Tuesday, February 1, 2011

28 December 2010, Take 8

Ok, I know. It's been a while since I've written about this message, but really, dear Reader, I've been studying it. Some friends and I get together every Wednesday and study it as a group, and there has been so much I want to write about it, but time just hasn't been there.

Besides, I'm sure you are finding many more gems within this message than I am.

Although in my last posting on this message I only got up to paragraph 4 or so, today I want to look at paragraph 14 for a moment. In that paragraph, the Universal House of Justice says, "A small community, whose members are united by their shared beliefs, characterized by their high ideals, proficient in managing their affairs and tending to their needs, and perhaps engaged in several humanitarian projects - a community such as this, prospering but at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity, can never hope to serve as a pattern for restructuring the whole of society."

My friends and I read this and all agreed that this did, indeed, describe our community. But then we found ourselves wondering, what do they mean by "at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity"? Well, while we are not sure, we felt that this could allude to such things as depression, poverty, starvation, and so on. Most people, we felt, really were caught in the depths of various addictions, but this should come as no surprise. After all, in paragraph 33, they do go on to say, "isolation and despair... are products of an environment ruled by an all-pervasive materialism." And this is one of those realities experienced by the mass of people.

While reading this, I recalled volunteering at a food bank the other day and feeling kind of bad about it. I mean, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed being there, but I didn't feel like I was serving anyone. I was in the back stocking the shelves, which I know was a useful and important thing to do, but I felt as if I were "at a comfortable distance" from the people who needed the help, and this just rankled.

It also reminded me of a quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha, in Some Answered Questions, where He says, "The good deeds of the righteous are the sins of the Near Ones." Now, I'm not a "Near One", but I think I have a vague idea of what He may be talking about. Whereas serving in the way I was at the food bank was a good deed, it wasn't enough. I had no contact with the people involved, those that I really wanted to serve. In fact, I wasn't serving them, for I never knew them. I was serving the organizers who were serving them. And that isn't enough for me. Thinking that what I was doing was serving these people who were impoverished just felt wrong to me. It almost felt as if I were lying to myself.

No. What I really need to do is get to know these people, know their families, know their concerns. I need to visit them and help them learn how to cook with the foods that they are being given. I need to become a part of their lives, and hope that they will become a part of mine.

I need to open up my heart to them, and hope that they will allow me to connect to theirs.

I remember a number of years ago I met some people back in Winnipeg who were quite poor. They had an apartment through social assistance, but they were quite poor and often relied on food programs for their meals. One day, after talking to them on the street, they invited me over for lunch. They served a box of macaroni and cheese which they had carefully prepared for all three of us.

I cannot tell you how touched I was by this gesture.

After that, we made it a weekly date. Every week for a few years I would go over to their place for lunch, but after that first experience, I often brought something and prepared it over there. This allowed me the opportunity to clean their dishes, as well as show them how to prepare something more nutritious from simple ingredients.

These two dear souls are amongst the many people that I miss in my life.

And when I think of going out and teaching the Faith, it is this type of service that I feel is essential.

Did these two friends ever become Baha'i? No. But it didn't matter to me. They found a hearing ear when most people walked past them as if they didn't exist. We enjoyed each other's company for a nice meal every week. And they shared with me their love of music. When they learned that I love music, they began giving me a cassette tape every week with new recordings that they thought I might not have heard yet. And most of the time they were right. They introduced me to many bands that I would not have otherwise encountered.

Yes, they touched my life at least as much as I may have touched theirs.
But was it easy? Of course not. They were suffering from many troubles, and every pain they felt was a pain in my own heart, and that was just not comfortable.

Yeah, I think we all need to move beyond this comfort zone, and really experience that "reality experienced by the masses of humanity".

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