Tag Archives: Baha’u’llah

Not by half

Building detail

I would like to write a poem about the death of Mírzá Mihdí, the Purest Branch,
who burst open the doors of his prison and broke the shackles of an empire.
It would tell of his mother’s grief, his sister’s misery, his brother’s pain
and of course, his Father’s love…

But most of all it would tell of the seven, small, shiny, black beach rocks
with worn, rounded corners found in his pocket and which comprised
all that he possessed in this world. “Where did you get them?” I’d ask.
“What was it about these seven that caught you and held you so that
you’d leave them behind? What were you trying to tell us?”
And then I’d tell of his Father releasing His son from his duties
that hot afternoon, knowing in advance what would happen to him:
that he would go to pray on the windswept prison rooftop;
that he would become enraptured in his meditations;
that he would forget the skylight was there;
that he would fall to his doom and lie there, pierced and broken;
that he would beg leave to offer his life as a ransom,
thereby opening the doors of Reunion;
that He, the Father, would accept, and that, days later, when He placed
His son in the grave, an earthquake would shake the ground so that
He would reveal, thereafter, When thou wast laid to rest in the earth,
the earth itself trembled in its longing to meet thee.

I would like to write such a poem, to eulogize one so perfect, befittingly.
But I am not, I know, good enough to reach into my soul to find it.

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Mírzá Mihdí, whose title was “The Purest Branch,” was the youngest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and His wife, Navváb, to survive infancy. His death happened as described here: falling through a rooftop skylight in the early evening while enraptured in prayer and then offering his life so that the throngs of pilgrims who longed to visit His Father in His incarceration in the prison of ‘Akká—then the penal colony of the Ottoman Empire, but now a small city in Israel—could do so. Previously, pilgrims who had traveled the 1,500 miles on foot from Iran would either be turned back at the city gate, or if they managed to be admitted to the city, would be frustrated to enter the prison. Now, they would be allowed, finally, to enter and tarry therein. Mírzá Mihdí was but 22 at the time of His passing.

I saw the seven, black, shiny beach rocks when I was on pilgrimage to the Bahá’í Holy Places in Israel. I do not think any one thing on that journey moved me more than those simple little stones, except perhaps walking into the prison and suddenly realizing what the roped off spot below the skylight was.

And so thus did I, and so still do Baha’is from the world over, go to that Spot, we for whom the doors of Reunion were, on that fateful day, flung open…

Thank you for reading Not by half. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The quotation from Bahá’u’lláh is quoted by Shoghi Effendi in This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932–1946 (Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002) 64.12: 47.

The photograph was taken in ‘Akká during our family’s pilgrimage there. 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.

The quotation from Bahá’u’lláh is quoted by Shoghi Effendi in This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932–1946 (Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002) 64.12: 47.

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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 but Twenty still living:
the First, the eighteen and the Second,
Witness unto Himself. What Word
on 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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Talking with Mr. Mahrami

Your tears will never muddy the dust at the Threshold of that Door: use mine.
Your voice will never crack in grief at the Grandeur of that Court: use mine.
Your brow will never kiss the ground at the Entrance of that Gate: use mine.

I have dried the flowers of your bouquet to take with me when I go,
the gerber daisies, the button palms, the golden rod and the baby’s breath.
But can you tell me, please, how I can dry my tears?
My courage will never brave the challenge of the Summons of that Call:

 

swril2

Some poems you don’t so much write, as you record them: they are gifts given to you and are, frankly, probably better than anything else you can write with your own simple craft. Talking with Mr. Mahrami is an example of one such poem.

Dhabihu’llah Mahrami was a member of the Bahá’í Faith, who, for 10 years, was immorally jailed in Iran solely for the crime of his choice in religion. He died in his prison cell of unknown causes on December 15, 2005. In response to this heinous act—an act in contradiction of every moral precept known in the civilized world, and specifically of Iran’s own constitution which guarantees freedom of religion—the Bahá’ís of the world were asked to hold memorial prayer services in Mr. Mahrami’s dear memory. My wife and I were, of course, honored to do so and this poem springs from that event.

Coincidentally, just before that memorial was held, we had just received news that our family had been assigned a pilgrimage spot within the coming year. Pilgrimage is the opportunity to spend 9 days visiting and praying at various historic holy sites in and around Haifa and Akka, Israel. It is in this area that Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, spent the last 40 years of His life as a prisoner in exile and it is also there that the World Headquarters of the Bahá’í Faith is now located.

