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I purposefully stayed as far away as I could from the just-concluded American political campaign.
Yes, I did my research on the candidates before exercising my right to vote, but I did not watch the debates, turned off the radio in my car when political news or ads came on, and my husband and I dispensed with TV a long time ago. Everyone makes their own choices about the kinds of energy they want in their life, or not. But I chose not to surround myself with the negativity, fear and disunity that, according to the mainstream media at least, characterizes today’s virtual American town square.
Still, it’s hard to isolate oneself entirely, and suffering through yet another U.S. presidential campaign made me think a lot about Baha’u’llah’s repeated injunctions to humanity to pierce the veils of “idle fancies and vain imaginings.” There were plenty of both in the campaigns, in my opinion. Looking up references to these terms in the Baha’i writings prompted me to check the dictionary definitions too, which are as follows:
Idle: Not active, without purpose or effect, pointless
Fancies: A feeling of linking or attraction, typically one that is superficial or transient.
Vain: Producing no result, useless
Imaginings: Thoughts or fantasies
But, in a larger context, I think we all struggle to separate the real from the illusion. Instead of objectively observing reality, The Baha’i teachings warn us about the dangers of following those idle fancies and vain imaginings:
Arise, O people, and, by the power of God’s might, resolve to gain the victory over your own selves, that haply the whole earth may be freed and sanctified from its servitude to the gods of its idle fancies – gods that have inflicted such loss upon, and are responsible for the misery of, their wretched worshipers. These idols form the obstacle that impedeth man in his efforts to advance in the path of perfection. We cherish the hope that the Hand of Divine power may lend its assistance to mankind, and deliver it from its state of grievous abasement. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 93.
The Day-Star of certitude is shining resplendent, but the people of the world are holding fast unto vain imaginings. The Ocean of divine knowledge hath risen high whilst the children of men are clinging to the hem of the foolish. But for the unfailing grace of God – exalted be His glory – no antidote could ever cure these inveterate diseases. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 252.
They [the people of tyranny] have rejected the bounty of God and His proofs and have repudiated the testimony of God and His signs. They have gone astray and have caused the people to go astray, yet perceive it not. They worship vain imaginings but know it not. They have taken idle fancies for their lords and have neglected God, yet understand not. They have abandoned the most great Ocean hastening towards the pool, but comprehend not. – Ibid., p. 107.
So, how do we pull ourselves away from these unproductive avenues – in both public affairs and in our own lives? Perhaps, the Baha’i teachings suggest, by focusing less on what is pointless and more on what will have results and purpose. For a Baha’i, and for many people of faith trying to serve humanity, that generally means looking for ways to bring people together to serve a greater good and a higher purpose.
Try to imagine, if you will, what might be different in our world if people asked themselves daily whether a given action would cause a) unity or b) disunity. Politicians intently focus on the latter, but, if we truly want to make our country “great again,” we’re going to need a lot of hard work on the former.
In my mind, this goal seems nearly impossible absent greater connections with our common spiritual purpose and identity, much of which can be discovered in the world’s great spiritual traditions. Hitting the pause button to consider how we all can build bridges is not an easy task, especially in an era of information (and misinformation) overload, but it seems vital to our continuing progress, not only in one nation but in all nations. A little divine assistance probably doesn’t hurt either:
I entreat Thee, O my God, by Thy Name which irradiateth all things, to raise up such servants as shall incline their ears to the voice of the melodies that hath ascended from the right hand of the throne of Thy glory. Make them, then, to quaff from the hand of Thy grace the wine of Thy mercy, that it may assure their hearts, and cause them to turn away from the left hand of idle fancies and vain imaginings to the right hand of confidence and certitude. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, pp. 111-112.