2014-12-18 Service

18 12 2014

First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Second Life (FUUCSL)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

6:30PM SL Time (Pacific Standard Time)

Leading the service: Peter Newtone



Tonight I will be sharing some Bahá’í reflections on the 1st UU Principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. More than a high-sounding ideal, this principle is a way of life which demands constant vigilance, self-evaluation, effort and self-sacrifice. A heart-rending illustration of this is the following event, which took place when Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was first taken prisoner:

Bahá’u’lláh was stripped of His outer garments, the soles of His feet were beaten and His hat knocked off His head. With bleeding feet and in chains He was forced to walk to Tehran in the heat of the midsummer sun. Crowds of people lined the streets, shouting, screaming obscenities at Him.

One old woman, with a ferocity and anger that belied her years, thrust her way through the crowds. “I adjure you! Give me a chance to throw my stone in His face!” Bahá’u’lláh stopped the guards, saying “Suffer not this woman to be disappointed, deny her not what she regards as a meritorious act in the sight of God.”

So tonight, instead of an intellectual approach to this principle, I will be sharing a few stories of how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the beloved son of Bahá’u’lláh, was observed putting this principle into practice during His travels to the West.

Listening to others:

Some of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visitors would talk on and on about their worldly knowledge, but He would encourage them to speak, and listen attentively and in silence. In “Portals to Freedom”, Howard Colby Ives reports, “There was never that eager tenseness, that restlessness so often met, showing most plainly that the listener has the pat answer ready the moment he should have a chance to utter it…

“It was more than a sympathetic absorption of what the ear received. It was as though the two individualities became one; as if He so closely identified Himself with the one speaking that a merging of spirits occurred which made a verbal response almost unnecessary, superfluous…

“And when, under His encouraging sympathy, the interviewer became emptied of his words, there followed a brief interval of silence… no instant and complete outpouring of explanation and advice. He sometimes closed His eyes a moment as if He sought guidance from above himself; sometimes sat and searched the questioner’s soul with a loving, comprehending smile that melted the heart.

“And when He finally spoke, and that modulated, resonant voice of music came, the words were so unexpected… that the questioner was [left with] a calmness, an understanding which went much deeper than the mind.”

Valuing every act of love:

One day, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was seated at the table with a group of friends, when a traveler arrived. He presented a cotton handkerchief to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who untied it and found a piece of dry black bread and a shriveled apple.

The traveler said, “A poor workman came to me and said, ‘I hear you are going to the presence of our Beloved. I have nothing to send, but this my dinner. Please offer it to Him with my loving devotion.’” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spread the poor handkerchief before Him and, leaving His own luncheon untouched, ate of the workman’s dinner, broke pieces off the bread and handed them to the assembled guests, saying: “Eat with me of this gift of humble love.”

A poor woman was eager to contribute something to the first Bahá’í Temple of North America in Wilmette, Illinois. At a nearby construction site, the builder let her pick out a stone from the reject pile.

She got an old, small baby carriage, wheeled the stone in it to the train and, against the conductor’s protests, hauled it onto the platform. After endless delays and two changes, she was able to get the baby carriage to Wilmette, where it finally collapsed. Fortunately, two newspaper delivery boys let her use their express wagon for the final stretch to the grounds.

At the ground-breaking ceremony, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá turned away the golden trowel he was offered and took up a working man’s pick and shovel. And instead of the special stone sent for the purpose, He used the “stone refused by the builder” as the corner stone of the Temple, where it can still be seen today.

Valuing sacrifice:

Once ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was asked, “Why do all the guests who visit you come away with shining countenances?” He answered, with his beautiful smile, “I cannot tell you, but in all those upon whom I look, I see only my Father’s Face.” The following story illustrates this:

A cleaning woman greatly wished to meet ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, but was too embarrassed by her rough, work-worn hands to stand in the public reception line. So she stood aside, and finally, hoping to simply touch His robe and dash away before He saw her hands, she approached ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. As she bent over to touch His robe, He took one of her hands and raised her up, carefully examining the captive hand. Finally, with deep love and understanding, He gazed into her eyes. “Sacrifice!”, He uttered simply.

