When the operatic tenor of the young Peruvian man, David (pronounced dah-VEED), whom I had just met at the door, projected throughout the packed, large room with his confident rendering of portions of Handel's Messiah, I had to strain my neck to see that it was really him, accompanied by a lithe Chinese pianist, so unassuming just moments before, and yet so confident and impassioned striking the keys. When I settled back comfortably into my chair, the juxtaposition of the English composition (by way of Germany and Italy) performed in homage to a Persian exile and prophet by a South American and a Chinese youth, in the heart of Philadelphia, moved me deeply.
Then I looked around a bit more carefully. I happened to be sitting next to an Iraq war veteran in his 20s and a civil rights activist in his 70s. Down the row from me were a couple who'd launched a brilliant Kickstarter campaign around food education. In the row in front of me, the range of hair styles and textures might make all kinds of social statements: dreadlocks; crew cut; Afro; long ringlets; sensible fine layers; headbands and bows; balding and cropped; a man's ponytail, and a woman's sleek bun.
I tried to calm my mind and settle into a meditative state as the program continued. With my eyes closed, I heard voices reflecting ties to Philly, New York and Jamaica intone sacred writings; and a prayer known to be sung by prisoners of conscience in Iran was chanted with such a soul-stirring quality by a recently resettled refugee from Iran that others in room - most of whom spoke no Farsi - hummed or sang along.
This was the Celebration of the Birth of Baha'u'llah.
The coming together of such a range of people in one space, and in gatherings throughout the world, embodies His message centered on the oneness of humanity:
It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness. ... Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship... The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens
. - Gleanings, p. 6.
We celebrated the birth of Baha'u'llah (1817-1892) in recognition of his unique place in mankind's unfolding spiritual development. He taught that throughout history, God has revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine Messengers, each of whom has founded a great religion. The Messengers have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad.
The most recent of these Messengers, Bahá'u'lláh, brought new spiritual and social teachings for our times, embodied in the Baha'i Faith, which now comprises the second most widespread religion in the world. He taught that there is only one God, that all of the world's religions are from the same source, and that now is the time for humanity to recognize its oneness and learn to unite. To get to these goals, which brought him and his family a lifetime of persecution and imprisonment, principles such as the equality of women and men and the harmony of science and religion form points on a roadmap to world peace, social justice, and individual dignity for every member of the human family.
Sometimes our holy day celebration might simply comprise a few friends or family members sitting around the coffee table reading some prayers and listening to beautiful recorded music, perhaps with a warm pie out of the oven to follow. And other times a larger group from the city and suburbs converges to celebrate the spirit of the age and the possibility of transformation - for ourselves and our world; in either of these settings we might catch a glimpse of our better selves, of a world where man-made barriers evaporate, and safety, fellowship, kindness and joy prevail. I feel so grateful to have walked through that door - which welcomes all.
This article also appears at BahaiTeachings.org