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If you desire to love God, love thy fellow-men. In them you can see the image and likeness of God. If you are eager to serve God, serve mankind. Renounce the self in the Self of God. When the aerial mariner steers his airship skyward, little by little the disharmony and incongruity of the world of matter are lost, and before his astonished vision he sees widespread the wonderful panorama of God’s creation. Likewise when the student of the path of Reality has attained to the loftiest summit of divine love, he will not look upon the ugliness and misery of mankind; he will not observe any differences; be will not see any racial and patriotic differences; but he will look upon humanity with the glorified vision of a seer and a prophet. Let us all strive that we may attain to this highest pinnacle of ideal and spiritual life. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 138.
This quote, one of my own personal favorites from the Baha’i teachings, also appealed to the Baha’i astronaut Ronald McNair. You can probably see why. Ron saw “the wonderful panorama of God’s creation” on his first mission into space aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle in February of 1984, while “steering his airship skyward.” On that mission, Ron—the second African American and the first Baha’i to fly in space—experienced an honor reserved for very few human beings. He got to see the Earth from afar. He even coined a poetic word picture for that experience, later describing our planet as “a tear-drop of green.”
I think Ron meant, when he used the phrase, that as one growing human community, our shared pain and pleasure could unite us rather than divide us. After his first mission he told everyone that being in space gave him a unique perspective few people would ever have the privilege of seeing; that from those heights he could envision not only a unified humanity but God’s entire human creation, all on a tiny dot floating in the dark void. Ron often said he only saw one planet from space—ours.
Ron loved that vision. Two years later, on his way to see it again, he died on that same shuttle, the Challenger. His second voyage into space ended when the Challenger exploded nine miles above the Earth on January 28, 1986, killing all six astronauts aboard, and one civilian, a teacher named Christa McAuliffe.
As a physicist and an astronaut, Ron McNair believed what Abdu’l-Baha said, that the best way to serve God was to serve humanity. Ron felt that his service to humanity–space exploration–could not only bring us enormous technical and scientific knowledge, but that it could speak to our souls, to our continuous quest for discovery, for peace, for unity, for love. He gave his life in that noble pursuit. Ron McNair—astronaut, scholar, husband, father, scientist, servant of humanity, Baha’i, and a guy who could play a really mean saxophone—loved the light:
The highest love is independent of any personal advantages which we may draw from the love of the friend. If you love truly, your love for your friend will continue, even if he treats you ill. A man who really loves God, will love Him whether he be ill, or sad, or unfortunate. He does not love God because He has created him–his life may be full of disassociations and miseries. He does not love God because He has given him health or wealth, because these may disappear at any moment. He does not love Him because He has given him the strength of youth, because old age will surely come upon him. The reason for his love is not because he is grateful for certain mercies and benefits. No!
The lover of God desires and adores Him because He is perfection and because of His perfections. Love should be the very essence of love, and not dependent on outward manifestations.
A moth loves the light, though his wings are burnt. Though his wings are singed, he throws himself against the flame. He does not love the light because it has conferred some benefit upon him. Therefore he hovers round the light, though he sacrifices his wings.
This is the highest degree of love. Without this abandonment, this ecstasy, love is imperfect.
The lover of God loves Him for Himself, not for his own sake. – Abdu’l-Baha, from his essay in The Fortnightly Review, June 1911, quoted in Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 121.