Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Holy Days - A Thought

A few years ago I had the wonderful bounty of working with a few friends to help organize some of the holy days in our community. While this in itself was not unusual, I learned, in retrospect, that our approach was. And the results? Well, the results still, to this day, amaze me. It obviously left a positive impression on some others, for they are still talking about those celebrations over 10 years later.

What was different? Well, I'm sure it's not going to be news to you, dear Reader, but this method of designing the celebrations was new to me, so I thought I would share it here.

First, after getting permission from our Spiritual Assembly, we began our consultations six months ahead of time. That's right: six months. In one particular case, we were planning the celebrations for Ridvan, and started our planning way back in September. That alone was enough to surprise me. I had always thought that preparing for the holy day celebrations was nothing more than selecting a few quotes, and deciding who was going to bake the cookies. Silly me.

At our first meeting we each brought a few quotes and stories from the Writings about the significance of the holy day. We began with prayers, lots of prayers, and then looked at what the Writings said about Ridvan.

As we read through Baha'u'llah's own Words, and absorbed a bit about the significance that He placed upon that most festive season, our attitude began to change. We all started to feel a deeper appreciation of that time of year. Like most times when I read the Writings, I can't quite explain what happened, but I know that something changed inside me.

We put aside everything we thought we knew, everything we had ever seen about how to celebrate Baha'i holy days, and began with those descriptions. We read them slowly, and I don't mean one word every few seconds. No. We read a passage of two, a few sentences, maybe even an entire paragraph, and then talked about it. After all, how can you read such incredibly potent stuff without talking about how you are moved by it?

We each spoke from our heart, allowing the Words to just wash over us, carry us away, and then, when it felt right, the next person would read a bit more and we would go through it all again.

At some point, usually a few paragraphs in, we would all gravitate toward a particular phrase. The one time that I'm thinking of, the phrase we latched onto was "the divine springtime has come". Another year it was "announce the joyful tidings". I don't think the particular phrase mattered, just that it was something from the Writings.

Now we had our focus, our theme. And it wasn't just a random theme, but a solid theme based on Baha'u'llah's Words.

From there we began to give out assignments, or we would volunteer. My friend Christie always volunteered to decorate the room, and I usually volunteered to do story-telling, and help organize the program. Others would do the food, or the music part of the program, as incorporating music wasn't a strong point of mine.

The most beautiful thing about it all is that whatever we did, there was a continuity throughout the program because we all had the same phrase we were working with. This is what held it all together, what gave a sense of unity to the whole thing.

For the few years that we did this, the celebrations were unlike anything I had ever seen before, or since. While I have seen some more beautiful celebrations, or commemorations, or some that were far more poignant, these ones were each, in their own way, unique. (I just had the great pleasure of attending a garden party celebration of the Master's visit to the West, with costumes from 1912 and all, but that wasn't a holy day. Beautiful and memorable, nonetheless.)

I think I'd like to try organizing a holy day again with this method. I only hope that my Assembly will say "yes" when I ask.

Oh, and I really pray that others will help, too. I know that I could never do it on my own.

* * * * *

I just re-read the above and was reminded of another Ridvan celebration we organized. I can't recall what the unifying phrase was, but it could easily have been "announce the joyful tidings".

We celebrated the 3 holy days of the Ridvan season in the Winnipeg Baha'i Centre, the first, ninth and twelfth days. But on the other days, we took our celebration on the road. We went around Manitoba and celebrated Ridvan with the outlying communities. As the distances involved were sometimes quite far, and the friends were fairly isolated, this was a great opportunity for them to actually celebrate with people from the "big city".

There was something we found in the quotes we were looking at that talked about traveling, and since we had tossed out our preconceptions of what a celebration should look like, going to visit the friends just seemed like a natural thing.

I still recall the joy of those smaller celebrations when there was sometimes only a handful of us.

Given that there are many Baha'is in smaller communities around Vancouver Island, and September is just around the corner, I wonder if we could do something similar for next Ridvan. Hmmm.

Oh, and dear Reader, are there any celebrations that stand out in your mind that others could benefit from? I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Yet Another Hidden Word (Number 70, Persian)

Have you ever had "vuja de" while reading something? The sense that you have never read anything like it ever before?

I swear I must have read the Hidden Words dozens of times, at least, and yet, when I read this passage the other day not a single phrase out of it sounded even remotely familiar. There have been many times when I've read passages in the Writings that took on a whole new meaning that it was as if I never read them before, but this one seemed completely new to me. Well, except for the first three words.

Aside: I was in a meeting one evening, and we were getting ready to say prayers. We were all talking quietly while waiting for the last few people to come in, and a few of us had already chosen the prayers we wanted to say. One guy looked up and asked the man across from him, "What's that Hidden Word you always read?" The other man looked perplexed and asked, "How does it begin?" Without pause, I piped in, "O Son of..." There was just that moment of precious silence before everyone in the room burst out laughing.

So, yes, I did recognize the first three words. But the rest of it? I must have picked up a new edition that just recently included it in there, for I've never read it before.

Oh, sorry. Which one?

Pleasant is the realm of being, wert thou to attain thereto; glorious is the domain of eternity, shouldst thou pass beyond the world of mortality; sweet is the holy ecstasy if thou drinkest of the mystic chalice from the hands of the celestial Youth. Shouldst thou attain this station, thou wouldst be freed from destruction and death, from toil and sin.

