Tag Archives: sacrifice

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.

up

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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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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Last nights

What did you ponder on your last nights?
Did you plan on dancing on the morrow
through the pain,
or to give sweets away in thanks?
I cannot believe it was happenstance,
that accident and fate contrived for
such perfection; but nor do I believe
you were not in command of that fate.
You—you prepared your wedding gown
when you saw the end
and could finally sigh in relief,
while you, in joy, communed the night through,
half here, half there, yearning for the dawn,
yearning for the chance for the end
so that you could stand and cry
‘O king!’ as if calling to a servant,
for of course you were, and for that alone would die.
What did you all ponder on your last nights?
What do we?

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. (See, Sam, I was listening.)

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 this, 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 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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Alas for we who remain

Thy barefoot lovers who steal shoes
from their brothers
are not thieves—they are Thy signs.

Thy true parents who abandon the trusts
of Thy bounty
are not remiss—they are Thy lights.

Thy sincere ones who forswear every act
in Thy service
are not lapsed—they are Thy guides.

But alas for we who remain.
You—You created this paradox
for us, didn’t You?
Even with all of Your knowledge
it is only through You
that we can have any hope in us.

…we must sacrifice the important for the most important.‘Abdu’l-Bahá

It is a simple question with no easy answer: how do those who sacrifice themselves for their ideals justify their act to those who depend on them? How do we understand martyrs?

To be honest, I struggle with this one too.

Thank you for reading Alas For We Who Remain. 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 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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Please

There is a tear that sometimes falls
and in falling, fails, yet in failing,
flies to the hearts
of those we love the most.
Whywhywhy, why we ask, and then again, why?
Please, let it be soon!

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the arrest, then the application of trumped up accusations and finally the immoral conviction and sentencing, in Iran, of a group of Bahá’ís referred to as the Yarán-i-Irán, the “Friends of Iran.” Despite the fact that the Iranian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and despite the fact that every civilized country of the world regards this as a most fundamental aspect of basic human rights, the Yarán, and indeed 156 Bahá’ís in total—three of whom are infants—continue to be incarcerated for no other reason then their choice of religion. Typically referred to as “prisoners of conscience” I prefer the term “prisoners of certitude” because every one of these 156 could buy their freedom by a recantation of their faith…and yet all chose to remain.

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, please see Five Years Too Many.

In the end, all I can say is this: I am blessed and humbled to be one of those permitted to say a prayer in thanks and in honor of their sacrifice and strength, and to beg for their on-going steadfastness. In comparison to their sacrifice, I do not deserve even this station, but I am grateful for it.

Thank you for reading Please. 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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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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