© Duane L. Herrmann
“Why do they all hate and try to kill us, Momma?” Asked the young boy as awareness of his heritage began to awaken.
“Us?” His mother asked, startled at the question.
“Oh,” she’d not thought of it that way before.
“Pharaoh enslaved us,” the boy continued. “The Babylonians invaded and enslaved us, the Romans wiped us out, the Nazis killed millions of us….”
“To remind us that we have to keep His laws and remember Him, the Lord is One.”
“Oh,” he was thoughtful.
As he grew older he began to have more questions that had no answers:
Did millions have to die as a sacrifice for the return to the Promised Land?
Was the horror of the Holocaust necessary to wake the rest of humanity to the ease with which people can be deprived of their humanness?
Why do some people feel a need to dominate others?
He saw more and more that a chain of sacrifice, a chain of pain, links the human race.
‘The perpetrators causing pain, as well as their victims, are reduced to being less than human. We are better than that,’ he thought.
‘It was not just Jews who were killed because of their difference from others, and sometimes those differences were so minor that outsiders couldn’t tell the difference between who was on which side.’
Then one day he came across a statement that startled him as much as his first realization:
“O ye lovers of the One true God! Strive, that ye may truly recognize and know Him, and observe befittingly His precepts. This is a Revelation, under which, if a man shed for its sake one drop of blood, myriads of oceans will be his recompense. Take heed, O friends, that ye forfeit not so inestimable a benefit, or disregard its transcendent station. Consider the multitude of lives that have been, and are still being, sacrificed in a world deluded by a mere phantom which the vain imaginations of its peoples have conceived.”  ‘Phantoms, that’s all that the perpetrators of genocide were following,’ he realized: the phantom of superiority of one group over another, the phantom of their rightness. Every group, every people, every person is special in their own way. There’s no reason to hate and kill because of those differences.
‘Why couldn’t people see their differences as adornments?’ He wondered. ‘We should delight in our variety. There is wide variety in the vegetable and animal worlds, and we delight in their variety, why can’t we see people in that same way?
‘Who wants a flower garden with only one kind of flower all the same color? How boring that would be!
‘We are each special.’
“Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God, inasmuch as within every atom are enshrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that Most Great Light. Methinks, but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist. How resplendent the luminaries of knowledge that shine in an atom, and how vast the oceans of wisdom that surge within a drop! To a supreme degree is this true of man, who, among all created things, hath been invested with the robe of such gifts, and hath been singled out for the glory of such distinction. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God to a degree that no other created being hath excelled or surpassed.” 
‘Are we not then, truly, rejecting our Creator when we reject part of His creation?’ The boy wondered.
‘How can we say we love God, yet reject what God has created?
‘That is a major contradiction,’ he realized. ‘Or, at least an inconsistency. God is not inconsistent, how can we be inconsistent if we are following God’s will?’
The grown boy did not know how to convey this to others, and he was sure he could not change anyone else, but he knew he could change himself – at least he could try.
From that day forward, when he saw another person, he saw each one as a special creation blessed with differences that made them unique, and greeted each one with a smile. Sometimes he was so preoccupied with his own concerns that he forgot. But, most times he would remember and endeavor to do better.
Gradually, his smile greeting others became automatic and normal. Surprised by his smile, nearly all smiled back. That simple smile from a stranger made an improvement in their day.
Like ripples from a rock thrown into water, those smiles, and the good feelings they engendered, spread and traveled far. That man had no idea how much of a difference in so many lives his simple action made. When he died, he found out.
“It is clear and evident that all men shall, after their physical death, estimate the worth of their deeds, and realize all that their hands have wrought. I swear by the Day Star that shineth above the horizon of Divine power! They that are the followers of the one true God shall, the moment they depart out of this life, experience such joy and gladness as would be impossible to describe.” 
In this new awareness of the consequences of his actions, his simple smiles and the surprised delight they brought to others, and the delight that was passed on, he could feel all that joy from all those people that his smile and its ripples touched. The joy had no limits. From his new state he was able to share this joy in dreams and visions of those who were still in the mortal realm. These people never knew the cause of these inexplicable moments of peace, contentment and joy they felt. None would have dreamed it all came from one man and one smile he gave to everyone he met. Their lives were changed. And they made other changes. Like ripples, those changes also spread and multiplied. Eventually, the world was transformed.
