New luminaries appear in the night sky. Seers arise, proclaiming a new day. Inspired hearts are attracted to a newborn child. This lovely and familiar pattern belongs not to Christianity alone; aspects of it have occurred again and again in human history, associated with the births of the founders of the great religions of the world, whom Baha'is refer to as Manifestations of God. The signs described above herald the beginning of another chapter in the ongoing love story between God and humanity.
When a new Manifestation of God appears, according to the Baha'i writings, a new energy is released into the world, transforming both material and spiritual reality. This is not an everyday occurrence: Baha'i belief holds that new Manifestations are sent by God once every 500 to 1,000 years, bringing both age-old wisdom and new teachings specific to the needs of humankind in that day.
Because God's love for us never ends and because we are constantly growing and changing, a fresh measure of divine revelation is required from time to time: Baha'is see no end to this process of revelation.
I think of the advent of a new Manifestation as a chapter in a beautiful love story, and in fact, Baha'i teachings are replete with instances and images reflecting the loving relationship between God and humankind. They state that God knew His love for us and therefore created us; that when we respond to His love with love for Him, our souls become filled with the "spirit of life." Because of His love for us, He ensured that the world would be filled with the things we need to thrive.
Speaking with the voice of the Creator, Baha'u'llah states, "Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. Thus, ere thou didst issue from thy mother's womb, I destined for thee two founts of gleaming milk, eyes to watch over thee, and hearts to love thee."
We are encouraged to partake fully of the benefits of the material world, while still retaining our spiritual identity: "Eat ye, O people, of the good things which God hath allowed you, and deprive not yourselves from His wondrous bounties." These are a few of the things that God chooses for us, through His love.
Our role in this love story is to love God back. Baha'u'llah, again expressing the Divine will, underlines the importance of our response in this exchange: "Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant."
Love should motivate our obedience to divine teachings: "Observe My commandments for the love of My beauty." When we love God back, that reciprocal action, like a pendulum swinging back to its original position, generates continuing energy in our lives, energy that drives our transformation.
We are called to an active sort of love -- not only the engagement of our minds and hearts, but also of our deeds and actions. 'Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'u'llah's son, reminds us, "Love manifests its reality in deeds, not only in words -- these alone are without effect." And Baha'u'llah exhorts us, "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning." Such deeds must necessarily include justice, which is closely linked to love. "Justice," Baha'u'llah tells us, "is a powerful force ... the standard-bearer of love and bounty."
He cites as the purpose of His own revelation "that the world's affairs [may] be administered through the potency of love." We show our love for God by the purity of our lives, our willingness to sacrifice for human well-being, our efforts to establish justice in the world, and our commitment and dedication to transcendent reality, wherever we may find it.
In one of the greatest instances of God's love for us, He left us free to choose whether or not to commit ourselves to this relationship, to love Him or not, to respond or not. We can choose to ignore Him, scorn Him or adore Him. This freedom of choice heightens the poignancy and power of our actions.
The mobs who confronted Baha'u'llah as He was forced to walk in chains, barefooted and bareheaded, from Niyavaran to Tehran jeered him just as the mob jeered Christ on his lonely, cross-burdened walk. But the darkness of the mob's response makes the brilliant light of the faith of others shine all the brighter -- including ours -- when we play our part in this divine love story.