Tuesday, December 31, 2002
I offered some apposite comments to Jim about aging and mortality, but what can you say to a guy that began complaining about getting old when he was 28? He's now 51, grey, and seriously working on becoming a curmudgeon. Just this last year, I've noticed my eyesight going seriously downhill; I can't read the fine print on medicine bottles, etc. It has been a real disadvantage with this lice stuff going on with the kids -- I can't see a nit to save my life. Anyhow, I called the eye doctor, to find out if the required two years has passed so the insurance will pay for new glasses. It won't until this summer, and I complained over the phone about being past forty, and I can't see worth a damn etc. She tells me "Well, if you need to read a medicine bottle, just take your glasses off -- you're nearsighted." And I'll be damned if I can't read such things, clear as a bell, with my glasses off! It never occurred to me that the answer would be so simple. I must need bifocals or something.
So, that's my New Year's present; I can now read medicine bottles again, after months of helplessly squinting at them through distorting lenses.
It certainly has been a very weird year in cyberspace, with nasty squabbles, crackpot claimants dominating the conversation, and less input from the really good posters. There are people who used to talk to me, that don't anymore. I'm hoping for better things with the New Year.
Sunday, December 29, 2002
The predicted flood never happened, and the kids -- my own and the neighborhood kids run in and out all day, with the dog in tow. There are times when life here seems almost idyllic. All I'd need to do is tie on an apron, and bake some cookies, and I'd be a stereotypical 1950s mom.
Instead, I read through a book that Trevor's been reading at school, and has wanted to talk about. His grades are abysmal, but he really is learning -- I wish his teachers had time to talk to him, just chat like I do with him, and they'd see his mind is just *full* of stuff.
Then, I spent quite a bit of time online today -- one of my many self-indulgences. On Beliefnet, I've still got a fundie following me around with the old "You're not a real Baha'i" bit, which I intend to ignore. We've got some new people on the Unenrolled Baha'is board, which has been fun. I'm just avoiding aggravation right now; I've had my fill of fundie-fighting. Not a word has been said on most forums about our most recent prophet -- a situation which has grown progressively uglier, and one that I'm staying clear out of.
There are times when I think I ought to just throw in the towel. I certainly don't get into debate as quickly as I once did. Comments that once would have been like waving a red flag in front of me, I just ignore. But, I always get hooked in one way or another, eventually. If I ever do sign off, it will be a gradual fading away. Nothing makes a person look sillier than repeated announcements that one is leaving. For one thing, nobody really cares that much if you do leave. Life goes on, but it seems human nature to think we are the center of the universe, and that our absence would leave a huge hole. I don't know, though -- I'm still a pretty talkative sort. :-) But so often the whole thing seems repetitive; I've already said most of what I wanted to say, and dragging through the same old arguments just doesn't seem worthwhile anymore. If I were more disciplined, I'd spend my time finishing my article and updating my website, and leave the forums alone. But I can't resist just one more check at what is going on, then I can't resist answering something, and pretty soon I've wasted a lot of time. There has been lots of chatter tonight; tomorrow I'll try to get focused.
Saturday, December 28, 2002
I don't know what I was hoping for, really. Maybe that I wouldn't have to go it alone. I don't know; I'll have to think on it some more.
The reason I find "the way of tears" so appealing is that it's honest -- there's no way to force it, fake it, or fool yourself. There are no shortcuts, or easy answers. And that's really important to me, because I'm very aware that the biggest danger in mysticism is self-delusion, and there's no pride worse than spiritual pride. The way of tears is an expression of humility, weakness, and spiritual poverty. This has been an issue for me for a long time -- how do you keep yourself honest? How do you avoid fooling yourself? In most traditions, one studies under a spiritual master of some sort, a trained outside observer that serves as a reality check. This is not allowed in Baha'i teaching, and we have little in the way of tradition to guide us. There are only the Writings -- the guidance is there, but it's so easy to fool yourself. Baha'u'llah is very clear that no knowledge, no enlightenment, no spiritual progress is possible without detachment and cleansing of the heart, but how many Baha'is think that the Valley of Search ends when you sign a declaration card? Do they really believe that they are detached and pure of heart? I'm not, and I know I'm not. I'm a slow-flying broken-winged bird is all, just like the rest of humanity.
'Abdu'l-Baha' says that the slightest trace of self brings one right back to the very beginning -- and which of us does not have that? Our very religious belief becomes part of our ego-identity. One of the problems we have is that Baha'is are aware that the ego is dangerous, but instead of confronting the beast, they pretend like they've conquered it. But, boy, that accusation comes out pretty quickly if they see another Baha'i with ideas that threaten their comfortable picture of what the Faith is. And the ego charge, when thrown at someone else, is so insidious. The only defense one has is to shut up; the accusation is a silencer. That the root of the accusation is the accuser's bruised ego and need for control never gets noticed.
