22. BAHA’I HISTORY

Before offering to you a book review about an aspect of Baha'i history, I'd like to present several poems which offer perspectives on different aspects of Baha'i history. Sometimes I relate that history to my own personal experience; sometimes I relate it to secular history as in the poem below, Some Critical Years. Sometimes the poem is about Baha'i history and that history stands on its own as in the poem below: Taking Us Part of the Way.

NO SIMPLE GRAIN OF SAND

At the very outset of the first Seven Year Plan in 1937 the poet, W.B. Yeats, wrote that "we have arrived at that point where in every civilization Caesar is killed…when personality is exhausted and that conscious, desirous, shaping, fate rules." Yeats said he had set out as a poet with the thought of putting his "very self into poetry." Over the years he said he came to think of himself "as something unmoving and silent" living in the middle of his own mind and body, a grain of sand. He was seeking, he said, "something unchanging and unmixed and always outside myself." He realized that he was a fleeting entity and he was really seeking "merely to lighten the mind of some burden of love or bitterness thrown up by the events of life." -Ron Price with thanks to W.B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions, MacMillan, NY, 1961, p. 271.

They were ready to launch,

after nearly a hundred years

of divine guidance,1

twenty-five years after

the Product of that mystic

intercourse had come West,

a service of such heroism

as to find no parallel

in the first Baha'i century.2

 

Yes, exhausted, again

and again and again

as the nadir of an old world

was bottoming out, bottoming out,

still bottoming out

at this climacteric of history;

and Caesar is killed again3

and again before the world

sees the birth of the new,

the Pearl of great price,

no simple grain of sand,

some mysterious concentrate

of sublime beauty.

 

11844-1937. At the end of that Plan, in 1944, it was the end of 100 years of guidance.

2 Shoghi Effendi, God passes by, p.279.

3 killed in 44 BC, symbolic of a new Order back then, an Empire, a Republic no longer. Within this Roman Empire the pearl of great price grew and grew and so is this pattern repeating itself again, only this time the new Order is a global one and the civilization global.

Ron Price

29 November 2002

A SCANTY TREASURE?

F.W. Dupee writes in his introduction to Henry James's Autobiography that a literary vocation was for James a kind of second birth. This has certainly been true of my life by stages: first at school and university in the 1950s and 1960s, then as a teacher and lecturer in the 1970s and 1980s and finally as someone who wrote a great deal of his time in the 1990s, indeed, until the present. Dupee describes James's literary life as narrow, precarious and ever-anxious. He says James was 'tenderly or humorously at home with his materials.' He says James' Autobiography was 'a delicate enterprise' and 'an important contribution' to 'America's scanty treasure of true autobiography.'-Ron Price with thanks to Henry James, Autobiography, editor, F.W. Dupee, Princeton UP, 1983(1956), pp.xii-xiv.

The treasure of Baha'i autobiography

is a scanty lot

as we head down the back stretch

of this second century.

 

Perhaps, though, in the many-millioned

archives in pearl-treasured Haifa,

or dusty back rooms of a thousand towns,

where sense and nonsense

fill old cardboard boxes, pile on pile,

extra bonuses are found

for those who look in earnest.

 

Be careful not to falsify or distort

the eruptions of meaning,

products of obsessive tendencies,

seductress and deceptive mirrors

of reality among the impoverished

and circularized correspondence,

the piles of dry bones in the yard.

 

Be warned: there is weariness

in what seems irrelevant detail,

sheet upon sheet of print and ink,

great weight of paper, memorabilia

our lamentably neglectful history,

story-telling and its anarchic confusion.

 

Be advised: there is emotion

in this apparently aesthetic non-entity,

in this expression of whim, caprice

and human tragedy. It came to me

after I had worn my fingers

to the uttermost bones

turning the pages,

turning the pages

and I found consecrated joy. --Ron Price 6 October 2002

A PRELIMINARY TASK

1937 was a year of more than a little significance. Ronald Reagan, who forty years later was to become President of the United States, went to Hollywood to begin his acting career. The famous writers: Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell and Anais Nin met for the first time in Paris. The list of events could go on, events that would synchronize with the opening of the first Seven Year Plan, what the Guardian referred to as 'a preliminary task' which would enable 'the rising generation to fulfil America's spiritual destiny' in the century ahead. My parents met and married in this Seven Year Teaching Plan in Hamilton Ontario, a Plan that began twenty-five years after 'Abdul-Baha had come to North America on His famous western tour. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 12 June 2002.

They were ready, then,

or just about,

at the Otis-Fencin1

where he'd met

that rare beauty

who became my mother.

 

Little did they know, then,

how fast their city was to grow

in that decade2 on that plain

between the escarpment

and the bay, in that steel city

where they packed them in.

 

Little did they know

that a preliminary task3

had begun, a task

to be fulfilled

in the century ahead,

the century of their baby boy.4

 

1 an elevator company in Hamilton where my parents met

2 In the decade 1937-1947 Hamilton was the second fastest growing Baha'i community in Canada.

3 the Seven Year Plan: 1937-1944

4 myself, born in 1944

Ron Price

12 June 2002

SOME CRITICAL YEARS

1912 was a big year in American politics. It was the year that Woodrow Wilson won the Presidency and Theodore Roosvelt lost in his last attempt at the Presidency. It was also the year that 'Abdu'l-Baha came to America. The Lesser Peace, it has been argued, goes back to the Presidency of Wilson, his Fourteen Points proposal in 1918 and, perhaps, even 1914 when Wilson first expressed his hope that America could help to bring about a peace settlement. In 1912 Roosvelt was defeated by Taft and Roosevelt set up a new party, splitting the Republican vote and ensuring the victory of Wilson. The Lesser Peace, it could be argued, goes back to this critical year of 1912. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 9 June 2002.

 

He1 died at sixty in 1919

retiring from politics

at fifty-five

just before a new war

was being defined,

by One Who had travelled

through America that same year,

a war he had not prepared for,

a war he could not have imagined.

