How being a Bahá’í shaped my life

Each week someone from a different religion explains what they believe in. Here Barney Leith explain

My mother was greatly concerned when I became a Bahá’í that I had been sucked into some kind of cult. She rushed over to Cambridge and I introduced her to some of my new Bahá’í friends. Greatly relieved by the ‘normality’ of the Bahá’ís, she was happy to accept my choice of religion and remained supportive of this until the end of her life.

The whole of my adult life has been shaped by my faith as a Bahá’í. What’s central, I think, is the understanding that pervades Bahá’u’lláh’s writings – which form the main part of the Bahá’í holy texts – that humankind is one family, that there is only one God, whose essence is unknowable to us but whose characteristics or attributes we know through the lives and teachings of the prophets and messengers of God. We’re thinking here of Abraham, Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, amongst others.

Bahá’u’lláh claims to be the latest in an ancient line of what he sometimes calls Divine Physicians, those whom God has empowered to diagnose and treat the world’s sickness in each age.

Notably Bahá’u’lláh explicitly disclaims finality for his own revelation.
Bahá’u’lláh asks us to focus on the needs of our time and not to look backwards. For Bahá’u’lláh, the process of divine revelation is a progressive one, impelling humankind forward from our collective ‘childhood’, through the current stage of our collective ‘adolescence’, to the time when humankind as a whole will be spiritually mature and adult.

Right now, we’re in that spotty, rambunctious, adolescent stage, full of conflict, not knowing whether we still want to be children or to be fully grown-up.

In many ways it’s a dark time in human life. Bahá’u’lláh acknowledges that darkness and shows how we can come through this time of crisis into a new global civilization, based on a much deeper understanding of the reality of human oneness.

In recent years we’ve tended to become very excited by ‘diversity’, and much law and a whole industry has grown up around ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’. This is not unimportant, but I believe we often forget the other side of the diversity coin, which is unity.

The watchword for Bahá’ís is ‘unity in diversity’. Unity without diversity is uniformity and uniformity is a kind of death. Diversity without unity, on the other hand, leads to division and conflict. Diversity and unity exist together in a complementary ‘yin-yang’ relationship.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son and head of the Bahá’í community from 1892 until his passing in 1921, eloquently describes the key theme of this era of human development.
O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. Laudable are the results and the fruits thereof, abundant the holy evidences deriving from this grace. This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth.

Barney Leith has been an active Bahá’í since the mid 1960s. In 1993 he was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK Bahá’ís. Barney has been married to Erica since 1970. They have three grown-up offspring and three grandchildren.
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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.