that hath encompassed the heavens and the earth. Here, the servant puts not only my doings, a frequent subject of penance, but also my hopes in question. This is an extraordinary petition inasmuch as there is no greater illustration of self than in the content of one's hopes. Self is configured around how one imagines oneself to be and how things could be. To put one's hopes at a distance is to become alienated from one's own self. The great irony is that this is done in hope of a new self that one imagines as being yet to come.

Reasonable voices may look this over and see in it the enslavement of the human race. The images of subjection and pacification are obvious. So one wonders what this has to do with the upliftment of the human spirit, or emancipation from the rule of tyranny. The best response to this comes I think from a return to the image of turning presented earlier.

When one turns, and I'm imagining a 180 degree turn, there are three stages. At first one's feet are fixed. The gaze is in a single direction. At the end, one is in the same situation except what was once in front is now in back and what was in back is in front. In between is a time in which one moves from one position from the other. As the body moves so does the world. The faster one moves the harder it is for the eyes to focus. The stable frame of reference is lost. Eventually it is regained, but in the meantime a new and unclear world opens up. The loss of this stable frame of reference can be thought of as the loss of self and the certainty of one's own perspective.

The irony is that between selves is the ultimate testing grounds for the capacities of self. This is because the self-as-such is not dissolved, only its integrity, only its self-certainty. Its powers carry on, disconnected, liberated, betrayed: to make judgments when it is unclear by what criteria to make them, to endure the socio-political destabilization that comes with the transgressive act of turning one's feet, to keep one's life balanced when the balance of routine has been lost.

This turning requires a faith, not in the certainty of one's self, but in the turning itself, that when we turn by God, we turn round right.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

the Politics of Turning: a brief interlude

Between parts one and two of the commentary on the second passage of the Long Obligatory, I thought I'd throw in this interlude. It's inspired by this recitation a friend sent me.

to touch the Most High
to touch the life of another
to touch one's own heart
may we do these things always in good faith
may we always be mindful
and turn not from the suffering of others

For one, this passage is amazing in that it doesn't need commentary. It speaks for itself. But nonetheless, I want to give some commentary on the last line because I think it highlights the socio-political project I have in mind behind the commentary on the Long Obligatory Prayer.

This is that spirituality and socio-politics coincide inasmuch as spirituality has an impact on how we relate to other people. This is a persistant theme throuhout the writings of Baha'u'llah. For him, social concerns and spiritual concerns are one and the same. Because of this, its impossible to do justice to one of his prayers outside of the social activist context of all his writings, especially the later ones from which this prayer is drawn. No doubt a central point of intersection is how to respond spiritually to the suffering of others. To respond in a spiritual way isn't just one way among other non-spiritual ways. This is because how to draw a distinction between one's own pain and the pain of others necessarily brings into question the definition of oneself and what that means. How to respond to suffering is necessarily spiritual, even though the specific response might not be informed by what we would call a spiritual or religious tradition."

If you couldn't tell, I'm unemployed and have little more to do than write blog posts, so bear with me on the sheer length of my entries.

May we do these things always in good faith
May we always be mindful
and turn not from the suffering of others

Turning? Didn't we already go over that?

As of late, I've been regaining an appreciation for the disruptive potential of compassion, especially in regards to the sacred trinity of progressive politics: race, class, and gender. It's not possible to simply choose to opt out of an oppressive system. Because our lives are deeply embedded in these systems the process of opting out takes long-term commitment. But one can choose to be affected by the suffering of others. Everytime I see suffering, the question is raised anew. Do I allow myself to recognize my privilege or do I sweep it underneath the rug because it is inconvenient. Allowing oneself to be affected by the suffering of others makes complacency impossible. It poisons the false-sense of innocence that comes with being raised in privilege. It destabilizes one's commitment to arrangements that by justice must be destabilized. When home is no longer the cozy home it once was, then there's no turning back. Long-term struggle becomes the only option.