The very essence of the way of tears is that you give up the quest for power and control, and you weep for the loss. It's a moment when you really do bear witness to "my powerlessness, and to Thy might" instead of just reciting the words.
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Anyway, the Baha’i mystics of today are pretty much reinventing the wheel, very often without a lot of community support --- although there are hopeful signs out there, I think. But we have a long way to go.
One thing that nobody seems to talk about is the actual practice of mysticism -- which is something I find kind of odd. The impression I get is that somebody just decides they are a Baha’i mystic one day, then starts having visions and writing passionate poetry the next. Nobody ever says, “O.K., so you want to be a Baha’i mystic; here’s what you do . . .” Even so basic a thing as dhikr is rarely mentioned. At least I assume those folks who consider themselves Baha’i mystics are doing dhikr; I don’t know that for sure. There is certainly a basis for it in the Writings, as there is for meditation. But one almost has to reach back into other traditions in order to do it, which is basically what I have done. The Christian practice of lectio divina fits perfectly with the requirement that we read the Writings morning and evening. I have been practicing the Centering prayer, using the name of Baha’u’llah. The repentant attitude of Christian monks accords with the command to “Bring thyself to account each day”. Maggie Ross’ description of “the way of tears and fire” is mirrored in the Long Obligatory prayer, as well as other prayers.
One area I’m just beginning to explore is the role of the body in spirituality -- precisely because this is a very weak area for me. I’m very oral, and it shows -- I’m overweight, keep lapsing back into smoking. I have an emotional need to “take stuff in”. In a psychology class, I heard once that even the hunger for knowledge is an oral trait, since it demonstrates a dependence on external supplies. I have tended to discount the physical as unimportant to the spiritual, but of course, this isn’t really true, and is just avoidance on my part. But this is another aspect to things one never finds mentioned among Baha’i mystics online. Some things I’ve just had to feel my way towards, such as getting a proper breathing rhythm during meditation. But then, I guess, all of us are just feeling our way.
For someone who said she was going to turn inward, I guess I’m still saying a lot about the community. But the struggle with community issues, and the inner conflict that the discovery of the terribly wrong things the administration has done has caused me has been an important thing for my own growth. My spiritual life is much more rich and deep than it was when I was enrolled. In exploring what it means to be a Baha’i outside the community, my inner life has become stronger -- in some ways because it has become more important. Not that I’ve resolved all conflicts. I don’t ever know if I will resolve the contradiction between promised divine guidance at the helm, and the glaring fact that many of their decisions have nothing at all to do with God, except to say that this Covenant has been, in some way, at some point, broken beyond repair. But in my own soul, I still respond to the Covenant of Alast -- something which actually makes it impossible for me to be “faithful” to what most Baha’is mean by the Covenant i.e. passive acceptance of all UHJ actions as the will of God.
Except in the sense that “all things are of God”, and “all are His servants and all abide by His bidding.”
I suppose the really spiritual thing to do would be to cultivate a sense of forgiveness and compassion. I’ve come a long way in forgiving my local community -- at least partly because I discovered online that things could be worse. And partly, because the people here are the victims of the situation; we were asked to do the impossible, and I suppose every individual here did the impossible the best way they knew how. There is a growing consciousness out there that the orientation of our communities must change -- but for so many, many people it is too little, too late. It will take a whole new Baha’i generation, before we can begin to recover from the mistakes of this one. We will have far fewer communities, but they will be stronger.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Much has been made of obedience in the past, obedience to earthly superiors. There is a profound rationale behind this idea, yet today, there are few in positions of leadership who are free, kenotic, and apolitical enough to warrent such obedience . . . Not to count, in institutional terms, is to be set free. It may mean that one is not listened to; it may mean that one is generally ignored, or it may seem so. This is not to denigrate all institutions by implication: it is simply to say that a person who does not have to answer to others' power is free to proclaim that the emperor has no clothes on. This is not an abrogation of power, but an assumption of responsibility.. . An institution can be a vehicle for God's power only insofar as its leadership and members function in a kenotic attitude. God's love is not impeded by anything, but power in the name of God is possible only by kenosis. . .
We in the West have had thrust on us an idea of obedience which not only is not the obedience of the early church and the desert, but also has been the excuse for spiritual and political tyranny. The obedience of the early church and the desert is one of mutual discernment, made with prayer, fasting, and hesitancy. Particularly in the desert, the mothers and fathers were loath to give directives. They would rather teach by example, and so aware were they of the human condition and their own sins, that instead of judging they would rather have an opportunity to forgive.