 

Little did he know that

after all that living

and huffing and puffing,

just a few months after

his passing from this mortal coil,

a document would be unveiled

that would define the world

in a new war that was crowded

with destiny, apocalyptic upheavels,

stupendous forces and the weightiest

spiritual enterprise in recorded history.

And he had absolutely no conception

of this war at all.

1 Theodore Roosvelt

Ron Price

9 June 2002

TAKING US PART OF THE WAY

Generations are often best defined in social and cultural terms as much as by dates of birth and are held together by a sense of community deriving from common experience. The generation of the 1940s in North America, at least that part of the forties that I identify with, had no memory of WWII, say, those born after 1941/2. They certainly had no memory of the events before the war. Then there is that particular part of the generation of the forties that had no memory of the first Seven Year Plan, 1937-1944, that launched 'Abdu'l-Baha's Divine Plan after those long hiatus years, 1917-1937. They, too, were born in or after 1941. This generation, that came of age in the early to mid-1960s, had to come to terms with the great emphasis on pioneering that engaged the small Baha'i community throughout the ninth(1953-1963) and early years of the tenth(1963-86) stages of history. This generation was part of the second fifty year record of services(1944-1994) rendered by that embryonic Baha'i community. They were the generation that built Baha'i communities after the initial pioneers, sometimes called 'the shock-troops', had gone onto the shores in during the years 1919-1959. This follow-up generation did an immense job of teaching, pioneering and consolidation. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 4 April 2002.

Some say a generation is twenty,

some say twenty-five and still others

thirty years. Some call them baby-boomers

and, in this Cause, they worked

in the Nine Year Plan

and many of the Plans thereafter,

taking it here, there and everywhere,

moving it out, moving it on,

across oceans and continents,

but the job was too big for

them, that one generation.

 

It would need many generations

to build the new Order

to take the place

of the political systems

on this earth.

Like the generation of the twenties

that broke more turf,

or the generation of the sixties

that took us out of obscurity,

the generation of the forties

took us part of the way down

the long and tortuous road.

 

Ron Price

4 April 2002

MORE THAN DRY BONES

This Baha'i history is, for me, sometimes a tenuous long-distance commerce exclusively on an intellectual plane, but it is also, at least occasionally, an experience of inspiration in which temporal and spacial barriers fall and psychic distance is annihilated, in which I am for a time transformed from a remote spectator into an immediate participant, as my dry bones--and history's--take on new flesh and quicken into life.1 -Ron Price with thanks to Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol.X, Section XIII,E.

Something comes alive

in God passes by1

after thumbing through

the pages so many times

they are like old friends,

slightly yellow and worn,

easy to the touch, familiar.

 

A quickening encounter,

insight, some passage,

as if I was right there,

instantaneous effect,

electric, poignant,

posthumous event,

ressurection of souls,

brought back to life,

awe-inspired, fired,

imagination hot,

miracle of the mind,

harrowed participant

from another world I am---

 

then it all vanishes into thin air,

into the ever-real now

of these four walls

and the urgencies of my time

and the cold winds of winter

as civilization's tempest blows

on and on through my life

and I watch that golden age

come infinitessimally closer.

1 Shoghi Effendi's great history of the Baha'i Faith

RELEASED

I entered university in September 1963 at the age of nineteen. We were then on the threshold of the second epoch of 'Abdu'l-Baha's Divine Plan and the third epoch of the Formative Age. A week before I started classes, on 15 September 1963, four teenage girls were killed in the basement bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama.1 Birmingham had been the focal point of the civil rights struggle in 1963. In some ways '63 was a year of triumph for civil rights in the USA, particularly with the march on Washington of a quarter of a million people on 28 August 1963. For the Baha'is it was a year in which "vast spiritual powers" were released as a result of "the emergence of the Universal House of Justice."2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1"Four Little Girls," ABC TV, 10:50-12:45 am, 30 January 2002; and 2The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Wilmette, 1969, p.7.

 

I was just finishing up

at the Firestone Tire

and Rubber Company

that September, had no idea

about epochs and ages

and Birmingham was a long

way away from my world.

 

Those vast spiritual powers

helped me survive that year

and get me through the start

of that traumatic university

depression-bi-polar disorder

with my life and grades intact,

that's how I like to see it, anyway.

 

Those vast spiritual powers

released that year--perhaps--

led to a fresh impulse,

an unfoldment of civil rights

and engendered that calamity

in Birmingham in September.

 

For a process was set in motion

some hundred years before

that would result, so went the theory,

in the liberal effusion of celestial grace

and a march toward a compelling

and universal victory.1

 

1 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes by, Wilmette, 1957, p. xiii.

Ron Price

30 January 2002

PASSPORT TO A LUMINOUS FUTURE

While the Baha’i Faith was evolving, according to Horace Holley in a letter he wrote in 1944, from a small, informal network of groups "to a national unit of a global society"(1) the jazz age began to flourish. The greatest bands, both black and white, and the greatest musicians arrived on the scene in the 1920s: Benny Goodman, Jean Goldket, Louis Armstrong, Bix Biderbeck, Bessie Smith, Paul Whiteman, Duke Ellington were all part of an age that put pleasure before everything. They introduced society to a world of new sounds and a new spirit. It was also the age, the period of time, when Shoghi Effendi began to build the Administrative Order, an order which had been established in theory in the writings of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha. It was an age of swing, of radio and segregation. -Ron Price with thanks to Loni Bramson-Lerche," Some Aspects of the Development of the Baha’i Administrative Order in America: 1922-1936," Studies in Baha'i and Baha’i History, Vol.1, Kalimat Press, 1982, pp.255-257; and "Jazz: Our Language," ABC TV 9:30-10:30 pm, 13 December 2001.

