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Yesterday morning, as I woke up, an unexpected idea popped into my head. Yes, I thought. Today is the day for a visit to Christy and Rosemary. Has one of those unbidden urges ever occurred to you?
My friend Christy is caring for her mother Rosemary during the last months of her life, as Rosemary makes her slow transition to the next world.
I don’t know Christy that well, but we’d connected not long before at a neighborhood gathering when we shared about our mothers. My own mom died a year ago this month, after a long decline into dementia and physical struggles during Covid; so I know a little of what Christy is experiencing, both the heartbreak and the stunning beauty of the close of an earthly life.
Later that morning, I cut a bouquet of a few of the gigantic rosy amaryllis blooming in my yard right now, put them in a big jar, and headed to Christy’s house. I parked in the drive, and as I approached her door, I heard her gasp and exclaim: “Michelle! Oh my God!” I thought she was reacting to the huge bouquet blocking my view of my feet, until she opened the door looking shocked, and said, “You have to see this.” She held up her phone, where one minute before she had texted me: Michelle, would you be able to stop by for a visit sometime today?
I laughed out loud, and she joined me as we embraced. I’d thought the visit was my idea, but I could see then that our deeper connection, the communion of our hearts, was perhaps more cosmically arranged, convincing me that I’d been visited by Divine inspiration a few hours before, when I’d received the idea to go see Christy. What followed was an unforgettable hour together. This precious time was exactly what we each needed. We shed tears of grief and of joy, told our stories of other family deaths – which felt healing for both of us – and sang prayers together to Rosemary at her bedside.
There was nothing more important I could have done yesterday than to listen to that inner voice and follow it. The experience brought to mind one of my favorite passages from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, and the one whom Baha’is turn to as an example:
O thou handmaid of God! In this day, to thank God for His bounties consisteth in possessing a radiant heart, and a soul open to the promptings of the spirit. This is the essence of thanksgiving. As for offering thanks by speaking out or writing, although this is indeed acceptable, yet when compared with that other thanksgiving, it is only a semblance and unreal; for the essential thing is these intimations of the spirit, these emanations from the deep recess of the heart.
A “soul open to the promptings of the spirit!” That’s exactly what I want to have. How beautiful when our actions align with what serves our highest and best good, and the highest and best good of those around us.
Of course, I get many ideas that are no doubt not in line with my true purpose in life. When I decide to watch too many episodes of a silly show as I shovel cookies into my mouth. When I pick a fight with my husband over nothing at all. Or when I decide it’s too much trouble to return a friend’s call or show up at a community gathering, or that I need to advise my son when he never asked my opinion. Perhaps others can relate.
It can be hard to sort the promptings of my spirit, the divine spark within me, from the promptings of my ego, or lower nature, the source of my regretful decisions. The key seems to be where I am focusing. Am I turning to my own desires and comfort, or am I oriented toward God? The Baha’i writings suggest that if an idea comes to us through prayer or meditation, we can be more sure of its rightness. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, who has expounded on and clarified the Baha’i writings, explained: “We cannot clearly distinguish between personal desire and guidance, but if the way opens, when we have sought guidance, then we may presume God is helping us.”
We can also focus on service to others and the needs of this world as a way to align our actions with the promptings of our spirit. “Let your vision be world-embracing, rather than confined to your own self,” Baha’u’llah advised. When we focus on how we can relieve, encourage, or cheer someone else’s heart, many ideas for service will spring to mind, all of them worthy. Abdu’l-Baha said:
Therefore strive that your actions day by day may be beautiful prayers. Turn towards God, and seek always to do that which is right and noble. Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute!
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I find this such a beautiful idea, that action and prayer can merge. Our actions can become worship when offered in service. A final clue to whether I’m acting from my best self rests in how the action makes me feel. Acting for the common good and from my higher nature brings joy and happiness. Though an act of service may be difficult, and require sacrifice and effort, its effect is positive and we will feel this in our hearts. Abdu’l-Baha explained:
In this world we are influenced by two sentiments, Joy and Pain. … There is no human being untouched by these two influences; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter – the spiritual world bestows only the joy!
This certainly describes my uplifting experience when I acted on the impulse to go visit my friend Christy. That inner prompting of the spirit resulted in joy for both of us, despite the difficult circumstances and the sadness of preparing for a physical separation.
I would like to spend more of my time doing things that feel this right. I hope that I will be able to hear more clearly, and heed, these “intimations of the spirit … these emanations from the deep recess of the human heart.” Perhaps if more of us listened for and tuned into these spiritual promptings, we could create better relationships, closer communities, and a world more aligned with our Creator’s loving and joyful plan for humanity.