On August 5, 2018, my husband and I wed in Vancouver, Canada, under a copper pipe arbor that held a garland of the most beautiful branches and flowers.
The beating hearts of 180 of our nearest and dearest friends and family were felt thumping in unison, along with all those residing in every corner of the globe, who were unable to make it on that day. Souls and loved ones in the next world set their gaze on us from above as we sang prayers, shared stories, ate ice cream, laughed and cried.
The room was filled with the scent and colors of eucalyptus branches, white and pink tipped spray roses, purple and pink toned dahlias, magenta amaranthus, lilac astilbe, crimson proteas, white and plum colored queen anne’s lace, pink toned zinnias, violet colored zinnias, and boysenberry gomphrena. All the different colors and flowers fit so perfectly together, it was as though they were meant to be together. Terracotta pots held succulents delicately grown by my father, symbolizing months of love and nurture. Each flower arrangement in the large rustic room, including the ones that decorated my crown and bouquet, were lovingly grown, harvested, collected, and arranged by my talented friends and family.
The diverse flora we’d selected for our wedding symbolized the lives we’d individually lead up to this point, and their various origins represented the places, people and events that we’d both been exposed to until this very moment.
In essence, we saw our community in these flowers.
Each individual had tended and nurtured us at various stages of our lives, and the flowers reminded us to continue the nurturing of each other and our community. Our union now represented this beautifully lush, flourishing, and diverse garden of many flowers, all with their different shapes, colors, and textures. Each flower represented a member of our community, a learning opportunity, a chance to serve, nurture and love.
Drawing parallels between the diverse flower arrangements at our wedding and our community is not a new one. In fact, it happens to be very similar to the way in which the Baha’i teachings see the world of humanity, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of his words and reflections in light of my own recent experiences. In many of his talks, letters and tablets, Abdu’l-Baha used the analogy of a garden to support and expand on the Baha’i principles of harmony, unity, diversity and oneness.
In the following quotation, Abdu’l-Baha uses the analogy of a beautiful garden full of a variety of flowers to describe his vision for unity in diversity. In the second quote he elaborates, sharing the analogy of the birds that spend their time in this garden. Though the birds differ in color they don’t separate themselves or distinguish each other as different:
In reality all are members of one human family—children of one Heavenly Father. Humanity may be likened unto the vari-colored flowers of one garden. There is unity in diversity. Each sets off and enhances the other’s beauty. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 25.
When you enter a rose-garden the wealth of color and variety of floral forms spread before you a picture of wonder and beauty. The world of humanity is like a garden and the various races are the flowers which constitute its adornment and decoration. In the animal kingdom also we find variety of color. See how the doves differ in beauty yet they live together in perfect peace, and love each other. They do not make difference of color a cause of discord and strife. They view each other as the same species and kind. They know they are one in kind. Often a white dove soars aloft with a black one. Throughout the animal kingdom we do not find the creatures separated because of color. They recognize unity of species and oneness of kind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 268.
Just as the variety of colors, scents and shapes of flowers came together so beautifully on our wedding day, so too, Baha’is believe, shall the races of humanity. In the following quote, Abdu’l-Baha shares how a garden with only one color and species would become “monotonous and dull,” whereas, a garden that gladdens the heart and highlights the contrasting qualities in others is one full and rich in a variety of hues, contrasting colors, forms and perfume—a perfect example of unity in diversity:
Differences which are only those of blood also cause them to destroy and kill one another. Alas! that this should still be so. Let us look rather at the beauty in diversity, the beauty of harmony, and learn a lesson from the vegetable creation. If you beheld a garden in which all the plants were the same as to form, colour and perfume, it would not seem beautiful to you at all, but, rather, monotonous and dull. The garden which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form and perfume, and the joyous contrast of colour is what makes for charm and beauty. So is it with trees. An orchard full of fruit trees is a delight; so is a plantation planted with many species of shrubs. It is just the diversity and variety that constitutes its charm; each flower, each tree, each fruit, beside being beautiful in itself, brings out by contrast the qualities of the others, and shows to advantage the special loveliness of each and all. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 52-53.
Abdu’l-Baha likened the world of existence to “a jungle of disorder and confusion” that is full of untrained potential. The following passage frames God as the ideal gardener, who trains the garden of humanity to become beautiful, fruitful and flourishing. As members of the human garden, we all have the potential and opportunity to nurture ourselves with prayer, in order to strengthen our service to the community and translate Abdu’l-Baha’s vision into reality:
If the mountains, hills and plains of the material world are left wild and uncultivated under the rule of nature, they will remain an unbroken wilderness; no fruitful tree to be found anywhere upon them. A true cultivator changes this forest and jungle into a garden, training its trees to bring forth fruit and causing flowers to grow in place of thorns and thistles. The holy Manifestations are the ideal gardeners of human souls, the divine cultivators of human hearts. The world of existence is but a jungle of disorder and confusion, a state of nature producing nothing but fruitless, useless trees. The ideal gardeners train these wild uncultivated human trees, cause them to become fruitful, water and cultivate them day by day so that they adorn the world of existence and continue to flourish in the utmost beauty. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 466.
Reflecting on the sheer joy we all experienced on our wedding day, shared by the family, friends and flowers that filled the room, I’d like to close with the following words of Abdu’l-Baha as he elaborates on the quality of joy generated when love and harmony is achieved through diversity:
Thus should it be among the children of men! The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and colour from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 52.