Journal Entry, August 30, 2008
Last night I awoke around 3:00 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. It then occurred to me, hitting me like the proverbial bolt of lightning, “This is the structure, this is the theme.” THE ARGUMENT is the form of The Parliament of Poets. I’ve always thought of it as the theme as well, never even thinking it might be different. Reading most of Huston Smith’s books since seeing his Forgotten Truth at the East West Bookstore in Mountainview, California, in June, and now Arnold Toynbee’s A Historian’s Approach to Religion, his Gifford Lecture, I realize they both had worked their way to essentially the same vision as Baha’u'llah–the oneness of humanity and all religions.
Reading Toynbee again after more than two decades, and weeks of Huston Smith and Joseph Campbell this summer, I realize Toynbee has an amazingly clear and succinct understanding of the universal religious call to the soul: Sacrifice thyself for the good of others. Serve them. Lead them to the Light. Accept and bear they load of suffering and pain for their sake, for the sake of God, the Absolute Reality.
“This is the structure, this is the theme.” A complete metaphysics with the structure to support it–all of human history and experience.
Pray to Your Father
“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew, 6.6
I was very young when I first read these words of Christ. I knew they were true, felt them deeply, as I still do. They guided me the right way, when much else was often in doubt. They guide me now too. They teach humbleness and sincerity before God, closing the door to the distractions of the world, communion with Him alone. All the prophets and teachers of the great religions, including Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, similarly extol prayer and meditation. The guidance and example of the Bahai prayers deepened, strengthened, opened my soul to the Divine.
In times when we are lost, the best thing we can do is follow Christ’s teaching, withdraw into prayer, find our way through worship of the Divine Essence, the peace and stillness found in surrender to the Mystery of Being; await there for the still, small voice to pick us up and lead aright. As Plato wrote, first a shudder, and then the old awe pours over one.
Rereading this spring the four Gospels, I savor again transcendence and its vision of spiritual and moral perfection, the surest guide, down to earth, while reaching to the stars.
It was, I suppose, out of my reading, partly, in high school, of the religious scriptures of the world religions that my consciousness began to open up to other ways of life and thought, belief and faith, practice and sensibility. Later, in college, other classes in world religions and religious studies, Christian and otherwise, with continual reading of and beyond poets and writers, broadened my worldview, especially once I had found my way to the writings of Baha’u'llah.
Now I can clearly see that even back then I sensed the exclusivism implicit in the usual thinking about religion was not part of Abdu’l-Baha’s Interpretation of his father’s writings. Abdu’l-Baha’s outlook was a wide and open embrace of humanity and all the great religions. He located “The Path” in all the great faiths, without the subsequent attempts by some Baha’i denominations to claim an exclusive authority and interpretation. It was Abdu’l-Baha’s emphasis on the unity and universal truth of all the ways to the Divine Being, the Great Mystery, that attracted me and struck a deep resonance in my soul.