All praise, O my God, be to Thee Who art the Source of all glory and majesty, of greatness and honor (istijlal), of sovereignty and dominion, of loftiness and grace, of awe and power. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations, p. 94.
“Majesty” (istijlāl) is the name for “Thursday” in the Baha’i Calendar. What does majesty signify? More importantly, what does it exemplify?
Generally speaking, when we think of “majesty,” royalty, wealth, power, and influence readily spring to mind. But that’s not what spiritual majesty is all about. Spiritual majesty applies to God, to the prophets and messengers of God, to the religion(s) of God, etc. But what about individuals?
Hans Wehr’s Arabic-English Dictionary defines istijlal: “to be great, exalted, sublime.” But the Oxford English Dictionary defines majesty more broadly: “1. Greatness, dignity, power, etc.” And: “5. Impressive stateliness of character, expression, or action.” The same word, istijlal, is translated as “honor” in the prayer above.
So majesty, on a small scale, as it pertains to a spiritual person, is honor, or dignity—not so much dignity of person as dignity of process.
In this series, we have looked at various attributes of God, and how these powers and forces of good may be focused on human action. The key here is “the Source.” In the excerpt from the prayer cited above, “God” is “the Source” of “all glory and majesty, of greatness and honor (istijlal).”
If you desire access to “greatness and honor”—and to related spiritual powers and forces of good — then turn to “the Source.” Think of “the Source” as analogous to “the Force” in Star Wars, except that “the Source” has no dark side. It is “the source of all good” and “all glory,” as Baha’u’llah writes:
The source of all good is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment with His holy will and pleasure. …The source of all glory is acceptance of whatsoever the Lord hath bestowed, and contentment with that which God hath ordained. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155.
The source of all majesty is God’s, the Object of the adoration of all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 341.
So majesty reflects the light of God in the mirror of our spiritual self. To reflect this attribute of God, majesty is quite the opposite of royal power and all its trappings of pomp and circumstance. Here, majesty is not ostentatious—quite the opposite, in fact. Spiritual majesty is not immediately visible to the naked eye. Rather, this quality is subtle, unassuming, mysterious—discernible only by those who can see it. Spiritual majesty is modest, and modesty is its own dignity.
Consider the majesty and modesty of Baha’u’llah’s eldest daughter, as described by Shoghi Effendi, September 9, 1932, shortly after her passing:
Stranger and friend alike were captured by her loving-kindness, her spiritual nature, her unceasing care for them and tender ways; enamoured of her great indulgence toward them, and how she favoured them and cherished them. The mind could only marvel at that subtle and ethereal being, at the majesty and greatness of her, and the heavenly modesty, and the forbearance and long suffering. Even in the thick of the worst ordeals, she would smile like an opening rose, and no matter how dark and calamitous the times, like a bright candle she would shed her light. — Shoghi Effendi, quoted in Bahiyyih Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, p. 79.
Think of majesty as an effect, not a cause. Majesty is a quality for which one must qualify. What qualifies as majesty may be analogized to the “halo effect.” First coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920, the phrase was used to describe the way that commanding officers rated their soldiers. Those who made good first impressions on their superiors would be seen in a favorable light, with a positive bias.
Or consider icons or images of Catholic saints. Have you ever seen a Catholic saint without a halo above the head? The halo is not visible to the naked eye. It must be perceived by the spiritual eye.
So also with spiritual majesty and honor, and all similarly ethereal, although no less real, qualities of character. Spiritual majesty does not see itself directly in the mirror. Rather, it is seen in the mirror of other people’s eyes. Here is just one example of many in the Baha’i writings where honor may be earned—not as a goal, but as a natural outcome of doing the right thing:
It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God. … If any man were to arise to defend, in his writings, the Cause of God against its assailants, such a man, however inconsiderable his share, shall be so honored in the world to come that the Concourse on high would envy his glory. No pen can depict the loftiness of his station, neither can any tongue describe its splendor. For whosoever standeth firm and steadfast in this holy, this glorious, and exalted Revelation, such power shall be given him as to enable him to face and withstand all that is in heaven and on earth. Of this God is Himself a witness. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 331.
The attributes of God discussed in this series so far are simply facets of spirituality that you and I can potentially manifest. Of course, these godly perfections can become goodly virtues in living the spiritual life in a material reality. The great challenge is to somehow endow physicality with spirituality. These qualities are basically the same, yet have subtle nuances as they refract through the prism of our actions in a splendid rainbow of invisible light.
Spiritual majesty can only be earned by modestly, quietly, unostentatiously, prayerfully, thoughtfully, and deliberately doing what is right and good. Such actions, in turn, are spiritually magnetic. They will attract majesty, even if the quality is so subtle few will discern it. Majesty, in this sense, is a halo that can appear, but all too easily disappear.