Searching for the Creator’s Greatest Gift

Have you ever received a gift and not realized it until much later – or not really understood it at the time? Can you hold a gift in your hand while it remains hidden in plain sight? 

These hidden gifts that life gives us can be the greatest gifts of all.

Let me share a simple fable to show you what I mean. Once upon a time, a shepherd on a hillside desired to change the world. His land was rocky and barren. He spent his days herding sheep. Though contented with his life, still his heart held his big dream. 

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One day, while strolling next to a stream, he picked up a rock covered in dirt. It was extremely heavy. He said to himself, “I see this is an unusual rock. I do not know what it is, but I will keep it,” and he hid it in a cave on the hillside. 

A year later, his neighbor came by and told the shepherd gold had been discovered in the region. He showed him a small nugget and told him it was valuable. The shepherd remembered his rock. When he went to his cave and washed it, he saw it was gleaming yellow like the nugget. He said, “Ah ha! I knew this was an unusual rock! I will be sure to save it.” And he put it back in the cave. 

Two more years went by before his neighbor came by in a blazing red convertible. The shepherd exclaimed, “Where did you get that?” 

His neighbor responded, “I told you two years ago, I struck gold!” 

The shepherd looked puzzled. “You mean those rocks? How did they turn into a car?” He asked. 

“I sold the gold,” his neighbor replied. “I told you the rock has value, unbelievable value.”

“Oh,” said the shepherd, “I found gold too. I have some hidden in the cave.” 

“But why have you kept it hidden all this time?” asked the neighbor.

“I realized I had gold like you, but I did not appreciate the significance of it – how it can change my life,” answered the shepherd.  

Many years later, after the shepherd’s philanthropic work had become world renowned, he publicly thanked his neighbor, whom he said had been the messenger of his heart’s desire. Without him, he said, he would still be on the hillside with all his precious gold hidden in plain sight. 

The Baha’i revelation is like the shepherd’s gold, and I am like the shepherd. In the same way, I do realize I have received a gift, and I try to understand it. I carry my Baha’i prayer books everywhere. But in all honesty, I must ask myself, do I truly appreciate this revelation in all its significance, applications, and effects? No way. I’m striving for that, but I am nowhere near yet. 

Baha’is view revelation as the greatest gift God bestows upon humanity. A new religious revelation means that a spiritual springtime has dawned, with a fresh impetus of radiance and joy. Those successive springtimes have taken place many times throughout human history, when we’ve received the great gifts of new revelations from Krishna, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Buddha, Muhammad, and most recently from Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith. His son and successor Abdu’l-Baha, in a speech he gave in New York in 1912, explained this great gift:

Do you appreciate the Day in which you live? This is the century of the Blessed Perfection!

This is the cycle of the light of His beauty! This is the consummate day of all the Prophets!

Wake up and smell the roses! He seems to be saying. In another passage Abdu’l-Baha said:

The spiritual springtime has come. Infinite bounties and graces have appeared. What bestowal is greater than this? We must appreciate the divine generosity and act in accordance with the teachings of Baha’u’llah so that all good may be stored up for us and in both worlds we shall become precious and acceptable to God, attain to everlasting blessings, taste the delicacy of the love of God, find the sweetness of the knowledge of God, perceive the heavenly bestowal and witness the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is my advice, and this is my admonition. 

Wow, it sounds as if we have all struck gold, doesn’t it? We have in our hands “all good” in “both worlds” and “everlasting blessings!” That is a lot better than a shiny new red convertible. 

But why do glittery objects make such a powerful impression, while the profound truths of the Baha’i revelation often remain obscure? Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, had some thoughts on this question that he expressed in a letter written in 1931. He wrote:

How vast is the Revelation of Baha’u’llah! How great the magnitude of His blessings showered upon humanity in this day! And yet, how poor, how inadequate our conception of their significance and glory! This generation stands too close to so colossal a Revelation to appreciate, in their full measure, the infinite possibilities of His Faith, the unprecedented character of His Cause, and the mysterious dispensations of His Providence.

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So, we stand too close to see it, like a person who can’t see the forest for the trees, or like our shepherd who couldn’t see the huge vein of gold running underneath his land even though he held a gold nugget in his hand. Our understanding is limited because the revelation is “colossal” – too big for us to fully understand and appreciate. This revelation is also unprecedented – like nothing that has ever come before. We can’t foresee its “infinite possibilities” because they are beyond the limits of our imagination. 

Shoghi Effendi also said that the Baha’i revelation is “mysterious.” The dictionary defines mysterious as “difficult or impossible to understand, explain, or identify.” Like that rock in the fable that felt heavier than the other rocks, there is something special about it – but what exactly? 

Abdu’l-Baha spoke about those who see and those who don’t see the revelation in the following passage. But notice he says in the third paragraph that eventually the power of this revelation will be felt by everyone, even those who try to hide from it. He said:

O ye illumined loved ones and ye handmaids of the Merciful! At a time when the somber night of ignorance, of neglect of the divine world, of being veiled from God, had overspread the earth, a bright morning dawned and a rising light lit up the eastern sky. Then rose the Sun of Truth and the splendors of the Kingdom were shed over east and west. Those who had eyes to see rejoiced at the glad tidings and cried out: “O blessed, blessed are we!” …

But those with unseeing eyes were astonished at this tumult, and they cried, “Where is the light?” and again, “We see no light! We see no rising sun! Here is no truth. This is but fantasy and nothing more.” Bat-like they fled into the underground dark, and there, to their way of thinking, they found a measure of security and peace.

This, however, is but the beginning of the dawn, and the heat of the rising Orb of Truth is not yet at the fullness of its power. Once the sun hath mounted to high noon, its fires will burn so hot as to stir even the creeping things beneath the earth; and although it is not for them to behold the light, yet will they all be set in frenzied motion by the impact of the heat.

Baha’u’llah concluded a Baha’i prayer with this paradox – God as simultaneously hidden, yet manifest:

Let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquility on me, O my Companion, and let the riches of Thine ancient countenance deliver me from all except Thee, O my Master, and let the tidings of the revelation of Thine incorruptible Essence bring me joy, O Thou Who art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!

In Part 2 of this short series of essays, we’ll explore that profound paradox.

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