published in Lights of Irfan, Volume 7, pages 200-220 Wilmette, IL: Irfan Colloquia, 2006
Abstract: The author analyzes three dynamics conducive from the mysticism of nascent religions, involving the whole community of believers, to the mysticism of periods of spiritual decline, involving only elites of believers, estranged from organized religion. These dynamics are related to the cyclicity of the historical processes of religions, to the limitations of human imperfection, and to the relativity of revelation. The mystics of the past perceived the widespread estrangement from the spiritual reality of religion caused by these dynamics and drew away from organized religion, seeking solace in their inner experiences of the Divine. Today humankind is mature. We cannot fully understand the implications of its maturity for the development of the Bahá'í religious world. We can only venture some hypothesis. It seems unlikely that the Bahá'í religious world will not have its winter. But the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice, granted for the whole course of the Dispensation, should imply a different kind of winter. A mysticism of religious decline may develop, and yet those future mystics could find solace and reassurance in an infallible Head of the Cause. Also human imperfection will remain, even in the presence of people who may arise to the station of the lesser prophets of the "House of Israel."
However, the Bahá'í Revelation, the revelation of the maturity of humankind, is free from certain flaws that in the past implied an early development of spiritually unacceptable behaviors, such as dogmatism, ritualism, externalism, exclusivism. The power of the Bahá'í Covenant, the proscriptions of ancient "ordinances as holy war, destruction of books, the ban on association and companionship with other peoples or on reading certain books," the authoritative exposition of a divine philosophy by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and of an institutional and societal policy by Shoghi Effendi, are new features in the history of religion. These features seemingly discourage any dichotomy between the mystical and the institutional aspects of religion, responsible of dogmatism, ritualism, and externalism, and rule out any exclusivist attitude. Moreover, the early spiritual education prescribed by the Bahá'í teachings should enable human beings to start their mystical journey at higher and higher spiritual levels and to ascribe a greater importance to the mystical stage of the return journey to the world, at the service of humankind. The mystics of the new era may thus more easily avoid a number of past mistakes: the refusal of any mediator between God and them; the advancement of heretical doctrines; a leaning towards an unduly speculative mentality and aristocratic and initiatory attitudes; an over-evaluation of mystical experience and of the so called charismatic gifts; the refusal of living in this world. They may thus concentrate on the core of mysticism, that is, to realize a state of communion between themselves and the Soul of the Manifestation of God that conveys the Spirit of God unto them bringing "such ecstasy of joy that life becomes nothing."