Monday, September 10, 2018

God's Finger

Every now and then I love to look up a single word in the Writings and see what comes of it. This time it was the result of something my mother-in-law said.

We were reading "Words of Wisdom", which is found in Tablets of Baha'u'llah. You see, dear Reader, she loves Baha'u'llah and His Writings, but is not a registered Baha'i. She is from Quebec and her primary language is French, so she has a difficult time with the English, and has said that hearing me read it aloud makes it easier for her to understand.

So there we were reading Words of Wisdom when we ran across the part where He says, "The essence of wealth is love for Me; whoso loveth Me is the possessor of all things, and he that loveth Me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the Finger of Glory and Splendour hath revealed."

And in her delightful Quebecois accent, she piped in "Oh, shoot, that is a funny finger."

My first thought, and I'm sure I'll hear from a Counsellor about it at some point, was "Well, now I know which finger it was."

Well, no matter which one it may have been, it has gotten me to look up "finger" in the Writings.

Now it may just be me, but I have often wondered about these fingers in the Writings, and their relation to the Hands of the Cause of God. All right. Maybe I haven't. I mean, there is a difference between them, for one refers to the finger of God, and the other to the Hands of His Cause. And as Hand of the Cause, William Sears, said, the Hands of the Cause "carry out the work and guidance from the head and heart of the Faith in its World Centre in the Holy Land."

But even then, what is it about fingers? Why are there no references to the toes of God? or His ankle? How about His kneecaps?

Nope. We're stuck with the fingers, and can only imagine the numerous jokes that can be made about them, especially in relation to His nose, which, coincidentally, is also not mentioned in the Writings.

Hey, that reminds me of something I asked my son when he was about 5. Why are gorillas nostrils so big? Because they have big fingers.

Anyways, back to the Writings.

Normally when I look up a word in the Writings, I am astonished at the consistency in its use. But for some reason, not in this case. Ate first glance, it appears to be all over the place. Here are a few examples of its use:
  • Make me, then, O my God, content with that which the finger of Thy decree hath traced.
  • The veils have, verily, been rent asunder by the finger of the will of thy Lord, the Strong, the All-Subduing, the All-Powerful.
  • Take heed lest anything deter thee from extolling the greatness of this Day -- the Day whereon the Finger of majesty and power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth.
  • This He hath accomplished through the agency of but one Letter of His Word, revealed by His Pen -- a Pen moved by His directing Finger -- His Finger itself sustained by the power of God's Truth.

So far we have the finger of His decree, the finger of the will of our Lord, the finger of majesty and power (which doubles as a bottle opener), and the pen-directing finger. (I am definitely going to hear from a Counsellor on this one.) (And I guess I really should take heed, for this is not really extolling the greatness of this day, but, hey, I'm working on it.) (And I guess it's a good thing that I don't have to get this reviewed by a committee, so sayeth my wife.)

But really, my favorite finger quote has to be:
  • The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.

To be clear, though, this is not the same type of finger as those above. This finger is more like Baha'u'llah's personal finger, in a metaphorical sense, getting a feel of what is happening around Him. It is a demonstration of the care and attention He brings to His awareness of the state of the world.

It is quite different from the Bab, when He says the following:
  • I am the Mystic Fane which the Hand of Omnipotence hath reared. I am the Lamp which the Finger of God hath lit within its niche and caused to shine with deathless splendour. I am the Flame of that supernal Light that glowed upon Sinai in the gladsome Spot, and lay concealed in the midst of the Burning Bush.

You see, despite all the jokes above, there are two different types of references to fingers here, as far as I can tell. The one refers to some action, often in the movement generated by the Will of God, and the other is in perceptual awareness. And while these may seem very different, I suspect they are more linked than I would first guess.

It is interesting to compare these two different descriptions of fingers with how we use them, fingers, that is. We seem to use our fingers most often to touch something. Once we have felt it, then we decide to act upon what it is that we sense. We often have to detect something, feel it, think about it, plan a course of action, and then take the steps necessary for that action to occur. But here, it is as if God feels something, like the doctor using his finger to check the patient's pulse, and that very action of feeling results in the necessary action being taken, the exertion of that divine Will.