Marielle and were talking about it yesterday and she pointed out to me something very interesting about human nature, or at least my own nature. I see myself in her observation, even if nobody else thinks it refers to them. She said that the Hidden Words seem to be easily divided into two groups for most us: those that refer to us, and those that don't.

"O Son of Spirit"? "O Son of Being"? "O Son of Utterance"? "O Son of the Wondrous Vision"? "Sure! Those refer to me. I can see myself in those terms." Every single one of the openings in the Arabic Hidden Words, and most in the Persian? We can, with great joy, see Baha'u'llah referring to us in those lofty and majestic terms.

"O Son of Dust"? "O Fleeting Shadow"? Hey, they're just reminders of our ephemeral state on this earth. Sure, we can say, they refer to us.

"O Essence of Negligence"? Wait a second. "O Ye that are Lying as Dead on the Couch of Heedlessness"? Uhm... "O Ye that are Foolish, Yet Have a Name to be Wise"? Ah. Obviously not me. "O Ye Seeming Fair Yet Inwardly Foul"? Phew. I can breathe a sigh of relief, for these obviously don't refer to me.


Now it may just be me, and remember, this is nothing official, just my own simple opinion, but I think Baha'u'llah is calling out to each and every one of us. When I look at myself, I mean really look deep inside and examine myself in the light of this Revelation, and ask myself, "Am I negligent? Am I heedless? Foolish? Am I as good a person as some of my friends think, or am I inwardly foul?" I have to admit to myself that every one of these epithets can refer to me. (Well, maybe I'm not the absolute essence of negligence, but I am negligent at times.)

Another aside: I was about to say that I don't have a "name to be wise", but then I remembered Baha'u'llah's phrase, "the eternal meads of celestial wisdom". And so, a word of wisdom to you, dear Reader: Save your children the grief of having a name that is in the Writings. There is no way that we can ever live up to it. (Says the father of a child named "Shoghi".)

Maybe I just better get back to that Hidden Word I was supposed to be writing about.

"O Son of Worldliness"? Who is He referring to? Well, once again, I think He is talking to each of us. At the very least, I know He is talking to me. To be worldly, after all, means to be concerned with this world, as opposed to the spiritual world. I am only striving to overcome this, and here, in this Hidden Word, Baha'u'llah reminds us of the importance of doing that.

Pleasant, He says, is the next world. Glorious it is, if only we will take the time to pass beyond this world in our spirit. And if we desire "holy ecstasy", that is what He is offering us within His teachings. This Faith, His teachings, offer us that promised freedom from pain and death. But we have to be careful, for He doesn't offer us freedom from the pains of this world, but from the turmoil of the spirit. Remember, He extols that "crimson ink that hath been shed in (His) path", and those who drank of the cup of martyrdom often seemed to pass beyond the veil of pain despite their countless sufferings. And any work done in His path is truly a joy.

Yeah, it makes me glad that I actually read this passage this time around. It really is such a good reminder of what is important in this world.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Another Hidden Word (Number 18, Persian)

Here is another Hidden Word that I just don't quite understand. I mean, I understand some of the basic meanings of it, but I always feel like I'm missing something fairly obvious.
Proclaim unto the children of assurance that within the realms of holiness, nigh unto the celestial paradise, a new garden hath appeared, round which circle the denizens of the realm on high and the immortal dwellers of the exalted paradise. Strive, then, that ye may attain that station, that ye may unravel the mysteries of love from its wind-flowers and learn the secret of divine and consummate wisdom from its eternal fruits. Solaced are the eyes of them that enter and abide therein!
You may recall that in the last post, about Hidden Word number 66, I said Baha'u'llah only address us human-types. Well, here I seem to be mistaken. Are we really the "dwellers in the highest paradise"? Personally, I don't feel it, but what do I know. Maybe we are. Maybe I am, if only I would learn to see myself that way.

Personally, I've always thought that Baha'u'llah was addressing the Concourse on High, but that doesn't really make a lot of sense to me, upon reflection.

No. I think He is addressing us, again. Remember, heaven is described as nearness to God, so if we recognize the Messenger of God for today, and are near Him, could there be any higher paradise?

I guess I may have to reassess my vision of myself once more. (Hey, my Mother-in-Law already calls me an Apostle, for some reason that I'll never understand, so maybe I better begin to think a bit... well, better of myself. If not, I may hear from her.)

So, working on the presumption that He is addressing me (and you, too, dear Reader, of which I have no doubt), then I have to ask, who am I to proclaim all this to? Who are the "children of assurance"? As I can't find that phrase anywhere else in the Writings, I'm sort of left on my own for that one.

I guess it refers to those who are absolutely certain about the "Day of Resurrection" and the "End Times". Muhammad refers quite a bit to them and there is a lot of importance placed on them in the Writings. After all, why would we bother proclaiming to someone about this new garden appearing if they don't believe that it can happen in the first place.

It sort of reminds me of the Tablet of Ahmad, where He is "proclaiming to the sincere ones the glad tidings of the nearness of God". It seems as if He is alluding to the idea that you can't be a sincere Muslim if you don't believe in the Return. Of course, I also don't understand how you can be a "sincere" Christian if you don't believe in His return, either, but who am I to judge?

