A Thousand Paper Craniums

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." -Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bragging Rights?

Does bragging about one's community, rather than one's self, indicate a lack of humility?

Is it better or worse to brag about something you had very little to do with?

Albuquerque has had 21 people complete the sequence of courses since Ridvan. Is this not RIDICULOUSLY EXCITING? This puts us at fortysomething.

We are so close to meeting our goal of 50 by the Reflection on January 27. So close ...

We can taste the A, but who knows if we'll make it this cycle? Nobody wants to wait until April to start our real growth. All we can do is teach, tutor, and pray ...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Service --> Teaching --> Service ...

It's never really occurred to me before what an incredibly effective teaching tool the year of service is. Not in the sense of teaching work done as part of one's service, but in the very concept itself. Twice this week youth I know have become noticably more interested in the Baha'i Faith when they learned about the concept of the year of service.

It makes sense, in today's world. But I hadn't thought of it before.

All the more reason for me to follow through with this decision.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gracias, Merci, Thanks

Cognates, you gotta love them. I always think about the relationship between thankfulness, grace, and mercy when I see these words. I feel like I come so close to understanding it, but then it slips out of my mind. Oh well, maybe in the next world.

But this is not what I intended to post. Thanksgiving was on Thursday, and I want to offer some thanks.

I am SO THANKFUL for my incredible teaching team! We had Thanksgiving dinner together. Shannon, Kristopher, Daniel, Caroline, and myself make up this most incredible Baha'i family. We were also joined on Thanksgiving day by Caroline's family and Jalal, and also by Mr. Kavelin, whose grave we went to visit across the street. How many people get to spend the holidays with a Universal House of Justice member?

Anyhow, the five of us are called The Wayfarers, after the quote from the Baha'i Writings that essentially serves as our mission statement (and seeing as how we've done most of our Ruhi together, it makes sense for us to focus on a quote that's repeated over again in half the books!).

"O wayfarer in the path of God! Take thou thy portion of the ocean of His grace, and deprive not thyself of the things that lie hidden in its depths. Be thou of them that have partaken of its treasures. A dewdrop out of this ocean would, if shed upon all that are in the heavens and on the earth, suffice to enrich them with the bounty of God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. With the hands of renunciation draw forth from its life-giving waters, and sprinkle therewith all created things, that they may be cleansed from all man-made limitations and may approach the mighty seat of God, this hallowed and resplendent Spot.

"Be not grieved if thou performest it thyself alone. Let God be all-sufficient for thee. Commune intimately with His Spirit, and be thou of the thankful. Proclaim the Cause of thy Lord unto all who are in the heavens and on the earth. Should any man respond to thy call, lay bare before him the pearls of the wisdom of the Lord, thy God, which His Spirit hath sent down unto thee, and be thou of them that truly believe. And should any one reject thine offer, turn thou away from him, and put thy trust and confidence in the Lord, thy God, the Lord of all worlds.

"By the righteousness of God! Whoso openeth his lips in this Day and maketh mention of the name of his Lord, the hosts of Divine inspiration shall descend upon him from the heaven of My name, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. On him shall also descend the Concourse on high, each bearing aloft a chalice of pure light. Thus hath it been foreordained in the realm of God's Revelation, by the behest of Him Who is the All-Glorious, the Most Powerful."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 279)

Right now we're in something of a consolidation phase, as Shannon and I help the other members get through the sequence of courses as quickly and thoroughly as possible. But we have 4 devotional gatherings, 2 Ruhi Book 1's, and a junior youth group between us. We are starting to teach up a storm! Kristopher and Caroline are both finishing up Book 7, so will have just doubled our tutors! Amazing things will come of The Wayfarers, believe me. Amazing things already have.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Births.

Today was the anniversary of the birth of the Bab, and my friend Daniel declared last night after the Holy Day observance. It was his rebirthday, the second anniversary of the car crash that left him in a coma. When he finally awoke after three weeks, he learned that:

Bush had been re-elected president.
His long hair had been cut.
He had a brain injury.
The awful depression that had led to his not bothering about a seatbelt in the first place had ...

disappeared.

