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The Centenary

The Springtime of the Soul Returns

                                   Boulevard Montmartre, Spring by Camille Pissarro

bdu’l-Bahá’s stay in Paris for the months of October and November 1911 afforded His hearers the pleasure of daily talks in which He discussed various topics related to the principles of Bahá’u’lláh. At the beginning of His visit, on 15 October, He gave a talk about the regularity of the renewal of the divine light—assimilating it to the spring which gives life to the earth after its dormancy during winter. At the end of His visit to Europe, on 6 December, He gave a talk in which He explained the necessity of the divine light for human life, no matter the degree of perfection to which man’s wisdom and philosophic knowledge has reached. This talk was delivered in the city of Marseille when ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was returning to Alexandria.

The closeness of the relationship between the two subjects is clear, inasmuch as the limitation of human thought and its effects, on one hand, and the general direction of the divine plan, on the other, renders necessary the periodic intervention of the effulgent lights of the Holy Spirit through the coming of a new divine religion.

Indeed, the parallel ‘Abdu’l-Bahá drew between the coming of the divine message—the season of spiritual outpourings—and the season of spring, when half the globe is facing and closer to the sun and receives more light and warmth, which effects in turn actuate rainstorms sufficient to revive the land and lightning sufficient to purify the air, indicates that, for the good of all, the earth engenders that which God has willed; it is thus an assimilation that at once carries within it numerous laws of nature and of metaphysics in such a manner as to illustrate the unity between the forces governing material and spiritual existence.

“The Days of Moses were like the season of spring… The Children of Israel—those whom the autumn had enchained in the utmost lowliness and led about erratically in the darkness of ignorance, the white hand of Moses lifted up and revived. He trained them in the attributes of heaven, and bestowed upon them the spiritual outpourings of the divine springtime. All the same, this spiritual spring changed to winter, and consequently the splendour of the season of spring ended. The people sank back into their earlier conditions and became inert and apathetic.

“Christ’s coming too was a spiritual spring. He pitched His tent high on the horizon. He revealed the qualities of the spirit with greater illumination than before. The world was bathed in a glorious beauty, humanity was refreshed and was helped to progress. Even so, the autumn came again, princes and leaders formed alliances together and the foundations of Christ were completely changed, the Christians became enchained in traditions… The world remained in that darkness, and the West fell to a great extent into savagery and became completely deprived of material and moral progress until such time as the Muhammadan light suddenly broke through, and established divine justice. The Arabian desert was lit, and the Law of God raised its flag in the desert bringing education to its savage people, and the Law of God progressed. After some time there was again a change such that no trace was left of the lights of that holy religion, and ignorance took over—for change is an inherent law of existence. It is impossible for change not to occur. After every upbuilding must come destruction, and every day must be followed by night.”1

This explanation indicates the compatibility between spiritual existence and material existence. The principle that governs the various aspects of the universe is one and the same. According to this understanding, a similar cycle to the one causing the change of seasons, from flourishing springs to fruit-filled summers, followed by deadening falls and winters exists at the spiritual level—a cycle similar to this natural cycle that produces these tremendous variations. This corresponding spiritual cycle produces similar effects in the realms of thought and spirit. The effulgences of the mercy of God affect the conditions of life, replacing the old order with a new one that elevates human thought and character—but for a limited time, after which religious standards weaken and corruption and confusion take over.

One of the signs of this confusion is the spread of irrational concepts that are accepted without testing, as if minds have become dull. In this atmosphere these absurd ideas quickly become unquestionable and therefore difficult to correct. One example of such absurdities is the belief in the end of religion, that is, that God shall cease sending religions. Is it possible to imagine a sun that emits no light? How is it possible then to believe in a God Who does not assume His attributes?

The most essential attribute of God is His ancientness, attribute that implies unchangeability. He is exactly the way He has ever been since the beginning that has no beginning and will so remain until the end that has no end. The belief in an ancient God thus excludes any alteration in His nature or change in His attributes. He God has been the Source of all religions in the past and will remain so forever.

Thus ‘Abdu’l-Bahá continues His explanation of the spiritual cycle: “When darkness had overspread all horizons and the foundations of religion were destroyed, when religion had become a mere word and its ill practice caused trouble, when religions that had been the cause of unity and concord turned to hypocrisy and duplicity, God by His mere mercy sent a new shining star, and the Báb rose upon the horizon of Persia. Before long, Bahá’u’lláh’s light shone and His teachings were spread abroad announcing that the religion of God is light, holiness of character, and life to the world.”2

The Báb, Bahá’u’lláh’s Forerunner or Predecessor, appeared in 1844, and Bahá’u’lláh declared His mission in 1863. This is the same time period historians consider to be the beginning of the new world we are presently entering into. Historians determined this timeline by the emergence of the constituent principles that produced this distinctive fundamental change between two worlds.

Since that turning point, conditions of life on earth have been in motion, restless, becoming evermore distant from the world of our ancestors. Humanity has, since the mid 19th century until the end of the 20th century, passed through innumerable events which have produced unprecedented changes in the world and whose challenges, both spiritual and material, present generations and governments are still struggling to address.

Humankind had, in the past, witnessed limited change—change that produced small alterations in the pattern of life—unlike the present, in which the changes have altered all aspects of human life and promise to bring even more radical shifts in the future. The following examples may help to convey the enormous differences between these two worlds:

The present international order has already raised up institutions and institutional subsidiaries that have no parallel in the past, whether we look to the multiplication of its organizations or the expansion of its scope now covering matters hitherto considered to be exclusively national affairs, such as the protection of the rights of minorities and the protection of human rights: there are effective international organizations serving in the fields of finance, commerce and the economy, in the domains of health and food production, and in the protection of human rights, human development, the mitigation of ethnic and sectarian conflict, the separation of belligerents, and the maintenance of security; and in addition to these governmental organizations, there are numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, the Olympic Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Oxfam and so on. Another such international organization is UNESCO, which contributes to teacher training, literacy, freedom of expression, freedom of information, respect for the supremacy of the law and justice, and the protection of the principles of freedom.

Besides these changes to the international order, many new principles have had an impact on the national political systems of the world: the absolute power of governments has disappeared in favour of the people’s sovereignty; consultation between governments has become a more or less regular procedure; globalization in industry, commerce, economy and even in politics dominates the world scene; religious tolerance, anti-racism and the encouragement of both immigration and emigration are admitted everywhere.