Monday, February 8, 2010

The Feast

My family and I had the wonderful bounty of being able to host the last Feast in our home.  It was truly a joy.

Quick aside, number 1 - We had taken all the chairs in the house and put them in the living room for the friends to sit on.  Afterwards, when we had cleared and cleaned the dishes, we decided to wait on putting the furniture back.  We were just too tired.  Marielle and I went upstairs to go to sleep when she looked around the bedroom and said, "I feel like that family from Ruhi Book 2."  I glanced over inquisitively, and she continued, "The Sanchez's".  You have to understand, my wife is French, from Quebec.   "Sans chaises" means "without chairs".

OK, where was I?  Oh yes, the Feast.

As hosts for this Feast, we were asked a number of questions about it by our friends and neighbours.  A few of them wanted to attend the Feast, just to see what it was like.  We were, therefore, in the position of having explain that the Feast is for Baha'is only, and why this was the case.  This turned out to be fortunate because later on one of the Baha'is phoned and asked if she could bring a friend of hers who wasn't a Baha'i.  This friend was an Iranian Muslim who she said is very interested in the Faith.  Needless to say, we had to explain to her that this was not allowed, either.

Aside number 2 - This was a great opportunity to talk about the friends in Iran who are currently on trial for their beliefs, and the dangers they are facing.  My wife had recently been in a remote community, and there was a Baha'i visiting from Iran who gave a public talk in the local library.  She, the woman from Iran, had asked that her name not be used anywhere in the publicizing of the event.  Later, my wife had the opportunity to talk with a local person who had attended.  The person was lamenting that this talk was not better advertised, as it was a very inspirational talk.  "Why," this individual cried, "didn't the Baha'is publicize it more?"  My wife talked about the danger involved in doing so.  She said that this woman who gave the talk had to go back to Iran, and that her entire family was over there.  Publicizing the talk could have put any or all of them in grave danger, literally.  You, dear Reader, will perhaps note that I am not even giving any possible reference here that could lead back to this stalwart soul.  My wife then added, as an after thought, that this was one way in which an injustice in one part of the world could have an impact in a completely different part of the world, even so remote a community as the one in which they were.  I believe that one statement, more than anything, really shook this poor person's view of the world in which we live and made her re-consider the importance of how she act in her life.

Back to the subject at hand, that of only members of the Baha'i community being allowed to attend the Feast, it occurred to me that it might be a good subject to raise here.

For those of you who are not aware of this aspect of the law, and I know that you all know it, the Guardian said, "These 19-Day Feasts are for the Bahá'ís, and the Bahá'ís exclusively, and no variation from this principle is permitted."  But as you also know, he tempered that with, "but if a non-Bahá'í happens to come, we should not ask him to leave and hurt the person's feelings."  The Universal House of Justice has gone on to further explain that "when a non-Bahá'í does appear at a Feast he should not be asked to leave; rather the Assembly should omit the consultative part of the Feast, and the non-Bahá'í should be made welcome."

In a recent letter on this subject, the House of Justice reminded us that, while someone who is not a member of the Baha'i community might accidentally show up, we would certainly never invite a non-Baha'i to a Feast.  They have also let us know that "A non-Bahá'í, who asks to be invited to a Feast will usually understand if this matter is explained to him."  And this is the case: everyone who asked to be invited understood once it was explained to them.  In one case, it got a woman to really think about whether or not she wanted to commit to being a member of the Baha'i community.  She is still undecided, so please keep her in your prayers.

What are we explaining to them?  Why is the Feast reserved for Baha'is only?

The simplest explanation is, of course, found in the guidance from the Universal House of Justice.  They explain, so succinctly, that "the Bahá'ís should be able to enjoy perfect freedom to express their views on the work of the Cause, unembarrassed by the feeling that all they are saying is being heard by someone who has not accepted Bahá'u'lláh and who might, thereby, gain a very distorted picture of the Faith. It would also be very embarrassing for any sensitive non-Bahá'í to find himself plunged into the midst of a discussion of the detailed affairs of the Bahá'í Community of which he is not a part."

