The Inner Dimensions of Revelation

By Ross Woodman

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #2
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
March 25–27, 1994
(see list of papers from #2)

published in Scripture and Revelation, pages 341-368
© 1997, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    "For they [the Prophets] have been made manifest In the uttermost state of servitude, a servitude the like of which no man can possibly attain' (Gleanings, 54), declares Bahá'u'lláh. This paper will explore the process by which the human station of the Prophet is raised to "the uttermost state of servitude' impossible to others so that what is 'made manifest" In Him Is 'the Voice of Divinity" (Gleanings, 54). This "uttermost state of servitude," Bahá'u'lláh explains, is achieved only "in moments" of deep Immersion "beneath the oceans of ancient and everlasting holiness' or of 'soar[ing] to the loftiest summits of Divine mysteries" (Gleanings, 54).

    One image of deep immersion is to be found in the prophetic dream of Baháíuílláhís father In which Baháíuílláh appeared to him "swimming in a vast, limitless ocean.... His long, jet-black locks, floating in great profusion above the waves" with fishes cringing to His hair (Nabil, The Dawn-Breakers, 119). An image of soaring to the loftiest summit Is to be found in the Exodus account of Moses ascending beyond the cloud bank on Mount Sinai Into a realm that no human being could enter and still survive ("And thou shaft set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death' [Exodus 19:12]). "Methinks they have regarded themselves as utter nothingness, and deemed their mention in that Court an act of blasphemy," writes Baháíuílláh of the Prophet's "moments" of ascent above the human station. "For the slightest whisperings of self within such a Court," He goes on to explain, "is an evidence of self-assertion and independent existence" (Gleanings, 55).

    The human fear of, and resistance to, these self-annihilating ornaments" are evident in Moses's resistance to the Voice of the Burning Bush, Muhammad's resistance to the Voice of the archangel Gabriel, and Bahá'u'lláhís resistance to the Voice of the Ancient of Days. *Methinks that thou hast hafted and movest not upon My Tablet" (Gleanings, 27), declares the Ancient of Days to Baháíuílláh. After Bahá'u'lláh partially explains the reasons for his hesitation, reasons that show him to be still partially turned toward humanity rather than to God alone, the Ancient of Days, as if acknowledging his condition, excuses him: 'We have heard the voice of thy pleading, 0 Pen, and excuse thy silence' (Gleanings, 30).

    Determined, however, to release Bahá'u'lláh from his agonizing suspension between his divine and human stations, the Ancient of Days invites him to sink deeper into the self-annihilating reality of God's presence. "What is it that hath so sorely bewildered thee" (Gleanings, 30). He asks. To which Bahá'u'lláh, now fully Immersed in the divine Presence, replies: 'The inebriation of Thy presence, 0 Well-Beloved of all worlds, hath seized and possessed me' (Gleanings, 30-31).

    This paper will explore revelation as the divine seizing and possessing of a chosen individual, a seizing and possessing during which his human station is momentarily annihilated. In the case of Bahá'u'lláh, who is 'the supreme Manifestation," the one but for whom no Prophet would have appeared in the world nor any of the sacred scriptures been revealed, this self-annihilation is the passing away of the 'entire creation" ("Lo, the entire creation hath passed away! Nothing remaineth except My Face, the Ever-Abiding, the Resplendent, the All-Glorious" [Gleanings, 29)). 'This Day a different Sun hath risen, and a different Heaven hath been adorned with its stars and its planets,' Bahá'u'lláh Is careful to explain. 'The world is another world, and the Cause another Cause" Advent of Divine Justice, 66).

    For an instant - the 'moment' before Bahá'u'lláh submits to the *nothingness' to which he is being at once humanly reduced and divinely raised - God is alone, 'the Creator without a creation.' "Consider the hour at which the supreme Manifestation of God revealeth Himself unto men," writes Bahá'u'lláh. "Ere that hour cometh, the Ancient Being, Who is still unknown of men and hath not yet given utterance to the Word of God, is Himself the All-Knower in a world devoid of any man that hath known Him. He is Indeed the Creator without a creation. For at the very moment preceding His Revelation, each and every created thing shall be made to yield up its soul to God" (Gleanings, 150-51).

    The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, then, is at once the passing away of the entire creation, the expiration of every soul, and the calling into being of a new one. 'Verily, We have caused every soul to expire by virtue of Our irresistible and all-subduing sovereignty,* writes Bahá'u'lláh. "We have, then, called into being a new creation, as a token of Our grace unto men" (Gleanings, 29).

    The 'moment" between the expiration of "every soul" and the calling into being of a 'new creation," the 'moment' in which the Creator is 'without a creation," is an encounter with nothingness that is at the same time an encounter with God alone. In that "moment" the Manifestation becomes the divine instrument of creation itself. Thus in some primary sense, revelation unveils not only a 'new creation' but its Creator.

    Particularly is this true of the revelation of Baháíuílláh. "Verily, I say, " He writes, "this is the Day in which mankind can behold the Face, and bear the Voice, of the Promised One" (Gleanings, 10). 'This is the Day," He writes again, 'whereon human ears have been privileged to hear what He Who conversed With God (Moses) heard upon Sinai, what He Who is the Friend of God (Muhammad) heard when lifted up towards Him, what He Who is the Spirit of God (Jesus) heard as He ascended towards Him . . ." (Advent of Divine Justice 66). 'Were any of the all-embracing Manifestations of God to declare: 'I am God,' He, verily, speaketh the truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto (Gleanings, 53), writes Bahá'u'lláh. While the conditional "were" suggests a veiling of this ultimate declaration during the 'Prophetic Cycle," no such conditional veiling informs Baháíuílláh's declaration of His station as the 'Eternal Truth" which has now "come" (Gleanings, 60). "No God is there but Me, the Most Exalted, the Most powerful, the Most Excellent, the All-Knowing" (Gleanings, 34), the "Divine Springtime" Tablet concludes.

    Not surprisingly, every Manifestation who has appeared in the world has been accused of delusion. The 136b was interrogated to decide whether he was insane. Terrified by the presence of Gabriel, Muhammad questioned his own sanity, wondering aloud if an evil spirit had taken possession of him. Rushing from the cave, he resolved to fling himself from the summit to his death. Crawling on his hands and knees, he reached the presence of his wife, flung himself into her lap, and cried "Cover me! Cover me!"

    The mystery of the relationship between the Manifestation and the otherwise unknowable God cannot be penetrated even by the Manifestation ('Thou knowest what is in me, but I know not what is in Thee' Meanings, 2829], writes Baháíuílláh). Nevertheless, Baháíuílláh, like Moses and Muhammad before him, has left us intimate glimpses of the inner process of the awakening to the station of the Manifestation of God ("l was asleep upon My couch, when to, the Breeze of God wafting over Me roused Me from My slumber' [Gleanings, 90]). These glimpses perhaps bring us as close to an understanding of the inner process of revelation as we are permitted to come. With direct reference to Moses, Muhammad, and particularly Bahá'u'lláh, this paper will explore what They unveiled of the otherwise hidden, divinely Inward process of revelation, the Source or First Mover of which Is unknowable.

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