Tag Archives: Baha’i Faith

Mahvash Sabet transferred to hospital

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All:

Mahvash Sabet is a Bahá’í prisoner of conscience immorally incarcerated in her native Iran because of her religion. She is one of seven such unfortunates who are referred to as the Yaran or Bahá’í 7. As many of you know I have had the honor of posting several of her poems on this site:

At Such a Time You’ll Come

Bear This in Mind

Lights Out

(For more of her incredible poetry, click on the Other Writers menu option above, or better yet, purchase her book Prison Poems, available at Amazon in the USA and at George Ronald in Great Britain.)

It is with heavy heart that I report that she has been transferred to Intensive Care as reported in this blog,  for, among other things (I understand she has tuberculosis of the bone), a broken but untreated hip fracture.

Please say a prayer for this long suffering and tormented woman and the well over 150 other Bahá’í  prisoners of conscience currently in Iranian jails solely because of their religious beliefs. Please.

Thank you.

john

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Day of the Imprisoned Writer: a letter to Mahvash Sabet

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Alberto Manguel is a well known and celebrated Argentine-born Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist and editor. Below is the letter he wrote to Mahvash Sabet, a Bahá’í and prisoner of conscious in Iran. During her incarceration, Mahvash has published a wonderful and inspiring book of poetry about her experiences in prison. (See below.) The letter was published in the British newspaper The Guardian  on Monday, November 10th in recognition of tomorrow, November 15th, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer. This is one of many open letters by leading authors written to defend persecuted writers.

I find his letter both touching and sincere and hope that it, in some degree, alleviates and comforts Mahvash Sabet and all her sister and brother Bahá’ís—and indeed all prisoners of conscious—in their unjust imprisonment.

Dear Mahvash Sabet,

It’s almost an impertinence, I feel, to write to a poet who is being kept behind bars for her words and beliefs. King Lear, imprisoned at the end of the play with his daughter Cordelia, tells her that they will become “God’s spies”. That is what you as well have become, bearing witness to society’s injustices, prejudices and inability to understand that no matter what society might do to a poet, the poet’s words will still be free in the minds of the readers, and continue to conjure up ideas, engage the mind in conversation. Perhaps there’s consolation in this.

You end one of your poems saying that “You can’t see the sorrow after lights out,” and that you therefore “long for the dark, total black-out.” I hope, for your dear sake, that the end of your sorrow is near but not as that “total black-out” you speak of: instead, as a resolution of freedom, as the free sunlight that is every person’s natural right, a right no one is entitled to take away.

I don’t know if you can find comfort in realising that you have now been welcomed into a vast and honoured company of imprisoned writers, from all centuries and all tongues, from Boethius to Abu Nuwas, Cervantes, Yevgenia Ginzburg, Nazim Hikmet and hundreds of others, and that generations of readers to come will remember your name as they remember theirs, long after the names of your jailers have been swept off the memory of the earth.

I can’t offer you anything in your cell except my devotion as your reader, my trust in better times, and my distant but sincere friendship. I hope that in the very near future we will meet in person, not only on the page.

With very best wishes of hope and courage,

Alberto Manguel

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Mahvash Sabet, teacher and poet, is one of over 150 Bahá’ís currently serving long term prison sentences in Iran. She has been detained since 2008 for her faith and activities related to running the affairs of the Bahá’í religious minority in Iran. I have previously posted several of her poems, all taken from her book, Prison Poems:

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available both in the US and UK.

A great thanks to Pete Hulme of Everybody Means Something for his post on this subject and for bringing this letter to my attention.

– john

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In Rwanda, colline is French for hill

red

The collines rolled on to the horizon, green drifting into dark,
verdant into resigned and all of it into the red quivering sunset.
And me there thinking it back literally for as long
as we have measured it: up eye, down eye, see-us-all bloody eye,
never-stop-rising eye, blind to it all; the victims begging,
their wide eyes screaming, the yelling, the weeping,
the hoarse men grunting, excited to be on the hunt.

Thus it has gone and thus it goes still, repeating ever so,
their echoes floating up and down the valleys below—
les pauvres, the ones we sit and watch go home
to the cool, cool dark—the loam of them drifting off into green,
resigned into verdant, and all of it under the crimson sun,
literally for as long as it has watched us.

