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Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.... – Because I could not stop for Death, Emily Dickinson
When the American poet Emily Dickinson wrote this now-famous quatrain in 1863, she could not have known, at least intellectually, that the Baha'i Faith, with its joyous message of death and immortality, had just begun during that same year. Dickinson, who had a lifelong fascination with death and dying, sometimes wrote about them with fear, trepidation and dread. But occasionally she managed to overcome her fears and treat death and immortality with curiosity, acceptance and wonder, as she did here in this poem.
We human beings naturally fear death, unless we have a strong faith in an afterlife. That kind of faith gives us hope, minimizes our fear of the unknown, and provides us with a vision of heaven—not as a physical place somewhere, but as an immortal condition of the soul.
Rather than fearing death, the Baha'i teachings ask us to see it as hopeful and joyous:
A Baha'i asked Abdu’l-Baha: "How should one look forward to death?" Abdu'l-Baha answered:
How does one look forward to the goal of any journey? With hope and with expectation. It is even so with the end of this earthly journey. In the next world, man will find himself freed from many of the disabilities under which he now suffers. Those who have passed on through death, have a sphere of their own. It is not removed from ours; their work, the work of the Kingdom, is ours; but it is sanctified from what we call 'time and place.' Time with us is measured by the sun. When there is no more sunrise, and no more sunset, that kind of time does not exist for man. Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation. - Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 95.
Baha’u’llah consistently refers to death as a messenger of happiness and joy:
Seize thou the Chalice of Immortality in the name of thy Lord, the All-Glorious, and give thanks unto Him, inasmuch as He, in token of His mercy unto thee, hath turned thy sorrow into gladness, and transmuted thy grief into blissful joy. - Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 15.
Baha’is believe that this immortality, like the one Dickinson so lovingly refers to in her poetry, can bring us eternal happiness:
…he who has insight, spiritual, and merciful, will find that the human soul was never and will never be of the perishable. He perceives that all things have been always with him and are under his shadows. He finds himself eternal, everlasting, ever living, immortal and submerged in the lights of the Exalted Lord. For he has spiritual perception and susceptible conscience and is not limited by the rules of mind and human senses. But he who is lacking in insight and a pure conscience, always finds himself desperate, and of the dead. Whenever he thinks of death, he becomes alarmed and believes himself to be of the perishable. But the blessed souls are not like that. They know that they are immortal, full of light, and will never die… - Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 9, pp. 307-308.
With that eternal life, that imperishable existence in mind, the Baha'i teachings assure us, we can forego our fears:
Now I say unto you, bear this on your hearts and in your minds. Verily your light shall illumine the whole world, your spirituality shall affect the heart of things. You shall in truth become the lighted torches of the globe. Fear not, neither be dismayed, for your light shall penetrate the densest darkness. - Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 169.
O sincere servant of the True One! I hear thou art grieved and distressed at the happenings of the world and the vicissitudes of fortune. Wherefore this fear and sorrow?
…Thou who art neath the shelter of God, and under the shadow of the Tree of His Covenant, why sorrow and repine? Rest thou assured and feel confident. Observe the written commandments of thy Lord with joy and peace, with earnestness and sincerity; and be thou the well-wisher of thy country and thy government. His grace shall assist thee at all times, His blessings shall be bestowed upon thee, and thy heart's desire shall be realized.
…Were the friends to realize what a glorious sovereignty the Lord hath destined for them in His Kingdom, surely they would be filled with ecstasy, would behold themselves crowned with immortal glory and carried away with transports of delight. Erelong it shall be made manifest how brilliantly the light of His bountiful care and mercy hath shone upon His loved ones, and what a turbulent ocean hath been stirred in their hearts! Then will they clamour and exclaim: Happy are we; let all the world rejoice! - Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 309.