Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Memorable Children's Class

I just can't resist. I really have to tell you about this. I still can't believe it really happened, but it did.

Last week, Shoghi went to a friend's house and invited the little boy, Ethan, over for a party. Marielle and I first heard about it when the father called us to apologize because his son couldn't make it to said party.

"What party", we asked.

"Why, your son's party... Oh."

But we didn't discourage him. We asked the father if his son could make it the next day, and then proceeded to ask Shoghi about it. More to the point, we told Shoghi about it. We explained that parties usually take a bit of preparation and are not something that you can really just do at the very last moment. (Well, you can, but you understand the point we were trying to make.) We asked him what his theme was going to be, and what activities the kids would do. In other words, we asked him to prepare for it.

His theme, which he chose on his own, was generosity. Now as you may know from some previous posts, Shoghi has a special affinity with that particular virtue. He selected a story and an activity.

The next day, when Ethan came over, I gave them the definition. I said that generosity was when you give someone something that they can use. "Would I be generous", I asked them, "if I gave you a banana peel?" They agreed that would just be silly, and not generous at all. Anyways, you can actually read more about that class... oh excuse me, I mean party.... here.

Needless to say, it was a success, as Ethan and Shoghi wanted to do it again this week. When I asked him, Shoghi decided on helpfulness as this week's theme. He also invited other children, which is a good sign.

When they all arrived, we went out in the back and played a bit of ball. While we were kicking around the soccer ball, and some of them were climbing, I asked them who knew what helpfulness was. The response was about what you would expect from a group of 6 year old children.

After explaining it to them, I told them the story of Lua Getsinger and how 'Abdu'l-Baha had asked her to visit a friend of his. I'm sure you know the story. It's the one where she went to his home and was totally repulsed. The stench, the filth, everything. When she went back to the Master, He said that if the place was dirty, she should clean it. If the man was filthy, she should bathe him. If he was ill, nurse him. Hungry? Feed him.

She did, and it completely changed the course of her life, and her sense of service to humanity.

After the story, I asked them what they could do to be helpful. Their immediate response was to help me bake cookies, and so we all went into the kitchen and began.

And this is where things began to get interesting.

You see, they left the back door open, and one of the cats, who had been out, decided to come back at that exact moment.

With a guest.

Or, most of a guest.

I'm sure the class would have gone a bit better if my cat hadn't proudly come into the kitchen, while we were making cookies, with a disemboweled baby bunny.

Which she proceeded to rub up against the leg of one of the little girls.

I can only say that I'm very impressed with her. The girl, not the cat. She sort of got this interesting look and, with great expression on her face and in her voice, said, "Yuck."

At this point, I would have thought that this would have been enough. But then the children noticed that the bunny was still alive. Very much still alive.

So there was this poor baby bunny, who, you may recall, was still disemboweled, and really wanted nothing more than to not be there. There was the cat who really wanted nothing more than to continue to play with her little prize, as she was sure by this point that I didn't really appreciate the magnitude of the gift which she brought home for me. There was also a house full of six-year old children who somehow felt that the best thing would be to try and set the poor baby bunny free. Two of these three were all for the bunny going free, but the third would have none of it, and proceeded to try and drag her treasure away.

If it weren't for the blood, and the bunny who was by this point in a state of shock, it would have been pricelessly funny. Slapstick at its highest, and saddest.

I'm certain that none of the children suffered from this experience, but I can't say the same for said rabbit. (Or said author.)

The children were all quite surprised by how calmly I took this, or at least seemed to. Nothing calms children down more than an adult who is not freaking out, however much they may want to.

I looked with sympathy at the poor girl and said that I would clean up her pants, which I did. I laughed at the mess of it, while applying a stain remover, which I then wiped off with paper towels and cold water. By making the appropriate "yuck" noises with her, I think we did well.

I was also able to swiftly put the poor rabbit out of its misery, with sad looks of shock from all concerned. By talking about it, and how ending the suffering was really the best thing for it, I watched as their shock moved to understanding. We spoke at length about how cruel it would have been to let the poor animal suffer when it was so obviously about to die.

After all this was said and done, we did manage to finish baking the cookies, and even eat a few.

At the very end, I asked them what virtue they wanted to look at next week. "Compassion?"

They chose cheerfulness.

What? They want something more cheerful than a disemboweled baby bunny?

Well, hopefully next week won't have such a teachable moment.

At least I was able to clean up all the blood before my wife got home.

Hmm. Come to think of it, she's still not home. I just know that when she arrives, she'll ask me how the class went. Perhaps that can be my answer: "How did it go? Great. I mean, at least I was able to clean up all the blood before you got here."

Translations of Power

I don't speak Arabic, or Persian. Or quite a number of other languages, too. In fact, I only speak English, and am passable in the native language of Gibr. (That's Gibberish, in case you are unaware of it.)

Because I am linguistically challenged, I have been asked a number of time about which translation of the Qur'an I prefer to use. Of course, I've also been asked the same thing about the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao te Ching, and so on. At the time I couldn't think of a reasonable answer, since I don't really have a preferred translation, so I did the most appropriate thing I could think of: I forgot about the question. (Sorry if you're one of those who asked.)

But as I was reading Rejoice in My Gladness, the Life of Tahirih, I realized how I can answer this. It is really quite simple, and I'm surprised I hadn't thought to mention it before now.

In fact, it brings to mind the Tao te Ching, for that was the first book that made me aware of the importance of a good translation. What I do is I read the same passage in different translations and see if there is one that calls to my heart. Simple, no?

You see, it was back around 1982 when I first realized that there were different translations of the Tao. One opened with the line, "The Way that can be spoken is not the constant Way." I love that line. It really touches me. It's poetic, simple and beautiful.

There was another translation that read "The Principle of Nature may be discussed; it is not the popular or common Tao." That doesn't quite do it for me. "God can neither be defined nor named" is a sentence I can agree with, but it doesn't seem to quite say the same thing. It is more of an interpretation than a translation. And "The Providence which could be indicated by words would not be an all-embracing Providence" is just not poetic at all.

And that, dear Reader, is how I select my translations. They have to really touch my spirit, for if they don't, why would I expect to be inspired by them? (Oh, and I also have a similar method for my choice in dictionaries. I have a few words that I look up to see how they are defined. If I like the definitions, then I generally like the dictionary.)

With the Qur'an, the passage that I read is Surah 97, Al-Qadr, the Night of Power. You can go to quran.com/97 to see various translations of it, but I'll put a few of them here. Afterwards, I'll write a bit about why I chose that one, and what it means to me.

