In our last message, we talked about the need for us to bring joy to others and help them to remain hopeful as part of our spiritual practice. That’s a good goal, for even everyday people love to advise people going through something, to just cheer up, be optimistic, and focus on the good. And, while that is very good advice, it is not easily achieved because many have not been taught how to do so. As I reflect on today’s message of optimism, I’m realizing that both science and religion together can be helpful partners in this endeavor. I’m reminded especially of NLP, Ho’oponopono, and David Hawkins, Power vs. Force.
These are very useful practices. Perhaps I will share in the future how these practices have been helpful to me. Today I will be focusing on an explanation on optimism from the Star of the West as explained by Abdul-Baha who advised us to “be joy to the sorrowful.”
We know that we will be constantly tested, so how can we be optimistic when as Baha’u’llah says we are “surrounded by darkness and that the evil one is lying in wait ready to trap us?” Well, that’s where faith comes in, because, despite all the tests, we should be optimistic about the future. If our reality is based on our thoughts, it makes sense to focus on hope and optimism, doesn’t it? Abdu’l-Baha explained:
“We hold that there are two distinct phases of optimism.
One is based on the ASSUMPTION of CONDITIONS, which the objective mind has first CONCEIVED and PICTURED, as it were, on the walls of the subjective mind.
But this effort MUST BE DILIGENTLY CONTINUED, for ALLDEPENDS UPON OUR OWN POWER TO HOLD THE PICTURES formed.
By HOLDING THIS THOUGHT OR PICTURE WITHOUT WAVERING,
We may possibly bring things to pass.
We may brighten our own paths by happy, cheerful thoughts, and
[We may] help uplift others who are in negative states of mind.
The other kind of optimism is WHOLLY BASED ON THE SPIRITUAL MIND. It comes by a CALM and ABSOLUTE TRUST in the power of God to bring to pass all things for our highest good, whatever they seemingly may be. Circumstances and environments cannot destroy it.
OUR GOOD MAY OFTEN COME THROUGH SEVERE TESTS AND TRIALS, so that it may not appear as such on the face of it, but BY FAITH in the POWER and PROMISES of God to do all things, the SILVER LINING OF EVERY CLOUD IS MADE VISIBLE, and ONE IS ENABLED TO OBEY HIS COMMAND, given through Bahá’u’lláh, to “CHEER UP thy heart with delight, that thou mayst be fitted to meet Me and become a mirror of My beauty.” (4)
“Now show thou forth FIRMNESS and STEADFASTNESS WITHOUT WAVERING. If any test fall upon thee, it will be conducive to the strength of thy faith. ” (5)
“‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Servant of God, whose office is to unlock to man spiritual truth, says, that the Holy Spirit dominates every part of the human being when its will is subservient to His Will; that >>>by it we may be healed in body and soul; >>>by its operation we may be transformed and attain to wisdom and spiritual power which nothing on the material plane can withstand. In speaking of his own station, he says that the Holy Spirit moves his limbs.
Note the difference between, the two processes:
1. one is attaining physical power and understanding of the natural laws given by Infinite Mind for the control of matter only,
2. while the other is accomplished by the Holy Spirit alone-man’s part being simply to yield his will to its guidance and quickening influence.” (6)
This is a very powerful message that Abdul-Baha is teaching us. We can be optimistic through two different methods, from our own rational and subjective mind, or through the power of the Holy Spirit. So, clearly there is a way to develop optimism. To repeat, one is based on our power and will, the other requires us to give up our ego and will and allow the Holy Spirit alone to guide us.
My hope is that today, as we enter into our last week of the 19 day Fast, that we begin to think about bringing hope to the hopeless and joy to the sorrowful, that we use our powers to subdue the ego, and yield our will to the guidance and quickening influence of the Holy Spirit. My hope is that we each may have a cheerful countenance and a pure, kindly, and radiant heart. My prayer is that we focus on polishing our own mirrors so that we are reflecting the Divine light, that we have more faith and less fear, that we have more compassion and less judgment, that we have more love and less hate, more trust and fewer doubts, and most importantly, that we have more selfless world embracing deeds and fewer words.
