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This series of essays has dealt with the connections between matter and spirit, and we’ve observed together the dynamic coherence between the spiritual and material aspects of life. Matter affects spirit; spirit shapes matter. We’ve learned that the pathway of consciousness leads through the material to the spiritual and that our minds can, through the use of metaphor, grasp invisible realities through reference to the visible world. Just as metaphor connects matter with spirit, a bridge exists within us between those two worlds.
Let’s ponder that bridge for a moment.
Abdul-Baha terms this bridge within us “the common faculty.” This faculty conveys what the outward senses discern to our inner reality. We all possess that element of the human reality, which interacts with both worlds: sensible and intelligible, material and spiritual. As I try to picture it, an old-fashioned telephone switchboard operator comes to mind.
An antique analog switchboard functioned by manually connecting the signal from the caller to the call recipient through a wire. In the old days, a switchboard operator plugged and unplugged the wires to receive and send the signals to the right people. Imagine that similar connections exist in the human body through the common faculty. You can visualize it by seeing pathways in the nervous system as wires, and the incoming calls as sensory data turned into an electrical signal, linking the outside world of the senses with the internal world of perception.
The body goes through stages of development, constituted by relations between sensation and perception, or a flow of energy in the body. An infant puts everything in its mouth before it knows how to distinguish between food and other forms of matter. Over time the infant learns, neural pathways are forged to meet needs and satiate desires, and capacities emerge like eating, walking, and reading. Some of these pathways emerge naturally, others only as the result of education.
Spiritually, we may gain conscious command of this faculty, much like a child gradually gains command of his legs and walks. We do that best through the use of symbols, metaphors and figurative language. Metaphors train us to make connections between matter and spirit. Perhaps Baha’u’llah’s metaphors about energy can help us understand our proper relation to it, and distinguish the light of consciousness from the darkness of materialism.
Prayer and meditation serve as sources of illumination, through them we can develop the capacities of the soul, and “transmute earthly inclinations into heavenly attributes.” One Baha’i prayer says:
O Thou Who art the Lord of all names and the Maker of the heavens! I beseech Thee by them Who are the Daysprings of Thine invisible Essence, the Most Exalted, the All-Glorious, to make of my prayer a fire that will burn away the veils which have shut me out from Thy beauty, and a light that will lead me unto the ocean of Thy Presence. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, pp. 6-7.
I want to better understand these metaphors: fire, light, heat, electricity, and vibration. I trust that understanding them will help restructure my inner reality and call forth new capacities in my soul. Scientific studies cohere with spiritual insights and demonstrate that love is inner illumination. Abdul-Baha asks us to focus our thoughts and desires on this:
I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love… If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men… Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Man. – Paris Talks, pp. 29-30.
This quote implies a connection between my inner reality and your inner reality. Somehow our thoughts and desires spread, and those focused on love destroy those focused on hate. Research about the human heart may explain this phenomenon, in part, but it seems like an aspect of invisible reality that we have only begun to perceive. I hope that the thoughts I’ve shared are a source of insight, and that my desire for understanding resonates with the same desire in you. Let’s keep sharing insights with one another as we tread this path through the material world toward greater illumination!