Sometimes though, there's nothing that can be done. Politically that might be the must awful thing of all, that justice always has the deck stacked against it. In that case the disruptive power of compassion is an even more dangerous thing, especially if the only battlefield left is one's own self. Deprived of public opportunities to make progress, the struggle must turn inward. For some this could be a period of self-destruction. For others, it is a chance to prepare for more opportune times. Stress, disillusionment, and anger must not be all-consuming. They must play their part in the struggle or else be dismissed to the sidelines. Only then, when turning, turning, can we turn 'round right.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Turning towards "Thy will and Thy desire:" part one

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
'Til by turning, turning we come round right
-Simple Gifts
The second passage of the Long Obligatory is a prayer of turning, not just for the turn, but a testimony of the turn itself.
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. The Shaker hymn quoted above illustrates turning well, that to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed. 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.
Behold me standing ready to do Thy will and Thy desire, and wishing naught else except Thy good pleasure.
What greater pain is there than to not be ready?
I'm starting college next week. Oh no! I'm not ready. I haven't started packing.
My girlfriend is pregnant. Oh no! I'm not ready. I don't want settle down just yet.
Death is at my doorstep. Oh no! I'm not ready. There are still so many things I have to say.
The law of change demands that we must move on, even when it means that it might drag us. The above line testifies to the joy of a life that has been set in order. It is to say before God that one has put their affairs in order, standing ready to do Thy will and Thy Desire.
Everybody it seems, likes to talk about vocation, about finding one's vocation, and living by it. But before a person can accept their vocation from God they must first be ready. They must have their own affairs in order. This isn't a path that we have to walk alone. Besides for ourselves, we can also help other people get their own affairs in order. Spirituality is not for ourselves. It is for God. And if it is for God then it is for everyone. We can support each other in our efforts to get our affairs in order, to become ready. This is the spiritual dimension to any social justice effort. When we prepare together, then we can turn together, and stand together in patient waiting before the will of God.
to be continued......

Friday, May 11, 2007

Veils of Self, Fires of Madness

One of the more joyful fruits of becoming Baha'i, besides for meeting all the people, has been meeting the Long Obligatory Prayer. Just like a good friend, our relationship began exuberantly as we both got to know each other for the first time. And just like any good friend, there are easy times and there are rough times, times when we're soul mates and times when we've grown apart. In tough times though, I can always fall back on the rapport that we've developed over time. Home is whereever I say the Long Obligatory Prayer. Once the prayer has been said, then it can be said that I have come home.

Just in case you've never met my friend I figure I should give you a pen portrait. She takes about seven minutes or so to recite. She is a series of 13 passages of paragraph length, each one recited in a different posture than the one previous, including standing, seated cross-legged, or in full prostration. Each of these passages has a central theme. One passage expresses gratitude for the gift of prayer. Another expresses gratitude for scripture. One is a petition for nearness to God, another is a testimony recognizing the impossibility of actual reunion. A variety of theological and spiritual themes are weaved together into a rich, textured whole. My friend will display some of the depth of her personality at first glance. But she won't spill her inner secrets to total strangers. One must develop a good rapport first.

I'd like some feedback on my writing style. The way I've written this commentary is by going through line by line expression, by expression, interpretting everything. My fear is that it sucks the life out of the passage I'm trying to interpret. My goal is to bring it to life, when otherwise it might be obscure to people. So any feedback you have for doing that would be great.

The first passage in the Long Obligatory are these. They are said standing and facing Akka in Northern Israel.

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 to the ocean of Thy Presence.

First things first, the prayer begins with an invocation of two titles, the Lord of all names and the Maker of the Heavens.

In this context a name is not just any name, or word. In an Islamic context to speak of names in prayer is to speak of the 99 names of God, such as the Beneficent or the Merciful. Each of these names express some reality about God that humans can understand. For Baha'is these are the attributes of God that are manifested by His Messengers. Furthermore, we too are called forth to manifest these attributes. They are the means by which we know of God, because all the while he remains in his essence transcendent above any description or knowledge. In this way, Essence is sovereign over attributes/names. This is my estimation of why God is referred to here as the Lord of all names.

