The Baha'i House of Worship at Sunrise
“Praise be to God, the All-Possessing, the King of incomparable glory, a praise which is immeasurably above the understanding of all created things, and is exalted beyond the grasp of the minds of men. None else besides Him hath ever been able to sing adequately His praise, nor will any man succeed at any time in describing the full measure of His glory. Who is it that can claim to have attained the heights of His exalted Essence, and what mind can measure the depths of His unfathomable mystery? From each and every revelation emanating from the Source of His glory, holy and never-ending evidences of unimaginable splendor have appeared, and out of every manifestation of His invincible power oceans of eternal light have outpoured. How immensely exalted are the wondrous testimonies of His almighty sovereignty, a glimmer of which, if it but touched them, would utterly consume all that are in the heavens and in the earth! How indescribably lofty are the tokens of His consummate power, a single sign of which, however inconsiderable, must transcend the comprehension of whatsoever hath, from the beginning that hath no beginning, been brought into being, or will be created in the future till the end that hath no end. All the Embodiments of His Names wander in the wilderness of search, athirst and eager to discover His Essence, and all the Manifestations of His Attributes implore Him, from the Sinai of Holiness, to unravel His mystery.
A drop of the billowing ocean of His endless mercy hath adorned all creation with the ornament of existence, and a breath wafted from His peerless Paradise hath invested all beings with the robe of His sanctity and glory. A sprinkling from the unfathomed deep of His sovereign and all-pervasive Will hath, out of utter nothingness, called into being a creation which is infinite in its range and deathless in its duration. The wonders of His bounty can never cease, and the stream of His merciful grace can never be arrested. The process of His creation hath had no beginning, and can have no end.
In every age and cycle He hath, through the splendorous light shed by the Manifestations of His wondrous Essence, recreated all things, so that whatsoever reflecteth in the heavens and on the earth the signs of His glory may not be deprived of the outpourings of His mercy, nor despair of the showers of His favors. How all-encompassing are the wonders of His boundless grace! Behold how they have pervaded the whole of creation. Such is their virtue that not a single atom in the entire universe can be found which doth not declare the evidences of His might, which doth not glorify His holy Name, or is not expressive of the effulgent light of His unity. So perfect and comprehensive is His creation that no mind nor heart, however keen or pure, can ever grasp the nature of the most insignificant of His creatures; much less fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence. The conceptions of the devoutest of mystics, the attainments of the most accomplished amongst men, the highest praise which human tongue or pen can render are all the product of man’s finite mind and are conditioned by its limitations. Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, “Thou shalt never behold Me!”; whilst a myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction, “Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!” From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self, and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence. Every attempt to attain to an understanding of His inaccessible Reality hath ended in complete bewilderment, and every effort to approach His exalted Self and envisage His Essence hath resulted in hopelessness and failure.
How bewildering to me, insignificant as I am, is the attempt to fathom the sacred depths of Thy knowledge! How futile my efforts to visualize the magnitude of the power inherent in Thine handiwork—the revelation of Thy creative power! How can mine eye, which hath no faculty to perceive itself, claim to have discerned Thine Essence, and how can mine heart, already powerless to apprehend the significance of its own potentialities, pretend to have comprehended Thy nature? How can I claim to have known Thee, when the entire creation is bewildered by Thy mystery, and how can I confess not to have known Thee, when, lo, the whole universe proclaimeth Thy Presence and testifieth to Thy truth? The portals of Thy grace have throughout eternity been open, and the means of access unto Thy Presence made available, unto all created things, and the revelations of Thy matchless Beauty have at all times been imprinted upon the realities of all beings, visible and invisible. Yet, notwithstanding this most gracious favor, this perfect and consummate bestowal, I am moved to testify that Thy court of holiness and glory is immeasurably exalted above the knowledge of all else besides Thee, and the mystery of Thy Presence is inscrutable to every mind except Thine own. No one except Thyself can unravel the secret of Thy nature, and naught else but Thy transcendental Essence can grasp the reality of Thy unsearchable being. How vast the number of those heavenly and all-glorious beings who, in the wilderness of their separation from Thee, have wandered all the days of their lives, and failed in the end to find Thee! How great the multitude of the sanctified and immortal souls who were lost and bewildered while seeking in the desert of search to behold Thy face! Myriad are Thine ardent lovers whom the consuming flame of remoteness from Thee hath caused to sink and perish, and numberless are the faithful souls who have willingly laid down their lives in the hope of gazing on the light of Thy countenance. The sighs and moans of these longing hearts that pant after Thee can never reach Thy holy court, neither can the lamentations of the wayfarers that thirst to appear before Thy face attain Thy seat of glory.”
– Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, XXVI
It seems that most of my life I’ve lived with the idea that there is an ultimate truth that can be known – a God that exists as a being that can be known. I have read countless accounts of those who have tried to express their experience in words. In almost every case their efforts to explain the indescribable seem to fall short of their own expectations. The Prophets of old often declared God to be frightening and unapproachable, while the Mystics speak of God as being closer than our very breath, as the very essence of love and compassion.
