Monday, April 29, 2013

"Contrary to My Wishes..."

"How was your day?"

The question seemed simple enough. I mean, isn't this what a lot of us ask our spouse when they come home after a long day at work? And this is not meant as a frivolous question. It's actually a serious one. It's sort of like, "How are you". I don't know about anyone else, but when I ask it, I really am looking for an honest and heartfelt answer. Even 'Abdu'l-Baha asked a similar question, expecting an honest answer: "Are you happy?" He would ask 3 times, which is what I have found to be the requisite number of times for a sincere and honest answer. Most people respond with a flippant "Sure", on the first try. Then they say, more hesitantly, "Yeah, I guess so." Then on the third asking they usually talk about something that is making them unhappy.

But that was all I asked: "How was your day?"

The response? "Things went contrary to my wishes today."

I could only smile at that.

A number of years ago we heard a talk by a Counsellor in which he said that his wife would sometimes ask him the same question: "How was your day". And his reply was sometimes, "Things went contrary to my wishes." His wife would smile and say, "Well, sorrow not", and she would go about her own business.
O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.

Now this is only the last bit of the long passage from Gleanings, and I have long wondered what the rest of it said. I'd read it before, but I never seem to be able to recall the context of that particular paragraph.

And so this morning, I looked it up.


Gleanings number 153 (or CLIII, if you prefer the Roman numerals).

It's quite a long passage, so I won't copy it all here, but you can click here for the complete text, if you want. In fact, I would suggest it. I mean, not only is it a passage from the Most Exalted Pen, but as I am going to be referring to it here, the rest of what I say won't make much sense without it. (Come to think of it, reading Baha'u'llah's text won't necessarily help what I write make sense anyways.)

As you can see, it begins by referring to our remoteness from God and reminds us how to get closer to that divine Presence. He talks about the dangers of our "covetous desires' and how they can destroy "the habitation wherein dwelleth My undying love for thee". That particular phrase is interesting: "covetous desires". They are not just any desires, but the ones that are covetous. They are those desires that are marked our longing for something, our extreme desire to possess something. It is, after all, acceptable to want something, like food when we are hungry, or money for our work so that we can help both our families and the poor. But when that desire becomes covetous, when it becomes extreme, it is no longer good. It is as if it begins to come between us and God. And whenever anything comes between us and God, it has ceased to be good. When we want something so much, to the point of doing anything for it, even violating the laws of God, then we have placed it at the centre of our heart. "Love Me, that I may love thee" is the command of Baha'u'llah. Actually, it is not so much a command as a law of nature, as natural as the law of gravity. If we cease to love God, if we place something else in the centre of our heart, then His "love can in no wise reach" us. Those "covetous desires" can destroy that habitation of God's very love: our own heart.

In the next clause, He points out that our "self and passion" can overcloud "the beauty of the heavenly youth". What does that mean? Well, as you know, this is only my opinion, and nothing official, but to me it is a reminder that if we are full of our self, or overly passionate in our exposition of the Faith, this can turn people off. No matter how beautiful the Writings may be, it is we who are often the first gate to someone's exploration of them. Those of us who came to the Faith on our own know that it was an individual who introduced us. Now, if that person was a know-it-all, would we have listened? I know that I wouldn't have. It would have turned me off. I wouldn't have even begun to explore the Writings. And if my teacher was overly zealous, that would have turned me off, too. Both of those attitudes would have been as clouds to Baha'u'llah's sun.

The rest of this paragraph continues on in this vein. We should be righteous, fear nothing except God, and so on. As you can see, dear Reader, this passage is filled with simple guidance that is found in all sacred Texts, reminding us to turn to God. Although it is phrased so beautifully, there is nothing here that any of us would say is particularly new. Instead, it is a reminder, in beautiful language, of what has been told to us for millennia by all the divine Messengers.

Then, in that second paragraph, He refers to that "shoreless ocean", which brings to mind the very beginning of the Kitab-i-Iqan: "No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth. Sanctify your souls, O ye peoples of the world, that haply ye may attain that station which God hath destined for you..." He goes on and refers to our search, further emphasizing that reference to the Iqan. He even reminds us of the goal of our search: to draw closer to and be united with him.

