Bahá'í writings speak explicitly about disability.
"The whole duty of man in this Day is to attain that share of the flood of grace which God poureth forth for him. Let no one, therefore, consider the largeness or smallness of the receptacle. The portion of some might lie in the palm of a man's hand, the portion of others might fill a cup, and of others even a gallon-measure." Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh
The implication of this passage, could be that whatever we are given (physically, intellectually, spiritually) the important thing is that we seek to fill the receptacle - however large or small that may be.
Perhaps first we should examine what we mean by disability. Disability may be visible or invisible; physical, mental or spiritual.
At one extreme - complete paralysis, going through various points on the spectrum including blindness, deafness, arthritis, weak heart etc.
Again, at one extreme: barely conscious, through to such conditions as autism, schizophrenia, depression, loss of hope; this perhaps leading to substance abuse, and the ensuing downward spiral with its physical, social and spiritual aftermaths.
For opium fasteneth on the soul, so that the user's conscience dieth, his mind is blotted away, his perceptions are eroded. It turneth the living into the dead. [Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá]
Under this category one could also perhaps include "social disability," e.g. shyness or lack of communication skills leading to isolation and loneliness.
It has to be said that the above categorisations into physical or mental disabilities can only be useful labels. For many a mental ailment has a physical or a spiritual origin and, indeed, many a mental or spiritual affliction has a physical manifestation.
Verily the most necessary thing is contentment under all circumstances; by this one is preserved from morbid conditions and from lassitude. Yield not to grief and sorrow: they cause the greatest misery. Jealousy consumeth the body and anger doth burn the liver: avoid these two as you would a lion. "Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era"
We can be much comforted on these words of Bahá'u'lláh:
"Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. Consider the light of the lamp. Though an external object may interfere with its radiance, the light itself continueth to shine with undiminished power." [Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh]
Spirit has influence; prayer has spiritual effect. Therefore, we pray,
"O God! Heal this sick one!" Perchance God will answer. Does it matter who prays? God will answer the prayer of every servant if that prayer is urgent. His mercy is vast, illimitable. He answers the prayers of all His servants. [Promulgation of Universal Peace]
Without question it is spiritual disability that is the most devastating. For it is this that causes us to hate; lack compassion; strive only for self; ignore the guidance of a loving providence and so allow our beautiful world to degenerate into hell instead of reflecting heaven. It is also the most important because, whereas our physical/mental disorders last but three score years and ten, our spiritual health is what we take with us as we are launched into eternity at the close of our earthly lives.
Anybody can be happy in the state of comfort, ease, health, success, pleasure and joy; but if one will be happy and contented in the time of trouble, hardship and prevailing disease, it is the proof of nobility. 'Abdu'l-Bahá
We can argue that everyone is disabled in one way or another - indeed in a multitude of ways. Whether we suffer from debilitating shyness; whether we have such paucity of spirit that we only seek personal gratification; whether we struggle in poverty and hunger in the third world; whether our joints stiffen due to arthritis or our mind stiffens due to prejudice, we are all disabled to a greater or lesser degree.
Why disability? Why suffering? Through illness or tragedy it is possible that the rough edges be knocked off exposing the jewel within.
The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. [Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh]
Regarding such suffering and tests Bahá'u'lláh's son and exemplar of His teachings, 'Abdu'l-Bahá' explains:
Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting...
"My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy." [The Hidden Words - Bahá'u'lláh
A poet, Paul Bura, observed in one of his books that polio was the best thing that ever happened to him! He explained (paraphrasing) that because of it he was perforce, less active than his fellows which meant he spent more time on the sidelines watching others. This served to enhance and develop his powers of observation; an attribute so vital to the art of the poet.
If we just look at this world, the disabilities people suffer can indeed seem like the "fire and vengeance" referred to in the above quotation. However, from the perspective of the life of the soul which, the Bahá'í teachings state, continues to progress for all eternity, we can see that it is indeed, "light and mercy" if we use it as God intended.
There are two ways of looking at things: one that results in futility, one that brings hope action and progress. These three quotations sum this up:
Two men looking out through bars, one sees the earth, the other sees the stars. [anon]
The pessimist sees the glass as half empty, the optimist sees it as half full. [anon]
Everything in life ministers to our development. Our lesson is to study and learn.
How often do we see a man, poor, sick, miserably clad, and with no means of support, yet spiritually strong. Whatever his body has to suffer, his spirit is free and well! Again, how often do we see a rich man, physically strong and healthy, but with a soul sick unto death. 'Abdu'l-Bahá
Maybe because some of us live a bit closer to the edge survival wise, we tend to appreciate what we have got more than some of our able-bodied fellows. Have you noticed how people who have had near death experiences often change their lives completely? Having glimpsed eternity, they determine to make this life count for something. It pains one to see folk with healthy bodies abusing them. It is a tragedy that so many are unconscious of their worth and potential that they see no purpose in their lives other than hedonism and dull their wits with alcohol and drugs to avoid really living.
We are SO much more than just flesh and blood:
A man should pause and reflect and be just: his Lord, out of measureless grace, has made him a human being and honoured him with the words: "Verily, We created man in the goodliest of forms" - and caused His mercy which rises out of the dawn of oneness to shine down upon him, until he became the wellspring of the words of God and the place where the mysteries of heaven alighted, and on the morning of creation he was covered with the rays of the qualities of perfection and the graces of holiness. How can he stain this immaculate garment with the filth of selfish desires, or exchange this everlasting honour for infamy? "Dost thou think thyself only a puny form, when the universe is folded up within thee?" ['Abdu'l-Bahá - Secret of Divine Civilization]
And of the next stage of our journey?
As to the soul of man after death, it remains in the degree of purity to which it has evolved during life in the physical body, and after it is freed from the body it remains plunged in the ocean of God's Mercy. 'Abdu'l-Bahá
Life then is an adventure; a race to develop our spiritual capacities and sensibilities before we cast off this mortal coil and these qualities are all we have left. We can't take with us our money, our property, our physical beauty, our trophies, titles or crowns. Whether we are given, clogs, running shoes or skis; whether we are given brightness, health and wealth OR dullness, illness and poverty is - in the great race of life - totally irrelevant. What is important is that we do the best we can with what we have and try and achieve our potential while helping others achieve theirs.
Bahá’ís of Botswana
Bahá’í communities are working together with their neighbours and friends to promote and contribute to the well-being and progress of society. In urban centres and rural villages, in homes and schools, citizens of all backgrounds, classes and ages are participating in a dynamic pattern of life, taking part in activities which are, at once, spiritual, social and educational.
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