Friday, May 21, 2010

Ridvan 2010 - Take 7

So here I am, at a coffee shop, having just studied the Ridvan Message a bit more with my friend, Samuel. This is the same guy that I study the Kitab-i-Iqan with on a regular basis. We just paused in our study of that Book to look at this message.

"Just paused... to look at".

Three times a week, a couple of hours each time, eight or nine sessions so far, and we're only on paragraph 22. It's been a lot of fun, and I feel like I've gotten so much more out of it by studying it with him.

This session we began by re-looking at paragrpahs 19 and 20, and then diving into 21 and 22. The real insight, for me at least, came right at the end, but I'll start by giving a synopsis of the earlier parts.

As you know, paragraph 19 sums up what came before and places the importance of the learning up to this point in the realm of accompaniment. As the members of institutions learn to accompany the friends in their work, the learning about what we are doing increases dramatically. Then, the last sentence in that paragraph offers a caution: we need to be careful not to use guilt or manipulation in our work (I don't think domination and greed even come into it). With our love and striving for obedience, it is very easy to inadvertantly use either of those, and we have to guard against it. If we ever use a phrase like, "Oh, well if you're not part of a study circle, you're just not with the Plan", or "But you have to be on a teaching team, because the Universal House of Justice said so", then that is guilt and manipulation.

Not that I think you would do that, dear Reader, but the caution seems to be there, so I put it here.

Then in paragraph 20, they remind of the importance of a posture of humility and even offer us a definition of what that means: "...a condition in which one becomes forgetful of self, placing complete trust in God, reliant on His all-sustaining power and confident in His unfailing assistance, knowing htat He, and He alone, can change the gnat into an eagle, the drop into the boundless sea." They also remind us that it means we will "delight... in the progress and services of others."

Wow. Now that we can imagine what this might look like, they then turn our attention to the very bottom, the grassroots, the teaching teams, the tutors, teachers and animators. This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. Each of these groups makes their own teaching plans, their own goals and their own strategies, for they are the ones that best know what is happening in their area of service. And are they alone in this? Of  course not. They come together in the reflection meeting and see what is happening in the cluster.

Now our attention is turned, in paragraph 22, to the Local Spiritual Assembly.

I just love this particular paragraph, for it really sheds light on the Assembly and their role. Now, don't get me wrong, I thought I had a fairly decent vision of what it is they do, having studied the various compilations on this institution, but this letter offers clarity. What is their job? " diffuse the Word of God, to mobilize the energies of the believers, and to forge an environment that is spiritually edifying."

What a choice of words: diffuse, mobilize and forge.

The first two are pretty straightforward, but "forge"? To forge means to use a lot of energy and concentration in building or constructing something. It is not easy. Just think of a sword being forged. It is thrust in the fire, and then, when it is still glowing from its immersion in the heat, it is subjected to the purifying and strengthening influence of the hammer. Ouch. A really fascinating process, but ouch, if you're the sword.

And then, once this point has been clarified, just a couple sentences later we read, "its strength must be measured, to a large extent, by the vitality of the spiritual and social life of the community it serves..." Am I correct in reading this as a measuring stick? A way by which we can tell how effective and successful an Assembly is? If so, then shouldn't we help the members of these institutions make sure that they are considering this when engaging in their deliberations?

If, for example, an Assembly in a larger community were deciding whether or not to move from one centralized Feast to a series of district Feasts, should they not ask themselves how it will affect "the spiritual and social life of the community"? If they have already done this and re-visiting their decision, shouldn't this be one of the questions they ask?

And please, don't get me wrong, this should never be asked, or even seen, as a criticism of any decision. No, it should be seen as a constructive contribution, ensuring that they don't accidentally overlook this important question in their consultation. After all, the second half of that sentence is "a growing community that welcomes the constructive contributions of both those who are formally enrolled and those who are not."

There is a very important word choice in that phrase: "constructive contribution". Note that they use "contribution" and not "criticism". It is not, and never should be, about criticising.

The last point that we noted was in the last sentence of that paragraph: "Indeed, the Assembly's proper involvement with the Plan becomes crucial to every attempt to embrace large numbers..."

We began by asking what was their "proper involvement"? Although we never really came up with a satisfactory answer, and actually recognized that a reponse to that question will grow with time and experience, we did notice something interesting when we placed nouns within the sentence.

You see, we were really trying to understand what that sentence was saying. Who, we wondered, was attempting to embrace large numbers? It seemed to us that the teaching teams was probably a reasonable place to start. And so we read it as, "the Assembly's proper involvement with the Plan becomes crucial to every (teaching team's) attempt to embrace large numbers..."

Suddenly it seemed to become a bit clearer.

A teaching team may be able to effectively reach dozens, but even dozens are not that many, at least not when considering the task before us. No, we really felt hundreds and thousands was more likely where we were heading. But this would not be possible without the full support of the Assembly, especially in terms of "assistance, resources, encouragement and guidance", which we will see in the very next paragraph (oops, I'm reading ahead).

Anyways, from here, it seemed that the pivotal role of the Assembly became a bit more evident to us. As well, our role as individual members of the community in helping the institution grow in strength and maturity also seemed a bit clearer to us.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the reflection meeting tonight to share some of this, as I have to pick up my wife at her work. Hopefully Samuel will be able to share a bit of this.

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