Over the lifetime of my search I have so often “discovered” the God that I wanted; the God of my own making, and accepted this version as the ultimate reality. My own sense of accomplishment was fulfilled and gave me a false sense of entitlement. As the very essence of God was in my possession, and that I had hold of something that others could not grasp.
I was a much younger man when I first read the words of Baha’u’llah. At that time I was excited to see a “new” religion that, in my mind, resolved a lot of the doubts and confusion that I had about all other religions and their relationships to each other. I was a zealous new Baha’i at that time. Looking back on that period now I can see that I was naive and perhaps too self-obsessed to consider those that I tried to proselytize and “recruit” to the Baha’i ranks – as if it were a battle and I was the commander.
It is not hard, in hindsight, to see that I could not have maintained this intensity for too long. My expectations of others in the faith were unrealistic, and my own expectations of my sincerity were impossible to attain. So I drifted away – beginning a long, long, journey of exercising the key Baha’i principle of “independent investigation of truth.”
I jumped on the spiritual seeking bandwagon and began to read, and ultimately “follow” many paths…..Alan Watts, Sri Chinmoy, Meher Baba, Krishnamurti, The Hare Krsna Movement, various schools of Buddhism, and finally passing through Evangelical Christianity into Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
Now in 2012, I have come full circle – back to Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Returning to that original spirit that I first saw in the Baha’i writings and philosophy that drew me to it. I am not attached to the administrative rule-keeping side of the organization; for like all organizations that are founded by fallible people, they so often fall short of their original intentions and tend to mistake the preservation of the principles of their founder with the definition of them. Thus, like the religions of the past they unwittingly become obsessed with their own existence and despite good intentions, often block the way of the spirit that birthed the movement in the first place. Such has been the fate of Christianity – where the beauty of the truth of boundless grace has become guarded and somewhat held as an exclusive gift, under the guise of preserving “the sanctity of the mysteries.”
In the Baha’i Faith, as intended in the writings and example of Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha, I can see a blueprint for true, patient and compassionate reform of the world’s systems of politics, economics and religion. Before the Baha’i Faith was revealed to the world these three systems had become fairly detached from each other. The theocratic government model fell into direct competition with scientific progress and economic development, and, particularly in the last few centuries, religion has become more and more allied with politics, to where the idea of supporting the “wrong” political party is to be accused of going against your religion or moral beliefs!!
As a young person I was enthusiastic for change – and anxious to bring about that change in myself as quickly as possible. I had thought that subscribing to a set of beliefs was a possible short-cut to transformation. But, it didn’t work that way for me. As a Christian I believed in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit – but I always seemed to fall short of being “worthy” of attaining it. The Holy Spirit became something that was given “through” a sacrament – by a ceremony of incantations. As beautiful as the Divine Liturgy and Mass are – they preserve the idea that God is separate from us in daily life. That God is only present in certain places and certain times. As much as the mystical teachings of the Church Fathers, saints and sages would proclaim that the Holy Spirit is “everywhere present.” The actions of the organized Church would seem to indicate otherwise. In the Baha’i Faith – the spirit may be physically experienced more strongly when people are gathered together or during a pilgrimage to a place associated with its founders. But it is not something that is denied anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. The Baha’i teaching is the same as that found in the Gospel of John, where the apostle declares that “the true light that gives light to everyone (came) into the world.” Baha’u’llah is giving the same light to the world – in fact, it has never left – Baha’u’llah is the continued reflection of that light for this day and age.
In embracing the Baha’i Faith, I have not turned my back on the stopping points of my journey to and from this spot. Rather, I am happy to fully embrace them for what they all reveal in their unique way. All religions proclaim, with Baha’u’llah, that:
“no mind nor heart, however keen or pure, can ever…..fathom the mystery of Him Who is the Day Star of Truth, Who is the invisible and unknowable Essence.”
All religions and divine philosophies are attempts to reveal the invisible and unknowable, that which cannot be known with certainty in this physical realm. But God can be trusted to guide us to the spirit to all truth if we let ourselves rest in him, by accepting reality for what it is according to his design and not to our own, often misguided, wishes and desires.
If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you’ll have noticed that I change my loyalties and religious affiliations quite frequently. But, in all of this I hope that you’ll see behind all of this the heart of a true seeker, rather than a “religion shopper.” My motives have always been to seek the truth in all its forms – and ironically, I realize now that the spirit of that motivation came from my initial exposure to the Baha’i Faith – so, I consider that this journey has come full circle for me. The other religions and philosophies that I’ve embraced – even my bout with Atheism out of periodic frustration with all religious organization – have caused me to grow in unexpected ways. I can now see God in so many different ways – even through the eyes of a proclaimed hardened atheist!!!
To paraphrase Baha’u’llah, all of this has taught me to:
“see with (my) own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and (to) know (by my) own knowledge and not through the knowledge of (my) neighbor.”
“(I have) ponder(ed) this in (my) heart; (and see it as a) sign of (God’s) loving-kindness.”
– Paraphrase of Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words (Arabic #2)