On the Banks of the Tigris

Driving home through the Berkshire foothills in the late-afternoon sun last Tuesday, I reminded one of my friends/business collaborators that I wouldn't be available the next day because it was a Bahá’í holy day. I mentioned that the same would be true this Thursday, but that I was planning ahead and didn't expect any impact on the work we were doing together.

Immediately, my friend leaned in. "Yes, but, what holy days are they? I mean, specifically?"

This is why I get such a kick out of working with friends. They tend to notice things like the fact that the special days in the Bahá’í calendar are, with only two exceptions, tied to historical events in the lives of the central figures of the religion.

So we talked about history, and the 12 days that Bahá'u'lláh spent in a garden on the outskirts of Baghdad in 1863, when He declared His station to His followers. As it often does, that led to a conversation about faith and recognition and obedience. Beyond that, it expanded to cover issues of self-reflection and self-control, the nature of the soul, and the substitution of the mind for the soul in humanist practices.

For my friend, these concepts are unfamiliar and interesting to explore and consider. My goal in trying to describe Baha'i perspectives on such things was simply to avoid sounding like David Sedaris and his classmates trying to describe Easter in an introductory French class.

The Festival of Ridván is the "King of Festivals" for Bahá’ís, and the days I mentioned in the car last week are two of three during this special time that we suspend work in commemoration. For me, though, it's not the specifics of the declaration itself that get my attention. They can't, after all, since that moment in time wasn't recorded, although many of the events that happened around it were.

I think of the piles of roses that Bahá'u'lláh distributed to people who came to visit Him in the garden. The song of the nightingales. The rushing of the river. I think of the the heat of the sun and the cool of the shade trees. Most of all, I picture the love of the inhabitants of the city that writers and reporters at the time described as being poured out as Bahá'u'lláh and His family rode out of the garden and away from Baghdad on the next stage of their exile.

What is faith, after all, if not love?