The first of the five verses, in the six translations on that site, read as follows:
  1. Indeed, We sent the Qur'an down during the Night of Decree. (Sahih International)
  2. Verily! We have sent it (this Quran) down in the night of Al-Qadr (Muhsin Khan)
  3. Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Predestination. (Pickthall)
  4. We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: (Yusuf Ali)
  5. Surely We revealed it on the grand night. (Shakir)
  6. Surely We sent it down on the Night of Determination; (Dr. Ghali)
There aren't that many differences here, except for the translation of the word "qadr".

The second verse basically asks what the Night of Power is, in various ways in the different translations.

The third verse says that it is better than 1000 months. Most translations actually say that: "The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. "But there is one that goes a bit more in depth and reads, "The night of Al-Qadr (Decree) is better than a thousand months (i.e. worshipping Allah in that night is better than worshipping Him a thousand months, (i.e. 83 years and 4 months))." Let's just say that I've skipped that translation, for it is too explanatory for my liking. I mean, why not just say "decree" instead of putting it in brackets? And yes, I can do the math and figure out how long 1000 months is, too. But is it a literal number? Is it exactly 83 years and 4 months? Or is it a simple way of saying that this night is better than a much longer period of normal time? After all, there would be at least 83 "nights of power" in those 1000 months. But I digress.

In the end, there are only three translations on that site that I care for. When we read verse 4, it reads as such:
  1. The angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord for every matter. (Sahih International)
  2. The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees. (Pickthall)
  3. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand: (Yusuf Ali)
The final verse says that it is peace, until dawn, or morning, depending on the translation.

In the end, I think I prefer the Yusuf Ali translation, which he published under the title, "The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an". I thought that was kind of cool, because, to him, the Qur'an is only in Arabic. Everything else just conveys the meaning of it. And I like to compare his version with the Pickthall translation.

So here they are:

We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power:
And what will explain to thee what the night of power is?
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand:
Peace!...This until the rise of morn!

Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Predestination.
Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Night of Power is!
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees.
(The night is) Peace until the rising of the dawn.


There you have it: The entire Surih of Al-Qadr, in two translations. But what does it mean?

You can easily search the internet for all sorts of stories behind the history of it, but I think it refers to the Bab. And the tremendous trials that occurred during His advent. It was all comparatively peaceful up until that moment.

But getting back to the idea of translation for a moment, this also explains why I so love the Guardian. Not only were his translations accurate, as opposed to interpretations of what the Writings said, they were also beautiful. They uplift, educate and inspire, all at the same time.

When I read an early translation of the Hidden Words, and then read the Guardian's, there is no comparison. "I have created thee rich: why dost thou make thyself poor?" Well, you see, I had to pay rent, and buy some food. But Shoghi Effendi translated it as "I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty?" So much more beautiful.

Or in the Kitab-i-Iqan, we read that the seeker "must cleanse themselves of all that is earthly - their ears from idle talk, their minds from vain imaginings, their hearts from worldly affections, their eyes from that which perisheth." An earlier translation said that they "must sanctify and purify themselves from all material things; that is, the ear from hearing statements, the heart from doubts which pertain to the veils of glory, the soul from depend upon worldly belongings, the eye from contemplating mere transitory words." What a difference.

I mean, I am very grateful for the wonderful work done by the early translators, but I am so much more grateful for the translation work of the Guardian.

In English, at least, there is no question of which translation to use for the Baha'i Writings. Maybe one day I'll learn to read Arabic or Persian and read the Writings in the original. But until then, I will rely on translations. Just like I do with all the other sacred books out there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Hidden Concern, Part 2

As you know from yesterday's post, a question was raised to me (by my wife) about 2 of the Hidden Words. She was wondering about the use of the word "accursed".

The texts in question are the following:

26. O SON OF BEING!
How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

27. O SON OF MAN!
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

At the end of the last post, I added my few notes regarding this and I think I had already addressed two of the three. I do not think the word "accursed" means a final judgement, beyond all hope of redemption. And this addresses, in my own mind at least, the first note, which is how we can explain this term to those with a visceral reaction against "hellfire and damnation". Quite simply, it's not what we usually think.

But what is Baha'u'llah talking about? Why does He use that term?

While it could easily be seen as a restatement of the teaching from Jesus, in which He says to take the plank out of your own eye before you even think about removing the speck from someone else's (thanks Jeanine for the reference), I think Baha'u'llah may be raising this to a higher level. After all, Jesus does not say that there will be a curse upon those who don't.

Another thing that I noticed is how different it appears when I look at those two in the context of the verses around them:

22. O SON OF SPIRIT!
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.

23. O SON OF THE SUPREME!
To the eternal I call thee, yet thou dost seek that which perisheth. What hath made thee turn away from Our desire and seek thine own?

24. O SON OF MAN!
Transgress not thy limits, nor claim that which beseemeth thee not. Prostrate thyself before the countenance of thy God, the Lord of might and power.

25. O SON OF SPIRIT!
Vaunt not thyself over the poor, for I lead him on his way and behold thee in thy evil plight and confound thee for evermore.

We have been created noble (#22), have been called to God, and yet, we turn away (#23). Even though we are noble, we should be careful not to overstep our bounds (#24). We should also be careful not to laud it over those who may seem less fortunate than us, for if we do, God will put troubles in our path (#25).

Now comes the two verses Marielle asked about.

We may not have much control over what fortune comes our way, but we certainly have control over whether or not we find fault with others. But merely noticing the faults of others is not the full condition of receiving the curse in #26. To be cursed, we must first forget our own faults, thinking that we are somehow perfect. But even if we do that silly a thing, that is still not enough. We would then have to busy ourselves with the faults of others. We would need to constantly work at "correcting" other people flaws, which would be unending, for nobody is perfect. If this is what we did, how we lived our lives, continually looked at the faults of those around us, it seems to me that we would never be happy, never could be happy.  That sounds like being under a curse to me.

And then, just in case we are somehow busying ourselves with other people's faults and not speaking about them, which I guess is possible if we quietly try to always correct others, we come to #27. "Breathe not the sins of others..." Do not backbite. I'm sure we all know the damage that backbiting and gossip can do, and so I don't need to go into it here. It's probably enough to remind us all that "backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul".

Finally, for the sake of this line of thought, we come to the next Hidden Word:

28. O SON OF SPIRIT!
Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name.

If we say we are followers of Baha'u'llah and act in this poor way, contrary to His express command, then we are not truly of Him, or of His community (#28).

