A Baha’i Perspective

Bill Sharp generously shared these words with us at the Interfaith Convocation service, teaching us first a bit about Baha’is, and then sharing exerpts from texts with his thoughts.
 
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.

Litany of Common Action

At the close of our Interfaith Convocation service Bill Thwing, an ordained United Church of Christ pastor (and a certified Energy Auditor!) led us in the rousing litany printed here.  A litany is a leader-congregation call and response common to many Christian services.  You will also detect a nod to the fact that our kickoff was held in State College on a football weekend.

As we pause this week in Thanksgiving for all that we have, may this litany remind us that we ought not allow our own experience of bounty to come at the expense of another’s “enough.”  We must respond to the bounty in our own lives by acting as faithful stewards of all we have been given, that we and our neighbors might be sustained.  As Bill led us in September, we give thanks, and we ask for guidance…. We are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Thank you, Bill.

CALL TO ALL FAITHS TO SERVE THE COMMON GOOD 
We are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light. We are a part of Interfaith Power and Light, a movement by people of faith who are putting aside their differences and choosing to stand together against a common enemy – the Changing Climate. I invite you now to stand and join in the Litany of Common Action by responding: We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the huge task ahead of us, one that will require  Men, Women, children, families,  couples, individuals, faith community  Leaders,  faithful followers, Christians, Jews, Muslems, Hindi, Buddhists, Bahai,  Native Spiritualists, other members of unnamed faith traditions working together.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the mission ahead of us that can be daunting, potentially paralyzing, seemingly overwhelming in its magnitude and complexity, but that we must somehow accomplish to insure the continuity of civilization, nationhood, family line, Biodiversity, life itself. 
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the strength to face the changing Climate.  Change which is going to affect each of us – Our children, our grandchildren and countless generations into the future – equally.  Change which will cause all to suffer together if we simply do nothing and simply sit on our hands and wait for the worst.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For fellowship. We cannot solve this gargantuan problem by ourselves.  We must do it together.  We must put aside our fears, doubts and misunderstandings of each other and we must learn to stand together as One against this common enemy – our Changing Climate – which,  like  the Mighty Glaciers only a few  thousand earth years ago buried much of our civilization under mountains of ice,  and which, now threatens Global Scorching which is already driving the most vulnerable species into extinction and which if left unanswered could result in the kind of Mass Extinction which unseated the Dinosaurs and almost all life only 65 million earth years ago.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For the beauty of the created order – majestic Mountains, crashing oceans, placid lakes, swirling rivers, gently winding streams, giant Oaks offering their shade, sweet scented roses & violets, the robin who gathers food for her young in our yards and the Grizzly bear who shuns human contact, blazing sunsets that reveals Your glory and the gentle rains that waters Your earth;… for the infinite variety of life – human and biodiverse – that breathe the sweet oxygen laden air You have provided; ..for swarming fish, soaring birds, clouds of insects and billions of microbes with whom we share this common existence.  For all these, and a thousand more unnamed blessings which You have entrusted into our care.
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
For men and women, children, parents and grandparents, families, couples and individuals of faith who honor their particular faith tradition with  worship, study, prayer, devotion, sacrifice, service and the common good within their families, communities and world;.. for the love, hope, wisdom, faith, trust, patience, endurance, generosity which they struggle to attain and
demonstrate to their communities and the world around them;…for their willingness to stand up, speak out, care, inspire, sacrifice, teach, enable, and learn in order to a be a force for good…For all these things we hold hands with one another and say:
We give thanks, and ask for guidance.
If you believe that this is the work ahead of us, please join your voices and say:  Amen…so be it.
Amen…so be it.


We are… Pennsylvania  Interfaith Power and Light…Would you please say that with me?
We are… Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.
Again, please
We are…Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Again…
We Are Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light!
Thank you

Shabbat and Shehechiyanu

Lynn Schlow opened our Friday evening PA-IPL Interfaith Convocation service with the Shabbat prayer, offering it in both Hebrew and English, and graciously explained the ritual.

On the Sabbath the celebrant (generally the woman of the house) lights at least two candles, representing the dual commandments to remember the sabbath and to keep it holy.  After lighting, she waves her hands over the candles, welcoming in the sabbath. Then she covers her eyes, focusing more fully on the blessing, and so that she may also postpone the enjoyment of the fruits of the blessing (seeing the light) until after the blessing is recited.

Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam
asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu
l’had’lik neir shel Shabbat. (Amein)
Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe
Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
to light the lights of Shabbat. (Amen)

She removes her hands from her eyes, and looks at the candles, completing the mitzvah of lighting the candles. You can hear the Hebrew words either sung or read here (unfortunately not in Lynn’s voice).

Later in the service Lynn shared her uncle’s love of the Shehechiyanu prayer, offered at any first (enjoying the first ripe blackberry of a summer, for example).  The Shehechiyanu is a prayer thanking God for sustaining our lives that we might enjoy each of God’s blessings, and can be heard here.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam 
Shehehchiyahnu vekiyamanu vehegianu lazman ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, 
Who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment.

What a beautiful and appropriate way to begin our first meeting of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light.  May we respond to the twin blessings of Earth and atmosphere by caring for them, that they may sustain others in the way they have sustained us.