James Taylor perfectly describes the purpose of the Baha’i Faith, by accidentPosted: April 27, 2013
This post has nothing to do with economics, governance, business, finance, etc. So if you arrived at this site hoping for some discussion about that sort of thing, don’t feel bad if you end up closing this window and going here.
Instead, I wanted to break the routine and share some personal reflections on what I think the Baha’i Faith truly is and its purpose. I don’t plan to provide a discussion of its teachings, a supremely useful exercise but one that has been done impeccably well already by many others. (If you’re looking for that, a great website that does this simply and eloquently is here.) Rather, I thought I’d share a song that on its surface might seem completely unrelated to the Faith, but in my opinion captures its essence better than anything I’ve encountered.
A few years ago some Baha’is I knew were hosting a fireside discussion with friends about the Faith in their home on Cape Cod, and invited me to come along. I can’t remember much about that evening, including what was said or even the general topic of discussion. All I can really remember is the warmth and friendliness of the atmosphere, and the song they played on the CD player to kick off the evening and set the mood. That song turned out to be Another Day by James Taylor, which is now easily one of my favorite songs ever. To this day, I own no James Taylor albums and have little interest in listening to his other music. But I remain obsessed with Another Day.
My poor wife has endured hours of my gushing about this song, and has handled it (mostly) with class. That’s what they don’t tell you about marriage before you tie the knot: get ready to hear the same stories over and over for the next half century until you die. So thank you, wife whose name will not be mentioned for personal privacy reasons.
Another Day is kind of a remake of an older hit song called Wake Up, Little Susie. Kind of. The original is about a girl and boy who accidentally fall asleep together at a drive-in movie, and upon waking up in the early morning, comically panic about what people will assume. This was a mega-hit in the late ’50s and has been remade countless times. In one of the most random factoids you will ever hear, Wake Up, Little Susie is George W Bush’s favorite song.
James Taylor turns the story told in Wake Up Little Susie into a metaphor. In Another Day, a male voice sings to his female companion, asking her to join him as he bravely faces a new world and a new dawn:
Wake up Susie
Put your shoes on
Walk with me into this light
Finally this morning I’m feeling whole again
It was a hell of a night
Just to be with you by my side
Just to have you here in my sight
Just to walk a while in this light
Just to know that life goes on
Later he sings
Another night has gone
And life goes on
Turn and face the sun
One by one
The world outside
Morning light has driven away
All the shadows that hide your way
And night has given way
To a promise of another day
Another chance for us to finally find our way
I really don’t know what James Taylor is intending to sing about, but the song perfectly describes, in my view, the whole point of the Baha’i Faith.
Baha’u’llah made the audacious claim that his coming — and very importantly, the teachings he left behind — were the fulfillment of the prophecies of ancient religions that looked forward to a time of tumult, sweeping change, and resurrection that would bring forth an unrecognizably better world. In the Old Testament we hear about the coming of the “New Heaven and the new earth”. The Qur’an talks about the “Qiyameh”, when the dead will be resurrected. The Baghavad Gita talks about the return of Lord Krishna at a time when corruption and immorality will become rampant. And so on.
The audacity of Baha’u’llah’s message was that he claimed to be God’s appointed agent to fulfill the promises of these ancient religions. But Baha’is don’t believe these prophecies are literal. There will be no physical reanimation of long-dead human corpses, and the saintly will not magically elevate “up” to heaven.
If not literal, then, how do Baha’is understand these prophecies of complete destruction followed by resurrection and renewal? According to Baha’u’llah’s teachings, we are living in a time of unprecedented corruption, materialism, spiritual malaise, and unnecessary suffering. Only by collectively turning towards God’s guidance for this day and age can the human race overcome these causes of misery and turn the earth into something truly beautiful. That is Baha’u’llah’s message and the purpose of his life on earth, as I understand it.
OK, back to the song. Let me try and actually spell out what it actually contains, and why it so artfully captures what I just described above. Here are some of the lyrics, what they mean to me, and some passages from Baha’u’llah’s writings. Note that all of the Baha’i passages below are from the book Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah.
“It was a hell of a night”
“We’ve all been through something terrible as a human race”
“Consider the multitude of lives that have been, and are still being, sacrificed in a world deluded by a mere phantom which the vain imaginations of its peoples have conceived.”
“So blind hath become the human heart that neither the disruption of the city, nor the reduction of the mountain in dust, nor even the cleaving of the earth, can shake off its torpor.”
“Another dawn is breaking”
“The world outside is waking”
“The promise of another day”
Good things are stirring, and you can see the beginnings of a resurrection of human society.
“Soon will the present-day order be rolled up, and a new one spread out in its stead.”
“Take heed lest anything deter thee from extolling the greatness of this Day—the Day whereon the Finger of majesty and power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.”
“Morning light has driven away / All the shadows that hide your way”
“The sun has begun / To melt all our fears away”
It’s only through God’s power and grace that the earth can become radiant as we’ve been promised
“It is incumbent in this Day, upon every man to place his whole trust in the manifold bounties of God, and arise to disseminate, with the utmost wisdom, the verities of His Cause. Then, and only then, will the whole earth be enveloped with the morning light of His Revelation.”
“Wake up Susie / Put your shoes on / Walk with me into this light”
“Just to be with you by my side”
“Turn and face the sun / One by one”
The resurrection of the world is not going to be accomplished without great effort on the part of human beings, acting and working together, united.
“Speed out of your sepulchers. How long will ye sleep?”
“Exert yourselves that ye may attain this transcendent and most sublime station, the station that can ensure the protection and security of all mankind. This goal excelleth every other goal, and this aspiration is the monarch of all aspirations.”
“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the whole earth.”
may be almost certainly am getting carried away here. I’m pretty sure James Taylor didn’t write this song with the Baha’i Faith in mind. But boy, would I love to meet him one day and tell him about all of this.
In any case, I suppose the motivation behind the song doesn’t really matter. The message is clear: Wake up, put your shoes on, and let’s courageously walk together into a new world filled with promise and hope. If you can understand that message and feel it in the song, then you’ve understood something subtle and mysterious about the Baha’i Faith and its place here on earth.