‘Like a thief in the night…’

Planet Earth is famous for its perfect spot in the solar system, its air, water, photosynthesis, biodiversity… and to top it all off, playing host to the unfolding drama of its ever-quirky homo sapiens culture.

It is not so famous for its hospitality towards those who came to be regarded (much later) as Prophets, Messengers or Manifestations of God – founders of great religions and entire civilizations, architects of morality & mysticism, far and away our most beloved historical figures. No amount of temples and tributes we dedicate in their honor can cover up the fact that when these spiritual luminaries actually walked among us, we’ve had a consistent pattern of violently rejecting both their claims and their messages.

Why is this? Why would we wait and pray for their arrival for centuries, look for signs of their coming, and then commit heinous atrocities against both them and their followers (for a few more centuries) until the times catch up and we canonize them as the truth with a capital ‘T’ – only to repeat the whole process again the next time?

Did we not ‘like’ the message? Did something fail to match our expectations? Were they cleverly disguised – and if so, for God’s sake, why?

The story of the Báb, the first of two such Manifestations associated with the Bahá’í Faith, is a case in point, and the inspiration for the song ‘While the City Sleeps.’ When His star rose in mid-1800s Persia, the force of His personality and teachings had a massive impact on that culture and inspired a devotion and heroism among His followers not seen since the days of Muhammad or Jesus. Predictably, this came with an intense backlash from the reigning religious authorities (Shi’ah Muslim in this case), and a campaign of persecution that continues even today – over 150 years later.

Telling that story is beyond the scope of this post, but all the Holy Books are (ironically) clear on the reasons that humanity has such a poor track record of recognizing those whom we eventually call Lord, Saviour, Teacher, Mouthpiece of God Himself.

Then said the chiefs of His people who believed not, ‘We see in Thee but a man like ourselves; and we see not any who have followed Thee except our meanest ones of hasty judgment, nor see we any excellence in you above ourselves: nay, we deem you liars.’ Qur’án 11:27
Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. Bahá'u'lláh, Kitáb-î-Iqan

It is fascinating to imagine the very moment that a new Divine Revelation first makes its appearance in our midst. Far from the giant magic show we hope for – which would relieve us of the burden of discernment – it happens almost imperceptibly, in a place of God’s choosing… while the city sleeps.

For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 1 Thessalonians 5:2

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iPhone photo by Joshua Homnick

Food for the Soul: 19 Days of Music and Devotion is a series of devotional songs from Badasht vol. I & II coupled with inspiring images and quotations from the Bahá’í Writings, initially to accompany the Fast from March 2-20. Please use them in your own way, and share with your friends & family.

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