This is, of course, a very different attitude than what Baha'i institutions have. (Of course, Ross is implying here that this is not the attitude of most Christian institutions, either.) First of all, it would be denied that the UHJ is an "earthly superior", since it is supposed to be the recipient of unfailing divine guidance, and is supposed to be obeyed because of that. Secondly, the Baha'i institutions are not kenotic -- they do not pour out; the friends are supposed to pour themselves out to the administration, endlessly sacrificing time, money, energy, but nothing will be given to the ones who do so. Not even a decent "Thank you" -- just demands for more. But a soul has to have a full cup in order to pour out endlessly; human beings have a limit. And finally, there is no forgiveness, and certainly not any awareness that the administration itself is composed of fallible, sinful human beings like the rest of us. Ask any Baha'i that has lost administrative rights, and been dropped and forgotten by his community. There is no compassionate understanding that we are all in the same struggle together, when we struggle with our own failings.
So, those of us who are among the unenrolled are out here saying that the emperor has no clothes. I don't know whether we are listened to or not, except for those whose Baha'i experience prepares them to listen.
Sunday, December 22, 2002
Authority issues are, of course, quite central in the controversies in the Faith right now. It is one thing to surrender to God; it is another thing for that to translate into passive acceptance of anything that human religious authorities decide they want to do. I guess the traditional Baha'i viewpoint puts the UHJ in the position of God's vehicle on earth -- obedience to them in obedience to God. But the simple fact is that they *aren't* God, and they are capable of injustice. What are we, if we give God's authority into human hands?
Oh, but that's an old story, and one that is becoming increasingly irrelevant. I'm not a member of the community anymore, and I have no plans to go back. But I find it frustrating that we have this rich and meaningful scripture, and it is all brought down to a very shallow and worldly level. "Detachment" means you don't think anything is important but serving the Faith. "Surrender" is that you passively accept whatever the majority, or the heirarchy wants to do. Service to mankind is all brought down to the level of building the administrative order. Peter Khan runs around giving lectures trying to convince the friends that marble buildings really are a spiritual endeavor. In the meantime, Baha'is are hungry, for the meaning and truth that is there, that drew them into the Faith in the first place.
Note: Kenosis is a term which means the pouring out of self. In Christian thought, this is also associated with the Incarnation i.e., that God poured himself out into the human world. So, for a person to seek to do this, is an imitation of God's attitude towards creation.
What tears are a sign of, is an admission to one's self of powerlessness -- and don't Baha'is recite that every day during their noonday prayer? There is even a point during the long prayer where tears are mentioned, and I have often felt strange reciting that prayer, knowing that tears are supposed to be occurring at that point, and they are not. The mention of tears is also in some other Writings, so it's not exactly an alien notion in the Writings, but it is definitely an unexplored one. I put the term in a search at True Seeker, and the writings, strangely enough, mention the tears of the Concourse, more often than human tears -- tears are especially mentioned in connection with injustice.
In the Christian tradition, tears are primarily associated with compunction and repentance, but according to this book, they are a gift -- and any sort of tears are a place to start. Anyway, this is an idea I've been toying with for a while.
I have had a couple of spiritual experiences lately, the details of which I'm not going to relate here, but I'm feeling like it is a time to turn inward.
Saturday, December 21, 2002
What we end up doing instead is sort of settling for a pasted-on holiness, or worse, self-righteousness. We aren't half as interested in really being good as we are looking good. If we are in a religious community, we try to act like we think a religious person is supposed to act. First thing I had to do when I became a Baha'i was give up cussing -- then I was allowed to do it again when I got among Baha'is online!:-) Smoking was always a big issue -- not because it's my worst flaw, but because it's such a visible one. Baha'is are very into proper appearances -- it's one of the reasons for conflicts online. When I first came to Beliefnet, the big panic was about that somebody out there might get the "wrong" idea about the Faith because of what I was saying. It's like we're all expected to be walking advertisements for the Faith, but the real spiritual work, the inner work that will result in us *really* being a center of attraction goes undone. We can all quote 'Abdu'l-Baha' about how none of us are faithful to the Covenant unless people can tell we are Baha'is without our saying a word -- but we don't do a lot of thinking about how we get there. We just try to act like we're there, and it's fake -- and people know it. Better to be an honest sinner than a fake saint.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Thursday, December 19, 2002
Over on talk.religion.bahai, the old re-hash of infallibility, Covenant, Will & Testament, spheres of interpretation and legislation, and the whole ball of wax is starting up again. I started up a response, then cancelled it. I've gone round and round about this stuff, so many times during the past couple of years, often with the same people -- I just don't want to do it anymore. If the center of what the Baha'i Faith has to offer the world is that we've got divine guidance at the helm, as opposed to the rest of those sorry schmucks out there, then it isn't offering much. If values such as freedom of expression and due process are things that we are supposed to "outgrow", then the Faith has nothing to contribute to the progress and well-being of mankind.