Happy Fasting Barbara Talley
4) (SOW – Star of the West, Star of the West – (1)
5) (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 552)
Humanity, as a result of turning away from God and relying on material resources, political power, and the carnal and selfish dreams of mortal men, has set itself on a course leading to destruction. The Fasting time is about responsibility, recalibration and reflection; a time to cleanse our hearts and motives. We have been talking about tests for a while and I know that this topic can be very heavy. So, I thought today, to share a word of caution while we “detox our own spiritual selves.” We must be very careful that our knowledge, perceptions, and awareness of the exigencies of our time do not make us feel saddened, angry, afraid or hopeless and cause us to magnify that doom mindset and infect those around us. We must remember that we are all contagious; we can spread joy or we can spread sorrow. Remember Abdul-Baha’s desire for us: “I want you to be happy.., to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you.” (1)
Abdul-Baha was always asking people if they were happy and encouraged them to “be joy to the sorrowful.” God not only wants us to be happy, but He also wants us to not ‘test others’ by causing another person grief or wishing them ill-will, even if they mean us harm. There are so many contentious conversations now that are causing grief: vaccines, climate, war, identity, abortion, politics, gender, CRT, and of course, race. Consider these words of Abdul-Baha about the danger of offending each other and causing hopelessness.
Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart! Beware! Beware! lest ye hurt any soul! Beware! Beware! lest ye deal unkindly toward any person! Beware! Beware! lest ye be the cause of hopelessness to any creature!
Should any soul become the cause of grief to any heart or despondency to any soul, it is better for him to hide himself in the lowest strata of the earth than to walk upon the earth. Should any soul desire the abasement of his kind, undoubtedly his non-entity is better for him, for his non-existence is better than his existence and his death better than his life.
Therefore, my advice to you is, endeavor as much as ye can to show kindness toward all men, deal with perfect love, affection and devotion with all the individuals of humanity. Remove from amongst yourselves racial, patriotic, religious, sectional, political, commercial, industrial and agricultural prejudices, so that you may become freed from all human restrictions and become the founders of the structures of the oneness of the world of humanity. (2)
We are to bring hope to those who grieve, serve each other, prefer each other, participate in discourses that uplift and educate, and not waste our precious time in actions that cause hopelessness. We were not created to make people despondent or to grieve, and if we do, it is better that we did not exist, Abdul-Baha warned us! We’ve also got to learn to move beyond dichotomous thinking, that either/or thinking, that self-righteous closed-mindedness that sees things only one way. We must widen our vision if we wish to do no harm and to be worthy of being shown greater possibilities for how to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. We tend to think of good as only coming with joy and calm, but: “Our good may often come through severe tests and trials…”(3)
The November 25, 2020 letter from the Universal House of Justice was optimistic about the community’s capacity, and at the same time they cautioned us about the coming dangers in the years ahead. They acknowledged that in some quarters, “hope had become a depleted resource.” Our duty is to bring hope to the hopeless and to support each other.
“Your resilience and your unwavering commitment to the well-being of those around you, persistent through all difficulties, have filled us with tremendous hope, wrote the Universal House of Justice. “But it is no wonder that, in some other quarters, hope has become a depleted resource. There is a mounting realization on the part of the world’s people that the decades ahead are set to bring with them challenges among the most daunting that the human family has ever had to face. The current global health crisis is but one such challenge, the ultimate severity of whose cost, both to lives and livelihoods, is yet unknown; your efforts to succour and support one another as well as your sisters and brothers in society at large will certainly need to be sustained, and in places expanded.”
We must realize the potential damnation we inflict upon ourselves when we cause grief, despondency, and abasement to others. Like a boomerang, “we reap what we sow!” During our meditation, we may wish to seriously reflect the possible repercussions we will attract to ourselves from inflicting pain on others!
Abdul-Baha warned us:
O army of God! Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe. Pray ye for all; ask ye that all be blessed, all be forgiven. Beware, beware, lest any of you seek vengeance, even against one who is thirsting for your blood. Beware, beware, lest ye offend the feelings of another, even though he be an evil-doer, and he wish you ill. Look ye not upon the creatures, turn ye to their Creator. See ye not the never-yielding people, see but the Lord of Hosts. (4)
Baha’u’llah taught that the reality of man is his thought. So, clearly since we create reality by our thoughts, and our reality is influenced by what we see and hear from those who we hang around the most, we must learn to exercise self-control. Controlling our thoughts is not always possible, so in addition, before we respond, we must learn to do what the October 2019 letter from the Universal House of Justice asked us to do, which is to “search the soul for the right response.” If we wish to help humanity “advance to the highest levels of unity,” we must develop a reflective mindset that is conscientiously cautious. The Fast provides the perfect time for this ‘soul searching.’
Here are a couple of questions to guide your reflections:
What have we personally done or not down to cause the negative things that are happening now to happen or not happen?