In that first quote we are asked to be content with God's Will, for that finger, I suspect, through merely touching something, has outlined the best course of action that can be taken.

We are reminded that there are veils between us and God, but that the very finger of God has torn them all asunder. It doesn't take a lot, though, just His finger. Those veils that grievously hindered us from recognizing God, that barred us from so much, are simply swept away with only a single finger. Those thick clouds that barred our way, that prevented the sunshine from illuminating us, are dissipated by a mere brushing of that fingertip. This gives further emphasis to the attributes that are mentioned there, those of the Strong, the All-Subduing, the All-Powerful.

That third quote reminds us that this same finger, this tiny part of the incredible immensity that is God, has opened the seal, mentioned by Muhammad, allowing the Wine of Reunion to pour forth, enabling all who come near to drink of the astonishing beverage that is within.

And in that fourth quote, when we think of all that has been accomplished by the Pen of Baha'u'llah we are reminded that this pen is moved by the Finger of God, sustained by the power of God's Truth, that ultimate reality of all that is in creation.

What do I get out of all this? First, I get a far better appreciation of just how much greater than us God is. I also come away with a better understanding of how our awareness of God has developed over the millennia. When we look back at the early stories of creation, we see that God really had to work to do it. He spoke. He forged. He moved things around with His body. And He even had to rest afterward. But here, so much is accomplished with but a movement of His finger.

When I compare a single finger of mine with my entire body, I realize how little of me is contained in that finger. And when I look at what God has done with His finger, I can only sit here in awe of how truly awesome He must be.

You also have to understand that I am a craftsman, an artist. I work with my hands all day. My fingers are the very source of my livelihood. If there is any part of my body that I am most careful with, it is my fingers. And yet, when I read these quotes, I realize how limited my fingers really are. They are not versatile at all.

God, on the other hand, no pun intended, has extremely versatile fingers, according to these quotes. They can do everything from tearing aside those veils to lighting a candle, which, in some sense, may actually be related, too. Perhaps that is how He removed those veils, by burning them away. There are certainly enough quotes about that. He can use it as a bottle opener, a conductor's baton, a lighter: the list goes on.

But in the end, reading these quotes makes me even more amazed at just what it is that God and Baha'u'llah have accomplished. And all this with but a single finger.

Hmmm. I wonder if it's like a Swiss army finger. No. Never mind. I'm not going there.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Shoghi and Shoghi

You may have noticed that I talk about my son a lot. It's because he is very dear to my heart, and such an important part of my life. After all, "When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved." And really, is there any greater love than that of a parent for their child? Well, I mean besides their spouse, or God, or the Manifestation... You get the idea.

Anyways, Shoghi, my son, began school again today. When he came home, I suggested that we spend a bit of time together working on a few things. First of all, we looked at polynomials, since I know he will be doing them later this year. We only worked on that for about 10 minutes, but he got the concept really quickly. Multiplication of them? No prob. Factoring? Easy-peasy. He just needs practice, and I think he'll ace the unit.

The second thing we did was based on a comment he made earlier this week. He said that it was taking him some time to read a book he was supposed to finish earlier this summer because he was having trouble remembering the story. Now this is a very easy book, quite funny, very enjoyable. It should have been no trouble at all. So why the difficulty? Simple. It was written in British English, and although he is fluent in English, we live in Canada. Not quite the same. And besides that, he goes to school in French.

Underlying problem? Not understanding some of the words. Solution? Well, first of all, ensuring he's using a dictionary. After all, words like "cowl" and "horticulture" are really not all that common today. But secondly, learn to read Shoghi Effendi.

Aha! I bet you were wondering, dear Reader, what this had to do with the Faith. Well, there it is, not just that quote up above.

And so, today, at age thirteen, he began to read "The World Order of Baha'u'llah". We spent thirty minutes on the first paragraph. His tenacity, a word he just learned while reading it, was astounding. It was very impressive.