I love this explanation. It is so obvious and simple.

A friend of mine used to say that the Feast was a very boring adminsitrative thing, and that they obviously would not want to attend.  Their friend asked, "So why do you?"  My friend realized that this was actually a way of telling the person that the Faith, itself, was boring, and that they obviously would not want to be a part of it.  I think that was the last time they ever used that explanation.

My wife and I noticed that some of our friends thought that the Feast was like a church service, which they would really want to attend.  We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain that it wasn't like a service at all.  Finally we hit upon the idea that it is sort of like a meeting of the Board of Directors of a company.  While not quite accurate, it did allow us to explain a bit about why it was reserved for Baha'is.  And they really understood it then.

We explained that if they wanted anything that was even remotely similar to a church service, that would be either a devotional gathering or a fireside.  Perhaps even a study circle could have something similar.   But what we emphasized is that the Baha'i Faith is not a congregational faith.  We have no clerical class, and therefore we have to do everything ourselves.  No one can bestow any teachings upon us: we have to study for ourselves.  The study circles are not about book learning: they are about helping us learn to arise to the service of humanity.

And during the consultation portion, we are arising as individuals to meet with the Assembly to share with them our ideas and concerns.  We are getting together as a loving and tight-knit family to discuss the affairs of our household, so to speak.  There are many things that we just take for granted during that time, and we need to have the freedom, as the House of Justice said, to express our views.  Of course, when we do this, we still observe all the rules of courtesy that we expect others to share.  We offer ideas, but never criticize.   We offer suggestions, but never insist or impose.  We listen respectfully when other ideas are shared, no matter how absurd they may be (yes, everyone is so patient with me when I talk).  And we base everything upon the guidance offered us in the Writings.

If someone wishes to learn about the Baha'i Faith, a far better venue for that would be a fireside, in which we offer such loving hospitality that they feel free to ask their heartfelt questions.

The night of that Feast, one of our neighbours offered us the best, and most beautiful, gift we could imagine.  She really wanted to attend the Feast, but understood that it was just not the right venue for her to learn about the Faith.  So instead, she came over before the Feast began and asked if she could say prayers with us, in our home.  She wished to help bless our home and prepare it for us to recceive our guests.  Now, she may not have had the language skills to phrase it that way, but that is what I felt of her intentions.  And when the first of our guests arrived, she was just putting on her coat.  It would be difficult to describe the warmth and love with which she greeted our guests, as she was departing.

Yes, that Feast was truly a gift.  It was an honour to be able to host such a gathering of the Friends of God, around which circled the Concourse on High.

Besides, I don't think our house been that clean in months.


  1. Dear Friend,
    A warm and forthright post. Thank you! Just to add, while it still stands that the Nineteen-Day Feast is for Baha'is, as you correctly stated, the Universal House of Justice did provide some qualifications in the event that someone inadvertently shows up - something which may happen more frequently with increase in core activities. According to its May 17, 2009 letter, rather than asking them to absent themselves from the administrative portion, "those conducting the programme can modify this part of the Feast to accommodate the guests. The sharing of local and national news and information about social events, as well as
    consultation on topics of general interest, such as the teaching work, service projects, the Fund, and so on, can take place as usual, while discussion of sensitive or problematic issues related to these or other topics can be set aside for another time when the friends can express themselves freely without being inhibited by the presence of visitors." This also accommodates for non-Baha'i spouses in whose home Feast is taking place.

    But as you emphasized, the point still stands that when we can offer an explanation - and then connect the person with an activity that truly will be more conducive to their learning about the Faith - it is best to do so, for everyone's sake.
    - jeffrey

  2. The policies you describe have recently been modified somewhat. In a latter dated 17 May 2009
    the Universal House of Justice writes that if non-Bahais are present the administrative portion can go ahead, simply modifying the agenda as required. The letter is available at