What are we going to start, stop, or continue doing as a result of the insights gained during this Blessed Fasting time?
Happy Fasting Barbara
Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace
Star of the West (Volume 1)
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 73)
The Fast is the time for prayer, mediation, and critical examination of our lives to make sure our actions are in accordance with God’s Will for us. It is a time of alignment. It is not a time for us to beg the Creator to change His Will so that it suits our needs, but instead to change our will so that our actions are acceptable to God.
I memorized the 23rd Psalm at a very young age and it has stayed with me always. I’ll share in today’s reflection some of the wisdom in this verse. His Holiness Christ said that when “the Spirit of Truth shall come, He shall lead you to all truth.” We are so fortunate today to be able to receive that truth.
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
The Lord is our shepherd. A shepherd guides and protects. Individually we are powerless over a virus, a war, health conditions, the supply chains, or even acts of nature. So are you trusting in God to guide you or are you following in the footsteps of mortal man (and woman) and allowing the fear-based dogma of lack, untimely death, a shrinking pie, or a poverty mindset to stress or paralyze you? Are you going it alone or are you accepting the divine guidance always available to you? Are you silent and inwardly focused enough to hear the Divine speak to you or are you too inundated and overwhelmed by too much bad news? Although the 23rd Psalm from the Bible was shared over 2000 years ago, more recent guidance that Christ foretold of and shared here confirms the lasting truth of this wisdom today. We need not be confused, or feel alone or unsafe, for we are promised a Comforter and guide if we were obedient.
“And among the teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh is the oneness of the world of humanity; that all human beings are the sheep of God and He is the kind Shepherd. This Shepherd is kind to all the sheep, because He created them all, trained them, provided for them and protected them. There is no doubt that the Shepherd is kind to all the sheep and should there be among these sheep ignorant ones, they must be educated; if there be children, they must be trained until they reach maturity; if there be sick ones, they must be cured. There must be no hatred and enmity, for as by a kind physician these ignorant, sick ones should be treated.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 285)
I SHALL NOT WANT
Wanting is a strange emotion. It focuses on what we DON’T HAVE instead of WHAT WE DO HAVE. It presumes that we do not have something we think we need and thus we are never content with the moment. It also ignores the reality that we are not alone and that God has already supplied all of our needs; we just need to follow the Shepherd in faith to the “green pastures” ahead to experience them. In reality, in this moment, most people have all that they need. But, because they fear the next moment, they forfeit the joy in the current moment and the opportunity to be grateful. Change only occurs in the current moment, and worrying about the future and regretting or angry about something in the past causes many to forfeit precious opportunities. And, since a grateful heart attracts blessings, they miss out on the opportunity to attract more which makes them to continue to “want!” In the Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah exhorts us:
O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings.
In the long obligatory prayer, we are instructed to desire or want only what God wants and to love only what God loves:
O Thou the Desire of the world and the Beloved of the nations! Thou seest me turning toward Thee, and rid of all attachment to anyone save Thee, and clinging to Thy cord, through whose movement the whole creation hath been stirred up. I am Thy servant, O my Lord, and the son of Thy servant. Behold me standing ready to do Thy will and Thy desire, and wishing naught else except Thy good pleasure.
HE MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES
Sometimes we have to be made to just be still. Once we were are all so busy rushing here and there, that we never had time to be still, connect with those we love, or to just lie down. Just as a parent has to sometimes MAKE a child brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, or lie down and go to sleep, (because they know what is best for the child), sometimes we too are given circumstances that make us see that our current pastures are not green, verdant, and healthy but brown, dying, and unhealthy. The point is sometimes we have to be made to do what is best for us and only later will we realize the lesson.
Every flock of the sheep of God which is protected under the shadow of the Divine Shepherd will not be scattered, but when the sheep are dispersed from the flock, they will necessarily be caught and torn by the wolf. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to flock together! It is incumbent upon you to be united! It is incumbent upon you to expose yourselves to the fragrances of God at every time and moment! (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 285)
Now, continuing with the analogy of the sheep to teach us a human lesson, the Shepherd knows where the green pastures are and leads the willing sheep to it. The key is that they have to be willing to follow. Those that wander away make themselves willing prey for wolves and also subject themselves to possible starvation. BUT, If they choose to follow, they will be protected and led to all that they need. In the green pastures, they will be able to eat their fill and lie down afterwards in safety. Lying down implies that they feel safe and protected and can rest in peace.
