Monday, July 16, 2007

Prayer, Pain and Possibility

A photo of the Sarah Farmer Inn at Green Acre Baha'i School, taken at dawn.

The Leadership Forum of the Black Men's Gathering has begun! The purpose of this seven day conclave of men of African Descent from throughout North America, is to learn together how to effectively promote the spiritual and moral transformation of black males through the Revelation of Baha'u'llah. Some 30 local chapters of the Black Men's Gathering are now in existence and representatives from each have come to Green Acre Baha'i School to pray, study guidance from the Head of the Baha'i Faith, the Universal House of Justice, and consult vigorously about how to advance our mission.

Yesterday, as is traditional at the Gathering began with prayer in Gathering style. How do I describe it? It is prayer that is spontaneous, sincere, and passionate. It is prayer that breaks and recreates the heart. We chant, we sing, we intone the verses of God without the interference of clergy of any kind. It is the freest expression of devotion that this Baha'i has ever experienced, period. The Baha'i Writings say this about prayer:

"Praise be to God, thy heart is engaged in the commemoration of God, thy soul is gladdened by the glad tidings of God and thou art absorbed in prayer. The state of prayer is the best of conditions, for man is then associating with God."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 201)

The next part involved each of the participants introducing themselves to the others, saying simply who they are, where they are from and why they have come to the Gathering. This deceptively simple exercise is really quite profound. In a world in which the humanity of black people remains an open question, being honored with listening ears as you share your heart is a precious and life giving moment. As I listened, the theme that seemed to resonate over and over again was pain. This may sound like it would be depressing, except that Baha'u'llah has written the following about love:

"And if, by the help of God, he findeth on this journey a trace of the traceless Friend, and inhaleth the fragrance of the long-lost Joseph from the heavenly messenger, he shall straightway step into THE VALLEY OF LOVE and be dissolved in the fire of love. In this city the heaven of ecstasy is upraised and the world-illuming sun of yearning shineth, and the fire of love is ablaze; and when the fire of love is ablaze, it burneth to ashes the harvest of reason.

Now is the traveler unaware of himself, and of aught besides himself. He seeth neither ignorance nor knowledge, neither doubt nor certitude; he knoweth not the morn of guidance from the night of error. He fleeth both from unbelief and faith, and deadly poison is a balm to him. Wherefore Attar saith:

For the infidel, error -- for the faithful, faith;

For Attar's heart, an atom of Thy pain.

The steed of this Valley is pain; and if there be no pain this journey will never end. In this station the lover hath no thought save the Beloved, and seeketh no refuge save the Friend."
(Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 7)

Though many of the men expressed the pain that is present in their lives, it allowed the full power of the Gathering, which is the power of love, to begin to take hold of the hearts. There is a concept in Christian thinking called "cheap grace". I see love without pain as "cheap love". There is no cheap love at the Black Men's Gathering.

In the evening we began to share our learning regarding the experience of prayer at the local Gatherings that were held this past year (some 30 or more). It was a wide ranging discussion, but the part of took away was the importance of seeing every participant in the Gatherings, no matter what condition they arrive in, as noble. In Biblical terms, to see all of the black men we are seeking to minister to as created in the image and likeness of God:

"Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realize that all embody divine possibilities."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 113)

It is the realization of these divine possibilities in the lives of black males everywhere that is reason that we have all come here this week.

More tomorrow!