The center of the Baha'i Faith is not the Lesser Covenant -- the authority structure of the Baha'i Faith, but the Greater Covenant, the response of the human soul to the call of God.
It really is a bad thing they do to people -- anyone who has to support themselves or a family is investing in something pretty hopeless. I can't imagine another profession where you are expected to wait for years in order to get a full-time job. If you go and do something not education-related in order to pay the bills, then you've thrown in the towel -- might has well forget it, because if you aren't doing *something* in the schools, either subbing or working as a teacher's aide, then you won't become known. Besides, you have to do at least a semester's worth of teaching just to keep your credential, along with 150 hours of training that you have to pay for, out of a small and irregular income. There's talk that classroom reduction is going to be reversed, and that will make the job market even tighter, because it would mean experienced teachers being laid off. There are persistent rumors that a bunch of teachers are scheduled to retire in Redneck Heaven, but there hasn't been much evidence of anything opening up so far. I'm seeing about a dozen jobs a year opening up, with around 200 would-be teachers vying for those jobs. And nobody seems to find this out until *after* they've spent the time in school; I didn't have a clue until I was subbing. One guy, who just moved into town, went to the county Dept. of Education, and asked if there were jobs here -- and he was assured that there were. They basically lied to him.
I'm finding that the situation is getting easier emotionally as I go along. At first, it was a real shock. You put in all this work, and expect to get the payoff at last, only to find that the future is very uncertain, and there is a very real chance that you might not get a job at all. It's a contest of endurance -- surely a lot of would-be teachers must just drop out of the running. How many years can most people do this? I can, because we are adjusted to living on one income. Nobody should try to become a teacher in California unless they have some other source of income; otherwise, it's a waste of time. You can't make a living on what you'll make as a substitute. The best I can say is that I'm working more than I was last year.
Monday, December 16, 2002
Anyway, I’ve been particularly thinking about the Christian idea of repentance. It’s not a completely alien notion in the Baha’i framework, but it’s not something that receives a whole lot of emphasis, either. But I’m beginning to think it is foundational to a person’s spiritual life -- as much so as the individual investigation of truth. Actually, it is a type of truth-investigation, since it involves facing the truth about one’s self.
On the surface, the idea of repentance seems kind of morbid -- weeping for one’s sins and so on, or as a kind of smarmy “Are you right with the Lord?” kind of thing. But, really, what it involves is making yourself vulnerable, dropping your defenses. Because the more sensitive the area, the more we will defend ourselves and blame others, rather than taking a hard look at what we are doing wrong. And I really don’t know how we can obey the oft-repeated injunction in the Writings to “cleanse” or “purify” the heart without doing that. There is nothing that will make us more humble or aware of our helplessness before God, than struggling with our own sinful side.
Sunday, December 15, 2002
And, like the parents in that tumultuous decade, I've had to fight my ten-year-old daughter over her hair. Unfortunately, head lice is rampant at her school, and we've treated her with the shampoo three times, and she still got sent home Friday, for having nits. So, I took her into town, intending on getting her hair cut about shoulder-length, since I just didn't feel like going through two feet of hair with a fine-tooth comb one more time. We *have* to get this under control. Jim can't take any more time off work; and if I don't work, I don't get paid, and run the risk that another sub will just take over the rest of the days I have scheduled. And there's only so long we can impose on Grandma.