The spot referred to as the “Threshold of that Door”, “Grandeur of that Court” and “Entrance of that Gate” in the first stanza, is Bahá’u’lláh’s Shrine, where He is buried. The flowers referred to in the second stanza actually was the bouquet that we bought for Mr. Mahrami’s memorial service. We did dry them and tearfully bring them to that Shrine in his honor, in what was, to us, an incredibly humbling and fulfilling gesture of love and gratitude.

As to Talking With Mr. Mahrami, I have a favor to ask of you and please, forgive me in advance for this little conceit. But I want to know if the poem “works” for you. It has an odd structure in that it ends with an open colon. My hope is that you, as the reader, filled that empty space in with Mr. Mahrami’s voice and that in your mind you heard him say, “use mine,” hence fulfilling the concept of the title, a conversation. That was the hope anyway; I look forward to your thoughts on the idea and its execution.

Thank you for reading Talking with Mr. Mahrami. 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

© 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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Worthy

Anointed for faith and fidelity,
they are gone now astray
and around the pit they stagger,
those lusty ones, our idols,

bloodied, battered and broken.

And so in our holiness we scream
for another yet another and another—
because the dark that is coming is getting darker.
And though we swing and dodge as we may
and prove ourselves worthy with each new failure,
it never seems to matter,
for as sure as there is faith in tomorrow,
we must protect ourselves, today.

This poem is based on:

As the new millennium approaches, the crucial need of the human race is to find a unifying vision of the nature of man and society. For the past century humanity’s response to this impulse has driven a succession of ideological upheavals that have convulsed our world and that appear now to have exhausted themselves. The passion invested in the struggle, despite its disheartening results, testifies to the depth of the need. For, without a common conviction about the course and direction of human history, it is inconceivable that foundations can be laid for a global society to which the mass of humankind can commit themselves.

This passage is from the Statement on Bahá’u’lláh: His Life and Work, issued to mark the 1992 centenary of the passing of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith.

Thank you so much for reading Worthy. 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

© 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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In exile

I wish to God I knew where I was.
Not the Black Place—although my desires often blind me;
not the Ancient Place—even though I age faster every day;
not the Fearless Place—where courage cannot take me;
nor even the Remote Place—despite anger chaining me afar.

And certainly it is not the Most Great Place,
whereby I do not mean the cell that was cleaned,
painted and aired…
I’ve been there and only felt Your presence dimly.
No, I mean the Other Spot,
the Prison where Your companions go,
still, even to this day,
but outside which I sit, yearning,
hoping to find the way.

Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was, for the forty plus years of His Ministry, and until His passing, a prisoner and an exile, first at the mercy of the Iranian government, and then under the ever more fearful eye of the waning Ottoman Empire. The story of His successive banishments under these twin ruling powers is the historical backdrop of this poem.

It commences in 1852, with Bahá’u’lláh’s imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál, literally the Black Pit (the Black Place of the poem) a loathsome and disgusting jail converted from an abandoned water reservoir. Released in 1853, He, despite being sick and in poor health, was exiled with His Family from Iran to Baghdad (the Ancient Place of the poem) and then called on to Constantinople in 1863. In the poem, Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire—and now Istanbul—is referred to as the Fearless Place because it was here that Bahá’u’lláh resolutely refused to curry favor and beg for sympathy with the government officials of the Empire, as was expected of all prisoners. Instead He stated that He had put His faith in God and trusted in Him, further stating that nothing any man could do could curtail or thwart the Will of God.

As a result of this stance, Bahá’u’lláh and His family were further exiled to Adrianople and arrived there in the waning days of 1863. Adrianople—now Edirne—is one of the remotest parts of Turkey in what is actually Europe, and is referred to in the poem as the Remote Place, the furthest point from His home of Tehran that Bahá’u’lláh would travel.

But the most difficult place of His exile was set in 1868 when He and His entourage were forced to relocate to ‘Akká, in what is now Israel, a penal colony and known at the time for its pestilential airs and filthy conditions. Upon arrival there Bahá’u’lláh designated the prison where they were incarcerated as the Most Great Prison (the Most Great Place of the poem); it was in this city, and despite the loathsome conditions under which they lived, that His Mission reached its zenith. Bahá’u’lláh officially remained a prisoner until His death in 1892. However, after years of His living among the local populace, such was the admiration that was esteemed to Him that He was, by then, able to rent a home in the countryside and be surrounded by the gardens and verdure He loved most.

