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.