Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Ridvan 2018 - Part 1

Well, it's that time of year again, and the Ridvan message just came out a couple of days ago.

Along with the letter informing us of the new membership of the Universal House of Justice, the document "For the Betterment of the World", and the video "A Widening Embrace". Wow. What a collection.

As I'm sure you already have the Ridvan message, and have read it a number of times, I'm not going to copy it here. Plus, you can just google it if you need to.

Instead, I'm just going to go right into it and share my own paltry thoughts.

To start, the first thing I did, after reading it aloud to my wife, was number the paragraphs. There are 13 of them, in case you're curious. This is how I will reference it, by paragraph number. Clever, eh? (You can tell I'm Canadian. I used 'eh' instead of the American 'huh'.) (Have you ever noticed how much more upbeat 'eh' sounds? It lilts upwards. 'Huh' just sounds like you got hit in the gut, or something.)

The first paragraph, as usual, gives us a very upbeat ("eh") view of where we are, and what we have done over the past year. As they do this, though, they offer us hints or clues as to what we can focus on. Are we "more conscious of our mission"? Can we clearly state what that mission is? Beyond that, are we bringing our friends and acquaintances into contact with the Baha'i community? When put that way, it sounds so simple. And of course we are doing that. Have we learned how to "articulate how spiritual truths can be translated into sustained practical action"? All of a sudden those practices in Ruhi Book 2 seem even more relevant than ever. And most important, as we all know, we are more directly connecting the name of Baha'u'llah with "the teachings that will build the world anew". That is wonderful news.

It's when we move into the second paragraph that we begin to see some more interesting things arising. They begin by pointing out to us that the Faith has "emerged from obscurity at the national level". Back in the 1980s, they spoke of the faith emerging from obscurity on a global scale, but now it is at the national level. This is a profound shift, a quantum leap forward. The next step, of course, is to help it be more recognized on the regional and local levels. But still, this is quite an amazing thing, and truly worthy of both note and celebration.

And what is one of the factors at play here? The twin bi-centenaries. It was through the reaction to the celebration just finished that this emergence became evident. Now we know that we have to push forward even more with the bi-centenary of the birth of the Bab. To be clear, though, we have the tools. We have the experience. This is nothing new for us. We have literally decades of experience, since this current series of global plans began back in the 90s. We also see, in this paragraph, a hint of what we have learned, and how we acted. "The individual believer took initiative, the community arose in collective effort, and the friends channelled their creative energy into the plans prepared by the institutions." As we look back at these celebrations, we can reflect on what we learned and strive to do even more in the next couple of years.

This leads us right into the third paragraph, and the present plan. "(P)rogress is not uniform from country to country" is the reminder at the very beginning. We shouldn't judge ourselves according to anyone else. If our community isn't seeing the same growth as another, fine. Note it and move on. Learn from your experience and grow. It's very interesting that, at the end of the first sentence, when talking about these intensive programmes of growth, they say "the rate at which this number is rising has been steadily increasing." How do they know? Because they have the statistics to prove it. They've been monitoring the numbers for years now and they can see that this particular number, the number of intensive programmes of growth, is in fact on the rise. But then, right after that, they say, "Looking more closely". This is the analysis part of the statistics. You see, dear reader, there are still some people out there who don't see the value or use of statistics. They think they are just mere numbers. To be fair, for many of us they are just mere numbers. But to one who is literate in statistics, these numbers tell a story. By looking more closely at these numbers, there are certain things that you can discern. The sheer number of people around the globe who attended celebrations of the bi-centennial of the birth of Baha'u'llah tells us that many more people were invited. We know that not everyone invited came. The stories surrounding this event also tell us that the friends are recognizing that "their day-to-day interactions with the people around them can be infused with the spirit of teaching." This is important. It means that we have learned how to more effectively invite people to activities. If this number wasn't on the rise, then this is where we might need to focus our training. Once we have learned this skill, then we can focus our training in other areas. The statistics help us learn where to focus our energies.

Just to stay on this topic for a moment longer, I'd like to look at my own home community. We know from the letters from the World Centre that the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programmes are extremely important. There is no doubt of that. When I look at the stats, though, it seems that our strength, at this time, is in devotional gatherings. When we have focused on them, the numbers have skyrocketed. When we focus on other activities, they barely move. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. It means that we can clearly see our strength, and play to it. Once we get the devotional gatherings really moving, then we can learn to transfer that to the areas in which we may need a bit more help. The stats help us see our strength, and we are, after all, a community "moving from strength to strength".

Ok. Back to the Ridvan message. The Universal House of Justice says that "a vibrant community life is taking root" in all the communities where the work is gathering momentum. By using this particular phrase, "taking root", it seems to imply that it may not yet be visible. I imagine a small seed that I just planted in my garden. Once it germinates, it takes root. Only later can I see it breaking the ground as a small shoot. Leaves and fruit come later. So, for me, if I know from the statistics that the work is gathering momentum, then I can take heart that a vibrant community life is taking root. This is so encouraging.

Throughout this whole paragraph there is a constant sense of movement. And this movement is natural. They speak of this "continuum of development", and how "children move seamlessly through the grades", and that the levels of the junior youth groups reliably succeed each other. These "foundational activities" become a natural part of the community in which people move from one stage to the next, uninterrupted. There is a flow. It is not forced, and it is not awkward. We think nothing of a child going from grade 2 to grade 3 in school, and in a like manner, children are moving through the various courses open to them in the Baha'i community. As it becomes "an indispensable aspect of the life of a community", we will see all aspects of the Baha'i Faith becoming a natural part of the community life, further enriching the entire community. This is a part of how a new civilization will be born. These friends will take charge of their own development and "build immunity to those societal forces that breed passivity." This right here, is a phrase that is so well worth contemplating and consulting upon. What are some of those forces of society that breed passivity? How can we protect ourselves from them? And how can we avoid those two debilitating illnesses, apathy and lethargy? As we better learn "to articulate how spiritual truths can be translated into sustained practical action", then we will be in a far better position to counteract this passivity. And as we know from the first paragraph, we are learning to do this.

The children in these classes learn so much about service and personal responsibility. The junior youth are encouraged to healthy social action, drawing upon their natural inclination towards justice. The youth lovingly encourage those just behind them, moving all towards greater feats of service. The adults learn more and more about accompaniment and how to nurture all peoples in the community, of all ages. And as we speak about these, and other, practical steps, "Possibilities for material and spiritual progress take shape. Social reality begins to transform."

No comments:

Post a Comment