He also suddenly came to a realization. There must be one universal God, and the Prophets must all come from the same source.

Daniel had almost died, and considered himself reborn.

Two years later to the day, he declared his belief in Baha'u'llah.

How lucky we are to know him.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Connections

I love making connections. This is one of the reasons I can never remember which quote comes from what book, because in my head, it's always connected to five other quotes from five other books, and I can never remember where I read any of those, either ...

This is why I'm not an academic. My citations are a mess.

But I made a connection recently that I found important enough to share here. The connection between purpose and duty.

In the Short Obligatory Prayer we are given, in simple and unavoidable language, the purpose of our existence:

I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee.
(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 313)

(Ocean did that citation for me. I love technology!)

And in the opening paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, we are given our duties as human creations of God:

The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 18)

To know God and to worship God. To recognize the Manifestation and to observe His ordinances. How are these concepts connected? Let's start by unpacking the first two.

How can one know God? In the Kitab-i-Iqan (Ha! I'm getting better at this!), we are told that God is an "Unknowable Essence." That would seem to put a damper on the purpose of life! But we are also told that in order to know God, we need only look to the Manifestation. `Abdu'l-Baha gives us the metaphor of the sun and the mirror:

Lastly the perfect man, the Prophet, is one who is transfigured, one who has the purity and clearness of a perfect mirror -- one who reflects the Sun of Truth. Of such a one -- of such a Prophet and Messenger -- we can say that the Light of Divinity with the heavenly Perfections dwells in him.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 23)

So, in order to know God, we must know the Manifestation. But how can you know someone you do not even recognize? The first purpose and the first duty are inseperably linked.

To worship God. What does it mean? What is prayer? What is worship?

the holy ecstasy of prayer may fill our souls - a prayer that shall rise above words and letters and transcend the murmur of syllables and sounds
(Compilations, Baha'i Prayers, p. 69)

To pray is not to read psalms. To pray is to trust in God and to be submissive in all things to Him.
(H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu'l-Baha - The Centre of the Covenant, p. 214)

work, especially when performed in the spirit of service, is according to Bahá'u'lláh a form of worship. It has not only a utilitarian purpose, but has a value in itself, because it draws us nearer to God, and enables us to better grasp His purpose for us in this world.
(Shoghi Effendi's notes on The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 192)

So if prayer and worship are not limited by the words of our mouths or even the meditations of our hearts, but are expanded to encompass all actions done in service and submission, what does this say about worship? I don't think that it is any kind of stretch to say that to worship God means to follow the ordinances of the Manifestation of God for this day. Another link snaps into place.

Is there a difference between duty and purpose? The purpose of a cup is to hold water. If it is not used for holding water, it is useless as a cup. If it is no longer able to hold water, it ceases to be a cup. But the one thing the cup cannot do is refuse to hold water when it is able. Thus, the cup does not have a duty that can be carried out.

We are human beings, not cups. We can choose not to recognize God's Manifestation. We can choose not to follow His Laws. But, if our duty is connected to our purpose, if our purpose is essentially to fulfill our duties, what does it mean for our existence when we choose this as a path? When a cup breaks and no longer holds water, it is no longer a cup, but scattered pieces of ceramic. Perhaps when we choose to avoid our duties, we cease to be fully human. Maybe this is the origin of so much of the world's despair.

I keep working on getting my pieces back together, gluing the connections that make me something worthwhile, a cup with the ability to hold. I like making connections.

After all, it's what I was created for.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Note to Baha'i Communities

For future reference, when a travel-teacher comes to your town and offers to do anything to help support the efforts of the Five Year Plan, here are some good ideas:

Tutor an intensive.
Help believers deepen on the December 27 letter.
Discuss the new Junior Youth Groups and where they fit into a comprehensive scheme of lifelong Baha'i education, sharing personal experiences as an Animator.
Share her community's experiences with the decentralization of the core activities.

Especially if these are some things she offered to do in her email.

