Many who have come to the Baha’i Faith, myself included, were not on a spiritual search for God at first.
When we became attracted to Baha’u’llah and his message, it’s as if God came looking for us, whether we were ready for it or not. The question of belief, of yes or no, then struck us through our own wonderment at the life story of Baha’u’llah, the wisdom of his teachings, and the grace of his writings.
I don’t want to get into my own story here. Instead, I just want to draw attention to some insights I gained going through it all. The most important idea? In religion and spirituality, our Creator plays the leading role, not us.
Baha’u’llah discusses this in a distinctive passage about the lover and the beloved, a common theme in the spiritual literature of so many great Faiths and so much great mystical poetry. The lover, of course, refers to the human soul, and the beloved refers to God:
For whereas in days past every lover besought and searched after his Beloved, it is the Beloved Himself Who now is calling His lovers and is inviting them to attain His presence. Take heed lest ye forfeit so precious a favor; beware lest ye belittle so remarkable a token of His grace. –Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 320.
In the Baha’i Faith, religion doesn’t only refer to a philosophy of timeless truths. Its development is inseparable from the appearance through the ages of God’s messengers, such as Moses, the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and others. So the precise moment and historical context in which we exist is pivotal to the spiritual meaning of our lives—and there could be no greater privilege than to live in an era when God manifests his love for humanity through a new messenger. This is the moment when humans may not need to go out in search for God—this is when God comes searching for us.
Baha’u’llah writes about the immense spiritual consequences this brings to us all:
Hear Me, ye mortal birds! In the Rose Garden of changeless splendor a Flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of Whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither. Arise, therefore, and, with the whole enthusiasm of your hearts, with all the eagerness of your souls, the full fervor of your will, and the concentrated efforts of your entire being, strive to attain the paradise of His presence, and endeavor to inhale the fragrance of the incorruptible Flower, to breathe the sweet savors of holiness, and to obtain a portion of this perfume of celestial glory. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 320-321.
But how can we describe God’s connection to humanity using language drawn from people’s interactions with each other? We can talk about divine love and generosity, God’s sovereignty and judgment. But these metaphors typically break down under close inspection. Human relations are characterized by limitation and mutual dependence. When I give out of generosity, I come away with materially less than I had before, but it’s not like that with God’s generosity. There is no lessening of divine power when God gives.
The sovereignty of a human king comes from the cooperation of his subjects and the taxes they pay. Empires and kings come and go. But the supremacy of God over creation is eternal. God’s ways are fundamentally different from human ways. All of this makes it hard to speak about God, and that’s because a basic asymmetry exists between God and worshipper. While human relationships are characterized by balance, exchange, and reciprocity, God’s connection to humanity is defined by imbalance, excess, and favors that are impossible to return. The scales are forever tipped.
This leads to an inspiring but unsettling truth. God has chosen to speak to us and to guide our development as a species. But how can that possibly be repaid? What could we possibly give back to settle accounts? Nothing would suffice, and yet we must trace a path through that nothing and dwell in it. This is the journey of love.
A poem by the Muslim poet Rumi speaks powerfully to that condition, and brings closure to everything I want to say:
Can you find another market like this?
with your one rose
you can buy hundreds of rose gardens?
for one seed
you get a whole wilderness?
For one weak breath,
the divine wind?
You’ve been fearful
of being absorbed in the ground,
or drawn up in the air.
Now, your waterbead lets go
and drops into the ocean,
where it came from.
It no longer has the form it had,
but it’s still water.
The essence is the same.
This giving up is not a repenting.
It’s a deep honoring of yourself.
When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry at once, quickly, for God’s sake!
Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.
No amount of searching
will find this.
A perfect falcon, for no reason,
has landed on your shoulder,
And become yours. – Rumi, The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks translation.