Reflections on the Religious Concept of "Covenant"
August 11, 2007
I went out to lunch with a relatively new Bahá'í today. What a gorgeous day it is too, after a much needed downpour over night. Before going out, I sat down this morning to reflect on the Covenant and write down a few quotations to take with me (a concept any Indiana Jones fan can tell you about). In my thoughts, I was guided toward the notion of love as expressed in the Covenant, particularly after recently finishing Moojan Momen's new biography of Bahá'u'lláh, wherein Bahá'u'lláh's love for the believers — and all of humanity — came through strongly (full review forthcoming).
This friend and I have spent a little bit of time together before, sharing and discussing prayers and other matters on a few occasions. Before lunch she was telling me a story from earlier in her life, about feeling protected by the spirit of a friend's deceased child. So in his memory, and also thinking of the victims of the recent I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis, we read a prayer for the departed before the meal arrived. Then we had a marvelous time weaving the quotations in and out of our conversation.
I began with a quotation from the Hidden Words, "O Son of Man! I loved thy creation, hence I created thee. Wherefore, do thou love Me, that I may name thy name and fill thy soul with the spirit of life."(1) My friend is quite centered on the concept of love — that this is the most important quality. As we were conversing, she also expressed that truthfulness above all other virtues was required to be paired with love in order to live a "spiritual life." Thanks to my time studying Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, I was able to point out that 'Abdu'l-Bahá meant much the same when he said that "truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues."(2)
Thus out of love God created humanity. But, "the door of knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings" — God is utterly unknowable in Himself — ", the Source of infinite grace ... hath caused those Gems of Holiness to appear... ."(3) Out of continuing love we are given the Manifestations (or Prophets) to guide us in our path toward the mystical "reunion with God."
Furthermore, the most recent "Gem of Holiness", like those before Him, "hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a Prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty."(4) This is the essence of the love of Bahá'u'lláh — the ancient story of the Prophet's suffering for the redemption all of humanity.
Prison where Bahá'u'lláh and his family were initially confined when they arrived in 'Akká (Acre), Palestine, in 1868.
Throughout the conversation, it was amazing the way my friend was able to bring out anecdotes and stories that illustrated the meaning of this love for us, and our reciprocal love for God. That aspect made it a true two-way deepening, a mutual exploration rather than a didactic presentation.
Still thinking about the concept of the Covenant, the words "true liberty" above brought to mind another passage from the Bahá'u'lláh, "Consider for instance such things as liberty... if carried to excess, exercise[s] a pernicious influence upon men."(5) From here I arrive at humanity's part of the love equation -- our twin, inseparable duties, as expressed in the opening of the Most Holy Book: "recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation" and observance of "every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world."(6)
My friend spoke about the beauty of how God gave to humanity free will — we can and must choose our path. But "true liberty," we concluded, comes from trusting in Bahá'u'lláh, from choosing to recognize the Manifestation and striving for perfect understanding and obedience in His path. [As I type this, I am reminded that Bahá'u'lláh Himself said as much, Gleanings p335].
As I write this, I am instantly struck that the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh would be a natural theme for continuing this conversation. Touched upon briefly today, this context provides a fertile ground for furthering our understanding of the role of faith in Bahá'u'lláh's plans for mankind, as passed down through the Centers of His Covenant and expressed today by the Universal House of Justice.