But just how did we read it, study it? Great question. Thanks for asking.

To start, I gave him a bit of background. I told him of how Shoghi Effendi had a different style of leadership from 'Abdu'l-Baha, and how this offended some people. There were some, you see, who liked the loosey-goosey style of the Master: generally allowing the Faith to grow at a reasonable pace, answering the questions of the believers and admirers, moving the groups of believers all over the world into a global community that was primarily global in name only at the time. It took the incredible skill of Shoghi Effendi to forge this nascent community into a true pattern of community based on the Writings and teachings of the Faith, a community which we are just beginning to see emerge after nearly a century.

We often forget that although there was an awareness of the laws in the West at the time of the Master, it wasn't really until the time of the Guardian that we began to see a firmer application of these laws. It was the Guardian that took the various and disparate (look it up if you don't know) administrative groups around the world and forged them all into the coherent Assemblies we know and love today.

There was one person in particular who did not like the direction that the Guardian was moving us, and she was not quiet about it. This caused such consternation that the National Assembly of the US and Canada felt they needed to write Shoghi Effendi for guidance. As you can imagine, they clearly expressed the issue, their concerns, her concerns and arguments, and all that was going on. They were, no doubt, very apprehensive, especially after the debacle of Abraham Kheiralla a couple of decades earlier. Again, if you are not aware of him, or Ruth White, who is the one I am talking about here, look it up.

In this relatively short letter, written in 1930, Shoghi Effendi begins with a single paragraph that reframes the entire issue. We looked at it one sentence at a time, as I guided him on how to edit the sentences down in order to extract the pith, underlining those words or phrases that were the very essence of the sentences. From there, we re-read the underlining, and then the entire sentence once more. I explained that by doing so, he would gain a far greater understanding of what the Guardian was saying, while at the same time would help him develop patterns of thought that would allow him to retain more of what he read.

So, without further ado, here is the first sentence of that seminal document, "The World Order of Baha'u'llah".

I have been acquainted by the perusal of your latest communications with the nature of the doubts that have been publicly expressed, by one who is wholly misinformed as to the true precepts of the Cause, regarding the validity of institutions that stand inextricably interwoven with the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

Whew. What a sentence. To start, he had questions on three words: perusal, inextricably, and interwoven. Et voila! We got out the dictionary.

Perusal, as you know, means to read in depth, with great attention to detail. Shoghi Effendi did not take this communication from the National Assembly lightly. Next, inextricably means that it is impossible to separate. Interwoven means that it is blended closely together, woven like the threads of a fabric. In other words, the institutions are an integral and inseparable part of the Faith.

But it is still a long sentence, and not very easy to figure out what he is talking about. So let's get out the trimming shears and do a quick bit of editing. What is the main part of the sentence?

I have been acquainted... with the nature of the doubts... regarding the validity of (the) institutions...
Everything else in that sentence supports, clarifies and explains these few words.

By re-reading this extract, and then going back and reading the entire sentence again, it made far more sense to him, and he was easily able to understand what the Guardian was saying. Ok, maybe not easily, but he was able to understand.

Whose doubts? Ruth White's. Which institutions? The newly described Baha'i institutions. Easy? Well, easier.

Looking at the second sentence, it reads:

Not that I for a moment view such faint misgivings in the light of an open challenge to the structure that embodies the Faith, nor is it because I question in the least the unyielding tenacity of the faith of the American believers, if I venture to dwell upon what seems to me appropriate observations at the present stage of the evolution of our beloved Cause.
Ok. That's a bit more convoluted. There are three parts to this sentence, and we tackled them one at a time. It basically explains why he is writing this letter. He is not writing it because he sees her doubts as a real challenge to the Faith, nor because he questions the firmness of the American friends, but rather because he sees it as an opportunity to share some observations.

Or as he says, "Not that I... view such faint misgivings...(as) an open challenge..., nor is it because I question... the American believers, ...(that) I... dwell upon... appropriate observations..."

