Tag Archives: martyrdom

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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Last nights

Did you plan on dancing through the pain,
or you, to give sweets away in thanks?
And you—you prepared your wedding gown
when you knew that they were coming;
while you, in joy, communed the night through,
half here, half there, yearning for the dawn,
yearning for the chance to stand and cry,
‘O king!’ as if calling to a servant,
for of course you were, and for that alone would die.

I do not believe it happenstance—
that accident and fate can connive for
such perfection. But what love does it take
to command the will to shape such an end?
And so joyously?

Curiously, this poem had two creative forces. One, from several years ago was quite clear: my dearest friend and self-adopted brother, Samandary  (the English language really ought to have a specific word for this type of relationship—and it’s not ‘bro’) suggested both the idea, the title and much of the substance. (Clearly, you can understand why it took me so long to bring the poem to fruition, having been given so little to proceed on.)

The second impetus was my recent reading of the book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker, an effort to prove—with this being counter-intuitive to our every notion—that violence has decreased throughout history and is today at its lowest level ever. It is a brilliant book and one that, quite frankly, I started to read to determine how silly and foolish the author was, only to be converted by the clarity of his writing and the strength of his facts and binding logic. Read it only if you do not fear feeling better about the world.

But there was one section of this book that I disagreed with, and that is the second specific impetus for this poem. Pinker is quite open about being an atheist. I have no problem with that, except that I think it taints his view of the role that self-sacrifice has placed in religious history. His description of the crucifixion process is quite graphic and he progresses from there to describe how religious martyrs have been killed throughout the ages, in a tone which does not so much describe the level of violence that the societies of that day could gleefully inflict (which is his point) but implies the silliness and foolishness of the martyrs to allow themselves to say or do anything that would set them up for such treatment.

I could not disagree more. To me, that “silliness and foolishness” is better called “certitude and conviction” and was not done to invite violence, but was done courageously in the face of such evil, so as to change it, one of the causes in the reduction of violence throughout the ages that Pinker does not care to suggest. Moreover, such courage is the hallmark of all the world religions.

We in the Bahá’í Faith are no exception to the history of relentless religious persecution. The different incidents referred to in this poem of how four stalwart heroes prepared for, or acted, during their martyrdom, actually happened. In fact, Bahá’í martyrdom still happens in Iran and Yemen to this day, the most recent being just a few weeks ago. True martyrdom is never sought, but when inflicted by evil, bigoted people, it is faced with courage, resignation, self-sacrifice, love and humility. And I, for one, will always honor them.

Thank you for reading Last nights. 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 another poem in which I highlighted the persecution of religious minorities and the destruction of basic human rights in that country. I have little hope that my or your appeal to their humanity would make any difference, but be aware that they may read your comments. Also, Iran English Radio has yet to ‘like’ any of my poetry. Frankly, I’m hurt.

© 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 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 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; 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 I am not here, but I will always be there 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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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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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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Keeping count

We marched along in serried lines,
my sister’s arm locked with mine,
mine locked with my brother’s.
We did not hesitate or consider the end,
did not question, did not stumble,
did not halt until the doing was done. Instead, we sung.
And while they broke so many of us
that only God could keep count
they could not break us apart,
although they did not want for the trying.
I do not now recall the edge of the knife,
the brunt of the blow or the sear of the hot glowing iron.
Now I recall only how proudly they stood,
how joyfully they fell, how beautiful they lay in repose.

Hear me: there is always a debt to be paid
for night to call night and weeping to beg hurry the dawn.
How many tears must in the end fall?
No one knows.
Of this too, only God can keep count.

This poem is based on a verse from the Qur’án, 1, 61:4, Surat Aş-Şaf  (The Ranks):

Verily God loveth those who, as though they were a solid wall, do battle for His Cause in serried lines!

When asked about this verse,`Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í Faith (`Abdu’l-Bahá was also the Head of the Bahá’í Faith from 1892 until His passing in 1921) said:

O ye beloved of the Lord! This day is the day of union, the day of the ingathering of all mankind. Note that He saith ‘in serried lines’—meaning crowded and pressed together, one locked to the next, each supporting his fellows. To do battle, as stated in the sacred verse, doth not, in this greatest of all dispensations, mean to go forth with sword and spear, with lance and piercing arrow—but rather weaponed with pure intent, with righteous motives, with counsels helpful and effective, with godly attributes, with deeds pleasing to the Almighty, with the qualities of heaven. It signifieth education for all mankind, guidance for all men, the spreading far and wide of the sweet savors of the spirit, the promulgation of God’s proofs, the setting forth of arguments conclusive and divine, the doing of charitable deeds.

Bolding by me. The poem refers to the Dawnbreakers, those early blessed souls who shed their blood, rather than recant their faith, at the first light of the dawn of a new Messenger from God.

I should note that although the Bahá’í Faith is an independent religion with its own Writings, many Bahá’ís, and especially those of the early years, were originally Muslim, and questions on the meaning of the Qur’án were often asked. Bahá’ís believe that the  Qur’án, like the Bible, is the revealed Word of God and expresses the eternal spiritual truths of God. However, the  Qur’án, like the Bible, can often be misconstrued by the ignorant and perverse to support the most terrible of acts. That is why I so love `Abdu’l-Bahá’s explanation of this verse. At first glance the verse seems to support violence and war, yet, when He interprets it spiritually, its meaning is light upon light.

Thank you for reading Keeping count. 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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If you are reading this, then…

No cause is without its innocents,
its families loved and lost,
no truth lacks its heroes
nor doom denied its cost.

I don’t ask why, but how,
not where, but when,
for surely the irony of it
will break you:
brutal and bloody or
slow and steady,
yet gladsome all the same.
Who?

Truth be told, we are such pity inspiring creatures. So easy to hurt and to damage, so fast to fall when struck, so quick to damage when hurt. And we are so finely interconnected that when one is felled, the pain radiates outward like ripples in a pool, affecting all those who love the stricken.

Go to any Amnesty International meeting. There you will hear the heartbreaking stories of the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience who are held, imprisoned, beaten, tortured and killed for their beliefs. There you will imagine how their families feel, how they live in fear and horror every day of their lives. My religion, the Bahá’í Faith, has not escaped this. There are, right now in Iran, nearly 100 of my fellow co-religionists in jail for no other reason than their religion.

And yet all these prisoners of conscience do it. Why? Surely there is nothing easier then recanting a belief, especially with your freedom or life being risked. But yet they hold fast and in the end, it is you and me who reap the reward for their strength and determination.

What is “sacrifice”? Surely it is to give up something of greater value for something of lesser value. But what if that act returns more than what was given up? What if it returns oceans of grace, mountains of love and an eternal sense of felicity? And not just to the recipient, but to the whole world? Is it still “sacrifice” or something far greater?

We must be diligent in our memory of the world’s prisoners of conscience and in our appreciation and understanding of their gift. And we must understand that it is they who change the world and make it into a better place. Them. Only them.

Thank you for reading If you are reading this, then…. 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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