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This theme – recognition and obedience – has embraced my life from childhood on. I’m doing the hard work of writing about it to help me gain clarity, purpose, and advancement, and I hope it helps you, too.
Maybe when others read this, I can gain some knowledge and insight from the reactions, and maybe, just maybe, it might be of value to them as well.
When I began my lifelong engagement with the Baha’i Faith in 1963, I found these words from Baha’u’llah, written in his Most Holy Book:
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behooveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
When I became a Baha’i as a young American barely out of his teens, I was accustomed to the stern and categorical distinctions of my culture. I thought, “Recognition – check. I believe in Baha’u’llah.” Then I looked further, and thought, “Obedience – check. I gave up drinking before I became a Baha’i, and I’m monogamous too.” Finally I looked again, and thought, “Neither is acceptable without the other – check. I’ve got this.”
I was so wrong.
It’s taken me all these many years to get a much better grasp of the reality of Baha’u’llah’s meanings, and I’m still learning more. That, I’ve discovered, is exactly the point: the learning of recognition and obedience does not mean the mere flipping of a switch, or a check mark on a to-do list accomplished by the resolutely-magical act of will.
Instead, it is a lifelong process.
Tragically, I’ve had to come to understand this point only through causing myself much hardship, pain, and depression – and all these things have affected those around me. Even now I can read the words emphasizing the importance of obedience to the Creator, and I feel the shadows of failure creep up to engulf my soul.
But now I have enough self-respect, self-possession, and determination to find and remember what Abdu’l-Baha said about our developmental process:
In Persia there is a wonderful breed of horses which are trained to run long distances at very great speed. They are most carefully trained at first. They are taken out into the fields and made to run a short course. At the commencement of their training they are not able to run far. The distance is gradually increased. They become thinner and thinner, wiry and lean, but their strength increases. Finally, after months of rigid training, their swiftness and endurance become wonderful. They are able to run at full speed across rough country … At first this would have been impossible. Not until they become trained, thin and wiry, can they endure this severe test.
In this way I shall train you. “Kam-kam,” “kam-kam” (little by little, little by little), until your powers of endurance become so increased that you will serve the Cause of God continually, without other motive, without other thought or wish. This is my desire.
Abdu’l-Baha also spoke with Florence Breed Khan on this theme. She said there were two things Abdu’l-Baha taught her, which she often quoted in Persian:
One was that He said to her “Sabr kun; mithl-i-Man bash” – be patient, be as I am.” The other was when someone expressed discouragement to him, saying they could not possibly acquire all the qualities and virtues that Baha’is are directed to possess, and [he] replied “Kam Kam. Ruz bih ruz – little by little; day by day.”
Learning recognition and obedience is not the flipping of switches, the checking of boxes, or the act of will to teleport oneself into a state of spiritual bliss in the presence of God. It requires gradual steps forward. Sometimes the steps are longer, the stride is greater, but other times they’re all tiptoe and timid – and sometimes they’re right off into a muddy ditch, because getting things wrong is an essential part of ultimately getting them right. Abdu’l-Baha defined the purpose, set the practice, and offered us the gifts. He wrote:
From amongst all mankind hath He chosen you, and your eyes have been opened to the light of guidance and your ears attuned to the music of the Company above; and blessed by abounding grace, your hearts and souls have been born into new life. Thank ye and praise ye God that the hand of infinite bestowals hath set upon your heads this gem-studded crown, this crown whose lustrous jewels will forever flash and sparkle down all the reaches of time.
To thank Him for this, make ye a mighty effort, and choose for yourselves a noble goal. Through the power of faith, obey ye the teachings of God, and let all your actions conform to His laws. … Thus may each one of you be even as a candle casting its light, the center of attraction wherever people come together; and from you, as from a bed of flowers, may sweet scents be shed.
This doesn’t happen in an instant – true change never does. Even the committed perusal and study of just one of Baha’u’llah’s brief aphorisms from his mystical book The Hidden Words can lead to advancement in understanding and action.
Over time as a Baha’i, I learned to take the steps that I could take, and my hardship, pain, and depression faded away.
I learned, too, that we can’t look at others to compare ourselves to them. Each of us has his or her own course to set, his or her own gifts and challenges to consider. As I strive to do these things, the shadows fade, the purpose makes itself clear, my actions become better service to humanity. As that occurs, my recognition of the Baha’i teachings deepens, my obedience to its laws and principles develops, and its divine protection of me becomes both my armor and my wings.
I’m happy and content on this journey, but I still have far to go.
Of course, many, many others helped me along on my journey. As we grow spiritually, we learn to accept help, and we learn to offer it. Even if what we have to offer seems of little value, the least things I’ve been given have served me much more than I ever thought they could.