With this lofty goal in mind, He continues, in the third paragraph, by cautioning us against that which can distract us from this goal: our own vain imagination. As we walk the path of truth, we can easily misunderstand things, misinterpret them. We can easily read a single passage out of context and start to believe in something that is totally wonky. Many, for example, have read that incredible passage in the Qur'an, in which Muhammad is referred to as the Seal of the Prophets, and have taken this to mean that none shall ever come after Him. This is similar to those who have read in the Bible the statement by Jesus that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that none shall come to the Father except by Him. They have taken this to mean that God's hands are tied and no other Messenger shall ever continue the Message Jesus gave, despite the many verses to the contrary. These interpretations have hindered many from even beginning to search. Baha'u'llah, incidentally, has promised us that another Messenger shall come. It is a guarantee. But, as He said, it will be at least 1000 years, so we don't need to worry about searching until then. And whether that means 2817, 2844, 2863 or 1000 years from the date of the revelation of that particular passage, who knows. Either way, it doesn't affect us, or even our great-great grandchildren, so we can put it out of our mind for now.

In the fourth of the nine paragraphs, He tells us to "Retrace your steps". Now that we admit our own shortcomings, and recognize that we can misunderstand sacred Text, He directs us back to those same Texts. Go back to the Writings. Make sure that we understand everything within them in light of their sanctified and exalted character. If there is something within them that leads us to hate, or to think that we are somehow better than another, we can be certain that we have misunderstood. Look at them again in a fuller context. They should always lead us to compassion, love and humility.

Paragraph 5 opens with a beautiful metaphor: "Deprive not yourselves of the unfading and resplendent Light that shineth within the Lamp of Divine glory. Let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts. Feed it with the oil of Divine guidance, and protect it within the shelter of your constancy. Guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light." It is so worth examining this metaphor in detail. It is the love of God that is the flame in this lamp, and whether that is our love for God, or God's love for us, I leave up to you to decide. Either way, it is this love that is visible to others, this love that shines the light that guides the way in the dark world. Personally, I think it is our love for God, as it is fed by our obedience to God's laws, and protected by our continued obedience. The glass that protects this flame from blowing out by the slightest, or even strongest, breeze is our trust and detachment. I could easily go on and on about this metaphor, but I think it would just bore you. It is far more rewarding to contemplate it for yourself. one of my favorite exercises was to actually get one of these old-style oil lamps and study how it actually worked. It was interesting to remove the globe and see how it affected the flame. It was fascinating to remove the metal piece that held the wick and to see what happened. It was enlightening to see how the flame burned when the oil was gone. There is so much more in this simple metaphor than I first thought, and I encourage you to experiment with it yourself.

Then He goes back to the Ocean and the shores of the Ocean. It is interesting to remember that the ocean has more than one shore. Oceans are vast, and can be approached from so many different ways. I currently live on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, but this shore is in Victoria, BC, Canada. It is quite different from the shores of California, or Hawai'i, or Vanuatu, or Japan, or Peru, or Easter Island, or Kamchatka, all of which are also on the shores of this same ocean. If we think for a moment that only our beach has access, we should go back to those Writings and think again. And lest we think the beach is far away, He reminds us that it "is near, astonishingly near".

Then He gives us a glimpse of ourselves. He reminds us of those inestimable treasures that He has placed within our very souls. And He, at the same time, reminds us of how fragile those treasures can be if we fall prey to insincerity, or petty desires, or even hate and envy.

From this to paragraph 7, He shows us, again, how we can free ourselves of these impediments. By diving deep in the Ocean of his Words we can find those pearls of power and wisdom that will help us in our quest. And just in case we missed it, He reminds us again of Muhammad when He says that He has unsealed that choice wine. Over and over again he guides us from wherever we may be, ever forward closer and closer to our Creator.

Now, in paragraph 8, He describes Himself. He describes the purity of His Words. He reminds us in more detail of those admonitions from the very beginning of this passage. Follow God. Be faithful to our pledge. Don't get distracted by worldly things.

And then, in the very end, that passage that started this whole article: "Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain."

What a vision. What a promise. So much more than we normally dream. Baha'u'llah raises our vision not only of ourselves, and this world, but also of those worlds to come.

