JoAnn Borovicka

JoAnn's Blog

Welcome to my blog! Here you will find short reflections, connections I've noticed that I'd like to pursue in future research, and various items that have caught my attention related to Bahá'i studies and Christian scholarship.


You are welcome to send me your comments at JoAnnBorovicka@gmail.com.

By JoAnn Borovicka, Apr 1 2017 07:45PM

In the Gospel of Mark, a quick search shows at least 17 incidents where the disciples not only misunderstand but also betray, desert, deny, argue, are stricken with fear, and disobey Christ (references below). And what I find most fascinating is that after this long string of disconnects and human failures, in chapter 16 the Risen Christ chastises the disciples for their lack of faith and stubbornness one last time and THEN tells them to “Go into all the world. Preach the good news to everyone.” Mark 16:15

To me, the message becomes something like ‘Pick up your fears, your failures, all of your human weaknesses and go teach the Cause of God anyway. Divine forgiveness and power are greater than human faults.’

In the Tablets of the Divine Plan, when ‘Abdu’l-Baha tells the Baha’is to travel to teach the Faith He refers to Christ’s instructions to His disciples. ‘Abdu’l-Baha states, “It is also mentioned in the Gospel: Travel ye to all parts of the world and give ye the glad tidings of the appearance of the Kingdom of God” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, no. 2.3). The context of that biblical mandate—that it comes to the disciples after a long string of disconnects and epic fails—is, I think, important for Baha’is to keep in mind. When one considers the context of the biblical reference it is like ‘Abdu’l-Baha is saying, ‘With all your fears, failures, and faults, travel to all parts of the world and give the glad tidings anyway. Divine forgiveness and power are greater than human faults.’

Disciples faults and human failures:

1. “Why don’t you understand?” March 4:13

2. “Have you no faith?” Mark 4:40

3. Disciples “hearts are hardened” Mark 6:52

4. Disciples “fail to understand” Mark 7:18

5. “Do you still not perceive or understand?” Their eyes fail to see, ears fail to hear, they don’t

remember, don’t understand, their hearts are hardened, Mark 8:17-18

6. to Peter: “Get thee behind me Satan.” Mark 8:33

7. Disciples don’t understand, are afraid Mark 9:32

8. Chastised for arguing about which disciples is “first” Mark 9:34

9. Jesus indignant when disciples kept children away Mark 10:13-14

10. Disciples are perplexed, blind Mark 10:24

11. Arguing over who will be “first” Mark 10:41

12. Judas betrayal story Mark 14:10

13. Christ to disciples: “You will all become deserters.” Mark 14:27

14. Disciples failed to stay awake in Garden 3 times, Mark 14:34-41

15. All of the disciples “deserted Him and fled.” Mark 14:50

16. Peter denies Christ 3 x, Mark 14:66-72

17. Peter and others “would not believe” the reality of the Risen Christ, Mark 16:11-13

18. The Risen Christ chastises the disciples for their lack of faith and stubbornness Mark 16:14

By JoAnn Borovicka, Apr 1 2017 07:31PM

I feel like the following passages from Shoghi Effendi are important to consider while reflecting on the station of Jesus Christ in the Baha’i Faith.

At first we have what may seem like a paradox. Shoghi Effendi states, “The Revelation identified with Bahá’u’lláh abrogates unconditionally all the Dispensations gone before it” (God Passes By, p. 100). Yet in another passage Shoghi Effendi states, “The Revelation, of which Bahá’u’lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it” (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 57-58). Past Dispensations are abrogated, past religions are not abrogated. What is the difference between “Dispensations” and “religions”?

The dictionary definition of dispensation is “a system of rule or governance,” So Shoghi Effendi’s use of “Dispensation” could refer to those Ecclesiastical systems that evolved in every past religion (not designed by any of the past Manifestations). “Dispensation” could also refer to the social laws of past religions (that were designed by the Manifestations). Baha’u’llah abrogated both the man-made Ecclesiastical systems and the divinely ordained social laws of the past.

A study of Shoghi Effendi’s letters indicates that by “religion” he is referring to “the eternal verities” “enshrined” in Revelations of the past; these “eternal verities,” he states, the Baha’i Faith “upholds uncompromisingly” (God Passes By, p. 100). In another passage he states “The Faith standing identified with the name of Bahá’u’lláh disclaims any intention . . . to abrogate the fundamentals of their doctrines, to discard any of their revealed Books, or to suppress the legitimate aspirations of their adherents” (The Promised Day is Come p. 108). So it is the eternal verities, the fundamental spiritual doctrines, as he says, “the religions” that are not abrogated. Nor are the “revealed Books” discarded.

