Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means (or Meanness) -- by Josh

My last post got me thinking about the popular refrain: The ends justify the means.  It's occurred to me before that this notion has been responsible for the terrorizing of our fellow human beings in instances as wide-ranging as the Soviet purges, the 9/11 attacks, the recent shut down of the U.S. government and the latest round of anti-government protests in the Dominican Republic, even the way we speak to our children.  I purposefully chose such disparate examples because an even simpler, yet equally profound, counter-example recently struck me.

This excerpt from An Early Pilgrimage, by May Maxwell, challenges all of us to re-consider how we act on a daily basis. To give some background, May Maxwell was among the first Western Baha'is to go on pilgrimage to Akka and Haifa, in present-day Israel, to visit `Abdu'l-Bahá and the holy shrines.  A couple of days before a much-anticipated gathering at a spot on Mt. Carmel where `Abdu'l-Bahá and Bahá'u'lláh had often gone to pray, she became ill, which led to this stirring experience:
"On Sunday morning we awakened with the joy and hope of the meeting on Mount Carmel. The Master arrived quite early and after looking at me, touching my head and counting my pulse, still holding my hand He said to the believers present: 'There will be no meeting on Mount Carmel today. We shall meet elsewhere, Insha'allah, in a few days, but we could not go and leave one of the beloved of God alone and sick. We could none of us be happy unless all the beloved were happy.' We were astonished. That anything so important as this meeting in that blessed spot should be cancelled because one person was ill and could not go seemed incredible. It was so contrary to all ordinary habits of thought and action, so different from the life of the world where daily events and material circumstances are supreme in importance that it gave us a genuine shock of surprise, and in that shock the foundations of the old order began to totter and fall. The Master's words had opened wide the door of God's Kingdom and given us a vision of that infinite world whose only law is love. This was but one of many times that we saw 'Abdu'l-Bahá place above every other consideration the love and kindness, the sympathy and compassion due to every soul. Indeed, as we look back upon that blessed time spent in His presence we understand that the object of our pilgrimage was to learn for the first time on earth what love is, to witness its light in every face, to feel its burning heat in every heart and to become ourselves enkindled with this divine flame from the Sun of Truth, the Essence of whose being is love. So on that Sunday morning He sat with us for a while and we thought no more of the meeting on Mount Carmel, for in the joy and infinite rest of His presence all else was swallowed up."

What a line! "A vision of that infinite world whose only law is love."  I love the use of the word "infinite", because so many disputes are based on an assumption of "finitude" (you know, the opposite of infinitude).  The notion of a finite amount of resources, a finite number of possible right answers.  But a new option has been placed before us, as May Maxwell realized, one that "opened wide the door of God's Kingdom".
The door is open.  It's up to us to step through.

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