And just what is it that we are proclaiming? A new garden. We are announcing that there is a new Faith, with new guidance from God. Once again, God has touched humanity with a new Message and all the angels on high are singing its praises.

The "denizens of the realm on high and the immortal dwellers of the exalted paradise" are all jumping for joy. Baha'u'llah tells us that if we strive, then we can join that exalted company, too. Presumably when we die, and enter into that next realm, we will be called to account for our deeds. And if those deeds are worthy, if we have made sincere efforts at trying to help usher in that long promised "Kingdom of God on earth", then we, too, will dwell in that "exalted paradise".

But there is one more thing that catches my attention. Not only are to strive to become a member of that marvelous group, we are also to strive to "unravel the mysteries of love" from the "wind-flowers" that grow in that new garden, and "learn the secret of divine and consummate wisdom from its eternal fruits".

We are not only to do our best to spread this message, which is mostly of benefit to others, but also to do our best to understand it, which is of tremendous benefit to ourselves. (Yeah, yeah, I know. Both are of benefit to both, but come on. You know what I mean.)

Oh, and I was wondering, as I read this: what is a wind-flower? It is an anemone.

Aside: A friend of mine once gave me a beautiful bouquet of flowers, consisting of ferns and anemones. It was really great, but I had to ask, "With fronds like these, who needs anemones?"

Anemones are really quite amazing flowers. They come in all sorts of types and colours. Their variety is staggering. And in folk-lore, they symbolize both anticipation and a sense of having been forsaken. Both meanings sure seem to speak of the Messengers of God, to me at least.

In the Kitab-i-Iqan, Baha'u'llah also refers to "the anemones of the garden of love", so there is a consistency about referring to them in the context of love.

But regardless of the meaning of flowers, this is still a beautiful quote, and not only tells us what our job is, and who we should be serving, it also tells us what we can get out of doing it.

"Solaced", He says, "are the eyes of them that enter and abide" in this garden.

And as Abdu'l-Baha is reported to have said, "At the gate of the garden, some stand and look within, but do not care to enter. Others step inside, behold its beauty, but do not penetrate far. Still others encircle this garden, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers; and having enjoyed its full beauty, pass out again by the same gate. But there are always some who enter, and becoming intoxicated with the splendor of what they behold, remain for life to tend the garden."

Reading this again, I feel that I have definitely gotten more out of this Hidden Word by writing about it, but I'm still absolutely certain that there is even more in there.

A Hidden Word (Number 66)

You know, I've spent a lot of time lately writing about all sorts of things that are bouncing around in my head, but I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the Writings here. Time to fix that. I think it's time that I get back to what I really wanted to write about when I first started this blog: the Faith.

I was reading through the Hidden Words the other day and ran across one of those pieces that just confused the bejeebies out me when I was investigating. Still does, actually.
Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me.

To start, who is He addressing? The "children of the divine and invisible essence"? I can only presume that this refers to all of us. After all, He does say that we are created noble, and speaks at length about our spiritual creation. So that's fairly easy. I'm certain He is referring to all of us.

Alright. That last paragraph sounded like I didn't really know that. Of course I did. I mean, as far as I can tell, Baha'u'llah only addressed us human-type people. But let's get back to that phrase for a moment: When you hear the phrase "child of the divine and invisible essence", do you really think of yourself? Can you actually picture yourself as a "child of the divine and invisible essence"? I don't know about you, but that sure doesn't sound like my image of myself.

It seems to me that this is yet another one of those moments in which Baha'u'llah is asking us to reconceptualize how we envision ourselves, not to mention others. If we were to truly see ourselves as a child of that "divine and invisible essence", wouldn't we act a bit differently than we usually do? And if we saw each other as those "children of the divine and invisible essence", wouldn't we generally treat each other a bit better than we do? I won't even go into the whole idea of how we would begin to really see ourselves as siblings if we recognize that we are all children of the same "divine and invisible" etcetera etcetera. (Come on, how many times do you want me to type that?)

But what about the next phrase? We will be hindered from loving Him? Ok. That just confuses me, so I might as well start where I usually do: with the definition of a word.

"Hindered" means to either delay or stop something from happening. As I don't think He means that we will never be able to love God, I can only presume He means the delaying aspect of the word. Or perhaps that we shall never be able to love God as much as we would like. Our hearts are just too small to be able to truly love God as He deserves.

But there may be another aspect to that, too: peer pressure.

In this world, where the "vitality of men's belief in God is dying out in every land", it is getting harder and harder to be able to believe in God. There are so many people who feel that it is archaic, or somehow non-scientific, to recognize God. There is this growing sense of feeling that it is somehow wrong to believe, without recognizing that what is really happening is that we are growing into a more mature understanding of our Creator and of creation.

On the other hand, there is also this growing pocket of fanaticism in various religious groups around the world. More and more are not only becoming increasingly judgemental, they are also threatening to inflict, or actually perpetuating, serious injury upon those believe differently. This not only has the effect of dividing people according to bizarre lines of belief, it also has the sense of ostracizing those of more moderate beliefs.

All of this becomes a hindrance in our ability to openly talk about God. Many become "perturbed as they make mention of Me".

