Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Forgiveness, fellowship and justice

I had some interesting responses to my previous blog entry "A Ridvan vision" and want to respond here to some ideas that came up. You can read some responses to my vision on Jim Habegger's blog "A Wayfarer's Tales". The first response is called "Alison's Ridvan vision: first reactions", but Jim adds several more posts after that.

I find Jim's blog very interesting. He raises many important issues, some of which I hope to discuss here. One question, which I think is long overdue, is why do Baha'is seem to regard the Internet as a place where they read and write, but not a place they 'do' anything. Somehow, interacting on the Internet isn't considered a place where we 'act', so we don't apply Baha'i principles, such as courtesy, to how we behave. Would Baha'is behave in their local community in the same way that they do on the Internet? I guess it's like getting behind the wheel of a car. People who are usually calm natured suddenly turn into monsters and become capable of road rage. Here's what Jim has to say:

"Some harmful prevailing online social practices that have alarmed me the most revolve around thinking of the Internet as only a place to talk and write, and thinking of what we do there as something apart from "real life." I'd like to see more people practicing spiritual principles and community service, and working on community development, in online communities. I'd like to see more people spending more of their online time in fellowship across religious boundaries." Baha'is on the Internet

But I digress; as my title suggests, I want to talk about forgiveness, fellowship and justice. In my previous blog entry ("A Ridvan vision"), I said that I forgive those who I believe have wronged me in the past. What do I mean by that? What do I think forgiveness is? To me, forgivenss is an inner state where I can say to myself in all sincerity: I no longer harbour ill feeling toward that person, who I believed wronged me in the past. Initially, I was angry, upset or whatever. But now, I am not. It doesn't matter any more; I have let it go and moved on. I wish the person well. To me, that is forgiveness. The importance of forgiveness is that it enables me to draw closer to God. It means that there is no longer a shadow over my heart that veils me from my Lord. My heart is clear and happy because it longer harbours any animosity.

In my view, forgiveness is different to fellowship. One might think that forgiving someone will lead to fellowship with them. Perhaps, but not necessarily. For starters, the other person may not have forgiven me. They may not want my fellowship. Secondly, the two parties involved may not naturally seek each other's company anyway. "For like seeketh like, and taketh pleasure in the company of its kind." (PHW 10). Often we fall out with those we don't have any affinity with or those who hold very different views to us. Mutual forgiveness may not lead to warm relations, but it should lead to cordial relations, which is the basis of what's required of us by Baha'u'llah. In any case, fellowship is a two-way thing. It requires mutual consent. For example, the House of Justice has seen fit to remove me from community membership. I don't consider it, and never have considered it, courteous to agitate for my membership to be reinstated. Real fellowship is the fruit of a freely chosen decision. If the House doesn't freely choose to have me as a member of the community, then I will respect that. Although, I would like to be welcome at local holy day celebrations - but I am not and so I leave it alone.

I also think that forgiveness is different to justice. People tend to get them confused. They refuse to forgive because they think it means the party who has wronged them gets off the hook. But it doesn't mean that at all. I no longer harbour ill feeling toward the House for what it did to me, but that does not mean I was not wronged or that the House does not suffer the consequences of what it did. Those consequences are nothing to do with me. Baha'u'llah deals with that institution and its members as he sees fit. My role isn't found there; it's in looking after the health of my own heart and freeing it from ill feeling. Baha'u'llah has written a tablet in which he explains how each of us does suffer the consequences of our actions. The tablet is called "Tablet of the Right of the People" and it can be downloaded at the Online Journal of Baha'i Studies (vol 1).

In the end, it came down to this for me: my only desire is to live in Baha'u'llah's sanctuary. Once you can see it, nothing else matters and forgiveness in the illusory show of life becomes automatic.

Hafiz: Ghazal no 41

One rose from the world’s garden is enough for us.
In the field, the shade of that flowing cypress is enough for us.

May I never be intimate with hypocrites.
Of the world’s weighty things, a heavy cup is enough for us.

For good deeds they grant you the palace of paradise.
We rends and paupers, the Magi’s cloister is enough for us.

Sit by the stream’s edge and watch life pass by,
for this sign from a passing world is enough for us.

See the cash in the world’s bazaar, and the world’s torments.
If not enough for you, this profit and loss is enough for us.

The friend is with us. Why would we look further?
Intimacy with that soul-companion is enough for us.

I am here at your door, for God’s sake don’t send me to heaven,
for in all the universe the head of your alleyway is enough for us.

Hafiz, it is unjust to complain about the wellspring of your fate.
A nature like water and flowing ghazals are enough for us.

From The Green Sea of Heaven. Fifty ghazals from the Divan of Hafiz, translated by Elizabeth Gray (1995)

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