 

By the time The Duke was playing

Jungle Music at the Cotton Club,

Benny Goodman was feeding his family

with his clarinet and Louis Armstrong

was developing the swing,

a modern-time music of improvisation……

 

At the same time

Shoghi Effendi was spearheading

a loosely connected movement

into a fully organized one

through the mechanism

of the Assembly, a word,

that had finally arrived in the lexicon

and a tool of the Covenant.1

 

When jazz finally went live

on CBS Radio in 1927

with Duke Ellington

at the Cotton Club,

the epithets ‘modern’ and ‘new’

seemed the passport

to a luminous future2

and a new Order was developing

the framework for

international teaching programs

that would take a new Faith

around the world.3

 

1 This was done by 1925, ibid., p.258. 2 Rob Stout, "Dancing in the Dark," The Weekend Australian, February 10th, 2001. 3 1937

Ron Price

14 December 2001

 

A ZENITH AND A BURIAL GROUND

"People can accept the prevailing order because they are compelled to do so by devoting their time to 'making a living', or because they cannot conceive another way of organizing society, and therefore fatalistically accept the world as it is."1 Slowly, unobtrusively, to the bemused indifference of the committed or indifferent intellectual, to the curious and bemused proclivities for entertainment of the now billions of spectators whose primary role was just to watch it on TV, an obscure and seemingly negligible offshoot of the Shaykhi school of the Ithna-'Ashariyyih sect of Shi'ah Islam was insensibly becoming the global religion and the protector(although so few had any idea) not of freedom and the American way but of civilization itself. -Ron Price with thanks to Dominic Strinati, "Flaws in Antonio Gramsci's Theory," Internet: www.theory.org.uk, 5 November 2001.

And just as the religion

of Constantine achieved

in less than a century

the final conquest

of the Roman Empire

and was insensibly subdued

by the arts

of their vanquished rivals,1

so, too, an offshoot

of the Shaykhi school

became a world religion.

 

The metaphors

of the Roman Republic

and its pacem et circenses2

became more complex to apply

especially when so few knew

anything about Rome at all

and the parallels between the two

were exceedingly complex.

 

Insensibly, as the apocalyptic

character of mass culture,

symptomatic of social morbidity,

a cancer or one of the cancers,

became increasingly entrenched

in the language of everyday man

as decadence and a new dark age,

so this new world religion became

the zenith and burial ground3

of time-honoured and powerful

strongholds of orthodoxy

as an endless doomsdaying

covered the land.

 

1 Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, D.M. Low, Abridgement, Chatto and Windus, 1960, p.426.

2 bread and circuses

3 Patrick Brantlinger, Bread and Circuses: Theories of Mass Culture as Social Decay, Cornell UP, Ithaca, p.31.

 Ron Price

10 November 2001

_________________________________________ 

BOOK REVIEW: 'CENTURY OF LIGHT'

A new book has just come into Baha'i bookshops.(mid-2001) Prepared under the supervision of The Universal House of Justice, it is written to help the Baha'i community understand the changes that have taken place in the twentieth century and the process of the emergence of the Cause from obscurity during these years.

The House of Justice commends Century of Light and its one hundred and sixty pages, "to the thoughtful study of the friends" that "the perspectives it opens up will prove both spiritually enriching and of practical help."1 This is a book for both the novitiate and the veteran believer. It provides an overview of Baha'i history in the twentieth century and a linkage with the happenings in the world's history of this same period.

Beginning with the first decade of the twentieth century, the book finishes with the developments on Mt. Carmel. A brief look at the 162 references in the 'Notes' shows a broad intersection of Baha'i references and a wider reading and supplementary comment. Century of Light is not just a familiar survey of things we already know; rather it is an integrated picture that conveys an overview of the century just completed, an understanding of just where we have travelled and, by implication, where we are going.

Coming to understand the "nature and meaning of the great turning point" of this last century and "the implications of what occurred,"2 will help us, writes The Universal House of Justice, "to meet the challenges that lie ahead."3 Our task is to "grasp the significance of the historical transformation"4 that has occurred in the last hundred years.

One aspect of the historical transformation that occurred in the twentieth century, and one that is underlined in the very first paragraph on the first page, is that this transformation is "the most turbulent in the history of the human race."5 Humanity "appears desperate to believe that, through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances" it can "bend the conditions of human life into conformity" with human desires."6

There follows twelve chapters, only five with more than ten pages, only one with more than twenty. It is not my intention, though, to summarize each chapter; everyone can read the book for themselves. I would like to highlight what the function and purpose this book has at this moment in time for the Baha'i community. What is the Universal House of Justice trying to tell us in this their first publication at the outset of another measure of time, the fifth epoch of the Formative Age.

First, it seems to me, it is part of the "series of soul-stirring events"7 that celebrated the completion of the Terraces on Mount Carmel. It is part of the "auspicious beginning" of the occupation by the ITC "of its permanent seat on the Mountain of the Lord."8 It is part of "the revolutionary vision, the creative drive and systematic effort"9 that is coming to characterize more and more the work of all the senior institutions of the Cause. It is a humble attempt to"comprehend the magnitude of what has been so amazingly accomplished"10 in this century. It is part of the "new impetus to the advancement of the Cause."11 It is part of "a change of time," "a new state of mind," a "coherence of understanding," a "divinely driven enterprise."12 Such is my brief effort to place this book into a context of recent events on Mt. Carmel and a large number of messages received this year, in 2001.

Second, "the magnitude of the ruin that the human race has brought upon itself," "a catalogue of horrors unknown" in the past, the House places in the context of "God's fury"13 and that famous introduction to The Promised Day is Come: the tempest. The failings and the accomplishments of the century are reviewed; the replacement of inherited orthodoxies by the blight of aggressive secularism is noted; religious prejudices keeping smouldering fires of animosity alive; the unification of the world's peoples in this century is stated as a fact; the role of 'Abdu'l-Baha and especially His The Secret of Divine Civilization, His development of the Persian Baha'i community, His success in constructing the mausoleum of the Bab; His trip West; His prediction that a war would break out; His proclamation that He was the Covenant

 

Third, the conditions for the unity that the Baha'is were establishing and an appreciation of the place of the Guardianship,a focal place "throughout the coming centuries." First, between the wars and, second, the teaching Plans: 1937-1944, 1946-1953 and 1953-1963 are the twin-foci among a range of accomplishments that this book explores in a series of thumb-nail sketches.

