Monday, July 23, 2007

What Kind of Witness Am I?

Photo of a fountain near the Shrine of The Bab on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel 2006

As you know, I've been meditating recently on the theological implications of the ministries of the central figures of the Baha'i Faith, The Bab, Baha'u'llah, and 'Abdu'l-Baha. This past week a question surfaced in my mind that I've been eager to write about: What kind of witness am I?

The story of the Martyrdom of the Bab is one that is well known by Baha'is and commemorated every year on July 9th. What are some of the theological implications of this spiritual drama? On that memorable day in Tabriz, when the Bab faced the rifles of 750 soldiers in the final moments of His life, there were two kinds of witnesses. The first was the crowd of thousands who thronged the rooftops waiting to enjoy the blood sport of a public execution. The second was a youth named Anis who had recognized The Bab in a vision and come to that fateful city to be with His Lord. He was seized by the authorities and thrown into the same cell as the Bab. The evening before the execution was to take place, the Bab requested that one of the companions in His cell arise and take His life as He would rather be slain by the hand of a friend than an enemy. Only Anis arose to faithfully carry out His Lord's request. Anis was promised be The Bab that because of his faithfulness, He would share the crown of martyrdom (which means to bear witness) the next day. Anis would be suspended by ropes against a wall along with His Lord, such that there bodies were so close together that when they were ripped apart by the bullets, it was difficult to tell one from the other, except for their faces that were almost unmarked. The Bab testified to the station of Anis in His final words to the gazing multitudes:

"O wayward generation!" were the last words of the Báb to the gazing multitude, as the regiment prepared to fire its volley, "Had you believed in Me every one of you would have followed the example of this youth, who stood in rank above most of you, and would have willingly sacrificed himself in My path. The day will come when you will have recognized Me; that day I shall have ceased to be with you."
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 52)

When I reflect on the question, What kind of witness am I?, it is a question of where I locate myself in the spiritual battle for liberation of the soul and the social order. Do observe the suffering of my fellow human beings from the safety of rooftop, or like Anis (a passive witness), do I put myself in the line of fire for the sake of my faith (an active witness)? Do I align myself with the forces of privilege and oppression, or do I stand in solidarity with the wretched of the earth? In a comfort loving, consumer driven culture like the one I live in, this question is of vital importance. It is so easy to become complacent, to climb back up on the rooftop and watch the world fall apart while I pursue the transitory things of this life. It takes courage to put myself in the line of fire, to offer myself as a living sacrifice to the God of liberation. Baha'u'llah challenges me with this commentary:

"If ye stay not the hand of the oppressor, if ye fail to safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, what right have ye then to vaunt yourselves among men? What is it of which ye can rightly boast? Is it on your food and your drink that ye pride yourselves, on the riches ye lay up in your treasuries, on the diversity and the cost of the ornaments with which ye deck yourselves? If true glory were to consist in the possession of such perishable things, then the earth on which ye walk must needs vaunt itself over you, because it supplieth you, and bestoweth upon you, these very things, by the decree of the Almighty. In its bowels are contained, according to what God hath ordained, all that ye possess. From it, as a sign of His mercy, ye derive your riches. Behold then your state, the thing in which ye glory! Would that ye could perceive it! Nay! By Him Who holdeth in His grasp the kingdom of the entire creation! Nowhere doth your true and abiding glory reside except in your firm adherence unto the precepts of God, your wholehearted observance of His laws, your resolution to see that they do not remain unenforced, and to pursue steadfastly the right course."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 252)

As a Baha'i the integrity of my spiritual identity is inseparable from the pursuit of justice and service to the disinherited in society:

"Let your actions cry aloud to the world that you are indeed Bahá'ís, for it is actions that speak to the world and are the cause of the progress of humanity.Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute! This is the work of a true Bahá'í, and this is what is expected... If we strive to do all this, then are we true Bahá'ís, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and we have no right to the name. God, who sees all hearts, knows how far our lives are the fulfilment of our words."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 80)

Every moment of my life, I am challenged to move from being a passive witness to an active witness. Anis chose the path of sacrifice, the path of an active winess. So I ask you reader, what kind of witness are you?