Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Could Marriage Save Your Soul?

"Marriage, among the mass of the people, is a physical bond, and this union can only be temporary, since it is foredoomed to a physical separation at the close. Among the people of Baha, however, marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation. When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God. "
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 117)

Definition of Salvation:
    1. Preservation or deliverance from destruction, difficulty, or evil.
    2. A source, means, or cause of such preservation or deliverance.
  1. Christianity.
    1. Deliverance from the power or penalty of sin; redemption.
    2. The agent or means that brings about such deliverance.

Changing Times, a hot new Baha'i blog out of Europe, has a nice discussion going on about courtship and marriage inspired by a workshop at the recent Association for Baha'i Studies Conference. I encourage you to head over there and share your thoughts on the topic if you have any. Doberman Pizza also has a really thought provoking essay from a Baha'i talking about the need to change the culture in the Baha'i community regarding dating and marriage. Here's a taste:

"Our world and our Bahá’í community are in trouble. Our Bahá’í youth are struggling in a culture that over-emphasizes the sex impulse. We are fooling ourselves as Bahá’í parents if we aren’t aware that our youth are having sexual experiences and they are feeling a great sense of shame and guilt and even leaving the Faith due to their feeling of unworthiness after breaking this law. Somehow as parents we are failing our children because we aren’t communicating the beauty and joy of sex within the marriage relationship. Perhaps we are waiting until our children turn into pre-youth or even youth before we decide to tell them "don’t have sex outside of marriage."

A list of "Do-Nots" is not a great way to inspire or create acceptance of this law. Instead, we should be emphasizing the joy of sex and what a fantastic gift it is within the marriage relationship when our children are young. We need to share with our preschoolers the idea of marriage and we need to discuss the concept of finding a husband or wife when our children are in grade school rather than entertaining the idea of boyfriends and girlfriends. We need to create a family culture that does not include our children or youth engaging in frivolous boy-girl relationships. For example, when a six-year-old talks about "liking" another of the opposite sex, one should not consider it cute and exclaim to others that Jamal has a little girlfriend. As a Bahá’í parent we need to say, 'Jamal, it’s wonderful that you like Emma; it’s great to have lots of friends. One day when you are much older you will find a girl to be your wife and have a beautiful Bahá’í family!'"

Marriage is very much on the minds of many Baha'is. One of the things that I have been curious about lately is the question of marriage as a means of attaining "salvation". Baha'u'llah has stated:

"Praise be to God, the Ancient, the Ever-Abiding, the Changeless, the Eternal! He Who hath testified in His Own Being that verily He is the One, the Single, the Untrammelled, the Exalted. We bear witness that verily there is no God but Him, acknowledging His oneness, confessing His singleness. He hath ever dwelt in unapproachable heights, in the summits of His loftiness, sanctified from the mention of aught save Himself, free from the description of aught but Him. And when He desired to manifest grace and beneficence to men, and to set the world in order, He revealed observances and created laws; among them He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation, and enjoined it upon us in that which was sent down out of the heaven of sanctity in His Most Holy Book. He saith, great is His glory: 'Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants; this is one of My commandments unto you; obey it as an assistance to yourselves.'"

- Bahá'u'lláh

(Compilations, Baha'i Prayers, p. 103)

So marriage is a "fortress for well-being and salvation". In my experience, Baha'i discourse regarding marriage is pretty good at addressing the well-being part of this statement, but I don't hear a lot about the salvation part, at least not directly. It seems to me that Baha'u'llah could have used some other concept in relation to marriage but chose "salvation" for a reason. Could marriage save one's soul? If so, how? I've decided to dedicate a couple of posts to this question and invite all the readers of Baha'i Thought to share their ideas as well. For now I'm going to just put the question out there. I will follow up with a discussion of a Baha'i perspective on salvation and then get into how marriage might be a means of attaining it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. What do you think Baha'u'llah means when He refers to marriage as a fortress for "salvation"?