Of course, as we read this, he wondered what "tenacity" meant. Gripping firmly, holding tightly. Now it made a lot more sense to him.

So, looking at those first two sentences, in abbreviated form, we read "I have been acquainted... with the nature of the doubts... regarding the validity of (the) institutions... Not that I... view such faint misgivings...(as) an open challenge..., nor is it because I question... the American believers, ...(that) I... dwell upon... appropriate observations..."

The rest of the paragraph we dealt with in the same manner, one sentence at a time. We looked at words he didn't know, or at least I expected we would, but his knowledge of French helped him figure out all the rest of the words. We broke it down to its essence, and underlined the main parts, allowing us to read the main thought more clearly.

To start, here are the last three sentences, all at once:

I am indeed inclined to welcome these expressed apprehensions inasmuch as they afford me an opportunity to familiarize the elected representatives of the believers with the origin and the character of the institutions which stand at the very basis of the World Order ushered in by Bahá’u’lláh. We should feel truly thankful for such futile attempts to undermine our beloved Faith—attempts that protrude their ugly face from time to time, seem for a while able to create a breach in the ranks of the faithful, recede finally into the obscurity of oblivion, and are thought of no more. Such incidents we should regard as the interpositions of Providence, designed to fortify our faith, to clarify our vision, and to deepen our understanding of the essentials of His Divine Revelation.

What we came up with was, as edited, "I... welcome these... apprehensions... as they afford me an opportunity to familiarize... the believers with the origin and the character of the institutions... We should feel... thankful for such futile attempts... Such incidents... fortify our faith, ...clarify our vision, and ...deepen our understanding..."

And then, after reading the edited version, my son read the entire paragraph again, and had no trouble at all understanding what the Guardian was saying.

Dear Reader, when I first became a Baha'i, I had other Baha'is tell me not to bother reading Shoghi Effendi, as he was "too difficult". Over the years I have heard some Baha'is tell me not to give Shoghi Effendi to new believers, as he is too overwhelming to try and read. I have even been told by a few earnest and sincere friends that I should not burden my son with the writings of the Guardian until he is much older.

But honestly, I cannot understand this.

Yes, Shoghi Effendi is difficult. I made no bones about it to my son. Shoghi Effendi is, at times, very difficult to read. But rather than putting him aside, we should educate ourselves to learn how to read him. By doing so we not only enrich our understanding of the writings of the Faith, but we also train ourselves to a style of excellence that will resonate throughout everything else we do.

And that, dear Reader, will undoubtedly help my son in his ability to retain more of what he reads in other areas.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Why do I write this blog?

I recently received this comment on one of my articles:
"...Some of my other favorite blogs have disappeared. What keeps you going? What makes you want to keep doing this? What does it mean to you, in itself, and in relation to Baha’u’llah’s purposes?"
What great questions.

Thank you for asking this. It has gotten me thinking for a number of days now about why I do this, and how I continue to do it after so long.

Well, the short answer is that I love to blather on, and what better thing to blab on about? My question is, why are you reading this?

But no, the longer answer is, I think, a bit better.

As you may know, it all began with a story, about how I began my first children's class lo those many years ago. The question was asked at a conference, and when I recalled how I started my first one, I actually laughed out loud. This inspired me to write the story down, and that led to another story, and another, and so on. But then, as I was writing these down, it occurred to me that I could also write a bit about the Writings, and some of the precious gems I saw within them. Of course, as I was writing all this, it also occurred to me that I could write a little bit about my own experience both as a tutor and serving in various capacities in the Faith.

Well, one thing led to another, one idea to another, and here we are today.

But even this doesn't really describe it all that well to me.

What is it that actually keeps me going, and wanting to do this? I think it's the Writings themselves.

I remember years ago sitting with a group and we had decided to study something from the World Centre before beginning our meeting. Probably a Ridvan message, or somesuch. Anyways, as many are wont to do, we went around in a circle and read a paragraph at a time, and when we got to the end, the chairperson said, "Okay, we've done our study." And I was sitting there thinking, "No, we read it. Now we need to study what we read."