Now, when I come home this afternoon and Marielle asks me how my day was, how can I even begin to answer?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


A couple of days ago Shoghi came home from school with an assignment. (I love the fact that my spellchecker keeps wanting me to change Shoghi's name to "hoggish".) He is to interview someone who is doing a job that he would love to do. There are a series of questions (like, 3 or 4) (I mean, he is only in grade 2) that he has to ask, and then write down the answers. The first trick, of course, was figuring out what he would like to do when he gets older.

His first response? "A spy."

Now remember, we live on a military base. My wife is a musician for the Canadian Navy. So we know all sorts of people in Intelligence. Do they count as "spies"? We're not sure, but that seemed like a good last resort.

"Anything else", we asked. "I'd like to make computer games."

Aside - There is a web-site that Shoghi totally loves. It's called Sploder, where he gets to use the various elements to make his own game. He would be on this site every day, given half a chance. And some of the games he makes? They're really tough. He is regularly getting e-mails from other gamers who just love his creations. I don't think they realize he's only 8, or that he was 6 when he began building these games.

Anyways, I put it out on FaceBook to my friends that we were looking for someone that Shoghi could interview, preferably in French.

And wow, did they come through.

We have an marvelous offer from one very popular game company for Shoghi to phone and talk to them (we actually have a number of their games here in the house), and another from a very dear friend's brother who is a 3D animation artist.

Overall, Shoghi is extremely excited about this.

And me? I'm very touched by my friends' loving encouragement to him. It is because of their encouragement that he will be able to give the very best he can. It reminds me of that guidance from 'Abdu'l-Baha, where He says, "Encourage ye the school children, from their earliest years, to deliver speeches of high quality, so that in their leisure time they will engage in giving cogent and effective talks, expressing themselves with clarity and eloquence." While it may not be a speech he is giving in this assignment, he is being encouraged to do the very best he can. I'm certain the speeches will come later.

He also says, of the children, "They must be constantly encouraged and made eager to gain all the summits of human accomplishment..." He says that this encouragement is "of the utmost importance", for it strengthens their heart.

So, to all my friends who have eagerly arisen to help Shoghi, thank you very much.

"...the friends should love each other, constantly encourage each other, work together, be as one soul in one body, and in so doing become a true, organic, healthy body animated and illumined by the spirit. In such a body all will receive spiritual health and vitality from the organism itself, and the most perfect flowers and fruits will be brought forth."

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Matter of Perspective

I'm not a big fan of the paintings of Monet.

I mean, I recognize his brilliance with the brush, and appreciate his technical mastery, but I'm just not a big fan of his paintings. I like them, but he's not on my top 10 (or even 20) list of painters. It's only a question of personal taste. About the only one of the impressionists that I really love is Van Gogh. I'm also not all that fond of Picasso's paintings, but he was still a genius artistically speaking. Oh, an I love Picasso's sketch-work. Truly astonishing.

But, and here's the story, one year I had the bounty of seeing what must have been about half of Monet's life work. I was in Chicago and the Art Institute had a huge retrospective show of his art. It was amazing.

Then I went to France with my father and step-mother. While there, we went to Giverny to see Monet's house and gardens. I really loved that because of all the Japanese wood prints. And the flowers. The flowers were pretty awesome, too.

Aside - My Dad and I had an interesting time looking at the wood prints. We would walk into a room that was covered from floor to ceiling with these framed prints. Each print was probably about 9 x 12 inches, or a bit larger than a standard piece of paper. We would walk in, and I would point to a number of them that I liked. "That one, that one, and that one." Invariably, every single one that I pointed to, and only the ones I pointed to, were by Hiroshige. While Hokusai is far more famous, I so much prefer Hiroshige's style. It was in this place that I truly discovered my love of Hiroshige.

From there, we went to a museum in Paris, I can't remember which one, and they had a large number of Monets, too. It was probably the Musee d'Orsay. (Don't you love all these links? I feel so technically proficient here.)

