Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Once again, it's that time of year. (Hmm, I wonder how often I'll use that phrase in the course of a single year)

It is time for spring cleaning, that time when we go through all of our stuff and decide what is good and useful, worth keeping, and what is junk and only worthy of the trash heap (or a garage sale or recycling).

I also thought it might be an interesting opportunity to look at my own beliefs, and the way I approach my faith. Now please note that this is not meant to question my faith itself, but rather to be seen as a time to re-examine what I believe about my faith and seek out those things that are my own baggage, as opposed to those elements that are part of the Faith itself.

One example that sticks out for me is the recent Feast. As it was the Feast of Baha, we decided to first get together to break the fast, and then go into the Feast. Some had suggeted starting with the social portion, but this, it was pointed out, is not permissible. And so we said a prayer, broke fast together, said some more prayers for the Feast, had the administration portion, and then a very short social portion, as it was quite late and all the children needed to go to sleep.

This, to me, was an example of looking at the Writings to see what was allowed, and what was just our own desire.

Another example with the Feast is the Fund report, and when it occurs. The Assembly in my area has looked through the guidance and they have found no indication of when a Fund report should be made. They have tried many different things, except putting it in our newsletter, and seen what impact each variation has. They have tried having it right after the devotions, in the middle of the administrative portion, and just before the social portion. What they found, through careful analysis, is that sneaking it in at the end of the adminstrative portion seems to work best in this city. Perhaps it's because we've just consulted on the work of the community and we are all acutely aware of the needs of the Fund.

Now this is, of course, on the community level, but what about on the individual level? What are those things that I do in the practice of my faith that are actually part of my own baggage?

In the Hidden Words, Baha'u'llah tells us to "bring thyself to account each day", but He does not specify when. Most of my friends do this at night, just before saying their evening prayers. As you may have noticed in some recent postings, I often do this in the morning, when the house of quiet, allowing this reflection to set the course for my day. I originally began doing this in the evenings, and continued doing it then out of habit, but lately realized that the morning hours were more conducive to this for me.  It was an insight that was only made by taking the time to reflect on my daily activities.

As I sit here thinking about what else to "spring clean", I find that nothing else is really coming to mind. Perhaps it comes from having done this sort of reflection for this blog, or perhaps it is just that it is difficult to look at the things I take for granted, precisely because I do take them for granted.

The only other one that comes to mind is the way I say my prayers. In my community I noticed a while ago that we all seemed to say our prayers by either reciting them in a monotone voice in English, or chanting them in Persian. Either one was likely to put me to sleep, the monotone because it was generally boring, and the chanting, beautiful though it was, because I had no clue what was being said. Obviously, this is an indictment against myself, and not on those friend who can chant so wonderfully.

My solution, for what it's worth, was to talk with some of the youth and show them a video of some Southern Baptists praying. At the next Feast, when I was asked to say a prayer, I read a prayer from Baha'u'llah, with the bolded words bolded to show you my emphasis:

ALL praise, o my God, be to THEE
Who art the source of ALLLLLLLL glory and majesty...

Well, you get the idea. Anyways, while I was reciting this prayer, one of the youth jumped up and cried out "Ya! Baha'u'l'Abha!"

I thought a few of the friends were going to have a heart attack, the way they jumped at that.

But you know, it is a valid form of prayer.

The reason that I did this was not to be a disturber of the peace (although that was a bit fun, I have to admit), but because I had been at a few devotional gatherings and noticed something very disturbing. There were some friends who were there who were not Baha'i, and they had said some prayers from their heart. While I thought they were beautiful, having spent a lot of time in a church where prayers from the heart were the norm, I noticed that there were some glances their way as a few of the friends realized that what they were saying was not a "revealed" prayer.

Now these glances may not have seemed like much to those who gave them, but afterwards, thoes who were the recipients of them said that they felt "condemned". That was their word. I had to explain that in the Baha'i Faith, very few of us use our own prayers, and many of us are not used to it. Those looks were not meant to be condemning their style of prayer (at least I presume not), but were actually looks of surprise. I said that the friends needed time to process something that was different from what they were used to. After all, I explained, we know that prayer is conversation with God, and not all conversation is scripted. Sometimes it goes in a direction different than you expect.

This may not be the best example of "spring cleaning", but it is what comes to mind right now. I am certain that I will continue to re-examine the ways that I do a lot of the things I do over the next few weeks, not to mention over the next few years or decades, and if anything else springs to mind (pun intended), I'll let you know.

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