Friday, December 17, 2010

A Conversation

"Who here is a Baha'i?" I asked the group of young adults gathered together that question.

Most of them raised their hands, but a few didn't.

"Ok," I continued, "who here is not a Baha'i?" It just seemed like the right question to ask, for some odd reason.

Most of the hands switched position, but not all that were down went up. One had stayed down for both questions. He was a young man, early twenties, I would have guessed. He was fairly tall, with glasses and dark hair. Lean and lanky, still growing into himself. In fact, he reminded me a lot of me. As he watched what was going on, I felt an immediate connection with him.

So I turned to him.

"You," I said, pointing him out. "You didn't raise your hand for either question. No," I said quickly, before he could get his defense out, "that's ok. You didn't have to. In fact, I like that. Sometimes these simple questions are not so easy to answer, and we often answer them too quickly with a standard, pat answer. 'Yes, I'm this. No, I'm not.' We don't take a moment to really consider what we are saying."

Then I quickly turned to one of the other youth, who I knew was a strong Baha'i. He was one of the organizers of the evening.

"What is the purpose of life?" I think I startled him with the intensity of my attention, but it is good, at times, to be intense.

"What?" He had that deer-in-the-headlights sort of startled look, but managed to say, "To carry forward an ever-advancing civilization."

"Good," I said, giving him my nearly-winning smile, "but what does that mean?"

Now he looked puzzled. It was if he hadn't ever really considered that. He opened his mouth to try and say something, closed it again, and opened it once more. By that time I turned back to my first victim. (I don't know why I think of them as victims, but I get some sort of weird enjoyment out of that.)

"You see?" Now I really gave him my full attention. "Do you mind if we have a private conversation, just you and I? I'd like to ask you a few questions. Oh, and all these other people can listen in, if they want."

"Uhm, sure." I could see his nervousness, but I tried to put him a bit at ease, by turning down that intensity. I guess it worked.

"So, you know that this thing tonight is all about the Baha'i Faith, right?"

"Yeah." Start off nice and easy. I like that.

"Do you know about the Faith?" I have to establish a starting point.

"Oh, sure. Yeah. I know about it."

"Really? Ok. What happened in 1957 that is one of the things in Baha'i history that makes it unique amongst all the world's religions?" Not only did he have no clue, but I could hear the puzzled expressions from eveyone else in the room, too.

"Let's say you know something about the Baha'i Faith, but not everything. Me, too." I like to start there. To establish that we all know something, but none of us knows everything. There are just way too many assumptions out there for my liking.

"Before we begin, though, I want to clear up a few minor things. First, I'm a Baha'i. Well, more accurately, I'm a member of the Baha'i community. You see, 'Abdu'l-Baha, when asked what it means to be a Baha'i, said that anyone who lives according to the teachings of Baha'u'llah is a Baha'i, whether or not they've ever heard of Him. Interesting, non? But someone who makes a formal committment to this is a member of the community. They're not necessarily the same thing. I'm a member of the community, but I'm on my way towards becoming a Baha'i. I hope." I'm sure I looked suitably sheepish there, for I sure feel that way most of the time.

"Second," I continued, without much pause, "I believe in God. And I'm not afraid to use that word. See? God. There. I used it again, but not in vain. I think there are some words that people are generally afraid to use, concerned that they should not be used in polite company, for some reason. And I'm not talking about body parts. I'm referring to God, religion, faith, prayer, and other similar things. Oh, and part of my belief in God is that I also believe He has sent down different Messengers throughout history to guide us and lead us onwards, and that Baha'u'llah is the latest of these divine Messengers. Not the last, but the latest."

"Third, I pray. I believe in the power of prayer. I've seen  the difference it has made in my own life. And I don't think it is just the saying of the words that makes the difference. It's the whole aspect of the prayer. The saying of the words, and the reflection upon them, what some call meditation. It's also the acting upon the words and that inner response I get from the meditation. It's all of it. Any part of without the rest is just not complete. But we can talk mor about that later, if you want."

"Fourth. I am convinced that we are all here, as he said, to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, which means that we all have work to do. The world is not perfect, but we can help make it better, instead of taking it all for granted. Baha'u'llah has given us a vision that we are only beginning to see, a vision of a world that is built upon spiritual principals, a world in which we are raised with such virtuous qualities that to even think about committing a crime would be punishment enough. There, within His Writings and Teachings, is the blueprint for a civilization in which all the nations of the earth are brought together under a global system of governance, each one lending their share to the advancement of all the others while still maintaining their own unique cultural identity, and the cultural identity of all the different peoples within its borders.

"I could go on and on," I said, letting him absorb what I had already shared, "but I think I'll pause, as you already know most of this. I'm sorry for going on like that. What do you want to hear? What do you want to share?"

From that point on, the conversation revolved around his questions and insights. Most of my responses were based around the various themes in Ruhi Book 2, units 2 and 3, and appropriate parts of that "illustrative example in Book 6 of the Ruhi Institute".

What I wanted to do was to show how we can be direct in our conversations with someone we have never met before and ensure, right from the beginning, that the conversation is meaningful. This young man had come to a Baha'i meeting, so I knew that some groundwork had already been laid. Well, I presumed so, and verified it by my opening questions. I got a lot of the silly stuff out of the way, letting him know right from the beginning where I was coming from, while at the same time showing those who were listening in on our "private conversation" some of the things we tend to avoid for no real good reason.

Then I listened. I tried to maintain most of my focus on this one guy, which worked to my advantage, because I have a very tough time talking to more than one person at a time. And I listened as hard as I could to hear where his concerns were, offering what responses I could.

After our conversation, which I believe lasted about 45 minutes, I asked the group to analyze it. We went over how I began, what his questions were, and where my responses came from. It was very interesting. Kind of surreal. but educational for all of us, and, at least for me, tons of fun. I can only presume from the responses, of those who were kind enough to say so, that others enjoyed the evening, too.

Oh, and that event in 1957? The Hands of the Cause took up the reigns of the Faith, successfully carrying them until they were fully turned over to the Universal House of Justice in 1963. At no other point in time has any group arisen to take control of a Faith, only to willingly give it up later.

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