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From the latest Ridván message of the Universal House of Justice encouraging systematic application on behalf of the Baha’is’ of learnings being gained as a result of the friends’ dedicated efforts in pursuit of the goals of the Plan.

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Our supplications, offered at the Threshold of an All-Bountiful Providence, are for the assistance of the Supreme Concourse to be vouchsafed to every one of you in contributing to the progress of the Plan. Our fervent desire, bolstered by witnessing your consecrated efforts during the past year, is that you will intensify your sure-footed application of the knowledge you are acquiring through experience. Now is not the time to hold back; too many remain unaware of the new dawn. Who but you can convey the divine message? “By God,” Baha’u’llah, referring to the Cause, affirms, “this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being.”

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(Emphasis has been added. Read the full message here: http://messagesbahaiworldcentre.blogspot.com/2012/04/universal-house-of-justice-ridvan-2012.html)

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The 1 January 2011 message from the Universal House of Justice addressed to the Bahá’ís of the world gives a succinct summary of the nature of the activities the friends are striving to accomplish in service to their Faith:–

It is hard to express in words how much love for you has been shown in these few, fleeting days [of the Continental Counsellors’ conference]. We praise God that He has raised up a community so accomplished and render thanks to Him for releasing your marvellous potentialities. You it is who, whether in collective endeavours or individual efforts, are presenting the verities of the Faith and assisting souls to recognize the Blessed Beauty. You it is who, in your tens of thousands, are serving as tutors of study circles wherever receptivity is kindled. You it is who, without thought of self, are providing spiritual education to the child and kindly fellowship to the junior youth. You it is who, through visits to homes and invitations to yours, are forging ties of spiritual kinship that foster a sense of community. You it is who, when called to serve on the institutions and agencies of the Cause, are accompanying others and rejoicing in their achievements. And it is all of us, whatever our share in this undertaking, who labour and long, strive and supplicate for the transformation of humanity, envisioned by Baha’u’llah, to be hastened.

– The Universal House of Justice (view the full message here)

Two reports from the latest number of Reflections on Growth from the International Teaching Centre.

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Strengthening the Training Institute: The Importance of Gatherings for Reflection

In its message of Ridván 2010, the Universal House of Justice called upon the believers and institutions to strengthen the institute process, the instrument critical to realizing the potential of local populations to create the “dynamics of an irrepressible movement.” …

In this issue, friends from different parts of the world share their experiences of consultation, action, and reflection at the institute seminars…. The stories illustrate how well-organized reflection can contribute to the strengthening of the institute process, “an instrument of limitless potentialities.”

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United States

At one seminar I learned so much about creating an environment conducive to reflection. The facilitators of the seminar modeled how to create such an atmosphere.

We, the participants, had many questions, but the facilitators always put the questions to the group and they let us explore the answers; hence, it was a collective learning rather than a “sage on the stage approach.” I also learned that facilitators provided a definite answer when necessary. So when I came back to my cluster, I followed this example by hosting a tutor gathering without any agenda—“just an opportunity for reflection.” We seated the tutors in a circle and started with study of the guidance and reflection questions on the challenges and successes of tutoring. I tried very hard to restrain myself from talking and answering questions, as it used to be my custom to talk too much and provide all the answers. I always reminded myself how the facilitators modeled and created a setting for reflection.

The gathering went very well, and the participants learned from one another’s experiences and approaches. Plans were devised for how to increase more study circles. At the end of the gathering, I asked the tutors for feedback and one participant said: “This is one of the best tutor gatherings I have ever come to. I really felt like we did a lot of reflection and I learned a lot.”

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Zambia

A participant in the tutor gatherings…explains…how she felt more capable of creating the environment envisioned in the institute courses.

I attended a two-weekend tutor gathering where we reflected on how to tutor Book 1 and practiced facilitating the book together. We went through the book, identified themes, looked through some of the questions that invite discussion, and consulted on how we handle such situations…. Great emphasis was placed on putting into action what the participants learned, such as praying, reading the Writings, and of course serving.

Another important aspect of the study circle was the practice component. We went out to visit Bahá’í friends to share a prayer. The visit was great. The task was divided into three parts: introduction, discussion of what prayer is, and sharing the prayer itself. It went so well that there was an exchange of ideas between the participants and the Bahá’ís we visited. It was so natural that other prayers and passages from the Writings were shared and recited….