The “Oneness of religion” as a fundamental principle of the Faith is easy to state, but I think that it is an infinitely complicated and advanced concept that we are just barely beginning to grasp, and that this teaching: “The Revelation, of which Bahá’u’lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it” (World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 57-58) needs more study and celebration. In a Bahá’í reflection on the station of Jesus Christ, I think it would be important to keep in mind that the “religion” of Jesus Christ—as distinct from the various systems of rule that arose around it—has never been abrogated.

Valley of the Doves - Northern Israel
Valley of the Doves - Northern Israel

By JoAnn Borovicka, Sep 5 2016 02:03PM

In the March 8, 1917 Tablet to the United States and Canada, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that the “prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers” [TDP 14.3]. He Defines “collective centers” as those points of interest and alliance that are “conducive to association and unity between the children of men” such as alliances based on national, political, cultural, and intellectual interests [TDP 14.3]. Moreover, He states that the most important collective center, the only center that is not accidental and temporary, and the only center that “overcomes and includes all the other collective centers” is the “Collective Center of the sacred religions” [TDP 14.3]. He defines this eternal Collective Center as “no other than the spirit of the divine teachings”: "Now strive ye that the Collective Center of the sacred religions—for the inculcation of which all the Prophets were manifested and which is no other than the spirit of the divine teachings—be spread in all parts of America." [TDP 14.11]

‘Abdu’l-Bahá praises the unifying and educative effects of previous Dispensations and emphasizes that the essential task at this time is the “the promotion of divine teachings which are the foundations of the holy religions” in order that “affinity between the hearts of the world of humanity” may be established [TDP no. 14.9]. Not only does ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set this task, He models promotion of the spirit of the divine teachings of the sacred religions in the Tablets themselves by integrating verses, images, and stories from the Holy Bible in His teachings. For example, in the following passage ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sets out a call to action in the language of the Bible:

Every one of the important souls must arise, blowing over all parts of America the breath of life, conferring upon the people a new spirit, baptizing them with the fire of the love of God, the water of life, and the breaths of the Holy Spirit so that the second birth may become realized. For it is written in the Gospel: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” [TDP no. 14.6]

In another Tablet He uses biblical terms in His description of the desired qualities of Bahá’í teachers:

As regards the teachers, they must completely divest themselves from the old garments and be invested with a new garment. According to the statement of Christ, they must attain to the station of rebirth—that is, whereas in the first instance they were born from the womb of the mother, this time they must be born from the womb of the world of nature. . . . They must be baptized with the water of life, the fire of the love of God and the breaths of the Holy Spirit; be satisfied with little food, but take a large portion from the heavenly table. . . . They must make the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, the extinguished one enkindled and set aglow, and the dead quickened. [TDP no. 13.7]

Most of the terms in the two passages above represent much-loved biblical images: heaven as the source of divine teachings (John 3:31); the Holy Spirit as a blowing breath or wind (John 3:8); realization of the life of the spirit as a second birth (John 3:3-5); baptism by water and fire (John 3:22-23); changing the old garment for the new (Luke 5:36); helping the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead live (Matthew 11:5). Abdu’l-Bahá, the Perfect Exemplar, lovingly embraces biblical stories and terminologies and focuses on their spiritual meaning to the degree that the biblical terms themselves become vehicles for His instruction—there is no division between the nomenclature of the Bible and Bahá’í guidance. There are many such examples throughout the Tablets of the Divine Plan; in fact, every Tablet contains at least one biblical reference. Thus, the Tablets themselves are examples of how to engage with biblical Scripture in order to promote the “Collective Center of the sacred religions.”

By JoAnn Borovicka, Jun 8 2016 11:42PM

When reflecting on the Gospel use of the title “Son of God,” I think that consideration of 1st centiury A.D. Roman imperial theology is helpful. Claims of "Divine Son" and “Son of God” were everyday realities for people at the time of Christ – these titles were claimed by the emperors, were inscribed in imperial architecture, were imprinted on the coins in everybody’s pockets, were told in stories, and in every way made part of popular consumption.

