Tuesdays in the Chapel
October 27, 2009
O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all fromthe same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.
-from The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh
In this passage, our redemption as spiritual beings is linked to our realization that we who live on this planet are indeed one family. And yet how far we seem at times from heeding His counsel to live as one human family.
Today I would like to share with you some insights from my tradition, the Bahá’í Faith, on why we should have hope when there is so much going on that can be cause for despair. The Bahá’í writings propose that the human family, collectively, has passed through stages of maturation analogous to infancy and childhood in the life of an individual. The “adulthood” will be a world civilization that functions according to principles of justice and unity. Right now we are passing through an adolescent stage, which is an extremely turbulent period. Teenagers, as we know, often learn the wisdom of adulthood the hard way; so it is with humankind. In this phase, we see both constructive and destructive process. Institutions that function
according to archaic values decline and collapse; this leads to hard and painful times. But it also clears the ground for the building up of new institutions and the cultivation of new ways of life. The processes of decay and destruction grab the headlines, while the constructive processes often go unnoticed, at least in the short run.
Consider race relations in the United States. I live in Cambridge, a city with an African-American mayor in a state with an African-American governor in a country with an African-American president. 150 years ago, slavery was a legally sanctioned institution in the US. Many back then, I am sure, thought that slavery would be around for a long time, that it’s abolition was a “pie in the sky” idea that does
not really accord with human nature. 150 years. Think about that! On a historical time scale, that’s blazingly fast and profound social change. This did not come about through some smooth and orderly progression of rational reforms. There was a lot of turmoil and struggle and sacrifice. But the point is we did succeed in moving forward, not only in terms of the outward legal and social changes,
but also in terms of our inner struggle against prejudice and alienation.
Now we are experiencing an economic crisis. I suggest that this is a blessing in disguise. Indeed the word crisis means a turning point; the Chinese character for crisis is a combination of the idea of “danger” with the idea of “opportunity.” Where is the opportunity in this economic crisis? For one thing, it makes us ask important questions that we would otherwise not be motivated to ask. How can
we devise an economic system that has the dynamism and flexibility of the market, while at the same time fostering the pursuit of something greater than a myopic and narrowly defined bottom line?
How can we learn to talk about such issues in an atmosphere of mutual respect and open-minded investigation, rather than rancorous debate among adherents of rigidly defined ideologies? I obviously don’t propose to answer such big questions in a seven-minute chapel talk. My point is we are asking such questions. And each of us, motivated by the enobling teachings of our faiths, has the power to make a difference and to help the world get to the right answers.
In it’s 1985 statement on peace, the international governing council of the Bahá’í community makes the case for having hope in hard times: A candid acknowledgement that prejudice, war and exploitation have been the expression of immature stages in a vast historical process and that the human race is today experiencing the
unavoidable tumult which marks its collective coming of age is not a reason for despair but a prerequisite to undertaking the stupendous enterprise of building a peaceful world. That such an enterprise is possible, that the necessary constructive forces do exist, that unifying social structures can be erected, is the theme weurge you to examine.