In this edition of the newsletter we can see the old style of deepening or study classes. And in turn, contrast it with the mindnumbing Ruhi version that has replaced it. For those who simply don’t remember such discussions (maybe you’re too young or maybe you were not around the Baha’i community when they were the norm) will notice that these two forms are markedly different.
Where Ruhi is black and white (basically telling you the answer and then demanding that you repeated back several times), this sort of deepening is much more open ended, with very few absolute answers. To some that might seem uncomfortable. It is awkward not knowing exactly what something means or what the Writings are telling us to do. It takes a much more developed mind to entertain differing possibilities and to mull even contrasting answers. Although it may be comforting, to bask in the glow of such absolute environments is to basically turn off your critical thinking abilities and to shirk from your God given responsability to investigate the truth independantly.
Which brings me to repeat that this is one of the main reasons that I’m going to the trouble of unearthing these newsletters. To remind Baha’is that this is the way we used to do it and that there is a better (much better way, in fact).
If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.
On with the 70’s class . . .
May 1, 1977
Dear Baha’i Friends —
APOLOGY DEPT.: Our class on “A Baha’i Theory of Personality,” to be presented by Bonnie Barnes, had to be postponed because of a scheduling foulup. Barnes was told the class was to be on Saturday, April 30 ( a date also listed in a previous newsletter). Originally, the class was to be held on that Saturday to avoid conflicting with any local plans for celebrating the 12th Day of Ridvan. But, the 12th Day of Ridvan fell on a Monday, so we slated the class for Sunday, May 1, however Barnes was told her presentation woudl be made Saturday and showed up then. You got all that, right? Anyhow, we hope to re/schedule her topic for a future class.
Tony Lee stepped into the breach with a backup class based on the outline the Los Angeles Local Spiritual Assembly prepared last year on the meaning of Baha’i deepening. Ten years ago, in a Ridvan message, members of the Universal House of Justice wrote that the sort of understanding they wanted the Baha’i of the world to acquire centered on the answers to four questions: What is Baha’u’llah’s purposefor the human race? For what ends did He submit to the appaling cruelties and indignities heaped upon Him? What does He mean by a “new race of men”? What are the profound changes which He will bring about? Interestingly, the House members noted that the worldwide establishment of universal education, adequate medical care and a high standard of living for all was not the sort of thing that formed the object of Baha’u’llah’s mission. These ideals are, in one form or another, Baha’i social principles and, as such, are frequently presented at Baha’i firesides as more or less constituting the Faith.
Although our class got as far as the first question (What is Baha’u’llah’s purpose for the human race?), it became evident, even from the beginning, this would be a different study class from previous sessions. Those of you who have attended our classes or read about them in these reports have gotten the impression the sessions tend to be intellectual in orientation. This class, however, was more spiritual in its approach. It was not an easy transition for us to make. We often found ourselves slogging along, sometimes near absolute bafflement, in trying to unravel a particular mystery embedded in the Baha’i Revelation. It was one of the most challenging, frustrating classes we’ve ever had. The first major hurdle we encountered was dealing with the implications lying behind the realization that Baha’u’llah’s mission is to originate, promote and produce an organic, fundamental change in the nature of human society.
We all have our concepts, however hazy and half baked they may be, of what the New World Order will look like. A poll of the Baha’is might turn up responses like “no more wars,” “total international cooperation” and “a collective effort to solve the physical and social ills of mankind.” As mentioned earlier, the Universal House of Justice has said none of these conceptions are even close to the truth. But what was even more startling and difficult for class members to adjust to as we got into our topic was the notion that most human history, including such momentus trends as the conversion from predominantly agrarian to an industrial economy, the rise of applied science and the influence of nationalism were only superficial human adjustments when viewed in the light of what is coming.
