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?

27 September 2010

Creating an Eternal Universe.

As you may or may not already know, famed physicist Stephen Hawking has recently weighed in with some thoughts on God's role in the origin of the universe. I think these statements provide a fruitful opportunity to explore statements of Baha'u'llah regarding the unknowability of God and the eternal nature of the universe.

In his latest book, The Grand Design, an extract of which is published in Eureka magazine in The Times, Hawking said: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”

He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

It seems to me Dr. Hawking’s statements tend to confirm Bahá’í teachings and can help purify a Bahá’í understanding of physics from some unwarranted assumptions introduced from the heritage of Christian theology.

21 September 2010

Catholic Imagery in Baha'u'llah's Writings

This comes from Baha'u'llah's address to Pope Pius IX.
Arise in the name of thy Lord, the God of Mercy, amidst the peoples of the earth, and seize thou the Cup of Life with the hands of confidence. First drink thou therefrom, and proffer it then to such as turn towards it amongst the peoples of all faiths.
Baha'u'llah, Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 105, p. 56
This quotation is similar to a well known passage from Baha'u'llah's writings about teaching: "Whoso ariseth among you to teach the Cause of his Lord, let him, before all else, teach his own self, that his speech may attract the hearts of them that hear him." Sharing Baha'u'llah's message with others is certainly a major aspect of this passage. But in addition, the imagery resembles the way the Sacrament of the Eucharist is conducted.

As someone who has grown up familiar with the Roman Catholic Mass, it seems to me that Baha'u'llah is using the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the sharing of the Body and Blood of Jesus, as a metaphor for service to His Cause. To speak of the "the Cup of Life" in a Christian context inevitably leads the reader back to Jesus' Last Supper with the Apostles: Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. (Mt 26.27-8)

16 September 2010

Rays of Light

Check out the website for the Rays of Light Foundation, a Baha'i inspired NGO in Papua New Guinea working in the field of education.

Here's a quotation from their website. It describes Preparation for Social Action (PSA), a Baha'i-inspired high school curriculum developed in Colombia.
What distinguishes PSA from most other educational programmes is the emphasis on both intellectual and moral empowerment. With a particular focus on the rural education setting, the course materials have special relevance to those involved in typical village and rural community life. Participants in the programme develop capacities through the study of the material and through service projects. The aim is for the students to become “Promoters of Community Well-Being”, a designation given to those working towards developing their local geographical region (or microregion).

Through a research-action-learning approach the participants apply their newly founded knowledge in the fields of service relevant to their community’s needs and are actively involved in individual and collective transformation, working for the material and spiritual improvement of the community and becoming true protagonists of their own development. Service to the community is the core aspect of the structure of the PSA curriculum.
Exciting things are happening !

10 September 2010

Collaborative Writing: The Work without an Author

Recently, I had a great study circle experience that I'd like to share with you, the readers. As a way of reviewing the concepts from Ruhi Book 1, some friends and I did a collaborative poetry project.

The way this worked was that everybody chose one quotation from the book that they liked best. Then individually, we wrote four lines of poetry for each quotation selected. When we were done we handed the lines we had written to the person who selected that quotation so that he or she could edit it. So, for example, I chose the quotation that contains the line, "Man must live in a state of prayer." When we finished writing our lines,  everyone gave me the four lines they wrote inspired by that quotation, and I distributed my lines to the appropriate people. Each of us, then, edited the lines we were handed as we saw fit and pieced them together into a single, generally-coherent poem.

One of the interesting implications of this is that no poem can be attributed to any one person. Each writing is without an author, a proper origin. Thus, they're a little bit disjointed. But at the end of the process we were all very pleased with the results.

I appreciated the way the involvement of others changed our postures toward our own writing. Each of us had to make poems out of other people's lines. And our own lines were getting scratched out and reworked by other people. Consequently, detachment from one's own contributions and sympathy towards the work of others were both essential to producing good work. I was impressed that this activity raised individuals' power of expression, but did so in such a way that prevented it from fanning the flames of arrogance about one's own creativity; something I always get anxious about whenever I'm called on in a group to "express myself."

Below the fold is the quotation I chose and the poem I edited.

06 September 2010

Broken into my Waking

A loom to climb upon between layers of lint and dust atmosphere, a toy to fight for-cry over. Big energetic snow dog, tail wagging against the flattened tire, is only a symbol of much needed warmth. "Your teeth are strung with tendons, does this mean you have to leave? No, please, don't 'leave', run away, into..."

