“Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation.”
Bahá’u’lláh (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf)
Byzantium — the word evokes a mythic time and place, a world enveloped in the golden glow of peace and prosperity, a burgeoning Christian civilization in which faith served as the wellspring for some of the greatest art generated by the human imagination. I studied Byzantine art and civilization quite by accident in my first year of university: the course on Byzantium fit the time slot open on my schedule, so I enrolled. While the content of many other undergraduate courses has faded from my mind, I have never forgotten what I learned in the course on Byzantium; and, over the years, my appreciation of this remarkable empire, which blossomed just three centuries after the birth of Jesus, has increased as I have come to understand more about how faith shapes artistic expression.
To the modern day secular humanist, it may seem hopelessly idealistic to speak of a future golden age of art and culture, one that might rival the golden age of Byzantium. But if one takes to heart, as I do, the words of Shoghi Effendi, one can only look forward in joyful anticipation to the time when the spirit of the Bahá’í Revelation will so charge the minds and souls of artists with fresh inspiration that they will give rise to a cultural flourishing the like of which has never before been witnessed on this planet. The art of the golden age about which Shoghi Effendi speaks will far surpass in its achievements anything produced by ancient Byzantium.
Shoghi Effendi is unequivocal about the advent of this new age of art: “It is certain that with the spread of the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh a new era will dawn in art and literature.” (3 April 1932) He also makes clear that the sun of this new era will take much time, possibly centuries, to rise. The art forms of the present day might be likened to what he describes as “the faint rays that precede the effulgent light of a glorious morn.” (10 October 1932) But without doubt, as this new era dawns, form will be quickened by spirit, and the arts as a whole will be galvanized to fulfill their true purpose as defined by Bahá’u’lláh: namely, to “uplift the world of being” and be “conducive to its exaltation.” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf)
At e*lix*ir, we keep our eyes fixed on those first faint rays glimmering on the horizon. So it is with a measure of excitement that we introduce the Personal Reflection Piece, a form that finds its inspiration in reflection on the Bahá’í Writings. Arising from a sustained and joyous engagement with the texts, such reflection is the fruit not of scholarship but of that deeply intuitive style of reading that has its beginnings in meditation.
A unique literary form that combines reflection and analysis with creative writing in a prose shaped by poetic elements, the Personal Reflection Piece offers readers an opportunity to deepen their engagement with Bahá’í scripture not just as readers but as writers. Why write down one’s thoughts instead of merely discussing them? First, the written word is more enduring than words spoken: if one wishes to capture and keep one’s insights, one needs to record them. As important, writing about the Bahá’í Writings demands commitment, discipline, and, above all, substantial reflection: one must read carefully enough to generate a pattern of understanding — a coherent reading. To write down one’s reflections is to take one more step in the quest for meaning.
Eschewing the kind of language accessible only to an academic or literary elite, the Personal Reflection Piece offers the common reader the delicious fruit of personal reflections on a scriptural text that has captured the writer’s attention. While the Personal Reflection Piece has its origins in the kind of “word by word” investigation of scripture encouraged by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, it is distinguished from scholarly commentary and conventional exegesis by its informal tone and personal approach to understanding.
The revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, with its banishment of the priestly function, has democratized the reading of scriptural texts, offering each reader the freedom to pursue her own understanding. In the Personal Reflection Piece, readers find an opportunity to set down that understanding in writing and to share it with others. Such sharing inevitably leads to deeper understanding; it may also serve to inspire other readers to set down their own reflections. Indeed, binding together as it does reflection, writing, and the sharing of insights about Bahá’í scripture, the Personal Reflection Piece is a literary form that might easily be woven into the pattern of community life.
We are pleased, therefore, to offer in this issue of e*lix*ir two Personal Reflection Pieces. A. Philip Christensen shares his reflections on a rich and complex passage from Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, and Patricia Verge shares hers on a newly translated tablet commemorating the birth of Bahá’u’lláh.
In a special feature that appears in the Writing Life, Della Marcus documents her long journey towards the completion of a book length manuscript on the first Bahá’í monarch, Queen Marie of Romania, and shares the fascinating story of that project’s beginnings in the Holy Land.
In the poetry section, we offer readers the opportunity to listen to the tender and life affirming voice of Irish poet Imelda Maguire, a voice redolent with freshness; and in the translation section, we present a small gem that shines brightly in the pages of this issue, a Rumi poem newly translated into English by Tony Lee and Nesreen Akhtarkhavarif. Finally, we share details of the poetry trail that wove through Kilkenny, Ireland this past summer, bringing the work of five e*lix*ir poets to poetry lovers in that city.
We are delighted to share a moving memoir by Lauren Laisying Turner. In “Red,” Turner tells the story of her struggle to belong, reflecting as she does on the joys experienced and the challenges faced by an adoptee who must make a home in a northern country a world away from her birthplace in Guangdong, China.
Our visual art section features paintings by Brad Pokorny, whose abstract expressionism invites the viewer to leave representation behind and engage deeply with the truths embodied in form and color.
In “Looking Back on Books,” Rhonda Palmer reviews the selected poems of Michael Fitzgerald, whose recent volume gives an overview of a large body of work generated during the course of a long and productive career as a practicing poet. We also offer a review of Point by Point, an anthology of poetry published in Ireland in honor of the Bicentenaries. And we update readers, courtesy of Allison Grover Khoury, on books for children published in the past year.
From Iran, we have a second installment of Ruhi & Riaz by Eira. The comic that appears in this issue gives readers a rare glimpse of a particularly insidious form of persecution faced by many Bahá’í’s in Iran and their creative response to it.
Finally, in the “Voices of Iran” section, we present “The Love Bird” by Zarrin Kasiri, a delightful essay, written from a child’s perspective, about a gift received in a dream.
As the dawn begins to break, let us bask in the first golden slivers of light.