Anyway, we get to the hair-cutting place, and the lady says she can't legally cut Tory's hair as long as she has nits. And there were clearly visible bugs in there. She advised me to try mayonnaise, and tea tree oil which repels the critters and helps prevent re-infestation. So, we ran to the store, and I took her to lunch, and we had a fairly pleasant mother-daughter day. However, I was going to have to cut her hair. Now, I've only given one haircut in my life, and that's when I used the hair clippers to give Jim a buzz cut. So, this was going to be a risky operation. And sure enough, it ended up closer to chin length than shoulder length, and was way uneven. So, I called Grandma, telling her I have a little girl who may never speak to me again if she doesn't rescue us. Grandma tried, and in the middle of everything, Tory announces she has to go to the bathroom -- then she locks the door and won't come out, announcing she won't have her hair any shorter. She didn't care that it was longer on one side than the other, she just wasn't going to have any more cutting done. Grandma, being the wise soul that she is, said "Well, she's the one who has to live with it", and so that's was the end of the haircut. Tory has such pretty hair, too -- light brown, with blond highlights. It looks cute short, but I remember well how, at her age and even younger, I fought the grown-ups to have the long hair that was then fashionable -- way back in the sixties. :-)
Saturday, December 14, 2002
He Who is the Dawning place of God's Cause hath no partner in the Most Great Infallibility. He it is Who, in the kingdom of creation, is the Manifestation of "He doeth whatsoever He willeth". God hath reserved this distinction unto His own Self, and ordained for none a share in so sublime and transcendent a station. This is the decree of God, and concealed ere now within the veil of impenetrable mystery. We have disclosed it in this Revelation, and have thereby rent asunder the veils of such have failed to recognize that which the Book of God set forth and who were numbered with the heedless.
It's always a tricky thing, writing about the Covenant -- any passing thought is likely to be a topic of debate, or worse, thrown up at you later as proof of how bad you are. But I have struggled with the meaning of the Covenant, ever since I resigned my membership from the Faith -- there's really no way around it. What I'm sure of, is that Baha'u'llah did not intend for this exaggerated reliance on the authorized interpreters in the Faith, an attitude that puts whatever 'Abdu'l-Baha' and Shoghi Effendi have said above the sacred text itself. Indeed, any suggestion that there could be a contradiction is flatly rejected. Shoghi Effendi might as well *be* Baha'u'llah, as far as most Baha'is are concerned, since all his words are thought of as being just as infallible. But that's not what Baha'u'llah said -- and I figure there must be a reason for Him to so carefully explain that the Most Great Infallibility is not shared. He says this here, and even more extensively in Ishraqat.
But, what struck me in this passage is that Baha'u'llah seems to be saying that people in previous religions had the infallibility thing all wrong -- that they *did* grant a share of that infallibility to others than the Manifestation himself. Well, I know that's true of Shi'ih Islam; in fact, there are some sects that put the Imam 'Ali above Muhammad. It seems that Baha'u'llah is here giving us a warning.
More thoughts on this later.
Today started out as a Winnie-the-Pooh blustery day, which has since turned into a storm bad enough to flood some streets -- at least according to my son, Trevor, who got it into his head to go adventuring out into this cold monsoon. This morning, before the rain really hit, I wandered out to see what my husband, Jim was working on, only to find him atop a ladder that was way too wobbly for my peace. So, I got a coat on and took on the job of ladder-steadier and tool-holder, while Jim fitted out Trevor's bedroom window with plastic. Last night's rain had leaked into the house, so, true to form, we were fixing it in between storms, instead of ahead of time like more practical people would. Being around Jim when he's doing even the smallest household repair job is somewhere between a joke, and an exercise in patience. So I'm standing there with nails in my coat pocket, trying to steady the ladder while holding scissors and a staple gun, while he's cussing "This is fucking ridiculous" under his breath. And it generally is, although this time actually went better than most, since usually he has to stop any job like this in the middle to go uptown for some part or tool or something. I've really been working on patience, which isn't one of my more outstanding qualities, so instead of grumbling inwardly at his lack of handyman competence, I took deep breaths, and hummed "If I had a Hammer".
I find there's lots of things I want to say, but they will have to wait for another time. There are things to be done before the power goes out, which is pretty likely in this wind.
Friday, December 13, 2002
I first started keeping a journal when I was fourteen, when it actually was an English assignment. Kept those things for years, until I had kids, in fact, when I realized that there were some things in them that I really preferred that my kids didn't see. So I saved parts of those early things. Hard to think that my son is almost that age now. He's a writer, too -- not of journals, but of adventure and fantasy stories. When I started posting online, I didn't keep the journals up -- I was saying so much of what I wanted to say out here that it seemed redundant. And, for the first time, I began getting responses to what I was writing. It's been an interesting adventure, but things are changing. When I first came into Baha'i cyberspace, I was *bleeding* practically over my experience, and was standing up on a soapbox screaming about justice, and what has been done wrong in the Faith. At the same time, I was learning a tremendous amount, like a whole new world was opening up. But this last year, particularly, it's like things have gone downhill. Stuff that was once new and exciting is now same-old, same-old. And there have been fights and squabbles in the online community that has really sapped my enthusiasm for it all. It isn't so much that I've changed my mind about things; it's just that I've been there and done that. So, I'm starting this new project during a time of transition -- let's see where it takes me.