HE RESTORETH MY SOUL
This was the verse I reflected most on today. When the whole world is facing one common fear, a deadly virus, we know that faith, surrender, and letting go is the only option. “He restoreth my soul”, for I feel that my soul is being restored by leaps and bounds. The Fast does that for me and like nature, I’m being prepared to greet the Spring in a few days. Restore means to return to a former state.
Upon the inmost reality of each and every created thing [God] hath shed the light of one of His names, and made it a recipient of the glory of one of His attributes. Upon the reality of man, however, He hath focused the radiance of all of His names and attributes, and made it a mirror of His own Self. Alone of all created things man hath been singled out for so great a favor, so enduring a bounty. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 27.
We were all born pure and holy at birth, wanting and needing nothing that God did not supply. I have been fasting since March 2nd, and I feel renewed, refreshed, and reinvigorated. When you spend time in prayerful meditation, seeking only to do God’s Will, to be of service to the world, and having complete certitude that you are being purified, guided, and refilled, it’s a wonderful feeling. We are told that if we Ask, we will receive. I asked, I received!
HE LEADETH ME IN THE PATHs OF RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE
We each are gifted with a consciousness, a heart, and a conscience. The Holy Writings from each of God’s Messengers were sent down to teach us the right way. We are even told to first seek this kingdom of God and His righteous as the primary goals in our lives, and then all other things will be given to us.
The divine Manifestations since the day of Adam have striven to unite humanity so that all may be accounted as one soul. The function and purpose of a shepherd is to gather and not disperse his flock. The prophets of God have been divine shepherds of humanity. They have established a bond of love and unity among mankind, made scattered peoples one nation and wandering tribes a mighty kingdom.
They have laid the foundation of the oneness of God and summoned all to universal peace. All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated; each one has announced and extolled the one who was to follow and all laid the foundation of reality. (Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 14)
Abdul-Baha wrote: This day is the day of truth and righteousness! This day is the day of conciliation and beatitude! This day is the day of awakening and enkindlement! (SOW – Star of the West, Star of the West – 4)
I WILL FEAR NO EVIL
Bahaullah warns us that we are surrounded by darkness, but reminds us of how we need not fear, for we are not alone.
At all times I am near unto thee, but thou art ever far from Me . . . While there is yet time, return, and lose not thy chance. Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 21
I pray that everyone has a wonderful day, stays safe, and realizes that you already have everything that you need and that Divine guidance and protection is always there. We are spiritual beings just having a material experience and our souls are safe from this particular virus. When we focus with gratitude and faith on what we have, eventually “our cup will run over” and “goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of your life.”
Let the fear of no one dismay thee. Trust in the Lord, thy God, for He is sufficient unto whosoever trusteth in Him. He, verily, shall protect thee, and in Him shalt thou abide in safety. Bahá’u’lláh, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 60
YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! Fear is simply the absence of faith. Fear dissolves, shrinks, fades, and disappears in the presence of true faith. Fear and faith cannot reside in the same heart. You’ve got to choose one or the other. While fear appears powerful in the garb of the big bad wolf, fear in reality has no power over you unless you believe in it more than faith in the Shepherd guiding you through the valley.
THOU ART WITH ME AND I WILL DWELL IN THE HOUSE OF THE LORD FOREVER
“Thou art with me.” Since we can experience a bit of heaven while still on earth, if we live in the Spirit, perhaps we can be heartened by a glimpse of how it might feel to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We were created to work toward the betterment of the world as we serve others in the way we wish to have our Creator bless us. All we need do, is find a need and fill it. Many are in need; exercise your opportunity to serve! I will conclude with this quote from ‘The Hidden Words.’
O SON OF SPIRIT! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting. Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah
In our last reflection we talked about tests being gifts and benefits from God. But, does it seem fair that the tests are the same whether we do good or evil, or whether we serve humanity or are self-serving?
Aren’t tests sometimes the result of chastisement for things that we have done wrong? Abdul-Baha responded to that very question:
“Thou hast questioned concerning ordeals and difficulties and catastrophes: “Are these from God or the result of man’s (own) evil deeds? (1)”
“Know thou that ordeals are of two kinds: One kind is for trial (to test the soul), and the other is punishment for actions. (“As a man soweth so shall he also reap.”) (2)
“That which is for testing is educational and developmental and that which is the punishment of deeds is severe retribution.