It’s not so hard to change the world, really.
2. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 177
3. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings, p. 171
© Duane L. Herrmann “Jesus is Buddha is Bahá’u’lláh,” Sally chanted in her nine-year-old voice as she skipped from one square on the sidewalk to another. “Jesus is Buddah is Bah…”
“What are you saying?” A larger boy demanded as he stepped in front of her blocking her way, hands on hips taking up as much room as possible.
“Jesus…” she began.
“Yeah,” the boy interrupted. “I know Jesus and Buddha, but what’s the other one?” He didn’t like someone younger knowing anything he didn’t know.
“Bahá’u’lláh?” She asked in surprise.
“Yeah, that one.”
“Bahá’u’lláh is the Glory of God,” she answered offhandedly. “Don’t you know that?”
“Bahá’u’lláh is the Glory of God, the Messenger from God for this age.”
“He brought teachings that help people work out solutions to their problems together.”
“They come up with a solution together that benefits everyone.”
“You’re nuts!” The boy turned and began to walk away.
“Well,” she called after him. “It’s working for millions of people around the world and right here.”
At that, he stopped, turned around and stared at her.
“It’s helping people, people right here,” she finished. “Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Helping what people?”
“Anyone who has a problem they can’t solve alone.”
The boy stared at her, not sure whether to trust her or not. He’d learned a long time ago that people might around like they wanted to help, but didn’t really do anything. Yet, she didn’t sound like she wanted to force him to do something he didn’t want to. But, what about her parents? Would they be like all the other adults who would tell him what to do?
“How can I know?” He asked, not sure what he wanted to ask.
“It’s what we do at home,” she answered.
“You do?” He was really surprised now. “How?”
“We all sit down and get quiet so we can hear each other, and think,” she began. “Then we look for the spiritual principles that apply. Sometimes just doing that makes a solution obvious. If not, we each offer an idea for a solution. Sometimes all the ideas make a new solution that no one thought of on their own. Sometimes those solutions are a real surprise.”
“Your parents do this?” The boy was surprised. “Your parents don’t just tell you what do to?”
“Sometimes they have to,” the girl said. “But if they do, they apologize for the lack of time and later we talk about it.”
“Your family does this all the time?”
“Sure. How else can a family decide what to do?”
“What if someone else has a problem?”
“They can ask us to help, other friends have done that.”
“Sue. We just have to find a time to get together.”
“You have a problem?”
© Duane L. Herrmann “No. No. No,” the Imam said clearly, slowly and emphatically, yet lovingly. “Violence is not the way.” He was the prayer leader at the Midwestern mosque, explaining the error of a young man. The Friday sermon was over and Robert had lingered to ask him a question.
“But we have to defend the Faith,” objected Robert. “The Cause of God is under attack!”
“Do you really think that stupid little cartoon, drawn by one unenlightened soul, is going to harm the Faith of God which has withstood all kinds of opposition in fourteen centuries, and still prospered? You think it can’t survive one little drawing?”
“But, but…” Robert sputtered. “It’s not respectful to the Prophet!”
“That is true,” the Imam agreed. “But do you think violence will increase respect for His Holiness Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him?”
“YES!” Robert glared defiantly.
“And what about instructions in the Holy Qur’an to forgive the unbelievers and leave them to themselves? That it is God who is to judge.”
“But…” Robert objected.
“Who appointed you the judge over God?” The Imam asked sternly, looking steadily at Robert.
“What about the infidel Bahá’ís?”
“Do they not believe in the Day of Judgment?” The Imam asked. “In the Day of Resurrection? Do they not perform good works? And obey the Laws of God as they understand them? Do they honor His Holiness Muhammad, and the Holy Qur’an?”
Robert simply stared at him in surprise. He’d never thought of those things before.
“In my experience,” the Imam continued. “Both with the individual Bahá’ís I have known, and in their books, they do.”
“Therefore, I think they may be among the righteous saved. But, still, it’s not my place – nor YOURS – to pass judgment.” The Imam looked sternly at Robert. “And what about the verse that specifically states: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”?
“There are no excuses. We are not to judge. We are not to condemn. We are not to force our will, or desires, on others.”
