Four kinds of devotion

In my experiences lately I have found there to be four basic kinds of devotion. These categories are arbitrary, of course, but they help me to identify how to interrelate with various types of people.

From my study I link these four kinds to The Four Valleys, by Bahá’u’lláh: The first group are devoted to a purpose (maqsúd), the second to understanding and praising God’s creation (mahmúd), the third to experiencing ecstatic union with the Divine (majdhúb), and the fourth to losing themselves utterly in the Beloved (mahbúb). However, I cannot claim any tie whatever to these. This is simply what I have seen and reflected on.

The first kind of devotion expresses a feeling of duty. People here – and I have heard this said – make the statement, “My duty is my desire.” They have a strong sense of right and wrong and in some cases may become militant. However, this is their strength. Their heart fills with the nobility of their Cause and they arise like champions. They are willing to face any enemy. They are the spiritual image of a bright and shining knight.

These people can also be very hard on themselves, demanding perfect obedience and laboring over every flaw. Again, this is a source of strength as they work tirelessly at the task of self-perfection. Whatever service they can offer to their Lord brings them joy. They are the soul of dedication.

Without a Cause to commit themselves to – that is, without something productive to do – the strength of this type may become too strong for their own good. They castigate themselves for not doing enough. They wear themselves out and begin to despair of ever being useful. It’s like an army of committed soldiers left too long out of battle. Their will to conquer evil overflows its bounds and they may start to fight amongst themselves, leveling criticism at the faults they perceive in others, and constantly blowing the trumpet call to “arise!” They are like tea which has been left too long to steep: they can become bitter. For them, peace lies in fulfilling their commitments and leaving behind as perfect a legacy as they can manage. This noble crowd looks forward to death as a student does to graduation.

The next kind of devotion are the gnostics, the intimates of God’s mysteries. Both good and evil make sense to them, so they are not so quick to throw a fit. This inner knowledge produces a mellowness and calm, and they look forward with fascination to each new day. They are able to unravel mysteries and dispel complexities. Their focus shifts away from the word and more to its meaning. Their eyes turn to God alone and their heart begins to dissociate from the world. They become ascetics without trying, not even paying attention to their actions much – because they hold to the verse, “Say: All things are of God.” Even their own failures do not trouble them, unless they cause them to feel disconnected from God.

These people enjoy prayer and meditation most of all, observe silence, and evince a natural detachment from the world. They think of God constantly and look for His signs everywhere. Whereas the first group are the champions of God, waging holy war, these are His counselors, who bring peace, understanding and reconciliation.

The greatest risk to these is inaction, since the world and its affairs do not attract them. They are as much content to act, as to sit by and watch, amused by everything. At times, they must be prompted to express their views. Sometimes you don’t even know who these people are. They are caught up in God. Their devotion is one of surpassing faith.

The third kind is the plane of the lovers. These people are crazed and cannot be dealt with. It takes profound wisdom for them just to interact with the world. They reign themselves in only because they don’t wish to harm the ones they love: otherwise they would exceed all bounds. These people are insane, though they don the cloak of sanity with every morning. Leave them to their hearts and they offend without meaning to.

The reason for their ecstasy is that they see all things around them as the face of God Himself. He is no longer a far-off King to be served until death, or a shining Orb one turns to in worship, but the living Reality of all things. The lovers go mad from intoxication. They are too excited, too in love, too eager. They seem foolish and unworthy of responsibility. In the court of the King, they are its jesters. They would throw themselves into a fire just to make one of His servants smile.

Because of their foolishness, these people cannot be frustrated or harmed. They don’t care about anything, and they can’t suffer defeat, because their Beloved surrounds them at every moment. Their days pass with a stupid grin always on their face.

They are exemplars of action, however, because each moment they wish to offer some new kindness to their Love. They cherish people and the world. Everything is a token; every act is received by Him. Their days are spent in continual thanksgiving. These people make the best of friends, but are among the least respectable. They are constantly being counseled to improve themselves, though they can’t see what improvement has to offer. They are always happy and see no faults. They can’t even distinguish between “good” and “evil” to tell you that both are one. Always dancing, they advance to His throne.

The fourth kind of devotion consists of a group of heretics. These are a living mystery. If they were to speak openly of what they see, a cross would be prepared for each of them. These people hide themselves, and on different occasions may appear as any one of the other three types. Most could not bear their open company, unless you were a brother. Without meaning to, they would ruin everything you hold dear.

While the first group are devoted to God, and the second know God, and the third see and feel God, these fourth reckon no difference between themselves and the Object of their worship. How could they? To them, any assumption of selfhood is blasphemy. If one of them says, “I am God”, how could it be understood properly? since all three words – “I”, “am” and “God” – reference a deeper meaning.

Because their Beloved is all – and this is the station where only the Beloved can be seen – their bliss is complete. The successes of all are felt as their own. In fact, there is no division between “you” and “me”, “here” and “there”. There is only one soul on this plane.

These are not just inmates of the Kingdom – as the lovers are – they are its very foundation. Each one is a spiritual axis; they are like the eyes of humankind. However, as their kind of devotion must imply, not one of them has any station or authority of his own. They are simply mirrors, reflecting whatever light He shines in their direction. They make no claim and expect no recompense. Praise them or berate them, they hold to the verse, “God will compensate each one out of His abundance.”

Here even madness is left behind, because there is no “lover” anymore. These people assume whatever role is appropriate to the situation. They do not feel exalted, but plain – however, to them plainness is of the essence of exaltation. You may not even know they exist, because they speak differently to each listener. Also, they seek nothing. They do not wait for heaven, or hope for grace. Whatever God wills is a paradise to them.