Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ridvan 2014 - A Few Thoughts

By now you have likely read this year's Ridvan Message, which was, quite wonderfully, shared on the Universal House of Justice's web-site (click here to read it), and, as you know, I like to look at it with you to see what wisdoms we can find within its paragraphs.

Actually, I originally began doing this because I was sick and tired of the so-called study guides that pop up every year that ask questions that merely ensure you understand the most basic level of English. You know, the kinds that ask questions like "A full three years have passed since the inception of the current stage in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan..." "How many years have passed since the inception of the current stage in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan?" (There are way too many of these out there to begin to name them. Which I wouldn't do anyways. After all, their intentions are good, and they are helping people to at least read the Message.)

Of course, there is room that type of question, such as when they mention the "two essential movements" that "propel the process of growth". It is so important that we know this by heart, for it is vital to the growth of the community. We have to recognize that these two movements are the friends through the sequence of courses offered by the training institute, and the movement of the clusters along the continuum of development. Until we, as a community, can answer "What are the two essential movements in this Plan" without giving it a seconds thought, we need to keep asking it.

But really, there is so much more in this letter that we can ask about. We don't need to spend so much time on the basic language of it.

We could, for example, ask why these two movements are essential. And if we do, we may come to realize that the first one addresses the spiritual development of the individual, while the second one helps us recognize how our community is growing closer together, becoming more unified and more effective in helping bring about "the material and spiritual prosperity" envisioned by "Him Who is the Lifegiver of the World".

As usual, they use the first paragraph to help us understand just what it is we have spent the past year doing. We may feel depressed because we might not see as much movement in our own community as we would like. Or perhaps we saw some movement, but got stalled. Maybe we ran into some obstacle and can't quite see our way around it. Either way, the House of Justice lets us all know that we, as a global community, are doing quite well, indeed. And they even point out that the youth who attended those incredible conferences last year are a tremendous resource who are now mobilized in the field of service, helping move all of us forward on this path towards a better world.

But we can't rest easy. We still have a lot of work left to do. And while we have advanced 3000 clusters to point of having their own intensive programs of growth, we still have to find a way to raise another 2000. Great job, and more to do.

By the time we get to paragraph 2, they begin to break it down for us. They define many types of clusters, which are at different points along that path towards growth. We can ask ourselves where our own cluster is on that continuum. That will help us see what some of the next steps might be.

They also make a very interesting observation in that paragraph. They say that "as the quality of the process of spiritual education is enhanced through experience, souls are more readily attracted to participate in it." The implications of this are quite neat. And obvious. After all, why would someone who is not a member of the Baha'i community have any interest in taking any of these courses? We can't force them to do so. We have to attract them. And the best way to do this is by enhancing the quality, and that only comes with experience. So now we can ask ourselves what we have learned about enhancing the quality. What have we experienced that really moved us, touched our heart? How can we do something similar?

Of course, we are likely to encounter obstacles on the way. This is only natural. And how do we get past these obstacles? Consult on the reasons for the impasse. Try to honestly discover the problems. And it does require honesty. I know that I have tutored courses that were boring. I had to be honest about that and find a new way of tutoring. I had to see what touched me, and not just do the rote style of tutoring I had been doing. Doesn't work. We also need to show forth patience, courage and perseverance.

When we move to the marvelous example of Vanuatu in paragraph 3, it is worth noting that the friends there were more concerned about the greater community than their own activities. They have turned to the greater community to see what they needed, spent the time and energy and resources helping provide what they needed, and are now being amply rewarded for their wisdom. I could easily go on and on about the friends there, but let's move on. Paragraphs 3 and 4 tell us that this phenomenon is not unique there. It can happen anywhere.

In paragraph 5, they offer us a lot of guidance. That, to me, is the meat of the letter. We've been praised for what we have accomplished, and we have been shown an example of what is possible. Now we come to what we can do about it.

