Thursday, March 26, 2009


Note: Text in bold is from the pen of Baha’u’llah and is often recited as a prayer by Baha’is. Other notes appear in the first comment.

Blessed is the spot,

The cream sauce on your lapel, the stain on your underwear, the pimple on your nose, the melanoma on your back, the mark at the end of your last sentence,

and the house,

the house of blues, and the house of cards; the White House, built by slaves, and the plain brown house, assembled in a factory and delivered on a truck,

and the place,

West Orange New Jersey, Castroville Texas, Sanga-sanga East Kalimantan; your bedroom, your kitchen, your garage, your backyard, the stairwell of your apartment building; every highway overpass and every gas station, every quiet pond, empty theatre, whore house, slum, mortuary, coffee shop, garbage dump, cesspool,

and the city,

of ever-growing slums, of lights, of sin, of wind and brotherly love; sinking New Orleans, going down while the bands play on; frenetic Beijing, rising and racing to the unknown end,

and the heart,

of the newborn, of the newly abandoned, of the newly beaten and newly bruised, of the newlyweds and the sweet old neighbors, of every man on death row, and every child in kindergarten,

and the mountain,

of work on your desk, of shit in your marriage; melting Kilamanjaro and littered Everest; a rock pile through the eyes of a five-year old,

and the refuge,

from hunger, slander, war, or an afternoon rainstorm; the fort made of blankets and the home made of trash,

and the cave,

the mythical one of our origins and the real one, where thirty million bats sleep; Carlsbad desecrated with multicolored lights and concrete paths, and all the underwater, underground, hidden spaces,

and the valley,

of the shadow of death, of the small of your lover’s back, of the repeating, almost imperceptible falling and rising of land under the asphalt of Highway 80 as you drive across Ohio and Indiana; of the craters made by American bombs and bulldozers, of that quiet place you discovered once by accident,

and the land,

the poor, battered land,

and the sea,

in the womb, in the teacup, in the glass of Gatorade; dried up and almost no more in the middle of Asia; of tears, of waste, of misspent money; the sound of your blood, resonant in a shell; the place where DNA first formed,

and the island,

Galveston, where I grew up; Siberut, where I trekked through waste-deep mud; Mt. Desert, where I married my Larry; Santiago, covered with lava; Ibiza, with discos and topless beaches; Cuba, under embargo; Bikini Atoll, under the bomb,

and the meadow,

silent but for crickets and songbirds,

where mention of God hath been made,

our prayers and our blasphemies, of course; our swearing and muttering, all our giggling and hysterical laughter, but also the quiet and the darkness; the snow falling in the night in a place you have never heard of, because no person has ever been there; crystals of frozen water resting gently on the ground, sublimating back to atmosphere, a little each day,

and His praise glorified,

and Her praise sanctified,

Our mother, here, this earth, hallowed be thy name, give us this day our portion of sorrow and joy. Thy kingdom has come, has always been; whatever we are, still are we thine.

Heaven is under our feet.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Boo! --- I’m B’ack.

I’m not exactly sure in what capacity I’m back, but hold on and we’ll find out. I hope to resume posting sporadic essays, and I hereby give myself permission to post tid-bits of interest as I find them. No more tyrannizing myself with the idea that only long, crisp prose is worthy of this venue.

In general the response to Baha’i the Way has been lovely, and I have been seriously impressed by the willingness of a number of my Baha’i friends to risk the read. These can be troubling waters, and, bless them, they have waded right in. One Baha’i friend recently challenged me, though, on the wisdom of Baha’i the Way, and the unintended consequence has been to revive my interest in it. There is a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which, as I recall, Calvin is making his face contort wildly for the amusement of Hobbes. His mother scolds, “Keep that up and your face will stay like that.” Calvin looks up hopefully. “Really?”

So...I’ve been told this blog could influence people. Opinions will vary, positive and negative, on the nature of that influence. Sway isn’t something I’m particularly expecting, but, on reflection, I realized this blog represents much of what I believe so I’m not displeased with the thought. I believe in showing up for life with your whole person—body, mind, and heart. I try to do that here. If this blog were to have any influence on others I would hope that it would strengthen that in readers which seeks a more examined, creative, honest, deeply felt, open life —of faith or of no-faith.

I think it would be helpful, though, going forward (and possibly at intervals hereafter), if I explained myself a bit more:

I am not a Baha’i. But I am also agnostic about what the Baha’i Faith can be. I take it as a given that Baha’is, like all other human beings are creative, free individuals, making choices within the constraints of their lives. I also take it as given that the Baha’i Faith could develop in many different ways. I see religion as a collaborative endeavor arising from the individual and communal experience of the divine.

When I challenge something in the Baha’i Faith, I do not mean to be challenging the essence of the Baha’i Faith, because I don’t know what the essence of the Baha’i Faith is. I look at what is or has been. I look at what kinds of choices people are making about what they believe and do—theologically, psychologically, relationally, communally. I am interested in what choices we make and what the implications of those choices are.

So, for example, in my essay “Positive? Negative?”, I wrote about the idea of the sin-covering eye and how the idea functions in Baha’i rhetoric and community. I tried to make it clear I was not claiming that this idea, or this form of this idea, was essential to the Baha’i Faith. I don’t know whether it’s essential or not. I actually think it is largely based on slight and in some cases dubious sources. Nevertheless the idea is deployed in the Baha’i community and Baha’i contexts as if it were essential, and that’s what interests me. What happens if you take that idea as essential? Well, I see problems. And that’s what I write about. I’m not saying that Baha’is have to take it as essential to the Faith or be Baha’is no more. I’m not saying “Believers, your faith demands you adopt crazy ideas, so abandon it or be crazy.” Not at all.

I am saying, “This is what I see and hear; I think it’s worth looking more carefully. Choices are being made and it may be possible and desirable to make different ones.” Only I try to say it more vividly. And I am not a Baha’i. So there is a certain kind of envisioning the possible that I rarely do here because I really can’t. That is up to people who feel a compelling, deep connection to Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i revelation. But I am definitely not out to define the limits of what the Baha’i Faith can be. I’m eager to see Baha’is develop a living faith that is worthy. Go for it.

Of course, this is my own theology speaking, and I don’t know if it is compatible with the Baha’i Faith or not. I take an essentially creative view of faith. In the essay “Unapologetic Visibility,” poet Artur Grabowski put it this way “Art is not a rival of the creator, but rather a helper of the revealer. Creation took place as a value in itself, but revelation and incarnation took place for man, with the expectation of a response from our side.” I don’t think Mr. Grabowski will much mind if I expand the conception of art here to include all our living, worshiping, thinking, and doing.

I’ve been repeating a phrase in my head lately, inspired by a poem by Garret Keizer. The phrase is in the voice of Christ responding to the interminable search for the historical Jesus. In my imagination he says, “Find your own historical ass.”

Tilt your head one way and he sounds rather resentful. Tilt your head the other way, and you may hear a joyful challenge.