Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ridvan 2010 Message - Take 2

A few of us have read this message together now, and we are all astonished at its vision and clarity. As I mentioned yesterday, the first point that really hit me was how much more important it is that people feel welcome to join us in helping better society without feeling the pressure of becoming Baha'i.

A second point that really stands out for me is the recognition that what we are doing is helping build capacity within a given area, or amongst a given people, to more effectively engage in collective transformation.

This point really became clear to me when I was in Toronto, working with the friends there in one of their expansion phases. (Remember, as I presume we are all Baha'i, I generally also presume that we are all aware of such terms. Just in case you are not, we have found that 3-month cycles of activity have made the work we are doing far more approachable and effective. The first few weeks of that cycle are called the expansion phase, where we reach into a neighbourhood and find those souls who are eager to assist in transforming the character of their community. Most of the rest of the cycle is concerned with training and working alongside them, helping raise the vision of what a healthy community looks like, as shown in the Baha'i Writings. Naturally, we don't presume that we have a complete grasp of what Baha'u'llah has shown us, so we are learning right alongside everyone else)

In Toronto, it became very clear (and this is a few years ago by now) that we saw a lot more success when we asked people if they were interested in helping us, rather just saying what we were doing. If we found ourselves speaking of children's classes, or as the Universal House of Justice says, "classes that nurture the tender hearts and minds of children", asking if the parents or older siblings wanted to help us brought many more people into the process. Of course, as they actually did work with us, many of them asked for training to become better teachers, and we were very happy to provide that as needed, being careful to learn from their experience, too.

All of this leads to another observation in the Ridvan Message that caught my attention. They don't just speak of asking others to help us, they place that desire in a context. They inform us that the "task before (us)" is to "find those souls longing to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society".

Remember, the Guardian talks of "the apathy and lethargy that paralyze their spiritual faculties" and speaks of these as "among the formidable obstacles that stand in the path of" our collective service to humanity. Many people want to help, but don't know how. They long to be of service, but can't see the steps that would be effective. As their vision of an effective path fades, they find themselves depressed and lacking the motivation to move. They are overcome by indifference and apathy. I'm sure we've all seen this way too often, if not even experienced it. At least, I know I have.

In paragraph 10, the Universal House of Justice points out another problem, giving, of course, a solution, too. They observe that "Passivity is bred by the forces of society today. A desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood... cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions." I'm sure we all have seen this and recognize the overwhelming truth of it. Fortunately, they also show us that this culture we have developed, "which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service" is the solution. It is this culture of "supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment and avoiding the tendency to divide (ourselves) into categories such as deepened and uninformed" that makes the difference. "Therein", they say, "lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement."

It really sheds a new light on what the Master may have meant when He said, "Give thou the glad-tidings in a manner which shall set afire souls that are in lethargy..." Perhaps we are finally discovering what this "manner" may be.

Come to think of it, it also gives me a new understanding of how we can partake of the attribute of God, "the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden". I remember so vividly going through a neighbourhood, "calling upon the residents of a home without prior notice", with a member of our beloved National Spiritual Assembly. Sometimes I would speak, other times he would speak. It didn't matter. We were both strangers there, accompanying one another as we walked this path of service and helped the people in that neighbourhood arise to serve their community.

At that moment, the National Assembly was more real to me than it had ever been in my life. Yet, this member was in no way domineering, or acting as if he knew what we were doing better than I did. We were both learning. At least so I thought. We reflected after each encounter with another person, speaking plainly about what went well and how we could improve the next encounter. The National Assembly, in my eyes, was truly manifest in that experience, and yet, by allowing me to learn from our shared experience, it was also hidden, taking a background seat as I learned for myself. Even though it was only a single member, and not all 9 as a body, it still had the impact of making that institution more felt.

Perhaps this is why, in paragraph 19, the Universal House of Justice says that awareness of this accompaniment "signals the significant strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation".