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My home in Rwanda (I was there as a Bahá’í to teach my religion) looked to the west over the collines (pronounced cull-LEANs) directly into the most spectacular sunsets. Beyond this, the poem ties together a number of other thoughts and memories of Africa:

• it’s beauty. The vista of rolling, green treed hills fading into black at the horizon was stunning.

• Rwanda is close to the equator but in the highlands of Africa. The sun at that latitude often seemed to be a big, red eye burning into the horizon as it set.

• Africa is the birthplace of humanity. We do not know the exact region where homo sapiens first evolved, but it was probably close to Rwanda, in Central Africa. In any case, it is in Africa where we, as a species, first developed the concept of, and started measuring, time.

• it would be comforting to think that the 1994 Rwandan genocide was an isolated event. Sadly it is not, and not just in Rwanda but throughout the entire continent. Tribal dominance and warfare have been and is, in Africa, just as unrelenting as every other form of political violence has been, and is, throughout the rest of the world. What makes it so disheartening in Rwanda is not only that it happened in 1994, and before that in the early 1960s, and is still happening today north of Rwanda, in Uganda, and over the western border in the Congo.  Moreover, the very personal nature of this kind of violence typifies African conflicts: up front and personal, usually machete, and often, neighbor to neighbor.

May we all look forward to a day soon to come when the cries of those poor victims of violence—nos pauvres—will no longer be heard anywhere in this sad, beleaguered world, nor will anyone be put to rest in the dark, loamy soil earlier then the time when God calls them.

Thank you for reading In Rwanda, colline is French for hill. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken at Eastern Point Beach in Groton, Connecticut. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem and notes © 2013 by John Etheridge; photograph © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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The Holy Mariner

the flood

When the Bosphorus blew and
the flood myth that grew turned
the black lake to the Black Sea,
no one whose world was lost then
could ever, thereafter, let it go.
So when Noah left Gilgamesh
to sail from Babylon
to Israel via Ur, He went
with the best of company:
each one teach one, shanna,
two-by-two, up the gangway
and into the belly of the beast—
Eden becoming Ridván.
From there the third dove
did not return, but flying on straight
to the rainbow, decided, instead, in love,
to lay down and let go of everything
it had once known, thereby proving
everything it needed to know.
Shanna.

swril2

Wall, wall, reed wall, reed wall is generally the first line of the Babylonian version of the Flood Story. In fact, the first non-Biblical translation of the myth in the 1870’s rocked the Victorian age and was the opening salvo in the modern-day battle to contend that the Old Testament is not a history book, but one of spiritual metaphors. Since then, further research has proven that the Mesopotamian Flood myth far predates the creation of Genesis and firmly establishes that the story, which is so central to that entire region’s psychology and conscious, is most probably based on some real cataclysmic event of the long distant past.

A leading contender for that event in the creation of the Bosphorus seaway. It is speculated that the creation of this amazingly narrow, thread-like sea channel that cuts through modern-day Istanbul and connects the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, is the cause. Formed in 5,600 BC (agriculture had by then created villages and towns, but had not yet flared into cities and city-states) it is suggested that the Black Sea was then a fresh water lake which had much shrunk in size due to the lack of melt water from the glaciers which had long since retreated north. However, on the other side of the land bridge, the levels of the Mediterranean had grown much higher, again owing to the ending of the Ice Age. These dual-pressures finally and terribly exploded into the creation of the Bosphorus, which would have discharged into the Black Sea three times the flow of Niagara Falls for over three hundred years before levels equaled. The resulting constant growth of the Black Sea, and the pressure of a steadily advancing shore line could have, it is suggested, created the Flood myth.

A few notes: “shanna” (pronounced SHAW-naw) is the Babylonian word for “by twos” and is specifically used in the oldest version of the tale known. “Ridván” (pronounced RIZ-von) is the Arabic word for “paradise” and is used in the Bahá’í Faith in several contexts; in the poem it refers to both the Covenant and a state of spiritual bliss.

In the end, regardless of the story’s origin, the power of the Flood myth to teach the importance of obedience and trust in God, as well as a symbol of the eternal Covenant of God is undiminished.

