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Imagine, you are caught in the middle of a 500-year storm—a trillion gallons of water have fallen on the 4th largest city in the U.S., Houston.
It’s your city, and the water continues to rise. You and your family have been on your roof for hours, exposed to the elements, awaiting rescue by an overextended disaster response team or anyone else who may be willing to come to your aid. Finally, through the pouring rain and the howling wind, you see it–a small boat coming to your aid. This is your one chance for rescue. The boat pulls up and the sole occupant extends his hand, but before you take it and board the boat you ask for proof of faith, race, ethnicity, political party and citizenship.
If you object to the answers, you refuse to board. Can you even contemplate that this would ever happen?
Yet, when the flood recedes and the danger has passed all the artificial barriers between humans emerge again in our consciousness and remain the law of separation by which we live. Abdu’l-Baha clarified the underlying issue.
Alas! that humanity is completely submerged in limitations and unrealities notwithstanding the truth of divine religion has ever remained the same. Superstitions have obscured the fundamental reality, the world is darkened and the light of religion is not apparent. This darkness is conducive to differences and dissensions … True religion is the source of love and agreement amongst men, the cause of the development of praiseworthy qualities; but the people are holding to the counterfeit and imitation, negligent of the reality which unifies … They follow superstitions inherited from their fathers and ancestors. To such an extent has this prevailed that they have taken away the heavenly light of divine truth and sit in the darkness of imitations and imaginations. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 179.
If you’ve ever lived through one, you know that natural or man-made disasters have a way of blinding us to our perceived differences. With survival at stake, we come closer to the truth of our shared humanity. Suddenly it becomes self-evident that, as cells of one body, we are completely interdependent and all in the same boat.
This brings us to a larger question: where does our protection and safety really lie? In the floods of life, can we really build enough dams, reservoirs, levees and drainage systems to save us? Will intellect and material resources ever be enough? As recently illustrated by Hurricane Harvey and as stated in the Baha’i teachings, the answer is no:
Baha’u’llah has announced that no matter how far the world of humanity may advance in material civilization, it is nevertheless in need of spiritual virtues and the bounties of God. The spirit of man is not illumined and quickened through material resources. It is not resuscitated by investigation phenomena of the world of matter. The spirit of man is in need of the protection of the Holy Spirit. Just as he advances by progressive stages from the mere physical world of being into the intellectual realm, so must he develop upward in moral attributes and spiritual graces. In the process of this attainment he is ever in need of the bestowals of the Holy Spirit … Therefore no matter how man may advance upon the physical and intellectual plane he is ever in need of the boundless virtues of divinity, the protection of the Holy Spirit and the face of God. – Ibid., p. 288.
So how do we access the bestowals of the Holy Spirit? When divided, we deprive ourselves of the blessings and protection that come to us from God, for they most often come through other people. With division and disunity, we are left to our own devices, which always render us helpless and inadequate. True safety and salvation lies in a human unity that is not casual or superficial. It does not emerge in a national emergency, and then get swept away when safety returns. It is an eternal unity:
The unity which is productive of unlimited results is first a unity of mankind which recognizes that all are sheltered beneath the overshadowing glory of the All-Glorious; that all are servants of one God; for all breathe the same atmosphere, live upon the same earth, move beneath the same heavens, receive effulgence from the same sun and are under the protection of one God. This is the most great unity, and its results are lasting if humanity adheres to it; but mankind has hitherto violated it, adhering to sectarian or other limited unities such as racial, patriotic or unity of self-interests; therefore no great results have been forthcoming. – Ibid., p. 191.
We have been given an ark for our own salvation, if we would just use it. Baha’u’llah has extended his hand for us to climb aboard. We just have to ask ourselves—are we going to stay on the roof or embrace our eternal unity?