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In the pursuit of religious unity, do Baha’is only recognize the founders of the world’s most well-known religions – or do they also recognize the Indigenous messengers of God?
In this ongoing conversation between Baha’i scholar and author Chris Buck and Lakota artist and author Kevin Locke, we address that important subject.
Q: Greetings, Kevin! At the end of our article in Part 58 of this series (“Gluskap: Ancient and Modern Teachings”), we quoted the following remarkable letter from the Universal House of Justice to the 1972 Baha’i Unity Conference on the Navajo Nation — a letter that you introduced to me, and which you have posted on a wall in your house on the Standing Rock Reservation:
Praise be to the Almighty that you have gathered in that beautiful spot in a spirit of love and harmony for the purpose of strengthening the bonds of unity between yourselves and among all men.
The All-Wise Creator of earth and heaven has from the beginning which has no beginning sent to His peoples Divine Messengers to guide them to the Straight Path. These Wise Ones have come to establish the unity of the Kingdom in human hearts. This great evolutionary process of building the organic unity of the human race has entered a new stage with this mighty message of Baha’u’llah. His voice is the voice of the Great Spirit. His love for humankind is the force of the New Age.
He who sends the rain, who causes the sun and the stars to shine, the rivers to flow, the winds to blow and the earth to give forth her bounties has in this Great Day sent to all mankind Baha’u’llah. It is this Great One who has opened the door of divine knowledge to every soul. It is His teachings that will establish world unity and bring about universal peace.
The people of the world are the tools in His hand. They must strive to understand His message and to walk in the path of His divine guidance. Every human being is responsible in this day to seek the truth for himself and thereafter to live according to that wise counsel. The old ones have all longed for this sweet message. Praise God that you have found it.
Now awakened to new wisdom, now guided to the straight path, now illumined with this mighty message, strive you day and night to guide and assist the thirsty ones in all lands to the ever-flowing fountain, the wandering ones to this fortress of certainty, the ignorant ones to this source of knowledge and the seekers to that One for whom their hearts long.
May your consultation reach so high a level of endeavour and purpose that the Great One will open before your faces the doors of the paradise of wisdom and love and cause the light of the Abha Beauty [Baha’u’llah] to shine in your midst.
With loving Baha’i greetings,
The Universal House of Justice
Since Ganado, Arizona, is part of the Navajo Nation, I presume that most of the participants were Navajos, including Navajo Baha’is. In our live-streamed presentation on April 16, 2020 (hosted by the Green Acre Baha’i School), I asked you about this extraordinary letter. Would you please comment again?
First, Kevin, who are “These Wise Ones” the Universal House of Justice refers to? Are they one and the same as the “Divine Messengers”? Since the immediate audience were primarily Navajo Baha’is, did the “Wise Ones” include the Indigenous messengers of God we’ve discussed in this series of articles?
A: Chris, this is one of my favorite messages from the Baha’i World Centre. When this message was sent, one of the members of the Universal House of Justice at the time had lived and served in the Ganado area of the Navajo Nation for many years, and was well familiar with the sentiments, perceptions and culture of the predominantly Navajo people there. This message from the Universal House of Justice was sent to a non-European language-speaking community, firmly rooted in their Indigenous spiritual heritage. For them, the “Wise Ones” (when translated into the Navajo language) would have implicitly meant those Indigenous messengers of God, who had planted the divine message in the hearts of the Navajo ancestors’ people of the Ganado area, prior to the arrival of immigrants to this land.
Q: Who are “the old ones” who “have all longed for this sweet message”?
A: The “old ones” are certainly those Navajo and other Indigenous ancestors, who, in ancient times, received the spiritual glad-tidings from those teachers whom the Universal House of Justice respectfully referred to as “Wise Ones.” One of the well-known Navajo customs is to rise before sun-up and run towards the dawn to receive and welcome the resplendent rays of the new day. This is the spirit with which we are to embrace the promised message of the Day of God – with energy and enthusiasm!
I find it noteworthy that one of the beautiful metaphors in the House of Justice’s message is to “to guide and assist the thirsty ones in all lands to the ever-flowing fountain.” This choice metaphor is as rich in meaning as it is poetic, being so culturally relevant to the immediate Navajo audience at the Ganado Baha’i conference. The Navajo live in the midst of a vast desert, where water is scarce and precious and is therefore symbolically strongly linked to God’s bestowals.
Q: The Universal House of Justice, in this same letter, refers to the “Great Spirit,” God, who has sent “this Great One” (Baha’u’llah) in “this Great Day” who brings a “new wisdom.” What is this “new wisdom” and “sweet message” that the “old ones” have “all longed for”? Does this refer to Baha’u’llah’s “teachings that will establish world unity and bring about universal peace”?
A: Throughout the Western Hemisphere, the first places where large numbers of people accepted Baha’u’llah’s message and became Baha’is were all among Indigenous populations – in Navajo-land, Saskatchewan, Bolivia, Peru, Panama, etc. These were all places where the Indigenous populations had rejected the immigrant culture and language and clung to the ancestral promises of renewal and fulfillment. The “new wisdom” they received was not the false promise of material civilization but was the “sweet message” clearly enunciated by those Wise Ones who had raised the Call of God on this land from time immemorial.
Q: So I think you and I agree that the Universal House of Justice, in explicitly referring to the “Divine Messengers” as “these Wise Ones” — who were sent to “all lands” — implicitly includes those Indigenous messengers of God who were sent to the Americas.
A: Yes, we do. The all-inclusive unity of religions that Baha’u’llah taught makes that undoubtedly true.
Q: So each of these Wise Ones was a voice of the Great Spirit, culminating, after “this great evolutionary process of building the organic unity of the human race,” in “this Great Day,” in the appearance of Baha’u’llah, the Great One whose voice is the voice of the Great Spirit, whose “love for humankind is the force of the New Age,” and whose “teachings that will establish world unity and bring about universal peace?”