Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A New Creation: Black Americans

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In a day or so I will be off to Michigan for the annual Baha'i Association of Mental Health Professionals Conference entitled, Human Spirit and The Social World. It looks to be truly awesome and I will be blogging the whole event with of course a focus on how it relates to black Americans. I was recently meditating on a selection from the Writings of Baha'u'llah that I think bears an interesting relationship to the experience of black Americans and our destiny as described in Baha'i Scripture as well as some of the insights from the June 3rd, 2007 Letter from the Universal House of Justice addressed to an individual believer. The verse from Baha'u'llah is the following:

"I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited, disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness."
(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 295)

All of my reading in the past year regarding the historical, psychological and spiritual impact of slavery on the Africans who experienced it and people like myself who are descended from them, seem to be captured in the imagery used in the above passage. Through the experience of American chattel slavery, African people were "shaken", "divided", "separated", and "scattered", on every level, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual. Every conceivable aspect of their humanity was laid waste. Yet it was in the fires of racial oppression that these souls were beaten, literally and figuratively into a new form, "combined", "reunited", disclosing in both the contigent world and the heavenly kingdom, entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness." This "new creation" was something that had never existed on earth before, black Americans. A significant contributer to this new creation was the power of the Word of God, in this case the Bible which was embraced in the greatest numbers during the very century in which, in a far away land, the Baha'i Faith would emerge, the 19th century. In the June 3rd Letter, the Universal House of Justice offered this comment on the response of enslaved Africans to the Word of God:

"For the Africans brought to America as slaves, believing in the religion of their oppressors was in a sense ironic but not surprising. The message to which their souls responded came, after all, from a divine Source. So despite all that was wrong with the ill deeds of so many that claimed to believe in that creed, the fact that Black people, notwithstanding their geographical and cultural origins, did recognize the Manifestation of God in Christ was a mark of the divine favor vouchsafed to them by a merciful Providence. This clearly enabled them to endure and transcend the dire circumstances in which they were mired. The history of slavery in that land testifies abundantly of feats of their spiritual transcendence in outstanding examples of courage, fortitude and creativity, which demonstrate the profound effect of the Christ spirit on their lives."

As a new creation, the fruit of historical and spiritual forces, black Americans have ample experience in becoming something new and unique in the world, it is a reflection of the genius of our race and the love of God. Who better than members of this new creation, to provide leadership in the unfoldment of a new world order? Again, the Universal House of Justice:

"The "pupil of the eye", Baha'u'llah's metaphoric reference to Black people, will no doubt acquire clear meaning as they conscientiously strive over time to fulfill the divine purpose for which the Blessed Beauty came. There can be no doubt that Americans of African descent can find in themselves the capacity, so well developed as a result of their long encounter with injustice, to recognize and respond to the vision of love and justice brought by the Promised One of all ages. Imbued with that vision, past and present sufferings are transformed into measures of patience, wisdom and compassion-qualities so essential to the effort to moderate the discordant ways of a confused world and aid in the healing of its spiritual ills. What better than the transformed character of a bruised people to smooth the course, to offer perspectives for the new beginnings toward world order!"

This issue becomes especially profound when one considers the destiny of America as described in the Baha'i Writings:

"Likewise, the continent of America is, in the eyes of the one true God, the land wherein the splendors of His light shall be revealed, where the mysteries of His Faith shall be unveiled, where the righteous will abide and the free assemble."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 61)

If it is true as the Baha'i Writings suggest, that America is destined to play a significant role in establishing a new, global civilization, then black Americans, as a group within the African diaspora also have a significant role to play. To ponder deeply the implications of this possibility for ones life is not an exercise in ego inflation, but is about assuming full responsibility for those implications. The call made by the Universal House of Justice for Baha'is of African descent in America to arise and advance the Cause of God in Africa may offer one example of this point:

"We direct the attention of the believers of African descent, so beloved by the Master, to the pressing need for pioneers, who will contribute to the further development of the Cause in distant areas, including the continent of Africa for which they were assigned a special responsibility by the Guardian when the first systematic campaign was launched for its spiritual illumination. Although their contributions to all aspects of Bahá'í service on the home front and elsewhere will be of great value, they can be a unique source of encouragement and inspiration to their African brothers and sisters who are now poised on the threshold of great advances for the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh."

Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated Ridvan, 1996, to the Followers of Bahá'u'lláh

As a black American, I have to recognize who I truly am, who God calls for me to be on this planet and act accordingly. It is the only response worthy of my ancestors and my Creator, without whom I would not be here.