Theology Thursdays: Bahai Festival Of Ridvan Recalls Paradise Each Spring by Carol Mansour
Just before the festival of Ridvan fifteen years ago, I became a Baha'i. As a broadcast journalist at the time, I brought an extra level of wariness to this strange-sounding religion. You mean to tell me that the Messiah has returned and the story isn't leading the news?
Yet, there I was, searching for a religion that squarely — and spiritually — addressed issues troubling my heart, including racism, religious bigotry, injustice and fanaticism. What I found led me on a journey that continues to unfold, and gives special meaning to each Ridvan.
Ridvan (pronounced rehz-wahn) means "paradise" in Arabic. It is a 12-day festival from April 21 to May 2 named for a beautiful rose-filled garden. In this garden, in 1863, Baha'u'llah proclaimed that he was the "Promised One" awaited by followers of the world's great religions.
To many, this claim of being a messenger of God seemed outlandish. Because of his teachings, Baha'u'llah, whose name means "Glory of God," was considered an enemy of the Ottoman Empire, and, at this time, was an exiled prisoner being held in Baghdad. In his final 12 days in Iraq at the Ridvan garden, throngs of people gathered to see the man they called "the Father of the poor" who sought only to bring harmony and peace to humanity.
The principles that Baha'u'llah introduced — and that are central to the Baha'i faith — are that there is one God, the religions of the world spring from that same divine Source, and all the people of the earth are one human family, equal in the sight of God without respect to race or gender.
Service marks festival
Baha'u'llah's teachings provide the road map to create God's kingdom on earth, prayed for by Jesus. The essential watchword in our religion is unity. "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." As an American of African descent, I was particularly struck by the description of racism as "the most vital and challenging issue facing the American Baha'i community" in Baha'i sacred texts. Baha'i are spiritually obligated to work for an end to racial prejudice, and our scriptures give both blacks and whites realistic and specific guidance on eradicating this evil disease. We have no excuses for sitting on the sidelines, waiting for others to make the effort. We are promised that our triumph over racism in America is an assurance of the world's peace. Just imagine how we would behave as individuals, as a society, and as a world if we believed in the oneness of humanity, that what affected one of us affected all of us! We are to use that same energy to overcome all forms of prejudice.
Celebrations and works of service mark this festival, and we do spend a lot of time having fun. But there are practical matters to attend to as well. Around the world at Ridvan, Baha'i communities elect the nine members of Assemblies, which run the faith's affairs at the local and national levels. These elections are held by secret ballot in a spirit of prayer and reverence, with no nominations or campaigning.
Baha'u'llah describes Ridvan as heralding a "Divine, this soul-stirring Springtime" when God's gracious favors are showered upon us, and the clouds of His limitless grace overshadow us. We believe that this world will inevitably become an earthly paradise, despite the conditions we see around us today. The abundant roses at our celebrations remind me each year that I have a new opportunity … and obligation ... to become a force for unity.
Carol Mansour spent 15 years in broadcast news in Dallas-Fort Worth, Oklahoma City and Louisville. She and her family live in Williamson County. For information about activities during Ridvan, including an international potluck, visit www.nashvillebahai.org. This commentary appears in The Tennessean.
Thursday, April 26, 2007