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You should’ve been there when the hippies asked the man who met Baha’u’llah their questions.
My father tells the story about one especially patchouli-soaked fellow with dirty blonde tresses and bare feet who sat on the floor. This young hippie was a regular at this and other local spiritual events. When it came time for questions, he raised his hand and asked Mr. Samandari:
“Hey maaan, I’m just wondering, what will the world be like in the future?”
He listened with his usual gentle deference. Then, Mr. “Ornament-of-God-Phoenix,” (the literal translation of his name) beamed at him radiantly and held out his hands in front of him, together, palms down.
“Today,” he said, “the world is like this.”
He then turned his hands over, palms up, open to the ceiling. “Tomorrow? It will be like this.”
The room went silent. The attendees drank in the simplicity and profundity of that statement.
Now, I’m sure you’re asking yourself at this point. “Wait a minute here. I thought he was holding you, a bulbous baby, while he spoke. How did he do the thing with the hands without dropping your enormity on the floor?”
Good question, stalwart listener. I have no idea. I was nine months old, the very definition of a pre-ambulatory infant. I might have been in my mother’s arms or put away in a crib at that point. I was probably dreaming of milk and kittens and moonlight in a blissful infantile sleep, intellectually unaware of the spiritual conversation around me.
Mr. Samandari passed away less than a year after speaking in our home. He died very near the Baha’i Holy Land in Akka, Israel, a few mere miles away from where he had spent time with Baha’u’llah as a youth, and became a devoted follower of the Baha’i teachings:
No breeze can compare with the breezes of Divine Revelation, whilst the Word which is uttered by God shineth and flasheth as the sun amidst the books of men. Happy the man that hath discovered it, and recognized it, and said: “Praised be Thou, Who art the Desire of the world, and thanks be to Thee, O Well-Beloved of the hearts of such as are devoted to Thee!” – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 42-43.
Oh, and that patchouli-soaked dude with the bare feet who asked the question? Apparently, he too became a devoted Baha’i for the rest of his life.
We’re no longer in those crazy, revolutionary, spirituality-fueled “hippie” days. The times are quite different now. But I honestly believe today, more than even the late sixties, we are in need of a transformation of the world from one of distrust and greed to one of peace and cooperation. It’s true “The Who” sang “We Won’t Get Fooled Again” in response to the hypocrisies of the counter-culture—and we won’t. Real change needs to come not through drugs, “hug ins” and generalities about love. We need a plan and some hard, specific work.
Baha’u’llah’s birth two hundred years ago means many things to me. His writings have helped me on my journey from giant infant to slightly overweight middle-aged man—a journey fraught with much pain and difficulty, as are all of our journeys. The Baha’i writings have given me solace as well as purpose.
I’m honored to witness my fellow Baha’is all around the globe, humble people of every race and class, working for unity and love and fighting for the rights of the downtrodden—helping the palms of humankind turn from down to up. The meek actually inheriting the Earth. I am, most of all, honored to have been the fat baby on the tiny lap of that gentle man, Samandari, who spent time with Baha’u’llah, the Glory of God.
When I think of Samandari today, the resonance of his metaphorically rich demonstration lingers.
Think of the palms extended, down. Then rotating. Turning. Up.
What does it mean? I’m not really sure, but I’ll share a thought. On one hand, the world will be turned upside down—we’re already seeing that painful, chaotic process begin to occur.
On the other hand, what was closed, shut-down and facing the ground will be opened, like hearts, to the sky. Rebirth. Evolution. Transcendence. Things completely different from the way they are now. That pain of transformation will lead us, perhaps, to a world based not on self-serving but one of harmony, compassion, service and an aching kindness, one to another.