Letters: A Form of Scripture?

Aug 2009
George Town Tasmania Australia
Many, if not most, of the epistolary communications written during the more than two and a half centuries of Babi-Bahai history(1753-2010) are now lost to historians and archivists. Saving letters is not a popular sport and, some would argue, neither is writing them. But, still, the epistolary paper trails of this newest of the worlds great religious systems spread back, as is obvious, to well before the French revolution in 1789 and these trails are significantly more than just a trace. No other religion has placed so subtle and significant a value on this method of exchange, writes Bahiyyih Nakhjvani in her book Asking Questions.(George Ronald, Oxford, 1990, p.6.

In the Guardian’s letters and the messages of the Universal House of Justice there is a sense of order, pattern and precision given to Baha’i Plans, programs and community life. We read again and again about a sequence of activities, a progression and development and direction and guidance in the foreground and background of these texts as the Baha’i community is forged in what might be called ‘the crucible of transformation.’(1)

We experience whatever hardships and tribulations are part of our life together; they exist subtlely and not-so-subtlely in the spaces of the foreground and background of these communications as we read colouring them with the patterns of our lives.

We know that only some of our Baha’i life can be reduced to a set of numbers, lines with arrows on the end, circles and squares, triangles, rectangles and different coloured icons such as those that can be found in power-point presentations. We who are actually engaged in what often resembles a battle, a battle of community and inner psychic life with its demands and responsibilities, with its conflicts, its joys and pleasures know there is often little consonance between what we experience, what we actually feel and what we read. They blend together in a mix that requires some skill to paint in words or colours, in some artistic form.

What we experience we often feel to be inconsequential, idiosyncratic, subtle, too personal to us as individuals to ever share, although this experience is often deeply etched on our remembering minds. A flood of everything from the trivial and inconsequential to the intensely meaningful comes into our sensory emporium. An intricate and coloured pattern on a Persian carpet, a beautiful woman whose features delight the eye week after week, a dominating personality whom we are happy to see the end of after every meeting, a particular way that someone performed some simple act, exhibited some gesture or said a prayer: all of this and more than we can ever convey comes swimming in as we read the words of the authorized interpreters of this Revelation.

Human beings in the Baha’i community are not highly trained machines(2) as are their equivalent numbers in the army, navy or marine corps. Guns, swords and military technology are replaced by a spiritual weaponry that is impossible to quantify, to measure, but subtle and often powerful in its operation. There are, though, some characteristics that fighting men and women and Baha’is share in common. They involve at least three disparate and even contradictory energies: inconsequential observations, technical concentration and fear. For fear it seems is impossible to totally eradicate from human interaction. The interplay of these energies are such that after the events it is difficult for the individuals to produce a conclusive and comprehensive account of their part in the activity or battle. Any one battle or activity is a composite of the experiences of all those who take part and any attempt to reconstruct the story as a whole must be a synthesis of contradictions or, at the very best, a hypothetical reconstruction based on near-agreement.-Ron Price with thanks to (1) Glenford Mitchell, “The Literature of Interpretation: Notes on the English Writings of Shoghi Effendi,” World Order, Winter 1972-73, p.20; and (2)J.E. Morpurgo, Barnes Wallis: A Biography, Ian Allan, London, 1981, p. 267.

The above prose piece is today’s prose-poem!
Ron Price, June 21. 2004.