First and foremost, "it is the capacity for learning among the local friends, within a common framework, that fosters progress..." This is so important. Remember that framework? Those two essential movements? Well, one of them is studying courses, currently Ruhi, that result in a change of behaviour. There are some out there who still rage against them, for whatever reasons. And I'm sure some of their reasons are valid, especially given their personal experience, but that is not enough to rail against it. Doing so, consulting on the affairs of the Faith outside of this framework, stunts the growth. It is really that simple.

And we need to learn how to learn. Over and over this comes up. We need to learn, in our own community, "what is required for progress to occur". They happen to list 5 categories, but there are likely more. These five, though, are:

  • the nascent capacity that must be nurtured
  • the new skill that must be acquired
  • the initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied
  • the space for reflection that must be cultivated
  • the collective endeavour that must be coordinated

This is a very important list. And you know, it begins with the inherent talents of the individual, which we learn about recognizing in Ruhi Book 3. (See? It's not just about teaching children.) We have to learn to recognize those inherent skills or talents and help the person develop them. You see, nascent means that it is only just beginning to be developed. Of course we encourage the friends to use their developed talents, but then we also help those who are only beginning to learn about their talents and skills. We take the time to get to know the friends and help them develop.

Once this occurs, and they want to begin an activity, some of them will require assistance. We have to be ready to accompany them, help them take their first steps until they can do it on their own.

Then we need to learn to reflect on our activities. This will begin in small groups, but eventually grow to become the Reflection Meeting we all know and love.

From there, the institutions will likely be in place now to help coordinate a large group of people who are beginning to learn to work together as a community.

But each community will have its own path. The talents in my community are likely different from the ones in yours. The interests in your community are likely different from the ones in mine. We all need to look at our own community, find the talents within it, and the interests from people around us, and build on those. "Awareness of this reality frees one from the fruitless search for a rigid formula..."

Their comment about the "narrow conceptions of 'success' and 'failure' that breed freneticism or paralyse volition" is a good reminder to avoid thinking in those terms. We are not about success or failure. We are all about crisis and victory. Recognizing that, and keeping that firmly in our mind, is a very important step on this path to growth.

Two last points I want to mention. First, when the Universal House of Justice writes a sentence that is only three words long, it is likely very important. It is kind of like a short punch to the gut. We should really pay attention when it occurs. "Detachment is needed." It is not just a good idea, or something that would be nice to have. It is needed. Perhaps we need to learn more about detachment.

The second thing is effort. That last paragraph is really all about the importance of exerting effort. The more effort we exert, the greater the aid from on High.

That's all I wanted to share for now. I'm sure that more will come to mind as I continue to read and study this letter, especially with others.

Unless, of course, they only ask simple questions to ensure I understood the sentences themselves, and don't want to dive into this deep ocean of wisdom that is contained within the letter.


  1. As one of those who have put together a study guide such as the ones you disparage ! :-) . . . http://susangammage.com/a-study-guide-for-the-2014-ridvan-message

    I wish to speak in my own defense!

    Breaking it up the way I did allowed me to really understand what was being said in a more specific way; similar to the first level questions asked in Ruhi book one, where the answer to the question can be found in the quote. It's a powerful technique which teaches the skill of turning to the Writings to find the answer - a skill which still seems to be lacking in our community (at least as evidenced in the various forums I look at from time to time, where personal opinions, not backed up by quotes are the norm).

    Knowing that every community is different, I imagined that tutors or those facilitating discussion on these questions would come up with second level (applying it to daily life) and third level questions (implications for situations with no apparent or immediate connection), as defined by Ruhi Book 1.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I stand corrected.

      I think I am tired of them because I have way too often seen people claim that they are using hte "Ruhi method" when all they are doing is asking those "level 1" questions that we have all been using for over 100 years.

      And yes, I, too, hope that your guide (which is fairly comprehensive in its level 1 questions) will lead people on to the deeper questions about application and implication.

      Lotsa love to you,