Wednesday, December 25, 2002

The Baha’i mystics of this generation are all pioneers, and I think every one of them deserves credit for that -- even the ones who get into esoteric things like numerology and cosmology that leave me pretty flat. We’re a religion that has been cut off from its mystical past -- the Shoghi Effendi era, with its emphasis on building the administrative order and establishing the Baha’i Faith as an independent religion, however necessary that might have been at the time, left mysticism behind. Baha’is in the East no longer became part of Sufi orders as the Faith became more independent. Baha’is in the West went through a titanic struggle to separate themselves from other occult groups, leaving a legacy of suspicion about mystical practice. In talking to Baha’is of that generation, I get the impression that they very much presented the Faith as a rational, practical approach to religion. Even now, I run into Baha’is who think mystics are a bunch of useless navel-gazers, who leave the real hard work of saving the world to everybody else.

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.

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