Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Lesson from Shoghi

I am so appreciative of both my wife and my son. Have I ever told you that? I have? Oh. Well, have I said it this week? Ok. Good. Because I am.

Marielle got a letter today from an institution which had some wonderful documents about this current plan. (Well, it had two documents: one was wonderful, and the other was probably wonderful, too , but it was so poorly formatted that she hasn't been able to read it yet. So please remember, friends, if you're sending out a document to people, try to make sure that it is readable. That's generally more important than trying to make it look all fancy and stuff. Oh, and I'm not saying not to try and make it look fancy, for trying is good. But it's also good to make sure that it's readable.) (That's why I rarely use videos or photos here. I'm not good at it, and I'd rather not include them if I can't do it well, but that's just me.)

Anyways, in this nice letter, the person who wrote it asked if the recipients were doing nay core activities. Then they said that they were going to call everyone to find out.

Well, I completely understand this, for I've been on the calling end before trying to get info from the friends, and it's generally not all that easy. But to some receiving this call this can be very intimidating. It can seem like a guilt trip. Not that this is the intention, but with our baggage from the past, it can seem that way to some of us.

This led to Marielle and I talking a lot about the core activities, and how she is implementing them in her own life. It also led to her expressing a concern that she may not be doing them the way that others would want her to.

Marielle, you see, travels a lot. She is often in different communities and doesn't have a lot of time to start her own core activities here at home. But when she's in a hotel for a week she is often having spiritual conversations with her roomies. Does this count as a home visit? Who cares? We don't need to categorize everything we are doing.

This conversation of ours, carried out on the beach while shelling and eating peas, was very interesting. We began to realize that too often we try to fit everything we are doing into a nice neat slot. But isn't that what we are cautioned against? Aren't we told to be flexible in our efforts? Of course, all of our efforts should lead to the same pattern of activity, but that's later. We are only approaching that first milestone described in the message to the Counsellors from last December. I think we need to be careful not to feel guilty about our efforts, nor to make others feel guilty.

Oh, and please don't forget that this is only my own opinion. To really come to an understanding of what it is that we are supposed to be doing, don't take my word for it. Look at the guidance yourself.

But back to Marielle and I at the beach.

We talked about how I often say prayers with some neighbours of ours. There are times where I'll go over there and just ask if we can say some prayers. The  answer is always "yes", and they seem to really appreciate it. They say their prayers, and I say some Baha'i prayers. Every now and then they will also say a Baha'i prayer, but not too often. When they do, however, they always talk about how beautiful the Baha'i prayers are, and how full of meaning. Maybe some day they will more naturally turn to the prayers of Baha'u'llah, but not yet. And that's ok.

Anyways, I go over there at least a few times a week, and once every few visits we say prayers. Is that a devotional gathering? Sure. Why not? It seems to fit the bill. Is it done with regularity? Yup. Sure is. "So why", I am often asked, "isn't it advertised? What day of the week is it? What time? Where?" Hey! I never said it was weekly. Nor did I say it was always at the same time. It is done with a degree of regularity, at least a few times a month, if not more often. Anything more structured than that just won't happen with this family. Besides, it doesn't say anything in the guidance about having a set schedule. It just says "regular".

Then there is our "children's class". Even typing that phrase makes me feel uncomfortable. After all, it isn't really a "children's class": It's a party. You've read the articles. You know what it is.

This has led me to realize that Shoghi has taught me a valuable lesson that I didn't even catch before now.

But let me back up for a second. What are the core activities? Most of us would say "children's classes, devotional gatherings, junior youth groups and study circles", right? Well, I have to wonder. Is that how the Universal House of Justice describes them? With those catch phrases? Or, for example, with the activity revolving around children, do they talk about "lessons that develop their spiritual faculties and lay the foundations of a noble and upright character"? I mean, sure, that can look like a class, in the traditional sense of the word, but does it have to?

If we tried to have a traditional class within our neighbourhood, most of the children probably wouldn't attend. They're not there yet. It has no interest for them.

But these parties do. They like them, and they attend.

If I invited my neighbours over for a "devotional gathering", they probably would not be interested in attending. But when I go over there and ask if we can say prayers, they are so happy to do that.

This, I think, highlights a minor but real concern to me. We seem to have overlaid a particular structure to some of these activities, expecting that they will all look like something we are familiar with. (Not all of us, to be sure, but a few of us.) And if a particular core activity doesn't look like what we expect, we question whether or not it "counts". Personally, I think if it fulfills the intention, if it fits the description given to us by the messages of the World Centre, then they do "count".

And if someone else says that it has to be done in a particular way, well, show it to me in the Writings. After all, it is quite possible that I've missed something. (In fact, I'm sure I have.)

There is nothing that I have seen that says the devotional gatherings have to be held at a particular time in a particular place, in a particular way. We have to feel comfortable adapting our activities to the needs and tastes of our community. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it is wise. What's the point in doing it if nobody is interested? But again, that's just me.

So, to my wife, who was a little bit concerned about trying to explain to the "institutions" how she was doing her work in the way that she could, and perhaps being judged by others that she wasn't doing it the "right way", or whatever, I said not to worry. After all, we're not reporting to "institutions". We are reporting to people. Real people. People with whom we have a relationship.

I asked her if the person who was going to call would understand how she was meeting the criteria in the letters, and she said, "Of course". If it was merely a nameless institution, I would be concerned. But there are none of those within the Faith. Every institution is made up of real people whom we know. And I think it is this personal touch that helps keep the Faith alive. (Along with the divine spirit, of course.)

Oh, and if the person to whom she is reporting doesn't feel that what she is doing quite fits within the definition of a core activity, that's ok, too. Just because it isn't a core activity doesn't mean it's worthless. Everything we do, evey activity we take part in, all helps move the world forward.

And we know that when the time is right, when the conditions are favorable, we can proceed to the milestones laid out for us by the Universal House of Justice.

In the meantime, it's just nice to talk about these things, think about them, and keep eating those peas on the beach.

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