I've seen the same thing time and again with the practice in Ruhi Book 1, Unit 2: Study a prayer with a friend. So often, upon questioning people about their study, I learn that what they did was pray with a friend. I mean, this is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but it's not a study. Both have their purpose, and they are very different purposes.

Of course, when talking about this with people, it turns out that a lot of us have no idea what it means to actually study something. To me, the most important definition in the dictionary in this context is to "investigate and analyse (a subject or situation) in detail". It is so strikingly similar to when Baha'u'llah tells us to peruse the Writings. This doesn't mean to glance over; it means to study in depth, with careful attention to detail.

Ok. So what better way to help show others what this means than to do it oneself? And this, dear Reader, is why I love to write about my small analyses of the Writings. These blog entries are just a few samplings of some of the many gems I have found. And of course, when you find a gem, you want to share it with the world. Here, I have that opportunity.

I also have the experience of studying literature, among other things, at university. So it was just natural for me to look at, say, the Tablet of Ahmad and ask how the first few sentences foreshadow the rest of the Tablet. This led me to notice that the verbs in the beginning, "proclaiming", "calling", "informing", and "guiding", lead us ever closer to that Source of sources. A proclamation is done over a great distance. You call to someone down the road. You inform someone standing next to you. And guidance is from within. Then I noticed that the Tablet can be divided into four sections by using Ahmad's name as a dividing line, and that the four sections mirror these four verbs.

How could I not be excited by noticing such things? And how could I not want to share such a finding?

Of course, the overarching thing in all of this for me is not such pedantic findings, but their application in our daily life.

Using the above example, it just makes sense that we would proclaim to the world all that we discover in the Writings. The call then goes out to those whose attention is captured by such things. This leads us to informing them of the source of our findings, which can lead to them taking in the guidance found in the Writings.

No matter where we look in the Writings, we will see patterns similar to this, whether in the way in which 'Abdu'l-Baha draws our attention to spreading the teachings in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, or the highly systematic manner in which Baha'u'llah unfolds the truth of the Bab's Cause to His uncle in the Kitab-i-Iqan. Paths upon paths. And if this path works on the micro-level, we can be guaranteed that it will also work on the macro-level.

I find it all so exciting, and so applicable, that I cannot just sit back and hope that others discover these things, too. No. I have to share it. I have actually learned to presume that others will not see the Writings in the same way that I do, and that my small contribution will actually help others. I mean, the same is most definitely true in the reverse. I treasure all the conversations I have with others in which they explain to me what they have found in the Writings. Remember, what is obvious to you is a shocking discovery to others.

So, yes. I write this blog in the hopes of sharing a bit of my enthusiasm for the Writings, and helping others see a little bit of what I have discovered in them, and pray that it inspires them to share their own discoveries, too.

Remember, none of us are experts on the Writings. We are all studying them together. I mean, I'm a fashion designer and jeweler by trade, so if I can find some of these gems, surely you can, too.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mom

Hi Mom. Not mother. Not maman. Not even Sandee.

In my heart, you will always be "Mom".

When Marielle first suggested that I write this, and read this, for you, for your birthday, I had tears in my eyes. Tears at the thought of trying to capture my feelings in so few words, and tears at the thought of all you mean to me.

When I think of you, my very first thought, one of my earliest memories is when I was a very young child, probably no more than 3 years old. I remember that I was sick, and you lay me on your bed, that bed that was so huge in my eyes, and you lay me there on your pillows. I remember feeling so safe, secure, there, feeling that all would be all right, that the pain would go away. That feeling, that safety, is what always comes to mind first, when I think of you.

I remember walking, a few years later, into that clothing store on the corner, back in Highland Park, where you worked, and hiding in the clothes racks. And then a few years after that, admiring the clothing in the Yves St Laurent department, where you worked for so long, in Northbrook Court.

