he Baha'i month of Kaml, Persian for Perfection, runs from Aug. 1-19. For 19 days, I was compelled to think about the place of perfection and imperfection in my world.
Knowing God involves a struggle between basic human nature and the purifying aspect of spiritual transcendence. God represents perfection in all things. To become Buddha-like, the individual must clear himself of those things which block him from his goal. Perfectibility of the spirit is the message and the challenge of religion.
It occurred to me that certain interpretations of Biblical literature are questionable, and, as a result, lead seekers away from their underlying spiritual and instructive value.
The story of Adam and Eve is about the original family, an actual first family, if you will. The story tells about the relationship between a husband and wife, followed by their relationship with their two sons, as lived out in the presence of God. They made mistakes. Their story is definitely cautionary, about what perfection is and what it isn't.
The Adamic character, whether he was one man or represents mankind at a certain period in time, portrays man's predicament in the world; the battle between man's human and spiritual nature. The Adam character represents great scientific intelligence: he "named the birds of the air and the beasts of the field", Genesis 2:19. The Adamic cycle represents the beginning of the family unit, agriculture, and science, all mainstays of our current world culture, replete with all their challenges.
Were either Adam or Cain perfect? Not according to the story, but they didn't toss up their hands and live prodigal lives, they continued to toil in the world of forgiveness.
We may not think of perfection in our day to day lives. How often do we say, "Good enough" or "it works for me"? Perfection can seem to be a relative thing.
It was Moses who guided the Israelites away from their bondage to a government which had placed them in a position of subservience. Through the re-education of His teachings an entire body of humanity was reawakened to the God of Abraham. Their lives were purified through obedience to God.
When Jesus said, "Suffer the children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven," it seems He was appealing to the innocence and purity in mankind. Jesus was reminding his listeners of something they could see in their own children, but not in themselves. In that simple notion we can perceive a sense of the perfect, and we can place it as a template before our own lives to see where we connect.
In his play, "Our Town," Thornton Wilder has the Stage Manager say, "... every child born into the world is nature's attempt to make a perfect human being."
It is the periodic appearance of Manifestations of God which reorient our spiritual quest. References to God and the sacred seem to prevail in our current society. Whether these references have meaning for us depends on our concern or interest in spiritual things. I sometimes wonder what the phrase, "God bless America" actually means to those who repeat it so often. Has it become a mantra with no meaning, or are we, as a civilization, praying for perfection in our lives?
Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, "A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." And Herman Hesse has said, "The world is not imperfect or slowly evolving along the path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment. Every sin already carries grace in it."
We can pick and choose among the quotes on perfection, but it is the goal and the way we relate to it in our daily lives, that we face choices in its regard. In our politics, in our families, in our education, in our neighborhoods a goal of perfection will lead us to a more harmonious and evolved existence.
In his film "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," director, Alex Gibney comments on the prevailing mood that seemed to guide that company before its collapse. Their motto, he suggested was, "Raw self-interest left untethered will always result in the best possible social good." It seems the Enron leaders took for granted that their egos would guide them to what was right and just.
Our egos will certainly guide us to what best suits ourselves, albeit, exclusive of the rest of society. It is spiritual guidance that must inform our egos. What is right and what is wrong may not always be readily apparent to the self. Gibney concluded, "It seems to me that if our civilization held the vision of perfection while offering the steady hand of forgiveness humanity would progress much faster."
bdu'l-Bah, the Exemplar of the Baha'i Faith, has said, "...the perfections of existence are unlimited, for you cannot find a being so perfect that you cannot imagine a superior one. For example, you cannot see a ruby in the mineral kingdom, a rose in the vegetable kingdom, or a nightingale in the animal kingdom, without imagining that there might be better specimens. As the divine bounties are endless, so human perfections are endless."
Perfection can be a goal we set for ourselves: the bar we reach for in our daily lives.
Todd Oleson is a member of the Baha'i faith. You many contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org