But what really stuck out for me was a small exhibit we saw in Rouen. Not only is Rouen infamous for the burning of Jeanne d'Arc, it is also famous for its cathedral. Now, as you may (or may not) know, dear Reader, Monet had this great habit of painting the same thing over and over in different light throughout the day, or year. He would set up his easel looking over a haystack in a field and paint one painting in the early morning light, then again in the late morning light, again at noon, early afternoon, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, early evening, in spring, mid-summer, later winter, and on and on. He would paint a painting like a hobbit would eat a meal. These series of paintings that he would do like this are truly incredible.

And one of these series was of the Rouen Cathedral.

Now, the exhibit we saw was interesting because it had brought together all of the Rouen Cathedral paintings and exhibited them in the very space in which he sat while painting them. In fact, they even got his original easel and set it up where he did, with his palette and brushes, with one of the paintings on the easel, so you could see what it looked like to him.

That was when I "got it". I felt like I understood Monet and his paintings. I was standing there, a few feet behind his easel, basically seeing what he saw, with the painting there and, just behind it, the view he had captured. I looked at the painting, and then at the cathedral. Back to the painting. Back to the cathedral. Back to the painting, and the cathedral again.

Then I took off my glasses.

And I realized that the painting was now a very faithful representation of what I saw.

Of course, his genius was not that he was near-sighted, but in his innate understanding that while the object remained the same, its impression upon the human soul differed as the light hitting it changed.

Now, after all that, you may be wondering what this has to do with the Baha'i Faith. Well, two things. First, it's personal. Like me with Monet, we do not all love the same thing about it. We're not all attracted to the same things. One friend of mine absolutely loves Thief in the Night. He thinks it is one of the greatest books about the Faith ever written, and is all over the whole prophecy thing. Not me. I recognize it's a great book, and appeals to many people, but it doesn't really call out to me. I didn't grow up Christian. Those particular prophecies were not embedded in my childhood, and so I am just not the right audience for it. But I still respect the book, and recognize it for what it is. I may not be a big fan of Monet's style, but I still respect his gift and appreciate his work.

This also applies to people of different faiths. I can truly respect someone that I disagree with. I may not agree with all the other chaplains at the university here, where I work, but I respect their opinions. Dean, for the example, the Catholic Chaplain, and I have many discussions about our differing views. We often challenge each other about a particular point, but not in a mean way. We see what we perceive to be a flaw in the others view and ask questions to try and expose it. Quite often we each change our language or even our ideas because of this. It is very respectful and enlightening.

Just the other day he asked me what I meant by the "oneness of religion". He correctly pointed out that the very words which many Baha'is use, myself included, gives the impression that we think all religions agree on every little detail, an impression that does nothing but convince others of our ignorance. I was able to explain what I meant by that phrase, and he helped me find words that conveyed what I meant, but also showed that I wasn't ignorant of the differences. All religions help guide people to a higher ethical imperative. It's not as quick as "Religion is one", but it is more accurate. And there are many other little aspects of that to speak of, too, but I won't go into it here.

So, personal taste comes into the picture, and the respect for another's taste.

Second, it's all about perspective. Isn't that one of the most brilliant things about the Kitab-i-Iqan? This new perspective that Baha'u'llah offers? My friend, Samuel, and I talk about this a lot in our blog on studying the Iqan. Baha'u'llah, at the very beginning of this Book, asks the reader, the uncle of the Bab, who was a Muslim (the uncle, not the Bab) (although He was, too), to consider the past. He reminds this man of all the Messengers of God that he already recognizes: Noah, Abraham, Hud, Salih, Moses, to name a few. He then talks a little about each of Them, reframing what this man already knows. If you were to ask me about Noah, I would talk about the Flood and the Ark. Not Baha'u'llah. Those are what make Noah unique, not what make Him a Messenger of God. Baha'u'llah reframes religious history for us by showing what all these Messengers have in common.

He sheds a new light on Them.

And with this new light comes a new perspective. They impact our soul in a different way. They were beautiful before. They are beautiful now. They have not changed. All that has changed is the way in which we see Them.

Like Monet's cathedral. Or haystacks.

But, you know, I'm still not a huge fan of Monet's.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Thought of a Mountain

I grew up in the flat mid-western prairies, just outside Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan. It was flat. Not that I really noticed, mind you. I mean, if that's all you ever really saw, it wouldn't occur to you to think about how flat it was. After all, a fish doesn't think about how wet the water is.

