Throughout human history, the most bountiful knowledge seems to emerge from some of the more aged exemplars of wisdom.

That’s certainly no surprise: with age comes wisdom. We definitely do not discount or disregard any amazing insights about reality because the ones who utter them happen to be longer physically elegant or dexterous.

Shu’a’u’llah Ala’i

Shu’a’u’llah Ala’i

For example, I remember listening to a talk given by a wonderful Baha’i named Shu’a’u’llah Ala’i shortly before he passed away in 1984. Mr. Ala’i was a Hand of the Cause of God—a title given certain individuals appointed by Baha’u’llah and later by Shoghi Effendi to protect and propagate the Baha’i Faith—and when I saw him he was wracked with age, barely there at all, truly a “tattered coat upon a stick” until I heard his soul clap it hands and sing.

Two men carried him to a stage and set him down in a chair before a crowd of several thousand. His face was drawn and withered. His eyes seemed unfocused and his aspect bewildered. Then he began to speak, and we were astounded that so mighty a voice could emanate from such a slight, aged frame. Sentence by sentence we became mesmerized by his power as he analyzed the present times in terms of the destiny of humankind.

He catalogued the indices of the decline of society, and filled our hearts with expectation about the glorious future that could be ours—if we would plant the seeds of faith in the rich soil of the hearts of waiting souls, the plant of world reformation would soon emerge.

It was incredible. As he spoke and as we became by stages astounded, then entranced, then inspired, and then empowered, we no longer marveled at the physical dimension or age of this frail man. He became his voice, which seemed to emanate from another realm. The years seemed to melt away from his eyes, and his countenance seemed to glow with power and authority. The slight frame that had seemed so lamentably weak gradually assumed a stature that the mightiest potentate might envy.

I will never forget that experience, that firsthand empirical evidence of how a physical apparatus so maimed by age, so tattered by life and the ravages of time, could yet be employed by so grand a spirit as a vehicle for spiritual power and inspiration and insight.

Afterwards, I really never required further proof of the non-locality of the soul. Even more weighty, perhaps, was my instant understanding of how the divinely ordained process of aging can, if we allow it, peel away bit by bit our attachment to the ephemeral, temporary things of this world, whether it be our vanity about ourselves and our appearance, or whether it be our reliance on the trivial pursuits that distract us from the path we are fashioned by God to follow:

Man must be a lover of the light, no matter from what dayspring it may appear. He must be a lover of the rose, no matter in what soil it may be growing. He must be a seeker of the truth, no matter from what source it come. Attachment to the lantern is not loving the light. Attachment to the earth is not befitting, but enjoyment of the rose which develops from the soil is worthy. Devotion to the tree is profitless, but partaking of the fruit is beneficial. Luscious fruits, no matter upon what tree they grow or where they may be found, must be enjoyed. The word of truth, no matter which tongue utters it, must be sanctioned. Absolute verities, no matter in what book they be recorded, must be accepted. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 151-152.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.


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  • Jamil Dybwad
    May 24, 2017
    Simone de Beauvoir in her book about old age found that societies which valued children also valued old age, whereas more agressive societies valued the warring middle age most. Many projects have failed to bring about some lasting cooperation between the youthful and youth. In fact both generations often seem rather egocentric. In a Bahai context youth have been the driving force behind some very successful projects. Whereas I appreciate that, and the opportunities I was given myself in my youth, I believe there is much to be gained for the maturation of humankind by a close and spirited ...togetherness of generations, initially just letting go of the bureaucrats (which I have belonged to for decades).
    • Nelson LeDuc
      May 25, 2017
      In fact, this unity of generations was one of the things that most attracted me to the Faith when I first encountered it in Detroit in the early 1970s. I wish I still saw it.
  • Nelson LeDuc
    May 17, 2017
    Sad then, that all we hear about in the Faith these days in "youth, youth, youth!" I was first made to feel useless because of my age over 20 years ago, when I was about 40. In the 20+ years since, this emphasis on youth has only increased. Ironically, the youth who were so extolled as our hope 20 years ago are now also past their prime, and apparently of no use in this Cause.
    • Denis Carnochan
      Jul 22, 2017
      I'm 70 now and have thought about your concerns as well. I do understand the concept that what a person learns in their childhood is likely to remain with them throughout life. Therefore we need on concentrate on that. But we still have a job to do. That job will have different characteristics from their job. Many elders feel alone, even in Baha'i communities. Disabilities keep them from actively attending community functions. So why don't we create a Baha'i Elder's Club online. Surely we can find some unity of purpose when we put all ...our head's together. We have the knowledge to find a role for ourselves and a purpose for our being. The institutions are busy, but I don't think we need all that much help or oversight.
  • May 17, 2017
    Thanks to your writings about age and death I am emotionally awakening to the non locality of the soul. Thank you.