Or, as 'Abdu'l-Baha put it, "It makes no difference whether you have ever heard of Bahá'u'lláh or not, the man who lives the life according to the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is already a Bahá'í. On the other hand a man may call himself a Bahá'í for fifty years and if he does not live the life he is not a Bahá'í. An ugly man may call himself handsome, but he deceives no one... not even himself!"

So, in the end, am I concerned about how people will react to the word "accursed" in these two verses? Nope. Not any longer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Hidden Concern, Part 1

Marielle and I were talking last night. (You know, I was going to continue that sentence, but then I thought I'd ask if you ever noticed how many of my articles begin that way. A lot, it seems to me. I guess that's one of the advantages of having such an amazing spouse. They really inspire you.)


So, yes, we were talking last night, and she asked me a question about the Writings that I just couldn't really answer. Oh sure, I gave it a try, but it was nothing more than thinking out loud, and I even admitted that at that time (I think).

You see, earlier in the day we had gone out walking with a friend of ours from Ethiopia who is visiting his sister, one of our neighbours. We took him walking in a beautiful park, amidst the tall trees, and around the lake. It was wonderful. During the walk, my friend, who is Muslim, asked me to tell him a bit about the Faith.


I began by venturing to talk a bit about the Kitab-i-Iqan, and the Messengers Baha'u'llah talks about. He was interested in that, and then asked another question, which led into a few of the ideas from the beginning of Anna's presentation.


By the end of our walk, which was nearly two hours later, he had asked for something to read, so I gave him a copy of the Hidden Words, and we each went to our respective homes, with a promise to get together again today. (I have to go pick him up in a just a few minutes.)


But then, a couple of hours later, he came to our front door.


It seems that his sister and her family were not home, so he had been sitting on the front step reading the Hidden Words. He asked if he could call his sister, because he had finished the book and was really ready to go inside. While he was waiting for her to get home, we had a nice conversation about all sorts of inane things. It was great.


After he left, Marielle and I were talking about the book and she said that she is not always comfortable giving it to people, especially in French.


Why, I wondered. But before I could say that, I realized that I, too, am sometimes reluctant to give that particular book to some people, even though it is one of my favorites. And so I had to ask that question of myself, before I felt I could ask it of her. For me, the reason for my discomfort is the many references to martyrdom, and the emotional, or knee-jerk, reaction that some have to that term, especially after September 11.


For Marielle it is a bit different. As she is from Quebec, and the French people there are predominantly coming from a Catholic community, there is a lot of reaction against the guilt trip that had been done to them regarding hell and damnation.


Aside: I was in the grocery store the other and was talking to a lady while we were waiting in line. We got to talking about pets and she said that she had just gotten a new puppy and was looking for a name. I asked her what breed it was, and she said it was a dalmatian. "I'd call her Helen", I said. "Helen", she asked? "Of course. Helen Dalmatian." And thus the puppy was named.


But what does this have to do with the Hidden Words? I'm glad you asked. There are two in particular that Marielle is trying to come to understand. They are as follows:
26. O SON OF BEING!
How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

27. O SON OF MAN!
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

The question, of course, has to do with the word "accursed". In a standard dictionary, it means to be under a curse, ill-fated, or doomed. There seem to be overtones of being beyond hope, as in being unavoidably under that curse. But, as you may have noted, that latter is only inferred, and is not part of the definition itself.

And so, as I looked at these two Hidden Words, I began to wonder how I, too, would come to understand them. It didn't seem quite right that anyone would be beyond hope, as even Mirza Yahya, we are told, will eventually begin to move closer to his Creator. (Of course, it won't happen until the next universal Messenger, in something like half a million years, but when you are looking at eternity, what's a half a million?)

To begin my search for understanding, the first thing I realized was that even though I didn't like what it seemed to say, I was obviously mistaken.

But then, before I continued, I had to ask myself if it was ok to feel uncomfortable giving someone sacred Text. Sure, I reason. Why not? We are told to teach in the manner of giving a baby mother's milk. We give a little bit at a time, until they become used to something more substantial. In fact, it has occurred to me to print excerpts from the Hidden Words, along with selected prayers, as a written introduction to the Faith for those people I seem to be meeting most often. There is nothing wrong with selections, as long as they are done with wisdom, and (I would say) in consultation with some others.

Oh, and just in case you're interested, and want to offer your thoughts before I have a chance to write my own, here are my notes for the next segment of this one:
  • How do we justify these two in terms of those who are viscerally against "hellfire and damnation"?
  • Is "accursed" a final judgement?
  • In the first, note the two things that you have to do: 1. Forget your own faults. 2. BUSY yourself with others, not just look at, or occasionally talk about

Hope to read your thoughts!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Hearst Pilgrimage

As you may be able to guess, I'm reading a new book right now. And wow, is it amazing. It is called Lighting the Western Sky, The Hearst Pilgrimage and the Establishment of the Baha'i Faith in the West.

It's wonderful. Not only does it tell the story of that first encounter the West had with the venerable figure of 'Abdu'l-Baha, it spends ample time placing the story within a historical context.

Although I have read virtually everything I can get my hands on regarding the early development of the Faith, this book is adding much more detail to a lot of the stories I already knew. And besides, it reads like a great novel. It's not dry at all.

Nor is it overly academic.

In this book, there are a number of things that I have suspected for some time which are rather confirming for me, and a number of other things that I now see in a clearer light.

To show what I mean, I would like to look briefly at two very different people, and see just a single thing we can learn from each of them.

The first is Ibrahim Khayrullah. Just in case you are not familiar with his name, he was the second Baha'i to step foot in North America, Anton Haddad being the first. But Khayrullah has the distinction of having very successfully brought most of the early believers in the West into the Faith. Reading the list of names of people who were enrolled in his classes is like reading a who's who of the early Baha'is of North America.

One thing that I had long thought is that, despite his egotism, Khayrullah must have been quite brilliant in his own way. He had been sponsored by some of the Baha'is in Egypt, presumably one of the earliest instances of deputization, to head over to the United States, along with Haddad.

Unfortunately Khayrullah began his career of teaching the Baha'i Faith with a lie. He said that he had met both Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha, neither of which was true. In fact, he would not meet the Master until a few years later, on that Pilgrimage described in the book.

He was also quite enamoured with the Masons, and so was very much taken with the idea of secret teachings. This also fit in well with the caution that was used to teach the Faith in the Middle East. Of course, no such caution was needed in the West, but it is understandable that he kept up this habit.

