So asked a new friend (well, something close to this anyway). In a nutshell: it means striving to build unity in our midst, and acting on a path of service that starts “at home” but continues into the whole community, not just the Bahá‘ís.
Human nature has evolved such that “two’s company, but three’s a crowd.” Community dynamics are hard to get right. Differences of opinion about how or what to do as a community are a given. In a Bahá‘í community, we receive occasional guidance from the National Spiritual Assembly or the Universal House of Justice, and we must follow the laws and precepts of Bahá‘u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as clarified by Shoghi Effendi. But that still leaves a tremendous amount of work on how to implement, how to carry forth at the local level. And we’re not a congregation, where if you don’t like what the local cleric has to say you can opt to join (or form) a different congregation. There is one Bahá‘í community, and of disunity in that community Bahá‘u’lláh says:
“Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the Power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”
Unity does not mean absolute agreement or conformity of thought. It means support for whatever decision is made. It means that diverse paths are for the same purpose. And how do you get to it? Bahá‘u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l Bahá offer a number of concrete prespcriptions for sustaining love and unity in the Bahá‘í community. For instance, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recognizes the traits of human nature, and asks us not to dwell on our imperfections:
“Be in perfect unity. Never become angry with one another… Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves. You will never become angry or impatient if you love them for the sake of God. Humanity is not perfect. There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy.”
And if you love Bahá‘u’lláh, He asks of us even more personally:
“If any differences arise amongst you, behold Me standing before your face, and overlook the faults of one another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause.”
There are many more beautiful passages on this theme, but I want to share just one more from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, as it has become a maxim for me, a litany against hatred and ill-will:
“When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”
So there’s unity for you, although it occurs to me that I’ve not addressed service, nor what difference this unity makes. I’ll have to come back to these topics at another time.