Monday, August 17, 2009

Deeds, Not Words?

I happened to be reading Persian Hidden Words #5 today, which contains the much-quoted admonition "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." It's clear why everyone, not matter what their take on the Baha'i Writings, has this one as a favorite. Of course, one should "walk the walk", rather than just "talk the talk".
There's really nothing to contextualize, puzzle out, discuss, or argue about.

But what never seems to come up is just how difficult putting that simple practice is. The whole of one's spiritual life, at least the part of it that is involved in dealing with the world outside yourself, is contained in it. If we start asking ourselves, do we really act according to our ideals, do we put into practice the things we say we believe? -- if we are honest with ourselves, we will come up woefully short. Even more likely, we'll come up with reasons why, in that particular situation, we must act otherwise.

For a concrete example: All of the world's great religions insist on generosity towards and compassion for the poor. Yet, most of us don't do much about that -- write a check once in a while, maybe. And, when actually confronted with a poor person, we don't feel compassion so much as a sense of unease, maybe even fear. I've always figured that the emphasis placed on this in scriptures is because the poor just aren't very attractive on their own -- to the eyes of the non-poor they often seem ignorant, unhygenic, and possibly even dangerous.

So, what of our lofty ideals then? "Deeds, not words" just crumbles sometimes, without our even thinking about it.

Nobody lives up to their ideals -- nobody. That's why, in email discussions, I was always would feel a bit uncomfortable if the word "hypocrite" got thrown around. On some level, all of us fit that description, because none of us act entirely according to what we believe. So, I never thought it made much sense to point fingers. Just about the only way not to be a hypocrite would be not to have ideals in the first place -- which would not be a good way to go.

When I look at myself, I find that for me to act in a spiritual way in all my interactions with others, it leaves me feeling very vulnerable. When I do otherwise, a lot of times, it's because the situation or person makes me feel defensive. In order, to treat others with compassion, we have to drop our protective walls. But, I struggle with that, because in some cases those walls are necessary -- and it becomes a matter of whether or not the harm I fear is realistic or not., or whether the risk outweighs the spiritual imperative.

When you think about it, a great deal of human evil boils down to unwarranted fear.


Robert Clifton said...

Hello Karen:
Long time no see.
I have graduated from the internet school of hard knocks. Thank you for your role in my education.
Now I teach in the Baha'i/Christian Church. The response to your post is both Baha'i and Biblical.

“By the righteousness of God should a man, all alone, arise in the name of Bahá and put on the armor of His love, him will the Almighty cause to be victorious, though the forces of earth and heaven be arrayed against him.”
GPB p.376

Ephesians 6[11] Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Life sure got simple when I accepted that "...All are his servants and All abide by his bidding."

Interesting words "whole" and "all".

Robert Clifton

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