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When I grew up in rural Colorado and Montana, we heated our homes almost exclusively with wood.
Early on summer mornings, I anticipated my father’s knock on my bedroom door and his call: “Get up, get moving. We’re getting firewood.”
As you can imagine my attitude often was sulky and surly; fueled by my adolescent desire to sleep late, eat a leisurely breakfast and fritter away the day with friends. Nonetheless into our old Chevy pickup and up the mountains I went, for a day of toil, doing my part to ensure the family would stay warm when the bitterly cold winter weather arrived. Once we delivered a load of firewood down to the house, there was still splitting and stacking to do.
Dad insisted we put up at least 10 cords per season. For the uninitiated, a cord of firewood amounts to a tight, neat stack measuring four feet wide, by four feet high, by eight feet long. Picture that; times ten. I became quite familiar with sweat and sore muscles, but as a result, grew up sinewy and strong.
The smell of fresh-cut pine, feel of leather gloves, growl of the chainsaw; the almost melodic sound of blocks of wood hitting the metal bed of the pickup and colliding with each other—these and other sounds and sensations indelibly etched themselves into my consciousness, as constant reminders of home.
Much later, long after I became a grown man with a family of my own, I was thrilled when my wife and I found a rental house with a wood stove here in Laramie, Wyoming. When my father passed away a few years ago, I’d used part of my share of his modest inheritance to purchase a chainsaw, and I already owned a couple of decent splitting axes. Eager to put them to use, I soon got busy running up into the nearby mountains in my own old pickup truck and returning with a bed full of firewood.
Even more so than in my youth, an abundance of potential fuel now exists on our mountainsides. One effect of climate change has made itself evident throughout the forests here in the Rocky Mountain West: winters are typically milder than before. We seldom have a severe mid-season freeze, during which temperatures plunge to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit or even colder, and stay there for weeks at a time. That warming has allowed the population of pine beetles–which bore into trees and kill them–to grow larger and spread farther and to higher altitudes. The worst of the pine beetle epidemic peaked a few years ago, but left vast swaths of dead standing timber across our western forests.
So now, what I sometimes resented back then–the vigorous, strenuous process of retrieving and processing wood–I’ve come to love. So much so, that when my wife saw the gigantic stack I’d hoarded by the close of this summer, she suggested there was far more than we could ever use, so I should consider selling firewood as a side business. A wise idea indeed, as I’ve found a way to keep myself active and make a little extra money doing something I enjoy.
To meet customers’ demands, I’ve started more cutting this winter. During a recent venture, it struck me how the process could be likened to some Baha’i principles and teachings. I grew up Catholic and had been during my youth involved in some non-denominational Christian groups. By the middle of my college years, however, I had grown cynical and suspicious toward religion, and considered myself an atheist. But upon discovering the Baha’i Faith, I grew fascinated and impressed by its balance of faith and reason, and its logical approaches to questions and quandaries I’d previously considered intractable. After investigating it for about a year, I formally declared myself a Baha’i.
A fundamental principle of the Baha’i Faith reaffirms and expands upon a truth previously revealed through Islam–that there is essentially only one eternal religion, sent by God to humanity through a series of messengers or major prophets (Baha’is often refer to these figures as “Manifestations of God”), such as the Buddha, Muhammad and Jesus Christ.
The central figure of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, whom Baha’is regard as the Manifestation of God for this age, has fulfilled the prophecies and hopes of previous dispensations and revealed the truths of God that will lead humanity to the realization of our full potential and maturity upon this planet.
Baha’u’llah taught the core Baha’i concept of “progressive revelation,” the idea that religion has been revealed to humanity in increasingly broad and detailed terms, in accordance with our growing capacity for understanding. One vital task of these holy messengers is to revitalize religion and rid it of the corruption or misguided dogma that inevitably creeps in as the centuries roll by. This doesn’t render the spiritual essence of previous dispensations invalid, but rather affirms and refreshes the heart of their teachings; such universal lessons as “the Golden Rule.”
Standing amidst the timber, it struck me how those trees could be likened to “dead” traditions. Just as the beetles had gnawed away the life force of those pines, the infestation of corruption, desire for power and superstition gnaw away the life force of religion and the society built up around it. Just as that dead timber can weaken the vitality of the forest, so too can blind adherence to old ways, views or traditions hamper the progress of civilization. This could be why modern people are abandoning religion in growing numbers—just as I did in my youth—because they can’t perceive any good in it, either for themselves or humanity.
Indeed, in one passage, Abdu’l-Baha likened the decline of religion to a dying tree:
From the seed of reality, religion has grown into a tree which has put forth leaves and branches, blossoms and fruit. After a time, this tree has fallen into a condition of decay. The leaves and blossoms have become stricken and fruitless. It is not reasonable that man should hold to the old tree … – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 141-142.
Taking down one of those dead trees requires a noisy, dramatic and potentially dangerous process. As my saw’s chain whirls at a blinding velocity, it rends asunder the wood, until in a spectacular sequence the expired tree comes crashing down.
Baha’u’llah likened the change, reformation and progress brought by a new Manifestation to a sundering, as He explained some Scriptural metaphors, and the concept of the “heaven” of religion being rent asunder.
Just as felling dead trees in my local forest is a dramatic process, so too is it as new Manifestation reveals the next dispensation of God’s will. There can be much “noise and crashing” as the Prophet’s teaching come into direct conflict with people’s ingrained ideas, desires and expectations, or the power structures of religious institutions and clergy. The Manifestations are inevitably met with resistance, resentment, hatred and even violence. Christ was scorned and despised by the religious authorities of His time, and ultimately crucified. Muhammad was mocked and disparaged; He and the fledgling Muslim community were viciously pursued and persecuted. And Baha’u’llah spent nearly His entire earthly life in prison or exile, often under the worst conditions imaginable.
Ultimately, the wood I harvest from those stricken trees goes to good, providing a glowing light and radiating heat for mine and my customer’s households. And removal of the standing dead timber creates more room for saplings to grow.
So, too, does the initial disruption brought by God’s Manifestations bring warmth and light to humanity, and allow us to grow in new ways we couldn’t have previously imagined. Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah has come to lead us to real, lasting peace and unity. As He states:
So powerful is the light of unity, that is can illuminate the whole earth. – Century of Light, pp. 87-97.