Fourth, the 37 year period in which the Universal House of Justice guided the Baha'i world especially "the victory that the Cause won in 1963."14 The years 1963-1983 were "one of the most enriching periods"15 we have experienced. Other highlights are succinctly summarized before the last three chapters conclude the book.

Fifth, the work of the Baha'is in establishing an international order and the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran are given lengthy descriptions.(pp.113-136). And the theme of unity in the context of the Arc Project among other contexts is returned to again as the book concludes. In addition, the book concludes on an optimistic note and says we should "take deep satisfaction from the advances of society"16 and "see in them the very Purpose of God."17 But humanity yearns deperately for its Soul. Without its Soul it will find neither peace, nor justice, nor unity. Our job as Baha'is is to bring humanity its Soul by opening people's "minds and hearts to the one Power that can fulfil their ultimate longing."18

1-6 These reference can all be found in the 'Foreward' and the 'Preface.' of this book.

7 The Universal House of Justice, Letter 16 January 2001. 8 The Universal House of Justice, Letter 14 January 2001. 9 ibid.,p.2. 10 idem. 11 idem.12 The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2001.

13 Century of Light,p.1; 14 ibid., p.92; 15 ibid.,p.99; 16 ibid.,p.144; 17 idem, 18 idem.

Ron Price

5 August 2001

THE PRELUDE

According to the Baha'i Writings, 1953 marked the beginning of a most wonderful and thrilling motion in the world of existence. The spirit of teaching, spreading the Cause of God and promoting the teaching of God, 'Abdu'l-Baha wrote, would permeate to all parts of the world. 1953 marked, in fact, the inception of the Kingdom of God on earth.1 1953 will also be remembered as the year 20th Century-Fox introduced Cinema-Scope, the wide screen process. Another technical innovation reached its peak in 1953,3-D. Another kind of movie emerged in 1953, the lunatic, goof-ball movie categorized as "psychotronic."2-Ron Price with thanks to 1Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p.351; and 2 "The Club Havana Secret History of Cinema, 1953," Media Zone, Tripod Website, 14 October 2001.

 

While people were getting transported

in the new wide-screens,

taken off to a world of fantasy

their forefathers, their ancestors,

would never have dreamed of,

I was turning nine, in grade four,

and starting my long baseball career

at third base in a hot Canadian summer.

 

The Guardian was telling

the American Baha'is

they were at a turning point,

trying to finish the superstructure

of the Bab's Seculcher on Mt. Carmel.

 

They were also at the beginning

of what he called the prelude,

a process which would

precede mass conversion

and would revolutionize

the fortunes, the material power

and the spiritual authority

of the Faith of Baha'u'llah.1 1 Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p.117. 15/10/01.

 _________________________________________________

A PERSPECTIVE ON MY OWN HISTORY AS A POET

There are writers who die to the world long before they are dead. I was one who died before his writing really got going. But I continued to live and to enjoy life, in some ways more than ever before. I have enjoyed a protracted life-in-death. In some ways my situation is simple. The saying attributed to Muhammad applies to me: Die before you meet your death; or as Baha'u'llah puts it, a little differently, again quoting the Qur'an: wish for death if ye are men of truth.

I and my writing dwell in a limbo, not of the half-forgotten, but of the unknown, symbolic of the obscurity in which this Cause I joined has existed for most of my life, since its beginnings in Iran in the mid-nineteenth century. I hold no bitterness for the obscurity in which I exist. I feel that the last two decades are really the beginnings of my life of writing with all that came before as simple preamble. In the last twenty years my own writing has come out of obscurity a little and this process may continue. The Cause, too, has emerged at last in a process that will go on for some time.

I feel my situation is somewhat like the Beat poets of the period 1950 to 1965. 'Beat' meant 'exhausted' or 'beaten down' among the several meanings given to the word. As I approached my retirement in 1999 and the age of 55, I too felt exhausted and beaten down.

My fatigue with life had been, and still is, for the most part something I experience late at night after a long day's work. It is partly, I think, the residue of a bi-polar tendency. Part of this fatigue, too, has its origins in a sheer weariness with life after years of various kinds of battling; part of it is born in a simple interest in the afterlife and its attractiveness, as outlined in the Baha’i teachings; partly, too, from a personal conception of pioneering as a type of martyrdom. Part of my feelings have been expressed by John Keats in his poem "To Sleep" written in 1819. Like Keats, I see sleep as something that saves "me from curious conscience...burrowing" as it does "like a mole," something that will shut my eyes "in forgetfulness divine."

I do not have a literary reputation to uphold. This sort of personal confessionalism is not, I feel, something to be ashamed of; indeed, I am of the opinion that the thoughts I have expressed here are quite common. These sentiments are an honest account of an important part of my human experience in the last two decades, decades when my writing has begun to blossom. I have tried to describe my experience as a human being, as a Baha’i, in these years before the Lesser Peace, in the third and forth epochs, when this Cause grew perhaps fifteen fold. It seems right, appropriate, that I include this experience somewhere in my account, an experience that occurs especially late at night before that "soft embalmer" shuts "with careful fingers and benign" my "gloom-pleas'd eyes."

Late at night I am frequently exhausted and worn out but, like Dorothy Parker’s dalliance with death, I shall probably continue on for many years to come. Who knows? During the day these feelings of an enormous weariness with life do not exist. I get along with the things of life which must be done and which I want to do, for the most part.