And then there were the small hills. I remember this one hill, kind of a rise, and we lived at the bottom of it. It ran for quite a distance, parallel to our street, just across from our house. If I wanted to ride my bicycle to the beach, then I had to pedal up that hill. That was the challenge of my childhood, to pedal up that hill. I still remember the great joy I felt the first time I did it. Before that, I would ride around the block so that I could get a fast start. I would downshift as soon as I could when I started going up. And it never failed. Halfway up I would run out of strength and have to get off the bike. But one day, I did it. I made it all the way up that hill. I was so happy, so proud of myself. Perseverance had paid off.

Then, years later, I moved to Winnipeg. And I thought Chicago was flat. Heh. Little did I know.

In the little suburb on the lake where I grew up I could see Chicago far off in the distance. I could see the towering skyscrapers reaching up into, and often past, the clouds, lo those 20 miles away.

In Winnipeg, there was nothing on the horizon. Only sky. I used to joke that I could watch my dog run away for a week, it was so flat.

But it was spectacular, at the same time. For those who think the prairies are boring are failing to look up. I have never seen sky like I did on the prairies. You can lie down in the middle of a field and truly get the impression of the heavens looking down on you. You could truly see the firmament, that overarching dome of the sky, for there was nothing to get in the way of that vision on the horizon.

That's something I really began to understand, living on the prairies: the breadth of God's Kingdom.

Here, in Victoria, I don't get that same feeling. There are real hills everywhere, not those tiny ones that tormented my bicycle riding youth. These are actual rises in the ground that challenge me as a fully grown adult. The other day when I was riding the bike home from the repair shop, I thought I was going to die halfway up that hill. I mean, I know I'm a bit out of shape, and that my stamina is not what it should be, but come on. This was nuts. And I wasn't even halfway up that hill. Plus I still had another few hills to go. My legs ached for days after that short ride. And this is the same ride that my wife does most every day. Twice a day. (Sometimes she really tests my love for her.)

Here, in Victoria, there are hills everywhere. In Winnipeg I could walk on the sidewalk and see what shops were there many blocks away. In Victoria, I'm lucky if I can see two blocks away, for they really are blocks. They block the vision.

And in the distance, I don't see the city. I see the mountains, many miles away. Tall, majestic, imposing mountains on the horizon, across the water, far away.

Mountains form a large part of my life out here on the Coast. I mean, I don't get to visit them much, for they really are far away, and mostly in another country. But they are what form the hills. They are what dominate the horizon.

Twice, in recent months, they came more to my attention than usual, and both times in a spiritual sense.

The first was when my family and I went up to Mount Washington to go snow tubing, which is a ton of fun when you go with your 8-year old son. This is when you get on a giant inner tube and they tow you up the mountain, and then you go sliding down on it. It was awesome.

But when I was being towed up, I had the bounty of looking over the mountains in the distance. A few moments of silent contemplation amidst the joy of the afternoon.

I stared off at them, so tall and majestic, covered in snow, and pristine in their beauty. I could see how we had marred the snow around us for our enjoyment, and noticed just how little we had actually touched them. If we were to look from far above, we would barely even notice where we humans had built our recreation area.

And when I think about the Cause, and just how majestic it is, I realize how we can explore to our hearts content and still never even begin to mar the beauty of the Faith. Some will ski down its metaphoric slopes, while others will tube down it. Some will wander among the trees and the forest, while others may build snow forts or snowmen. Some of us will even dig down to the rock and look for the gold that lies hidden in its depths. There is plenty for us to do.

When looking through the Writings, what really stands out is how often they talk of being steadfast like a mountain, or lofty. In one quote, Baha'u'llah says, "Be ye as a mountain in the Cause of your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Glorious, the Unconstrained." To me, this is a reminder to cultivate those virtues within us. To be mighty against the tests that come our way, to show some glory in what we do, and to be unconstrained in our teaching efforts. And when I think how a mountain shows those virtues, it helps clarify my thinking along those lines.

The other time, in recent days, when the mountains really impressed themselves upon me was when I went down to the beach to meditate on them in the distance. It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny, crisp, with just a touch of wind.

