By Eileen Maddocks
Concurrent with progressive revelation is the concept of the spiritual seasons of each religion revealed by a Prophet of God. Just as the phenomenal world experiences the cycle of spring, summer, fall, and winter, so also does the outpouring of guidance in every Divine Revelation. Consider how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained the spiritual seasons to a group of pilgrims in the early twentieth century.
The spiritual world is like unto the phenomenal world. They are the exact counterpart of each other. Whatever objects appear in this world of existence are the outer pictures of the world of heaven. When we look upon the phenomenal world, we perceive that it is divided into four seasons; one is the season of spring, another the season of summer, another autumn and then these three seasons are followed by winter. When the season of spring appears in the arena of existence, the whole world is rejuvenated and finds new life. The soul-refreshing breeze is wafted from every direction; the soul-quickening bounty is everywhere; the cloud of mercy showers down its rain, and the sun shines upon everything. Day by day we perceive that the signs of vegetation are all about us. Wonderful flowers, hyacinths and roses perfume the nostrils. The trees are full of leaves and blossoms, and the blossoms are followed by fruit. The spring and summer are followed by autumn and winter. The flowers wither and are no more; the leaves turn gray and life has gone. Then comes springtime; the former springtime is renewed; again a new life stirs within everything.
The appearances of the Manifestations [Prophets] of God are the divine springtime. When Christ appeared in this world, it was like the vernal bounty; the outpouring descended; the effulgences of the Merciful encircled all things; the human world found new life. Even the physical world partook of it. The divine perfections were upraised; souls were trained in the school of heaven so that all grades of human existence received life and light. Then by degrees these fragrances of heaven were discontinued; the season of winter came upon the world; the beauties of spring vanished; the excellences and perfections passed away; the lights and quickening were no longer evident; the phenomenal world and its materialities conquered everything; the spiritualities of life were lost; the world of existence became life unto a lifeless body; there was no trace of the spring left.
The coming of a Prophet of God not only triggers a springtime of new spiritual energy but this infusion is outwardly reflected in a rapid advancement of civilization in the arts and sciences, medicine and architecture, literature and mathematics, and other areas. Historians are well familiar with these bursts of creativity, artistry, and inventiveness but they have not connected them with the coming of divine revelation to the world. However, the repeated convergence of these two factors is evident after brief reflection. Christianity gave rise to the Byzantine Empire culture, whose date of origin is generally given as 330 AD when the Constantine I declared a new Rome on the site of the Greek colony Byzantium. Constantine also converted to Christianity and brought his empire into this new faith. Islamic medieval culture, its golden age from the eighth to the thirteenth century, burgeoned with tremendous advances in many areas of science, mathematics, medicine, architecture, education, art, and literature. Islamic Cordoba in today’s Spain was a multicultural city that featured indoor plumbing, paved streets with miles of public lighting, fountains and gardens, bookstores on every block, and a dynamic economy due to robust trade as far away as China. The library of al-Hakam II (caliph from 961 to 976) was remembered as having 400,000 volumes.
Some historians have summarized the advances of human civilization into three major events—the Neolithic agrarian revolution, the industrial revolution, and the communications/information era. The Bábí and Bahá’í Revelations are closely connected with the last two. The immensity of this outpouring of spiritual energy is reflected in technological advancement unprecedented in human history.
Another narrative of a divine springtime could be considered in the case of the Prophet Adam and the explosion of development in Sumeria that led to this land being called the cradle of civilization. There is no surviving documentary evidence for Adam; his legacy was only remembered in the Hebrew Bible from Genesis 2:4‒25 through 3:1‒24 and this mythology from the dim past undoubtedly has symbolic meanings that are important for us today. A search in that direction is beyond the scope of this article. However, the mystery of the rise of Sumeria might be an example of a divine springtime. This possibility came to me when I studied the calculations of Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656) in England.
Bishop Ussher studied the timeline of biblical events through a literal reading of the Hebrew Bible, especially the “begats” of early times and the historical time references during the monarchies and postexilic times to the time of Christ. Ussher concluded that he could date the creation of the world and Adam’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden to 4004 BC. The chronological calculations of Ussher were broadly accepted for two centuries until early geologists and other scientists began to understand that the earth was billions of years old and life on it could be traced over millions of years.