Things became more difficult for us as we grappled with the mystical and eliptical tone and style of Baha’u’llah’s writings surveying His purpose for mankind. Consider this passage:
When the channel of the human soul is cleansed of all worldly and impeding attachments, it will unfailingly perceive the breath of the Beloved across immesureable distances, and will, led by its perfume, attain and enter the City of Certitude. Therein he will discern the wonders of His ancient wisdom, and will perceive all the hidden teachings from teh rustling leaves of the Tree — which flourisheth in that city. With both his inner and his outer ear he will hear from its dust the hymns of flory and praise ascending unto the Lord of Lords, and with his inner eye will he discover the mysteries of “return” and “revival”. How unspeakably glorious are the signs, the tokens, the revelations, and splendours which He Who is the King of names and attributes hath destined for that City! The attainment of this City quencheth thirst without water, and kindleth the love of God of an inscrutable widsom, and upon every rosebush a myriad nightingales pour out, in blissful rapture, their melody. Its wondrous tulips unfold the mystery of the Burning Bush, and its sweet savours of holiness breathe the perfume fo the Messianic Spirit. It bestoweth wealth without gold, and conferreth immortality without death. In every leaf ineffable delights are treasured, and within every chamber unnumbered mysteries lie hidden.
Using the metaphor of entering the “City of Certitude,” Baha’u’llah writes that “The attainment of this City quencheth thirst without water, and kindleth the love of God without fire. . . . It bestoweth wealth without gold, and conferreth immortality without death.” To Western minds, trained to follow an orderly progression of logical ideas, this is contradictory and impossible as well as mystical and abstruse.
The paradox Baha’u’llah poses in this passage is repeated elsewhere — in fact, it is one of the Manifestation’s favorite literary devices — and soon it becomes evident that Baha’u’llah employes a style of conscious contradiction and deliberate inconsistency. This can make it even toughter to understand His meaning. Take another example, more clear in style, but still based on paradox, such as this one from Gleanings, page 99:
“The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs teh cup of sorrow, that the people of the earth may attain unto abiding joy and be filled with gladness.”
Out of the almost dozen quotes outlining the purpose for mankind presented in the study guide, we extracted a blizzard of possibilities. To cite just a few: “The purpose of God in creating man hath been, and will ever be, to enable him to know his Creator and to attain His presence.” (GL. p.70) “The pupose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and widsom.” (GL. p.299) “…He, through, the direct operation of His unconstrained and soverigh Will, chose to confer upon man the unique distinction and capacity to know Him an dto love Him — a capacity that must needs be regarded as the generating impulse and primary purpose underlying the whole of creation . . .” (GL. p.65). “His purpose, however, is to enable the pure in spirit and the detached in heart to ascend, by virtue of their own innate powers, unto the shores of the Most Great Ocean …” (GL. p.71)
It did not take long for it to become obvious that Baha’u’llah was using symbols — “the City of Certitude,” “the Most Great Ocean” — to convey an idea. But symbols, we have been taught, are used to represent something. What we could not unravel was what Baha’u’llah’s symbols symbolized. What does He mean by the “City of Certitude”? And how can one “ascend…unto the shores of the Most Great Ocean”? Here again is that paradox! Oceans are low-lying bodies of water. One descends to an ocean, one doesn’t “ascend” to its shores.
Class members battled these and related mysteries for a while, but got nowhere. Then it was suggested that Baha’u’llah is trying to communicate something that words alone cannot convey. Contrary to our training and experience, Baha’u’llah does not use words to impart understanding, but instead uses them to inspire insights. Infact, we decided, Baha’u’llah does not use words to convey meaning, but to achieve an emotional and spiritual effect — and that effect is to inspire religious rapture
We ran into trouble because we were searching for the meaning of Baha’u’llah’s symbols. It did not occur to any of us, until we met with difficulty in finding that meaning that there may not have been any meaning, at least not as we know it, but that Baha’u’llah’s purpose was something else. It may be that Baha’u’llah’s use of language is, on some limited scale, a model of what He hopes to do with mankind. The Manifestation transforms language from what we are used to into something quite beyond what we expect. From all indications, this also is what He will do on a larger order with mankind.
NEXT CLASS: Greg Wahlstrom’s long-awaited review of the Calamity (it bombed in Peoria …sorry about that), will be our next topic. The class will be held on Saturday, [Ed. hand written note: June 11th] (not Sunday, May 15, as originally announced) at 2 pm. Ground zero…er…the location of the class will be in the Wahlstrom’s home shelter in their home at [Ed. home address, directions and phone number follows]. And don’t worry about the real calamity. No one would ever bomb Faywood — except maybe by accident.
The original scanned documents can be found here.