Thoughts upon studying a sacred book

S. Ross-Lazarov, photo.
Iris with dew. S. Ross-Lazarov.

I have had the pleasure and blessing recently to study a sacred book called Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.

I tend to be intellectually aggressive when it comes to books, taking apart their reasoning, finding the intent of their authors, finding their relation to the books that come before and after them. But it occurs to me that you can’t break your way into a sacred book. You can’t beat on its paragraphs and sentences until they surrender to you their meaning. You must be invited to understand a sacred book.

Here’s an example of how The Báb expresses the necessity of being invited into learning about sacredness:

“I have known Thee, O my God, by reason of Thy making Thyself known unto me, for hadst Thou not revealed Thyself unto me, I would not have known Thee. I worship Thee by virtue of Thy summoning me unto Thee, for had it not been for Thy summons I would not have worshiped Thee.” ~ The Báb, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 143.

Here’s one of Bahá’u’lláh’s expressions of this idea:

“O God, my God! Thy forgiveness hath emboldened me, and Thy mercy hath strengthened me, and Thy call hath awakened me, and Thy grace hath raised me up and led me unto Thee. Who, otherwise, am I that I should dare to stand at the gate of the city of Thy nearness, or set my face toward the lights that are shining from the heaven of Thy will?” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 11.

While you can’t force your way into understanding a sacred text, you can request permission to access the book. The following quote from the Long Obligatory Prayer is one of my favorite entreaties in all of the Writings:

“I entreat Thee by Thy footsteps in this wilderness, and by the words ‘Here am I. Here am I’ which Thy chosen Ones have uttered in this immensity, and by the breaths of Thy Revelation, and the gentle winds of the Dawn of Thy Manifestation, to ordain that I may gaze on Thy beauty and observe whatsoever is in Thy Book.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 14.

Anyone can express such a request — thus, all people are welcome to seek the sacred. (The other great thing about needing to be invited, and the fact that everyone is invited, is that you can know that as soon as you request permission to approach, you are already welcomed. Thus, you don’t have to worry about intruding on the divine: you have been welcomed before it even occurred to you to ask! :))

Along with making a humble request, you also have to make a great effort. In other words, at the same time as approaching sacred meanings is dependent upon divine confirmation, it is also dependent upon your own efforts as a learner.

“All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 149.

My motivation for studying the sacred books can be described in terms of this line from the Gleanings:

“We bear witness that through the power of the Word of God … every sickness was healed, every human infirmity was banished.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 86.

This line comes from a tablet in which Bahá’u’lláh honored Jesus Christ. Here’s a little more from that sweet tablet:

“Know thou that when the Son of Man [Christ] yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. … We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. … We bear witness that through the power of the Word of God … every sickness was healed, every human infirmity was banished. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 86.

Bahá’u’lláh explains that all the great religions and their Founders are the Word of God — thus, all of our great spiritual traditions offer to humanity this healing quality.

In my current study, I seek to understand this more deeply.

But there is also something else…

It occurs to me that in my effort to approach His sacred book, Bahá’u’lláh is merely allowing me to draw near to Him. In other words, as I read the beautiful tablets that He wrote, struggle to figure out what it was He meant to say, in the hours — days — that He allows me to do this, He is primarily allowing me to spend time with Him. Perhaps, when my study is finished — if it ever is — I will emerge not primarily with some luminous outcome, but with the time I spent with Him.

“O Befriended Stranger! The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power, quench it not with the contrary winds of self and passion. The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not. Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, Persian verse #32.

I would like a luminous outcome, but I will be content without one, as well, since I am entirely grateful for the honor, the joy, the comfort — the chance to draw near.

“O Son of Being! Thy Paradise is My love; thy heavenly home, reunion with Me. Enter therein and tarry not. This is that which hath been destined for thee in Our kingdom above and Our exalted dominion.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic verse #6.

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