Wednesday, February 2, 2011

28 December 2010, Take 9

I have the incredible bounty of studying this letter with a number of members of my local Spiritual Assembly. This is such a wonderful opportunity that I am at a loss to describe it. One thing it has done is allowed me to look at this letter from their perspective, especially as so much of it seems to relate to their work, and not my own as an individual. As such, they have shared with me many things that I would not have found just reading it on my own.

Paragraphs 20 and 21 proved very interesting in this light.

They tried to imagine the scenario described in these paragraphs, and asked themselves how their work would have been different if the growth of the Faith in our locale developed as such. How would it have affected their agenda, for example.

They imagined a town where no one had ever heard of the Faith. One lone Baha'i, or a single family, moves in and begins a little bit of teaching. Through the core activities, a couple of people embrace the Faith and are immediately starting Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. They do the practices, reading the Writings every morning and evening, and they visit a friend to study a prayer. As their Baha'i life begins to take shape, they are already turning to the Writings for regular guidance, and are beginning to see the need for further developing their spiritual life. They begin a devotional gathering, to which some of their friends come. Their tutor is helping them develop a life of service, and they are always consulting with each other on how to be of more effective service to those around them.

As this all develops, a few more people embrace the Faith, and eventually an Assembly forms.

Now, at this point, they have very little idea of what an Assembly is, so they turn to the Writings. There they find that same quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha in paragraph 22: "...discussions must be confined to spiritual matters that pertain to the training of souls, the instruction of children, the relief of the poor, the help of the feeble throughout all classes in the world, kindness to all peoples, the diffusion of the fragrances of God and the exaltation of His Holy Word." Of course, they notice the imperative implied in the word "must", and base their agenda on this guidance.

They already know about the training of the souls, for they have been going through the courses of the training institute, so they naturally consult on how to further develop the institute in their community. As part of this, they recognize the importance of the devotional gatherings and are very concerned about their friends. They begin to ask how they can have a greater impact on the devotional character of their community. Oh, and they don't for a moment think about the Baha'i community in this respect, but the greater community is the object of their focus. Don't forget, they have only been members of this community for a very short time. This vision is naturally looking outward.

The topics in paragraph 21, such as "how the devotional character of the village is being enhanced through the efforts of individuals who have completed the first institute course", are their primary concerns, for there is nothing else that would have really crossed their path yet.

It is through this focus that they come to naturally see their role as an Assembly, and how they fit into the cluster. Their service with the Training Institute is the result of practical necessity.

When the members of my own Spiritual Assembly read this, they had this expression of "Aha!" on their faces that made the whole room just light up.

Oh, and then we got to paragraph 23, in which we find that committees are only appointed as a result of need. A teaching committee, for instance, does not increase the effectiveness or degree of the teaching work. I mean, in a community where there is very little teaching going on, a committee will not magically get people to begin teaching. Instead, the committee arises due to the need for a bit more coordination amongst all the teachers in the community, and they then help it become a bit more effective.

Also, the members of the Assembly, as well as all the other members of the institutions in the area, are fully engaged in the teaching work. None of what they are discussing is theoretical. it is all based on practical experience. Those other people who are teaching in the field are their dear friends and co-workers. And so there is a high degree of trust and confidence naturally in place.

Then, as if that weren't enough yet, the friends are becoming "drawn further into the life of society", and are becoming more concerned with the problems that they encounter. They don't just volunteer, for example, at a food bank because it is a good thing to do. They help out because it is their friends who need the help. We are not just helping "the poor", who have no name, but helping Charlie and Susan, Otto and Jane. These are real people, dear friends whom we have come to love, and they need assistance. How can we not help them?

And all of this leads us into paragraphs 24 and 25.

But I just checked the time. I have to go, dear Reader. My neighbours are waiting for me to talk to them about the Faith. I love these open invitations, especially when I don't expect them.

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