“I know, I know,” the Imam agreed. “In many places Muslims ignore those words. But, many also adhere to those words. And, we will too.
“Now, go,” the Imam said more gently. “Live your life so that your actions and your love will cause people to say: ‘He is a true Muslim. I can tell by his love and kindness. He is the epitome of mercy.’ That,” the Imam concluded, “will defend the Cause of God far more than anything else.”
“But…” Robert objected.
© Duane L. Herrmann “Now,” said Jerome, who was hosting. “For the social portion of Feast, we’re going to have Bahá’í Trivia Night.”
Clapping and cheers followed.
“The first question,” he continued. “What year of the Badi Calendar had no beginning?”
“Every year has a beginning…”
“How can a year not start?”
“What do you mean, no beginning?”
These questions, and more, circulated around the room.
“I KNOW!” Salazar shouted in excitement and everyone swung their heads in his direction. “It was the Year One!”
“Correct.” Jarome replied.
“What?” Valerian responded in surprise.
“Before the Báb declared His Mission,” Jerome answered. “There was no Bábí Faith, no Bábí Calendar, it didn’t exist. The Báb declared His mission on the eighth day of ‘Azamat, which is the fourth month of the year, so the year was well along before it actually started.”
“But….” Felicia started to object to this trick question.
“Never mind, Felicia,” Sheela said, cutting her off. “You can look it up later. This is just a game.”
Felicia made a face then looked away.
“Second Question,” Jerome announced. “What was the name of the second, and long lost, Bahá’í community in North America?”
“Lost? How can you lose…”
“It was in Kansas,” Valerian stated with authority.
“Right, so far,” agreed Jerome. “But, where?”
At that, Valerian shrugged his shoulders and gave him a blank stare in return.
“My mother told me about that a long time ago,” Sheela said slowly.
Everyone looked at her expectantly. Felicia glowered at her.
“Abilene?” Sheela asked.
“Close,” Jerome smiled. “But a few miles away.”
“This is a geography lesson?” Valerian growled.
Jerome ignored him.
“Enterprise!” Trabar announced excitedly.
“Yes!” Jerome agreed. “Enterprise, Kansas, just a few miles east of Abilene. That was way before the national capital was moved to Abilene.”
“Ancient history.” Stated Valerian dismissively.
“So?” Asked Trabar. “Trivia is trivia any time.”
“Third question,” Jerome announced. “Out of the millions of words Shoghi Effendi wrote in his thousands of letters, he underlined only one. What word was that?”
“Oh. My God!” Exclaimed Valerian. “I don’t believe this!”
“It’s trivia,” Felicia snapped. “What did you expect? Something easy, like the name of the Black Pit?”
Valerian scowled at her and looked away.
“I saw that once,” Raul remarked. “And thought, how odd. But I can’t remember it now.”
“Schush,” hissed Sheela. “I’m trying to think.”
“The letter was to an Assembly,” Raul added slowly. “Not an individual.”
“That narrows it by half,” Valerian responded sarcastically under his breath as he crossed his arms and slid down in his seat.
“Well, I’m curious now,” Felicia said perking up.
“It was about homosexual activity…” Raul said slowly.
“SEX?!?” Salazar was instantly eager. “Who’s talking about sex?” He had been half dozing.
“I remember now,” Raul continued. “An Assembly is only to take action if the homosexual activity of a member of the Bahá’í community is flagrant. Flagrant is the word he underlined. I guess he didn’t want people poking into other people’s lives.” Raul ended thoughtfully.
“I don’t know his reasoning,” replied Jerome. “But, yes, flagrant, is the word and it was used to indicate when an Assembly should take action. The House of Justice later stated that what a person did in the privacy of their own home was nobody else’s business. Assembly action was only to protect the name and reputation of the Faith. Sexual activity outside of marriage is not acceptable behavior for Bahá’ís, and certainly not in the eyes of the public.”
“And,” added Sheela. “We’re not to impose our Bahá’í standards on other people.”
“Absolutely not!” Agreed Raul, startled that anyone would.
“Are we ready for the fourth and final question?” Jerome asked and looked around the room. When he saw people nodding, he continued. “Why was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá temporarily buried in the Shrine of the Báb?”
“It was the only place, at that time, where His grave could be protected,” Norlisa answered immediately. “He had enemies and the family was desperate. At least, they could lock the building.”
