“be not dismayed…”, June 27, 2013
Be not dismayed if your endeavours are dismissed as utopian by the voices that would oppose any suggestion of fundamental change. Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society.
The Universal House of Justice
‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that, in this Day, humanity is reaching its long-awaited stage of maturity, and that its capacity is the greatest it has ever been. “There are periods and stages in the collective life of humanity,” He notes: “At one time it was passing through its stage of childhood, at another its period of youth, but now it has entered its long-predicted phase of maturity, the evidences of which are everywhere apparent…”
The chief struggle of modernity, He explains, is for humanity to leave behind those outdated ways of thinking and acting that no longer satisfy the demands of this phase of maturity, and adopt new ways of thinking and acting that match humanity’s increased capacities: “That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race can neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day, this period of newness and consummation. Humanity has emerged from its former state of limitation and preliminary training. Man must now become imbued with new virtues and powers, new moral standards, new capacities.”
So what are these virtues and powers, these standards and capacities, with which we must be imbued? Well, for one thing, these are spiritual powers that we’re talking about. But that doesn’t mean sci-fi stuff like telekinesis or reading minds and stuff, either. It means being able to show forth certain spiritual qualities, virtues, or elements of character. For instance, the ability to overcome thoughts of hatred with thoughts of love—whether through small acts of kindness like leaving a kind note for a neighbour, or bigger, more dramatic acts like giving blood to save someone’s life.
In recent years, the Universal House of Justice has encouraged Bahá’ís everywhere to exert every effort to engage the rising generations—children, junior youth, and youth—in a lifelong process of moral education and spiritual empowerment. Far from being a kind of narrow catechism, this process aims to build the capacity of young people to show forth praiseworthy virtues and character qualities, and to enable and empower them to arise to serve humanity by working for the betterment of their families, their communities, and their society. According to Bahá’u’lláh, this work, offered in the spirit of service, is equal to worship.
The Universal House of Justice has written a number of letters to youth, especially in the context of regional youth conferences, to expand on the special opportunities afforded to them. In a letter to one such conference in Paraguay in 1998, they highlighted crucial qualities youth would have to show forth in the path of service to humanity. “You will have to show forth courage,” they affirmed, “the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterised by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith.”
More recently, in announcing the series of 95 youth conferences held around the world in 2013, the Universal House of Justice expanded further upon those qualities that youth will need in order to make a difference in the world—qualities related to moral and spiritual empowerment.
In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold, we entreat the Ancient Beauty that, from out a distracted and bewildered humanity, He may distil pure souls endowed with clear sight: youth whose integrity and uprightness are not undermined by dwelling on the faults of others and who are not immobilized by any shortcomings of their own; youth who will look to the Master and ‘bring those who have been excluded into the circle of intimate friends’; youth whose consciousness of the failings of society impels them to work for its transformation, not to distance themselves from it; youth who, whatever the cost, will refuse to pass by inequity in its many incarnations and will labour, instead, that ‘the light of justice may shed its radiance upon the whole world.’
As I wrote shortly after having a thorough read of this passage, these are not airy-fairy words expressing a pious hope that things might get better. They are, in essence, a very practical game plan for the youth of the world who wish to shed the lethargy imposed on them by, and disentangle themselves from the embroilments of, a divided society; youth who wish to dedicate themselves to healing the wounds with which their peoples have been afflicted—becoming, in effect, heroes, invincible champions of justice. It’s all about showing forth spiritual qualities, developing moral capacities, learning concrete skills that will allow them—and everyone, in fact—to make a positive difference in the lives of those people around them.
Capital amongst all these qualities, I feel, is that quality of hope, of trust in God and in the capacity of humankind to figure things out. Yes, we’ll hear people around us express deep despair and cynicism about the way things are, and even the desire to withdraw and escape from society rather than try to make things better. But “be not dismayed,” as the Universal House of Justice wrote. Rather, “have hope,” and ask for God’s unfailing confirmations as we strive to serve Him and to make our communities better places to live.
No, humanity is not messed up beyond hope of salvation. Yes, it is messed up, or rather, it is passing through a phase much like that of adolescence, during which it struggles to leave behind outdated ways of thinking and acting that no longer satisfy the demands of its mature, adult life, and adopt new ways of thinking and acting that match its increased capacities. We must acknowledge humanity’s failings—our own failings—while also trusting in its capacity—and in our capacity—to do better. And with the power of Divine assistance and confirmations, we can do better: We can shine out like beacons of light against the gloom. We are seeing spiritual transformation happen little by little throughout the world, and we know where it will lead. So take hold of the latest guidance, step into the field of service, attract the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, and trust that God will take care of the rest.
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