The sky dominates the vast, empty, long transformed, shrubby excuse for land. Broken and vulnerable. Streaks of light discover themselves illumined orange on the abrupt white peaks, reflecting and being absorbed into the supple and defiant storm clouds. Abyss. Isolated rain bursts alternate preseance of the horizon. The dream landscape has escaped its prison, has broken into my waking. Turned inside beyond.

"Is the spiritual world this beautiful?"

"Can it really be this lonely?"

Keeping up Appearances

Recently, I was reading the message, “The Golden Age of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh” contained in Shoghi Effendi’s The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. At one point he describes the need to avoid activities that could arouse the antagonism of foreign governments against Bahá’í communities in those countries. As I was reading, all the ideas felt very familiar. But this time, there was one part that stood out for me.

Such an attitude, however, is not dictated by considerations of selfish expediency, but is actuated, first and foremost, by the broad principle that the followers of Bahá’u’lláh will, under no circumstances, suffer themselves to be involved, whether as individuals or in their collective capacities, in matters that would entail the slightest departure from the fundamental verities and ideals of their Faith. Neither the charges which the uninformed and the malicious may be led to bring against them, nor the allurements of honors and rewards, will ever induce them to surrender their trust or to deviate from their path. Let their words proclaim, and their conduct testify, that they who follow Bahá’u’lláh, in whatever land they reside, are actuated by no selfish ambition, that they neither thirst for power, nor mind any wave of unpopularity, of distrust or criticism, which a strict adherence to their standards might provoke.
Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 66-7
It seems to me that, there’s a tendency for Bahá’ís to be very conscious about how others perceive the Bahá’í Faith. Generally, that’s a good thing. They understand the need to be open and welcoming, and to address the particular needs of each person. But, taken in the wrong direction, it can create problems. In an effort to satisfy the wishes of others and to maintain a certain reputation in the community, it’s easy compromise Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings and see that as a service to the cause. Worth remembering is that Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings are the healing medicine for the ailments of our age. The surrounding world is confused and bewildered. Bahá’ís are a little bit less confused and bewildered. The main advantage Bahá’ís have over the wider society is the knowledge that Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings can guide us toward a divine world civilization. We still have a lot to learn about how to walk that path. So sacrificing the vehicle that will get us there, in exchange for a momentary boost to the faith’s reputation, is counterproductive. It’s something to think about.

04 September 2010

What does Baha'u'llah say of his future followers?

More so than perhaps any other work of Bahá’u’lláh available in English, the Suratu’l-Haykal repeatedly emphasizes the strength and glory of his future followers. Written during the dark days of the early imprisonment in the prison-city of ‘Akká, it calls to mind the supreme efforts that would be made to vindicate the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh. The Suratu’l-Haykal is an exceedingly rich text. Passages bearing on this theme are too numerous to quote, or even to summarize. Two are presented here so as to give a general glimpse. In each of these Bahá’u’lláh is addressed in the second person.
O Pen of Eternity! Grieve not at the things that have befallen Thee, for erelong shall God raise up a people who will see with their own eyes and will recall Thy tribulations.

Erelong, shall We bring into being through thee men with sanctified and illumined breasts, who will testify to naught save My beauty and show forth naught but the resplendent light of My countenance. These shall in truth be the mirrors of My Names amidst all created things.

02 September 2010

Being Human

Great is the station of man.
Great must also be his endeavours
for the rehabilitation of the world and the well-being of nations.

"Being human" has in many quarters become shorthand for feebleness, inconsistency, and vulnerability to errors both practical and ethical. Should a person fall short someone might console her: “We’re all human,” “That’s just human nature,” etc. If someone were to utter these words as praise for an accomplishment, other might perceive it as an underhanded insult. Humanity has become an excuse; and I find this completely unacceptable. That such grave incompetence could be conveyed with this single expression betrays a profound despondency in our individual and collective capacities. The Bahá’í Faith, however, is structured around a mode of human life that is entirely reversed. Here, the human form takes on a noble and exalted position. The expression, "mere humanity" comes across as an oxymoron.

So as to muster up the strength for great endeavors, a vision of human life is needed that joyfully and unreservedly celebrates the nobility and capacity of the human form. I think this is what we see in the plans given to the Baha'i world by the Universal House of Justice.