The first two essays in this series explored the idea that materialism focuses only on what can be sensed, while spiritual consciousness admits invisible aspects of reality. While some have interpreted this to mean that a spiritual person should remove himself from the material world, Baha’is believe in a whole-hearted engagement with reality, both sensible and intelligible.

We should all seek to perceive and understand the connection between matter and spirit.

Baha’u’llah wrote a letter to a man named Maqsud, and in it Baha’u’llah tells Maqsud how to talk to people, with respect to the impressions or emotions that speech can create. He wrote:

Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 172-173.

In a similar vein, Abdu’l-Baha proposes that matter can affect our emotions. He gives several examples of how sensible realities—a state of cleanliness or even the vibrations of our auditory nerves—can shape our inner state, an intelligible reality:

…in every aspect of life, purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement, exalt the human condition and further the development of man’s inner reality. Even in the physical realm, cleanliness will conduce to spirituality, as the Holy Writings clearly state. And although bodily cleanliness is a physical thing, it hath, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the life of the spirit. It is even as a voice wondrously sweet, or a melody played: although sounds are but vibrations in the air which affect the ear’s auditory nerve, and these vibrations are but chance phenomena carried along through the air, even so, see how they move the heart. A wondrous melody is wings for the spirit, and maketh the soul to tremble for joy. The purport is that physical cleanliness doth also exert its effect upon the human soul. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 146.

If you’ve ever felt deeply moved by music, you know exactly what this quote means. The human soul has always responded to our higher art forms, and music certainly has one of the greatest artistic impacts on us. It can change our mood instantly, lift our spirits, inspire our hearts. The power of music doesn’t reside in its physical chords and notes, though—it resides in our spirits, where we feel its impact and respond to its beauty:

Try, if thou canst, to use spiritual melodies, songs and tunes, and to bring the earthly music into harmony with the celestial melody. Then thou wilt notice what a great influence music hath and what heavenly joy and life it conferreth. Strike up such a melody and tune as to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a letter to an individual Baha’i.

Matter influences spirit: from the vibrations of the words we say or the music we hear, to the state of cleanliness of our bodies, all can have a powerful effect on the spirit even though they are only material things. Different vibrations of words and music have differing effects on the spirit. Baha’u’llah counsels us to understand this as a means to attain the ultimate goal of our existence, the station of true understanding and nobility.

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

6 Comments

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  • Oct 05, 2015
    Good day Mr. Wood. You do not know me nor I you but I spent a lot of time in Fort Collins from 1962 to 1966. At the time I was stationed at Lowry AFB in Denver. We had a terrific youth group that travelled taugh across the Rocky Mountain States Youth Committee. Well that is another story. I enjoyed this presentation -- thank you for exploring such vital concepts and their interrelations. ... One observation I'd like to offer is this -- music is a culturally determined phenomena. My musical appreciation background includes: R &B, Blues, Jazz, Funck and Aboriginal/Native American drumming and flute. These uplift my spirit in ways that western classical music never has. This is not to say there is any short coming with this genre. I believe it is more a function of what I was exposed as a young person growing up in Bed Sty. Should any you or any of the contributors wish to comment on any of the above please do.
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    • Oct 15, 2015
      Hi Mr. Newkirk, thanks for your comment! It is very interesting that different genres of music speak to different people, in my mind this echoes how different principles attract different souls, like all of the different colors that can be defracted from light. Sam Cooke, Joao Gilberto, and Oumou Sangaré are some of my favorites that you might also like. www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3_10RKZFmc
  • Oct 03, 2015
    great piece Tim. really highlights the power of the material to uplift our spiritual sides. it's why i love music so much!
    • Nov 02, 2015
      Thanks Max! I'm gonna plug your music: http://arisingtoserve.bandcamp.com/track/o-god-my-god
  • Oct 02, 2015
    Hi tim love your inner wisdom, as a fan of yours can I share your wisdom to others who can benefit your message. For preserving good seeds like you'
    • Oct 02, 2015
      Hi Anecito, I'm so glad the Baha'i teachings move you, too! It's an honor to be able to share my opinions on them--please repost, share, and continue to comment.