Turn to Baha’u’llah:
In truth the Blessed Perfection was . . . a shelter for every fearing one. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 221)
In the Tablet of Ahmad Baha’u’llah asks us to:
Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)
When I was in the deepest despair, remembering traumatic events of my childhood, I came across this quote, which helped to lift me out of my “self”. I was feeling a lot of “poor me” and “why did this have to happen to me”, and then I had to stop and remember Bahá’u’lláh’s days.
Bahá’u’lláh was born into a wealthy family and was expected to follow his father into an important position in the government of Persia (Iran). He didn’t want the position or the power. Instead He wanted to dedicate Himself to helping the oppressed, sick and poor and to champion the cause of justice.
As a result, his life included a series of imprisonments, and banishments. At one point He was imprisoned for four months in an underground reservoir for a public bath, with its only outlet a single passage down three steep flights of stone steps. He sat with his feet in stocks and a 100-pound iron chain around his neck. He and His fellow prisoners (150 thieves, murders and highwaymen) huddled in their own bodily wastes, languishing in the pit’s inky gloom, subterranean cold and vermin and stench-ridden atmosphere.
When he was freed from prison, He and His family were banished to Bagdad (Iraq), a 3 month journey on foot over the mountains in the middle of winter without enough food.
“The throat Thou didst accustom to the touch of silk Thou hast, in the end, clasped with strong chains, and the body Thou didst ease with brocades and velvets Thou hast at last subjected to the abasement of a dungeon. Thy decree hath shackled Me with unnumbered fetters, and cast about My neck chains that none can sunder . . . How many the nights during which the weight of chains and fetters allowed Me no rest, and how numerous the days during which peace and tranquility were denied Me . . . Both bread and water . . . they have, for a time, forbidden unto this servant . . . and Thy behest summoned this servant to depart out of Persia, accompanied by a number of frail-bodied men and children of tender age, at this time when the cold is so intense that one cannot even speak, and ice and snow so abundant that it is impossible to move”. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 109)
He stayed in Bagdad for 7 years, and then was banished again to Constantinople (Turkey), where he stayed for four months, and then was exiled again to Adrianople (Turkey). Again it was in winter and they didn’t have the proper clothes to protect them from the harsh weather. In order to drink, they had to light a fire to thaw ice from springs along the way. He stayed there for four and a half years and then was banished to the prison city of ‘Akká (Israel), to which the worst criminals were sent. He remained there for the rest of His life (24 years).
He was discredited by His uncle, poisoned by his jealous half-brother and witnessed the death of His son. He was betrayed by people He trusted, stoned, and isolated from the Believers. For a time, to protect the Faith from the efforts of His half-brother, He lived as a hermit. He was the victim of ignorance, injustice, cruelty and fanaticism.
But every crisis was followed by victory, and this, I believe, is what is important to remember.
Although my repressed memories included all the positive and neutral memories too, once they came back I was able to see that like Bahá’u’lláh, there were times in my life that were peaceful, and activities that weren’t abusive. From anger I learned to find my voice and take action. From poverty I was protected from materialism and learned to rely on God. From estrangement I gained knowledge of myself, and through it, knowledge of God. From being silenced, I was protected from backbiting and gossip.
So when you’re feeling in the pit of despair, I urge you to remember not only the negative things that happened to you, and to Bahá’u’lláh, but to remember the victories that came from them as well.
Turn to the Blessed Spot:
Verily, I read thy letter which indicated that thou hast turned unto the Blessed Spot, that the Truth (of God) hath revealed itself to thee, that thy fear is quieted and that thou hast attained to composure, assuredly believing in this great Cause. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 71)
Turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
I wish to add a few words of assurance and sympathy in view of the heavy burden of responsibility that rests on your shoulders in these difficult and trying times. My fervent and increasing prayer is that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá may show you the way that will enable you to continue your splendid pioneer work effectually, peacefully, free from every earthly care and anxiety. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 30)
Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali writes in the Bihjatu’s-Sudur of the hopes of the Bahá’ís that, as the heir to Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would, with the passage of years, come to resemble Him physically as well; but their hopes did not materialize, because sorrows and tribulations pressed hard upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, afflictions weakened His frame and made Him a prey to a number of ailments. He goes on to say that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in order to protect His followers from worry and anxiety, would not expose them to the knowledge of His maladies which at times were severe. (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 133)
Recently I’ve been reading the newly released “Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá'” which is filled with His answers to questions people put to Him. It’s so full of love, I feel that reading them is like reading love letters to me too!