“True, true,” said Jerome, nodding his head.
“He was only buried in His own shrine a hundred years later,” Norlisa added.
“That’s right.” Salazar added. “My grandfather told me about the ceremony when He was moved. He was a little boy then, but remembered the excitement of his parents.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“It was,” another agreed.
“Thank you Jerome,” concluded Arleen, the Chair of the Assembly.
“For refreshments tonight I made cheesecake,” announced Jerome. “With three possible fruit sauces for the top: strawberry, pineapple, or peach. You can decide which you want, and I’ll be right back.”
“Do you need any help?” Felicia asked.
“Thank you, but I have it all on a cart to bring right out.”
© Duane L. Herrmann “I’ve come to the point where I can, finally, say, if I don’t agree with the Universal House of Justice,” Jorge told a group of friends. “It is my responsibility to change my thinking.”
“Yes,” Salena agreed.
“If I accept that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for this age, and Bahá’u’lláh said, and He did, that the House of Justice is ‘the source of all good, freed from all error,’ then what the House says is correct and freed from error. And, if I disagree, then I am in error.” Jorge proudly looked around the room.
“This has been a long time coming,” Tomas said as he walked to Jorge and gave him a big, sound hug.
“Maybe I won’t understand why the House says something,” Jorge continued. “Then I pray for understanding and acceptance and…” he paused. “It works!”
“Yes, that process does work,” Renate agreed. “We all have to do that at some time or another.”
“You?” Jorge was shocked. “I… How…?”
“At one time,” Renate laughed. “I was a know-it-all. I was an expert on EVERYTHING.”
“At least she thought she was,” Salena agreed smiling with her friend. “And, oh, was she so wrong!”
“Now just a minute…” Renate began, while the others around the room chuckled, remembering how truly wrong this expert had sometimes been.
“But, it doesn’t matter now,’ Jorge insisted. “That’s behind me. I’ve begun to see where I was wrong. I wasn’t looking at the big picture. I was looking only at my little piece of the puzzle, and that little piece didn’t make sense. Now the whole thing makes sense.
“It’s too easy to focus too narrowly,” Tomas agreed. “We can see from our perspective without realizing how limited that is; limited not only to our own personal situation and geographic location, but also limited in time. Things always change. It is often difficult to see how things may change or sometimes even the possibility of change. That’s why the House can change its own decisions, to keep pace with the changing reality we’re faced with. But, the House sees trends and needs that will arise, and prepares for them. The House is thinking not just of today, but preparing for tomorrow too.”
“I can barely make it through one day at a time,” Cary said. “I don’t know how people can manage more than one day at a time.”
“We all do the best we can,” Salena replied. “It’s the effort that’s important. We only need to try. God takes care of the results.”
“What a relief,” Cary said with a wry smile.
“When something the House says doesn’t make sense,” Jorge continued. “I can wait patiently to understand. It’s not my place to complain or argue, just pray to understand.”
“Right on,” Tomas agreed. “You know what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said about unity and arguing, don’t you? He said if everyone agreed on a wrong decision it will either become the right decision, or it will be evident to all that it was wrong, then it can be changed. When we resist the House of Justice, we’ll never know if their decision was right or not. Only by obeying what we think is a wrong decision will we ever know if it is a right decision or not.”
“That’s powerful,” exclaimed Jorge.
“Yes, really,” added Salena.
“Radical,” Cary exclaimed.
“Yet, how difficult it can be to do,” Tomas added.
“Because we all want to be right,” Salena said.
“Isn’t that the truth,” Renate added and shook her head in dismay. The rest laughed and she joined in.
“It’s a process we’re in,” Tomas said. “A learning process; and we’re all learning.”
“Yes,” Cary agreed.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re all here,” Karmina said as she walked into the room. “I’m sorry I’m late. Are you ready to start?” They all nodded their heads and the meeting began.
“O God, guide me….”
© Duane L. Herrmann “Oh!” Aunkeni laughed. “When we first heard about the goal to develop human potential, we thought it meant we would somehow be training people to be engineers, doctors and other professions of that sort.”
“Really?” Pellan asked in surprise.
