Bahá’ís are followers of the nineteenth century Persian teacher Bahá’u’lláh who spent most of his life in exile and his last days in what is now northern Israel where the Bahá’í World Center is located. Today a terrace of gardens ascends Mount Carmel at the place he designated for the seat of a council that guides a virtual global Bahá’í congregation.
The Bahá’í Faith has roots in Shi’a Islam and the Sufi tradition but is an independent world religion with members in most of the world’s countries.
Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh’s spiritual role is to confirms the message found in Genesis (chp. 45) that God will never leave or forsake the human race. We call this Progressive Revelation. Bahá’u’lláh said that his mission was to provide teachings for the emergence and eventual spiritual transformation of the modern world.
We are here in an interfaith gathering. Let me recite a passage from Bahá’u’lláh that speaks to the importance of such meetings:
“… [C]onsort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, to proclaim that which the Speaker on Sinai hath set forth, to observe fairness in all matters.
“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.”
There is another reason I am privileged to be here tonight. My belief is that we are meant to live well and prosper physically and spiritually in this world, and germane to this is a statement from Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet of the World:
In regards to “… that which is conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world:”
First: “It is incumbent upon the minister of the House of Justice to promote the Lesser Peace …. This matter is imperative and absolutely essential inasmuch as hostilities and conflict lie at the root of affliction and calamity.”
Second: “Languages must be reduced to one common [auxiliary] language to be taught in all the schools of the world.”
Third: “It behooveth man to adhere tenaciously unto that which will promote fellowship, kindliness and unity.”
Fourth: “Everyone, whether man or woman, should hand over to a trusted person a portion of what he or she earneth through trade, agriculture or other occupations for training and education of children….”
Fifth: “Special regard must be paid to agriculture. Although it hath been mentioned in the fifth place, unquestionably it precedes the others.”
This fifth passage is relevant to me because my vocation is sustainability and because my attention increasingly turns to how we draw sustenance from God’s Good Earth. This sentiment was echoed by an American contemporary of Bahá’u’lláh’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “Every man has an exceptional respect for tillage, and a feeling that this is the original calling of his race.”
At the heart of such passages is our respect for sustainability. To Bahá’ís, how we live during our time on the Earth is as important to our spiritual development as the life in the womb is to our physical development.
God created us to know and worship Him. The Earth seems to have been created to support life as we know it for many millions of years to come. Untold generations to be born will share our destiny of reverence to God and right living only if we fulfill our duty to God, and to them, to be good stewards.
Emerson also wrote that fortunate is the man or woman who is awakened to worship by nature. I believe that this worship is founded in the gratitude we each feel for God’s bounty of land and water and sun. It is found in the work we do as well. Bahá’u’lláh said that work performed in the spirit of service is worship. Much of our work today, perhaps the most important work we have to do, is to preserve the bounty of the Earth.
I believe that we are meant to live well, to live in community, to live in peace and to prosper on the land, to draw from it, as Bahá’u’lláh said in a letter to physicians, not only our subsistence, but our health. To do that we must learn to live sustainably, that is, to live within the means God has provided for our own well being and for that of all generations to come. The future thus starts in the present moment. It lies in our hands.