It wasn't your typical Florida roadside message. It didn't advertise all nude dancing girls or the many wonderous sights of the Alligator Farm. It said nothing about surfing, or sleeping or eating.
Stuck out in the middle of nowhere was a sign that simply said: "One lamp, many candles." Oh sure we had to keep driving because we were traveling a 70 miles an hour. But for a moment we stopped everything else so we could process the message. It bypassed your head and went straight to your heart. I've never had that happen before, have you?
We continued on our way but made a point of searching for the sign on the way home. We wanted a closer - deeper look. When we found it, I got out of the car with my trusty Sony sidekick and tried to capture the essence in pixels.
Strangely the pointedly non-denominational advertisement for a loving higher power was partially covered in mis-spelled graffiti. How is it that the quiet message of love is often overshadowed by a cacaphony of hate? It seems like it should be the other way around.
What we didn't see at first, was that the billboard was sponsored by the Bahai faith. The only thing I know about Bahai, is what I learned from a classmate in a world religion class I took last summer. As you might expect in a class set in the heart of Jacksonville, most of the students were bible carrying members of one Baptist church or another. But there were a handfull of Episcopalians (split right down the middle on the issue of human sexuality), a Moslem or two and one quiet, yet sincere, young man who proudly claimed his Bahai faith. It wasn't so much that he preached his religion but lived it. He didn't cram it down your throat, but, like a piece of homemade chocolate cake, he offered you a piece of it knowing after you'd tasted it, you'd come back for more.
You could tell just by looking at him, this young man was from somewhere in the Middle East. He reminded me of someone from the moment I laid eyes on him. He was young, yes, perhaps a freshman. Yet, you could tell he was one of those "old" souls. I stared at him for awhile before realizing in looks, body language, demeanor he reminded me of Zubin. He also possessed the same sparkle in his eye that Zubin used to his full advantage. Ah Zubin, Blessed Zubin.
I don't believe in coincidences. I believe the great puppeteer in the sky places people and billboards in our lives for a purpose. I didn't learn a lot from this classmate. His Bahai religion is a lot deeper than he could share in a few hours. His main message, however, like that of all the great prophets, was to love one another the way the Father/Mother (of our understanding) loves us. It doesn't get much simpler than that.
So I ask you to keep your eyes open as you travel the many roadways of your life. You might see a giant evergreen tree or a rainbow through stormy clouds. You might see a hawk circling overhead, or a giant alligator, or a sanddune covered in sea grass. It's possible you'll see an advertisement for God if you can see past the graffiti.
On this post 9/11 Wednesday, I bid you peace and offer these words from Bahai:
“The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another.” ‘Abdul-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 32