29 September 2010

Systematic Accompaniment: Ruhi Book 1 in Action

Sometimes, it feels like pulling teeth just to convince a community that home visits are a viable method of community building. Sure, it might work in those* communities. [*anywhere but here] Or for somebody else. But not here, not now, and above all, not us.

Changing the minds of these individuals is an extremely daunting task. But running under the assumption that it's a much simpler matter to give birth than to raise the dead, let's take a look at our new friends Ruhi Book 1. How can a tutor provide the best quality study circle possible in order to ensure that our participants feel empowered to carry out regular home visits?

1. It starts before you hand out the books.

Share the nature of the study circle, it's place in the process of community building, and its purpose in building the capacity of the individual. Discuss the fact that “understanding the implications of the Revelation, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently.” (Ridvan message 2010, paragraph 9.) Explain the process as one of a group of action that studies in support of that action, rather than a group of study that acts in support of intellectual learning. You can sometimes affectionately refer to it as a Practice Circle or Active Learning Circle instead of a study circle if that helps.

Once you do start working with the book, read “To the Collaborators” first. Talk with your participants about what they'll experience as they work towards becoming tutors themselves.

2. The real work begins in Unit 1.

In the first section, practice studying the selections from the Writings as an entire group. Follow the entire process of reading the quotation, formulating questions and answering directly from the text, and finding concrete examples of any abstractions. Relate the learning to your own experiences if insights appear, but don't force this—some people are shy about personal situations. Also complete Section 2 as a group.

For the first quotation of Section 3, model doing this process as a pair. Then divide the group into pairs (add a triad, if needed), and have them work through on their own as you circulate.

After each pair has completed Section 3, come back and reflect on the experience. What was easy? What was difficult? What did I learn about the text? About myself? About my partner? Then move on to Section 4 as a group.

Continue this way through Unit 1, breaking into pairs for study of the Writings, gathering for reflection, and answering the questions in the even-numbered sections as a group. Yes, this takes more time. But it takes considerably less time than attempting to build confidence through the process of rousing pep-talks at every single Cluster Reflection for the next ten years.

3. Get geared up before Unit 2.

Read the purpose and practices, and discuss them in the context of community building. Then put the books away.

As a group, study a prayer. This should come naturally, as you follow the exact same procedure as you've been practicing in Unit 1 for the study of the Writings in general. Read the prayer, ask and answer questions from the text, formulate concrete examples, and relate it to your experiences.

Again, model the process in a pair. Reassure your participants that you're doing nothing different aside from choosing the Writings from a prayer book rather than following what has been given in the Ruhi book.

Break into pairs to study a prayer together.

Come back and reflect as a group.

Do not begin the unit yet.

4. Arrange the first round of home visits.

Find believers who agree to be visited during your regular meeting time. Since your study circle participants already have this cleared in their schedules, there should be no conflicts. Choose the most welcoming, loving, and humble believers you can find to be visited, ideally those who have completed the Book 1 practice and make home visits on a regular basis. Make sure they know what the purpose of the visit will be.

If possible, arrange for experienced believers to come and accompany your study circle participants on their first home visits. If not, arrange the groups in such a way that the confident and the timid are paired with one another for support.

Meet, scatter, visit, return, and reflect.

5. Now start Unit 2.

Study. Make art. Pray. Sing. Memorize your five prayers. Host a devotional gathering. All that good stuff.

6. Help your participants arrange their second round of home visits.

This time, involve the group in the planning process, so that they can see what goes into that part of it. They may have specific people they would like to visit. Offer as much support as needed. Model making a phone call to arrange a home visit. If there is still nervousness, role play the phone call in pairs. For those who still don't feel comfortable, partner them with someone who is.

Meet, scatter, visit, return, and reflect. Has the process of visiting become easier? What will they do differently next time? How has their deepened understanding of the nature of prayer changed the quality of their visit? How did visiting deepen their comprehension of the nature of prayer? Has our “understanding of the Revelation” truly “increased manifold”?