• Julius Caesar (100-45 B.C.) claimed divine birth (Venus and Anchises) and was also officially declared divine by the Roman Senate.

• Augustus Caesar (born Gaius Octavius 63 B.C. - 14 A.D.), the adopted son of Julius Caesar, inherited his divinity through Julius Caesar and also claimed divinity through his own birth (Atia and Apollo, miraculous conception). His official title, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus, translates “The World-Conqueror Caesar, the Son of God, Augustus”. The gospel of Augustus’ advent was celebrated throughout the Roman Empire: global Lord, Divine Son, cosmic Savior, bringer of peace - responsible for the long-lasting Pax Romana.

• Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson, became his heir and thus he became Son of God and emperor for 2 decades, followed by Calugula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, and Titus, all of whom inherited the imperial divinity—in Roman imperial theology they were all "sons of gods."

This Imperial divinity was the ideology that held the Roman Empire (which was fabulously successful) together, and it continued until Theodosius 1 changed the religion of the Empire to Christianity in 391A.D. Egyptian theology also deified its rulers. Considering the long-lived culture of divine imperial theology of the era in which Jesus Christ came, perhaps it was inevitable that He would be given that title by the Gospel writers. At the time, it was the way to convey the concept of power of great magnitude.

Another long-standing cultural familiarity with "son of God" is that in their traditions the Israelites as a people were long considered the firstborn son of God; (God to Moses) "And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn" (Exodus 4:22). The title “Son of God” embraces all of Jewish history and, to Christians, claims Jesus as the fruit of the people’s spiritual heritage and their Divine Representative. The title may also be an allusion to the fulfillment of prophecy in the unusual nature of His birth.

“Son of God” is one of the titles of Jesus found in the Bahá’í Writings. In the Bahá'í Faith it is understood that the Son of God title suggests something of the spiritual greatness of Jesus’ station as a Manifestation of God, but does not indicate any physical relationship between Jesus and God: "It is true that Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of God, but this, as explained by Bahá’u’lláh in the Íqán, does not indicate any physical relationship whatever. Its meaning is entirely spiritual and points to the close relationship existing between Him and the Almighty God." (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated November 29, 1937, to an individual believer, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1644)

"Augustus Caesar, Son of God" Roman coin 1st century
"Augustus Caesar, Son of God" Roman coin 1st century

By JoAnn Borovicka, May 29 2016 02:05AM

Concerning the Beatitudes of Baha’u’llah that close His Tablet to the Christians (The Most Holy Tablet, Lawh-i-Aqdas <http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/TB/tb-3.html>) and Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew. Some thoughts are:

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-11 lists personal qualities and situations such as:

• the poor in spirit

• those who mourn

• the meek

• those who hunger and thirst after righteousness

• the merciful

• the pure in heart

• the peacemakers

• those who are persecuted because of righteousness

• you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

Each state of being is followed by an assurance: will reach the Kingdom, will be comforted, will inherit the earth, will be filled, will be shown mercy, will see God, etc. These are stated as promised outcomes that are sometimes interpreted as glimpses of the social justice that will arise with the establishment of God's laws on earth--the coming of the Kingdom.

One way to look at the Beatitudes that close Baha'u'llah's Tablet to the Christians is that they continue the vision in Mark, providing action steps toward the Kingdom for every possible state of being:

• The slumberer awakens

• the lifeless is quickened

• the eye gazes on God’s beauty

• the wayfarer directs steps toward the Tabernacle

• the distressed one seeks refuge

• the sore athirst hastens to God’s Word

• the insatiate soul casts away selfish desires

• the abased one holds onto the Glory

• the needy one enters beneath the shadow of the Tabernacle

• the ignorant one seeks the fountain of knowledge

• the soul is raised to life and gains admittance into the Kingdom (that is the most passive verse)

• is stirred by reunion with the Beloved

• the ear hears

• the tongue bears witness

• the eye sees

• the soul attains His presence

seeks enlightenment

• the person attires his/her head with Love

arises to aid the Manifestation

lays down life itself and bears manifold hardships for the Manifestation

arises from amongst the dead to celebrate His praise

rents the veils asunder

remains faithful to the Covenant

detaches from all but God

soars in God’s love

gains admittance into the Kingdom

gazes on the realms of glory

drinks living water

acquaints him/herself with God’s Cause

apprehends the Words

• and shines forth engaged in God’s praise and glorification.

The Galilee, Northern Israel
The Galilee, Northern Israel