The first two essays in this series explored the idea that materialism focuses only on what can be sensed, while spiritual consciousness admits invisible aspects of reality. While some have interpreted this to mean that a spiritual person should remove himself from the material world, Baha’is believe in a whole-hearted engagement with reality, both sensible and intelligible.
We should all seek to perceive and understand the connection between matter and spirit.
Baha’u’llah wrote a letter to a man named Maqsud, and in it Baha’u’llah tells Maqsud how to talk to people, with respect to the impressions or emotions that speech can create. He wrote:
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 172-173.
In a similar vein, Abdu’l-Baha proposes that matter can affect our emotions. He gives several examples of how sensible realities—a state of cleanliness or even the vibrations of our auditory nerves—can shape our inner state, an intelligible reality:
…in every aspect of life, purity and holiness, cleanliness and refinement, exalt the human condition and further the development of man’s inner reality. Even in the physical realm, cleanliness will conduce to spirituality, as the Holy Writings clearly state. And although bodily cleanliness is a physical thing, it hath, nevertheless, a powerful influence on the life of the spirit. It is even as a voice wondrously sweet, or a melody played: although sounds are but vibrations in the air which affect the ear’s auditory nerve, and these vibrations are but chance phenomena carried along through the air, even so, see how they move the heart. A wondrous melody is wings for the spirit, and maketh the soul to tremble for joy. The purport is that physical cleanliness doth also exert its effect upon the human soul. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 146.
If you’ve ever felt deeply moved by music, you know exactly what this quote means. The human soul has always responded to our higher art forms, and music certainly has one of the greatest artistic impacts on us. It can change our mood instantly, lift our spirits, inspire our hearts. The power of music doesn’t reside in its physical chords and notes, though—it resides in our spirits, where we feel its impact and respond to its beauty:
Try, if thou canst, to use spiritual melodies, songs and tunes, and to bring the earthly music into harmony with the celestial melody. Then thou wilt notice what a great influence music hath and what heavenly joy and life it conferreth. Strike up such a melody and tune as to cause the nightingales of divine mysteries to be filled with joy and ecstasy. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a letter to an individual Baha’i.
Matter influences spirit: from the vibrations of the words we say or the music we hear, to the state of cleanliness of our bodies, all can have a powerful effect on the spirit even though they are only material things. Different vibrations of words and music have differing effects on the spirit. Baha’u’llah counsels us to understand this as a means to attain the ultimate goal of our existence, the station of true understanding and nobility.