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.


  1. I just want to say that I love seeing ideas that arise like this out of doing the work.

  2. YOU SAID:
    (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?)

    Yes, Mead joon, it certainly does. Hey, weren't you your spiritual mother's tutor when she did that particular Ruhi practicum?

    What I also really look forward to hearing about is the Korean women's presentation on "God: The Mother". Did you have time to hear it? What did they say? What did you learn? (I know you; you learned SOMETHING.) Will you please do a blog article on it? Pretty please?

    1. It was interesting, Lucki. Their "presentation" turned out to be a video they showed on their iPhone. What they focused on, in the video, was the word "Elohim", which is a plural word. They appeared to believe that God was actually two Gods, Father and Mother, instead of seeing it as two aspects of the same God. It was evident that these two women didn't know much beyond what was said in this video on the subject, so the conversation went, instead, on how they felt about their going to people's doors. I tried to encourage them to keep it up, and to continue their studies. I also gave them a copy of The Hidden Words, as that seemed to be what would be most helpful to them.

  3. Thanx; interesting, & not at all what I was expecting. Let us know if you meet them again, please, as they may be guided back to you for further encouragement or Writ.