I finally got a copy of Terry Culhane’s book *I Beheld a Maiden”. I found his discussion of the Covenant rather interesting -- it’s rather like it was something I knew but could not quite articulate: the Covenant of Baha’u’llah is more than the simple, legalistic passing-down of authority from Baha’u’llah to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ to the Guardian and the UHJ.
Some time ago I came across a tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s:
These are the teachings which are the spirit of this century and the light of this age. Whoever inhales their fragrance is drawn to them, especially as they are confirmed by the Testament and the Covenant, the Covenant which is the cause of illuminating the world, which gives the Spirit of Life, makes souls enlightened, divine and celestial, causes them to shine like a light and transforms them into scintillating stars.
O friends of Paris! Know that no soul is quickened except through the spirit of the Covenant, no eye is illumined except by the light of the Covenant, no ear is thrilled except by the melody of the Covenant, and no heart shows forth the divine sentiments except by the bounty of the Covenant. The people of Paris are full of enthusiasm and become attracted with the utmost swiftness. Therefore, the fire of the love of God will burn intensely and spread everywhere.
Some of the regions of Europe are extremely enthusiastic. Day by day more souls enter the Cause. You have heard of this certainty. Now, make an effort, and with all your might enkindle the fire of love of the Covenant, so that Paris may surpass the other regions; and if the Covenant is made to shine forth as it should, in a short time wonderful results will become apparent; for, in this day, the moving power throughout the whole world is the power of the Covenant: it is the artery pulsating in the body of the phenomenal.
And I looked at that and thought “Either ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ was some kind of megalomaniac, or the Covenant isn’t what people think it is”. I actually pasted that passage into my word processor, replacing the word “Covenant”, with “obedience to me” or “my station” depending on how the sentence was worded -- and it was clear that if that’s all ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ meant, then the covenant-breakers were right, and he was claiming the prerogatives of a Manifestation of God. Not only that, such a reading would make ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s viewpoint quite exclusivistic -- nobody could make any spiritual progress unless they were a Baha’i, and “loyal to the Covenant”. Of course, this completely flies in the face of everything else ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ ever said.
Terry looks at the entire Kitab-i-Ahd (Book of the Covenant), not just the paragraph that appoints ’Abdu’l-Baha’ as successor, and presents a very broad view of what Covenant means -- that basically all the forces in the world that move towards unity are in accord with it, and remembrance of God is at the very heart. Now, he’s a UHJ-loyal Baha’i, and I doubt he’d think much of the course I have taken -- but it’s nice to read something about “covenant” that doesn’t make me wince. (Except when he talks about the UHJ being free of moral error, ‘cause I know it’s not.)
You look at the broad and universal vision of what Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ taught, and I have to shake my head -- our institutions are *so* immature, from top to bottom. Not only that, there are people quite determined to keep them that way. A friend of mine was told that we don’t need due process because “this world is the realm of injustice”. I ran across another jaw-dropper from a fundie when I was working on my article that said “Justice is not a right”, in arguing against having women on the UHJ. These people don’t even believe in the same Baha’u’llah I do, I don’t think. I believe in the One who said “The essence of all we have revealed for thee is justice”.