And even now, I can still see your jewelry kit in the basement, on the floor, open, as you searched for a pair of pliers to fix something that had broken. All the half-finished pieces that you had made, sitting there, waiting, but you had already moved on to other art forms.

It is no wonder to me that I became a fashion designer, working in metal. It feels like it's in my blood.

But then, Marielle asked me to try and find one story that I can tell, about you, that brings the listener, or the reader, into my state of being, conveys the child, or son, that I was when it occurred.

It's hard to do that, for you were always there. Like the air I breathe. How can you tell a single story about the air?

In fact, there are too many stories to tell

I could talk about being stranded on the rock in the front yard, I mean, you never let me forget it. Or I could talk about the Passover dinners at your in-laws, which probably cultivated my love for religion. I could even talk about the community plays you used to take part in back in Kennedy School.

But really, what stands out, beyond all other stories, is how you took care of your own mother, Grandma Elsie. In fact, that has been an identifying feature of you all your life, or at least as long as I've known you. You always look to the well-being of others, whether it's your children, your parents, Harold, or even Henry today. You have always been a caregiver, ever giving.

But back to Grandma Elsie. Nothing epitomizes your care-giving nature more than your care of your own mother, and how you brought in Maria, our dearly loved family member from Poland. And nothing shows you or your heart, more than this.

You see, I remember so well coming downstairs on St Patrick's Day, when the milk would somehow be green. This was pretty much normal. Or Easter, when the milk was purple. We took it for granted, just as we take so much for granted.

But that one evening, shortly after Maria joined our little family, when she was still struggling with English, having just arrived from Poland, we were all sitting around as you served us dinner. And there, on each plate, was a single hard-boiled egg in the middle of the rest of the food. But Maria, well, Maria's egg was a cube. I remember noticing it but just continuing on with my meal. Maria? She just sat there, fork in hand, staring at her... egg?  I don't remember what she said. Something like, "What kind of chicken laid this?" But her expression, well that I will never forget.

For really, Mom, it's an expression I've seen around so many in your presence.

For eighty years you've been guilty of inflicting this expression on others. May you continue to do so for many more years to come.

There is so much more I want to say, but in the end, it all comes down to "Happy birthday, Mom. I miss you, and I love you."

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ridvan 2018 - Part 3

Well, I've only got about 45 minutes to do this right now, but I figured I should be able to get through at least a couple more paragraphs, right? Let's find out.

Where were we? Oh, yes, paragraph 6.

Here we are learning that we are using our "new capacities... to improve conditions in society..." Hey, that's great. I mean, isn't this what it's all about? But then they use a word that always jumps out at me: "kindled". Our enthusiasm is kindled. I love that word. It means, as I'm sure you know, that it ignites a flame when there is none, or makes it burn brighter when there is one. In Ruhi Book 1, we learn that prayer kindles the soul. Here, it is our study of the divine teachings that kindles out enthusiasm.

Why would that be?

As I am sure you are aware, I don't actually know, but I suspect it is because enthusiasm is generally lost when hope vanishes. Hope usually disappears when we cannot see the next step in our journey. The Writings not only give us a vision of where we are heading, but also guide us to the next steps we need to take to get there. While we may not often see these next few steps on our own, by studying with others these steps become more apparent. And this, it seems to me, would naturally kindle our enthusiasm. After all, enthusiasm comes from the phrase "en-theos", "to be filled with God". Wouldn't the writings naturally fill us with that divine spirit?

Another point that catches my attention in this paragraph is the singular word "meaningful". They talk about "discourses that are meaningful to society". How often do we find ourselves engaged in conversations that are, in essence, meaningless? And if they are meaningless, why are we wasting our time with them?

This reminds me of something that struck Marcus Bach when he met Ruhiyyih Khanum. He said "She talked as though time and conversation were intended for the deepening of knowledge and faith." We often talk about "elevated conversations", but rarely what that looks like. I believe that this insight of his on her conversations sheds light on this word, "meaningful".

