An Empowering and Supportive Community Life

youth Porta de Gloria Brazil - community life

In previous articles we have looked at how Baha’u’llah reforms religious institutions as consultative institutions with a duty to foster human well-being. We have also seen how the individual is framed by Baha’u’llah as an active citizen who is a partner in fostering human well-being. How then does community life change?

Sometimes religious community life is viewed as being judgemental, oppressive and divisive. And while such patterns can be observed from time to time they aren’t inherent in the core essence of religious teachings. And they are incoherent with Baha’u’llah’s vision and rare in Baha’i experience. But even absence of these negatives is not sufficient.

Thus writing in 2010, the Universal House of Justice presents the following vision of community life.

Composed of such individuals and such institutions, the community … becomes that spiritually charged arena in which powers are multiplied in unified action. It is of this community that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes: “When any souls grow to be true believers, they will attain a spiritual relationship with one another, and show forth a tenderness which is not of this world. They will, all of them, become elated from a draught of divine love, and that union of theirs, that connection, will also abide forever. Souls, that is, who will consign their own selves to oblivion, strip from themselves the defects of humankind, and unchain themselves from human bondage, will beyond any doubt be illumined with the heavenly splendours of oneness, and will all attain unto real union in the world that dieth not.”[1]

There are levels of unity here that transcend mere conventionality, and superficial friendships. It is a beautiful goal that Baha’i communities strive to attain. Qualities of community are further described in the following:

… every individual finds himself or herself immersed in a community that serves increasingly as an environment conducive to the cultivation of those attributes that are to distinguish a Bahá’í life—an environment in which a spirit of unity animates one and all; in which the ties of fellowship bind them; in which mistakes are treated with tolerance and fear of failure is diminished; in which criticism of others is avoided and backbiting and gossip give way to mutual support and encouragement; in which young and old work shoulder to shoulder, studying the Creative Word together and accompanying one another in their efforts to serve; in which children are reared through an educational process that strives to sharpen their spiritual faculties and imbue them with the spirit of the Faith; in which young people are helped to detect the false messages spread by society, recognize its fruitless preoccupations, and resist its pressures, directing their energies instead towards its betterment.The institutions of the Faith, for their part, strive to ensure that such an environment is fostered. They do not pry into the personal lives of individuals. Nor are they vindictive and judgemental, eager to punish those who fall short of the Bahá’í standard.[2]

These themes trace themselves to Baha’u’llah’s teachings including his Hidden Words. They are not easy to attain. I have lived long enough to see them increasingly realised in Baha’i community life. A few brief extracts which bear on community life are presented below.

* * *

My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.[3]

* * *

Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner.[4]

* * *

Know ye not why We created you all from the 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.[5]

* * *

… the heart wherein the least remnant of envy yet lingers, shall never attain My everlasting dominion, nor inhale the sweet savors of holiness breathing from My kingdom of sanctity.[6]

* * *

With the hands of loving-kindness I have planted in the holy garden of paradise the young tree of your love and friendship,[7]

* * *

O ye beloved of the Lord! Commit not that which defileth the limpid stream of love or destroyeth the sweet fragrance of friendship. By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancor.[8]

* * *

It behooveth man to adhere tenaciously unto that which will promote fellowship, kindliness and unity.[9]

* * *

They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations. Blessed are such as hold fast to the cord of kindliness and tender mercy and are free from animosity and hatred.[7]

* * *

The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Daystar of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.[8]

* * *

We love to see you at all times consorting in amity and concord within the paradise of My good-pleasure, and to inhale from your acts the fragrance of friendliness and unity, of loving-kindness and fellowship. Thus counseleth you the All-Knowing, the Faithful. We shall always be with you; if We inhale the perfume of your fellowship, Our heart will assuredly rejoice, for naught else can satisfy Us.[9]

(This article is the 67th in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)

Image Credits: A group of youth in Porta di Gloria, Brazil Copyright © Bahá’í International Community


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