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For now, let us return to the universal adventure of birth, or what turned out to be the beginning of what we would call our “real” lives. In particular, let us recall that all of the strange appendages we developed in the womb were, unknown to us at the time, preparing us to be successful in a future reality we had never experienced nor could even imagine.
Were the child at this prenatal stage of development actually able to have the sort of cognition we all have now, then surely it might never decide to develop arms and legs, eyes and ears. And were we as parents able to converse with the fetus, we would desperately seek some means of reassuring the little one that all is well, that the impending birth—which might seem like a death to the emerging baby—is actually life. We would tell the child that as the parents, we are ready to receive him, to love him unconditionally, to provide him all manner of support for every part of his future life. We would attempt to explain that her next life in the post-natal world is infinitely more ample and joyous than her limited experiences in the confinement of the womb.
At the same time, we can appreciate that even if we could have talked to our womb-children beforehand, our disembodied voice might have done little to assuage their fears or instill in them confidence in our reassurances. How could they possibly take the word of beings they can neither see nor understand? What evidence do they have that these voices of their parents are sincere and real? They might believe that if the parents truly exist and have so much to give, then why don’t they offer some direct and immediate indication of their existence and goodness and love?
Perhaps we can also derive from this fable a better appreciation of why the first response of a child newly born is to scream as loud as it can, to cry out in shock, dismay, to scream for help, for reassurance, for something to hold onto. From relative darkness, quietude, and security, they are suddenly encompassed with light, noise, loud voices, and what seems to be infinite space. From being fed passively through the life-line of the umbilical cord, they must gasp for breath and suckle for nourishment. From being surrounded by warm fluid, they are naked, exposed, free falling.
Then, almost as suddenly as they have been snatched from the security of the womb and before they have sounded out more than a few notes, the infant is bundled again, placed with the warmth of the universe-mother, caressed and cherished, and sucking that special blend of nutrients from the soft breasts, something the child has practiced for some time, though hardly knowing why.
No, not death, not devoured by the python Ruler of the universe, but loosed from the constraints of a reality so confined, so incomplete that almost instantly the child is transformed, content, cuddled. Now there is something more to grasp that an umbilical cord. Now all the appendages that had before seemed clever but useless have taken on a meaning the child could not possibly have fully appreciated before this moment.
Where the fetus saw almost nothing, now her eyes begin to adjust to a world of color and shape and immeasurable wonder. Where once she heard only muffled voices or the faint strains of the Alleluia Chorus, now she can detect with clarity a choir of human voices coming from all directions. Where once she could stretch her arms legs only with great effort in the confinements of the uterine universe, she can now move with ease and use her hands to hold on. From a world in which nothing made complete sense, she now finds herself in a world where all her constant growing and changing suddenly makes perfect sense. What she had conceived of as a terrifying end to her existence has turned out to be but a milestone in an eternal journey that has really just begun in earnest:
Consider how a being, in the world of the womb, was deaf of ear and blind of eye, and mute of tongue; how he was bereft of any perceptions at all. But once, out of that world of darkness, he passed into this world of light, then his eye saw, his ear heard, his tongue spoke. In the same way, once he hath hastened away from this mortal place into the Kingdom of God, then he will be born in the spirit; then the eye of his perception will open, the ear of his soul will hearken, and all the truths of which he was ignorant before will be made plain and clear. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 177.
Perhaps you can see the parallels here, between the universal truths and beauties of birth and the common human condition of death. Those parallel processes, shared by every one of us, each lead us to a new world, even as we presume that the prophets of God—what the Baha’i writings call manifestations of God—try to do as emissaries from the realm of the spirit, by explaining to us the relationship of our present physical existence to the continuation of our life beyond this reality.
Next: Fear, Human Nature and the Elephant of Death