Sunday, April 4, 2010

Aboriginal Teaching - A Thought

I had the wonderful opportunity, a few nights ago, to sit in on a meeting in which some friends were discussing the teaching work among the Aboriginal peoples in our city. It was a beautiful discussion, filled with love and respect, focussed on friendship and honour.

The meeting began with prayers and a look at the Writings for guidance. As you can imagine, the guidance from 'Abdu'l-Baha, found in the Tablets of the Divine Plan (6:8), was the first piece shared. So, let's look at that quote. Instead of only looking at that one paragraph, though, I'm going to extract a bit more, so bear with me. I think it places it in a richer context.
O ye blessed souls:

I desire for you eternal success and prosperity and beg perfect confirmation for each one in the divine world. My hope for you is that each one may shine forth like unto the morning star from the horizon of the world and in this Garden of God become a blessed tree, producing everlasting fruits and results.

Therefore I direct you to that which is conducive to your heavenly confirmation and illumination in the Kingdom of God!

It is this...

Attach great importance to the indigenous population of America... (T)hese Indians, should they be educated and guided, there can be no doubt that they will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world.

In short, O ye believers of God! Exalt your effort and magnify your aims. His Holiness Christ says: Blessed are the poor, for theirs shall be the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words: Blessed are the nameless and traceless poor, for they are the leaders of mankind. Likewise it is said in the Qur'án: "And We desire to show favor to those who were brought low in the land, and to make them spiritual leaders among men, and to make of them Our heirs." Or, we wish to grant a favor to the impotent souls and suffer them to become the inheritors of the Messengers and Prophets.

Now is the time for you to divest yourselves of the garment of attachment to this world that perisheth, to be wholly severed from the physical world, become heavenly angels, and travel to these countries...

In addition to this, there was also a quote from Shoghi Effendi that was shared, in which he talks about teaching "the Negro, the Indian, the Eskimo, and Jewish races". This was followed by another quote from the Guardian, in which he says, "The primary reason for anyone becoming a Bahá'í must of course be because he has come to believe the doctrines, the teachings and the Order of Bahá'u'lláh are the correct thing for this stage in the world's evolution. The Bahá'ís themselves as a body have one great advantage; they are sincerely convinced Bahá'u'lláh is right; they have a plan, and they are trying to follow it. But to pretend they are perfect, that the Bahá'ís of the future will not be a hundred times more mature, better balanced, more exemplary in their conduct, would be foolish."

As you can imagine, all of this got me thinking.

First, why did Shoghi Effendi specify those four groups of people? Second, what is the underlying message in the second quote? As you know, I do not claim to really understand, and what I offer here is only my own personal opinion. It is not, nor is it meant to be, an official representation of the views of the Baha'i Faith.

So, back to the Guardian. Why did he specify those four populations?

I think that those four groups were mentioned specifically because of the oppression that they have suffered. These groups of people can demonstrate the truth said so well by the Universal House of Justice: "...the proper response to oppression is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor. The victim of oppression can transcend it through an inner strength that shields the soul from bitterness and hatred and which sustains consistent, principled action." It is when a group of oppressed people act in this manner that they can "enlighten the whole world."

But what about that second quote from Shoghi Effendi? Why does he point out the difference between where we are, as a Baha'i community, today, and where we will be in the future?

I think it is a very important reminder for us to be open. Although we have the Writings, and the guidance from the Universal House of Justice, I don't believe we really understand them in the context of action. At least, not yet. We are beginning to understand them, and starting to get a glimpse of the civilization that will be brought about by these Teachings. But we're not there yet.

For us, as individual teachers of the Cause, to go to a group of people with a rich cultural history and tell them what the Cause will mean to them, is ridiculous. It is also condescending and insulting. I truly thank God that I have not seen any of the friends do this. It is yet one more reason why I am so grateful for the guidance given to us.

I am, however, reminded of a story. I had only been in Canada a short time when some of the Baha'is took me out to a Reserve to visit some of the friends there. It was great. As soon we drove up, the kids were all running around shouting, "The Baha'is are here." It didn't take long before a crowd of people were gathered in a large room in someone's home.

I seem to remember that there were about five of us who drove out, and nearly 50 in the room, but I don't really recall. After some pleasantries, one of the Baha'is began to tell the friends who were gathered what it was they needed to do. When he was finished, the next Baha'i did the same thing, supporting what the first one said. Then the third, and the fourth, both with the same message.

As I had never been there before, had no idea what life was like in that community, and didn't even know anybody's name, I just stood back and watched, with eyes and ears open. So I have to admit to surprise when everyone turned to me to hear what I had to say. What could I share? I knew nothing.

I looked around, obviously puzzled as to what was expected of me, when I noticed one of the elders watching me from across the room. He hadn't said anything all afternoon. He had come in quietly and watched with an intensity that commanded my admiration and respect. I looked in his eyes and smiled.

He knew I had no idea what to say. If I had dared to say anything, it would have made him sad. I knew that deep within my heart. And so I said nothing.

When I smiled quietly at him, he just smiled back. And that made my smile grow bigger. Which made his smile grow bigger. Which made me grin. Which made him grin. Which made me giggle (yes, I giggled). Which, in turn, made him laugh. Which made me laugh. Which made him laugh even harder. Which made me laugh even harder. Which made him laugh even more. Which made me laugh so hard, I began to cry. Which made him double over in hysterics. Which made me laugh so much that I could barely breath.

Which made everyone else in the room stare in concern at both of us.

Which set both of us off even more.

By the time I could finally speak again, I wiped away the tears and asked him, still across the room, "What do you need?"

He took a deep breath and softly said, "Teach our children."

And that is what we did.

To this day, I truly believe that if I had said anything else at that time, it would have been like a doctor prescribing a remedy before examining the patient.

You know, I have heard some friends say that when the Aboriginal peoples of America are "educated and guided", they will be the spiritual leaders of the planet. I have heard others say that these "Indians" are all very spiritual. But I believe this is an unfair prejudice. Oh, not an unkind one, to be sure, but it sets up unrealistic expectations. They are people, just like the rest of us. Some are spiritual giants, and some are not. We need to take them all as they are, where they are.

But as a group, as a culture, as a people, there is no doubt that they will be able "to enlighten the whole world". And I, for one, look forward to seeing that light, so I will do what I can to help enkindle it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this story.

    I'm reminded of when I was in Leavenworth, KS, living and working there, trying to find a church. I went to a bunch of them, not knowing what their traditions were. While attending services, I always had a hard time deciding to participate in their traditions in order to try to understand them, or not.

    The 'or not' part was me being self-conscious, not feeling moved by God (even during a worship service) to act in the same way that these people were acting. Do I, as a newcomer, attempt to emulate the people around me in the hopes that by doing so I will feel the spirit?

    I did this in this and other churches, trying various traditions "on" as if I was trying acting in a theatrical production reading off cue cards.

    In the end, I found comfort and spirituality in many of these places but more through the connections with the people there than the specific rituals. Some of the strongest joys came at an Assembly of God Church (several years later) in that their music was fantastic. Unfortunately, their theology was WAY wrong for me, and a lot of their belief system rested on fundamentalist 'don't question' ideas that ... don't fit with my personal views. Alas. But, Great Music, and Joy in celebrating creation.

    Again, thanks for sharing.