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.

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