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Spiritual Disciplines

Chores are not popular. According to television and my children, any task which requires regular and disciplined attention, is a chore. This includes religious as well as physical and financial activities.

I believe, based upon my study of the Bahá'í Faith, that much of the world's wars, economic turmoil, internal and external threats to health--not to mention potential destruction of the human ecosystem-- come ultimately from ignorance of our true nature as human beings. Without understanding the spiritual purpose of life, our behavior will lack sensible moderation.

One of the earliest ways that children learn moderation is in the execution of daily material and spiritual responsibilities, commonly referred to as chores. Habits of material cleanliness and spiritual refreshment become both useful and illuminating day by day as they reveal hidden gems of understanding over time.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of Bahá’u’lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, explained it this way, "First in a human being's way of life must be purity, then freshness, cleanliness, and independence of spirit. First must the stream bed be cleansed, then may the sweet river waters be led into it....My meaning is this, that in every aspect of life, purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement, exalt the human condition and further the development of man's inner reality. Even in the physical realm, cleanliness will conduce to spirituality, as the Holy Writings clearly state." - Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 146-7

Life is all about chores: material, mental, emotional, spiritual--not necessarily in that order. From time unmeasured, religion has supplied the owner's manual for all of those areas. Varying times and cultures use different words, but the gist as I understand it is this: God said those rules are the way to happiness in this life and the next. If we ignore or defy them, we are turning against God, against the nature of life, refusing God’s bounty--and that defines sin.

Spiritual health is just as labor intensive as physical or fiscal health. "...One can hardly imagine what a great influence genuine love, truthfulness and purity of motives exert on the souls of men. But these traits cannot be acquired by any believer unless he makes a daily effort to gain them..." - Shoghi Effendi, from a letter dated 19 December 1923, quoted as part of #1267, in the compilation Living the Life.

It looks to me like many of my younger neighbors do not know that daily regimens are necessary for success in anything--other than, say, fitness training or making it to class on time. Granted, I’m old, and sometimes grumpy. I span at least three generations, maybe more, since my parents were old enough to be my grandparents when I came along. The way I was raised is not the way children are trained now, and so I’m inclined to think the current mess in the world may be related to that difference. “Children need to be free to have fun,” I’m told, “not burdened with tasks they won’t need to consider until they are independent adults.” Well, I don’t believe that the best time to learn how to swim is the first time you fall off the pier!

What I have seen in the past decade and a half of apartment living in a relatively middle class urban area (300K) is that a great many young people (at least those in apartments) appear to be grossly ignorant of basic life management skills by the time they reach adulthood. I was shocked by the general state of ignorance of basic housekeeping I observed, which suggests more a lack of good habits than specific information, since these people were college educated. It also appeared that some residents didn't even know they should be cleaning!

Now, I am by no means a perfect housekeeper! But I have learned (mostly the hard way) that managing a living space relates directly to managing the rest of one's life--finances, health, relationships, whatever. Skills learned in one area transfer to the others.

Unwashed dishes have consequences. The unexamined soul does, too. Neither is pretty.

The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the habits of a lifetime begin in childhood. Bahá’u’lláh provided a set of daily religious practices that include prayer, study of the Writings in order to find ways to apply them, goal setting, and self-evaluation. Every day we are to strive for a better character and to refresh our spiritual nature.

Sounds like chores to me.

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