Joy is at the Heart of it All

Human beings were created to know joy. “He [the Ancient Beauty] hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness.”1 Only God can fill the heart with such joy, not by plans or activities, but the genuine warmth of those who have touched the Source. The world, after all, has no shortage of planners, resources, organizations; yet despite these riches, it is still ravaged by a burning thirst. Remedying that thirst is the aim of religion, not the creation of new structures. “The whole world is suffering, it is sunk in misery, crushed beneath its heavy problems.”2

This thirst expresses the soul’s fundamental need to unite with God. Inwardly, all people are “wandering distracted in search of the Friend…”3, without even knowing what they seek. They only dimly perceive the existence of their heartache, and are trying every approach to find a remedy:

Indeed the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is the lack of spirituality. The materialistic civilization of our age has so much absorbed the energy and interest of mankind that people in general do no longer feel the necessity of raising themselves above the forces and conditions of their daily material existence. There is not sufficient demand for things that we call spiritual to differentiate them from the needs and requirements of our physical existence.4

The structures we build now are like a network of tributaries, bringing water from the mountains to the expanse of the plains. In this, they serve as intermediaries between the spiritual Source and mankind. “Bahá’u’lláh has given to the world institutions to operate in an Order designed to canalize the forces of a new civilization.”5 However, their worth depends on this transmission of spirit: they have no value in themselves. “In this, the Bahá’í dispensation, God’s Cause is spirit unalloyed. His Cause belongeth not to the material world.”6

Thus the success of our efforts depends entirely on the presence of spirit. Without spirit, religion itself “…will degenerate into a mere organization, and becomes a dead thing.”7 It is for want of such spirit that all worldly attempts to cure our social problems have failed.

This is the soul’s longing, and alone can quench the deepest thirst: the spirit of faith, granted by the Holy Spirit. It is the very light that Bahá’u’lláh has brought to the world.

The fourth degree of spirit is the heavenly spirit; it is the spirit of faith and the bounty of God; it comes from the breath of the Holy Spirit, and by the divine power it becomes the cause of eternal life. It is the power which makes the earthly man heavenly, and the imperfect man perfect. It makes the impure to be pure, the silent eloquent; it purifies and sanctifies those made captive by carnal desires; it makes the ignorant wise.8

Everyone is looking for the signs of such a spirit. “The millions of Americans who are searching for spiritual truth are searching for traces of God’s love.”9 Manifesting these traces will attract souls to the Cause; when people see us animated with love, nobility, and joy, they will find an echo of their own hope.

If we realize that only in this lies the redemptive power of God’s faith – not in activities, projects, or buildings – we can use that knowledge as a tool to assess the fruitfulness of our plans. It is both a guide, and a measure of success. Do we find in what we do the signs of the spirit? Does it uplift hearts, and loft them above the mundane? Does it awaken the soul’s love for its Creator?

This would all seem obvious, and yet our community struggles to find ways to manifest these qualities – especially in our interactions with the public. “If actions took the place of words, the world’s misery would very soon be changed into comfort.”10

What, then, are the signs of the spirit, and how can we bring them about? Burdening ourselves with an excess of activity is not the way, for as Bahá’u’lláh counselled:

Lay not upon your souls that which will weary them and weigh them down, but rather what will lighten and uplift them, so that they may soar on the wings of the Divine verses towards the Dawning-place of His manifest signs; this will draw you nearer to God, did ye but comprehend.11

The metaphors of soaring, racing, charging, imply a lightness, a nimbleness of heart and soul: “Be light and untrammeled as the breeze…”12; “…as the lightning flashes let us laugh at our coursings through east and west.”13 The sense here is to be joyful, radiant, illumined. “Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded.”14 It is not weariness and exhaustion that will attract others, but joy, when everywhere else there is only sorrow.

We know, for example, that Bahá’u’lláh and the Holy Family suffered terribly. Their history is a tale of trial and abuse. And yet, though history describes Them as such, the people of the day did not refer to Them as sorrowful and encompassed by woe. They went to Them to find solace from their troubles. What attracted the people was Their spirit, not Their endurance. As `Abdu’l-Bahá tells of His experience:

Affliction beat upon this captive like the heavy rains of spring, and the victories of the malevolent swept down in a relentless flood, and still `Abdu’l-Bahá remained happy and serene, and relied on the grace of the All-Merciful. That pain, that anguish, was a paradise of all delights; those chains were the necklace of a king on a throne in heaven. Content with God’s will, utterly resigned, my heart surrendered to whatever fate had in store, I was happy.15

This type of radiant spirit is needed in the world like a lamp in a dark night; and not the suffering, but the joy. `Abdu’l-Bahá was able to find joy in the midst of sorrow owing to His station. We will not find it through imitation, but by fostering whatever will increase our spirituality, such as prayer and meditation, and “what will lighten and uplift” our souls. “We, likewise, shall act according to His example only as our inward spirits, growing and maturing through the disciplines of prayer and practice of the Teachings, become the wellsprings of all our attitudes and actions.”16

Therefore, may we consider the spirit, and what can attract it, in all our planning, and perceive joy as a hallmark of success, whether it is a joy found in the heat of fire or the refreshing rains of spring. Whatever is lifeless, burdensome, tiring: these we should accept as justification that our energy is better spent elsewhere. Sometimes, doing less will achieve more, if that less is infused with spirit, and the more not.

How many a soul expended all its span of life in worship, endured the mortification of the flesh, longed to gain an entry into the Kingdom, and yet failed, while ye, with neither toil nor pain nor self-denial, have won the prize and entered in.17

There is no set recipe for manifesting the spirit. If joy and liveliness are our guide, solutions will present themselves. Where there is joy, “We seem better able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness.”18 If we look to this quality, rather than numbers or achievements, people will be drawn to us by virtue of the pain in their agonized hearts: For Bahá’ís alone bring the tidings that the Heavenly Father has come.

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world…. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.19

  1. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 99↩︎

  2. From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá’í children and youth of Peoria, May 8, 1942↩︎

  3. Bahá’u’lláh, The Seven Valleys, pp. 5-6↩︎

  4. Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, pp. 86-87↩︎

  5. Letter from the Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, to the Bahá’ís of the World↩︎

  6. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of, p. 256↩︎

  7. Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 86↩︎

  8. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 144-145↩︎

  9. National Spiritual Assembly, Feast letter of March 20, 2002↩︎

  10. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 16↩︎

  11. Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 74↩︎

  12. Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings, p. 323↩︎

  13. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of, p. 236↩︎

  14. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 109-112↩︎

  15. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of, p. 226↩︎

  16. Universal House of Justice, Messages from 1963-1986, p. 146↩︎

  17. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of, p. 18↩︎

  18. `Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 109↩︎

  19. Matthew 5:13-16↩︎