For a long time I have been puzzling as to the meaning of the title “Manifestation of God”. It seems rather obvious what it means in an intellectual sense: these Holy Beings are the Perfect Reflections of God’s Will in the plane of existence. But actually grasping the meaning of the appellation has never quite happened for me. There has thus always been an internal conflict over whether I should implore God, or Bahá’u’lláh, in my pursuit for personal change. Since there can be no direct tie binding me to my Creator, how valuable is it for me to pray directly to Him? And since I have never been able to equate Bahá’u’lláh with God (there are times when this seems possible, and times when it does not), I have always been confused about Whom should be focal point of my reflections.
This weekend something changed. How such changes come about we can never say, but suddenly a wind blows from someplace unseen – an unbidden zephyr that carries with it a deeper understanding of the mysteries of life. In that moment something like a glimpse occurred to me, and I have been mulling it over and would like to share it with you.
It began about two years ago. At this time I was forced to admit that a part of me craved fame. So I asked this part, “Why?” To gain the respect of people. “Why?” Because respect implies their admiration and love. “Why?” Because my heart has an empty space which yearns to be loved. “Why?” Because my being was created to be a lover, and hence this indicates the need for a Beloved.
That basically covers the two years of thought. The Beloved is of course God, just as Pascal wrote, “God has created a God-shaped vacuum in the human heart.”
But no matter how strenuously I imagined it, I could not reach God with my thoughts. Nor with my dreams, hopes, desires, or any other part of me. I found him to be inaccessible.
This weekend it finally occurred to me that Bahá’u’lláh is the very manifestation of my Beloved. That is, every word He utters is the same as God’s word, Their wills are identical, His Face is the Divine Face. To read the words of Bahá’u’lláh is like receiving a letter from that long-lost Friend. Finally I understood the tradition, “I am He, Himself, and He is I, Myself.”
In looking for a way to describe this, imagine a person whom you have loved deeply. Immediately a picture of the person comes to mind. But is this imagine truly what we love? We remember their voice, their mannerisms – but is this what we love?
If our beloved should suffer an accident, and lose the faculty of speech, or become altered in some way, do we cease to love them, if truly it was love? So the outward form is mutable, and subject to change, but the very thing we love about them is more essential than that; it is not so easily destroyed.
In effect, then, what we perceive in them is the manifestation of that essential being whom we love. Their body and mind we know will decay and pass away some day, but still we feel that there is something which has won our eternal love. So the body can be looked at as a manifestation of the spirit. The spirit is inaccessible to our perception, but because of the intermediary of the body, we are given a chance to perceive and become aware of the spirit which we love so dearly.
In the same way, Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God’s Perfection. I know that this is nothing different from what is taught in the first grade of Bahá’í schools everywhere, but in a very significant way it is quite new to me. These basic mysteries never cease to amaze me in their depth. It seems everywhere I turn, there is also something new to behold in the creation of the God of Mercy.
Truth, or what we all strive for, is better than sliced bread. When we become aware of that essence, our entire existence will revolve around it.
Thus we are drawn toward Truth, not repelled away from our lower state of being. This fundamental distinction in spiritual viewpoint is a profound one: Love is the cause of action and change, not vice versa.
I believe Truth is the most divine, heart-warming, beautiful thing there is. I’ve thought this since I was very young, long before I found religion, before I learned that “God” is a symbolic reference to this Truth. The Bahá’í Writings call it “Abhá”. The next life is the “Abhá” kingdom. Every day we repeat “Alláh-u-Abhá” – meaning, “God is Abhá”.
Religion is about the attractive nature of God’s reality, that every good thing points to Him, and that “home” and “fulfillment” are found in that direction. It is most emphatically NOT about denial, self-scorn, or measured according to the degree of our self-abnegation. As the movie Chocolat so beautifully said, “Let us measure our goodness not by what we deny ourselves, but rather by the degree of to which we accept others.”.
When a lover is enthralled by his intended one, self-denial simply, naturally, easily, joyfully occurs! Humility is not something that needs to be worked for, nor is sacrifice or selflessness. Put me in a room with something desirable enough, and all those virtues will automatically become manifest.
The whole question is then: Where is God? How do I find Him? If He is so great, why don’t I feel it? Education is what begins the process of becoming aware of His reality, and then drawn to it like a magnet.
When we catch a hint of this Truth, if the seeker “findeth on this journey a trace of the traceless Friend, and inhaleth the fragrance of the long-lost Joseph from the heavenly messenger”, then we enter the Valley of Love, and all bets are off.
Too often the attempt is made to manufacture spirituality by copying its products. But this task is too difficult for any human being to accomplish. The material world is too attractive by itself. Who can labor life long, striving for something never felt, never seen, when all around there are constant promises of pleasure and security? It is too much.
But spirituality – to me – is to dip one’s foot in the lake, and then never look back. It is that much better. The world does not need education on morals and virtue. Not only. The purpose of morals and virtue is to align the heart so that it may recognize these very truths.
I would even say to forget all duties, all goals or tasks. All one needs is to catch a breath of that divine wind. After that, everything falls into place simply, like sunlight filling a dark room.
Until that state is achieved, it is natural to wonder, where is it? Why is it? How can I find it? Asking this question begins the journey. The Prophet appears mainly to show people it is there, because it is so easy to forget amidst the confusions of life. He also gives us the laws and teachings necessary to keep that awareness alive through successive generations. As long as there are people who have touched this source (the “salt of the earth”), and manifest the joy and radiance that stems from it, the world will never be bereft of proof that there are other realities than this one.
So my answer to your question is: find what your heart desires most, what it longs for in its depths. That feeling is your end of God’s connection to humanity. If you can feel this thirst, look for what will satisfy it. Whatever does not, cannot be true. Keep looking, casting away all previous knowledge and understanding, until your inner divining rod (full pun intended) feels a pull.
If you can remain true to your heart’s need, and never become distracted by apparent, temporary gains, you will indeed find what you seek. And once you found, you won’t ever ask again, “Did I really find it?”, because all further questions will be blotted from your heart. No one has to ask themselves, “Do I love this person?” when they find someone they are genuinely drawn to.
In a way, seeking religious truth is like my recent experience with chess. For example, I know there are hobbies out there, waiting for me to find them, but I’ll never know if I just sit at home waiting. I have to look. And once I find the hobby, I won’t have to fake any interest. It doesn’t require any effort at all to remain engaged! It takes zero sense of duty for me to read chess books, because I’m in love with them! I go through a book every few days. It’s a lot of work, a lot of memorization, but I don’t even notice it. Once I found what my mind was hungering for, it became a source of energy, not a sink. To an infinite degree is this true of religion, since it is the soul that’s involved, not just the mind or heart.
This is also the beautiful simplicity, the ease of it. It increases our ability to strive, by turning that striving into play. In the early days, people danced to their martyrdom. They laughed while being tortured. Let us not torture ourselves by imagining that religion is ever heavy or onerous!!
Put a soul in touch with its true source, and the resulting fire is blinding. This, I believe, is the fundamental law of spirituality: If you long for perfection, look for God. Religion is God-centered, not self-perfection centered.