When a travel-teacher comes anymore, she is not looking to give an introductory talk on the Faith to one seeker and a group of Baha'is, who are perfectly capable of doing the Book 6 practices on their own. She is not looking to have a proclamation event to which she can provide absolutely followup. Those days are far in the past, folks. What this DOES tell me is that the community here needs more help than I thought.

Of course, now I have to figure out what to say.

Hm.

The Time Zone Dilema

I've been in my hometown for less than a day, and I'm already missing the Baha'is! Everyone in this area is out of town for Unit Convention right now; I meant to go myself, but didn't get in touch in time to get a ride, and I have no way of getting to Kent on my own. I've half a mind to call up Shannon and get a quick faith-fix, but it's only 7:30 there yet. The time zone dilema! I promise I'll never complain about all my friends being on Eastern Standard Time again. Just let the New Mexicans wake up, please!

I can't imagine what international pioneers must go through. I feel spread thin with bits of my life smeared across every corner of one country. Simultaneously missing half the world? That's some strength.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Meetings and Insight and Stories, Oh My!

I know I haven't updated this blog in a long time, but I've needed to spend some time in self-reflection (as opposed to God-knows-who's-reading-this reflection).

Yesterday was a flurry of cleaning as we discovered that a Continental Counselor was coming to our devotional gathering today! Would I have been just as excited about any other unexpected out-of-town company? Maybe. I'd like to think so, anyhow.

There was a businessy meeting with him today, which I went to. I'm still not sure why I was there, as he intended to meet with the Core Group, of which I'm not a part. It was definitely directed towards people with certain responsibilities in the community, and my main role as of late has been to keep my nose out of their business as much as possible, considering that it consists of my roommate and almost the entire campus association. I'm not responsible for any statistics except those of my own groups, I'm not part of any group with any decision-making power, and I'm not even in any sort of position where if I wanted to encourage people that they would listen to me. So it was mildly awkward, and I kept wondering if I'd been invited just to keep me from bugging everyone afterwards to find out what was said.

A few things were said, though, that really struck me.

Jalal talked about always having read in the Writings about the importance of traveling to teach the Faith, and how, when he returned from his year of service, he found it difficult to focus on building momentum in our state's strongest cluster instead of travelling to different communities. He said "In `Abdu'l-Baha's time, we travelled across countries to teach. Now we travel across the street. But it's still travelling!"

To which Michael replied, "And you don't have to pack as much."

That was insight number one.

The second was about encouragement, and what to do with people who are trying to be obedient, but due to lack of understanding of the current guidance, aren't quite doing what's been asked. Of course, gently deepening these people is important. But more important was this idea: if it's advancing the process of entry by troops, don't stop. Use that momentum, and in time it will be easy to guide it in a more appropriate direction. Never squash enthusiasm, however misguided, for any reason; it's one of our most precious resources.

Now, for a shout-out. I just want to publicly humiliate thank my two study circles for being the best groups EVER. Book 6 for their absolute dedication to forming a teaching team, even though we don't know how exactly they're supposed to work yet, and Book 1 for having the most profoundly educational and insightful discussions of my life. You guys give me faith in this process when I start to feel the creeping disease of cynicism coming on. Go. You.

Now, two stories for your reading pleasure.

My roommate Shannon has been hanging out with a young seeker whose father just declared. Actually, she'd have happily declared herself a Baha'i after her first fireside, but her father insisted she study more and put more thought into it. She's an amazingly pure soul, but struggling with the spiritual transformation that's taken her by storm. She said, "I believe this, but I don't know why." Shannon, to offer her comfort, told her the story of how Baha'u'llah became a devoted follower of the Bab after reading only one page of His Writings. Having tutored Book 4 something like half a dozen times, it was this incident that really made her realize how important it was to the community to memorize these stories. Ah, Ruhi wisdom.

Now another, for my tutor friends.

It is said that Alexander the Great won many battles by running, alone, straight at the enemy. Terrified that their general had gone crazy, his entire army would chase after him to protect him. The enemy saw only an entire army running towards them, apparently without fear. They always retreated.

Interpret at will.

I will try and be more conscientious about updating in the future. Sorry about the hiatus!