But here I think there may have been a divine wisdom in it. This secrecy that he used at the time was very appealing. Not only did he succeed in capturing the people's attention, their desire to "figure out" the secret kept their interest.

And yet, as you can no doubt imagine, there were many drawbacks to this, too.

The major one is that no one that he taught was allowed to teach anyone else without first getting it okayed by him. This seems to have been his way of keeping himself in the very centre of things. Not a good place to have tried to be.

Now I have to wonder what it is that we can learn from this (besides steadfastness in the Covenant, of course). One thing that I think is useful to note is that he really studied his audience. He got to know how to best approach the Americans, and then devised a series of lectures that would appeal to their interests. He knew the American mentality quite well, and was able to use that to his great advantage in devising his courses.

Fortunately for us, today, we have the Ruhi books, so we don't have a lot to worry about there.

So, he knew whom he was teaching. But he kept himself at the centre. This proved to be his downfall when he was unable to properly put 'Abdu'l-Baha in the centre.

That is the lesson I take away from this. Keep the Central Figures in the centre. As a teacher of the Faith, we really need to ensure that we are kept out of the way, so to speak. I mean, of course the friendship is there, and we dearly love those with whom we are sharing the Writings, but it is always Baha'u'llah at the centre of whatever we do.

The second person was a young lady who was in poor health. For some unknown reason, when she was 20 years old, she suddenly found her health broken, and this seemed to crush her. Going from being a very energetic young lady, with a keen mind and a beautiful spirit, to one who was almost always bedridden drove her to depression. Even the slightest physical exertion wore her out.

Her mother sought help from many physicians, all to no avail. No one could figure out how to help.

When Edward and Lua Getsinger went to Paris on their way to Haifa, this young woman, her mother and brother were all staying in Phoebe Hearst's apartment. Naturally, her mother asked Edward to see her, as he was reputed to be a fine physician. After just a few moments, he returned, saying that there was nothing he could do. It was her spirit, not her body, that needed help. And so he sent in his wife, Lua. He knew who could best help her, even though he, too, knew as much about the Faith as she did.

Now, this young woman had always been deeply attracted to religion. When she was 11 years old, she had a dream in which she saw a light so bright that she was physically blind for an entire day. Later, she had another dream in which some angels took her flying. She realized that she was able to see the planet from above, and there, spread throughout the world, she saw banners flying everywhere. On each of these banners was a single word. When she awoke, all she could remember was that this word began with the letter B, and had an H in the middle.

When she met with Lua, she was told about the Baha'i Faith in only a few moments. She sat straight up in bed, and exclaimed, "I believe. I believe." And then she promptly fainted.

This was how May Maxwell became a Baha'i.

What can we learn from this? Well, I don't know about anyone else, but it is a reminder to me that we never know who has been made ready to hear about this Faith. Lua would have had no way of knowing that all this had happened in this woman's life. But she mentioned the Faith, and in that moment, one of the greatest Baha'is declared.

It doesn't have to take years, or even months, if the person is ready. Sometimes even days are too long. For May, it took only a few moments.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ssshhhh - Listen

Can you close your eyes for a moment and listen carefully to the world around you? What do you hear?

Right now my eyes are closed. (Yes, I can type with my eyes closed and that makes me doubly grateful for spell check).

"Why", you ask? I'm glad you did, dear Reader.

I'm listening to the world around me. It's incredible what you can hear when you concentrate. Right now I can hear my fingers on the keyboard, the clicking of the keys as I type, the whir of the fan in the computer, an airplane flying overhead (a seaplane, to be exact), at least three different types of birds singing outside, one of my cats lightly snoring on the chair next to me, a car that is probably 2 streets over, and a fly buzzing in the room. (I suspect I won't hear that fly for much longer.) Oh, I also hear the wind rustling the leaves in the tree outside and a neighbour dow nthe road with his lawnmower.

Ok. My eyes are open again.

I did this little experiment because I was reminded the other day of the importance of listening. I know I talk a lot about it, but I think it really is that important.

There are a few times that I have referred to the story by Haji Mirza Haydar-Ali, in which He says:
"[Bahá'u'lláh] spoke about teaching. He said: 'A kindly approach and loving behavior toward the people are the first requirements for teaching the Cause. The teacher must carefully listen to whatever a person has to say -- even though his talk consist only of vain imaginings and blind repetitions of the opinions of others. One should not resist or engage in argument. The teacher must avoid disputes which will end in stubborn refusal or hostility, because the other person will feel overpowered and defeated. Therefore, he will be more inclined to reject the Cause. One should rather say, "Maybe you are right, but kindly consider the question from this other point of view." Consideration, respect, and love encourage people to listen and do not force them to respond with hostility. They are convinced because they see that your purpose is not to defeat them, but to convey truth, to manifest courtesy, and to show forth heavenly attributes. This will encourage the people to be fair. Their spiritual natures will respond, and, by the bounty of God, they will find themselves recreated.'

"'Consider the way in which the Master teaches the people. He listens very carefully to the most hollow and senseless talk. He listens so intently that the speaker says to himself, "He is trying to learn from me." Then the Master gradually and very carefully, by means that the other person does not perceive, puts him on the right path and endows him with a fresh power of understanding.'"
This came up at our recent reflection meeting, in which we were asked to focus a bit more on this extremely important quality, the art of listening. It was figured that this would greatly help us in our teaching work.

To aid us in this, Marielle and I were asked to select the devotions. At the end of the prayers, we decided to share a couple of stories about 'Abdu'l-Baha, and used this quote as our guide. Below are two stories as retold from the book Portals to Freedom. I hope you enjoy them, at least as much as we did.

Howard Colby Ives was present when an elderly minister met with the Master, and interviewed Him. This minister proceeded to ask many long and hypothetical questions. They were evidently so ridiculous that even Mr Ives was embarrassed. He could not believe that anyone could be so impervious to 'Abdu'l-Baha's loving influence. But the Master just sat there perfectly calm, never flagging in interest. He sat, as is pointed out in the book, with "His hands in His lap with palms upward, as was characteristic". 'Abdu'l-Baha sat there, paying careful attention, watching the minister with an expression of love that never failed.

As the minister talked on and on, Mr Ives got more and more impatient. "How", he wondered, "can the Master not see the superficial nature of the questions? Why wasn't the interview cut short?"

But even if others grew impatient, 'Abdu'l-Baha did not. He encouraged the minister to express himself fully. If the speaker paused, the Master responded with short replies and then waited courteously for him to continue.

Finally, the minister was finished. And there was silence.

