Tag Archives: faith

To the test

At the end, all we had was hope,
flickering like a taper in the night.
First it began to waver, then to stutter,
next to gutter—finally it gave out with a puff.
The sandstorm then fell upon us like a ravening wolf,
tearing out what little heart we had left.
Outside, we could hear them, calling out loud:
Surely the Book of God is sufficient unto us!
Above, dispersing on the air and adding to the stench,
was that second volley of seven hundred and fifty rounds.

This poem is a re-post, as today is the Anniversary of the Martyrdom of the Báb (translates as ‘The Gate), the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, which took place in Tabriz, Irán on July 9, 1850. But it is also about a geo-political reality that affects us today, the splitting of Islám into two factions, Sunní and Shí’ah, and how these two historical events are intertwined.

Both stories are complex, but I will try to keep the explanation short. But it is, in truth, a long tale.

The poem is written from the viewpoint of the followers of the Báb, and how they must have felt in those last, heartbreaking hours. The Báb and a companion were martyred when They were hung by Their wrists in a doorway and executed by a single volley from the 750 muskets of an army regiment. It was the second attempt to carry out the executions. The original 750 strong regiment tasked with the deed had mutinied and left after their volley had managed only to cut the ropes that suspended the Báb and His companion in the doorway. The second attempt, was, however, successful. The sandstorm that immediately followed the execution was sufficient to make it seem as if permanent night had fallen on the noonday sun. (The events of that Day are corroborated by European diplomats in the city at that time. A fuller version of the story can be found here on the interfaith site, BeliefNet.com.)

The linkage of the Martyrdom of the Báb to the split of Islám into it’s two main branches is more complex. To understand that, you have to understand how Islám was divided at all.

At root was the question of succession to the Prophet Muhammad, the Founder of Islám. Sunnís believe that the succession was properly followed through the election of a series of Caliphs, starting with Abu-Bakr, a wise, elderly man, a long time personal friend of the Prophet and an early convert to Islám. Such a process of succession would have been typical in any major clan decision in Arabia at that time. Hence its quick acceptance by the majority of Muslims of the day.
The election process was started at the behest of ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab, who would go on to be the second Caliph (this is important when it comes to the explanation of the Shí’ah branch of Islám); ‘Umar was a fiery, driven person, who was another early convert to Islám.

Shí’ahs, on the other hand, contend that Muhammad had publicly designated His son-in-law, Alí, as His chosen successor at a sermon given in the last year of His life at the pool of Khum. Moreover, they believe that shortly before His passing, Muhammad asked for writing materials to be brought, so that He could dictate His last wishes with regard to succession, but that ‘Umar had interdicted this request, saying that the Prophet was delirious from His illness, and saying also that “The Book of God [referring to Islám’s Holy Book, the Qur’án] sufficeth us.” This act, Shí’ahs contend, scuttled hope for a unified Islám, caused the separation that still effects the world today, and ensured that ‘Umar himself would one day secure the leadership of Islám, especially since Abu-Bakr, the first obvious choice, was an elderly man.

Today, the Sunní branch occupies the western portion of Islám, up to the northern two thirds of Iráq. The Shí’ah portion occupies the remaining one third portion of Iráq and continues on into the east, through Irán and into Afghanistan. Pakistan, and further into the Pacific, however, reverses this trend and is mostly Sunní. The division point between the two branches explains the current inter-Islám warfare that goes on in the south of Iráq and, therefore, much of the current political turmoil in that country.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, son of the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and Himself the Leader of the Bahá’í Faith after His Father’s passing, states that the musket bullets used by the regiment to kill the Báb were made from the statement made by ‘Umar as Muhammad lay dying. He means, by this, I think, that the statement, “The Book of God sufficeth us,” (or the Book of God is sufficient unto us as it is cast in the poem) is corruptive in that it put ‘Umar’s personal will over the Will of God. Moreover, the method used—to dignify and justify such an act with reference to the Book of God—is particularly wrong as it coats ‘Umar’s ambition with a false sense of piety. In so doing, and in this context—and at this extreme measure—it is a betrayal and attack on the ancient and enduring Covenant by which God directs man. The consequences of that one act, in its introduction of disunity, still resonates within Islam today.

In the end, what more heinous act can be committed by man than to willingly reject or block God’s Messenger? And what more terrible way to do that than to coat the act as one performed out of piety and kindness?

If you have made it this far, I sincerely thank you for reading To the test with its overlong explanation. 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 Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, CT. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem, and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Work 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 © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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Here, for you

IMG_5663On the day my parents renewed their vows
I was empty and tired—all I could think of was,
now you know
.

Around and around it went, inside my head,
crowding out whatever the priest,
who hadn’t known them then, was saying.
Now you know what the reward is
when 
the burden of new
is balanced by 
the weight of certitude:
how soft it is to fall in love,
how rough those years are to carry.
Now you know as I knew,
like I know now as you knew then.

