The Biblical story of creation tells us that God created humanity from the elements of the Earth, completely one with nature:
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life: and man became a living soul. – Genesis 1:7.
Read literally, this simply tells us that God gave Adam CPR. But when reading the passage in another, deeper way, we consider that breath symbolizes the inner life of the spirit.
This symbolic story tells us that something of the spirit of God lives within us all. In this sense, every human being truly is created in the image of God, for God is spirit.
Baha’u’llah taught that the purpose of this life centers around developing that spirit.
The Baha’i writings compare this idea of spiritual development to a child in the womb of its mother. In that brief nine-month interval, the fetus develops physically in preparation for this world. A child in the womb has no need for eyes, legs, lungs, or the faculties of speech. Yet all these physical capacities must come together in the womb in order for the child to reach its full potential in this world. Likewise, in this physical world our purpose involves developing the spiritual attributes that we will need in the next world.
These inner spiritual qualities have a mystical origin. As Baha’u’llah wrote:
Consider, moreover, how the fruit, ere it is formed, lieth potentially within the tree. Were the tree to be cut into pieces, no sign nor any part of the fruit, however small, could be detected. When it appeareth, however, it manifesteth itself, as thou hast observed, in its wondrous beauty and glorious perfection. Certain fruits, indeed, attain their fullest development only after being severed from the tree. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 155.
Using the same natural metaphor, in another passage Baha’u’llah explained:
Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will ever be worthy of praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character, virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 257.
So how do we begin to develop our “spiritual fruits?”
First, just as a tree depends upon the sun, soil, and water for its life, our spiritual lives need inspiration, grounding and nourishment. Primarily, we need the love of God. As Baha’u’llah wrote:
For every one of you his paramount duty is to choose for himself that on which no other may infringe and none usurp from him. Such a thing—and to this the Almighty is My witness—is the love of God, could ye but perceive it. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 261.
Second, we need grounding in a spiritual education. Baha’u’llah described the founders and prophets of the great Faiths as “Roots of Knowledge.” These manifestations of God and their essential spiritual teachings give people the knowledge, strength and foundation needed for character development and spiritual maturation.
Finally, the tree of our being needs the life-giving water of the word of God. From the writings of Baha’u’llah:
The Water for these trees is the living water of the sacred Words uttered by the Beloved of the world. In one instant are such trees planted and in the next their branches shall, through the outpourings of the showers of divine mercy, have reached the skies. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 257.
Baha’u’llah gave the “living water” of the Baha’i teachings to humanity as a whole, as well as to each individual. The Baha’i writings focus on individual spiritual growth—but also on the protection, guidance, peace and unity of society as a whole. In this day, the Baha’i teachings say, it is not only the individual soul that seeks salvation, it is the entire human race.