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If you consume a great deal of what passes for news today, it may have the effect of turning you into a pessimist, convincing you that the world has no hope for a flourishing future.
But here’s a piece of under-reported good news you probably won’t see on your local channel: the worldwide Baha’i community has never been stronger.
That strength has resulted from the wider population of the planet becoming increasingly receptive to joining in the Baha’i community’s grassroots efforts toward what can only be termed civilization-building.
In his talk to my Baha’i community in Ottawa, former member of the Universal House of Justice Dr. Firaydoun Javaheri called upon all Baha’is “to be flames of hope and reassurance” in supporting these essential core activities — educational and devotional, the elevation of discourse and the taking of positive social action — that lead to the common good.
The Baha’is have clear guidance about what to do in this unsettled time. In fact, Dr. Javaheri asserted, the current plight of humanity is synchronized with the growing influence of the Baha’i models of community and personal development. Even greater calamities may yet visit humanity, for which it appears to be poorly prepared, but the Baha’i world continues, calmly but energetically, to reinforce the resilience the world needs to overcome difficulty and suffering. In the 1930s, many planetary emergencies ago, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, wrote:
Such a unique and momentous crisis in the life of organized mankind may, moreover, be likened to the culminating stage in the political evolution of the great American Republic – the stage which marked the emergence of a unified community of federated states. The stirring of a new national consciousness, and the birth of a new type of civilization, infinitely richer and nobler than any which its component parts could have severally hoped to achieve, may be said to have proclaimed the coming of age of the American people.
Such is the stage to which an evolving humanity is collectively approaching.
In Dr. Javaheri’s view, the Baha’i community, though relatively small in numbers, has an essential contribution to make to that evolving world consciousness. In the pandemic, humanity’s leaders saw their health-care systems caught short of sufficient masks, personal protective equipment, and ventilators; in a similar vein, the job of Baha’is is to generate the greatest possible number and vigor of their outreach activities and those that can facilitate them, because these are the tools of true social change and development. At some point, Javaheri said, humanity will need to turn to what the Baha’i community conceives of as its working global model for how to better our personal and collective lives.
During the mutually reinforcing crises of 2020, several messages from the Universal House of Justice have urged us to “noble aims, high resolve and intense endeavour” in the particular forms of education and action that Baha’i communities offer to humanity in this difficult but excitingly transformational time, to consider:
… what means might be within their power to prevent, relieve, or mitigate suffering in the wider society of which they are an integral part. When society is in such difficulty and distress, the responsibility of the Baha’is to make a constructive contribution to human affairs becomes more pronounced. – The Universal House of Justice, 9 May 2020.
It’s a lofty summons. The temptation exists, always, for all of us to feel overwhelmed by the suffering we see, and to long for more tangible and immediate community responses. Unnumbered ills separately afflict the body politic, and the solutions seem distant and difficult.
On the other hand, though humanity continues to struggle with the transition to a global perspective, Baha’u’llah’s writings promise a glorious future for human civilization and brilliant prescriptions for how its peace and prosperity are to be achieved. So what was Dr. Javaheri’s view of this conundrum?
He looks to the Universal House of Justice for guidance, just as any Baha’i would. Having once been a member of that institution does not diminish his allegiance and reverence towards it. In speaking with his fellow believers and their allies, he referred to three potent messages issued by the House of Justice this past spring. At the Festival of Ridvan in late April, which celebrates the inauguration of Baha’u’llah’s mission, Baha’is of the world have long looked forward to an annual message from the Universal House of Justice. This pivotal year, as the global pandemic was beginning to derange societies, the Universal House of Justice could not wait, and sent a consoling message to the world’s faithful at Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i new year’s day in March. Shortly after their Ridvan message, on May 9th, they sent another set of encouraging appeals to the Baha’i community’s over 180 National Spiritual Assemblies. Based on these messages, he had several themes to convey, but it came down to this: Stay hopeful. Stay focused.Despite the difficulties and the need for caution, Dr. Javaheri said, the Baha’is need to remember what their community mission has always been – and “we need to intensify it.” All three letters, while loving and understanding, underscore in various ways that the current period is not just “a hiatus to be endured with patience” but also a special opportunity to exercise the paradoxical duality of Baha’i work: proceeding with serenity toward a certain and glorious, unified and peaceful destiny for the human race, while also summoning great urgency in developing the organic, educational processes that can best prepare our localities for the challenges of the future.