Humanity stands in dire need of a mystical approach: the way of love.
The universal crisis affecting mankind is… essentially spiritual in its causes. The spirit of the age, taken on the whole, is irreligious. Man’s outlook on life is too crude and materialistic to enable him to elevate himself into the higher realms of the spirit.1
These days we are caught in a crisis of how to relate to the present. During such a time of upheaval and change, and faced by a world filled with imperfection, we find ourselves challenged to respond.
I believe this challenge lies at the heart of the “mental tests” foretold by `Abdu’l-Bahá. Beholding such a present, our spirit’s resolve is tested in how we react. Which is the right way?
Given an imperfect world, and a knowledge and understanding of the perfections promised, there appear to be two possible reactions:
The first is to strive to rise above that world, objectively analyze it, assess its needs, and begin instructing it how not to be what it is, since what it is is imperfect.
The second is to descend into that community, see it from within as an intimate, share its pain, assess its needs, and offer the message of how to love itself as it is, since the appearance of such love is the real objective.
Love cannot appear if it wait for a better day; it cannot outshine the enshrouding lantern if the bearer be unwilling to open it. In order for love to become the order of the day, it must begin today, with things as they are today – by loving the reality of today.
What is love? We have heard that love is unconditional and all-accepting. Love loves the one who does not love. If others seek to harm us, they do so for reasons of their own: the night is cold and chill, and some grow jealous of the fading embers of their dying hope. Only love can unveil the Sun, and put away all need for earthly fires.
If the world is ravaged by dispute, in the hands of people governed by ancient modes of thinking, there is only one solution: Love both as if such love were the only reason to exist. It is amazing what effect such love has on the human heart; because beneath all superficial coverings, we are God’s children.
No matter how depressing the scene around us – which indicates the state of a dying world – it does not alter this spiritual imperative. If joy is lacking in the world, and we become aware of this lack, the mandate is to expend one’s soul in bringing this joy back to humanity, by reflecting the divine grace from the mirrors of our hearts.
So if there is sadness in the world around us, we are being summoned as its lover and champion. Those who care, who recognize what’s at stake, are in the best position to succeed. But if we also succumb to complaint, how will succor reach the dark places? God’s religion must work through individual hearts.
Thus, a loving community begins when people in that community love each other. For this to happen, we must love without reference to each other’s state. If the situation must wait for our satisfaction, this is not love. Love does not wait for you to come to me. God put us on this earth so our souls could learn love, and for that to happen we need a proving grounds. If everything were perfect, our soul would be deprived of its training.
True love appears when the Holy Spirit makes its home in the human heart. “Show love to all; `Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Man’. Take courage! God never forsakes His children who strive and work and pray! Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquillity and harmony may encircle all this warring world. So will success crown your efforts, and with the universal brotherhood will come the Kingdom of God in peace and goodwill.”2
Loving all humanity – the pugilant and peaceful alike – requires seeing that all are God’s children, and He loves them equally. If He loves them, how can we not? This kind of love is the teaching of the Manifestations of God: “It is the warmth that these Luminaries of God generate, and the undying fires they kindle, which cause the light of the love of God to burn fiercely in the heart of humanity.”3
Avoiding all judgment, criticism, and dwelling on the faults of others: this is love’s challenge. Nor does love wait for anything or for any day; it can exist between souls independently of material conditions. There is only ourselves, God, and God’s children. If the heart is filled with love towards them – as God loves them – we will find ourselves inspired by whatever is needed. Let the soul be satisfied by God. If it is freed from seeking satisfaction in others, there will be little cause for resentment – and events will start to mysteriously conspire toward the goal.
And there is another wonderful side to the reality of love: The qualities of love described so far – of passionately embracing the world regardless of its faults – must also be applied to one’s self! After all, we are His beloved children also.
It does not matter if one is imperfect, or filled to the brim with difficulties and shortcomings. To love, this means nothing. We have been given these imperfections to demonstrate our love for God by striving to overcome them. Having or not having them is unrelated to love – whether from others in the community, from God… or from ourselves.
Loving one’s self in such a complete way is the easiest path to loving others, for it is difficult to treat others with graciousness and magnanimity if we are harsh to ourselves. Some may fear that loving and accepting one’s self will cause spiritual progress to slow, but since the appearance of love is the purpose of God’s Faith, then to really love is the meaning of progress. Where there is love and faith, the smaller details take care of themselves; we are inspired and assisted to find the right course. It is exactly like the mother and her difficult child: if the mother showers that child with love, in most cases it will benefit the child and assist his growth, rather than ever cause him to worsen.
The last piece of this wonderful puzzle is that when we manifest such love, we allow ourselves to believe – from the depths of our heart – that God loves us also, in much the same way. “Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself.”4 Does He examine our faults, or pay attention to our shortcomings? This is not the nature of love. No matter what has happened, or how much one has fallen on his face, it is the Parent’s wish to pick us up and shower us with warmth and solace – never to scold us as we lie there, stricken with sorrow.
Consider how Bahá’u’lláh responded to Mírzá Yahyá, who had poisoned a Manifestation of God, produced a counter-claim to be the True One, whom Bahá’u’lláh Himself had reared from childhood, and yet who tried to damage Him and the Bahá’í community.
Which one of us, by trying, could cause so much harm? Yet how does Bahá’u’lláh address Mírzá Yahyá? In the Most Holy Book He says, “Turn unto Him, and fear not because of thy deeds.”5 If this is not of the nature of love, and of the God Whom we adore, what other proof is there?
When such a love burns like a fire “in the midmost heart of creation”, all are warmed. The problems of the world are due to its fierce winter, its rampant irreligion – meaning, the lack of true religious sentiment. This cannot be solved by bringing more logs to the firepit, or arranging the logs, or seating people correctly. Without the fire burning, no one will understand the meaning of the logs, or of the seating.
But once the least bit of kindling has started, souls will catch on. Suddenly the perspective is right, and everything we have worked so hard to accomplish will begin naturally, collaboratively to appear. Without asking, others will bring more logs, seat themselves correctly, and perfect their hand warming techniques…
So with ourselves. We needn’t move an inch from our present state of development to receive this love. Like the wind, the sun, and the rain, it comes to high and low alike. Once we open ourselves to it, God may inspire us, assist us, and guide us in whatever direction is necessary.
With eyes directed toward God, assured of His love, forgetting our own selves, we may at last respond “Yea, verily!” such that it resounds in every heart. And the form such a response must take is that undying love for humanity of which `Abdu’l-Bahá spoke when He said: “Put into practice the Teaching of Bahá’u’lláh, that of kindness to all nations. Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.”6