My husband and I host a weekly Baha’i study circle for young people in our home, and it has taken me back to the perils and uncertainties of my own youth.
Most of the youth in our study circle currently go to high school, or have recently graduated—which means that our conversations before and after the study circle revolve around grades, university applications, impending tuition fees, program admissions, course schedules, gap years, and so on and so forth. I feel like I’ve been living vicariously through my participants entering this new phase of life, and it’s brought back a flood of memories, which have caused me to reflect on the pressures and anxieties I too felt during this period of my own youth.
All the weight of making (what feels like) such big decisions at such a young age, coupled with the uncertainty and ambiguity of life’s eventual path, makes for a truly grueling process. I never thought I’d have to revisit it, but now that I have, it’s also made me ask: What’s all the fuss about?
The period of transition these youth are now experiencing is only the beginning. Life throws us so many tests and opportunities, and we grow and push ourselves at every chance we get. It’s so easy to narrow in on the intricacies of moving through the complexities of life, but let’s take a step back, if at all possible, and just acknowledge the greatness of this day!
Let me explain. Our study circle has met for about a year and a half now. We’ve progressed ever so gradually through the Baha’i “Ruhi Institute” series, comprised of a sequence of courses that help youth and adults gain the spiritual tools they need to serve humanity. (the word Ruhi can variously mean soul, spiritual, or ascending.) Our group is currently studying the fourth book in the sequence of courses titled “The Twin Manifestations.” The book focuses on the lives and messages of the forerunner of Baha’i faith, the Bab, and the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah. In order to gain a historical perspective, and appreciate their stories and teachings, the first unit of this book encourages participants to acknowledge and appreciate the greatness of this day:
Verily I say, this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and hear the Voice, of the Promised One. The Call of God hath been raised, and the light of His countenance hath been lifted up upon men. It behoveth every man to blot out the trace of every idle word from the tablet of his heart, and to gaze, with an open and unbiased mind, on the signs of His Revelation, the proofs of His Mission, and the tokens of His glory. Great indeed is this Day! The allusions made to it in all the sacred Scriptures as the Day of God attest its greatness. The soul of every Prophet of God, of every Divine Messenger, hath thirsted for this wondrous Day. All the divers kindreds of the earth have, likewise, yearned to attain it. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 11
The Baha’i teachings exclaim: what a wondrous time to be alive! You could compare it to being alive in the spiritual springtime of past messengers. Imagine being a young person during the early years of the Christian revelation, for example—what an incredible bounty! The early followers of Christ had enormous tests to face, but they also reaped enormous spiritual rewards.
Those who’ve learned about the message of Baha’u’llah—including the members of our study circle—have also heard a wondrous new message, have had the opportunity to look to Baha’u’llah’s teachings as the truths of his station as a prophet of God, and now have the privilege of incorporating those beautiful teachings into their lives and putting them into action. After all, Baha’u’llah states that “the soul of every Prophet of God … hath thirsted for this wondrous day!” So let us just take a minute to marvel at our good fortune:
This is the Day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness. It behoveth them to cleave to whatsoever will, in this Day, be conducive to the exaltation of their stations, and to the promotion of their best interests … Beseech ye the one true God to grant that all men may be graciously assisted to fulfil that which is acceptable in Our sight. Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead. Verily, thy Lord speaketh the truth, and is the Knower of things unseen. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 7.
In this passage, Baha’u’llah entrusts us to act in the best interests of humanity and promises that as a result, a new world will be established. So we might ask: What is in the best interest of humanity, and how can I to align my life to serve those interests? For the youth participating in our study circle, this sounds like quite a conceptual and somewhat monumental task, much more consequential that filling out a college application. It can feel really overwhelming, particularly at a time when so many big life decisions get made.
The Ruhi Institute courses offer participants an inward and outward approach to making those big decisions—and an opportunity to reflect on our own moral purpose in life. This means that in order for our society to advance and transform, we as individual members of that society have to develop the qualities and attributes necessary to transform society.
Our study circle participants have learned that one of the main components which contributes to individual transformation comes from acts of selfless service to humanity. By doing something for someone else we practice selflessness, and only then can we begin to understand our potential and spiritual capacity, and develop our talents and abilities.
We can apply our capacities, talents and abilities to the betterment of the world through the career paths we choose, the relationships we build and the selfless service we offer to our community. The study circles help youth question and discard the myth that we have to choose one path—whether it be work, friendship or service—over the other. Instead, we can serve the betterment of the world through every facet of our lives. Service is central to our moral purpose, for the interests of humanity and for the new, more just and peaceful world youth can help establish.
Don’t get me wrong, the idea of contributing to a new world feels like a huge task, but what an amazing bounty this responsibility and opportunity offers!
Young people can easily lose sight of the big picture with so many hoops to jump through and responsibilities to uphold—school, university applications, family, friendships, work, money, etc. But a Baha’i study circle lets us take a step back to look at the bigger picture. If selfless service remains at the core of our lives, as the Baha’i teachings and the teachings of all the great Faiths recommend, we start to see that the progress of our communities, and the spiritual maturation of the individuals and institutions that make up our communities, can become one of our primary goals in life. Now, how great is this day?