At that time it occurred to me that the mountains are huge, awe-inspiring, demonstrative of the majesty of God. And yet, when you see them from a distance they are so small in comparison to the grandness of the world. And this world, so rich in its diversity, so vast that we have only recently explored its outermost corners, is but a speck compared to the sun. And this sun, and the entire solar system we have not yet even begun to explore in any depth, having only reached the surface of the moon, and seen the surface of the other planets, is minuscule compared to the enormity of this entire galaxy. And this is only one galaxy or millions.

Truly, it is as Baha'u'llah says, "And at whatever time I contemplate the mountains, I am led to discover the ensigns of Thy victory and the standards of Thine omnipotence."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Thoughts on a Sequence

I had an interesting conversation the other day with one of the youth in the area. He's heading up a junior youth group, and we talked a bit about that. The conversation went all over he place, but a few things emerged that really stand out in my mind.

First was when I mentioned a presentation I'm giving here at UVic. It's about spirituality and mathematics, and is based on some of the concepts in one of the junior youth books, "Thinking About Numbers". Now it may seem odd to use a junior youth book at a university, but what I'm doing is using it to demonstrate a principle, namely that you can teach spirituality in any course.

Anyways, what happened is that I mentioned that I had never studied the book in a group, and he said that he did. I then asked him for help in studying it, so that I could better prepare for the talk.

Surprising? I didn't think so. I mean, why wouldn't I ask him for help? He obviously has more experience regarding that book than I do. But it did seem to surprise him a bit, and it surprised a few others when I mentioned it. Why, I wondered. Doesn't it just make sense to ask someone with more experience to help you out? Who cares if they're younger than you? To me, that is the essence of being willing to learn.

But that's not what I wanted to mention today.

What I wanted to write about was the part of our conversation in which we talked about the Ruhi books and the sequence of courses.

We began by talking about effectiveness in tutoring. In many courses, or classes, around the world, the teachers will lecture to the students, presuming that they have knowledge which must be imparted to the students. As we all know, this is not the case with the tutors of the Ruhi books. There is no presumption of knowledge on the part of the tutor. They are only the tutor because they have been through the books before, and have a bit more awareness of the direction of them. There is no assumption of a "correct" answer; just an awareness of the implications of some answers, which they lovingly point out to the participants.

We talked about the various ways we had each seen tutors approach the study circles, from the lecturing "I know more than you" format, to the one in which the tutor was mostly silent, generally speaking to ask questions, or guide them on to the next section when everyone had advanced a little in their understanding of the text. We had both seen excellent tutors, as well as tutors who were a bit less effective in helping their group learn more about how they learn about the Writings.

In retrospect, it seems to me that when the tutor dominates the conversation, or when the group goes on and on in all sorts of directions, grabbing tons of supporting quotes from every available source, we fall into the habit of talking and not doing. I have noticed that when the tutors allow the group to discuss a bit, ensuring that everyone there advances a bit in their understanding of the text, and then moves the group on to the next section, the group tends to be more in the habit of actually doing things, like service. The effectiveness of their teaching increases. Their sense of joy seems to be higher. overall, the study is far more fruitful.

(Sorry. I was just distracted by two Korean women who wanted to know if they could present a talk to me on the subject of "God: The Mother". They go to a local Christian college, and their assignment was to go around the neighbourhood making this presentation to receptive individuals. Sound familiar?)

Now, where was I?

Oh yes. I was going to talk a bit about the sequence in the sequence of courses.

I'm sure I've mentioned this many times before, but it never hurts to review, right? (I say that hoping to hear a "Yes, Mead", but it never seems to come.)

To start, let's define a few terms, as experience has shown that not everyone is up to date on them. The Ruhi Books are broken down into 3 units per book. Those units are further broken down into various sections. So, for ease of reference I generally refer to the book number, the unit number, and then the section number. This works most of the time, with the odd exception of Book 1, Unit 1. The English edition has 8 sections, following the pattern of quotes and questions for he odd and even sections respectively, while the French edition has 4 sections, combining the pairs into a single section.

