Courage is a word that could be used on a daily basis, frivolously, out of habit, without really thinking about it. Recently, in thinking about the stories found in The Dawn-Breakers, I’ve been reflecting on how what was very courageous ages ago, seems even more impossible to believe in nowadays and how courage can differ from person to person. I’ve been asking myself, has bravery and courage changed throughout history? What does courage look like in my life? Is it standing up for my rights at work, sharing my thoughts and opinions in discussions and being brave enough to swim against the current?
As a passionate midwife, I believe that courage already begins in the mother’s womb. A baby has no choice but to start the journey towards this world of existence by being born, by being pressed through a very tight pelvis and not knowing what to expect on the other side. A baby has no choice but to be courageous. Later, as grown-ups, we still experience fear when making big decisions and facing unknown events and vague outcomes, the exact same fear we felt inside the womb. However, the only difference seems to be that we don’t always remember how to overcome the difficulty, like when we were babies.
In the early years of the Baha’i Faith, being courageous was a difficult choice. Being courageous meant not only standing up for beliefs and thoughts, but it also meant risking your life by doing so. It came with not being sure how to survive the following days or how the reaction of others might turn out. Thousands of early Baha’is, including the Letters of the Living and other followers of the Bab, were not only imprisoned, but harassed, tortured and killed, in the most unimaginable ways. Unfortunately, in some countries, Baha’is are still being persecuted and simply being a Baha’i demands a type of courage that I will never know.
Personally, the times I’ve strived to be courageous in my daily life were when I was open about my coherent and chaste lifestyle, about not drinking with friends, and about not backbiting at school. At first it seemed hard and I was fearful, but the feeling of nourishing my soul shined through all my anxiety and fear of failure; being courageous didn’t feel like a choice anymore. It was the light at the end of the tunnel, just like babies experience shortly before they are born. In a letter to youth gathered at a conference, the Universal House of Justice wrote:
Be not dismayed if your endeavors 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. To discharge your responsibilities, you will have to show forth courage, the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterized by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith. As you dedicate yourselves to healing the wounds with which your peoples have been afflicted, you will become invincible champions of justice.1
My life of modern ease and comfort makes it difficult to imagine the lives of the Dawn-Breakers. Living in a society at a time where any thoughts and opinions can be expressed and heard, and the freedom of religion is celebrated, makes it even harder to imagine. The more I think about the early Babis and the early Baha’is, the more I believe these privileges should help fuel me to be increasingly active and contribute to building peace. Perhaps bravery today is to embody these words of Abdu’l-Baha:
May you all be united, may you be agreed, may you serve the solidarity of mankind. May you be well-wishers of all humanity. May you be sources of comfort to the broken in heart. May you be a refuge for the wanderer. May you be a source of courage to the affrighted one. Thus, through the favor and assistance of God may the standard of the happiness of humanity be held aloft in the center of the world and the ensign of universal agreement be unfurled.2
Abdu’l-Baha assures us that if we strive to promote and implement principles and teachings such as the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, universal education, the abolishment of prejudice and the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty, our courage will be bolstered. He says,
Rest assured that the breathings of the Holy Spirit will loosen thy tongue. Speak, therefore; speak out with great courage at every meeting. When thou art about to begin thine address, turn first to Bahá’u’lláh, and ask for the confirmations of the Holy Spirit, then open thy lips and say whatever is suggested to thy heart; this, however, with the utmost courage, dignity and conviction. It is my hope that from day to day your gatherings will grow and flourish, and that those who are seeking after truth will hearken therein to reasoned arguments and conclusive proofs. I am with you heart and soul at every meeting; be sure of this.3
What do you think the courage of the Dawn-Breakers looks like today? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!