The father and the teacher sometimes humor the children and then again discipline them.This discipline is for educational purposes and is indeed to give them true happiness; it is absolute kindness and true providence. Although in appearance it is wrath yet in reality it is kindness. Although outwardly it is an ordeal yet inwardly it is purifying water. Verily, in both cases we must supplicate and implore and commune to the divine Threshold in order to be patient in ordeals.(3) ”
Abdu’l-Bahá further explains the role of service, steadfastness, and faith during tests:
“Tests endured in the path of God are conducive to confirmation, nay, rather, they are heavenly powers and the bounties of the realm of Might.
But to the weak believers’ tests are trials and examination, for, on account of the weakness of their faith and assurance they fall into difficulties and vicissitudes. However, to those souls who are firm and steadfast, tests are the greatest favours.“(4)
Let’s unpack this. “Tests endured in the path of God are conducive to confirmation.” So, the question we must ask ourselves is, are our tests in the path of God or self? Because, it appears that everything leads back to deeds and faith. Reflect on that it is “on account of the weakness” of our faith that we “fall into difficulties and vicissitudes.”
Often during severe tests, we feel despair and hopeless when we have the choice to respond with faith, assurance, and certitude. Remember ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s promises?
“As ye have faith, so shall your powers and blessings be (5) ,” and that if we have faith, “Nothing is impossible.(6) “
We must be firm and steadfast during tests and not give up; that is what faith is and how we pass our tests. The stronger the faith, the stronger the heavenly powers, bounties, and favors we receive. So, while all are tested, everyone doesn’t fare the same from the tests. Some become impotent from tests while others shine and continue to serve.
I’ll close with another analogy:
“Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit.(7) ”
Walking the spiritual path together Barbara Talley
1. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: From Tablet to Portland, Oregon, believer; translated 27 July 1909. (SOW – Star of the West, Star of the West – 5)
2. Bible paraphrased
4. (SOW – Star of the West, Star of the West – 5)
5. Abdu’l-Bahá from An Early Pilgrimage by Mrs May Maxwell, (SOW – Star of the West, Star of the West – 5)
the “the fasting period” is “essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul.” (1)
Change is challenging. We are rarely comfortable with the unknown. We like that which is familiar, and yet we are here to keep growing, to keep advancing in the unknown, to become the best versions of ourselves.
“Naturally there will be periods of distress and difficulty, and even severe tests; but if that person turns firmly towards the Divine Manifestation, studies carefully His Spiritual teachings and receives the blessings of the Holy Spirit, he will find that in reality these tests and difficulties have been the gifts of God to enable him to grow and develop.” (2)
Many wonder why they are tested so harshly and consistently when others around seem to not be tested at all. They view such tests as punishment for which they don’t feel they deserve. Some remark that they should just stop trying to be so good and maybe they would have fewer tests.
It may seem that way, however, but in this Divine School, tests are sent to us as a blessing and we are told that we should actually be grateful that we are the ones being tested, because tests are gifts from God to us.
I know this concept is hard to grasp, but as Christ said,
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. ”(3)
“Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting.”(4)
Did you hear that? Tests do not come to us by chance. They are sent to us! You didn’t necessarily attract them, nor can you escape them all! In school, we expect to be tested, but in life, people fear, shun, and hate tests. But, if we realized that these tests are sent to us, not as punishment, but instead for our perfecting, perhaps they would be more bearable.
Fortunately for our own good, we can’t escape these tests,(or opportunities for perfection). And, if we do, we are told we should pray to have them sent to us.
Now, I don’t know too many people who pray to be tested more. I jokingly remark that, “Why would I pray for tests, when they are lined up around the block awaiting their turn?”
So, stop beating yourself up wondering what you did wrong, maybe you did something right! We know that we were created to know and love God, but on this earth, we frequently get distracted. I know I do and the tests humble me.
Abdul-Baha explains that when things are good, we sometimes forget God.
“While a man is happy he may forget his God; but when grief comes and sorrows overwhelm him, then will he remember his Father who is in Heaven, and who is able to deliver him from his humiliations.” (5)
Remember Abdul-Baha’s admonition?
“Bring them up to work and strive, and accustom them to hardship. ”(6).
Now perhaps we understand why? Fasting is more than just not eating.
Walking the spiritual path together. Barbara Talley
1) Shoghi Effendi: (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 233
2) Guardian to an individual believer, October 6, 1954: Living the Life, pp. 18-19 (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 70)
3) Isaiah 55:8-13 KJV
4) (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 51)
5) (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 51)
6) (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 129