Then, and only then, did the Master begin to speak, softly, resonantly, His voice filling the room. He spoke mostly of "His Holiness Christ", and the high station of the Chirstian clergy. He spoke of the importance of adorning ourselves with atributes of God, and of the coming Kingdom of God, foretold by Jesus. In just a few moments the minister had become humble, a disciple at His feet.

Then the Master rose, and all rose with Him. And then his eyes lighted on a large bunch of roses, a couple dozen of them. Everyone had noticed how large, beautiful and fragrant they were. As soon as the Master had seen them, He laughed aloud with a great boyish laugh. He gathered the whole bunch together and placed them all in the elderly minister's arms. The minister was very surprised, and had become truly humble, radiant, transformed. 'Abdu'-Baha knew how to teach with the Love and God.

Howard Colby Ives was always hard pressed to try and describe the Master. He had heard of others who were described as "good listeners", but none could listen like the Master. He listened so carefully that it was as if the two individuals become one. It was as if 'Abdu'l-Baha so closely identified Himself with the speaker that speech on His part was unnecessary.

And with that, Mr Ives understood: 'Abdu'l-Baha seemed to listen to him with his own ears.

Oh, if we could only learn such a thing, how much more would we understand about others. And ourselves.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Travelling Teaching, part 4

I loved being in Martinique. The people were awesome, and the land was so different from the flat prairies of Winnipeg, where I had lived for many years at that point.

When we were down there some of the local kids had asked me what it was like in Winnipeg. "Well," I said, "it's flat."

"What do you mean?"

I explained that there were no mountains, and not even any real hills, but they couldn't understand what I meant.

"All right. Look. Imagine the ocean, You know what that looks like. Right?"

"Yes," they all nodded.

"Now imagine that it is made of grass, waving grass as far as you can see."

Nope. It was beyond them. They just couldn't imagine it. I can't really blame them. Just compare the two pictures below, and you'll see what I mean.


There is a slight difference between them. Winnipeg, the one on the left, looks like an ironed out version of Martinique. I told the kids down there that, in Winnipeg, you can watch your dog run away for a week.

Then they asked me about the weather. "In the winter", I explained, "it's very cold."

"How cold?"

"It can get down to -30 or -40."

And once again I was met with a wall of blank stares. This was just so far out of their understanding that all I could do was say, "Imagine standing stark naked in your freezer. That would be a warm day in Winnipeg in the wintertime."

Nope. Just couldn't get it.

One thing I remember very clearly was driving around Martinique. Well, actually I wasn't driving. Marielle did the driving. I told her that her understanding of French made it more sensible for her to drive than me. Why? I had no clue. I just made that up, but she believed me. (Please keep that a secret between us. Thanks.) Truth be told, I didn't want to drive there. Those folks obviously didn't understand physics, and I couldn't quite figure out how to drive in that terrain. Something about two cars careening towards each other at 90k, with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other, and somehow they manage to pass each other, even though the road isn't wide enough for two cars to park next to each other, let alone drive next to each other. Nope. I knew better. I figured we were safer with her driving, and me praying. And pray I did.

Why did I pray? It's not that I don't trust my wife's driving, for I do. But when we were driving along one of those backcountry roads (the sort where you give a light toot on the horn as you're approaching a curve in order to alert anyone coming towards you that you're on the road, because God knows you sure can't see them), and I was just staring at the little bushes off the side when I suddenly had an epiphany.

"Marielle," I began, "you know those beautiful little bushes we've been passing?"

"Yeah", she replied. "What about them?"

"Those are banana trees."

I probably shouldn't have mentioned that while she was driving, but we survived.

Oh, we didn't crash, but I'm sure we came close. I mean, telling the driver that those little shrubs that you've been passing are actually 30 foot tall trees is not a good way to keep someone's attention on the road.

But where, you may wonder, were we going? We were driving to the home of the family of a new Baha'i. The husband had recently declared, the wife had not, and the two children were awesome. I think the kids were about 5 and 8. Something like that.

One of my favorite memories of this family is that whenever I would see the little guy, Teddy, he would walk up to me and ask "You speek Eengleesh?" I would smile at him and reply, "Oui. Tu parle Francais?" "Oui."

And that was all we knew how to say to each other.

This was the family we probably spent the most amount of time with. It was those two kids that we seemed to work with every day. Most mornings we would have a children's class with them, and they loved it because we would take them down to the beach for the class. After all, where better to learn about the spirit than in nature? Besides, this gave them a chance to teach us about the area, and we were able to ask them questions and share stories related to what they saw.

But we didn't just do children's classes. We also did study circles. Now please remember that this was back in 2002. We were all just beginning to learn that the core activities meant that we could go anywhere on the planet and know what everyone else was doing.

This was so cool.

Here we were, in a completely new environment and, in my case, I didn't speak the language, and we could take part in their activities as seamlessly as anything. This was completely new to us. It also turned out to be a great learning for me as I learned to follow along with a group who spoke a different language.



But let me get back to a gathering we hosted for a moment. I realize that these articles are all over the place, but hey, that's what you get when you write about a trip nearly 10 years earlier.

At this gathering, which may have been a Feast, but probably not, we did a drumming session. The seats were built of wood, so you could bang on the side of them to make beautiful music. This was so unusual for the community that most of the friends didn't know what to do. But then their Caribbean heritage took over and they really got into it.

This gathering was in the Baha'i Centre, and the windows were wide open. As we were singing and drumming, a number of people looked in to see what we were doing. A few even stopped and asked questions. This completely shocked most of the Baha'is who had never seen anything like that before.

And this, dear Reader, leads to my last learning for this post. It's a bit complicated, and may not be entirely accurate, but it is my own opinion on the matter, and you can take it or leave it. When we arrived in Martinique, the Baha'i community had been struggling for a while, trying to learn how to grow. I won't say we left them with any answers, but we felt that we came away with a better understanding of the situation. It seems that those stalwart souls who opened up the community, and did a marvelous and highly commendable job doing that, were very reserved in their own personal style. Now there is nothing wrong with that, and I truly have nothing but praise for these friends. The problem, I think, which eventually led to the difficulties they had in growing, is that we tend to teach in the way in which we were taught. This is why so many study circles I have seen do not incorporate the arts all that well. The tutors are told, "incorporate the arts", and then, rather than incorporating them, proceed to tell the participants "incorporate the arts". To do it, we need to see it.

