Friday, April 18, 2008

Ridvan: Paradise is Political

Oranges growing near the Shrine of Baha'u'llah, Akka, Israel, 2006

The Ridvan (meaning Paradise) Festival, the most sacred 12 Days in the Baha'i calendar is fast approaching. It marks the period in 1863 when Baha'u'llah publically proclaimed His Station as the latest Manifestation of God Whose Mission was to unite the human race in a global civilization of peace and justice. As always it is a wonderful time to ponder the meaning of this special period. Christian thinkers have long practiced the art of pondering the theological significance of the Word of God, both as scripture and as embodied in the life of Christ, the Apostles and the Hebrew Prophets who came before them. From time to time I've tried to practice this art relative to the Central Figures of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, The Bab and Abdu'l-Baha. This piece of writing represents another such effort. The question that I'm pondering is, "What does Ridvan mean to me?" My approach to the question begins with my often stated view that any religion worth discussion must deal squarely with the question of power, who has it, who doesn't and how to distribute it more equitably. I believe that one meaning of Ridvan is that it represents the intervention of God in history for the purpose of transforming relationships of power and powerlessness, privilege and deprivation. Baha'u'llah's own testimony implies that this is the heart of His Mission:

"The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. He Who hath come to build anew the whole world, behold, how they that have joined partners with God have forced Him to dwell within the most desolate of cities!"
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 99)

While the Revelation of Baha'u'llah is strictly non-partisan and supra-national in nature, its implications are political in the sense that it is ultimately about the radical redistribution of power from its concentration in the hands of the few to the masses of humanity who must participate as equals in the creation of a global society. Such a radical redistribution of power is truly the last becoming first and the first last, a resurrection of human nobility and possibility, long buried beneath an unjust social order:

"Arise, and proclaim unto the entire creation the tidings that He Who is the All-Merciful hath directed His steps towards the Ridvan and entered it. Guide, then, the people unto the garden of delight which God hath made the Throne of His Paradise. We have chosen thee to be our most mighty Trumpet, whose blast is to signalize the resurrection of all mankind."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 31)

This is what Ridvan means to me.


  1. Ah yes, power -- that all-purpose term beloved of the Francophile left! Power circulates, this much we know; and it's creative and destructive -- granted. However, what do we do about the uneven distribution. I think Baha'u'llah has a better answer than Foucault, who leaves out the question of the source of all power. And you're right, there's a political issue involved. A brief definition of politics might be "the struggle over the distribution of power." Those who have more of it don't want to give it up, and those with less want more of it, or despair of getting more. New religions always threaten the distribution of power, which is why the "powerful" are always against them.
    We have a better approach: With unity, the struggle will, if not end, at least be greatly diminished -- but I expect I'll be watching that outcome from the next world.
    Victor Kulkosky

  2. Well said Victor, though Francophile lefties aren't the only ones who like to talk about this. How power is addressed in the Baha'i Writings is well worth a book in itself. I'm hoping to start a little study of that once my semester is over, and yes I think the Baha'i approach to the question is different and addresses the contested nature of power nicely through the Covenant. That's for another post.

  3. Phil,

    I've been reading your blog for a while, and I loved this post so I decided to comment.

    That Ridvan is a Festival symbolic of the Power of Baha'u'llah is an amazing new concept to me. I'm sure I will reflect deeper on this each year.

    Regarding political power, about a year ago I was reading Baha'u'llah's "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf" and this passage struck me because of its support of monarchy. I'm really certain of its implications but I think that it relates directly to your post.
    It is now incumbent upon His Majesty the Sháh—may God, exalted be He, protect him—to deal with this people with loving-kindness and mercy. This Wronged One pledgeth Himself, before the Divine Kaaba, that, apart from truthfulness and trustworthiness, this people will show forth nothing that can in any way conflict with the world-adorning views of His Majesty. Every nation must have a high regard for the position of its sovereign, must be submissive unto him, must carry out his behests, and hold fast his authority. The sovereigns of the earth have been and are the manifestations of the power, the grandeur and the majesty of God. This Wronged One hath at no time dealt deceitfully with anyone. Every one is well aware of this, and beareth witness unto it. Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit (Jesus)—may peace be upon Him—was asked: “O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?” And He made reply: “Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” He forbade it not. These two sayings are, in the estimation of men of insight, one and the same, for if that which belonged to Caesar had not come from God, He would have forbidden it. And likewise in the sacred verse: “Obey God and obey the Apostle, and those among you invested with authority.” By “those invested with authority” is meant primarily and more especially the Imáms—the blessings of God rest upon them! They, verily, are the manifestations of the power of God, and the sources of His authority, and the repositories of His knowledge, and the daysprings of His commandments. Secondarily these words refer unto the kings and rulers—those through the brightness of whose justice the horizons of the world are resplendent and luminous.

  4. Welcome Jalal! It is true that Baha'u'llah makes many statements in the Writings that have both direct and indirect implications for governance and leadership of our societies. I'll join you in pondering these things deeply.

    Keep commenting.

  5. *I meant to say: "I'm not really certain of its implications..."