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A tutor training for the Ruhi Institute in New Zealand, 2002

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In the system of distance education that has now been established in country after country—the principal elements of which include the study circle, the tutor and the curriculum of the Ruhi Institute—the worldwide Bahá’í community has acquired the capacity to enable thousands, nay millions, to study the writings in small groups with the explicit purpose of translating the Bahá’í teachings into reality, carrying the work of the Faith forward into its next stage: sustained large-scale expansion and consolidation.

Let no one fail to appreciate the possibilities thus created. Passivity is bred by the forces of society today. A desire to be entertained is nurtured from childhood, with increasing efficiency, cultivating generations willing to be led by whoever proves skilful at appealing to superficial emotions. Even in many educational systems students are treated as though they were receptacles designed to receive information. 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.

– The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010 message, §  9-10

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(Source: “Reflections on Growth”, the International Teaching Centre, Number 27, September 2011. Link to the document in PDF-format: xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/14277181/344443263/name/Reflections) (Photo source is here, copyright of the Baha’i International Community).

(In its latest message, counting 16 pages, the House of Justice delineates the features of the new Plan, which is to be studied in the context of the Ridvan 2010 Message. A further House message of 1 January 2011 summarizes succinctly central aspects of the 28 December message. Excerpts from both below.)

As an increasing number of believers participate in the teaching and administrative work, undertaken with a humble attitude of learning, they should come to view every task, every interaction, as an occasion to join hands in the pursuit of progress and to accompany one another in their efforts to serve the Cause. In this way will the impulse to over instruct be quieted. In this way will the tendency to reduce a complex process of transformation into simplistic steps, susceptible to instruction by manual, be averted. Discrete actions are placed in context, and even the smallest of steps is endowed with meaning. The operation of spiritual forces in the arena of service becomes increasingly apparent, and bonds of friendship, so vital to a healthy pattern of growth, are continuously reinforced.

– The Universal House of Justice, 28 December 2010

Read the full message here.

We praise God that He has raised up a community so accomplished and render thanks to Him for releasing your marvellous potentialities. You it is who, whether in collective endeavours or individual efforts, are presenting the verities of the Faith and assisting souls to recognize the Blessed Beauty. You it is who, in your tens of thousands, are serving as tutors of study circles wherever receptivity is kindled. You it is who, without thought of self, are providing spiritual education to the child and kindly fellowship to the junior youth. You it is who, through visits to homes and invitations to yours, are forging ties of spiritual kinship that foster a sense of community. You it is who, when called to serve on the institutions and agencies of the Cause, are accompanying others and rejoicing in their achievements. And it is all of us, whatever our share in this undertaking, who labour and long, strive and supplicate for the transformation of humanity, envisioned by Baha’u’llah, to be hastened.

A new five-year horizon now beckons, rich with portent. The features of the Plan that will begin this Ridvan are set out in a letter we addressed to the Counsellors Conference at its opening session and which was transmitted to National Spiritual Assemblies the same day. We hope that you will be able to give it thoughtful study, alongside the message we addressed to you at Ridvan 2010, at gatherings of all kinds–whether at the national, regional, or cluster level, in local communities, in neighbourhoods and villages, or in the home. We are certain that, through the consultations about the Plan in which you participate, your understanding will deepen and, conscious of the spiritual forces that support you, you will resolve to make this global enterprise a personal concern and become as occupied with the well-being of the human family as you are with that of your dearest kin.

– The Universal House of Justice, 1 January 2011

Read the full message here.

Former Counsellor Farzin Aghdasi offers his reflections on the House’s messages on his blog Reflections on transformation.

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We praise God that He
has raised up a community so accomplished and render thanks to Him for
releasing your marvellous potentialities.  You it is who, whether in
collective endeavours or individual efforts, are presenting the verities of
the Faith and assisting souls to recognize the Blessed Beauty.  You it is
who, in your tens of thousands, are serving as tutors of study circles
wherever receptivity is kindled.  You it is who, without thought of self,
are providing spiritual education to the child and kindly fellowship to the
junior youth.  You it is who, through visits to homes and invitations to
yours, are forging ties of spiritual kinship that foster a sense of
community.  You it is who, when called to serve on the institutions and
agencies of the Cause, are accompanying others and rejoicing in their
achievements.  And it is all of us, whatever our share in this undertaking,
who labour and long, strive and supplicate for the transformation of
humanity, envisioned by Baha’u’llah, to be hastened. 

