I wish I could talk about what I’m going to talk about. You can tell someone about the sun, how it’s a million times the size of the Earth, but it means very little. No one can experience what it’s like to approach a blinding sphere of light so large that it would seem like a flat plane reaching out for hundreds of thousands of miles in all directions (it’s almost three million miles around!). We can never know the size of it in our bones the way we know terrestrial things; it exceeds the scope of possible experience.
From our point of view the sun appears about the size of bright pea hanging in the sky, yet even this tiny image is too brilliant to look at. When scientist want to examine the sun they reflect its image through a filtered mirror and project it onto paper or film. In this way humans bring the radiance of the sun down to a level the eye can relate to.
Even then we only see a tiny fragment of the full spectrum of energy released by the sun. Not only are we limited to a miniscule version of an object one million times the size of the Earth, but we see only a sliver of what it actually projects! At that point, although what we see does relate to the sun, it is hardly the sun. It requires a constant self-reminder as we look at pictures to avoid mistaking those paltry images for the blazing glory they hope to represent.
Although we can relate to the figure of the sun only by means of a filtered intermediary, everyone and everything still receives its light. It is just not visible to us without that projected image. It’s deeply ironic that the most visible thing in the sky becomes invisible due to its luminosity. “Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him.”
I would love to say what the Beloved is, but I cannot any more than I can understand the extent of the sun. I can, however, mention its effect on us. To continue the analogy of sunlight, our souls would be the plants. Whereas real plants automatically turn toward the sun (heliotropism), human beings have complete freedom to choose and must elect to orient themselves toward the light. When they do so they receive more of its brilliance than those who are turned away or obscured. Since our spiritual life and health derive from this sustenance, it relates to our happiness to learn of the sun and how to turn toward it.
Since the sun shines everywhere, we all know its touch. Even if the light does not reach us directly, it reflects from things around us and reaches us that way, altered in character according to the nature of what it touches. The “brightness” of everything we see comes from this sun. It is what makes good things good, what gives fine art its soul-thrilling capacity, what causes a beautiful scene capture us in awe. This is heavenly illumination revealed in the form of attributes and qualities that we can perceive and that we call beauty, grandeur, perfection.
The Beloved is the source of what we love about life. He animates the world and makes it come alive. The things we like, aren’t they just compositions of atoms? Can’t physics reduce everything to mere quantities of energy? The difference between paper and pigment, and a masterpiece, occurs in our perception of a special Quality that cannot be captured – because it does not exist within us or any object. What our soul responds to shines from another place, reflects on the object, and is perceived through our eyes and experience. This is how the soul connects to the Beloved in this life through the medium of the world.
So if the Beloved is the heart that gives life to everything, the closer we are to that heart the more will be our joy. This is the real intent of religion: to guide people back to that perfect center. Where things go wrong is if people look to the intermediary, hear him talking about “the sun”, and mistake His explanations for the sun itself. The projected image scientists use has almost nothing to do with the true reality, although they rightly call it the sun. The symbol cannot take the place of what it describes, not at all. Show an image of the sun to a room full of plants and they will die because it cannot sustain them.
The Messengers of God are the human form of our Beloved, so that when They speak we can hear His words. They are called “the Treasured Symbol” because they serve as a way for us to relate to something much too great for us to perceive. These human forms refer us to the Beloved and teach us to train our sight to better perceive His manifestations in the world. They are the Divine Educators who can lead humankind toward their destiny.
The Beloved Himself, however, is beyond representation or expression on any human scale. You know He is near because He causes the heart to beat faster. We may not know why it happens, or might mistake the event for the cause, but nothing takes place which does not reveal some measure of His light. Time and space might render it invisible, or its brightness render it imperceivable, but it’s always there, sustaining our perception of the world just as the sun’s light makes all objects visible.
To find the Beloved, then, is not so much a matter of changing things – our existence would be impossible without some form of connection to Him – but one of becoming educated to appreciate His true beauty. A child might grow up in a library filled with books, but he won’t automatically appreciate the knowledge they contain. The Intermediaries, the Manifestations of God Who represent the Divine in human terms, are the Master Keys Who unlock these subtle mysteries and guide us toward comprehending what has been with us all along, always surrounding us.
Meditate on what the poet hath written: “Wonder not, if my Best-Beloved be closer to me than mine own self; wonder at this, that I, despite such nearness, should still be so far from Him.”… Considering what God hath revealed, that “We are closer to man than his life-vein,” the poet hath, in allusion to this verse, stated that, though the revelation of my Best-Beloved hath so permeated my being that He is closer to me than my life-vein, yet, notwithstanding my certitude of its reality and my recognition of my station, I am still so far removed from Him.1
Whatever we seek, we seek because of Him. Not the “God” whose conceptual nature has torn people apart, but the nameless Reality which is the life of all things. There is no way to describe it further. I think everyone knows perfectly what it is in their being, it is only the mind and heart that need education. I’ll simply end with a poem that I wrote this past July, which expresses some of this truth to myself:
Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of, p.185↩