I remember standing there,
looking down at my father’s casket
as it hovered over their double plot and thinking:
there’s not much, but there is this—I made it.

up

Even into the 1960’s, Newfoundland, my birthplace, was similar to the religious separation of Northern Ireland: Catholics and Protestants did not mix or socialize, and they certainly did not trust one another. Thus, my parents wedding in the late 1940’s (my mother was Protestant and my father Catholic) was a shock to the community in general and the two families in particular. It was made worse when, years later, so as to instruct her firstborn in Catholicism (a promise she had made when she married my father) my mother first took lessons in the church, and then to complete the unity of the family, converted to being Catholic.

And although with the years such religious ignorance faded and died, for much of their early marriage they both bore the brunt of religious prejudice—much from the Catholic Church itself and more from within their own families. I believe that the greater part of who I am and what I am is in honor to their decision and I am grateful that at their end I was able to stay faithful to their love and courage and bear witness to it.

This is (thus far at least) the last of a trilogy of poems about my father’s passing. I hope you have enjoyed them.

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

The photograph was taken last year in Newfoundland from my father’s hospital window. Sadly, it tells you what the weather in Newfoundland is usually like: dreary. Luckily, the kindness and generosity of the people there make up for it. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 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: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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It’s theirs, after all, and paid for


IMG_3720

Her cement-block chapel is deep in the barrio.
There she rests behind glass, a century gone,
a pious soul, shriven and anointed,
mummified by some quirk of the grave
and put on display by her family
so that the pilgrims could flock to see her.
For her upkeep there is a donation box
off to the side, which more than covers
the votives that are lit and left on the rail
to weep out their lives under the whispers.

She is especially busy on All Hallows, of course,
when prayers to the dead are the most potent.
Many come to pray and more are the candles
lit and left in the hope of her finding her way
to their aid. The pilgrims come, then go,
not staying long and they are solemn, these ones,
hopeful and confirmed. Some few even sneak
little balls of wax from the rail before departing,
although to what purpose, no one knows.
Perhaps, to eat later.

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I found this story of a pious and sweet soul who died in the 1920’s becoming a local shrine in The Petrified Woman of Capiz by PenPowerSong, and was so intrigued by it that I asked his permission to write a poem from it.

The facts of the story stand true. The last sentence is almost directly from the original source and is what drew me to the idea of a poem in the first place.

Thank you for reading It’s theirs after all, and paid for. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken on Hope Street in Providence, Rhode Island, on a spring jaunt that my wife and I had down that wonderfully eclectic street. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poems 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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Dignity

Blown by the chill wind, the blossoms were thick
in the air, the white petals flying and whirling,
building into soft and delicate snow-like drifts.
Along the street, her neighbors looked out,
knowing it would be their job to dig their way clear,
harumphing over the why of it.

On her way home she trudged through the drifts,
her face frozen, tears in her eyes.
Behind her, her scarf whipped anchorless,
as she desperately tried to hold onto
that last shred of spring she had left.

 

swril2

All springs of all types—physical, mental, moral and spiritual—abide with new life and hope. But still, much can be asked and hurt at such delicate moments…

The photograph is entitled Courage and was taken in my home town, Putnam, CT. 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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Tell me again, will you?

flame

I missed another promise that I promised this time I’d keep.
The subjective implication of this
is matched only by the objective hook
that snags you as you pass it by:
it’s not the bleeding that ages you, it’s the scars;
think of sand put through the fire—eventually you become clear glass
but too fragile to hold on to, once made.

So hold me,
just hold me—for a second will do. Hold me as if to say
You do not have to break and I will never let you go.
So that when I do, and you don’t (as I will and you won’t
and that is the simple truth of it)
I’ll have that long trail of hooks and snags
and little drops of blood that I let joyously fall
(flung, really, cast out like little mendicants
with their tiny beggar bowls held high)
to find my way back to you, again.
Tired, I think, smiling,
I’m just tired.
Smiling.

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Life is a journey and a long one. We are not, I hope, judged too generously on our few perfect moments, nor too harshly on our many failed moments, but mostly on our persistence to keep trying in the moments in between.

We should bring ourselves to account each day, but not to identify our failures—that’s corrosive. Rather, to value the good moments and the successes of the day, to cherish them and be thankful for them. Everything else, bundle up and pass off, asking God for His support and mercy. Life is about persistence, not perfection.

Thank you for reading Tell me again, will you? 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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In a smithy

With the ore of your deeds
melted in the crucible of His Name—
with the heat of your desire
glowing from the fan of His Breath—
with the hammer blows of your heart
striking the anvil of His Will—
rest you not content, o smith,
for you have just begun your toil.