A new five-year horizon now beckons, rich with portent.  The features
of the Plan that will begin this Ridvan are set out in a letter we addressed
to the Counsellors Conference at its opening session and which was
transmitted to National Spiritual Assemblies the same day.  We hope that you
will be able to give it thoughtful study, alongside the message we addressed
to you at Ridvan 2010, at gatherings of all kinds–whether at the national,
regional, or cluster level, in local communities, in neighbourhoods and
villages, or in the home.  We are certain that, through the consultations
about the Plan in which you participate, your understanding will deepen and,
conscious of the spiritual forces that support you, you will resolve to make
this global enterprise a personal concern and become as occupied with the
well-being of the human family as you are with that of your dearest kin.

Excerpts from the House of Justice’s letter of 29 August 2010 to the Bahá’ís of the World on the anniversary of the Master’s departure from the Holy Land in 1910. It marked a decisive new phase in the diffusion of the Faith’s Message to the West and, in turn, to the remaining unopened territories of the earth.

In the course of a mere century, His ineffable influence has effected the gathering together under the banner of the Faith of an actual cross-section of the peoples of the world, making it today – according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica Book of the Year – the geographically most widespread religion, second only to Christianity (1). The manner of His activity serves as an invaluable example for Bahá’u’lláh’s followers in their humble efforts in the path of His service.

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Informal picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá with Pauline Morse in His arms, Green Acre, United States of America. August 1912.

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THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

29 August 2010

To the Baha’is of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s departure one hundred years ago from Haifa for Port Said signalled the opening of a glorious new chapter in the annals of the Faith. He was not to return to the Holy Land for three years. Referring to that historic moment the Guardian would later write: “The establishment of the Faith of Baha’u’llah in the Western Hemisphere–the most outstanding achievement that will forever be associated with ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s ministry–had … set in motion such tremendous forces, and been productive of such far-reaching results, as to warrant the active and personal participation of the Centre of the Covenant Himself….” With the inauguration of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s travels to the West, the Cause of Baha’u’llah, hemmed in for more than half a century by the hosts of enmity and oppression, burst its restraints….

By any earthly measure, ‘Abdu’l-Baha would have seemed ill prepared to carry out the task before Him. He was sixty-six years old, an exile since childhood, with no formal schooling, a prisoner for forty years, in failing health, and unfamiliar with Western customs and languages. Yet He arose, without thought of comfort, undeterred by the risks involved, and utterly reliant upon divine assistance, to champion the Cause of God. He interacted with diverse peoples in nine countries on three continents….

Over the next few years, Baha’is around the world will joyously call to mind the many episodes associated with ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s historic journey. But this anniversary is more than a time for commemoration. The words uttered by ‘Abdu’l-Baha during His travels, and the deeds He undertook with such consummate wisdom and love, offer an abundance of inspiration and manifold insights from which the body of the believers can today draw, whether in their efforts to embrace receptive souls, to raise capacity for service, to build local communities, to strengthen institutions, or to exploit opportunities emerging to engage in social action and contribute to public discourse. We should, therefore, reflect not only upon what the Master achieved and set in motion but also on the work that remains undone to which He has summoned us. In the Tablets of the Divine Plan, He expressed His inmost longing:

O that I could travel, even though on foot and in the utmost poverty, to these regions, and, raising the call of “Ya Baha’u’l- Abha” in cities, villages, mountains, deserts and oceans, promote the divine teachings! This, alas, I cannot do. How intensely I deplore it! Please God, ye may achieve it.

Nearly a century has passed since these words were recorded. Stage after stage of the Divine Plan has been successfully prosecuted. The Faith has been established in all corners of the world. We are present in those places that ‘Abdu’l-Baha yearned to visit. Individuals, communities, and institutions are now endowed with the capacity necessary for systematic, sustained, and coherent action. During this precious period of remembrance, then, let each and every one of His faithful lovers arise and act in His Name. Let them offer their share, no matter how humble, to the progress of the Plan He authored–that priceless and everlasting bequest.

[signed: The Universal House of Justice]

Read the full Message here. Emphasis added.

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‘Abdu’l-Bahá (front, center) on His visit to Germany in 1913, with Baha’is and guests.