Here in the West, we are told that the two things we should not openly talk about are religion and politics. Now, I can understand the latter, but the former? Just joking. Anything that causes people to speak angrily against each other is right out, but if we approach others with respect and love, we should be able to share our thoughts and views quite openly.

This is but one way in which we  can become perturbed when we mention God.

Another way is when we feel unworthy or ashamed of mentioning Him.

Aside: I remember, and have told before, the story of the member of the Universal House of Justice who was weeping because he felt he hadn't been able to do enough to serve the Cause. That is the type of "shame" I am speaking of here.
In the end, though, we know that God is too big for minds to grasp. Whatever we think God is, He is infinitely bigger. And anyone who says that they understand God has, as Baha'u'llah says, "testified to his own ignorance".

So even though I have a few meager thoughts about this Hidden Word, it still really is beyond me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pride and Humility

There are certain moments in human history that resonate far beyond their due. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 are but a few examples that come to mind. It's not that these events are not significant, nor tragic, but just that they seem to reverberate within our social psyche far beyond what we would expect.

Looking at the Titanic, it is certainly easy to understand why. The ship was supposed to be, in a sense, man's triumph over nature. People felt we had finally built a boat that could not be sunk. We, as a people, were so confident in this that the captain, himself, is reputed to have said, "Even God cannot sink this ship." It was, in short, a boast that spoke of our confidence in our human abilities, while overlooking our dependency upon our Creator.

As Abdu'l-Baha said, "God has endowed man with intelligence so that he may safeguard and protect himself. Therefore, he must provide and surround himself with all that scientific skill can produce. He must be deliberate, thoughtful and thorough in his purposes, build the best ship and provide the most experienced captain; yet, withal, let him rely upon God and consider God as the one Keeper."

While the disaster of the Titanic, in hindsight, was the result of shoddy workmanship, underplanning, and other such human faults, it was still a stark reminder that we are never as far beyond nature as we may like. And even though the number of people killed, just over 1500, was not all that large in terms of disasters in history, it was the psychological impact upon humanity that has made it the epic disaster that it was.

Another example of this type of psychological trauma was 9-11. Again, in terms of human lives lost, while numerous and very tragic, it wasn't all that large a number. More people were dying daily due to starvation and lack of clean drinking water. But it was the effect of the attacks that made it so grievous.

From what I can tell, there were two different things that happened that day that caused this. The first was that it shattered the belief that the United States, or North America, was invulnerable to attack on domestic soil. The other was that it made a strong statement on the fragility of the economic situation of the world.

In terms of the first, there were only a few other times that attacks occurred on US soil, against the US itself. While the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War come to mind, as well as Pearl Harbour, 9-11 was far more "at home" for most of us. There was no escaping it. It happened right there, in a big city, today. It was not fast on the heels of the Revolutionary War, in some distant outpost, or a remote island that wasn't even an actual state yet. This was more immediate.

Shortly after those attacks that launched the "war on terrorism", people all over the States were watching the skies with a bit of fear or trepidation. I remember getting off the train in Chicago a few months later and watching as people, myself included, glanced up at the Sears Tower, obviously checking to see if any unscheduled planes were heading towards it. And this just speaks of the physical attack on the Towers.

In terms of the psychological effect, I look at what the World Trade Centre signified for many of my generation. It was symbol of the unassailable wealth of the country, of the very ideology of the country. It was as a result of the attacks of that day that the US launched its so-called war on terror, the war that undermined the wealth of that great nation.

As a Baha'i I was well aware of the statements in the Writings about how this seeming supremacy would not last, and I often wondered what would precipitate the collapse of the system, but it wasn't until that morning, watching the videos of those planes colliding and the buildings falling, that I began to see how it would inevitably happen.

Both of these incidents, the Titanic and 9-11, remind me of the story of the Tower of Babel. They all are firmly embedded in the psyche of our people, and they all tell of the effects of forgetting our humility, a word which has the same root as the very word "human".

"Pride not yourselves in your glory," says Baha'u'llah, "and be not ashamed of abasement." He also reminds us that "Humility exalteth man to the heaven of glory and power, whilst pride abaseth him to the depths of wretchedness and degradation."

But not all events that are firmly fixed in the collective memory of humanity are of a negative nature. You only need to ask those who were alive at the time where they were when the first people walked on the moon to realize it.

Appreciating the Moment

Well, here is the third of the articles that goes in the paper this week. I may write another one for them, but I'll probably just write a bit more here, instead.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Training

It's pretty warm out there today. Of course, the fact that I was wearing a suit didn't help matters.

What was that? Why was I wearing a suit? Oh, sorry. I was at a celebration of the Master's visit to North America, and had the pleasure of doing a bit of story-telling, as well as a bit of music.

And that, dear Reader, is what I wanted to mention today.

While I was there, I had a wonderful little experience that really reminded me of the power of our intuition.

My job, so to speak, was to play a bit of music with my wife and a friend of ours (Taylor), and to mingle with people and tell them stories of the Master's visit. While I would love to go on and on about all the conversations I had, there is one that really stands out. Well, two, but only one that would interest you.

While I was walking around, I had a copy of The Promulgation of Universal Peace in my hands, and a man came up to me to ask about it.