Unlike Dorothy Parker, though, I do not hesitate to undergo a thorough self-examination. This fills my poetry. It seems to me that this introspectiveness is part of a lifetime, perhaps thirty years, of hard intellectual exploration within the context of what often seems a thimblefull of ability. I strive to look deep and, unlike A.E. Housman, I trust my examination in not just of the deeps of society and other souls, but also my own. The roots of my poetry are, in the main, in contemporary reality and, for this reason, these poems are a commentary on the age, on my time, my life. People in the future, I hope, I pray, will be able to visit this world through my verse among the many other channels becoming available to historians and archivists of our time. May they find in my writings a skillful and confident guide who natters away to himself as a succession of thoughts tumble helter-skelter, it would seem, across his consciousness. I am occasionally proud of a particular poem and I am surprised by the sheer quantity of the output. Perhaps it is too early to be proud of my work as a whole, for I have been writing poetry for only about nine years.

 

My writing is not especially witty; my life is not especially sad in spite of what I have said above. My life has been a rich and rewarding one. Yes, I have suffered; I have had my share of woes, but I don't feel I have had an unjust lot. I have had my portion of "light and mercy" as the "fire and vengeance" of life has been paradoxically described in the Writings. In many ways I do not stand out from the ordinarily ordinary. I have enjoyed my life. I have suffered as we all do, each in our own way. This poetry is important since it comes from an overseas pioneer who has tried to tell of his experience and that of his community during some important decades of its development. There has been an expectation in the air all my life in my contact with this new world religion, some forty years. In the field of architecture all of my dreams for this Faith have been realized. The public response in the West, though, has been discouragingly meagre; it has been meagre for a long time. This has saddened my heart, although I have come to accept it and understand its dynamics.

It seems I have waited, waited all my life, within a context of high expectation. I believe the Old Testament prophets helped to keep a similar sense of expectation high in the middle centuries of the first millennium BC in the Jewish community, as the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice has done in our time. High expectations will be part of our story for some time to come because our goal is infinitely glorious--and the high expectations are justified.

Even the stoughtest supporters of the Cause got discouraged in 1852 says Shoghi Effendi in The Epilogue toThe Dawnbreakers. I have often found the perspective of the believers of the early 1850s a helpful one for I, like them, got tired of it all. I say this in my poetry. I also talk of joy and, in over five thousand poems, I talk of a great deal more. I capture, in some ways, the first century and a half of Baha’i experience, the years between the Holy Years, the first eighty years after the revelation of the Tablets of the Divine Plan, the last forty years of Canada’s glorious Mission overseas. At least that is my intent. My poetry is a sign of my passion, of a conviction that has captured my life since the years of my late teens. But now, my enthusiasms have become quiet, in the quietness of a poem, in many poems.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 7 August 2001(First draft:15 February 1997)

 AN EMERGING ORTHODOXY

'Abdu'l-Baha's visit seemed to have been the period during which the stress was on liberalism and lack of structure was greatest....From 1917 onward, the early American Baha'i community began to lose those features....a loosley knit, inclusive, spiritual philosophy...a structure of organization and belief can be dated from around 1917. -Peter Smith, "American Baha'i Community", Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, Vol.1, editor, Moojan Momen, Kalimat Press, Los Angeles, 1982, pp.199-201.

 

While Lenin was leading his Bolsheviks

in the October Revolution,

with his 'ten days that shook the world'

the American Baha'i community

was finally losing a loosely knit,

inclusive, often vague, spiritual philosophy

and moving toward a structure

of organization and belief

a process whose momentum

was greatly accelerated

under the Guardian.

 

The great revolutions in the west

have been marked by an evolution

in the growth and development

of Baha'i history and community life.

A doctrinal orthodoxy was clearly emerging

amidst the fear of war, that Red Scare

and an increasing concern for teaching.

 

The greatest revolution in this century,

or so it seemed for years,

saw a significant shift from a broad

liberalism to an exclusiveness,

a definition of terms, of detail

that would remain throughout the history

of this emerging world religion.

 

We, too, have visited His tomb

in a safe place off the central square.

Ours has been a silent, unobtrusive growth,

a force as revolutionary as that October

Bolshevik battle, and now we face

the world with our ideology articulate,

our organizational units fleshed out

with guidelines to change the world--

not in ten days, but in the decades ahead.

 

For this revolution has all the seeds

of reality and the language for the real thing.

This time he's not coming

from the Finland Station; this time

it's a whole world of thousands

whose seeds are growing

into a global garden.

 

Ron Price

16 March 1996

__________________________________________

A CONTRIBUTION TO THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY ARCHIVES

Over the last three-quarters of a century an explosion of archival material has erupted for the would-be historian of the future. With each passing year the eruption, the explosion, becomes increasingly difficult to deal with, overflowing as it does the bounds of our capacity to cope with the effusions. When this great mountain of material is classified and the student begins to focus on the archival body relevant to his own interests and needs, some proportion and framework emerges from the chaos and prolixity of it all. The historian and social analyst must tease both sense and nonsense from all the loose ends, fragments, contradictions and observations, eruptions and explosions that are found in archives.

The student of the emerging world Order of Baha’u’llah has seen, especially in the last forty years, since the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth in 1953, the beginning of that ninth stage of history as the Guardian called the Ten Year Crusade, thousands of archives emerging in local Baha’i communities around the world. "They offer our knowledge an extra bonus", says Arlette Farge in her book Fragile Lives1. They are not so much the truth as the beginnings of the truth and, she goes on, "an eruption of meanings with the greatest possible number of connections with reality."

For most of the Baha’i community at the local level archives are just so much paper in old boxes. Sometimes there exists an obsessive tendency to admit too much meaning to archives when much of it is irrelevant circularized correspondence that could easily be discarded without any loss. The rare gem is often found amidst such irrelevant material. The historian must learn to see the forrest amidst the mass of trees. History and its documents is made up of so many different lives: impoverished and tragic, rich and joyful, mean and lackluster personalities, saints and heros. There is also a certain grandeur, humour, absurdity and irony to the parade and its varying semblances. Archives are both seductress and deceptive mirror of reality. They can falsify and distort the object being studied; they can be too facile or too ambiguous a means of entering into a discourse with history. They can tell very little of the real events of Baha’i community life. They can often be just a pile of dry bones transferred from one graveyard to another. But like the increasingly scientific tools of the archeologist, the skills of the archival historian can reveal much light.

