This issue of e*lix*ir is about seeing — deep seeing. It invites those of us who make art and those of us who appreciate that art to look, long and hard — into the past, into the future, into the present moment. It invites us to bear witness to the joyous unfolding and well as the tragic destruction of our ever-luminous, ever-diminishing natural world — the creation, God’s creation. In The Kitáb-i-Íqán, Bahá’u’lláh makes this remarkable assertion: “...whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth is a direct evidence of the revelation within it of the attributes and names of God....” To reflect on this truth is to engage in the kind of deep seeing that leads to awe, but also to wonder at humanity’s failure to honor the infinitely complex, ever so fragile web of relationships — those glorious systems — that sustain life on earth.
The kind of deep seeing we need now, in this time, is not the product of individual vision, as uplifting as that can be. I think of those works of art that have made me laugh and weep, hope and grasp that which I could not have grasped had I not come under their powerful sway. But in this time of disequilibrium, when the creation ‘talks back’ to us in the powerful language of tsunamis and hurricanes, tornadoes and mega-fires, drought and glacial melting, unprecedented summer heatwaves and winter weather whiplash, I think of those works and I say, “Not now.”
Now is the time for the binding together of diverse artistic visions and voices, for sewing together the many colors of hope to make quilts as rich and intricate as those created by fabric artist Helen Butler, whose work is featured in the art section of this issue. Let us take up the invitation Butler’s quilts extend to engage in new kind of seeing, the kind that looks beyond the color of the skin, deep into the soul. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to an African-American friend: “Thou art like unto the pupil of the eye which is dark in color, yet it is the fount of light and the revealer of the contingent world.” Eyes are everywhere in Butler’s art; and sometimes we have to look hard to find them and even harder to see the images reflected in the pupils of those eyes — in the case of one of Butler’s quilts, the face of Nelson Mandela.
In an effort to work collectively, this past spring a group of poets previously published in the journal, banded together to form the e*lix*ir poetry collective. The collective met monthly to produce and refine the poems that appear in the poetry section of this issue. In “The Writing Life” column, James Andrews, a member of the collective, gives his account of what happened during those monthly meetings.
In this time of world-encircling crises, the collective turned to the beauty and wisdom of the natural world for inspiration. In his poems, James Andrews walks through the Vetana wilderness “carrying the wisdom of flowing waters” and Harriet Fishman learns from the trees “the wisdom of sharing food and water.” I enter the transcendent space of a garden that is “a green oasis of salvation.” Andreana Lefton hikes the Tennessee hills and strives to master “the skill of wise women/ who know that fire, water, earth, and air/ arise from spirit and return there.” Imelda Maguire roams the Irish countryside becoming “a discoverer of plants/ rare and strange,” while YoungIn Doe traverses desert sands alongside camels who bear only the weight of the weightless moon on their backs.
“Remembered Music,” a translation by Shahin Mowzoon of a Rumi poem, rounds out the poetry section with its celebration of an ancient melody, the music of spheres: “the call of the heavens that creation sings/ With all its voices and rhythms and hymns.”
The Personal Reflections Pieces — “A Finely Tempered Sword” and “Knowing God through His Creation” — were written by Bahá’í youth who live in Iran, Melika Rezvani and Nava Eslami. Not only are these two pieces insightful, moving, and well-written, they serve to remind us of the steadfast faith evinced by the courageous Iranian believers in the face of ongoing persecution. In the fifth installment of “Ruhi & Riaz,” Eira draws attention to a fresh danger faced by Bahá’ís living in Iran: confinement in a COVID-invested prison.
In the “Voices of Iran” section, we feature two inspiring essays about ancestors who have celebrated life and triumphed over adversity: “An Army of Two Hundred Men” by Ighan Yetka Agdasi and “The Goddess” by Saba Sobhanian. Courage abounds in the lives of those who have gone before us, ancestors who live on in our minds and hearts through their stories.
In “Looking Back on Books,” I take a look at love and loss as explored in Rooms Are Never Finished, a moving collection of poems by Agha Shahid Ali that weaves together private and public grief: the loss of a mother and the loss of a homeland to political strife.
The photos of Bev Rennie once again grace the pages of e*lix*ir. And if you notice that the journal has a new look, you can thank Andrew Lefton who shared his expertise in web design with our webmaster, JM Kafes, who then engaged in — or so it seemed to me — endless experimentation. Without JM’s vision and his sheer tenacity, without his technical know-how and his steadfast commitment to improving and sustaining the journal, none of what you see before you when you click on the e*lix*ir link would appear.
Let me end with the same invitation I issue in “Love in a Time of Distances,” which appears in the essay section of this issue: let our art be a holy gesture, a prayerful celebration of the beauty of our solidarity and the power of our resilience. Let it be a loving correspondence with the world, one we write together without expectation of acknowledgement, but for love’s sake. Let that letter grow until, even in this time of absences — death, distances, separation — it fills the world with its presence.