About a month ago, Bahá’ís around the world celebrated their new year. Naw-Rúz, which translates from Persian to “new day”, is referred to by Bahá’u’lláh as “a festival unto those who have observed the Fast.”(1) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that this “sacred day, when the sun illumines equally, is called the equinox, and the equinox is the symbol of the Manifestation of God. The Sun of Truth rises on the horizon of Divine Mercy and sends forth its rays. This day is consecrated to commemorate it…” (2)
Transformation is the concept at the heart of this Holy Day. The date, 21 March, coincides with the first day of spring, a season of renewal. This physical reawakening can be likened to the spiritual reawakening that happens during the Fast.
Following the talks the Master gave during His travels to the West gave me special significance during the Fast this year, as He constantly called for spiritual transformation, both at the personal and the societal levels. For personal transformation is not enough; it must needs come hand in hand with societal transformation. In one of His longest works, Secrets of Divine Civilization, written in 1875, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá mentioned that “[w]e must now highly resolve to arise and lay hold of all those instrumentalities that promote the peace and well-being and happiness, the knowledge, culture and industry, the dignity, value and station, of the entire human race. Thus, through the restoring waters of pure intention and unselfish effort, the earth of human potentialities will blossom with its own latent excellence and flower into praiseworthy qualities…”(3)
Many of those He met during His travels were transformed as a result of their interactions with Him. The story that strikes me the most involves individuals from the West, but did not happen in the West. On 10 December 1898, fifteen pilgrims from North America and Europe arrived in ‘Akká. In the words of Shoghi Effendi, “the intimate personal contact established between the Center of Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant and the newly arisen heralds of His Revelation in the West […] marked the opening of a new epoch in the development of the Faith in the West … The return of these God-intoxicated pilgrims, some to France, others to the United States, was the signal for an outburst of systematic and sustained activity … the community of the American believers arose to initiate a series of enterprises which, blessed and stimulated a decade later by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself, were to be but a prelude to the unparalleled services destined to be rendered by its members during the Formative Age of His Father’s Dispensation.” (4)
While we will not have the bounty to meet the Master in this physical world, we can keep both in our minds and in our hearts this concept of spiritual transformation and draw inspiration from these and other “God-intoxicated heroes”, especially now, as we prepare to celebrate the Festival of Ridvan. We will be celebrating the beginning of the Cause ‘Abdu’l-Bahá loved so much that He traveled at an advanced age to spread its fragrance in Europe and North America.
(1) Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67
(2) Talk by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, March 21, 1913: Star of the West, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 4, in Lights of Guidance, p. 301
(3) ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 4
(4) Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 257
Photo by Jarnah Montersino, www.nineteenmonths.com