I was fortunate to spend Christmas and New Year’s Day in Haifa, Israel, this year. Haifa is an hour’s train ride north of Tel Aviv. This busy seaport on the stern shore of the Mediterranean Sea is built on the slopes of Mt. Carmel. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home of the Baha’i World Centre. I had come as a pilgrim.
The world famous Baha’i Terrace Gardens extend from the top of Mt. Carmel down to Ben Gurion Avenue then on to the Bay of Haifa. Every evening, Ben Gurion Avenue was blocked for a nightly celebration of the holidays. The Christian Cross, the Jewish Star of David, and the Muslim Star and Crescent were displayed together on large lighted signs displayed everywhere. Christian, Jewish and Muslim Israeli families enjoyed the festivities together in a wonderfully joyous atmosphere.
My son and I stayed at the St. George’s Guesthouse in the old German Templer Colony, which was established in 1868. It was supervised by four Rosary Sisters from India who were delightful. There are many things I would like to tell you about my trip, but I wanted to focus on something I heard from several Israeli citizens with whom I spoke: “Why can’t we have peace?”
Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Mt 5:9) Moses asked: “Why do you hit your fellow!?” (Ex 2:13) Muhammad said: “Faith is a restraint against all violence.” (Hadith)
But during the 20th century, the militant form of piety often known as fundamentalism erupted in every major religion as a rebellion against modernity. Every fundamentalist movement is convinced that liberal, secular society is determined to wipe out religion. Fighting, as they imagine, a battle for survival, fundamentalists often feel justified in ignoring the more compassionate principles of their faith. But in amplifying the more aggressive passages that exist in all our scriptures, they distort the tradition.
The Baha’i Faith teaches that “unity in diversity” is the path to a peaceful world. This unity has been growing stronger. Unity must be achieved in many areas: the political realm, world undertakings, individual rights and freedoms, religion, nations, races and language. We see unity developing in the United Nations, the World Court, Interfaith Movements, Economic Summits, Scientific Projects, and many others. This unity will preserve the cultural and religious diversity of mankind because peace is not possible otherwise. The founder of the Baha’i Faith, expanding on the Golden Rule, left us this roadmap on how to be a “peacemaker:”
“Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.”
When we have enough of these peacemakers, I feel sure we will have peace.
For more information on the Baha’i Faith visit the website at bahai.org or call 1-800-22-unite.
Clifford Stevens is the Treasurer of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i Faith in Helena.