The first part of this two-part essay began exploring the paradox around our ability to know God – the hiddenness of God, yet the manifest evidence of the Creator in every moment, every atom of existence.
In a fable in Part 1, a shepherd who found gold buried on his land thought it was just a heavy rock. He hid it away, ignoring its significance. As time went by, through the intercession of his neighbor, he discovered its true nature. But for many years, before his eyes had been opened, he ignored the buried treasure even while wishing for the miracles it could eventually bestow.
The reality of God can be likened to that hidden gold. It’s easy to ignore the precious nuggets of spiritual truth while becoming preoccupied with our daily concerns – after all, those sheep need a lot of attention. Our lack of awareness is the veil that keeps the Creator hidden from our lives.
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This theme of the “hiddenness” of God appears often in the Baha’i writings, especially regarding what steps are necessary to remove the veils that prevent us from seeing.
For example, one of the most important and cherished works in the Baha’i revelation – a book of mystical guidance titled The Hidden Words – was written by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Faith. He described The Hidden Words: “This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory … revealed unto the prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity …”
In many verses, Baha’u’llah tells us that God is always there, like buried gold, but we have to turn towards the Creator in very specific and sincere ways to experience his presence. For instance, in this verse, I can imagine him talking directly to the shepherd in the fable:
O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
Notice the concept of “turning” to God and “seeking.” The Bible says:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Spiritual seeking is the subject of another of Baha’u’llah’s most well-known mystical works. This small book, which distills the essence of the stages of the spiritual journey, is called The Seven Valleys. Shoghi Effendi called it “… a treatise that may well be regarded as His (Baha’u’llah’s) greatest mystical composition.”
In this compelling work, Baha’u’llah outlined seven steps or planes that must be traversed on the pathway to union with God. The first is the Valley of Search. It describes the ardor, patience, and determination needed to experience the presence of God – and repeats the Bible’s promise, that those who seek shall find. Baha’u’llah speaks of the first valley, saying:
The steed of this valley is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal. Nor should he ever become downhearted: If he strive for a hundred thousand years and yet fail to behold the beauty of the Friend, he should not falter. For those who seek the Kaaba of “for Us” rejoice in the tidings “In Our ways shall We assuredly guide them.”
In their search, they have stoutly girded up the loins of service and at every moment journey from the plane of heedlessness into the realm of search. No bond shall hold them back and no counsel deter them.
The shepherd in our fable certainly had patience – many years went by before he reaped the benefits of his gold strike. He also had another key ingredient, perhaps the most important of all – the “big dream” he held in his heart to change the world.
The heart is the key to spiritual search – because the true desire of the heart is its goal. The Bible says,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
In the Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah wrote: “O Son of Spirit! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.”
Another of Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words admonishes us: “O Son of Being! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant.”
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In another Hidden Word he says that God is not really hidden at all:
O Son of Him that Stood By His Own Entity in the Kingdom of His Self! Know thou, that I have wafted unto thee all the fragrances of holiness, have fully revealed to thee My word, have perfected through thee My bounty and have desired for thee that which I have desired for My Self. Be then content with My pleasure and thankful unto Me.
In an earlier BahaiTeachings.org essay on sacred scripture, I mentioned that one characteristic of it is its endless depth of meaning. Therefore, my simple shepherd’s tale can in no wise begin to scratch the surface of this mystically deep and erudite topic – the paradox of God as “the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!”
But I will offer one amusing personal anecdote to illustrate that paradox. God, it seems, rewards even our smallest efforts – and in my opinion at least, has a wonderful sense of humor.
This morning when I sat down to write, I realized I had set myself up. I had written the first of this two-part essay without any idea of the contents of the second part. Basically, I had asked myself a question to which I had no answer.
Meanwhile, I had plans to take a bike ride later in the day with a friend who had promised to call and set a time. Hours went by, and my anxiety rose on both counts. Who am I to talk about this profound mystical topic? And what to say? Meanwhile, what is up with my friend? Not like her to stand me up.
By mid-afternoon, I decided to take a break, and picked up the phone. It was then I realized my friend had called hours before, but I hadn’t heard. I had shut off the ringer last night at a concert.
I had to laugh, because I realized that my entire two-part, sweating-it-out essay could be boiled down to a simple statement, “God is calling you, but you can’t hear him with the ringer off!”