And then he smiled at me.
It was the first warm-up exercise of the evening. The dojo was still and quiet, not many people on the mats yet. The evening shadows high in the rafters softened the dojo’s mossy greens and creams and pale wood tones; my hands were cold and my shoulders stiff.
The exercise was just a simple touch of hand on wrist and then turning past one another, back and forth, right and left, like the sequences of old-time dancing, English country dancing — but for the subtle exchanges of balance and intensity that play beneath the surface of aikido.
He’s intimidating on both first and second glance, thick-built in the massive tree-trunk sort of way, his silver hair a military cut, his waiting glance impenetrable, his stance suggesting an explosive readiness and a predatory feline’s fatal softness.
But his smile — suddenly radiant, unpredictable, unexpected. A flash out of the blue, as though he reflected a sun I couldn’t see, as though a breeze played in a curtain, offering glimpses through a window on noon.
A sun I couldn’t see but that it reflected from his face — the sun of friendliness, with highlights of joy. I particularly like the divine name The Friend. Baha’u’llah used the metaphor of this name as he described the intensity of spiritual search in The Seven Valleys:
“In every face, he seeketh the beauty of the Friend; in every country he looketh for the Beloved. He joineth every company, and seeketh fellowship with every soul, that haply in some mind he may uncover the secret of the Friend, or in some face he may behold the beauty of the Loved One.”
In the third Arabic Hidden Word, Baha’u’llah speaks in the divine voice and says that He “engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.” (1)
As I saw my partner’s wonderful smile, I thought of this. He’s reflecting an attribute of the divine, the “image” of friendliness “engraved” upon his face; I’m seeing it, the beauty of the divine thus revealed to me. Maybe the impression of joy was even stronger than friendship — it’s hard to discern individual colors of light.
Such a privilege. I don’t know quite what to think about it yet. Perhaps “engraved” would be more fully understood as saying that the ability to manifest divine virtue is so deeply written into us as to be our essential nature. A human being, most fundamentally, is a soul that can potentially reflect all the attributes of God.
The full text of the third Arabic Hidden Word goes like this:
“O son of man! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.”
Such a privilege!
He smiled at me, and therein was the sun.
(1) It’s worth keeping in mind that the voice of the divine here is using the metaphors of our experience to explain, as far as possible, something beyond our ken. If we skip all the way to the 67th Arabic Hidden Word, Baha’u’llah makes note of this communicative limitation:
“O Son of Beauty! By My spirit and by My favor! By My mercy and by My beauty! All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.”
Photo link: Untitled, by Anastasiya Lasskaya