Quenched in the chill of separation,
annealed by the fire of faith,
tempered with the blows of duty,
forge you then the sword of your love
and there, upon the keen,
whetted edge of surrender,
sacrifice yourself, o smith,
for now you are finally done:
you know the one is only transmuted to the other
because the other is its twin.

Thank you for reading In a smithy. 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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The irony of elemental questions

Water flows where bid, willingly;
fire warms all, indiscriminately;
stone endures, patiently;
but this is not me, consistently.
And you?

There it is again in force,
that despite all this, it is us ‘we’ they say
who are the worthiest of reflections.
Yet gifts beg choices, as well we know—
how does the old trope go?
What a piece of work are we?
Close enough.

This poem pairs five elements with five virtues but more importantly notes that the elements are more worthy of their nature because they remain true to it.

Intended as an homage to, and to explore the nature of one of my favorite quotes, The irony of elemental questions is really only a pale and poor imitation of that original quote which is, truthfully, far more perfect than anything I could ever write:

They should conduct themselves in such manner that the earth upon which they tread may never be allowed to address to them such words as these: “I am to be preferred above you. For witness, how patient I am in bearing the burden which the husbandman layeth upon me. I am the instrument that continually imparteth unto all beings the blessings with which He Who is the Source of all grace hath entrusted me. Notwithstanding the honor conferred upon me, and the unnumbered evidences of my wealth—a wealth that supplieth the needs of all creation—behold the measure of my humility, witness with what absolute submissiveness I allow myself to be trodden beneath the feet of men….” —Bahá’u’lláh

Thank you for reading The irony of elemental questions. 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: forgive the mangled quote from Shakespeare. I really can’t help myself.

© 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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In this glass

Such a magical little thing is light
slipping quietly through clear water.
I wonder: what would we expect
if we could not expect,
(and expect to expect)
forgiveness?

The standard of conduct set by all the world’s major religions would be cruelly hard if not tempered with forgiveness. The standard expected by all the Messengers of God, and indeed the standard that They set in Their very own lives, resonates clear as the example that we should aspire to, and in aspiring to, being the best and the happiest that we can be. And yet, being human, only human—merely human—we will fail, and fail often. Forgiveness acts as the glue that holds our journey together, in the sense that it allows us to fail, but also then allows us to retry, and, hopefully, in the end, to succeed with whatever spiritual battle we are facing.

Thank you so much for reading In this glass. 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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The knowledge of graves

Quddús, the Forever Youth laughs:
So along came they
to tear down My grave
and Me up along with it.
I wish I had a hundred such plots
so they could desecrate them all.
I’d say, ‘Look, there’s the hundred and first!’
and off they’d scurry to dig that one up too.
And then He laughs again.

But I know that place whereof He speaks.
It is a place of mystery
yet a spot of sweet clarity,
the conundrum at the crux of a knot.
There the worldly are lost,
the dead live on,
and the living, while living, are yet dead.
It whispers: how do I empty the blood
from my veins so that His flows there, instead?

Quddús is one of the Letters of the Living, a group of 18 individuals who were the first to believe in the Báb, the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith. Their role in the history of the Bahá’í Faith is somewhat analogous to the role of the Apostles of Jesus Christ in the history of Christianity.

Quddús was both the last and the youngest of the Letters of the Living, but not withstanding this is one of the most heralded because of His erudition, faith, leadership and courage. He was martyred at Shaykh Tabarsi, a small fort in the state of Mazandarin in Iran, where a small handful of untrained people—clerics and students for the most part—held off a regiment of crack troops under the most dire of situations for months, only to be betrayed at the end by promises of safety.

Special prayers of visitation are revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith, for recitation when visiting the Grave of Quddús. Unfortunately in 2004, this Site was desecrated and destroyed by the Iranian government, an early step in their campaign that blossomed to further persecute the Bahá’í Faith in that sad state. While the Bahá’ís the world around were shocked and saddened by this sacrilegious and disgusting act, a small part of me was amazed that after 150 years Quddús still had the power to cause the authorities fear.

Thank you for reading The Knowledge of Graves. 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 you draw your line

No matter how short you think it is
told true, the trail is always long.
If you want to know what it all means,
it means exactly and only what you think it does:
you do not hike a path, you blaze it as you go.

So do not talk of the distance you’ve trod
but of the way you’ve left to go.
And if you think I am telling you exactly
what I want of you, you are correct—
I want exactly and only what you think I do:
you do not yearn in vain, it burns you as you go.

This is how I make the miles of a long hike disappear, by writing poetry in my head. It doesn’t do a lot for my practice of mindfulness, but it sure can make a trail go faster.

Human beings are such curious things. How much do we yearn to be safe and careful and free of worry and doubt? How much do we fear the unknown, when it is in the unknown that we find our strength, our purpose? How often do we do and want things that are inimical to our well-being? I am as puzzled by me as you are by you and as we all are by each other.

Thank you for reading Where you draw your line. 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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