Seeing more deeply:

One day in London, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was having scheduled, private audiences. A woman arrived without an appointment and was told it was not possible to fit her in, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was talking with some “most important people”.

Descending the stairway, she was greatly disappointed, but suddenly, to her astonishment, a messenger dashed down saying that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wished to see her. With authority His voice, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was heard saying, “A heart has been hurt. Hurry, hurry, bring her to me!”

In San Francisco, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was late for a meeting with some local dignitaries, but every time the hostess urged Him that it was time, He smiled and waved her away, saying, “Very soon! Very soon!”

Suddenly the door bell rang, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sprang up to greet a dusty, disheveled man, whom He embraced like a long lost friend. The man had read of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the newspapers and felt he must see Him, but as he did not have enough money for the car fare, he walked fifteen miles to San Francisco.

Had ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left on time, they would have missed each other, but He had “felt his approach” and would not leave until His guest was seated at the table with tea and sandwiches. Only then did ‘Abdu’l-Bahá say, ‘Now I must go, but when you have finished, wait for Me in My room upstairs, until I return, and then we will have a great talk.”

Honoring the inherent worth and dignity of one’s enemies

While in France, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had a remarkable encounter with the royal prince, Zillah Sultan. He and his uncle the Shah had been instrumental in Bahá’u’lláh’s exiles and imprisonment, and in making hundreds of Bahá’ís suffer worse than death. After the Shah’s downfall, which had also freed Abdu’l-Bahá from prison, this prince had fled to Europe.

One day he saw Abdu’l-Bahá in His Persian robes and approached Him. An observer said, “If you could have heard the wretch mumbling his miserable excuses!” But Abdu’l-Bahá took the prince in His arms. “All that is of the past,” He said, “Never think of it again.”

“Do not look at the shortcomings of anybody,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would say, “see with the sight of forgiveness. The imperfect eye beholds imperfections. The eye that covers faults looks toward the Creator of souls.”

Race unity:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that human diversity is like the flowers of one garden: “Though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet… this diversity increases their charm and adds to their beauty.” The following event illustrates this:

Some street children were taken to visit ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and He greeted each one with a handclasp, an arm around a shoulder and with such smiles and laughter that it almost seemed He was a boy with them. Among the last to enter the room was a colored lad of about thirteen years. He was quite dark and, being the only one of his race among them, he evidently feared that he might not be welcome.

When ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saw him, His face lighted up with a heavenly smile. He raised His hand with a gesture of princely welcome and exclaimed in a loud voice, so that none could fail to hear, that here was a black rose.
The room fell into instant silence. The black face became illumined with a happiness and love hardly of this world. The other boys looked at him with new eyes. He had been called a black… many things, but never before a black rose.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had sent for a box of mixed chocolates, and He walked among the boys, placing a large handful in the hands of each, with a word and smile for everyone. Finally he took out a long, dark chocolate nougat, looked at it a moment and then around at the group of boys, who were watching Him intently and expectantly.

Without a word, He crossed the room to where the colored boy was sitting, and, with a piercing glance that swept the group, laid the chocolate against the black cheek. His face was radiant as He lay His arm around the boy’ shoulder, and that radiance seemed to fill the room.

No words were necessary to convey His meaning, and there could be no doubt that all the boys caught it. You see, He seemed to say, he is not only a black flower, but also a black sweet. You eat black chocolates and find them good; perhaps you would find this black brother of yours good also, if you once tasted his sweetness.

Again that awed hush fell upon the room. Again the boys all looked with real wonder at the colored boy as if they had never seen him before, which indeed was true.

And as for the boy himself, upon whom all eyes were now fixed, he seemed perfectly unconscious of all but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. His eyes were fastened upon Him with an adoring, blissful look, and he was transformed. The reality of his being had been brought to the surface, and the angel he really was, revealed.