Martinique, like most of the Caribbean, is a very exuberant culture. I think that is one of its greatest strengths. And so, seeing a very reserved style of prayer did not appeal to a significant section of the population. There is nothing wrong with this reserved style (hey, I'm fairly reserved myself), but it's appeal is limited. By the same token, if there were only exuberant prayers, that, too, would only appeal to some. No. What we need at all times is a diversity of styles. And this is especially true when we are travelling teaching.
You see, when Marielle walked around, we heard a lot of music, saw a lot of dancing, found people generally laughing and having a great time. We also saw many signs of voodoo culture, from drawings on the wall, to the remains of birds on the side of the street that had, to the trained eye, been obviously sacrificed for some reason. And then, when we saw the Baha'is, it was quite different. Naturally we tried to incorporate the strengths and good things we had found, especially since Marielle is also a musician, and that is a strength of hers.

When I get around to writing part 5, I'll you about our friend, Gandhi, and our adventures as we left the island.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Travelling Teaching, Part 3

I've told you a bit about the condition we were in when we went down there, and a little bit about our accommodations. But I haven't really said much about Martinique itself.

First of all, it is a beautiful island amidst an ocean of beautiful islands. I already mentioned a bit about the nearly overwhelming scent of the flowers, and you can just kind of multiply that with the scenery. Lots of mountains, volcanic landscape, rain foresty type flora, gorgeous beaches, and so on and so forth. If you are looking for a picture perfect place for a vacation, you can't do much better than Martinique. If post cards hadn't been invented, they would have made them for Martinique.

But Martinique is a dependency of France, and I'm sure this has its own benefits and problems. I'm not really sure about the political aspect of things, but with some of the people I met, it seemed to have an interesting side effect. I'm used to people coming up to me and asking for money. This is nothing new. But when people ask me, it is usually in a manner that makes me feel as if I am doing them a favor. (I won't go into the whole thing about begging and social behaviour. Suffice to say that it is usually seen as a favor for them.) But in Martinique, I felt that it was seen as my obligation as a white guy. Once I got to know some of the street folk, I asked them about this, and this is what they said: They are given a monthly stipend from the government of France, which is their due as native Martiniquers. I don't know how true this is, but they said that they were raised to think of this money as their right, for allowing the French to be there. As I'm a white guy, they would just presume that I owed them money, too.

This, in a few instances, led to some concerns with teaching amongst them. I could point out the dynamics of poverty and how to teach people within that situation, but I'm sure you are already familiar with that. And really, we need to be aware that people are people and we should not distinguish. The Word of God is for all.

But poverty does make some people uncomfortable, and I'm not just talking about those who are impoverished. There was a dear friend in Winnipeg who lived in poverty. But what made her really amazing was that she was tenacious. A lack of money was never anything to stop her from doing service to her neighbourhood, and taking advantage of every opportunity that came her way. At various Baha'i gatherings she would often ask people for rides, or ask if she could take some of the leftover food home, and this made a few people uncomfortable. What they didn't seem to understand was that most of this food went to the hungry children in her area who would come over to her house for lunch most days. It was very sad to me when a few of the friends confided in me that her "begging" was inappropriate and would I please do something about it. (I never understood why they thought I was the one to approach, instead of the Assembly.) When I explained what the food was for, they realized how judgemental they were being and then went out of their way to help her. I was happy to see that change, at least.

There is another aspect of poverty that is worth mentioning, and that is the closeness it has to addictions. In a recent gathering someone said that teaching those with addictions is easy, but we don't have the resources to deal with their problems. This should make us ask many questions about ourselves. And yes it may be true that we can't focus on them right now because we don't have the resources, but then who are we to deny anyone the healing message of Baha'u'llah. The standard here should be the guidance about not giving money. Help people help themselves. Be loving but firm.

But all that is just an aside. Getting back to Martinique, and the fact that some of the street people thought that Marielle and I owed them money, that would have been the end of it, except that it seemed to seep into other aspects of life down there. Marielle and I used to go to the fruit and vegetable market almost every morning to get our daily foods. Well, that was incredible. The fruits were tastier than anything I'd ever had before. Some of the vegetables were a culinary education. I learned so much about different foods, and how to prepare them. It was awesome.

Oh, that's another lesson learned. When in a new area, ask the local people in the market how they prepare the foods. Once again, you won't be disappointed. You may occasionally be a bit repulsed, but you won't be disappointed.

And that, dear Reader, reminds me of two stories.

First is the story of the mango climber. I'm sure he had a name, but I have no idea what it was. (Marielle thinks it may have been Desi, but she has to check.) This was a gentleman, in a true sense of the word, whom we met in the market one day. He had seen us a few times and knew that we were visitors. I think he had also seen us with some of the local kids and decided that we were alright. Anyways, he came up to us one day and asked us why we were buying mangoes. We sort of looked at each other and said, "Because we like them?"

During this conversation, we were walking towards the ocean and passing through one of the parks. In the middle of the field was a giant, huge, enormous tree. I am at a loss to describe just how big it was. But he showed us all the mangoes that had fallen off the tree and asked us if we wanted any. Naturally we said no, because we didn't want any of the rotten ones that were on the ground. But he understood what we meant. And without further ado, he slipped off his shoes and scampered up the tree. I'm not sure how he did it, for there were no branches anywhere near the ground, but scamper up it he did.

The next thing I knew I was catching fresh mangoes.

We had more mangoes than we could have possibly eaten that week, much less that day.

This man showed us so much about the old island life, and we learned a lot about fish and fishing from him. It became something of a regular thing for us to meet him in the fish market most mornings and he would tell us all about the people there, and the fish, and what they were doing. It was delightful as well as educative.

Towards the end of our stay, he showed us some seashells he was collecting to try and make a necklace. They were very beautiful, and we could see why he wanted to do this project. And so when we went down to the beach, we began looking for those shells so that we could give them to him for his project. I like to think that he did eventually finish it, and that he found a lovely lady to whom he could present it.

The other thing we noticed was a simple thing in relation to an observation that I had made many years earlier. I had said that the two things Baha'is do best are eat and laugh.

And you know, I still maintain that this is true.

But in Martinique I was able to make a corollary to that statement. I think the two are in inverse proportion to each other.

In Martinique at the time, I had never in my life seen a Baha'i community that laughed so little. And this despite how incredibly friendly and loving they were.

But at the same time, I had never seen a Baha'i community with so many 5-star chefs in it. As you can imagine, the social portion at Feast was really something to behold. In the restaurants, one of the truly delightful foods was their crab cakes, or fish cakes. I happen to love fish, and fish cakes happen to be one of my favorite ways to prepare them. But these cakes in Martinique took my breath away (especially if they added the full compliment of spices to them).

And we had them at just about every gathering.

