Ridvan Reflections

“Verily, all created things were immersed in the sea of purification when, on that first day of Ridván, We shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of Our most excellent Names and Our most exalted Attributes. This, verily, is a token of My loving providence, which hath encompassed all the worlds. Consort ye then with the followers of all religions, and proclaim ye the Cause of your Lord, the Most Compassionate; this is the very crown of deeds, if ye be of them who understand.”

Bahá’u’lláh: The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Page: 47

Growing up as a Southern Baptist in suburban Missouri, I’d never heard of Ridvan before moving into the Abrahamic House (maybe you haven’t either?).

Am happy to report back that I do in fact now know a few things!: this most holy of Baha’i holidays is  pronounced “Rez-vahn,” a reference to the garden outside Baghdad where Bahá’u’lláh (the prophet and founder of the Baha’i faith) went before being exiled to Constantinople (Istanbul) and after being cast out of Persia (Iran). And, it’s in this garden, in 1863, amidst abundant vegetation, particularly roses, that Bahá’u’lláh declared that he was a manifestation of God. Ridvan lasts twelve days, but the first, last and ninth days are particularly holy. (The ninth honors the day Bahá’u’lláh’s family came to visit him in Ridvan.)

We marked the first night of Ridvan by setting up our new low-seated tea salon and creating time and space to be and pray together.

During each Ridvan, the Universal House of Justice, the nine-member supreme ruling body of the Baháʼí Faith, circulates an annual “Ridvan Message” to the global Baha’i community. We read this year’s message together, which  as you might suspect, addressed the various impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic. For Baha’is, Ridvan is a time to elect leaders in their Local and National Spiritual Assemblies (LSAs, and NSAs), the elected councils that govern the Baha’i Faith (because there are no Baha’i clergy), and this year’s elections are particularly fraught. 

I was struck by the eloquence and human care these global leaders expressed for both the administrative complications communities under their oversight are facing, as well as the existential angst most humans alive today are attempting to integrate. 

“However long and arduous the road that must be travelled, we are supremely confident in your fortitude and your determination to see the journey through. You draw from stores of hope, faith, and magnanimity, putting the needs of others before your own, enabling those who are deprived to be spiritually nourished, those who increasingly thirst for answers to be satisfied, and those who long to work for the betterment of the world to be offered the means. From the devoted followers of the Blessed Perfection, how could we expect less?”

Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2020

After reading the Ridvan message and discussing what we noticed about it, Maya led us in prayer, reading from what I would call a book of common prayer, followed by a period of reflective silence. Hadar responded in song and Ala’ with a recitation from the Qu’ran. (I, being a “person of the book,” chose to read a prayer for healing from Maya’s prayer book.)

I’m writing this blog on the eve of the Feast of Jamal (Beauty), which I only know because it showed up on our shared Abrahamic House calendar. Unrelated to Ridvan, it’s one of the nineteen Baha’i feasts marking the nineteen days and nineteen months of the Baha’i calendar, but does indeed seem to me to be an apt theme for Ridvan.

“The everlasting Candle shineth in its naked glory. Behold how it hath consumed every mortal veil. O ye moth-like lovers of His light! Brave every danger, and consecrate your souls to its consuming flame. O ye that thirst after Him! Strip yourselves of every earthly affection, and hasten to embrace your Beloved. With a zest that none can equal make haste to attain unto Him. The Flower, thus far hidden from the sight of men, is unveiled to your eyes. In the open radiance of His glory He standeth before you. His voice summoneth all the holy and sanctified beings to come and be united with Him. Happy is he that turneth thereunto; well is it with him that hath attained, and gazed on the light of so wondrous a countenance.”

Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CLI: Release yourselves, O nightingales of God

Another, somewhat surprising resonance with my Southern Baptist upbringing is that amidst my constant questioning, Maya patiently continues to explain to me that Baha’is have no rituals. There is no standard or prescribed way to observe Ridvan. LSAs from Los Angeles to Nashville to Mumbai (India has the largest population of Baha’is in the world) are free, and challenged to craft experiences that are authentic and meaningful to themselves. While we celebrated by sharing prayers and drinking rose flavored tea, doing what we could with what we had, others across the world celebrated in various ways.

And that seems a welcome invitation to us all. How are we experiencing manifestations of the divine? In our gardens, in exile, in crafting new forms of being together, in beauty? Tell us in the comments below. . .

From Passover to Easter and Ramadan to Ridvan, the first month of multi-faith observance in the Abrahamic House was primed to be potent. And yet, here we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Instead of being able to welcome you into our home to share the best of the traditions we love, we’re sharing a series of reflections on what it looks like to host and experience some of our holiest observances in an intimate, multi-faith setting. For more information on the history and practice of our traditions, check out our Multi-Faith Holiday Guide.

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