A few days ago passed the 120th anniversary of the first mention of the Baha’i Faith in the Western hemisphere. At last, the spiritual forces released by Baha’u’llah’s Revelation had an “initial conversation” through which they could be channeled. Many of the early Baha’is of the West interacted with the Faith through this initial conversation – whether they were present, read about in it a newspaper, or heard about it in a subsequent conversation.
September of 1893, just over a year after Bahá’u’lláh’s ascension, Reverend George Ford, a missionary in Syria, read a paper by a Presbyterian minister named Henry Jessup, at the World Parliament of Religions held in downtown Chicago. After speaking about Christianity, he ending the speech with,
In the Palace of Bahjí , or Delight, just outside the Fortress of ‘Akká, on the Syrian coast, there died a few months since, a famous Persian sage, the Bábí Saint, named Bahá’u’lláh -the “Glory of God”- the head of that vast reform party of Persian Muslims, who accept the New Testament as the Word of God and Christ as the Deliverer of men, who regard all nations as one, and all men as brothers. Three years ago he was visited by a Cambridge scholar and gave utterance to sentiments so noble, so Christlike, that we repeat them as our closing words:
“That all nations should become one in faith and all men as brothers; that the bonds of affection and unity between the sons of men should be strengthened; that diversity of religions should cease and differences of race be annulled. What harm is there in this? Yet so it shall be. These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars shall pass away, and the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come. Do not you in Europe need this also? Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.”
Thus began a discourse on Baha’u’llah’s principle of the oneness of humankind.
One way to think about discourse is as the instrumentality through which spiritual forces are able to influence the hearts and minds of human beings. As thoughts and habits of behavior are altered, so are social structures. The initial conversation – the Word of God brought by a Manifestation of God and subsequently spread across the world – leads to a community dedicated to translating high ideals into action. This new system of values reorders consciousness and behavior and restructures the administration of society. Eventually, a civilization emerges that embodies the concepts contained throughout this conversation. As more and more people engaged in this conversation, the civilization becomes more and more just – as justice requires universal participation. And as it becomes more and more just, it takes on higher degrees of unity.
The discourse on peace that began 120 years ago in the heart of North America has gained in strength and momentum, and taken on degrees of complexity. The conversation has taken many forms and included many topics over the last century, and is currently about a community-building endeavor that receives its impetus from an education process that seeks to build capacity in its protagonists for acts of service through imparting skills, insights, and knowledge. But it’s always been the same conversation. This is humanity’s conversation about its spiritual and social destiny – all can contribute, all have a say. And at a deep level, all are connected to it….all can learn from it and advance it. The conversation’s aim is to empower populations to take charge and responsibility for their own development, as a people. In what ways are your daily thoughts, words, and actions contributing to this conversation?