Sunday, January 31, 2010

Down on the Farm

I have often heard it said that teaching the faith is kind of like farming.  I suppose that this is only meant as a metaphor, and not some sort of comment on how impersonal it can be, for surely it must be personal.  Personal and intimate, for are you not sharing the Word of God with another soul?

But this analogy about farming: it really got me thinking.

Baha'u'llah, in the Kitab-i-Iqan, amongst many other places, refers to the "earth of men's hearts", and in Paris Talks, 'Abdu'l-Baha says that tests are like the tilling of that soil, allowing the seed of God's Faith to be planted more deeply.  "Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment." (Thanks, Ken, for the reference)

So what happens when those tests come if  there is no seed?  What happens when you plough the ground, but do not plant a crop within it?  As any farmer knows, the ground either grows even more weeds, or it gets very hard in the next rain.

Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why we are told how little time there is to teach, and how we must hurry.  Those tests are now happening on an ever-increasing scale, with greater and greater frequency.  The earth of people's hearts are being ploughed to a degree we cannot even imagine, and if we fail to get those seeds in the ground, the weeds that shall grow may become quite strong.  Or else their hearts may end up hardening to the Word of God.

But let's go back to this analogy again for a moment.

How do we plant plants?  I know for myself, I usually get a small pot of soil, dig a tiny hole, and put a seed in it.  Then I carefully cover it up with more dirt, add water and fertilizer and wait.  Oh, and I am sure to continually give it the right mount of water, as well as putting in a good place for the amount of sun it may need.  Then I wait patiently, never trying to force it to grow faster.

Isn't this what we do with the Faith, too?  We gently plant the seed, continually add the Water of Life without overwatering it, and ensure that it gets the right amount of Sunlight through the Writings?  I mean, some plants require full sun while others need only partial sun, or even shade.  That is sort of like people.  Some can be taught directly, given the full splendour of the Sun in ever increasing doses, like the plant going from dawn to noon, while others are repelled by "religion" and need to be given only small doses.

I also plant tomatoes in the back yard, in the garden, and the same process works there, too.  Dig a small hole every foot or so, stick in a seed and water daily with the hose or a watering can.  Go through the garden occassionally and pull out those weeds, in the same way my friends and I share ideas and I help them see which ones are going to produce fruit, and which ones are only draining their energy.  (Oh, and they do the same with me, too.)

Yes, the process is the same, whether it is with one plant or a hundred.

But what if I was a farmer?  What if I had a thousand acres to plant?  Surely I couldn't go through that process for every individual plant.  First, it would take me halfway through the growing season to even dig enough holes to plant all those seeds.  Half the ground would be wasted, covered with weeds that would deplete the soil of much-needed nutrients, and that would make growing anything there next year more difficult.

If I tried to use my watering can, or a garden hose, on a thousand acres, most of the tender plants would die of thirst before I got to them.

Of course, if I wanted, I could hire enough people to come in and dig those small holes. I could also give them tons of watering cans, sending them out each morning to take care of a small area, but you can see how this would not be practical.

No, a new technique would be needed.

I would need to learn to systematically go through an area that has been ploughed, and carefully drop seeds every so often in the freshly tilled ground.  Then I would need to get a major watering system to deliver the water when and where it is needed.  Fertilizer would need to be spread all over the place in order to ensure that each seed got what it needed, even though it might mean that some got a bit too much.  But even that would be ok.  They would not suffer for it.

Some parts of the earth would also need to be used to plant stakes to hold the hoses and sprayers that deliver the water to areas further out.

Hmm.  This is beginning to sound like the Institute Process, to my ears.

When we identify a receptive population, we can presume that they are receptive because some test has occurred that ploughed the soil of their hearts.  They are ready, so we must go and deliver the seeds of the Faith to them, planting them carefully in their hearts.

If there are weeds, we have to lovingly remove them, carefully ensuring that they are, in fact weeds that are being removed, and not plants that are uesful.

Oh, time for an aside: I remember walking down the street one fine summer day, and there was this nice lady weeding her garden.  She had a huge pile of "weeds" that she was tossing out, and I asked her if I could have them.  I told her that they were mint, but she still thought they were weeds, so she gladly gave them to me, all the while thinking I was nuts.  I have never had so much delicious mint tea in my life.

Once the seeds have been planted, we need to regularly go and visit these friends, carefully tending to these seeds by adding the water of love and friendship.  We need to make sure they are continually receiving the right amount of light from the Writings, trusting that the seeds are growing, even though we cannot see any sign of growth above the ground yet.  We know that the seeds are germinating and will sprout, breaking ground when they are ready.

Aside number two: I remember when I was studying the Faith, there were a few times people came up to me and told me that I was a Baha'i, but just didn't know it yet.  "Really," I thought with full sarcasm, "I am?"  It would be months before I looked at the Faith again.  Why?  Because they were trying to take away my God-given right to free choice.  They may have thought I was Baha'i, but I didn't.  I was not a member of the Baha'i community, no matter what they presumed.  If you think of someone in this way, please don't do that to them.  It will only set up a barrier.  Perhaps they are a Baha'i, according to the Master's definition given in London (page 105, look it up), but they are not yet a member of the Baha'i community.  Please respect that.  Sorry, that's just a pet peeve of mine.

Where was I?  Oh yes.  Once the earth is showing signs of growth, we can choose a suitable area to set up the next extension for the hose that will deliver the water even further away.  Just like when we find someone within an area or population to help with the teaching work.  We know we can't do it all by ourselves.  We have to get help.  We know that a sprinkler will only spray the water so far, and we need to find ways to extend our reach.  The easiest way is to get another sprinkler to help.

So perhaps teaching is like farming.

Fortunately, we are not only growing tomatoes.  Different soils and light conditions will grow different plants.  We need to experiment and see what will work.  Monocultures also are not all that great, so we need a variety within an area, too.

In my garden out back, I regularly grow the three sisters - corn, beans that grow up the corn stalk, and squash that grow between the corn stalks.  Each gives something that the others need in terms of fertilizer, and they all taste great together at the end of the season.

Hey, that sound good.  Maybe I should make some Three Sisters Soup from what I harvested last autumn.  Mmmmmm.

You see, farming can be very rewarding, even though we often don't see any results for some time.  Just like teaching.

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