In His Will, Baha’u’llah instructed all to turn to His eldest Son, Abdu’l-Baha, not only as the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i Writings but also as the perfect exemplar of the Baha’i Faith’s spirit and teachings. Every year Baha’is celebrate Abdu’l-Baha as the Centre of Baha’u’llah Covenant.
4 Things I Am Learning About the Covenant and Families
There are many terms in the Baha’i Faith’s Teachings that are easy to read but often difficult to understand and that require life-long study and deepening. One of them is the Covenant, in this case, the Lesser Covenant (if you’d like to know more about the Greater and Lesser Covenants, you can read about them here). In its essence, it’s a mutual promise between Baha’u’llah and anyone who believes He’s brought a new message from God and strives to uphold His Teachings.
My parents became Baha’is when I was about 9 years old. I fully accepted Baha’u’llah at age 15, but in a few short years I distanced myself from the Faith, quit praying, and resented God for the tests in my life. As the tests intensified, people in my life frankly told me I couldn’t survive without God. The Baha’i Faith was where I knew I would find God, so I came back from the horrible state my life had become, and I began looking for help in the Writings.
I’m daily grateful that Baha’u’llah promised to set up a new type of religious system that would safeguard the unity of its followers and prevent them from dividing up into disputing factions. He promised that this system would provide ongoing Divine Guidance to humanity. I made a promise to Baha’u’llah that I would deeply study His teachings and do my best to follow them, and I’ve done my best ever since. Sometimes I go forward swiftly, sometimes I backslide, some days are better than others. But perseverance works!
The Covenant ensures the integrity of the Divine Guidance that flowed from Baha’u’llah to all mankind: first through Abdu’l-Baha (His appointed successor and interpreter, The Center of the Covenant), then through Shoghi Effendi (the Guardian), and it is now shared and illuminated through the institution of the Universal House of Justice. The Universal House of Justice asks us to be conscious of the “exceptional and glorious stage in humanity’s spiritual evolution initiated by the Covenant” and speaks of this consciousness as being “the wellspring of the most exquisite celebratory joy.” 1
Lately I’ve been striving yet again to better understand the Covenant and its power to safeguard the unity and integrity of the Baha’i Faith. In the process, I’ve been experiencing some of this joy and reflecting on the potential interplay between aspects of the Covenant and what helps keep marriages and families together. Here are 4 aspects from my reflection:
When I rely on the Writings to help me improve my character, I am part of the transformation that contributes to building both unified community functioning and unified family life.
…is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? 2
[T]he unity of your family should take priority over any other consideration. Baha’u’llah came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, we must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it. For example, service to the Cause should not produce neglect of the family. It is important for you to arrange your time so that your family life is harmonious and your household receives the attention it requires. 3
If I read the Writings every morning and evening and say my daily Obligatory prayer and other prayers, I find it easier to follow the Teachings and stay connected to Baha’u’llah and God, and therefore to the Covenant. I am very grateful to have regular guidance to us from the Universal House of Justice. I feel it helps to keep my life on track. If couples and families pray together and study the guidance together, they are more likely to be inspired to follow the Teachings. I’ve noticed in life that it’s much easier to get along peacefully with family members if we are praying together regularly!
Abdu’l-Baha describes the Covenant as the “Universal Balance” and as the “Magnet of God’s grace”. He says:
The power of the Covenant is as the heat of the sun which quickeneth and promoteth the development of all created things on earth. The light of the Covenant … is the educator of the minds, the spirits, the hearts and souls of men. 4
When I wandered away from the Teachings, I felt vulnerable to attack from others, drawn toward actions that were harmful, and quite lost. Building a marriage and family felt very difficult. From what I understand, the Baha’i Teachings promise that if we are strongly rooted in the Covenant, in other words if we trust the global system that Baha’u’llah has put in place for ongoing Divine guidance, we will experience protection. It seems that if family members connect strongly to the Covenant, if they commit to build and maintain community unity, that this commitment and these skills can be applied to benefit marriages and families.
I supplicate God that day by day thou mayest become more steadfast, so that like unto an impregnable stronghold thou mayest withstand the surging of the ocean of tests and trials. The people of the world are like unto trees. Those that are rootless are toppled by the slightest breeze, while those that grow deep roots and become strong and firm are not shaken by violent winds, and in time bring forth leaves and blossoms and fruit. 5
The Covenant includes that we teach others about the principles of the Baha’i Faith. It’s part of our promise to Baha’u’llah when we accept Him. It’s often not easy in our busy and skeptical world to reach out to others, and some days I do better than others. It requires creativity as my life circumstances change. However, I do find that teaching draws both confirmations and helps me feel joyful, a positive outlook that benefits my family. As couples and families find ways to reach out to neighbors and friends, it can draw them together in unity and happiness.
O ye that stand fast in the Covenant! …[I]t is incumbent upon … all the friends and loved ones, one and all to bestir themselves and arise with heart and soul and in one accord, to diffuse the sweet savors of God, to teach His Cause and to promote His Faith. 6
Every individual believer–man, woman, youth and child–is summoned to this field of action; for it is on the initiative, the resolute will of the individual to teach and to serve, that the success of the entire community depends. Well-grounded in the mighty Covenant of Baha’u’llah, sustained by daily prayers and reading of the Holy Word, strengthened by a continual striving to obtain a deeper understanding of the divine Teachings, illumined by a constant endeavor to relate these Teachings to current issues, nourished by observance of the laws and principles of His wondrous World Order, every individual can attain increasing measures of success in teaching. In sum, the ultimate triumph of the Cause is assured by that ‘one thing and only one thing’ so poignantly emphasized by Shoghi Effendi, namely, ‘the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Baha’u’llah’. 7
Baha’u’llah calls on us to help humanity mature and leave adolescence behind us. How we approach relationships and marriages also requires a maturity of thought and action. With the Covenant surrounding us with its protection, we can study, consult, act, and reflect continually in our efforts to grow individually, as a couple and family, and as a community. It is easier to reach out in learning-in-action mode to contribute to bettering the world.
God has promised to guide and help us, and we promise to Baha’u’llah to be full participants in developing ourselves and building a new civilization on the planet that aligns with God’s most recent guidance. I believe it’s a promise worth keeping and a promise that I am continually striving to understand and translate into action.
Footnotes & Citations
The Universal House of Justice quoted in A Wider Horizon, p. 228[↩]
Susanne M. Alexander is a Relationship and Marriage Educator, author, and coach with Marriage Transformation®( www.marriagetransformation.com; www.transformationlearningcenter.com; www.bahaimarriage.net). She is a faculty member for the Wilmette Institute Relationships, Marriage, and Family Department online courses (www.wilmetteinstitute.org). Susanne has been single, dating, engaged, married, divorced, and widowed. She is a child, stepchild, parent, stepparent, and grandparent. All of this has given Susanne a diversity of experience to share! She is originally from Canada and is married to a wonderful man in Tennessee, in the United States.