On the subject of spiritual things, I think that true religion always brings with it joy and happiness. Whenever these two are missing, something has either been lost or not yet found. Spirit is like a vibrant, beating heart; a shining light glowing from the center of human life; a palpable energy that reaches out and touches hearts. Religion educates us how to experience this reality, how to draw on its energies and share them with other people. This “plugging in” would produce the abundance of spirit and joy I keep reading about in the lives of the martyrs.
But how to transform? Without this spirit, people are like unlit lamps, or mirrors in a dark room. Human reality is one of the most beautiful things in existence, but it must be “turned on” to reach its potential. Spiritual transformation kindles the lamp, and turns the mirror to the sun. It’s like unveiling a masterpiece so that everyone can see how truly wondrous it is. And I believe people have this beauty within them at all times; it only waits to be awakened. Turn a mirror toward the sun and even if it is dusty it will glow brightly.
Transformation, then, is not changing, but a shift of focus. When the heart is concerned with material things, it is dark and forlorn; when it turns toward the Divine, it becomes bright. Whatever the heart is occupied with, it reflects. Thus, when a person is fully concentrated on God, they will begin to manifest godly things.
The real trick is what is meant by “God”. If one’s concept of God is too abstract and separated from the world, focusing on it will tend to turn people away from the world too much. They will not appreciate the beauty of life and will tend to forget about others. They begin to see material things as “bad” and their heart slowly turns sour.
Because the joy and happiness are missing, I would say that such an idea of God is wrong. We know God is near when we feel the melodies of heaven reverberating within us. God is heat and light: can shadow ever be its substitute? I think real attention to God would result in a deep appreciation of the world – such that even the smallest things are cherished and seem valuable. And it will turn the heart towards people.
What kind of “God” would produce this transformation? If spirituality is falling in love with God, and virtue simply the natural behavior of a lover, then love of what God would produce a Bahá’í both in spirit and deed? It would be an idea which gives value to the world, which reveals people as glorious and wondrous in nature, and which unveils secrets within the smallest of things: by which atoms become lights and suns, and drops reveal the mystery of oceans: in terms of which nothing is ever meaningless, and every moment of life reveals a deep and everlasting love. What form of belief yields this?
I’m not sure it can even be named. What my heart turns toward, can I ever tell it? Any attempt at words would repeat the very mistake I mean to avoid. God – as He relates to human life – is something profoundly alive, brilliant, warm, full of hope, bountiful, and glorious. When I say “Allah’u’Abha”, I’m not just saying that God is most glorious: I’m actually defining for myself what God is. Wherever there is glory, I see His face; whenever I feel wonder, I am touched by His presence; at whatever time I’m lost in awe, then I know He is near.
And so I believe that spiritual transformation does not happen by effort alone. Our efforts do not make us into something we’re not; they open our eyes and purify our heart so that we can see what is already around us – and has always been with us, “standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting”.
Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My beauty; stop thine ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of My voice; empty thyself of all learning, that thou mayest partake of My knowledge; and sanctify thyself from riches, that thou mayest obtain a lasting share from the ocean of My eternal wealth.
When we reach this state, we become a pure, receiving organ, capable of detecting the fragrance of God from great distances:
So great shall be the discernment of this seeker that he will discriminate between truth and falsehood even as he doth distinguish the sun from shadow. If in the uttermost corners of the East the sweet savours of God be wafted, he will assuredly recognize and inhale their fragrance, even though he be dwelling in the uttermost ends of the West.
At that point, the seeker goes into the world and searches for his Beloved. Where will she be found? What form will she take? He seeks and seeks, casting away every idea and conception, waiting until his heart thrums with nearness to his Love.
I think this is why it cannot be told: because every seeker must find this Reality for him or herself, must go through the process of purification and discovery before he can fully appreciate the Truth. Yet after a person finds the Beloved, He becomes the point and origin of all transformation and virtue: “Whensoever the light of Manifestation of the King of Oneness settleth upon the throne of the heart and soul, His shining becometh visible in every limb and member.” This is gaining access to the world of spirit, and discovering how to “soar in the air even as thou walkest upon the earth”. `Abdu’l-Bahá says:
Those souls that, in this day, enter the divine kingdom and attain everlasting life, although materially dwelling on earth, yet in reality soar in the realm of heaven. Their bodies may linger on earth but their spirits travel in the immensity of space. For as thoughts widen and become illumined, they acquire the power of flight and transport man to the kingdom of God.
These are a people whose happiness does not come from effort or “trying”, but as a result of the world they experience. Their vision has been transformed, not their substance. Once a person sees the glories which have been deposited in human reality, and witnesses the miracles attending every second our lives, how can he not be overwhelmed with gratitude, and at every moment repeat the tradition, “O Lord, increase my astonishment at Thee!”
Getting to this point does require some effort. Bahá’u’lláh says, “Labor is needed, if we are to seek Him; ardor is needed, if we are to drink of the honey of reunion with Him…” Yet once the fire has been lit, it does not need to be lit twice. It will burn as fiercely as the fuel you feed it. If every created thing, if every atom became a door leading to the Ancient of Days and a cause for wonder and amazement, how brightly such a fire would blaze!
So in serving people, I do not want to “try” to serve them anymore. I want it to become impossible not to serve them. If a person you loved entered the room, would you be able to sit still and not look after their interests? Love generates virtue as a fire produces heat. This, to me, is the secret of transformation: find God – I mean, not an idea but the true, spiritual reality – devote your heart utterly to Him, and the rest of life will fall joyfully into place.