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In the Bible’s story of creation, God created humanity from the very elements of the Earth – which means that in Adam’s body, he is completely one with nature. Genesis 1:7 says:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul.
When we read this passage literally, it simply suggests that God gave Adam’s lifeless body CPR – but reading the passage another way, we can consider that breath symbolizes the inner life of the spirit.
Metaphorically, this Biblical origin story tells us that something of the spirit of God lives within us all. In that symbolic sense, every human being truly is created in the image of God, for God is spirit. Baha’u’llah taught that the purpose of this life is developing that spirit:
The plants that have sprung forth, O my Lord, in the hearts of Thy loved ones have withered away. Send down upon them, from the clouds of Thy spirit, that which will cause the tender herbs of Thy knowledge and wisdom to grow within their breasts.
Accordingly, the Baha’i writings compare this idea of spiritual development to a child in the womb of its mother. In that brief nine-month pregnancy, the fetus develops physically in preparation for this world. A child in the womb has no need for eyes, legs, lungs, or the faculties of speech. Yet all these physical capacities must come together in the womb in order for the child to reach its full potential when born into this world. Likewise, on this physical plane our purpose involves developing the spiritual attributes that we will need in the next world.
These inner spiritual qualities have a mystical origin. As Baha’u’llah explained:
Consider, moreover, how the fruit, ere it is formed, lieth potentially within the tree. Were the tree to be cut into pieces, no sign nor any part of the fruit, however small, could be detected. When it appeareth, however, it manifesteth itself, as thou hast observed, in its wondrous beauty and glorious perfection. Certain fruits, indeed, attain their fullest development only after being severed from the tree.
In another passage Baha’u’llah wrote:
Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will ever be worthy of praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character, virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance.
So how do we begin to develop those spiritual fruits? Just as a tree depends upon the sun, the soil, and water for its life, our spiritual lives need external support, grounding, and nourishment. First and foremost, we need the love of God. As Baha’u’llah proclaimed:
For every one of you his paramount duty is to choose for himself that on which no other may infringe and none usurp from him. Such a thing – and to this the Almighty is My witness – is the love of God, could ye but perceive it.
Next, we need grounding in a spiritual education. Baha’u’llah described the founders and prophets of the great Faiths as “Roots of Knowledge.” These manifestations of God and their essential spiritual teachings give people the knowledge, strength, and foundation needed for character development and spiritual maturation.
The tree of our being needs to drink the life-giving water of the word of God. From the writings of Baha’u’llah:
The Water for these trees is the living water of the sacred Words uttered by the Beloved of the world. In one instant are such trees planted and in the next their branches shall, through the outpourings of the showers of divine mercy, have reached the skies.
In the Baha’i teachings, Baha’u’llah offers that “living water” to humanity as a whole, as well as to each individual. The Baha’i writings focus on individual spiritual growth, but also on the protection, guidance, peace, and unity of society as a whole. In this day, the Baha’i teachings say, it is not only the individual soul that seeks salvation – it is the entire human race.