"Is this", he politely enquired, "the Baha'i Bible?"

"Uhm", I said so eloquently. I mean, I wasn't really sure what to say.

"Not really?" He could see my confusion about how to answer.

"Yeah, not really."

"Oh," he said, realizing why it was hard for me to respond, "it's only one of many."

"Exactly", I said, grateful at his quick explanation.

We talked for a little bit, and I found myself impelled to tell him the story of the revelation of the Kitab-i-Iqan. I talked about how it was revealed in a mere three days, and that Baha'u'llah had written for more than 40 years. He was visibly impressed.

I then asked him if I could read a very short paragraph to him out of the book I was holding. I said that I felt moved to read it to him. Although I didn't say anything, I blame it on that wily concourse on high. He graciously agreed, and I read the following:

"(Baha'u'llah) suffered innumerable ordeals and calamities, but during His lifetime He trained in all regions many souls who were peerless. The purpose of the appearance of the Manifestations of God is the training of the people. That is the only result of Their mission, the real outcome. The outcome of the whole life of Jesus was the training of eleven disciples and two women. Why did He suffer troubles, ordeals and calamities? For the training of these few followers. That was the result of His life. The product of the life of Christ was not the churches but the illumined souls of those who believed in Him. Afterward, they spread His teachings."

He, along with the others who were listening to our conversation, was very moved by this, and read it again himself. He completely agreed with it, and talked about profound this understanding was. In fact, he went on for a few minutes about how wonderful this quote was.

Then he went on his way to talk to some others.

Only after he left did I learn that he was the Archbishop for Victoria.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Juggling the Moment

Here is the second of three articles for my local paper this week. I hope you find it inspirational, or at least enjoyable.


Friday, August 19, 2011

The Drum

As you may know, dear Reader, I also contribute to a blog on spirituality in my local newspaper, The Times-Colonist.

To read this latest article, on the drum I made at a powwow here in Victoria, you can click here: http://communities.canada.com/victoriatimescolonist/blogs/spirituallyspeaking/archive/2011/08/18/the-drum.aspx


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Prayer List

I'm on vacation. Have I mentioned that? No? Well, I guess I am. I mean, I think I'm on vacation.

Although, it is busiest time of year for me with shows, even though I haven't booked all that many, but my son is off school, my wife is on her holidays, and Mom comes in town later today.

So, what with making stock for shows, working said shows, and having a great time with family, I'm on vacation. That's why I'm not writing all that much here right now.

Besides, I have my week of articles coming up next week for my local newspaper, so I'm writing those, too.

But I didn't want you to feel like I've left, dear Reader. You're still in my mind, my heart, and my prayers.

Oh yes. Did I mention that, too? I have a prayer list, and I regularly say prayers for "my dear Readers".

Of course, I have no idea what that really means, in the larger sense of it, so I thought I'd explore that a bit today.

It means to me that I am thinking of you, and hoping for the best for you. I am asking God, and those spirits on high, to see you happy and healthy, coming to a fuller realization of the majesty and wonder of the world around you. I am asking for the well-being of both you and those you love, and hoping that you will share with me some of what you discover.

In the past, I have had some people say that they don't want me to pray for them, and I've honoured that request. But now that I think about it, it seems to me that is a bit unfair. What they are asking is that I don't think about them, and how can I possibly honour that? If they were to have said, "Please don't light a candle for me", sure. No problem. But to me, what I call prayer is a form of conversation with my Creator. I am talking to the One that I adore, and what am I most likely to talk about? Those I love.

"When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved."

And I have a deep love for you, dear Reader, which is why I share my thoughts with you, and treasure hearing yours.

Aside: I am currently serving on a local Spiritual Assembly, which is not bragging in any way since there are only a dozen or so eligible Baha'is in this community, and we have a prayer list. Just the other day the question came up of how to maintain it, for it has seemed that when someone goes on the list, they never get removed. As you can imagine, it now takes quite some time to read the list before we say our prayers. What to do? I loved the simplicity of the solution that was suggested. When we say a prayer for them, cross them off the list, unless we know that the request is for a longer term such as in the case of prolonged illness.

For me, I have a number of actual people on my list, with names and all, and I can even remember their faces most of the time. Then I have the abstract people who are still real, but I have no idea who they are, such as "the ill" or "the poor". As often as I can I try to move people from being abstract to being real, in my own mind.

Another aside: A number of years ago, I was visiting a friend in another city and, as she was working during the day, I went out and did my thing (drank coffee, made chain-mail, talked to people). One evening, though, there was a Feast, and so I went. During the consultation, the question was raised about "helping the poor". It seems that they were having trouble making their goals with either a food bank, or something like that. I don't remember. For some reason it struck me that they were all talking in the abstract. These "poor" people weren't real, in a sense, to them. Oh sure, they could sympathize with the suffering, but it seemed to me that something was missing. And so I spoke up. I asked who these "poor"were, and was met with a sea of blank looks, or probably confused looks as I'm sure I wasn't really making that much sense.

I asked if anyone knew Otto, or Jane, or Spike. That did nothing to dispel those blank, or confused, looks.

Then I asked if anyone knew the guy that stood at such-and-such corner, with the army coat and the big dog. Or the girl with him who had the pink hair. Or the guy at the other corner in the wheelchair.