These guys who did the cooking were unbelievable. If nothing else, that alone should have sufficed to get people to the various Baha'i functions. (You know, I just realized that I haven't made them since I've been out here in Victoria. What's wrong with me?)

Yeah. One of my favorite memories is a Feast at one of the guys' houses. He had a relatively small apartment that seemed like it had no electricity. But his hospitality was golden. And the food he served, well, that was like platinum! I have never had so incredible a feast as at this man's home.

Well, that's enough for now. I'll tell you more about this trip later. For now, it just makes me long to be back there. And reminds me that I have to read more about teaching amongst those who are in poverty.

Oh, and make fish cakes for lunch. Can't forget that.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Identity, part 2

Wow. I didn't really know what to expect with yesterday's post. And, as Steve so wisely pointed out, I missed putting "nationality" on the list.

So, how do I identify myself? (I mean, besides getting out my driver's license.)

First and foremost, I think of myself as a spiritual being. (I know, I know. You think I'm cheating because that wasn't on yesterday's list. Sorry about that, but that leads into me thinking about being a human being.)

Second, I think of myself as a human being. (See?)

My rationale for that is human beings are, by definition, spiritual beings first and physical beings second. It is kind of like the various kingdoms of creation that 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke about. Yes, we are composed from the mineral kingdom, but that is not what distinguishes us from a rock. And yes, we grow like the vegetable kingdom, but this is not what distinguishes us from the rutabaga. Sure we have senses, but this does not distinguish us from the platypus. What makes us unique from all these others is the fact that we have a soul. (Oh, and don't forget that saying this does not mean that I think animals are without virtue. Click here to read my view on that.) We belong to the human kingdom, which is within the animal kingdom, which is within the vegetable kingdom, which is within the mineral kingdom, and so forth. Which one has the greatest sense of identity? The human kingdom. But that does not negate the importance of the others.

So, first I see myself as a spiritual being, and then as a human.

Next, I see myself as a Baha'i. Why? Because it impacts all the other aspects that follow. All of the others are subsumed within the context of being Baha'i.

How? Well, I realize that my ethnic group is only one facet of the human race, no better and no worse than any other ethnic group. My national group is seen through the Baha'i lens as being a part of the reality that "The earth is but one country..."

Where does my gender fit into it? As 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "In the estimation of God there is no gender."

Family? Well, family is one of God's greatest gifts to me, to each and every one of us. It is very high in what I consider important to my life, but it is not how I go about labelling myself. Baha'u'llah said to Edward Granville Browne that "all men (should) be as one kindred and one family".

Hobbies? Career? These change too often to be a significant part of my own identity.

But why I am I even looking at any of this? How important is it, really, to be aware of how one labels oneself? As usual, I'm not really sure, but this is just own opinion, so there.

I have met a few people who really based their entire identity on their career. One friend was in the military, and this formed and shaped his whole self-identity. What happened when he retired? His identity was effectively stripped away. It is no surprise to me that so many military people die within a few short years of retirement. In a very real sense, they feel they have nothing to live for.

I can think of a few women I know who based their entire self-identity on being a mother. Now don't get me wrong. I think being a parent is a wonderful thing, but when their children grew up and moved out, there was a serious identity crisis that occurred.

Aside - I remember the flak one rabbi got for saying that the parents relationship with each other was more important than their relationship with their children. He said, and I agree wholeheartedly with him, that the strength of the relationship between the parents strongly impacts how the children are raised. If the parents are at each other's throats, then the children will be severely affected by this. If their relationship is strong and healthy, then they truly become that "fortress of well-being and salvation", and their children can grow up much healthier.

Nationality can change, as can place of residence, so identification with my neighbourhood is really secondary.

If you identify yourself as an alcoholic, or as a cancer survivor, then you are attaching great importance to an illness. Oh, and it's not to say that these are not important things to acknowledge and deal with, but just that I don't think they should be the centre of my own identity. Focussing on health and well-being seems to be much more effective to my living a lealthy life.

If I were to identify myself with my sexuality, then what would happen if I got into an accident and became paralyzed? I prefer to look at my relationship with my wife not based on our sexuality, but on how we compliment each other's spirituality. This is adding strength to strength and can never be taken away.

Steve, in a comment on the last article, said something very profound: "If you are forced to choose between two identities, choose the one that doesn't exclude the other."

And so, aside from my identity as a spiritual human being, and a Baha'i, everything else is of secondary importance.

I would also add in a very Buddhistic thought that my wife shared with me regarding this whole issue: Beware of identity. Be aware of what you choose, for it may not suit you forever, and it does not define who you really are.

And it all comes down to that last, doesn't it? Be aware of yourself. Be aware of your choices. Be aware of your actions.

Isn't that what all the Messengers of God have told us throughout the ages?

Be aware of yourself. And be aware of who you really are. Everything else will fall into place after that.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Identity

My wife was at a Mess Dinner last night and she heard something odd that she decided to share with me.

During the various toasts, someone got up and wanted to pay honour to the female officers there. He said how wonderful it was that they in the Air Force treated women specially. After that, one of the female officers got up and said that if she had to be treated specially, then she didn't want to be there. She said that she was an officer first, and a woman second. She wanted to be treated the same as the guys.

Finally a third guy got up and said that this was the ideal. Everyone should be given the opportunity to fulfill their goals.

While Marielle was telling me this, something occurred to me. How would I order the different aspects of my own life?

I remember a number of years ago this question came up at a Baha'i gathering, and someone put forth the idea that they were a Baha'i before anything else. "Even before human?" "Yes, even before that."

This little exchange stuck with me, and I wondered at it for quite some time.

This morning, as Marielle was telling me about the dinner last night, I realized how I would order these different things. But I'm curious: How would you prioritize the different aspects of your life?

Let's look at some of these categories, in alphabetical order:

1. Career
2. Ethinicity
3. Family
4. Gender
5. Hobbies
6. Human
7. Illness
8. Religion
9. Sexual Orientation

There are, of course, many other categories you can add, so feel free. But the main question is: How would rate them, in terms of importance?

Just so that I don't bias you according to my own thoughts, I'll express them tomorrow in another article.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Traveling Teaching, Part 2

Ok. One of the problems with going over all the old posts (editing them for a book) is that I see all the articles I've intended to write, but never gotten around to actually doing. One of them is this one. If you read Traveling Teaching, Part 1, you will see that it ends with the phrase "to be continued".

A year and a half later, I'm continuing it. Better late than never, as they say.

Before you read this, please go back and read that one. It sort of gives the context. I'll wait.