The last place mentioned in the poem, the “Other Place” is harder to describe. In one of His prayers revealed specifically for the Fast, Bahá’u’lláh first talks of ‘Thine ardent lovers…they who have been so inebriated with the wine of Thy manifold wisdom that they forsake their couches in their longing to celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy virtues, and flee from sleep in their eagerness to approach Thy presence and partake of Thy bounty.’ Later He goes on to say, ‘These are Thy servants, O my Lord, who have entered with Thee in this, the Most Great Prison, who have kept the fast…’

On the face of it, this prayer was written when Bahá’u’lláh was, with His companions, incarcerated in the prison in ‘Akká and He is extolling their fortitude and grace. But there is much more, I think, to this prayer then this single face.

The prayers of Bahá’u’lláh were written for all peoples of all times, and so as I was reading this prayer, I felt that there must be a dimension of the words that went beyond referencing a purely physical spot at a specific point in time. In the end, I came to believe that it is possibly for anyone today, who approaches the Fast with a sufficient degree of humility and submission, to meet with Bahá’u’lláh in a spiritual ‘Most Great Prison’, a place where one is held captive not by chains, but by love, to become, in effect, out of devotion to Him, a thrall to His Will. The irony of this is deliciously sweet to a poet: to find the true freedom of love is to yield the bondage of will.

Or so I think; for while I can believe in such an “Other Place” I have never been there except for a few fleeting minutes. But, if you will, please forgive an old poet his chance to dream…

Thank you so much for reading in exile. 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

© 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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Where else?

Where else but back to the sea
the place where you had swum so deep, so often before?
Where else but into its depths, its mysterious, wonderful depths
where the water is so black that it has turned into ink and only the heart can see?
Where else but back, back to the light waiting for you there, waiting at the end?
There—yes—there into that ocean, that is where the swimmer, that leviathan,
that siren upon the rocks of ‘Akká went.
Where else?

O Nabil!
Did you stand upon that rocky shore and count your forty waves?
Did you stand and pause to the east, before your last ablution?
Did you manage to mend your heart as the waters drew you down?
O swimmer!
As you sought the depths, what did you find there?
Was it despair, or something sweeter?

This will be a long post, and for that I apologize. But to understand this poem, you need to understand its context, and if you are not a Bahá’í, it will take a bit of explanation.

The poem is about Nabil-i-Zarandi, a Persian who is described in God Passes By—a history of the first century of the Bahá’í Faith—as “Bahá’u’lláh’s ‘Poet-Laureate, His chronicler and His indefatigable disciple.’ ” (Bahá’u’lláh is the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith.)  Alas, when Bahá’u’lláh passed away in 1982, Nabil, stricken with despair and inconsolable over the loss of his Beloved, drowned himself in the ocean near ‘Akká, the prison city in what was then the Ottoman Empire and which is now located in northern Israel.

The Bahá’í Faith holds that, “The source of all good is trust in God and contentment with His holy will and pleasure.” Suicide is forbidden as it is the irreversible act of rebellion and a rejection of God’s Will. And yet, who cannot empathize with the act of despair and longing represented in Nabil’s act?

Nabil was a very deepened Bahá’í who had, like few others, immersed himself in the Ocean of His Beloved’s Words and was one of Bahá’u’lláh’s most ardent, trustworthy and devoted followers. With Bahá’u’lláh’s passing, the Sun of Nabil’s life, the very center of his existence was gone.

We cannot judge the actions of anyone hen taken under the duress of total despair. We can only beg God, on their behalf, to have mercy on them and to forgive them for their deeds.

Some miscellaneous points:

• leviathan – in ancient times a giant creature of the sea; now generally taken to mean whale.

• siren – a mythical creature of the sea that calls out to sailors with a beautiful voice, summoning them.

• ‘Akká –  the penal colony in what is now northern Israel where Bahá’u’lláh was exiled for the last 24 years of His life. It is across the bay from the city of Haifa, Israel, about 20 miles south of Jordan.

• count your forty waves – it is a tradition in Islam that anyone that stands on the shore of ‘Akká and counts forty waves will have all their sins, past, present and future forgiven. It is one of many ‘Akká related traditions quoted by Bahá’u’lláh to point out that ‘Akká, known throughout the Islamic world as a pestilential and filthy city to be avoided at all costs, was blessed in antiquity, in prophecy of His arrival there.

• ablution – the ritual act of cleansing before saying obligatory prayers..

Thank you for reading Were else? 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

© 2012 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: © 2012 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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