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I have not been able to visit my country of origin—Iran–for thirty five years. I would love to go back for a visit, but it is not safe for me to do so because of my beliefs. Despite that, some touching memories have stayed with me from my childhood in Iran.
One of them is the degree of importance people in Iran give to welcoming their guests to their homes. The highlight of this tradition arrives when guests visit each other for the Persian New Year. Just before New Year you can hear the hustle and bustle of preparations and spring cleaning: curtains are washed, every nook and cranny in the house is thoroughly cleaned and a variety of Persian sweets and fruits are meticulously stacked for a feast. Colorful flowers in the homes remind us of the beginning of spring. Even the adults and children, if they can afford it, buy and wear new clothes for the occasion. It feels like the world, nature, humanity and divinity all come together to celebrate the old–but also to witness a new beginning.
Now, come with me on a journey, if you will. Imagine that on this occasion an important guest will visit your home. Not just any guest—this person is the most important guest imaginable. To some of you, this guest may have gone by the name of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, Zoroaster, Abraham or Baha’u’llah. You can decide which one of these pure mirrors of God will be your guest.
You have a few days to prepare your house for the visit. What would you do? Seriously, stop reading and just take a moment and think: what would you do? If your relationship with your guest was built on unconditional love, endless admiration, adoration, worship and a deep sense of gratitude–how would that determine your actions and attitude towards this upcoming visit? Wouldn’t you take the time to thoroughly clean your house with joy? Would you not, according to your means, provide every comfort possible? Wouldn’t you prepare, with a sense of elation and gratitude, the very best and most delicious foods available? Wouldn’t you decorate your home with beautiful flowers? If you had the power, wouldn’t you order every tree, plant, flower and shrub to gleam with color and diffuse welcoming scents? Wouldn’t you hope, as the day arrived, that your home would please your loved one? And when the hour of the visit approached, wouldn’t you take your best perfume and scatter it on the path to your house to welcome the one you have longed to see?
When we look at the truth of the matter, this special and honored guest does in fact visit our homes. We read in the Baha’i Writings:
Our hearts are the homes, the true habitations, which this blessed guest visits. In fact, our hearts are not our own homes–they actually belong to the guest:
So, how do we go about cleaning our home? We have two major tools for this monumental task: prayer and fasting. Prayer means deep and intimate communication with our creator, which Baha’is try to do on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter where we pray, or in what language. What is paramount is the attitude and the purity of our hearts when we turn to our Creator. Every time we pray, we nourish our souls and build a stronger bond with God.
In the same manner, Baha’is all over the world fast from eating and drinking during the daylight hours for nineteen days of the year (March 2nd to March 21st). This physical fast symbolizes the spiritual fast that refreshes our souls. We attempt to turn our hearts, thoughts, minds and bodies away from the material world, and focus it instead on the gem-like qualities of the great teachers, prophets and messengers of God. At the end of the fast Baha’is celebrate their New Year—on the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. This process of spiritual invigoration and “house cleaning” yields the most beautiful fruit.
In this season, as Fall turns to Winter and Spring seems so far away, November 12th marks the birth of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith–to Baha’is, the pure mirror of the light of God. May we all celebrate this special occasion, knowing that every day we can have the most special guest visiting our homes.