As the Maker of the heavens God is not just the one who rears up the physical world, but also the spiritual world. In the Kitab-i-Iqan Baha'u'llah explains how in past scriptures the heavens are used as a metaphor for the Word of God and the means by which we obey God. Before modern transportation and navigation systems were developed people used to look to the skies to find their bearings. Depending on what time of day it was, people could look to the sun, moon or stars to figure out what time it was or which way to go. In the same way, the Word of God is the means by which we get our spiritual bearings. That God is the Maker of the heavens illustrates the way in which we depend on him for guidance in our lives. This is my estimation of why God is referred to here as the Maker of the heavens.

In Baha'i Prayer it is important to look at what or who a petition is made by. I don't really know the Arabic etymology behind this by. But as near as I can tell it is a rhetorical strategy that invokes the good pleasure of God associated with that entity, so as to give one's prayer more force. In this passage, the petition is made by them who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most-Exalted, the All-Glorious. These last two names refer respectively to the Bab and Baha'u'llah. The birthname of the Bab is Ali-Muhammad. Ali is a form for the Arabic word for exalt. to refer to him as the Most-Exalted is a play on words that Baha'u'llah frequently uses when speaking of his forerunner. The All-Glorious is of course a reference to Baha'u'llah, whose name means Glory of God. In fact most of his life he was referred to simply as Baha (Glory). Thus, this petition is made by the twin Manifestations of God, the Daysprings of Thine invisble Essence. A dayspring in Baha'i writings generally means a point at which something of God is transferred from His worlds into ours. In this case it wouldn't mean that God's invisible essence is being transferred to our world. That is impossible. Instead, I think its meaning might be more akin to mouthpiece. The essence remains transcendent, while the dayspring manifests the divine attributes.

Finally, we have the petition itself, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils that have shut me out from Thy beauty and a light that will lead unto the ocean of Thy Presence.

As is often the case with Baha'i writings we come across the metaphor of the veil. Or should we say hijab? I'm not really sure. I don't know the Arabic. But if my inclinations are right, and I think they are, Baha'u'llah is refering to God in the feminine using the image of a veiled beautiful woman, who in the event of spiritual reunion is unveiled before the eyes of the seeker.

So what are the veils that shut us out from God's beauty?

Typical answers are such things as arrogance, greed, lust, or attachments to knowledge or leadership. It wouldn't exactly be controversial to sum up all of these things under that umbrella concept of "self." But what is self? If I had to give a hasty answer (and I will) I would say that it's not the body, or the basic biological and psychological capacity to utter the word "I" and recognize mentally that this has happened. Rather, the self is the constellation of habits, assumptions, knowledge, and desires that define what it is to be oneself. It isn't just something to be possessed by an I. It is the I itself as it takes shape in a field of social relations. Often when we speak of veils that hold us back from God, we're not just talking about things at a distance from ourselves. We're talking about things that we cannot imagine living without. This is because they are in fact who we are. If I have been raised to be greedy from before I even knew my own name then it is impossible for me to overcome greed without in fact overcoming my own self. When would I have been otherwise? For me to not be greedy would in a way to not be me. In fact that's what all of my friends would say. "You're a new cat, Mr. Cat." And they would be precisely right.

This is what makes the petition to burn away the veils so potentially radical. It is possible that the fullfillment of this petition would involve a certain sort of death. One's body and mind would remain intact, but one's spirit would be transformed beyond beyond recognition. From the perspective of one's former mindset, such a transformation would appear as a loss of oneself, maybe even a descent into madness. For so often, what is sanity in the eyes of the world is madness in the eyes of God, and what is sanity in the eyes of God is madness in the eyes of the world.

Such a radical event may not be what God has in mind for everyone (What if he did?) but at the very least this prayer asks God for a change of oneself in which the identity of that self might be undermined. We cannot expect God to always come to us. We must go to him. Therefore, we must leave the comfort zone of our present self and encounter God outside, whether we choose to or not. Only then can we come into new life.

in other words:
Resurrection is only possible as the flipside of crucifixion.