7. Don't drop the subject.

Share your own home visit stories with participants. Suggest people who might like a visit. Offer to accompany anyone through the process of visiting. The Unit 3 theme of “Life and Death” is a rich subject with many prayers that can be shared with both survivors and the dying, a profound home visit experience indeed.

There is no reason why we can't be just as systematic in our accompaniment as we are in gathering statistics or planning programs of growth. Although the process takes considerable time and effort, the reverberations of such an effort throughout a community can be exponentially greater.

“That the Bahá'í world has succeeded in developing a culture which promotes a way of thinking, studying, and acting, in which all consider themselves as treading a common path of service—supporting one another and advancing together, respectful of the knowledge that each one possesses at any given moment and avoiding the tendency to divide the believers into categories such as deepened and uninformed—is an accomplishment of enormous proportions. And therein lie the dynamics of an irrepressible movement.

What is imperative is that the quality of the educational process fostered at the level of the study circle rise markedly over the next year so that the potential of local populations to create such dynamics is realized.”

(Ridvan message 2010, paragraphs 10-11 [emphasis mine])

We have half a year.


  1. I think a habit that has been very destructive for the study of the Ruhi Institute and the process of transformation it promotes has been defining progress in terms of how many books people have "finished," rather than the extent to which study of the Word of God has led to the spiritualization of our lives and active service to our communities.

    The purposes for the first seven books in the Ruhi sequence are profound enough and important enough that if necessary we should spend years and years getting through them, if that's what it takes to do them right. After all, a person who has been through Book 1 in a manner like the one described above is likely to have a much higher capacity for service than someone who rushed through study of all the books without reflecting on the quality of such study.

    Finally, we don't need to wait until we've reached a certain point in our studies before we can start taking action. At any point in one's study of the Ruhi Institute there is some form of service we can be performing.

  2. At any point in one's *life* there is some form of service we can be performing. More and more we're seeing new believers who, unable to wait on the community to provide them with formal study, enter into the field of service armed only with their newfound love of Baha'u'llah.

  3. Spending longer time or studying slow doesn't mean effective. I studied 7 books in one year and started to teach ruhi right away.

    Give birth or raise the dead?

    Teaching Ruhi is my obligatory and I don't personally think I am a bahai if not doing so.

  4. Ruhi really challenges conventional assumptions about education. Grade school is linear, the focus is on getting ahead and spending more time on the material, particularly "basic" material, is seen as a sign of falling behind or (worse) in need of "remedial" attention. This kind of distinction causes us to devalue the intellectual work that we have completed, as we rush to leave it behind in order to get to the next level.

    Sometimes people get hung up on the Ruhi format because it's possible to rush through it, and then they don't get much out of it. Then people start saying Ruhi is not intellectual.

    The Ruhi process is more like a circle. I appreciated Book 1 much more after taking Book 7, and I really appreciate it more after taking Book 5. Some of the insights in Book 1 are like seeds that may blossom into comprehension much later, under the right conditions.
    When I compare Ruhi to my experiences in school, the very relationship to the material is completely different. It's a bit like the distinction Kat makes in her later post about not thinking we're too smart or something to ask even the most basic questions about the Writings.

  5. The following passage from the House of Justice's 28 December 2010 message concerns the role of the Auxiliary Board members and their assistance, but should equally apply to tutors of study circles!

    "They should stand shoulder to shoulder with the friends, supporting them through their struggles and partaking in their joys. Some of these friends will quickly move to the forefront of activity, while others will step forward more tentatively; yet all require support and encouragement, offered not in the abstract but on the basis of that intimate knowledge which is only acquired by working side by side in the field of service. Faith in the capacity of every individual who shows a desire to serve will prove essential to the efforts of those who are to elicit from the believers wholehearted participation in the Plan. Unqualified love free of paternalism will be indispensable if they are to help turn hesitation into courage born of trust in God and transform a yearning for excitement into a commitment to long-term action. Calm determination will be vital as they strive to demonstrate how stumbling blocks can be made stepping stones for progress. And a readiness to listen, with heightened spiritual perception, will be invaluable in identifying obstacles that may prevent some of the friends from appreciating the imperative of unified action."

    (par. 5)