History has long been enamoured with ‘the great man’. More recently it has taken up the cudgels of ‘the average man’, ‘women’, ‘the disabled’, ‘the migrant’, ‘the pioneer’, and on and on goes the list of the ordinarily ordinary and the humanly human personages of history. All of these prototypes can be found in the archives of local Baha’i communities around the world. For anyone taking part in Baha’i community life in the last few years of the twentieth century the typical reaction to archives as just boxes of stuff kept in someone’s house in a back room or an attic, or a shed, among other places, is one of a certain weariness. The weariness comes in part from the great mass of apparently irrelevant detail in those boxes and partly from a simple inability to get any meaningful perspective on the great historical adventure being engaged in by means of the contemplation of this great weight of paper and memorabilia. "It is unfortunately true" says Moojan Momen in summarizing the history of memoir writing and archive collecting in the Baha’i community, "that the Baha’is are lamentably neglectful."2 Perhaps in the last two decades, Moojan, they have turned a corner.

Throughout history, it should be kept in mind, there has been a long and ambiguous relationship with archives. There have been successive tensions down the ages between boxes of documents known as archives and the actual writing of history. The earliest period in the history of western civilization for which we have a great deal of documentation, of archives, is the first century BC in Rome. For the great mass of humanity this archive is of no interest whatsoever. But for the professional ants who deal in Roman history this archive is crucial; it has helped to generate an explosion of archival enthusiasm amongst a coterie of students of Roman history in the last several decades. Side by side with this professional enthusiasm there prevails an atmosphere of anarchic confusion in the attitude of western man to his past.

We are talking, then, about an old problem: the meaning and relevance of archives. Just as the writing of the Roman poets in that first century BC represents an important part of that rich and ancient archive, so does this poetry represent part(time will tell how important a part) of a modern one of increasing relevance to both historian and social analyst. I see this poetry as an embellishment to a local archive, several where I have lived in Australia and Canada; a contribution to an international archive on pioneers, an archive still in its first century of development; and a small part of a burgeoning base of material the world over which is so extensive now as to virtually swallow the individual in a sea of printed matter were he or she to take a serious interest in the material.

"It is impossible to avoid the realm of aesthetics and emotion" in dealing with archives, says Arlette Farge in her introductory statement on the subject. In a broad sense the architectural remains of the fifth century BC, or the Egyptian pyramids, are a repository of information, an archive. The realm of aesthetics and emotion is at the heart of these ancient architectural archives. Archives are also an eruption, Farge states; they can be an expression, she says simply, of whim, caprice and tragedy. And, like this poetry and the stuff in those boxes, they can be so much more.

It is impossible to assess the relevance of what will one day be the architectural archive of the Baha'i Faith, say, in two and a half thousand years. What will be the story told of these generations of the half-light in this first century of a Formative Age when a heterodox and seemingly negligible offshoot of an insignificant sect of Shi’i Islam finished its transformation into a world religion? What will they say of the architectural achievement that helped to give form and beauty to the institutionalized charismatic Force that was about to play a crucial role in the establishment of a global and peaceful civilization?

Ron Price

27 December 1996

1 Arlette Farge, Fragile Lives: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth Century Paris, Harvard UP,Cambridge, Mass., 1993, Introduction.

2 The Babi and Baha’i Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts, Moojan Momen, editor, George Ronald, Oxford, 1981, p.xvi-xvii.

_______________________________________________________________________ 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

At a time of incredulity toward grand narratives the Baha’i teachings offer yet another grand narrative, but one of immense complexity; at a time when our modern societies are characterized by radical and anomic heterogeneity the Baha’i teachings suggest a path to harmonizing the diversity; at a time when there is an intensification of adversarial trends, the Baha’i Faith offers a theory and framework for consultation, for dialogue; at a time when there is an interminable proliferation of perspectives, the Baha’i Faith offers a context in which fundamental questions can be discussed, part of this context is an etiquette of expression; at a time of chaos, of anarchy and liberation the Baha’i teachings offer an ingenious and sophisticated basis for moral order; at a time when it is difficult if not impossible to evaluate our world in liberal, conservative, or indeed in any traditional political way, the Baha’i Faith offers a new basis for, a new form of, politics; at a time when a global functioning of power is emerging in a more or less coherent and unitary strategic form, the Baha’i teachings offer a disciplinary matrix for its progressive realization.-Ron Price with thanks to Postmodernism and Social Inquiry, editors: D. Dickens and A. Fontana, Guilford Press, NY, 1994, pp.3-10.

What is the transformation

we are engaged in

over these centuries?

What is the nature

of the complex process

by which we are formed?

What are the implications

of the disintegration of the normative consensus?

Of an anything goes world?

Of the spread of a massive adversarial culture?

How will we construct a generalized narrative

for comprehending our world?

How will we return to religion

to overcome disruptive and destructive tendencies?

There is an endless succession of media definitions

of what is real

in our fragmentary, centrifugal,

arbitrary, superficial, transitory,

and contradictory lives—

the decadence of modernity some have called it.

 

There is an endless consumption of imagery and spectacle—

life can’t be fun all the time;

and anyway,

a lot of fun has become work.

Where do we go from here?

 Ron Price

22 April 1999

GLORY AND IDENTITY AT THE END OF HISTORY

The Guardian’s ten stages of history offer a heuristic, a provocative, template on which to examine where we are, where we have been and where we are going. When one of the leading postmodernists, Jean Baudrillard, for example, writes about the end of history and its ideologies, its dead concepts, its fossilized ideas polluting our mental space, its intellectual waste products, the sedimentation of its secular idiocy, a languishing monster which keeps dilating after its death, I can not help but think what are the implications of the fact that we are in the tenth stage, the final stage, of history, and in its thirty-sixth year?-Ron Price with thanks to Jean Baudrillard, L’Illusion de la Fin: Ou La Greve des Evenements, translated from the French by Charles Dudas, York University, Canada

It’s really the beginning of the end,

the final stage of our long history.