Thank you for reading The Holy Mariner. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph of Lake Tahoe was taken from the Heavenly ski hill, observation deck and shows the Coriolis effect created by the wind swirling in the valley bowl in which the lake rests. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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The Copper Tree Tops

The Radiant Sun bursts forth
Reflecting on the tree tops
Electrifying their pose with a copper glow.

The Fast begins.
I have prepared my body
With an abundance of food and water.
I have prepared my soul
With an abundance of prayer and meditation.

The Sunlight envelops all the trees
From the top to the base… and all
That is in its path. The copper glow
Has transformed into a clear, warm Light.

The fast continues…
The Will of God encircles me.

Clouds rumble across the sky
As midday bells chime.
They act as veils dulling the Light
And the hues of the trees seem less clear.
Yet, the bell tones re-energize the amity.

My body is hungry. I know this will pass.
The corners of my lips feel sticky.
I cherish the opportunity to splash water against my mouth
While saying my ablutions.

It is mid afternoon.
The Light has changed angles.
New and different shadows appear on the ground.
Shadows that are unhindered by leaves
That will soon encompass the branches.

The hunger pains have passed into nothingness.
My head, on some days at this time, feels strangely foggy…
On others, strangely vibrant.

It is a few minutes before sundown.
The trees stand strong and silent
Urging me to cast-off my doubts and join them.

During those last moments,
We are on fire again.

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Again this year I am very proud to post this poem by my wife, Lyn. It is during the Fast, the period from March 2 through to the 21st, when Bahá’ís refrain from eating or drinking from sunup until sundown. If you have never participated in an extended period of fasting, it would be natural to fear the process, thinking it to be a physical misery. It is anything but.

The point of fasting is not, in any event, the physical process itself. This is, I believe, true of the fasting tradition for all religions: the 28 day Muslim fast of Ramadan, the 40 days of Lent for Christians, or the 25 hour fast of Yom Kippur for Jews. The physical discipline is meant to act as a lens and allow you to concentrate on the spiritual process that is the heart of true fasting: obedience to the Law and disciplining oneself for control over your actions. But while this is, in itself, meritorious, there is even a sweeter reason to fast: it is an act done out of love for the Founder of your religion. And this love, this transformative force, is the very heart of what the religious experience is all about.

Lyn’s poem dates from 2006 and the story she tells of the early dawn light, copper coloring the tops of the tall trees outside our kitchen window, and then illuminating them from behind at sunset, is absolutely true…and particularly noticeable at this time of the year. Every year the beauty of it grabs us more and more. Alas, the church up the street, which does have a carillon (bells played with a keyboard-like instrument) no longer has anyone to play them and we miss their gentle, clear, clean rhythms. But all things, it seems, change and grow older…

Thank you for reading The Copper Tree Tops by Lynette D. Tolar. It is used with her permission. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

The Copper Tree Tops by Lynette D. Tolar © 2006; all rights reserved. Notes © 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address,https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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The Letters of the Living

Burst


There, then, on that Purest Spot,
with the night pregnant with the day,
Shiva the Destroyer lifted up
and threw down on the knee of His love
the entire world and the heavens thereof,
breaking them then, all that lay therein
so that they fell, cast deep into darkness and doubt.

There were left but Twenty still living:
the First, the eighteen and the Second,
witness unto Himself. What Word
in that day did those eighteen say
so that the reunion could finally begin?
“Yea!” they cried, voices flung in abandon,
high unto the heavens.
“Yea!” they cried, necks bared to the blade,
arms lifted taut with joy.
“Yea!” they cried and thus they died
leaving only their echoes to recall them.
But here in my place, God help me,
I think I hear them still.

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This is a poem that is steeped in the history of the Bahá’í Faith and the allusions will be unclear to non-Bahá’ís, so let me explain very briefly:

Much like John the Baptist came first to prepare the world for Jesus Christ, the Báb (“the First” in the poem) came to prepare the world for Bahá’u’lláh (“the Second” in the poem), the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. The first eighteen brave souls—martyrs all, as was the Báb Himself—who declared Their belief in Him are referred to as the Letters of the Living.

