Baha’u’llah revealed a path to humanity, a path to God for all who wish to walk it. I have been trying to tread this path for over 15 years and have realised that there are things that aid me in this endeavour and also things that thwart my efforts: signs of God and metaphorical veils that keep me from God. Of course, there are many other tools needed on a spiritual journey (prayer, fasting, service to others, and so on) but in this article, I’d like to explore what the signs of God might be, and the veils that hold me back.
On the one hand, Baha’u’llah explains that everything in existence is a sign of God which emanates one or more of His attributes and leads us to Him.
All these signs are reflected and can be seen in the book of existence, and the scrolls that depict the shape and pattern of the universe are indeed a most great book. Therein every man of insight can perceive that which would lead to the Straight Path and would enable him to attain the Great Announcement.1
I think this means that everything we see around us contains at least one of the signs of God. The mountain portrays God’s majesty, the ocean His omnipotence, the rain in the desert His mercy. But even the things we see as worthless must, by definition, also contain the signs of God. A pebble might manifest the attribute of acquiescence in the way it succumbs to the will of passing waters and children who pick it up and throw it. And other signs are even more elusive – what godly attributes do thorns and dog poo manifest? If nothing else, God’s humour.
These more obscure cases of God’s signs also reveal another thing: often these signs are hidden from our view; they are veiled from our eyes. Hence Baha’u’llah also cautions us to:
Beware lest the veils deter you from the outpourings of His bounty in this Day. Cast away the things that keep you back from God and persevere on this far-stretching Way.2
Just as His signs are everywhere, paradoxically, these veils are also quite ubiquitous. Anything can act as a veil between us and God and can prevent us from walking the straight path. Typically, these veils are recognised as money, fame, desire. But they may be even more unassuming. One’s hobby building miniature planes could become a barrier to God if attachment to these models outweighs the love for Him.
It is not always easy to become aware of these veils because we might mistake them or justify them as necessary parts of life. Binge watching series for hours a day could be seen as a needed way to relax. Constant shopping could be warranted out of the need to clothe one’s self instead of an attachment to fleeting trends. In such cases, we need to have a good look within and be honest with ourselves.
There are some things that can only act as veils. We do not need to change our perception of them; we simply need to rid ourselves of them. These could be things that are doubtlessly negative: greed, corruption, violence, prejudice…
But there are other things that we may regard as veils but are actually veiled signs waiting to be unravelled. For instance, we might be discontent with our job and not see a point in it and feel that it is getting in the way of our service to God. Because we desire a more ‘spiritual’ vocation, we cannot recognise the worth in our current occupation. This is definitely something I have struggled with on my never-ending searching for the ideal job. Years ago I fell into ESL teaching and have ever since, to varying degrees, been trying to get out and into something more ‘meaningful.’ But when I am able to attune my spiritual perception, I can see the worth in what I do. I am helping people from all around the world gain proficiency in what is currently serving as the world’s international language: English. I am promoting inter-cultural exchange when I set up communication activities for my students. This is contributing something to Baha’u’llah’s vision of world unity, which means it surely is a sign of God and a path to Him.
Another example is family life. Every parent naturally loves their spouse and children (most of the time). But at times, the responsibility of working, taking care of a family and trying to serve God can seem too much. One might catch one’s self thinking: I wish I had more time to serve humanity instead of just doing all these other things. But this is denying the fact that our family life is another avenue of service. Baha’u’llah encourages us to have children. The challenge is to learn how to serve after having a family for it is a new type of service that one needs to adjust to. For me, now I have the chance to run a Baha’i children’s class for my son and his friends which is an avenue of service that may not have opened itself to me in the past. Not to mention that I simply can’t imagine life without my precious boy!
And then there are perhaps things that are simultaneously signs and veils: a drug addiction, an emotionally abusive relationship, an illness are all tests that we need to work through. They are things that we need to overcome at the same time as learn from. If passively succumbed to, they would simply be veils that debar us from the walking the path. But if approached with mindfulness and determination, they could act as both barriers to breakthrough and paths to a higher plane.
So, in order to spiritually progress and be of service to the world, I believe that we need to recognise the signs of God all around us. At the same time, we also need to become aware of the things that bar our way on this path and remove such veils. Some veils simply need to be torn down, but others will transform themselves when we transform our perception of them.