Remember the suffering of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
In times of disappointment, stress and anxiety, which we must inevitably encounter, we should remember the sufferings of our departed Master. Your work, your energy, your vigilance and care, your loving-kindness are assets that I greatly value and prize. Keep on, persevere, redouble in your efforts, repeat and rewrite the admonitions and instructions of our Beloved in your communications with individuals and Assemblies until they sink in their hearts and minds. This was truly our Beloved’s way and method and none better can we ever pursue. Your present pioneer work will surely be remembered and extolled by future generations. My prayers will always be offered for you. In matters of contribution we should not use any compulsion whatsoever and ascertain clearly the desire of the donor. We should appeal to but not coerce the friends. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 532)
In times of disappointment, stress and anxiety, which we must inevitably encounter, we should remember the sufferings of our departed Master. (From a letter written by Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 9 July 1926) (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
Turn to the Central Figures of the Faith:
Again, in God Passes By, he tells us of the anxieties of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, called upon to undertake a succession of colossal tasks throughout the entire period of His Ministry. Most recently, The Priceless Pearl has drawn aside the curtain on the life of the Guardian, and revealed to us the anxieties and agonies of the solitary and heroic figure who charted our course in service to the Cause for centuries to come. Yet who can doubt that all the central Figures demonstrated to the whole of mankind an assured and happy way of life? Here is where their example seems particularly precious. To rise above the disappointments, obstacles, and pain which we experience in serving the Cause is difficult enough, but to be called on, in doing so, to be happy and confident is perhaps the keenest spiritual test any of us can meet. The lives of the Founders of our Faith clearly show that to be fundamentally assured does not mean that we live without anxieties, nor does being happy mean that there are not periods of deep grief when, like the Guardian, we wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing in preparation for the next great effort. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 116)
Study the life of Bahiyyih Khanum:
The memory of the beloved Khanum will, assuredly, prove to be your great comfort in your moments of sufferings and anxiety and will guide your steps and strengthen your spiritual power and insight. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, p. 86)
How staunch was her faith, how calm her demeanour, how forgiving her attitude, how severe her trials, at a time when the forces of schism had rent asunder the ties that united the little band of exiles which had settled in Adrianople and whose fortunes seemed then to have sunk to their lowest ebb! It was in this period of extreme anxiety, when the rigours of a winter of exceptional severity, coupled with the privations entailed by unhealthy housing accommodation and dire financial distress, undermined once for all her health and sapped the vitality which she had hitherto so thoroughly enjoyed. The stress and storm of that period made an abiding impression upon her mind, and she retained till the time of her death on her beauteous and angelic face evidences of its intense hardships. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 33-34)
Study the Lives of the Martyrs and the Courage of the Baha’is in Iran:
But, thanks to the strengthening grace of Bahá’u’lláh and the demonstration of steadfastness by these noble friends (the Bahá’ís of Iran), we shall know how to meet the shafts of the enemy without fear. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 153, 1996)
Read the Dawnbreakers:
It is interesting to note as well that Shoghi Effendi encouraged the believers to study the Dawn-Breakers, which he described as an “unfailing instrument to allay distress.” (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October 1994)
Sometimes it’s not enough to turn to books for comfort – you need a real person to talk to. That’s when you can use the Institutions of the Faith.
Turn to the Continental Board of Counsellors:
When you have doubts and concerns about your own plans, confide in the Counsellors; when something they do causes you worry, talk to them in the proper spirit of Bahá’í consultation. Remember that they, like yourselves, are burdened with the work of the Cause and are beset with many concerns in its service, and they need your sympathetic understanding of the challenges they face. Open your hearts and your minds to them; regard them as your confidants, your loving friends. And be ever ready to extend to them your hand in support. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
Turn to the Auxiliary Board:
Training alone, of course, does not necessarily lead to an upsurge in teaching activity. In every avenue of service, the friends need sustained encouragement. Our expectation is that the Auxiliary Board members, together with their assistants, will give special thought to how individual initiative can be cultivated, particularly as it relates to teaching. When training and encouragement are effective, a culture of growth is nourished in which the believers see their duty to teach as a natural consequence of having accepted Bahá’u’lláh. They “raise high the sacred torch of faith,” as was ‘Abdu’l- Baha’s wish, “labour ceaselessly, by day and by night,” and “consecrate every fleeting moment of their lives to the diffusion of the divine fragrance and the exaltation of God’s holy Word.” So enkindled do their hearts become with the fire of the love of God that whoever approaches them feels its warmth. They strive to be channels of the spirit, pure of heart, selfless and humble, possessing certitude and the courage that stems from reliance on God. In such a culture, teaching is the dominating passion of the lives of the believers. Fear of failure finds no place. Mutual support, commitment to learning, and appreciation of diversity of action are the prevailing norms. (The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Jan 09, Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)
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