“Yes.” Aunkeni replied. “Can you believe it? We didn’t realize that it was our own potential that needed to be developed. Now we know developing human potential means to give courage to each other to invite our friends and neighbors to Devotions, to host Devotions, or to be able to teach classes for children or facilitate activities for youth.”
“Oh.” Pellan said.
“Over the years we have come to realize that not everyone in our community could do those things, though we all have the potential. That’s the human potential that needed to be developed. We all need to be able to do those basic things and we couldn’t back then.”
“The Bahá’í community isn’t a place where just a few people do the inviting, or host meetings, or teach the children or youth,” Rafiq added.
“No, it’s not,” Aunkeni agreed. “We know that now. Yet, that’s the way it was and we thought that was ‘normal.’ It may be normal for most groups, but not the Bahá’í community. The Bahá’í community functions in a very different manner, and we’re just learning that.”
“In this learning process,” Rafiq added. “We also needed to learn how to elevate ‘the level of discourse’ in the Bahá’í community.”
“Yes,” Aunkeni agreed. “We used to pretend that idle chit chat was fellowship, but it’s not. Idle chit chat benefits no one, but we didn’t know any different.”
“Who, back then, felt comfortable sharing our excitement about something we had recently read in the Sacred Texts?” Pellan asked. “Or shared the effect of prayer in our lives, or a story about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, or some other hero of the Faith?”
“Odd, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” Rafiq agreed. “And sad. We didn’t even feel comfortable mentioning the relevant spiritual perspective in a conversation about a subject. It’s not like we lack principles or teachings about nearly everything.”
“Choosing the relevant one is sometimes a dilemma.”
“That’s why study and continual learning is important.”
“We didn’t know how to do that either.”
“No,” Pellan agreed. “We were innocently arrogant about a lot of things then.”
“I’m glad the House of Justice woke us up,” Aunkeni said. “The Faith would never have grown otherwise.”
“Now, look at us!” Rafiq exclaimed. “In just ten years our community has tripled in size and almost everyone is active in some service. It’s such a change! Developing our potential to do basic things has enabled us to expand our abilities and do even more. We can now see new patterns of social interaction emerging. This is the beginning of a new society, a new way of being human, a new spiritual based civilization.
“Yes, and I’m glad.” Aunkeni concluded. “What more can we learn next?”
© Duane L. Herrmann “They’re just making it all up!” Shaneen exclaimed in frustration.
“They, who, are making what up?” Randella asked in bewilderment.
“Those guys!” Shaneen sputtered at the blank faces around her. “The House of Justice!”
“Oh.” Quinlynn was startled, but tried not to let it show. She’d never heard a Bahá’í refer to the Sign of God on Earth as, ‘those guys.’ And the charge of, ‘making it up,’ was more than startling, especially from one who had been an active Bahá’í as Shaneen. It was a clear lack of understanding. “Maybe we should step back a moment,” she said, then asked, “How is it that the Universal House of Justice exists?”
“Because Bahá’u’lláh ordained it,” Troy replied.
“And,” Randella added. “He gave it authority to head the administrative order.”
“‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained it very clearly in His Will and Testament,” Quinlynn added. “Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. May the wrath, the fierce indignation, the vengeance of God rest upon him!”
“He’s talking about both the Guardian and the House of Justice, isn’t He?” Troy asked.
“Yes.” Quinlynn answered. “‘Abdu’l-Bahá didn’t make any difference between the two. When a person accepts to obey the Guardian, they are also accepting to obey the House of Justice.
“He also said it is the source of all good and freed from all error,” Troy added.
“And that is the same as obeying Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”
“Yes,” Quinlynn agreed. “So, we can have complete confidence that the decisions of the House are the necessary ones for that time. I don’t really think we can say, ‘they’re making it up.’ They consult before they make a decision, and before that, they gather facts. And, that’s much more complicated than when a local Assembly gathers and agrees on the facts. They have to gather all the relevant facts from the Writings, as well as pertinent facts from around the world. That is one reason we report statistics to the House of Justice, so they can have accurate facts on which to consult. I’m sure it’s an arduous process. I wouldn’t want to have to do it.”
“But then they just sit around and talk.” Shaneen objected.