And please remember that I'm not an authority. I'm just one Baha'i trying to figure some of this stuff out, and thinking aloud here. So be patient with me. If I make a gross error, kindly let me know. (And I place the emphasis on kindly.) (Which I don't actually need to do, as you are very kind in your comments, dear Reader, for which I thank you.)

So, what's the theme of the first section of Book 1? Action. Or deeds, if you prefer.

Why? Because it all leads to action. If our spiritual studies do not lead to action, or a change in behaviour, what's the point

The second theme is truthfulness, for if our deeds are not based in truthfulness, how good can they be? The third theme is a kindly tongue, for you can be truthful and mean, accidentally hurting someone. ("That shirt is really ugly.") Finally, the fourth theme is about not backbiting. Why? Well, I think you can be truthful, and think you are being kind, but actually be backbiting. Not a good thing.

Then, in that section, we read about how the light of our soul is extinguished if we backbite. That can be very depressing, especially for one such as me. It's easy to fall into despair. But don't worry. Baha'u'llah comes to our rescue, as usual. The very next unit is all about prayer, and how it kindles our soul. Ain't that nice? My candle has gone out, and now it is re-lit.

And then, once we know a bit about prayer, the next unit is all about life and death, and the purpose of our life here on this planet.

But then it gets a bit more interesting. I regularly ask people about the very last page in the book, and it seems that many people never really noticed it, or didn't spend a lot of time on it. (Try asking around, dear Reader. I bet you'll be surprised how many other people don't remember it as well as you do.)

Which last page? Thanks for asking. It's that very last section in which it says, "Now that I understand that my life begins here on earth but leads towards God for all eternity, how important are the following aspects of my life for me?

  1. Obedience to the laws of Baha'u'llah
  2. My contribution to the well-being of the human race
  3. My service to the Cause and to humanity
  4. My firmness in the Covenant"

As you can see, the discussion which ensues generally leads us right into Ruhi Book 2, Arising to Serve.

Now, how does Book 2 lead into Book 3? As you recall, the very last theme in the third unit is all about knowledge and education. One of the questions directs our attention to the education of children, and there you have it.

Book 3 has all those great lessons for children's classes, and the last few lessons are about the life of the Messenger, which takes us right into Book 4. After all, every child I have ever told the stories to has always asked for more. Book 4 helped me learn them.

But now, the main theme in Book 4 is crisis and victory. The entire book revolves around that theme. Naturally, one of the crises that I saw was in the hearts of the junior youth. They were just beginning to refine their sense of self, and that was a crisis. Not a bad one, mind you, but still a crisis. They were beginning to question everything, seeking deeper meaning to what they were being told. They needed the time to be absorb the reasons they were given, even though quite often they were still treated as children, being told to merely accept things on faith.

In Book 5, 'Abdu'l-Baha talks about how after puberty you cannot change another person. True, 'dat. But you can give them reasons and cogent explanations to help them change themselves. With children, as in Book 3, you can pretty much tell them stuff and they will believe you. You can say to a child, "We have to pray every night before going to bed", and they will. The time will come, though, when they will ask "Why?"

Book 5 helps us all arise to support the junior youth at this critical period in their lives. It helps us understand the differences between children and junior youth, and gives us the tools to allow them to discover things for themselves. Independent investigation, and all that.

And you know what? Adults are past puberty, too.

We need this perspective before we can go into the communal teaching projects in Book 6, or begin tutoring in Book 7.

Book 8, well, I'm not sure where that's going yet. I've only seen the first unit.

But I do know that, as a tutor, it has been very helpful to continually refer the friends back and forth to the overall themes linking all the books together. In one of the study circles I am now helping tutor, we regularly do this, and the friends in it have said that it is giving them a far more solid understanding of the "sequence of courses" so often referred to in the letters from the World Centre.

Oh, and we also do this within the books, too.

For example, the very first section in Book 5 is all about our vision of where we want the junior youth to be when they complete the course. By continually reminding the friends of this great vision given to us in the Writings of what a noble youth looks like, it has helped us get more out of the rest of the book.

Anyways, that was part of this lunchtime conversation.

I really love exploring the tools we have within the Faith with others.

Especially the youth.

Now to begin preparing for this presentation in early June.