You could call it the beginning

of postmodernism: 30 April 1963,

or 21 April 1953, or 23 May 1944--

the continuity of the prodigious dimension,1

on those glorious occasions: (for they were all glorious)

 

All glory be to this Day

the Day in which the fragrances

of mercy have been wafted over

all created things.2

 

And my identity is wrapt

within the accumulation

of evidence that is my life,

a testimony of my historical existence,

a narrative within this framework of glory,

where separation burns away my soul

and praise is for having quickened my soul

through His Pen.3

 

While all the anachronistic forms of history

resurface, quite intact, archaic, still here,

unbelieveably, like recycled waste,

this postmodernism allows a hundred flowers to bloom

amidst a deep social and political malaise,

a shift in sensibility,

where traditional standards no longer apply

and we are confronted by bewildering complexity

and a tempest that threatens to tear us apart

but unimaginably glorious in its consequences.

 

1 Jean Baudrillard, the occasion I am referring to is the Most Great Jubilee.

2 Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Carmel.

3 idem.

 Ron Price

21 April 1999

A CONGENIAL ACCESS TO THESE EPOCHS

In the last twenty-five years the great wall between autobiography and biography has been broken in many places. The methods, intentions, techniques, choices and processes of writing in these genres have come under scrutiny. The depiction of the many-sided nature of the human personality is now a quintessential must, as is the recognition that biographical or autobiographical Truth is not to be had.1 The veil is only partly lifted. And what do we know of our friends and acquaintances, said Ezra Pound, save that on such and such a day we saw them do such and such: a this, that or the other. And to this we bear witness.2 I say that in order to understand a time, an epoch, three epochs, we must know more than just major historical figures; we must also know numerous minor figures. That is my task, for I am a minor figure and many of whom I write are also minor figures. It is a congenial means of accessing the past and its complexity. -Ron Price with appreciation to 1 Sigmund Freud, Letters Ernest Freud, Basic Books, NY, 1960, p.430; and 2 Ezra Pound in Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More Poets, Donald Hall, Ticknor and Fields, 1992, p.4.

 We never really know them

but, then, they never really die.

What do we have but a stream of souls:

consistently ambiguous, irrational,

inexplicable, self-contradictory?

Words which deserve to last,

will last, at least some of them.

If they do not deserve this fate of immortality,

the sooner they perish the better.

 

I strive to be warm and friendly,

yet aloof and detached,

involved yet uninvolved,

as cold as ice in appraisal:

kindness, the lodestone.

 Ron Price

24 April 1999

 

A NEW WIND: MORE LIKE A TEMPEST

In April 1963 the first House of Justice was elected. The following summer Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind was released and in the winter The Times They Are a Changin’. That year I finished high school, started university and went through my first episode of manic depression. Looking back, I see that year as the first of my homefront pioneering, squeeking in in the last eight months of the first epoch of the Divine Plan and the second epoch of the Formative Age. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, 23 April 1999.

 

They came in on a wave of music,

Dylan, Ochs and Baez,

inspiring the hearts and souls of thousands

who sought social change,

a call to arms,

indictments of the status quo,

honest feelings shared in solidarity,

civil rights gathering force

with one purpose and one drummer.

For a very short time,

just as they were coming in,

music was collective, congregational.

 

They brought the ship of the Cause

to its safe port and they began

to organize and deploy its forces,

as folk music and negro spiritual

were becoming a powerful force.

Blowin’ in the Wind(summer 1963)

and The Times They Are A Changin’ 1

summed up the spirit of the day.

Vast spiritual powers had been released,2

unbeknownst to all the world.

These new forces launched them

and us on the second epoch

to create a new world which was

the vision of our longing and

the fruit of our labors.

 

I struggled that year to finish

high school and cope with the

first episode of a manic depression

that took me on a roller-coaster ride

from which I recovered

after six years of being knocked around

during one of the most turbulent periods of history.3

 Ron Price

23 April 1999

 

1 The information regarding the synchronization of these songs with the election of the House of Justice was obtained from Dylan Companion, editor Elizabeth Thomson and David Gutman, MacMillan, London, 1990.

2 The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Wilmette, 1969, p.7.

3 The period 1963-1968 was certainly a turbulent period in history(eg. assassinations of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King) and my personal life was just as turbulent due to the onset of a series of episodes of what is now called the bi-polar tendency and which was finally treated effectively in 1980 with lithium carbonate.

AT LAST CONVERGING

Literature dwindles to a mere chronicle of circumstances, or passionless fantasies and passionless meditation, unless it is constantly flooded with the passion and beliefs of the past and, of all the fountains of passion and beliefs of the past, Baha'i history has again and again brought the vivifying spirit of excess into a Baha'i consciousness in the arts. The history of the Bab and Baha'u'llah, the seemingly endless martyrs, the life story of 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi and the accounts of many of the great teachers now over several epochs, are slowly creating a new literature and changing the very roots of people's emotions by their their influence on their spirit and their sense of oneness. -Ron Price with thanks to W.B. Yeats for an idea, source unknown.

Most of life takes all that I am,

its many roles and stages;

the candle of my days burns low

while I strut and fret between the pages.

 

There is within this tempered sword

which I use to make these lines

and while I wield it for this work

I feel as if I'm near eternal times.

 

The past collapses into these moments

and I create a world of leaves which hangs

upon my boughs, leaves quite green and shiney,

yellow, few, some with a distinct tang.

 

These verses are no crown, or banquet;

they are not part of a dance or play.

They aren't meant for entertainment,

not part of a song, renoun, or suit so gay.

 

I feel as if something is emerging,

although these lines come from my mind. .

A civilization is at last converging

with this adventure that I slowly unwind.

