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And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. – Mark 10:13-15
…the true Baha’i loves the children, because Jesus says they are of the Kingdom of heaven. A simple pure heart is near to God; a child has no worldly ambitions. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 59.
We all start out as babies. That seems as obvious as the sun at noon—but somehow, as adults, we tend to forget it, along with the early innocence and purity, the enthusiasm and simplicity, the sweetness and delight of childhood. Try this: take a penetrating look at an old picture of yourself as a child, and see if you can cast your thoughts back to that time. Meditate on your inner self as it originally emerged. Remember the child you once were. Think hard about what you thought and how you felt. Then try to return, just for a moment, to experience the purity of your childhood heart and soul.
Remembering our pure and innocent childhood selves, the Baha’i teachings say, can give us a glimpse into the qualities of the fully-developed adult soul:
…men must become pure in heart to know God. The teachings have had great effect. Spiritual souls! Tender souls! The hearts of all children are of the utmost purity. They are mirrors upon which no dust has fallen. But this purity is on account of weakness and innocence, not on account of any strength and testing, for as this is the early period of their childhood, their hearts and minds are unsullied by the world. They cannot display any great intelligence. They have neither hypocrisy nor deceit. This is on account of the child’s weakness, whereas the man becomes pure through his strength. Through the power of intelligence he becomes simple; through the great power of reason and understanding and not through the power of weakness he becomes sincere. When he attains to the state of perfection, he will receive these qualities; his heart becomes purified, his spirit enlightened, his soul is sensitized and tender — all through his great strength. This is the difference between the perfect man and the child. Both have the underlying qualities of simplicity and sincerity — the child through the power of weakness and the man through the power of strength. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 52.
Of course, all of us gradually grow out of childhood and into adolescence and adulthood, and in the process our simple pure hearts suffer. We get hurt, injured and battered by the darkness in the material world. No one escapes that reality. As we become adults, we take on the pain and the tests and the difficulties of the adult condition. In the process, our tender souls harden.
So our task now, if we want to become spiritual beings, involves transcending the effects of that suffering and finding our way back to an enthusiastic, sincere and happy state of existence as fully mature adults. That endeavor—the re-capturing of our pure inner essence, the spiritualization of the adult soul—faces every one of us. It takes enormous strength and understanding, as Abdu’l-Baha says, to regain that simplicity, purity and tender-heartedness in adulthood.
Do you know any adults like the ones Abdu’l-Baha describes: tender, pure of heart, clear, simple, sincere and strong? If you do, you’ve likely found a person who has discovered their purpose and connected themselves with the mystical source of all purity and strength.
Perhaps that’s what the Baha’i teachings mean when they say “Our responsibility to God increases with our years.” – Abdu’l-Baha, Ten Days in the Light of Acca, p. 18. As we grow and mature, we gain insight and intelligence, along with the life experience that allows us to walk a spiritual path:
Spirituality is the possession of a good, a pure heart. When the heart is pure the Spirit enters and our growth is natural and assured. Every one is better informed of the condition of his own soul than of the soul of others. – Ibid.
Because we know our own souls better than anyone else’s, our responsibility for our continuing spiritual development becomes greater and greater as we age, as we accumulate wisdom, as we mature and grow. Our tests and trials become transformative, if we allow them to give us their hidden gifts of detachment and joy:
The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 178.