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As I write, the coronavirus pandemic is approaching its peak here in the U.K. and sweeping the rest of the world. From being able to shop for whatever we want, whenever we want, my family now has to plan shopping trips quite carefully, with a mind to personal safety as much as getting the provisions we need. It feels strange and unreal how our lives have changed dramatically in a matter of days.
This crisis has had a chastening effect on me. I now have an inkling as to what my parent’s generation went through during World War II and the subsequent food rationing. We can still more or less buy whatever we need, although we may have to wait a day or two for some things. My mother tells me that after the war she was given a banana to eat and she didn’t know what it was!
“Tribulations will continue to assail humanity as the old structures around us show themselves increasingly unable to find answers to our problems”
I can guess some of the stresses many millions of people experience in other parts of the world, for whom even the most basic necessities are hard to come by, and whose children go to sleep hungry at night. These insights make me a little ashamed of how complacent I have become, how much I take for granted, and how easy my life is compared to nearly everybody else that has ever existed throughout history.
Baha’u’llah, the Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, said: “O Son of Man! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit.” Tribulations will continue to assail humanity as the old structures around us show themselves increasingly unable to find answers to our problems. But these tests, I am discovering, help wake me up from my complacency and remind me of my duty to play a part in the world’s destiny. We cannot succeed without everyone’s help.
At times like these we all feel more afraid and vulnerable, and while these feelings may manifest themselves in panic-buying and other self-centred acts, our hearts also begin to open to deeper considerations. The shallow value of materialism reveals itself. I have heard the word “unity” mentioned more by social media commentators, religious leaders, and politicians in the last few weeks than in the whole of the last decade.
We also see the best of humanity manifesting before us: gifted minds working night and day to develop vaccines or ventilator technology, courageous doctors and nurses tending the sick, neighbors helping each other, dedicated workers keeping food shelves full. People feel and respond on different levels to the spiritual outpouring brought on by this crisis.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, said: “Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine mercy for our own perfecting.”
The coronavirus may feel like God’s vengeance, but despite the fear and loss it brings, we can also see it as a sign of growth to come. Eventually the coronavirus will be a thing of the past, and maybe we’ll look back and see how it helped us move towards world unity as part of this age of spiritual awakening, foretold by Baha’u’llah and other Manifestations of God.