In this part of the series of essays on the spiritual qualities exemplified by the names of the Baha’i months, let’s talk about the month of “Grandeur” (‘Aẓamat), from mid-May to early June. Grandeur certainly describes God. But is “grandeur” something that ordinary people, like you and I, can aspire to? If so, what would that look like?
To have grandeur requires being “grand” in some way, shape or form. “Grand”—not “grandiose.” But someone may ask, “If we are supposed to be humble, how then can we be ‘grand’ at the same time?” What about “delusions of grandeur”? Isn’t there a danger of falling into that trap as well?
After a few obsolete definitions, here’s how the Oxford English Dictionary defines “grandeur”:
3. Conscious greatness, imposing dignity. Also: haughtiness, arrogance.
4. a. The quality of being grand or imposing as an object of contemplation; majesty of appearance; sublimity, magnificence. Also: an instance of this quality.
b. The quality of being grand or imposing in style or manner of composition.
5. Magnificence or splendour of appearance, lifestyle, possessions, etc., suggestive of wealth or high social position; an instance of this.
6. Transcendent greatness; intrinsic nobility.
“Intrinsic nobility.” That’s it! That’s the definition that best captures the Baha’i sense of grandeur at the personal level, when we try our best to express the godly quality as a sterling human quality. Now how do we make the “intrinsic” extrinsic?
Let’s see if the Baha’i writings offer any insight on the topic of personal grandeur in day-to-day life. Here’s part of a Baha’i prayer that includes grandeur as one of the fruits of walking the spiritual path of service to humanity:
Shield them [the faithful] within the stronghold of Thy protection and safety, preserve them in Thy watchful care, look upon them with the eyes of Thy providence and mercy, make them the signs of Thy divine unity that are manifest throughout all regions, the standards of Thy might that wave above Thy mansions of grandeur, the shining lamps that burn with the oil of Thy wisdom in the globes of Thy guidance, the birds of the garden of Thy knowledge that warble upon the topmost boughs in Thy sheltering paradise, and the leviathans of the ocean of Thy bounty that plunge by Thy supreme mercy in the fathomless deeps. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 157.
Where are these “mansions of grandeur”? Truth be told, the visible eye can’t see them. Rather, this is a metaphor. Yes, metaphors are poetic. But they are also real, in the sense that they obliquely describe psychological dynamics and spiritual realities.
Here, “the standards of Thy might” refers to the signs of God’s power in the world of human existence. And what power is that? The power to transform! How? By the power of moral grandeur. Although these “mansions of grandeur” are God’s, you and I can potentially become one of “the standards of Thy might that wave above Thy mansions of grandeur.” Calling to mind medieval castles of old, we can think of these “standards” as imperial flags, as bright banners of guidance and nobility.
Now let’s take a look at another Baha’i text relating to the grandeur of the human soul:
Quaff then, O My brother, from the living waters that We have caused to flow in the oceans of these words. Methinks the seas of grandeur are surging within them, and the gems of divine virtue are shining within and upon them. Divest then thyself of that which debarreth thee from this fathomless crimson sea …. – Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 60.
Think of the expression, “You are what you eat.” By the same logic, it could also be said, “You are what you drink.” Here, Baha’u’llah invites the reader to “quaff” (i.e. “drink”) “the living waters” of Baha’u’llah’s words, wherein flow “the seas of grandeur.” Like dream logic, spiritual contemplation is associative by nature, enriched by metaphorical visions of true and abiding grandeur.
One more example should suffice to illustrate what spiritual grandeur means. To bring grandeur closer to home, to further personalize it, reflect on this tablet from Abdu’l-Baha addressed to a Baha’i family, who had just hosted a Baha’i Feast in their home:
O ye blessed souls! On the night of the feast ye entertained the beloved and were occupied in the service of the friends of God and the maid-servants of the Merciful One. Service to the sons and the daughters of the Kingdom is the diadem of everlasting glory with which ye have crowned your heads, the garment of eternal sovereignty with which ye have adorned your bodies, and the throne of majesty and grandeur of heaven upon which ye sat. – Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 3, p. 533.
Did this Baha’i Nineteen-Day Feast—in an atmosphere described as the “grandeur of heaven”—take place during the Baha’i month of Grandeur? Absent a given date, we simply don’t know. But grandeur of spirit should last all year round. The Baha’i month of Grandeur simply gives us an opportune time to reflect on grandeur and to meditate on how we can invite a sense of grandeur into our spiritual lives.