In this paragraph, the Universal House of Justice gives us examples of conversations that are meaningful, such as gender equality, the role of youth in social transformation, among others, and praise us for engaging in these discussions "with growing confidence, proficiency, and insight". It is, of course, likely a result of those practices from Ruhi Book 2. And we should be cognizant of the fact that we, as a community, are becoming ever more proficient in these conversations. We have made tremendous progress in the field, and knowing this should make it even easier to feel comfortable having these conversations to begin with. So, kudos to us, and thank you Universal House of Justice for helping direct our attention to this matter.

Finally, for today, paragraph 7. Ok, wow. I had the hardest time reading this for the first time, as I was reading it aloud to my wife, and had absolutely no clue what they were going to say. I mean, the stuff about the web-site was wonderful and exciting, but I wasn't ready for the wealth of new translations that they are promising. I actually choked as I was reading this. "...(P)reviously untranslated and unpublished passages or Tablets"? "(N)ew volumes of Baha'u'llah's and 'Abdu'l-Baha's Writings rendered into English"? It is so hard to contain my excitement.

But for now, I have to. I have another engagement in just a few minutes. (I thought I would get more written, but my wife got home just now, and I had to pause to welcome her home.)

Hopefully I'll have a chance to write a bit more tomorrow, or read a bit about what you have gleaned from this breath-taking letter.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Ridvan 2018 - Part 2

Here we are at paragraph 4, where we are reminded that "this is truly a moment to give thanks to the Best-Beloved". This is such an important reminder, to take the time to remember to be thankful. They have just put the previous year into a perspective for us, showing us how much we have done and what we have learned, and even if we feel that we, personally, haven't done all that much (as I know I do), we should be thankful for all that has been done in this glorious community of ours. There really "are a great many reasons to be encouraged."

Ah, but they also remind us not to sit on our laurels. There is still a lot to be done. Fortunately they give us hat I lovingly refer to as a recipe list. We need to "maintain... a sustained focus on nurturing growth and building capacity" as well as develop our ability and discipline to "reflect on action and learn from experience". I find it interesting that they refer to this reflection and learning as an ability, as opposed to lumping it in with the other capacities. To me, the difference is like a stadium that has the capacity to seat 20,000, but only has a few people in attendance. The latter would be like the stadium being full. We begin by building this capacity, but then we have to put it to use.

In paragraph 5, they refer to the institutions "keeping this supreme need at the forefront of their thinking". Which supreme need? The "raising up and accompanying an expanding nucleus of individuals" who are both capable of and actually reflecting and learning from their experience. This nb
Further to this, by the members of these institutions taking action in this accompaniment, they are becoming more involved "in all aspects of the community's development". And this is not limited to the Baha'i community, but includes the greater community. Through this involvement, and recognizing the role that the training institute plays in this, they are still able to "maintain the community's focus on the requirements of the Plan". Of course, this leads to the question, what are the requirements of the Plan? This, dear reader, is a question that is well worth discussing in your community.

They also mention "higher and higher levels of unity", which of course leads us to ask what that would look like. Again, a great question to ask in consultation. I can just imagine an entire Feast consultation dedicated to this one question alone.

Finally, at the end of that paragraph, they talk about "cultivating in the community those conditions that conduce to the release of powerful spiritual forces". What are those conditions? How can we cultivate them? What signs will we recognize when these forces are being released?

While I may have some ideas on answers to these questions, I prefer not to look at them here right now. I think they are better suited for a community consultation, and I would love to hear what comes out of that.

Aside: I think that we too often respond off the cuff, giving our own thoughts on a subject before actually consulting on it with others. Or even worse, before consulting the Writings. I know that I'm horribly guilty of this. When I see something on the net, I often respond before looking in the Writings. But here, I'd like to take the moment to remind us of the importance of doing this, consulting the Writings and each other, and set the minor example by not offering my thoughts just yet on these very important issues.

Oh, and I'd like to continue writing right now, but my son just got home from school, so I'm going to end it here for today so that I can spend a bit of this beautiful day with him. See you tomorrow.

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."