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The word “spiritual” used to refer almost exclusively to things directly related to one’s religious beliefs, but in recent times it has come to be used as an alternative to religion itself.
Today, people commonly say something like this: “I’m not religious, but I consider myself a spiritual person.”
To clarify, let’s look at a dictionary definition of the word “spiritual” and then see what the Baha’i teachings have to say.
spirˑitˑuˑal adjective 1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not material; supernatural: spiritual power. 2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul: spiritual guidance; spiritual growth. 3. Not concerned with material or worldly things: led a spiritual life. 4. Of or belonging to a religion; sacred: spiritual practices; spiritual music.
Spiritual progress is through the breaths of the Holy Spirit and is the awakening of the conscious soul of man to perceive the reality of divinity. Material progress insures the happiness of the human world. Spiritual progress insures the happiness and eternal continuance of the soul.
He also wrote:
That which is truly spiritual must light the path to God and must result in deeds. We cannot believe the call to be spiritual when there is no result. Spirit is reality, and when the spirit in each of us seeks to join itself with the Great Reality, it must in turn give life.
These passages bring us back to religion, which unfortunately has developed a negative connotation for many people. But if we have a soul and are truly spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting material bodies, then the source of that spirit must come to us from the Creator through what Christianity refers to as the Holy Spirit — an intangible yet very real connection between the human and the divine. Through this connection, we receive our inspiration to create.
Art and the Inspiration to Create
We all have the artistic inspiration to create inside us. We expressed it naturally as children when we drew, danced, and drummed on a can. In his writings, Baha’u’llah explained where the urge to create originates – in the word of God:
Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God is endowed with such potency as can instill new life into every human frame, if ye be of them that comprehend this truth. All the wondrous works ye behold in this world have been manifested through the operation of His supreme and most exalted Will, His wondrous and inflexible Purpose. Through the mere revelation of the word “Fashioner,” issuing forth from His lips and proclaiming His attribute to mankind, such power is released as can generate, through successive ages, all the manifold arts which the hands of man can produce. This, verily, is a certain truth. No sooner is this resplendent word uttered, than its animating energies, stirring within all created things, give birth to the means and instruments whereby such arts can be produced and perfected. All the wondrous achievements ye now witness are the direct consequences of the Revelation of this Name.
Since the power to create comes from one of the Names of God: “The Fashioner,” and you and I are created in His image, it follows that we too are fashioners and creators. Therefore, the arts, which seem at first glance to be material, may help transform our spirits.
The Driving Force to Make Art Comes from Within
The use of many arts requires material items, but the driving force that takes them and makes something beautiful from them comes from within — from your soul, your inner being reflected in the outer world.
Dancing and singing can occur without any need for things concrete, but if you wish to dance for others, you’ll choose a costume that enhances the visual effect and perhaps find an interesting background to set it off. You may add items to use in the dance, like flowing scarves, umbrellas or batons, castanets, or anything else that helps enhance the dance and the message it conveys. You can sing a capella, but most times one or more instruments will be used to accompany you, providing yet another element of sound to help penetrate the heart and soul of the listener. In a talk he gave in London, Abdu’l-Baha encouraged us to:
Break all fetters and seek for spiritual joy and enlightenment; then, though you walk on this earth, you will perceive yourselves to be within the divine horizon.
Have you ever felt transported to a plane of exaltation while participating in an artistic endeavor? Once, in a circle of people doing a simple step to the steady beat of a maraca being shaken while others prayed aloud, I suddenly felt as though I was floating; my feet were moving but I didn’t feel the floor beneath them. What an ecstatic sensation – it felt as though I were “within the divine horizon.”
When you begin to feel the joy of spiritual enlightenment, these qualities become contagious, affecting those who surround you. According to Abdu’l-Baha:
Life in man should be like a flame, warming all with whom it comes into contact. The spiritually awakened are like to bright torches in the sight of God; they give light and comfort to their fellows.
As you begin to experience spiritual transformation through your artistic endeavors, the light within you radiates outward, and others are encompassed and influenced by it. You become the light in their darkness. Thus, art is an act of spirituality.