So there we were, in Martinique. On our second honeymoon. Having the time of our life serving the Faith to the best of our abilities (meager, in my case). It was truly one of the most memorable times of my life. And one of the most trying.

Oh, and here is a seeming aside that actually gets right into where I want to begin: the weather. Now that I think about it, many conversations seem to begin with the weather. It is the main topic of most small-talk.

As you may know by now, I grew up in Chicago, spent just as many years in Winnipeg, and am now in Victoria, BC. Everywhere I have lived people seem to think that their place is unique, and then proceed to describe it exactly as everyone else in the world describes their own home town. They talk about how bad the drivers are, and how awful the weather is. They also say that if you wait a few minutes, the weather, at least, will change.

In Chicago, I grew up near the lake, and was used to some pretty severe weather. The heat would melt your socks in the summer. The snow would pile up higher than my dad in the winter. And during that cold season, we would see a day or two of -30. If you wanted to see the weather change, you only had to wait a short time.

In Winnipeg, the extremes were similar to Chicago, but more extreme. We would be hotter than Chicago in the summer, and colder in the winter. Instead of a day or two of -30, it would be a month or two. But it was dry. Bone dry. The cold would freeze your face off given a half a chance, but at least it didn't chill you to the bone. As long as you were covered up, it was easy to handle that. And if you wanted to see the weather change, you could look at the horizon and watch the weather make its way slowly across the prairies.

In Victoria, there don't seem to be any extremes. It is always reasonably pleasant, with or without the rain. So far it has been either cold and sunny or warm and rainy. I can handle both of those easily. And when it rains, the rain itself has the feel of Victoria: it takes its time about it. It is usually a gentle sort of rain that likes to linger about all day, making sure that it does the job right. No rushing here.

But Martinique, what can I say about Martinique? First it was hot. Second, it was humid. Third, and most importantly, it was hot and humid. When you walked outside the sauna of your house, it was like walking right into a steam bath. It was, and I am not exaggerating, the first time in my life that I actually sweat while taking a shower. And I loved it. I seem to thrive in that type of environment, which truly makes me wonder why I ever fell in love with Canada.

And the rain? Well, you know, it was interesting. The very first day we were walking around the streets of Fort de France, it was picture perfect. It was hot and very sunny and we felt like the tourists we were. But then, all of a sudden, everyone on the streets disappeared into the stores and doorways, just as I felt a single raindrop on the back of my neck.

Word of advice: When the locals suddenly bolt for cover, don't waste time asking yourself why. Run. You can be certain they know something you don't, and you probably won't regret it.

In Martinique, when it rains, it doesn't mess around. It doesn't piddle about saying, "Oh maybe I'll toss a few drops here, and place a couple drops here, oh, and did I miss this little blade of grass?" No. It just gets everything all at once. Kersploosh.

By the time my wife and I looked at each other and asked ourselves what was going on, a major tropical downpour released itself upon the entire city, pressure washed all the buildings, scoured the streets clean, took care of all the watering needs of the entire flora system for the next few days and moved on. Just as we realized what was happening, and began to make a move towards some sort of shelter, the sky was clear and sunny again and the streets were filled with all the people, just as if nothing had happened.

But it did happen. Every day. Twice a day.

And we, too, learned to bolt at the first drop.

Right there, dear Reader, is a lesson to be learned. When you are someplace brand new, watch the local people carefully. They will teach you what you need to know.

Oh, and while we were there, the Baha'i community was wonderfully kind enough to allow us to sleep in the  Baha'i Centre. Even to this day I cannot express my gratitude enough for that supreme bounty.

Like all bounties, though, it was not obvious to us at first.

I'm really not sure what we were expecting, but we probably thought we would have a small bedroom, sort of like a closet. I don't know about Marielle, but when we saw the room in which we would be staying a month my face probably fell. Well, not fell, really. But I'm sure I had the same expression as that very courteous child who is looking forward to dinner and, when given his plate of liver and onions, maintains that eager smile with only his mouth and manages to squeak out a "thanks" that is anything but heartfelt.

Oh, I was grateful, to be sure, but it was not what I was expecting. And perhaps that is one of the many reasons why they say that expectations only lead to disappointment.

What was wrong with the room? Well, nothing really. It was actually very nice. And we loved every moment we were there.

It just happened to be a classroom that seemed to double as a storage room for a number of those thin beds that resemble cots more than beds.

Were we disappointed? No. Well, yes, but no. Disappointed is not quite the right term. We were a bit surprised, but still grateful, and we were determined to find the best in it. And so, without any further ado, we proceeded to list on a piece of paper all the benefits we find in this room.

We could have begun by mentioning that it needed a bit of a sweep, or that there were some cracks in the floor boards, or even that glass in the windows might have been a nice option, but we didn't. And in fact, all of that paled to complete insignificance as we discovered the hidden bounties within those walls that were soon to become our most favoured honeymoon suite.

I don't have the full list in front of me, but let me just say that it filled an entire sheet of paper, and my handwriting is not all that large.

We pointed out that we had 6 beds to choose from. We could sleep under the coconut trees. We could even sleep under the stars. There was a gentle tropical breeze that was so delightful on those warm evenings (which is really stretching it when you consider that the breeze was a "cool" 40 degrees Celsius, in comparison to the sweltering 42 degree air, but still, it was cooler and felt wonderful). There were many pictures of 'Abdu'l-Baha all over the room. There were multiple copies of the Kitab-i-Aqdas in the room, too. We had a live band across the street most evenings (and this is neither sarcastic nor an exaggeration as we were across from the botanical gardens and there was the Caribbean music festival going on at the time, so we were treated to some of the best music in the world). We also had a live choir of crickets, which turned out to be these little green lizards with a red sac under their mouth, who let out a single loud chirp that perfectly failed to be in either time or pitch with any of its neighbours, which was impressive because there were a lot of them. The caretaker of the Centre, Josie, was an absolute angel. We were around the corner from both a fruit and vegetable market, and just a block or two away from the fish market, so fresh food was abundant.

I really could go on and on, but let's just say that by the time we had compiled this list, we were head over heels in love with our situation. Baha'u'llah had been most bountiful with us, overwhelmingly bountiful, and we just had to take the time to see it.

That, my friend, was lesson number two: Take the time to recognize the hidden bounties that are there for you.

I'd love to go on more here, but I realize that this is getting long. Besides, my car is in the shop right now, and I think it's ready. I need to get home to meet the plumber, so I better end it here.

But don't worry. I'll continue this in the next few days. (God, and my memory, willing.)