Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Reflected Light

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Genesis 1:3

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. 
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. 
Although its light is wide and great, 
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. 
The whole moon and the entire sky 
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass. 


Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.

God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is a niche in which there is a lamp. The lamp is in a Glass, the Glass, like a glistening star, kindled from a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil well nigh glows though no fire has touched it: light upon light.
Qur’an 24:35

Reflected Light

This year’s theme is “One Thing That is Most Important.”  That’s quite a challenge, because I can think of many things that are very important.    Love?  Purpose?  Humility?  These are all really great candidates.   Without love, St. Paul tells us, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  Without purpose, nothing I do really matters.   Without humility, I close the door to the kind of healthy self-criticism that can move me forward.    Should I roll the dice and just choose one of these?

Instead, I searched the sacred writings of my own faith for the phrase “the most important thing.”   I came across ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s statement, which you just heard, that the most important thing is to polish the mirror of the heart so that it can reflect the divine light.    Interestingly enough, the piano piece that I could most easily play, given my recent lack of practice time, is the Moonlight Sonata, another reference to reflected light.   And obviously, reflected light is a pervasive metaphor that you find in all the world’s religious traditions, a sample of which I’ve shared with you.

Now I wondered, why would this be the one thing that is most important?

Perhaps it’s because this idea captures a lot of those other important things, such as love, purpose, and humility.     When we love, we are both receiving light and giving it back.   When we are humble, we acknowledge that we get our light from somewhere else and that we need to become more receptive to it.   And that leads us a purpose, to overcome attachment to the transitory things that are like smudges on the mirror.

These are all uplifting ideas, and fairly easy to discuss in the comfort of our living rooms.   But then that made me wonder, can I cite an example of someone who exemplified all this in real life?   A walker, not a talker.   I immediately thought of Mona.

Mona Mahmudnizhad grew up in Iran in the 1970’s and spent her last years living with her parents in the city of Shiraz.   An extraordinarily humble and sensitive child, she became known as the “Angel of Shiraz.”   She became so close to her schoolteachers, for example, that she would cry whenever one of them left for another position.  She had a genuine love for those around her, especially younger children who would often surround her when she arrived at school just to be with her.  When she met people that she loved, her eyes would fill with tears and she would run forward to spontaneously embrace them.  She was extraordinarily close to her father; it is said that the two could communicate with just their eyes.   She was an excellent student and had a beautiful singing voice.

Mona was a Bahá’í and her devotion to her faith was very deep.   She would often awake in the middle of the night to pray and meditate.   Among her many services to the Faith, she began at age 15 to teach Baha'i children's classes, which included the study of the great religions, developing spiritual qualities, encouraging the children to put their talents and education to the service of their fellow man, and especially learning to appreciate the oneness and diversity of the human family.

After the Islamic Revolution broke out in 1979, the persecution of the Bahá’í community in Iran went into high gear.  In 1982, when Mona was only 17, she was arrested by members of the Revolutionary Guard and sent to Seppah Prison, and later transferred to Adelabad Prison.   She, along with other Bahá’ís, endured a series of grueling interrogations, accompanied by sleep deprivation and physical torture.   The goal was to induce her to deny her faith and convert to Islam.   Several times she was told that she would be executed if she did not recant her faith and convert.   Each time, she told them that she would never deny her faith and was ready to be executed.   After eight months in prison, Mona was sent to the gallows, along with nine other Bahá’í women.   In a final attempt to break their resolve, the authorities hanged them one by one while the others were forced to watch.    Mona requested to be the last, so that she could pray for the courage of the others.

Here was a person who had truly polished the mirror of her heart and made it a brilliant reflector.      In my moments of doubt, I am rescued by her example.   What she did is the most important thing one can do.
The Light of Lights He is, in the heart of the Dark Shining eternally. Wisdom He is And Wisdom's way, and Guide of all the wise, Planted in every heart.

The light of the sun becomes apparent in each object according to the capacity of that object. The difference is simply one of degree and receptivity. The stone would be a recipient only to a limited extent; another created thing might be as a mirror wherein the sun is fully reflected; but the same light shines upon both.
The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light. One heart may possess the capacity of the polished mirror; another be covered and obscured by the dust and dross of this world. Although the same Sun is shining upon both, in the mirror which is polished, pure and sanctified you may behold the Sun in all its fullness, glory and power revealing its majesty and effulgence, but in the mirror which is rusted and obscured there is no capacity for reflection although so far as the Sun itself is concerned it is shining thereon and is neither lessened nor deprived. Therefore our duty lies in seeking to polish the mirrors of our hearts in order that we shall become reflectors of that light and recipients of the divine bounties which may be fully revealed through them.


Brian Aull
Baha'i Chaplain