 

Ron Price

23 March 1996

FISHING

Price's poetic form achieves a permanence not by virtue of its stability, its lack of fragmentation, or its solidity; but due to its association with the forth epoch of the Formative Age in Baha'i history. -Ron Price with thanks to Carlos Williams in Hints and Disguises: Marianne Moore and Her Contemporaries, Celeste Goodridge, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1989, p.25.

 

This was one I'd dangled for,

what, three years? We had talked

about everything imaginable,

built up quite a close relationship,

youknow the way people do

who never see each other

except in some particular public place

on some regular or irregular basis.

 

Today, after this interminable

length of time of fishing, yes,

fishing is what I call it, I finally

tried to pull him in; no

that's putting it too strongly:

I gave him a very big bit to bite off.

 

Now, when you've been fishing

like I have for over thirty-five years,

you know from sheer experience,

literally thousands of baitings

and bitings and bringing-them-ins,

that giving a fish a big bit to bite

guarantees nothing at all,

except perhaps a good chat-and

by God I've learned how to do that

with just about anyone now. But I

catch few fish, at least since '72-'73

and '69-'70, when fish where I lived

were biting left and right. I still go

fishing often; 'tis a very subtle skill.

 

Ron Price

30 October 1997

FISHING

Price's poetic form achieves a permanence not by virtue of its stability, its lack of fragmentation, or its solidity; but due to its association with the forth epoch of the Formative Age in Baha'i history. -Ron Price with thanks to Carlos Williams in Hints and Disguises: Marianne Moore and Her Contemporaries, Celeste Goodridge, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, 1989, p.25.

This was one I'd dangled for, what,

three years? We had talked about

everything imaginable, built up

quite a close relationship, you

know the way people do who

never see each other except in

some particular public place on

some regular or irregular basis.

Today, after this interminable

length of time of fishing, yes,

fishing is what I call it, I finally

tried to pull him in; no that's

putting it too strongly: I gave

him a very big bit to bite off.

 

Now, when you've been fishing

like I have for over thirty-five

years, you know from sheer

experience, literally thousands

of baitings and bitings and bringing-

them-ins, that giving a fish a big bit

to bite guarantees nothing at all,

except perhaps a good chat-and

by God I've learned how to do that

with just about anyone now. But I

catch few fish, at least since '72-'73

and '69-'70, when fish where I lived

were biting left and right. I still go

fishing often; 'tis a very subtle skill.

 

Ron Price

30 October 1997

 

A SHAPING POWER

I write this autobiography, these short and self-contained units called poems, as a self-appointed representative of the Baha'i community, to embody in this record of my time and my deeds on this earth my vision of the nature and aspirations of this emerging world religion, its grand design and promise. I also want to embody the odors, shapes, colours, sounds and the feel of things with as great a precision as I am able from the turbulent stream of my experience and that of my community.

But I am only one representative. There are thousands, millions, who could be more adequate representatives of this community than I. This is the record of my struggle and others, a community. This is simply part of a great epic, the special shapes and tensions of the epic that is Baha'i history. This epic fixes our imagination on the whole, society, the external as well as on the individual human being. Here in my autobiographical poetry is a hunger to define the essence of a way of life and comprehend its history in all its grand complexity and simplicity. -Ron Price with thanks to C. Hugh Holman, The Loneliness at the Core, Louisiana State UP, NY, 1975, pp. 164-167.

There is a shaping power here:

to help me define that ordered

cosmos out of a seemingly teeming

and fecund chaos where my imagination

voyages, touching clarity in its quest and

lending glory to my dry and troubled dust.

 

to help me bring all this meaning

in my experience, all this hunger,

literal, this discovery, coming from

a sense of loss now, a sense of ransom,

freeing a precious jewel-gem, honey

nectar from history's prison cell.

 

to help my obsessive intensity,

my gargantuan effort to encompass

an exhaustion of faith1, an immense

chasm in society, the permeation

of this new Revelation and an

intensified search for understanding.

 

to help me wreak out my vision

of this new way, this new world,

this Baha'i community, to the best

of my ability, with an unswerving

devotion, integrity and purity of

purpose that shall not be menaced,

altered or weakened by anyone.

 

Ron Price

4 October 1998

1 Baha'i International Community, Baha'u'llah, NY, 1991, p.15.

 

BACKGROUND MUSIC FOR THOSE HIATUS YEARS

George Gershwin composed popular songs from 1919 to 1938, from the time the Tablets of the Divine Plan were made public to the beginning of the International Teaching Plan, the Seven Year Plan, of 1937 to 1944. His music was made for the multicultural world of the 1920s, the 1930s and our world today. His compositions combined: blues, Afro-American, jazz, broadway, classical, gospel, opera, among other musical forms. It manifested so beautifully the philosophy of one-world. -Ron Price with thanks to ABC TV, Gershwin: They Can't Take That Away From Me, 17 October, 10:30-11:25 pm.

You gave us a background music

for those hiatus years1

when an Order was being born

and taking its first form.

 

You gave us sounds we'd never heard

while he2 gave us that leviathan

with beautiful curves so that we

could swim forever in the sea.

 

Your song form was a serious craft

as the Cause was for him a place to

define those interpositions of Providence.

 

You gave us songs, eternal, sweet as

Summertime, telling us of our lives

and their transcendental oneness amidst

the trivial and the everyday; while he

defined that global form in a language:

composer, director, producer, inheritor

of an Epic Script for all humankind.

 

Ron Price

17 October 1998

1 these were the years of waiting before the Tablets of the Divine Plan could be promulgated in the first organized international missionary campaign in 1937. During this period the national Baha'i administrative system was defined and developed. See Studies in Babi and Baha'i History, Vol.1, "Development of Baha'i Administration", pp. 255-300.(Kalimat Press, 1982)

2 Shoghi Effendi gave the Baha'i community a wonderful exegisis of 'Abdul-Baha's, Baha'u'llah's and the Bab's writings.

The end---for now!