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What My Morning Coffee Teaches Me About Sacrifice

May 4, 2024, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

I am an ecologist at heart, a spiritual ecologist at the core. I see every created thing as a sign of the Creator and fully embrace that I am intrinsically interwoven with it all — my thoughts, intentions, words, actions and deeds are all having an effect on everything and everyone, just as much as I am being affected by all that is happening in the world around me. Through this lens, the interconnectedness of all things and the spirit flowing through it come into focus — even down to my simple morning cup of French-pressed coffee. As the coffee is being prepared, a prayer of gratitude flows from my heart to the soil that nurtured the coffee tree, to the humble hands of the farmer who harvested the cherries, and to the roaster that brought the process to its delicious fruition.

No matter where or how each of us is living, we are all grappling with tremendous moral, social, economic and ecological challenges. As the world undergoes rapid change, both integrative and disintegrative, I am inspired by the guidance of the Universal House of Justice: 

“[T]he present age is one of momentous change and fundamental transformation. The world’s outworn order is disintegrating and, amidst the resultant chaos and disruption, the cells of the body of a new Order are developing in the matrix of the world.” 1

This implies that each of us is uniquely endowed with a life-giving spirit that is a vital part, however small, of contributing to the construction of a better world. I find this both empowering and daunting!

I often feel overwhelmed by how much change is required for transforming both myself and society. Reflecting further on the Universal House of Justice’s guidance, it becomes evident that these dual transformative responsibilities are inseparable. A cell cannot separate its impact from the rest of the human body. So being as a cell, I understand this to mean that I cannot do or be whatever selfishly suits my ego and expect the matrix of the world to become a better place. I am accountable at every moment for what is in my heart and the actions that come through my volition. I must be willing to sacrifice whatever is of me that is harmful to anyone or anything else in order for the world to prosper and be transformed through this cell’s life.

“The seed sacrifices itself to the tree that will come from it. The seed is outwardly lost, destroyed; but the same seed which is sacrificed will be absorbed and embodied in the tree, its blossoms, fruit and branches. If the identity of that seed had not been sacrificed to the tree which became manifest from it, no branches, blossoms or fruits would have been forthcoming.”2

Abdu’l-Baha describes how a seed transforms into a tree by sacrificing itself. In order for that tree to grow it requires sunlight, good soil, and water. However, for it to reach its fullest potential, it also needs to be pruned by a skilled gardener. For example, a technique used to generate the best production of coffee cherries is to top the tree at two metres and cut away unproductive or unhealthy branches. This promotes better air circulation, sunlight penetration, and nutritional value. Logically, one may conclude that cutting away cherry-bearing parts of the tree will reduce the production of its fruit. But it actually has the opposite effect. For the tree to maximize its potential, it requires sacrificing parts of itself for the sake of a greater good, in this analogy, a greater yield. 

The concept of pruning helps me to appreciate how the mystery of sacrifice works in our lives. In the Qur’an, there is a fitting counsel regarding our need to “prune” ourselves for the good of all: “A man, too, there is who selleth his very self out of desire to please God.” The Bible offers similar instruction: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” To “please God” then, I must have no desire to retain my unhealthy parts — all that pertains to my egotistic self — but rather I must have the greatest longing to utilize my life to “rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind”. In this way, I am striving to abandon my own peace and profit to be of some benefit to the common good of humanity and all that is on earth. 

I battle internally each day to let go of the branches of self that are not conducive to the betterment of the world. Some parts of this tree are easy to shed, but others that have taken root and grown thick within me are difficult to extract. Through constant prayer and effort, I trust that these more stubborn parts will eventually be uprooted, and that this sacrifice will contribute its spiritual force to the transformation of the world.

The spirit of sacrifice takes me back to South Africa where my heart was profoundly affected by its communal philosophy of Ubuntu — “I am because we are”. This philosophy played out in a myriad of ways, one of which I will never forget. Upon receiving a cookie, children would divide it into tiny pieces to share with as many other children as possible, despite their own hunger. At first I was awed at the sacrifice, but soon realized how much Ubuntu is inextricably woven into their culture. Their individual lives were so interconnected with the community that they naturally sacrificed to benefit everyone. Ubuntu taught me the practical application of how our thoughts and actions exert a beneficial or deleterious force — a force that either unites us with, or divide us from, the whole of humanity.

From an ecologically spiritual perspective then, contributing to the transformation of the world may be as simple as an all-encompassing process in which we, as cells within the body of humanity, consciously and sacrificially engage to be in harmony and concord with all the other cells for the common good of the matrix. I know that for me, this will continue to require much pruning!

“[I]s there any deed in the world that would be nobler than service to the common good? Is there any greater blessing conceivable for a man, than that he should become the cause of the education, the development, the prosperity and honor of his fellow-creatures? No, by the Lord God! The highest righteousness of all is for blessed souls to take hold of the hands of the helpless and deliver them out of their ignorance and abasement and poverty, and with pure motives, and only for the sake of God, to arise and energetically devote themselves to the service of the masses, forgetting their own worldly advantage and working only to serve the general good.”

– Abdu’l-Baha3
  1. The Universal House of Justice, letter dated 11 May 2012 to the Baha’is of Iran []
  2. Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace []
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization []
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Pamela is currently living in Ireland, striving to dedicate the precious days of life to the betterment of the world. When not engaged in community-building endeavours, her favourite pastimes are baking, gardening, listening to Afrobeats, and playing cards with her family.

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