Since that time, a few years ago, when members of the National Spiritual Assembly walked with us in the field, not as generals above, but seemingly as privates there in the trenches, I have witnessed members of our Regional Baha'i Council do the same. I have also been in many cities where the members of the local Spiritual Assemblies are also doing the same thing. In one community that was just taking its first baby-steps in this process, I didn't even realize that the members of the local Assembly were there. Oh, sure, I knew all of them by name and face, but I had no clue that they were the members of that esteemed institution, they were so humble.

This is so different from what I saw when I first enrolled in the Faith. I mean, not the humility, that was always there, but this sense of presence. Sure, I knew the members of my Assembly way back then, and saw them at all the Feast and stuff, but there was still a sense of distance.

No longer.

I now truly feel the presence of these institutions and feel as if, in some meager way, I am able to contribute to what they are learning about the teaching work. And by recognizing the importance of this, I am better able to model that behaviour with those who are hearing about the Faith for the first time.

This testifies, not to my own strength or maturity, but to that of my Assembly and Baha'i Council. As testified by the Universal House of Justice, an Assembly's "strength must be measured, to a large extent, by the vitality of the spiritual and social life of the comunity it serves - a growing community that welcomes the constructive contributions of both those who are formally enrolled and those who are not."

This makes me feel so uplifted, so confident and humble before my Creator, Who put all of this into place. And has so patiently waited for us to realize it.


  1. I posted an introduction to the paradigmatic shift in the Baha’i community, the new culture of learning and growth that is at the heart of this paradigm, nearly three years ago. I did this posting at several internet sites and have revised that post in these last three years as developments in the paradigm have come about, as new messages from Bahá'í institutions have been published and as many individuals have commented verbally and in print on this new culture. It seemed like a good idea to give readers some specific steps on how to access this now revised article, what is now a book of more than 160,000 words and more than 350 pages and is found at Baha’i Library Online(BLO).

    In the time this book has been on the internet there have been many thousand views of this analysis, this statement on the new paradigm at the few sites where it has been posted. In addition to googling “Baha’i Culture of Learning and Growth” and accessing this article in the process at several internet sites, readers can find this piece of writing at BLO by clicking on the following:

    Readers can also access the latest edition of this article at BLO by taking the following steps: (i) type Baha’i Library Online or Baha’i Academics Resource Library into your search engine; (ii) click on the small box “By author” at the top of the access page at BLO; (iii) type “Price” into the small box that then appears and click on the word “Go;” and then (iv) scroll down to article/document item #47 and (v) click on that item and read to your heart’s content. When your eyes and your mind start to glaze over, stop reading. The article can be downloaded free and you will then have access to this book, this context for all this new paradigmatic terminology that has come into the Baha’i community in the last 15 years.

    The statement is a personal one, does not assume an adversarial attitude, attempts to give birth of as fine an etiquette of expression as I can muster and, I like to think, possesses both candour and critical thought on the one hand and praise and delight at the many interrelated processes involved in the execution of this paradigm on the other. I invite readers to what I also like to think is “a context on which relevant fundamental questions” regarding this new paradigm may be discussed within the Baha’i community.

    This book also contains an update, an inclusion of commentary on the most recent messages from the institutions of the Cause—including the Ridvan message of 2010. One of the advantages of the BLO site is the freedom it gives to a writer to update the article right on the site in an ongoing process as new insights from major thinkers in the Baha’i community and information from the elected and appointed institutions of the Cause comes to hand.

    If time and the inclination permit, check it out. No worries, no obligation, just if it interests you. You may find the piece of writing too long as I’m sure many readers do. It is certainly a view from the inside, but it is just one person’s view building as it does on the ideas and writings of others: Bahá'í institutions and individuals. We each have a different experience on the inside of this paradigm, on the inside of this Faith or, indeed, living on the inside of our global society. You may find this book too personal due to the fact that I attempt to answer the question: “where do I fit into this new paradigm?” After a few paragraphs of reading, you will get the flavour of the exercise. Just keep reading if your mind and spirit are enjoying the process.

  2. Hi,

    Great post, wanted to share this with you - A simple companion

    Let me know if you find it helpful.


  3. Which post was great? The 1st or the 2nd?-Ron

  4. Wonderful. Advance three squares and pick a card. And congratulations to all those who put the book together.-Ron in Tasmania