- Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
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I am writing this late evening. The cloud-marbled sunset is gone, but I can’t yet make out the stars. The sky is a deep, luminous, inky blue. Two red candles sit on my writing desk, their twin flames dance side-by-side. Warm shimmering waves of golden light flicker across my steaming cup of wild sweet orange tea and illuminate the ruffled magenta petals of three ranunculus arranged in a yellow vase. The exuberance of the blooms announces the imminence of spring in the northern hemisphere just as the first tinges of rusted hues lick the leaves in the southern hemisphere with the first signs of fall.
No matter where we are on the planet, the Baha’i month of Jamal is a time of transition, and periods of transition invite reflection. I wrote an article entitled “Unravelling Beauty” for Baha’i Blog in 2020, in which I explored what beauty is and what purpose it serves in our lives. When I was asked to write another piece on the topic of beauty, I decided I wanted to dig deeper and engage others in dialogue around this subject this time. Over the last few weeks I have been having conversations with friends about beauty in the hope of deepening our collective understanding of why we have an entire Baha’i month named in beauty’s honour.
Around kitchen tables, in living rooms and in cars I have asked my friends what beauty means to them, and how they identify something as beautiful. One friend said that beauty is a portal through which he draws closer to God. Another said that for her beauty is a light that radiates from inside, drawing people to it like a magnet. A third friend said that beauty is something that moves her internally like the line of a poem that sparks emotion or the way the sunset regularly draws her and her husband upstairs to watch in awe. Another friend said that he feels that for him the English word “beauty” has been so corrupted by the media that to truly reflect on the meaning and purpose of beauty he returns to the Arabic word “Jamal,” because for him it still represents the pure spiritual quality that emanates from within, rendering what is external beautiful by virtue of its internal qualities.
In the Baha’i Writings, Baha’u’llah tells us that all beauty is a reflection of His Beauty:
He hath entrusted every created thing with a sign of His knowledge, so that none of His creatures may be deprived of its share in expressing, each according to its capacity and rank, this knowledge. This sign is the mirror of His beauty in the world of creation. 1
One of the names of Baha’u’llah is the Blessed Beauty, and He has written: “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.” 2 Though we know from various accounts of the physical appearance of both Baha’u’llah and His Son, Abdul-Baha, that they dressed and carried themselves with regal dignity, we also know that the beauty attributed to them was one that radiated from within. Sonjel Vreeland has gathered together a small collection of historical accounts of how Abdu’l-Baha’s physical appearance manifested His spiritual qualities and you can listen to a powerful description of the beauty of Baha’u’llah from E.G. Brown:
Baha’i Blog has a wealth of content that explores the various facets of beauty as a spiritual quality. One conversation that I particularly enjoyed was with Aaron Blomeley; it looks at what moral beauty is, and how it finds expression.
The arts are a widely recognized portal to, or reflection of, beauty. Baha’i Blog highlights a wide diversity of visual artists whose creative work radiates beauty. You can browse these articles, interviews, and examples of artwork. Three that I particularly love are:
- this interview with Farzam Sabetian about Luminous Spot.com, a website featuring photographs of Baha’i holy places;
- Seeking Layli: The Art & HandLettering of Rosalind Ta’eed, which looks at the work of an artist who uses hand lettering to adorn and beautify excerpts from the Baha’i Writings;
- and this interview which features the artwork of Ania Telfer, who paints the spiritual world, and who feels that when she paints she is engaged in worship.
Music is an art form that many of those I have spoken with identify as beautiful. At a recent Ridvan celebration in my community, the musician Steve Zaat performed a song about the gardens at the Baha’i World Centre, which created a bridge that made me feel as though I had stepped into the series of paintings of these same gardens by artist Chris Phyllis, which were gracing the walls of the Baha’i centre around us, and experience the beauty of the gardens on an even deeper level. Baha’i Blog has a huge selection of beautiful music videos with its Studio Sessions series. A few in which beauty is actually mentioned in the lyrics are a prayer sung by Safaa Hansen; “Everlasting Beauty (La Belleza Sempiterna)”, a Hidden Word sung in both English and Spanish by Shirin Esmaeili; and “Behold Thy Beauty”, sung by Andreas Ising and Amal Sarehane and based on a prayer by Abdu’l-Baha (see below).
I have so thoroughly enjoyed the conversations that I have had with friends about beauty recently that I plan to continue having them. I invite you to join me. Over the next month, when you are sitting with friends and family, consider posing these questions to your companions: What is beauty to you? How do you know when something is beautiful? What do you think the purpose of beauty is, and how can you nurture more of it in your everyday life? If your offline conversations and reflections generate any illuminating insights, I would love it if you would share them in the comments section below this post. Wishing you a beauty-full month of Jamal!
- Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 261
- Gleanings from the Writing of Baha’u’llah,
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