A light clicked as everyone knew them by sight.

"Well," I said, "that's Otto and Jane. The other guy is Spike. Spike is a vet from the Viet Nam War and he lost his leg. That's why he's in the chair."

I said that as long as we only dealt with "the poor", we would have trouble making our commitments. But if we helped Otto and Jane and Spike, our friends, then we would never have trouble making those commitments again.

And I think of you often.

I think about your comments, your concerns, and your insights.

I think about what I would like to share with you (like a piece of that blackberry pie my wife is making in the other room) (oops, distraction).

I look at the world around me as I'm walking around town, or traipsing through the Writings searching for nothing in particular. "Wow! A bird just swooped down and grabbed a bee", I might think. (True story. Just happened about 5 minutes ago outside my window.) Or maybe I'll run across a quote and say, "That's exactly what I want to include in this article today." (See above.)

So even though I won't be writing much here over the next week while my Mom is visiting, please know that you are in my thoughts and heart, and I will be jotting down notes of things I want to share with you.

In the meantime, get off the computer and go and enjoy the beauty of the outside.

Me? I'm going to enjoy a slice of pie.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Core, and Other Parts, of the Apple

I had a very interesting conversation the other night that was, unfortunately, cut short. My friend had another phone call coming in, and I had to leave for a meeting. But it was a very thought-provoking call, and I truly hope that she is able to put some of her ideas down here.

While there were many interesting aspects to the conversation, I want to share just a bit of it with you, and get your feedback.

First of all, let me just say that she is a Baha'i and does not want to be seen as criticizing the Faith in any way whatsoever. Personally, from her, I take this as a given, and even though I am not sharing who she was, I still wanted to make that caveat very clear. She was exploring some ideas with me in the hopes of finding a higher degree of understanding. I think that is admirable. And that is, in the end, what I'm trying to do here, too.

She was wondering if we, as a community, were perhaps focused a bit too much on the core activities and forgetting about some of the principles of the Faith. We explored this question with the hopes of ensuring that there is a healthy balance in all that we do within and for this Faith of ours. Oh, and this over-focus (I'm not sure what else to call it) is from us individuals, and not from the institutions.

Before I continue, let me give a bit of a context. It seems that in the past, at least here in North America, many of us have taken something of a pendulum approach to the Faith. Those amazing people in the World Centre tell us to focus a bit more on firesides, for example, and we drop everything that we are doing and put all we got into that "most effective method of teaching the Faith... the fireside meeting in the home". They tell us to consider devoting a bit more time to summer or winter schools, and bam, everything else is put on hold while devote all our attention to those centres of learning. In other words, we have tended to look for a panacea, that one key to effective teaching, without realizing that we need to do a bit of everything as a community, responding to the various needs and requests that we see around us. Of course, this doesn't speak of everyone individually, nor of the institutions who have guided us aright over the years, but this tendency amongst some individuals has been noticed.

So, let's look at the core activities, and what that term implies. I won't bother going into what those activities are, for you probably know by now that they can be summed up as children's classes, junior youth groups, study circles and devotional gatherings. I don't need to repeat that here. (Wasn't that clever, the way I just did that? No? Oh well. I tried.)

But these are not all the activities of the community, they are only the core.

When I think of the word "core", I tend to first think of an apple. The core, as you know, is the very centre, the heart, the part of the apple that holds the seeds from which the future trees grow. It is also the part that does not get eaten, as my friend pointed out. It is not the part of the apple that feeds us. And the core is not the entire apple, either.

This led my friend and I to discuss what makes up the rest of the apple. If the core activities are just that, the core, then what are those activities or things that make up the rest of the apple?

She put forth an interesting thought, and made an observation that I think makes a lot of sense.

Aside from the obvious, such as the firesides I mentioned, or deepenings, she also said that perhaps some of the basic principles of the Faith constitute the rest of the apple.

What does that mean?

Well, let's look at it. Take the basic principle of race unity, or the oneness of humanity. This is a principle that has given many people a sense of refreshment, even a type of spiritual nourishment, if you will. We Baha'is have been very active over many years promoting this principle, so much so that even the National Spiritual Assembly here in Canada has made this the theme for this year's celebration of the Master's visit. They have asked us to focus on how He would deliver this message to all, regardless of the colour of their skin or their station in life. It was this principle that attracted many thousands to further investigate the reality of Baha'u'llah's teachings.

It is a very basic principle within the Baha'i Faith.

But in recent years a few communities have stopped their work in this field in order to concentrate more on the core activities. I'm not saying they're wrong, for I'm sure that they've consulted a lot on the issues, but I do have to wonder if it the wisest course, in retrospect. It seems that there is a lot of historical inertia that may be getting lost.

I'm aware of the statement from the World Centre that we don't want to be distracted from our activities, and this is very wise. But isn't it a fantastic opportunity to use these historically successful events to help move people into the core activities? If we have had a major presence in a women's rights conference for decades, wouldn't this be an excellent place to invite people to a women's prayer gathering? Or, as in the above case, invite people to a study circle centred around the theme of race unity?

When I'm tutoring Book 6, and get to those sections about our own personal opportunities for teaching, I always try to remind the friends to work with their own historical reality, and not try to come up with radically new things. Well, unless they really need to, of course.

