Michael Penn: Hearing In The Dark

Posted by Trupti Pandya on Jun 5, 2021
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[During a palpable Prayer Circle for India last month amid India's escalating Covid crisis, Prof. Michael Penn shared these heartfelt words of wisdom and hope, transcribed below.]


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It is such a high honor to have the chance to participate in this beautiful gathering. When Drishti opened the gathering with that chant, it just sailed right into my heart. I am so delighted to participate in this commemoration, for the sake of those who are suffering, for the sake of those who have passed away, and for the sake of those who are at the threshold of the next world.

One of my very favorite writings from the Bahá'í faith says, know verily that the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem, whose reality the most learned of men had failed to grasp and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel. If it is faithful to God, it will reflect its (His) light and will eventually return on to him.

And so I derive a great deal of confidence in the knowledge that soon people will be announcing our death. They will be saying that Michael Penn passed away yesterday, or Nipun passed away last week. And we will have left traces that we hope will endure. I think that this gathering is one of those gatherings that will diffuse divine fragrances that will endure. And so it's a very high honor to participate.

I just wanted to share with you one little story. You know, some years ago, I was invited to give a talk at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), and they say that those students who do not rise to the level necessary to be admitted into the Indian Institute of technology end up going to Stanford. So, the requirements are really, really quite high for getting into that wonderful center of learning. They invited me to give a talk on my research on hope and hopelessness. At that time, my laboratory was really sort of exploring that in an intense way. Now imagine that there are hundreds of people in an auditorium and in the middle of the talk, suddenly the power in that building went off. And so we are in complete darkness, and because we are in complete darkness, we hear one another with a kind of acuteness that's very rare. Every word that is spoken reverberates through the room and penetrates in a way that is very mysterious. So, the talk, the experience went from something that approximated babble to a deep encounter with a process of reflection as a community.

And I tell you, it was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had as an academic. The scholarship itself seemed to soar into another realm. The heavens and the earth were meeting. Science and religion were in discourse. It was very, very powerful. We had a sense of the greatness of the human spirit because we were encountering something that we did not expect. And when I left India, I left with the deep sense that unless we encounter these unusual moments, our minds become numb. We become insensitive to this extraordinary process that we are engaged in. And so, although we are suffering a great deal through COVID, I think it is also awakening in all of us a kind of a deeper consciousness of the journey that we are on. And it's such a blessing to participate in this journey with all of you. Thank you so much.

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Comments (3)

  • Richard Whittaker wrote ...

    God bless Michael Penn and the deep beauty and hope that passes through him and on to others.

  • Victoria wrote ...

    thank you, thank you for this beautiful and heartfelt piece.....

  • Lisa Hurst-Archer wrote ...

    Thank you, bless you, may your light shine on and on, especially in the darkness, when the ‘power goes out.’ Yes, soon and very soon, they will be speaking of our death, may the light we generate through loving awareness and compassion reverberate far and wide.