“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Quinlynn calmly responded. “They evaluate the guidance in the Writings, the facts of statistics and the facts of our experience. They assess the needs of the Faith. Then they consult on how those needs might be met. Oftentimes the House will ask different national communities to try out pilot projects, field test them, so to speak. Sometimes the House has urged the entire Bahá’í world to create solutions to address certain problems. When reports come back, the House assesses which solutions resulted in the most success.
“That’s how the Ruhi curriculum came about,” she continued. “We needed a process that would encourage Bahá’ís to make reading the Writings a more integral part of our daily lives. They Writings are our spiritual nourishment. Daily contact with that nourishment is essential to our spiritual health. With the high withdrawal rate in some national communities, it was obvious the Writings were not being turned to often enough. And there was the need to break the old, dysfunctional pattern of leaders and followers. That pattern has prevented the vast majority of people on the planet to take charge of their lives. Submissiveness has been beaten into people over the past five hundred years of colonialism. It’s not something that can be reversed overnight, and especially with old social patterns still in place.”
“That’s why there’s no ‘teachers’ with the ‘answers’ in the Ruhi process!” Troy added excitedly.
“Exactly.” Quinlynn replied. “The facilitator is simply there to keep the study circle on track. Not to pass judgment or rule right or wrong. The process was tested for more than a decade, gradually in more and more countries, and in every case an improvement was seen in those communities. More people were coming into the Faith and more Bahá’ís were rising up to serve. Finally, the results were so overwhelmingly positive, the House urged all national communities to adopt the process.”
“And some resisted.” Added Troy.
“Naturally.” Quinlynn agreed. “When the Guardian introduced the administrative order and urged local Bahá’í communities to form Spiritual Assemblies, many objected. In fact, nearly the entire Bahá’í community of one country left the Faith.”
“Oh, my!” Shaneen exclaimed. This really caught her attention. She hadn’t known this. History wasn’t one of her interests.
“This is the first time we’ve had a global curriculum,” Quinlynn explained. “Any Bahá’í from any country can go into any other country and seamlessly step into the teaching work going on there. In times past, each travel teacher had their own, so called, ‘method,’ some of which caused considerable disruption to the efforts already underway. We don’t learn much about them, because the focus has been on whatever accomplishment was achieved. But considerable upheaval was also the result. Even here in the 1930s. That’s why the reflection gatherings are so important at the cluster level: to obtain an accurate understanding over a large but manageable area. Each local community should do this at Feast, but no community is really isolated from its neighbor, so the clusters are helpful.”
“We have to admit and acknowledge our failures and mistakes, so we won’t repeat them.” Troy stated.
“Yes, there will be mistakes,” Quinlynn agreed. “Mistakes are part of the learning process.”
“We have to be willing to learn from our past actions,” Randella stated.
“Mistakes are one way we learn, and we can’t ignore that.”
“Well.” Shaneen was stumped. She’d not considered this larger perspective. It did all make sense. It was uncomfortable. These were ideas which didn’t fit her understanding of the community, but now she could see more how it all fit together. She was going to have to do some more study of this now. She’d not thought of the Bahá’í community needing to overcome the affects of colonialism. That was something she’d never thought had anything to do with her life – certainly not the Bahá’í community! She had a lot to consider now.
© Duane L. Herrmann Merton was excited. He had decided how he wanted to share his love for Bahá’u’lláh with the rest of his Bahá’í community. He had written poetry for years and had some published in various places. He knew he was competent as a poet. Now that he was Bahá’í he had begun to write poems about Bahá’u’lláh, the glories of Ridván, the Dawnbreakers and the amazingly wonderful Bahá’í teachings on life after death. He was so excited!
He had reserved time in the private room in a restaurant where a friend of his worked so those who wanted to could order desert or something to drink. He went through his collection of newly written Bahá’í –themed poetry, found some others which would compliment them and wrote several more. And he rehearsed reading them, with a few words about each, so that they made a complete and complimentary story. Then he sent out invitations to all the Bahá’ís in town.
He didn’t think they would all come. Even if just five or six came, that would be a nice little party, but he wanted the space if more came. He didn’t want to exclude anyone. Even if only one person came, he could share and they could visit about poetry and the role of other written arts.
He was very appreciative of the role given to poetry in the Bahá’í Revelation. Beginning with the Báb who said, “It is the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit that causes words such as these (from Háfiz) to stream from the tongue of poets, the significance of which they themselves are oftentimes unable to apprehend.” And, “Treasures lie hidden beneath the throne of God; they key to those treasures is the tongue of poets.”