I'm an artist, for example. I do a lot of work with different art groups. I meet many artists, and have a history with them. It only makes sense that when I'm making my plans, I would work around that, not in spite of it.

I also love to work with immigrant groups and interfaith organizations. Same again: I have a history with them, and am known by them. It only makes sense that I would extend most of my invitations to things to these people. They are, after all, my friends and colleagues.

And so, once again, this leads back to my phone conversation the other evening. Are we, in a sense, forgetting our roots and seeing how to integrate these roots into our current activities? I'm not sure, but I am curious to explore this.

One final thought in this article filled with questions: If the edible part of the apple is not connected to the core, then rot sets in fairly quickly, nor does it aid in the growth of the next tree.

I'm just saying, you know?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why Would He?

It never fails: I get an article almost done and something comes in to completely throw me off. Oh well. This time it was another comment, by one who calls himself (or herself) "Rational Baha'i". I love it. It is good to be reminded that there is no one group that has a monopoly on rationality. But more on that later. For now, I'll just sort of paste in the rest of the article I had previously gotten ready for posting today:

As I mentioned recently, I want to address a fairly simple point that someone made in a comment here just the other day. He calls himself "Rational Atheist", and said, "Why do you think I'm reading a religious blog in the first place? All faiths have positive aspects which I wish to explore as I contemplate life, the universe, and everything."

Now before I go on, let me just say that I have no problem with anyone calling themselves that, or describing themselves in that way. After all, is it any different than someone calling themselves a Christian? Or a Baha'i? Personally, I don't think so. These are all just labels, and, really, don't say much about how we actually live, or what we do.

Now I realize that some people may disagree with me, but please, hear me out. Just because I call myself a Baha'i doesn't mean that I am actually living up to the ideals of the Baha'i Faith (although I try). As 'Abdu'l-Baha is reported to have said when asked what is a Baha'i, "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..."

So let's put the labels aside for a moment and see what we can learn from this.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from the book Illusions, by Richard Bach. The Messiah figure in the book says something profound, and the main character asks, "Isn't that from the Peanuts?" The response, which makes so much sense to me, is that we take truth where we find it.

And that, of course, leads me back to Rational Atheist. He is contemplating "life, the universe, and everything", to which the answer is not, I presume, 42. (Yes, I've read Doug Adams, too.) (And knew better than to try and talk to him when it was raining.) (If you don't know, don't ask. It's not worth it.)

When making this contemplation, we should be searching everywhere for whatever grains of truth we can find. It is as Baha'u'llah says in the Valley of Search: One must judge of search by the standard of the Majnun of Love. It is related that one day they came upon Majnun sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, "What doest thou?" He said, "I seek for Layli." They cried, "Alas for thee! Layli is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!" He said, "I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her."

We must also remember "The steed of this Valley is patience; without patience the wayfarer on this journey will reach nowhere and attain no goal."

And so I ask, on his behalf, why would a self-proclaimed atheist be reading a religious blog? Because he is ardently searching for truth wherever he can.

It's funny, you know. Every religious blog I have seen has at least one atheist following it. Why? Because they are rational and striving to pick out the bits of truth that they can.

There are many of faith who take offense when these atheists raise questions that are quite reasonable. I'm not sure how many times I have read letters that are variations of "This blog is only for those who believe." Now I'm very grateful that this has never happened here, nor do I expect it, but it has happened elsewhere.

And this also leads me to another question: Who truly believes in God?

Many of us say that we do, but do we really? I would venture to say that what most of us really believe in is a figment of our own imagination. (I can hear the alarm bells going off already.)

Baha'u'llah, Himself, said, "And if I attempt to describe Thee by glorifying the oneness of Thy Being, I soon realize that such a conception is but a notion which mine own fancy hath woven, and that Thou hast ever been immeasurably exalted above the vain imaginations which the hearts of men have devised." He goes on, in the same passage, to say, "Whoso claimeth to have known Thee hath, by virtue of such a claim, testified to his own ignorance..." Pretty powerful words for One Who is the Messenger. If He claims that He is unable to Know God, who am I to think that I do?

No. It seems to me that my own understanding of God is no better than that of an atheist. Or maybe it is not even as good. After all, the atheist knows what God is not. Most atheists I know are merely rejecting other people's notion of what they think God is. And you know, I generally reject their notion, too. I have never met anyone who has a definition of God that I can agree with. And I'm certain that they would disagree with mine. No problem there. I just don't argue about it, because I know we're both wrong, or at least, incomplete.

When I see these two comments (I'm now adding to my previous writing), and their chosen noms de plume (what do you call it on the net? Noms de touche?), I think that it doesn't matter if they are Baha'i or atheist. What is important is that they are rational. They are truly considering what is before them and weighing it within their own ability. And my hat is off to them, both of them.

I can find no better way to end this than to use the quote that Rational Baha'i used in his comment: "If we are lovers of the light we adore it in whatever lamp it may become manifest but if we love the lamp itself and the light is transferred to another lamp we will neither accept nor sanction it."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Courtesy at the Door, or Door-to-Door Teaching, part 3

It seems that the last few articles about door-to-door teaching set off a bit of an unexpected reaction, and I, for one, may not have responded with the full courtesy deserved of you, dear Reader (and yes, that especially includes those who commented, too).