While the calculations of Ussher were not correct for the beginning of the world, Ussher might have inadvertently found the time when Adam appeared. Is it only a coincidence that Sumerian civilization developed rapidly in the fourth millennium BC? I do not think so. Adam, like every succeeding Prophet of God, released spiritual energy into the world, thus triggering a divine springtime. Nothing from his Book and teachings remain except mythic memories that have symbolic meanings. But the history of the flowering of Sumeria was not lost.
Cities with monumental temple compounds, palaces, and markets were built. Extensive irrigation projects supported agriculture. Yokes and harnesses were invented for the use of animal carts and the plow was invented to go four times deeper than the hoe. Advances in pastoralism included the introduction of milk, yogurt and cheese into the diet and the use of wool for textiles. Sumerians invented the sailboat and the potter’s wheel, and their donkey-drawn carts and horse-drawn chariots would revolutionize trade and warfare. Cuneiform, or wedge writing, was the world’s first system of writing and it was invented possibly as early as 3800 BC for commercial use. Accounting systems were created to handle the needs of commerce and of centralized administrations.
The Sumerians developed a mathematical system based on the number 60, which is the base used globally today for hours, minutes, and seconds. The original sexagesimal system enabled the Sumerians to calculate roots, multiply into millions, and use fractions. Our math still uses 360 degrees in a circle and 12 inches in a foot. These people looked to the skies and developed astronomy, the lunar calendar, and the sun dial. The science of architecture advanced rapidly with the invention of the pulley, lever, saw, chisel, engraving, inlay work, the brick mold, the arch, the vault, and the dome. The Sumerians built monumental stone sculptures and stepped temples. They invented engraving and inlay work.
Sumeria experienced a divine springtime and the high civilization of summer. Then fall came and an elaborate pantheon of deities evolved along with the belief that humanity was created to serve countless gods and goddesses. Abraham, a Prophet of God who was probably born in Sumeria, grew up in this polytheistic land during the winter of Adam’s revelation. The book of Genesis devotes over fourteen chapters (11:26 to 25:10) to Abraham, and the essential accuracy of its rendering has been confirmed by the Bahá’í sacred texts. The Qur’án also recounts at length the story of Abraham but starts with his youth in Sumeria when he defied the cult of wooden idols and confronted the ruler Nimrod (which might be a symbolic name for a wicked ruler). He subsequently left his homeland and relocated to the land of Canaan where he taught the one God to another idol-worshipping people. He also entered into a Covenant with God, the first recorded in human religious history. God took on the brunt of this Covenant with various promises and Abraham and his descendants were the recipients of these bounties. However, far more would be expected in the future when Moses gave the Ten Commandments and the extensive Mosaic codes of religious and social laws.
The dynamic of the spiritual seasons has continued over and over. A new divinely sent revelation reiterates the eternal spiritual verities but also adds more in accordance with the capacity of the people. Old social laws are abrogated and new ones are inaugurated to not only correspond with the times but also to reinforce an understanding of the new revelation. The people prosper and within decades or centuries they experience the blessings of summer, the fruition of their newly received divine revelation. Inexorably fall and winter follow when moral vitality wanes and religious and clerical corruption set in. Memories of the spiritual fragrances, the true teachings, fade and are often lost.
Bahá’u’lláh came to humanity to renew springtime for the whole world with His Revelation. He did not abrogate previous religions but endeavored to help their followers to obtain a better understanding of their Prophets and the religions they brought. Like all the previous Prophets, whom He not only recognized but honored, Bahá’u’lláh reinforced the spiritual truths taught from time immemorial and He also brought new spiritual teachings designed to help humanity transition from its adolescence to full maturity.
The fragrances of a divine springtime are wafting again. Unfortunately, there is always resistance. The social problems seen today are a symptom of blindness to the true nature of God and His Revelation. Bahá’u’lláh testified, “The vitality of men’s belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it?”
He further wrote, “The world is in travail and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly.”
The forces of power and corruption, ignorance and superstition, deny the warmth and light. However, the sun of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh has only just broken over the horizon. Its rays will strengthen in the days, years, and centuries ahead. Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “The whole earth is now in a state of pregnancy. The day is approaching when it will have yielded its noblest fruits, when from it will have sprung forth the loftiest trees, the most enchanting blossoms, the most heavenly blessings.”
1 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 10.
2 Bahá’u’lláh, quoted by Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 181.
3 Ibid., p. 33.
4 Ibid, p. 7.