Many months ago, someone wrote to me in response to my short biography at the top of this site, where I say that I am a Baha'i by faith but not a member of the community. This person was perplexed: how could someone be Baha'i but not a member of the community?
I was a member of the community for 20 years and used to see things that way too. I used to think 'Baha'i' and 'Baha'i faith', and could see no further than the Baha'i community. The community was my little haven and the world beyond the community was a spiritual desert. It's no wonder Baha'is fear expulsion. How can one survive 'out there'?
I didn't have a ready answer to that question when I was expelled. Initially, I just kept to my spiritual disciplines, which luckily I had instilled into my daily routine: read the writings every morn and eve, say my obligatory prayer, fast, and so on. In fact, it took me about 7-8 years to fully get out of thinking that the faith was confined to the community. I am amazed at how long it took. But I had to overcome 20 years of socialisation. I always knew intellectually that the faith was bigger than the community, but it took 7-8 years for my soul to see reality in that new light.
I remember it all came together one day. It was one of those 'Ah ha' moments that can't be captured in words. I was looking around me when suddenly I 'saw' the revelation manifesting itself in every atom, as Baha'u'llah says it does. I saw it manifesting itself in everything and everyone in my little world. Suddenly, I saw the faith everywhere. Here's a lovely passage where Baha'u'llah describes his influence seeping from the hidden word out through the temples of all things and man.
"From the depths of utter obscurity He hath brought forth into the open court that hidden word upon which depend the spirits of all the prophets and saints.
When He took that secret word from the realm of pure being and absolute unity and manifested it in the worlds of creation, by that act a breeze of mercy arose, wiping the stench of sin from all things and placing a new robe of forgiveness upon the numberless temples of all things and man." Tablet of the Deathless Youth
The view represented by my questioner reminds of me of a story I heard - I'm not sure if it's true, but that doesn't matter. The story was of a company that had been given by its government the rights to all water. The company even claimed to own the rain. This meant that people weren't allowed to collect rain water at home. Presumably, if they did, it was a considered a debt to the water company.
This is the mistake I think the Baha'is make: they think the community and its administration has been given by Baha'u'llah sole access to Baha'u'llah's grace, so that any claim to be Baha'i outside of that system is considered illegitimate. But the reality is that Baha'u'llah controls his own grace - he does as he wills - and he wills that his grace rains on all alike, as the following passage clearly states:
"Thou art the All-Bountiful, the overflowing showers of Whose mercy have rained down upon high and low alike, and the splendors of Whose grace have been shed over both the obedient and the rebellious." (Baha'u'llah: Prayers and Meditations, p 250)
This means that I can be, and am, Baha'i without being a member of the Baha'i community and without recourse to anyone except Baha'u'llah. I suggest that any Baha'i struggling to get their head around this should get out more and open their heart to the universal nature of the revelation. There's a lot going on out there that oughtn't to be missed.