Before I continue, though, let me express my extreme gratitude and admiration for those who wrote in. You have shown much tact and wisdom, for which I am very grateful. I particularly appreciate the analogy of the treasure that we have found, of which we try to share a bit with our neighbours. That is exactly how I feel about the Writings.

Aside: I remember a little while ago when some of us were engaged in a neighbourhood, and we were inviting the friends there to assist us with children's classes and other activities. It was quite exciting watching as this small community grew up around these simple activities, and went from being fearful of walking on the streets at night, where a number of people had been killed in recent months, to enjoying and treasuring each other's company. They completely rebuilt their community, and it was admirable to watch. A few of them happened to become Baha'i, but the real victory was watching as all the friends in that area took the teachings of Baha'u'llah and applied them directly with their neighbours. That was the real treasure, not the few enrolments. But during this time, one of the friends who had been knocking on doors during the day expressed his disgruntlement to me in the evening. I asked him what was wrong, and he said that he was a bit upset that people didn't want to hear what he had to say. I thought about that for a moment and asked him to imagine if he had gone to their doors with a tray of priceless gems. "How would you have felt", I asked, "if they turned down a free gem?" He wasn't sure, at first, but then realized he'd feel sorry for them. He sure wouldn't be angry, or disappointed. That was what I suggested he try to imagine the next day when he went out again. He wasn't there to get a specific reaction, but instead was just offering priceless gems to those who wanted them. Based on his reaction the next evening, that seemed to have helped.

But back to the blog: there is the response that came later, from "Rational Atheist". Again, it is filled with extreme courtesy and wisdom, for which I am most grateful. It shows me the strength and power of that virtue, courtesy, and how it can help bring people of such different opinions together on a plane of respect.

This reply, which I would recommend you to read, points out some wonderful things from an outside perspective. I can't begin to tell you how much I value that. I think, in many respects, when it comes down to it, that is why I write all this. I really want to hear what other people think about this Faith of ours.

Aside, again: You know, when I first began writing this blog, it was intended for Baha'is. There were some things that I really wanted to share with my fellow Baha'is, and I didn't figure it would interest anyone else. Boy, was I wrong. As time went on, I realized that more and more people from other paths were reading it, too. And that was fine. I haven't really changed what I write, or how I write it (except that I try not to use obscure Baha'i terms). Based on some of the letters I've received, it seemed that these friends wanted to read the "inside scoop". (I'm not sure how much I fulfill that, but I'm fairly sure I can guarantee the "scoop" aspect.) So now, dear Reader, you have taught me a lot, especially about how open we all are, regardless of how we label ourselves (or, as a friend would say, "what team jacket we're wearing").

So what is it I want to talk about today? I'm glad you asked. I had forgotten for a moment.

I wanted to point out a few things that I think stand out to me when I read the guidance both from the World Centre, as well as my own National Centre. First is that the most important thing when teaching the Faith is to do so with both moderation, as described by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice, and courtesy. Whether we are engaged in teaching by the direct method, in which we assert clearly and directly the fundamental truths of the Faith, or the indirect method, by which we are more cautious in exposing the various aspects of the Faith, the location is really of secondary importance. Knocking on someone's door does not, in itself, constitute direct teaching. We can be very indirect when we talk to people at their door. We can, for example, invite them to a neighbourhood activity, such as a children's class, without actually telling them anything about the Faith.

On the other hand, if they wish to know more about who we are, and what we are doing, we can go fully into the truths of the Faith.

To go to someone's door with the intention of a "doorstep fireside" may be overstepping the bounds of moderation, at least in my own opinion, but to ignore an opportunity that is presented to us is nothing short of foolish.

In the end, it all comes down to recognizing that we are always talking to another human being with their own aspirations and goals, as well as personal beliefs.

But then there is a second point: we are not mandated to teach in this manner, nor is it prohibited. At no point in the history of the Faith, as near as I can tell, have we ever been told that we have to teach in a particular manner. There was one time here in Canada when a Counsellor was asked about door-to-door teaching, and he gave a clear and concise description of how to do it appropriately. Then someone asked him if we had to do it. His reply was, "Of course not, but if you can tell me another way to reach a large number of people in a small area, I'd be happy to hear it." And that was it. That was really the heart of the question, to me. How do we reach people? It's the question that has been asked by many countless peoples over the last few hundred years. In most areas it is by going door-to-door, but in some other areas it is by going to the park. I had the bounty of helping in a teaching campaign that was situated in a public park, and we met many people that way.

Did any of the people in the park become Baha'i? I'm not sure. Nor am I concerned. We were able to reach out, meet people, share ideas and help build a bit of a stronger community. That's good enough for me.

Finally, there is one more thing I want to write about, but I'm not going to do it today. It is a response to the comment in the comment by Rational Atheist, in which he says, "Why do you think I'm reading a religious blog in the first place? All faiths have positive aspects which I wish to explore as I contemplate life, the universe, and everything." Before leaving this post, I really wanted to point out that statement, and leave you to think about it for a bit. I'll try to write about it tomorrow, but may not be able to do so for a few more days. the summer is my busy time for work, so the articles are not as frequent as I would like.

Peace, love and prayers to you all!