This concept of “living”  i.e. spiritual rejuvenation through belief in a new Manifestation of God, is developed also in the first stanza, where Shiva—a Hindu deity—fulfills one of the roles of God and “destroys” the world (everyone is metaphorically dead upon His arrival) and then transforms it, through giving “life”, i.e. spiritual rejuvenation through faith in Him.

Thank you for reading The Letters of the Living. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled Burst and was taken in Washington, DC on Memorial Day, several years ago. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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The orange tree

In the spring, its blossoms scented the air throughout the neighborhood.
Mrs. Nusrat Yalda’i, 54 years old
I knew it well as I grew up close to that House, leaving only when I was 17.
Mrs. ‘Izzat Janami Ishraqi, 50 years old
I even used to say my prayers on the spot where He declared Himself
Miss Roya Ishraqi, 23; the daughter of ‘Izzat
and was proud, and so happy, to be allowed to take care of that tree.
Mrs. Tahirih Siyavushi, 32 years old
When we were sick, my grandmother would make us tea from its blossoms
Miss Zarrin Muqimi, 28 years old
and for a difficult exam, I would put one of its leaves in my textbook, for luck.
Miss Shirin Dalvand, 25 years old
When they razed His House, the tree was sacrificed too; so much was lost then…
Miss Akhtar Sabit, 19 or 20 years old
Years later, on pilgrimage, I saw two orange trees growing outside of His Shrine
Miss Simin Saberi, early 20’s
and learned that they are descendants of that orange tree from Shiraz!
Miss Mahshid Nirumand, 28 years old
I was so happy to see that tree alive and sacrificing itself, again, for others.
Miss Mona Mahmudnizhad, 17 years old;
she asked to be the last of the ten hanged so that she could help her sisters
if they needed it. They did not.
So happy.

Abbas Jannat is a Persian Bahá’í who contacted me recently asking permission to copy and use my poem That House. I, of  course thanked him for the courtesy of his request, granted the permission and asked how he had found the poem and why was he drawn to it. He had found the poem and the Book of Pain on Google (you can do that?!) and wanted to use the poem in a commemoration of a Bahá’í Holy Day. He also shared with me some details of his life, and in follow up emails his close connection to, and history with, the House of the Báb. I cannot thank him enough for his generosity in sharing these details with me. As soon as I read his words I knew there was a beautiful poem in them.

His response and notes from our subsequent emails form the narrative half of this poem. The second half of the poem, which I incorporated to stress the theme of sacrifice, is equally sad and tragic.

The history of the destruction of the House of the Báb in 1979 by the newly arrived political dominance of the Islamic Revolution, I have already covered in the posting for that House so I will not repeat it here. That event was, sadly, only the opening salvo in the Islamic Revolution’s still (as of 2013) on-going war of persecution to eradicate the Bahá’í Faith in Iran. One of the next provocations was the martyrdom of many Bahá’ís, but most famously that of ten women from the city of Shiraz,  on June 18, 1983. As I write this, tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of that heartbreaking affair.

I can only imagine the thoughts of the religious fanatics as they hatched their plan: ‘Let’s attack their women!’ they said. ‘They are the weakest and easiest to intimidate! And when they are broken, their husbands and children will recant too, out of shame!’

How little fanatics understand anything!

The trial was clearly a sham and the women convicted of ‘Zionist’ activities (this, apparently because the Bahá’í World Headquarters are in Israel, where the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith was sent when it was a penal colony of the Ottoman Empire) and for teaching children after they had been expelled from their schools for their religious beliefs. Freedom of religion as a basic human right was then and is now, clearly a farce in Iran. Indeed, each and every one of these women could have bought their instantaneous freedom at any time in the process, including up to the point of martyrdom, by saying the merest words of recantation of their belief in Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. That not one soul did, brought me then, and brings me now, to the verge of tears every time I think of their courage and love.

May my life be a sacrifice to their noble and courageous lives.

Thank you for reading the orange tree. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

PS: By the way, Iran English Radio, the official Iranian radio for English speaking peoples followed my blog after the publication of that House. I have little hope that my or your appeal to their humanity would make any difference, but be aware that they will read your comments.

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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