Release yourselves, O nightingales of God, from the thorns and brambles of wretchedness and misery, and wing your flight to the rose-garden of unfading splendour. O My friends that dwell upon the dust! Haste forth unto your celestial habitation. Announce unto yourselves the joyful tidings: “He Who is the Best-Beloved is come! He hath crowned Himself with the glory of God’s Revelation, and hath unlocked to the face of men the doors of His ancient Paradise.” Let all eyes rejoice, and let every ear be gladdened, for now is the time to gaze on His beauty, now is the fit time to hearken to His voice. Proclaim unto every longing lover: “Behold, your Well-Beloved hath come among men!” and to the messengers of the Monarch of love impart the tidings: “Lo, the Adored One hath appeared arrayed in the fullness of His glory!” O lovers of His beauty! Turn the anguish of your separation from Him into the joy of an everlasting reunion, and let the sweetness of His presence dissolve the bitterness of your remoteness from His court. – Bahá’u’lláh, “Tablet of the Lover and the Beloved,” Days of Remembrance
In persuasive and often ethereal prose, the beauty of which has often brought tears to my eyes, Bahá’u’lláh summons all of humanity to the “rose-garden of unfading splendor.” He assures us that we can attract others to this spiritual abode of and gives a hint of the joy we will experience when we approach it. Bahá’u’lláh counsels us to abandon our attachment to the physical world and its entangling concerns and take our place in the sacred realms of the spirit. He encourages us to remind ourselves of the “glory of God’s Revelation” and to invite others to this “everlasting reunion.” “Release yourselves, O nightingales of God!” He calls to us, “from the thorns and brambles of wretchedness and misery....” Let go of earthly concerns. Free ourselves! Fling open the door to the cell of the prison of self! And when, at last, we release wretchedness and misery that entraps our souls, what then? Where do we go, but to the place that is the longing desire of every soul — the presence of God.
When I read the phrase “Release yourselves,” I feel within myself a desire to begin to grow, a yearning to liberate myself from the bonds that hold me fast to this material world and to seek my place in that garden of “unfading splendor.” I become aware that He is addressing me and all humanity as nightingales, lovers of the rose, a creature whose stirring song fills the night. For the early believers in Bahá’u’lláh’s mission, was this a call to embrace martyrdom, to sing the song of His coming until they were released from the “wretchedness and misery” of this world and free, at last, to wing their flight to God? But I do not live in that heroic age, but in a day of “living sacrifice.” I can only imagine what it must have been like to hear those words chanted at Ridvan on the years immediately following the time of Bahá’u’lláh’s Declaration in the Garden of Ridvan! He was, He told the companions who accompanied Him on His exile, “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest,” the One promised by the Báb, the One who will make humanity one.
How, then, do we release ourselves from these “thorns and brambles”? By equating thorns and brambles with wretchedness and misery, through the use of this metaphor Bahá’u’lláh evokes an experience that lies at the heart of human life. Having been mired more than once in wretchedness and misery I am struck by the aptness of this metaphor. While hiking the prairies of Iowa, I have, more than once, found myself in the midst of brambles with their hundreds of tiny thorns stuck to clothes and sometimes even ripping at my skin and drawing blood, and I have found that the only way out is through. When I hear Bahá’u’lláh urging me to release myself from these brambles, my heart soars with the nightingale, and I feel as if I can release myself in a single instant. But the reality is that to disentangle oneself takes patience as well as determination and discipline.
Still, in this passage Bahá’u’lláh urges us to “haste forth” to the “celestial habitation.” We must persist and not be discouraged. This is an invitation, and one that is all-inclusive: “O My friends that dwell upon the dust!” That’s all of us. Everyone is invited to “Haste forth unto your celestial habitation,” a place we can all go only if we release ourselves from the world. What an exquisite invitation — to be called from this dust heap of a world to a more exalted habitation! Where else should we dwell? This habitation is where we belong; it is our rightful dwelling place, and even while we remain in this earthly life, we can visit this habitation there in moments of prayer and meditation or when we perform a selfless service, such as engaging a friend in deep conversation about our purpose in life or joining with community members to consult about a matter of pressing concern to our Faith. But we are not to keep this habitation to ourselves: we are to share it with others. We must share these joyful tidings: “He Who is the Best-Beloved is come.” The doors of God’s ancient Paradise have been unlocked before our faces. We must share this news with others — that God has once again sent His Word to humanity for the purpose of uniting us and making us one.
This passage is an admonition and an invitation, an admonition to all of humanity to let go of wretchedness and misery so that it can enter a garden full of beauty and wonderful fragrances, an invitation to allow ourselves to recognize that the Promised One of all ages has come to humanity, that “Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest” is declaring His mission, is sharing with us the glad tidings of the unity — at last! — of the human race. Now is the time, He tells us, the best time, the right time for each person to investigate the truth of these claims for themselves. He then urges us to “gaze on His beauty” and “hearken to His voice.” Finally, He counsels us to proclaim that “the Adored One hath appeared arrayed in the fulness of His glory,” to announce to others “Behold, your Well-Beloved hath come among men!”
What better way to commemorate the Festival of Ridvan that recite such words of encouragement, to read the words of the Beloved One as He declares openly and without reservation that He is the One awaited by humanity, the salvation of the world? He has unlocked to our faces the doors of God’s ancient Paradise (Ridvan) so we can see and experience it ourselves. This passage ends with a with one of the most heart-stirring calls, the most enticing of invitations: “O lovers of His beauty! Turn the anguish of your separation from Him into the joy of an everlasting reunion, and let the sweetness of His presence dissolve the bitterness of your remoteness from His court.” Reading this I wonder: must I be in anguish before I can experience the joy of everlasting reunion with God? How does sweetness dissolve bitterness? Is the sweetness so overpowering that the bitterness vanishes? Or does the bitterness turn to sweetness in the presence of the All-Glorious?
Who are we in the end but “nightingales of God” and “lovers of His beauty”? Who are we but “friends that dwell upon the dust!,” friends who are being enjoined to hasten to our celestial habitation, our place in the heaven of the spirit! Let us become those spiritual beings! Let us open our spiritual eyes and ears! Let us be filled with joy as we recognize the truth of His revelation and be uplifted by joy when we hear Him call to us! This is the kind of spiritual vision and hearing that we, as nightingales of God, can experience. Let us challenge ourselves to let go of the wretchedness and misery of this earthly life so that we may find our way to our rightful place in the spiritual realms of God. Let us take up His invitation to replace the anguish of our separation with the “joy of an everlasting reunion.” Our success in achieving this transformation depends on nothing but our own efforts.