Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Spreading the Seeds

Whenever I am asked what books to give a new believer, I always suggest the Tablets of the Divine Plan.  Of course, this was written for the Baha'is in North America, but I believe it is great for anyone, no matter where they live.

I was reading this book the other day and noticed something interesting in the first 8 Tablets that I had not noticed before.  Of course, I get this feeling every time I read the Writings.

In fact, that reminds me of a story (isn't that unusual).  A friend and I were driving from Chicago to the southwestern US, and we were visiting many Baha'is along the route.  In addition to our luggage, we had a box of books in the trunk, and we were liberally distributing them as we saw fit.  One afternoon we had tea with this lovely old lady (oops, I mean elder) on a Reservation.  She was a delight to be with.  (If nothing else, I will always be grateful to the Faith for all the wonderful people I have had the joy of meeting in my life.)  We talked with her for many hours, drinking deep of her radiance and wisdom, when we both noticed that she only seemed to have two Baha'i books: Gleanings and a Prayer Book.  We asked her if she wanted any other Texts, and she looked aghast.  "Oh no," she said, "I haven't finished this one yet."  She was referring to Gleanings, which was very well worn, and we understood that she meant she was still learning new things every day from it.  I am humbled by that.

So there I was, reading Tablets of the Divine Plan the other day, when something new leapt out at me.

In the first Tablet, out of 14 total, 'Abdu'l-Baha makes mention of a few states in the northeastern US.  He then says, "in some of these states believers are found, but in some of the cities of these states up to this date people are not yet illumined."

In the second Tablet, He mentions some of the southern states, and points out that, "the friends are few".  He says that "you must either go yourselves or send a number of blessed souls to those states."

In the third Tablet, He says, that in some states "believers are found who are associating with each other" and yet in some other states "few of the believers exist...  Send to those parts teachers."

By the time we get to the fourth Tablet, He says that in a few of the western states "the fragrances of holiness are diffused" but in some others "the lamp of the love of God is not ignited in a befitting and behooving manner... Either travel yourselves, personally, throughout those states or choose others and send them..."

In the fifth Tablet, He tells us to go to Canada and Greenland.

In the sixth, He says that we should go to all of the Americas.

In the seventh, He tells us to disperse throughout the entire world.

Finally, in the eighth Tablet, He describes for us how to be an Apostle of Baha'u'llah.

But let's look at the first seven for now, and get to that eighth one in a moment.

Even though I have read these Tablets many times, I had never noticed that there is a progression in how He inspires us to move.  He begins so simply by showing us the condition of the states in which we live (or at least where the recipients of the original Tablets lived), and points out that there are some cities very close by that do not have Baha'is living there.   By merely moving a few miles over, we may be able to open up an entire community to the Faith.  Surely this is do-able for any of us, if we only consider where the needs are.  And here, He has shown us a simple method of determining, for ourselves, the needs of the Faith.

From there, in the second Tablet, He shows us how this need for pioneers is also in the South.  He points out that there are few Baha'is in the states named.  Would it be too much to ask for a few stalwart souls to move there?  Of course not.  But if we are not able to fulfill that need, He gives us the out by saying that we can "send a number of blessed souls".  Of course, here I note the use of plurality and recognize the reminder that we work better in groups.

But then in the third Tablet, He selects some other distant states in the Central US and shows us how to prioritize.  He takes a group of states and splits them into two groups: those that have Baha'is and those that don't.  We should send teachers to the ones that don't.

In the fourth Tablet, He does the same thing again, shows us how to prioritize, but then tells us to go ourselves, or, at the very least, choose others and send them.

And as long as we are sending teachers out, we might as well send them a bit further, up to Canada or Greenland, as suggested in the fifth Tablet.  Come to think of it, in Tablet number six, we might as well go throughout all of the Americas.  And while we are at it, in the seventh Tablet, we may as well just go all over the entire planet.

Now, in the eighth Tablet, He gives us the 3 criteria for being an Apostle of Baha'u'llah: firmness in the Covenant of God, fellowship and love amongst the believers, and continually travelling to all parts, in the manner of 'Abdu'l-Baha, to teach.  Note that this third criterion is fully described in the above seven Tablets, with ample description of how to be effective in where we select our arena of service.

And this gets us to today.

Let's face it, we have settled in all the areas named in these Tablets.  That was one of the goals of the Ten Year World Crusade, 50 years ago.  That was why the Knights of Baha'u'llah were so named.

So how does this apply to us today?

As usual, I really don't know, but I can make a guess that works for me.

I think that we have successfully dispersed all over the planet in a successful attempt to spread the seeds of the Faith.  Now we need to learn how to be more effective in growing those seeds.

In fact, it is just like growing seeds.

There are some basic rules: you need sunlight, healthy soil and water.  You have to plant the seeds, apply fertilizer and remove the weeds.  This is true whether you are growing a single plant in your garden, or thousands of plants as part of a large farm.  But the techniques you use will differ depending on your conditions.  You might use a small hoe or shovel to weed a small garden in your back yard, and a watering can to water your plants, but if you tried that on a thousand acre farm, most of the plants would die before you got to them.

When I became a Baha'i, it was enough that a few people talked with me and shared the basics of the Faith over a period of a few years.  But now, with thousands entering the Faith at once, we need to use the systematic method of the Ruhi curriculum to seve the needs of so many in an efficient manner.

This method of prioritizing, shown to us by 'Abdu'l-Baha in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, now needs to be implemented in the growth of the Faith, instead of just in its dispersion.  By concentrating our efforts where there is growth, we can better learn about how to grow in other places.  The method of moving to a new country now also applies to opening up a neighbourhood in an advanced cluster.

And all of this from just a single theme in that book.  Perhaps I'll read it again tomorrow and discover something entirely different.


  1. Indeed - though some Baha'is arose immediately to promulgate the religion during 1919 when they were released in the States the progress of the religion began in earnest. I'd be interested if you reviewed your idea in light of the breadth and growth of the Faith. I've had some thoughts as well - there is a curious change in attention and empowerment to local people that happens mostly in the 1950s in many countries in the spread of the religion.

  2. Thank you, SMK. What a great comment.

    It is truly a testimony to the early Baha'is that they arose with such dedication to fulfill the wishes of the Master, especially such notable believers as Martha Root and Leonore Holsapple, to name but two.

    I'd like to point out that there are two ways to interpret the word "review" that you use. It can mean you want me to explore the idea in the context that you suggest, the breadth and growth of the faith, which is a marvelous suggestion for the scholars and historians within the Faith, but probably beyond my abilities.

    Or it can mean to reconsider the idea in light of the history of the Faith.

    I'm not sure which you want, but judging by your own work with Wikipedia, probably the former.

    If so, I would love to read your thoughts on it.

    For what it is worth, in an upcoming article, I'll be talking a bit about how when we pioneer or travel teach, we naturally gravitate towards those whose personalities or interests are very similar to our own. This can be to our advantage or disadvantage at various times. But until we move beyond our own natural comfort zone, I do not believe we will see any major growth. This seems to be demonstrated by such marvelous examples as Enoch Olinga, who taught people of all tribes and sections of society, or even by those exemplary souls in Toronto who moved to an apartment complex in a part of town that was very different from what they were used to.