A Developmental Covenantal Paradigm1
Some Experimental Observations
Our research seems to indicate that children and youth of different ages are attracted to different aspects of the Covenants found in the Bahá’í Faith. These Covenants2 include a Greater Covenant and a Lesser Covenant. The Greater Covenant involves Messengers or Manifestations sent from God to guide humanity at critical points in human history. The Lesser Covenant of the Bahá’í Faith is The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh.
The following has been noted.
Ages 3-6 approximate
Pondering Style: the focus is on listening to the heart3
The covenantal focus: The Manifestation
A key question for this age: The heart ponders, “How am I personally known and loved by God?”
At this age the child can personally embrace the concept of God as Creator and Provider and wonder about the Manifestation as a supreme Gift from God. The child begins to explore the role the Manifestation plays in her or his life as a guide and protector.
The prophets of God have been divine shepherds of humanity. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity 14-17
… He is the kind Shepherd. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity 28-33
…we are sheep under the care and protection of one Shepherd ‘Abdu’l-Bahá , The Promulgation of Universal Peace 297-302
…for the sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era 21
This Shepherd is kind to all the sheep, because He … provided for them and protected them. Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 296-307
O God, guide me, protect me, … Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers
Consider how this kind and tender Shepherd cares for all His flock; … ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace 419
Ages 6-12: approximate
- 6-9 focus continues primarily on listening to the heart with increased attention to the intellect.4
- 9-12 A stronger attention to the intellect rather than to the heart.
The covenantal focus: The Greater Covenant
A key question for this age: “How does God operate in history?”
The Greater Covenant offers a strong historical perspective in answer to this question.
Much time is spent pondering the following:
Contemplate with thine inward eye the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations of Adam with that of the Báb. Contemplate with thine inward eye the chain of successive Revelations that hath linked the Manifestations of Adam with that of the Báb. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh 74
“How can we observe God’s influence throughout the flow of time?”
“How should I act in this great creation?”
“What will my personal role be?”
Ages 12-18 approximate
- 12-15 focus fluctuates between the heart and the intellect
- 15-18 begins to achieve a balance between the heart and the intellect
The covenantal focus: The Lesser Covenant (Bahá’u’lláh’s Covenant)
A key question for this age: “What is my role in society?”
The Lesser Covenant offers a dynamic framework to answer this question by showing how a Most Great Peace will unfold through one’s active participation in the process.
Quotes pondered at this age include:
The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh is regarded as the primary God-given instrument for releasing this spiritual potential in man and for the subsequent achievement of world unity. Hatcher and Martin, The Baha’i Faith 130-131.
The following quotes are from Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks 79-81.
… for it is actions that speak to the world and are the cause of the progress of humanity.
Without action nothing in the material world can be accomplished, neither can words unaided advance a man in the spiritual Kingdom.
Enrich the poor, raise the fallen, comfort the sorrowful, bring healing to the sick, reassure the fearful, rescue the oppressed, bring hope to the hopeless, shelter the destitute.
If we strive to do all this, then we are true Bahá’í s, but if we neglect it, we are not followers of the Light, and have no right to the name.
Until a section of humanity begins to respond to the new Revelation, and a new spiritual and social paradigm begins to take shape, people subsist spiritually and morally on the last traces of earlier Divine endowments. The routine tasks of society may or may not be done; laws may be obeyed or flouted; social and political experimentation may flame up or fail; but the roots of faith—without which no society can indefinitely endure—have been exhausted. At the “end of the age,” at the “end of the world,” the spiritually minded begin to turn again to the Creative source. However clumsy or disturbing the process may be, however inelegant or unfortunate some of the options considered, such searching is an instinctive response to the awareness that an immense chasm has opened in the ordered life of humankind. The effects of the new Revelation, Bahá’u’lláh says, are universal, and not limited to the life and teachings of the Manifestation of God Who is the Revelation’s focal point. Though not understood, these effects increasingly permeate human affairs, revealing the contradictions in popular assumptions and in society, and intensifying the search for understanding.
The succession of the Manifestations is an inseparable dimension of existence, Bahá’u’lláh declares, and will continue throughout the life of the world: “God hath sent down His Messengers to succeed to Moses and Jesus, and He will continue to do so till ‘the end that hath no end’…”
- A Covenant in the religious sense is a binding agreement between God and man, whereby God requires of man certain behaviour in return for which He guarantees certain blessings, or whereby He gives man certain bounties in return for which He takes from those who accept them an undertaking to behave in a certain way. There is, for example, the Greater Covenant which every Manifestation of God makes with His followers, promising that in the fulness of time a new Manifestation will be sent, and taking from them the undertaking to accept Him when this occurs. There is also the Lesser Covenant that a Manifestation of God makes with His followers that they will accept His appointed successor after Him. If they do so, the Faith can remain united and pure. If not, the Faith becomes divided and its force spent. It is a Covenant of this kind that Bahá’u’lláh made with His followers regarding ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá perpetuated through the Administrative Order…
- Yet there is a third reality in man, the spiritual reality. Through its medium one discovers spiritual revelations, a celestial faculty which is infinite as regards the intellectual as well as physical realms. That power is conferred upon man through the breath of the Holy Spirit.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity 51-53
- But man is endowed with a second reality, the rational or intellectual reality; and the intellectual reality of man predominates over nature.
All these sciences which we enjoy were the hidden and recondite secrets of nature, unknowable to nature, but man was enabled to discover these mysteries, and out of the plane of the unseen he brought them into the plane of the seen.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity 51-53