Bahá’u’lláh Himself wrote to a poet, “Every word of thy poetry is indeed like unto a mirror in which the evidence of the devotion and love thou cherishes for God and His chosen ones are reflected. Well is it with thee who hast quaffed the choice wine of utterance and partaken of the soft flowing stream of true knowledge.
And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to someone who had sent Him a poem, “Verily, I chanted thy poem. Its significance was beautiful, its composition eloquent and its words excellent. It was like the melody of the birds of holiness in the paradise of El-Abha. The breast of the friends were dilated, and the hearts of the maidservants of the Merciful were exhilarated by its changing. Blessed art thou for uttering forth such an excellent poem and brilliant pearl.”
And, in another letter, “Thy little book of poems, which were very sweet, was read. It was a source of joy, for it was a spiritual anthem and a melody for the love of God.
“Continue as long as thou canst this melody in the gatherings of the beloved; thus may the minds find rest and joy and become in tune with the love of God. When eloquence of expression, beauty of sense and sweetness of composition unite with new melodies the effect is ever great, especially if it be the anthem of the verses of oneness and the songs of praise to the Lord of Glory.
“Endeavor your utmost to compose beautiful poems to be chanted with heavenly music; thus may their beauty affect the minds and impress the hearts of those who listen.”
Even the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, wrote through his secretaries promoting poetry: “We need poets and writers for the Cause…” and, “In Persia the Cause gave birth to many poets of national standing. Let us hope that the west will follow suit and produce similar results.” And even, “…advisable that the believers should make use, in their meetings, of hymns composed by Bahá’ís themselves, and also of such hymns, poems and chants as are based on the holy words.” And his more general affirmation that, “That day the Cause will spread like wildfire when its spirit and teachings are presented on the stage or in art and literature as a whole. Art can better awaken such noble sentiments than cold rationalizing…”
Merton was sure that the local Bahá’ís did not know about the Guardians advice to use, “hymns, poems and chants” that are based on the holy words. They’d never done it. At no meeting he had attended were there any hymns, poems or chants. Did they simply not know? Or, were they avoiding it? His gift of this poetry evening would help them relieve that. He was very happy to be able to help the Bahá’í community with his gift. This encouraged him to write even more.
Three days later he got a message from the Chairman of the Teaching Committee saying: “Dear friend, we have learned about your proclamation event. We are excited. We have decided that a jazz band needs to play background music to accompany your poetry because people expect a coffeehouse kind of atmosphere, so a small jazz ensemble will be coming. And, since all of our efforts should focus on teaching, we’ve invited the cowboy poetry club in town because they like poetry too. It will be a great teaching event! Be sure that no alcohol is served at this Bahá’í event because we know the restaurant serves beer. Thank you.”
Merton was stunned.
He was speechless. He could not reply. His mind went blank. He had planned a private party, how…? Who had thought differently?
Too many people had dominated him all his life, his father, his older brothers, his boss, that he could not respond. This was the same treatment he’d gotten from everyone. They just acted as if he didn’t exist. They assumed they knew better than he did and simply ignored him. He was crushed. Up until now the Bahá’ís had respected him as if he was a regular person, but now – it was the same abuse he’d had all his life. He wilted inside.
He hated jazz. He loathed jazz – and now he would have to listen to jazz while he was trying to read! And, cowboy poets!! Cowboy poetry wasn’t anything like the devotional poetry he wrote! They wouldn’t be interested. They wanted stories, tall tales, that were funny and amusing. It was as different from devotional poetry as rap! He didn’t write either of those styles.
And how could he control what someone ordered to drink. It wasn’t any of his business what someone else chose to drink. He didn’t care what they drank! This was absurd.
He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t do it. It was now too upsetting to think about. He would cancel the reservation of the room. No, he would go ahead and pretend he didn’t care. But, that would be lying. He did care and he was upset. He felt betrayed. He was betrayed! He wanted the Bahá’ís to be able to relax in a Bahá’í environment. He wanted to give them a little glimpse of a Bahá’í future. But that was ruined now. His whole gift had been hijacked! He wanted to bring the Bahá’í community together. He wanted to promote the unity of his Bahá’í community. Now it was not that, it was no longer his gift. It was someone else’s event. His gift had been stolen and distorted. He couldn’t go through with it.
He was tormented for the next two weeks preceding the event. He remembered, some time back, when he had, with the Guardian’s words in mind, offered to read a poem at a public proclamation, and been told, there wasn’t time on the agenda. Then, at the event, the microphone was freely offered to members of the audience who wanted to speak – and what some of them said was certainly not in the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh! One was even political. It was so hypocritical!
If the Bahá’ís wanted an event different from his gift, that was fine. They could have it. He didn’t have to attend or participate. He couldn’t be there. That was all there was to it. He didn’t have to be there, he wouldn’t be there, he couldn’t be there.
Finally, he gathered up his courage and sent a message to the Chairman of the Teaching Committee saying, “A jazz event with cowboy poetry is not compatible with the devotional poetry I wanted to share to create unity in the Bahá’í community. Therefore, I do not feel to participate. Sincerely.”
At the time of the event, Morton went to a park and sat in the shade. With an accompanying breeze, he read his poetry to the trees. They, at least, had no objection.
He also stopped attending events in that community but began going to a suburb close to where he lived. He never offered to read his poetry again.
© Duane L. Herrmann The meeting had begun with prayers and the reading of a poem about the value and necessity of sacrifice. Frank had been asked to be the speaker for the evening. He was telling about the sufferings of Bahá’u’lláh.
“He was sent to Adrianople and Constantinople…” He stated.
“No,” Zorn interrupted emphatically. “He was sent to Constantinople first, then Adrianople.”
“Okay,” Frank agreed. “He was sent to those two cities, then to Akka, the Prison-city of the Ottoman Empire. He, his family and some followers…”
“About seventy people in all,” Zorn added.
“Yes,” Frank agreed. “All those people in the midst of summer…”
“The hottest day in August.”
“In the 1860s…”
“In 1868, actually.”
“In the prison they were given old and moldy bread to eat and foul water to drink…”
“And they all became sick,” Zorn added proudly.
“All except ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”
“And three died.”
“It was terrible.” Frank agreed continuing. “They were sick, children were crying…”
“And don’t forget the garbage,” Zorn added.
“Garbage?” Frank was startled from his chain of thought.
“Yes,” Zorn answered. “The garbage the people threw on Bahá’u’lláh and the other prisoners when they arrived.”
“Yes,” Frank agreed. “They did that. Before they exiles arrived in the city the government order…”
“It was called a ‘firman.’”
“It was read in the principle mosque stating there was to be absolutely no contact with the new prisoners.”
“It even ridiculed Bahá’u’lláh as the, ‘God of the Persians,’ Zorn happily added. “Wasn’t that a scream?” He looked around beaming.
The meeting continued in this vein. Every time Frank would make a statement Zorn would add to it or oppose it with a slightly more factual detail. Frank quickly summarized then asked Zorn if he had anything more to add. Surprised by this change, Zorn did not. Refreshments were served and conversations arose among those in attendance, Bahá’ís and their guests.
“It’s a really nice religion,” Frank, inadvertently heard one guest say to another just around a corner, out of sight. “But they are so hard on each other. I don’t think I could stand that.”
“I agree,” said the other guest. “What if I joined and made a mistake? I would feel awful.”
“I do feel sorry for that man, Frank I think was his name,” the first replied. “I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his place.”
“Me neither,” the other answered.
“It’s too bad, really.”
“Yes. It’s such a nice religion, but the way they treat each other…” the door shut as they left the building.
Frank was heart-broken. He had prayed for guidance before beginning the talk. He had felt very strongly that general information was the best to give. Most people don’t want details. They want the story and details often get in the way of the story. He wanted to touch the hearts of seekers with the suffering’s Bahá’u’lláh had endure. It was heart-breaking. But, no, Zorn felt some mission to “correct” him. He was oblivious to the impact of his words.
Frank then remembered ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words, “Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs...” Though Frank never disagreed with Zorn’s comments, he was sure a wrong had been done to the guests. The exchanges had driven interested seekers away. Frank decided to pray for Zorn and for the seekers. Maybe Zorn could learn and there could be another opportunity to reach the guests. Maybe, if Zorn was asked to give the presentation, that might fill his need. Frank prayed all the way home.