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To read the writings of the Faith and to strive to obtain a more adequate understanding of the significance of Bahá’u’lláh’s stupendous Revelation are obligations laid on every one of His followers. All are enjoined to delve into the ocean of His Revelation and to partake, in keeping with their capacities and inclinations, of the pearls of wisdom that lie therein. In this light, local deepening classes, winter and summer schools, and specially arranged gatherings in which individual believers knowledgeable in the writings were able to share with others insights into specific subjects emerged naturally as prominent features of Bahá’í life. Just as the habit of daily reading will remain an integral part of Bahá’í identity, so will these forms of study continue to hold a place in the collective life of the community. But 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. There, in the field of service, knowledge is tested, questions arise out of practice, and new levels of understanding are achieved. In the system of distance education that has now been established in country after country—the principal elements of which include the study circle, the tutor and the curriculum of the Ruhi Institute—the worldwide Bahá’í community has acquired the capacity to enable thousands, nay millions, to study the writings in small groups with the explicit purpose of translating the Bahá’í teachings into reality, carrying the work of the Faith forward into its next stage: sustained large-scale expansion and consolidation.

(The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010 Message, par. 9)

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Notes

(1) “[F]igures, reported in the 1992 Britannica Book of the Year, show the Baha’i Faith as having significant communities in 205 countries, second only to Christianity in its geographic spread.” (Cited from here.)

(Photos are Copyright Bahá’í International Community. View here and here.)

“More recent figures, reported in the 1992 Britannica Book of the Year, show the Baha’i Faith as having significant communities in 205 countries, second only to Christianity in its geographic s

“More recent figures, reported in the 1992 Britannica Book of the Year, show the Baha’i Faith as having significant communities in 205 countries, second only to Christianity in its geographic spread. ”

pread. ”

(Haifa, January 2010)

Messages – reminders – relevant to us all in our paths of service, although addressed to Baha’i youth attending a UK conference, from our Supreme Body. Could it really be this simple: Renewed dedication to the process of learning-through-action, then commitment to engage in one or more of the core activities? Let’s try it, and find out!

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7 January 2010

The hundreds of pledges made to establish or assist with core activities is vivid testimony to the spirit of dedication which permeated that gathering. The friends may be assured of the prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that Baha’u’llah may guide and confirm their every step taken in selfless service to His Cause.

With loving Baha’i greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

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1 January 2010

To the Friends Gathered at the Youth Conference in the United Kingdom

(…) The need for you to apply yourselves to service in two capacities in particular–as teachers of children’s classes and as animators of junior youth groups–has never been more apparent. Countless parents yearn for the means of developing their children’s spiritual faculties that would lay within them the foundations of a principled and upright character. And surely every young person will flourish in a programme that helps to form a strong moral identity in the critical years of early adolescence and empowers participants to contribute to the well-being of society. Beyond these specific fields of activity, you must not refrain from acquainting your peers with the potent, the compelling, the world-embracing mission with which you are charged. Which of them would not feel their spirits enriched for contemplating how, through the application of those far-reaching principles enunciated by Baha’u’llah, the regeneration of the world can be accomplished and its perplexing crises resolved? Which of them would not be raised to a new consciousness of humanity’s capacity to “carry forward an ever-advancing civilization” by combining their energies with yours and bending them towards this noble aim?

The Universal House of Justice

Read the full messages here.

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Dancing youth express their energy in Canada. (Photo: Ryan Lash)

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[R]eceptivity manifests itself in a willingness to participate in the process of community building set in motion by the core activities. In cluster after cluster where an intensive programme of growth is now in operation, the task before the friends this coming year is to teach within one or more receptive populations, employing a direct method in their exposition of the fundamentals of their Faith, and find those souls longing to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society and work alongside one another in their neighbourhoods and villages to begin a process of collective transformation. If the friends persist in their efforts to learn the ways and methods of community building in small settings in this way, the long-cherished goal of universal participation in the affairs of the Faith will, we are certain, move by several orders of magnitude within grasp.
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To meet this challenge, the believers and the institutions that serve them will have to strengthen the institute process in the cluster, increasing significantly within its borders the number of those capable of acting as tutors of study circles; for it should be recognized that the opportunity now open to the friends to foster a vibrant community life in neighbourhoods and villages, characterized by such a keen sense of purpose, was only made possible by crucial developments that occurred over the past decade in that aspect of Bahá’í culture which pertains to deepening.
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– The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010 Message, par. 6 & 7

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Photo copyright Baha’i International Community. View here.

The House of Justice writes in its latest Ridván message with regard to the vital duty of teaching:

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(2.) Chief among [the developments at the more profound level of culture, to which the Bahá’í community’s accomplishment of establishing 1500 intensive programs of growth worldwide attests] is the rise we have observed in the capacity of the friends to converse with others on spiritual matters and to speak with ease about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and His Revelation. They have understood well that teaching is a basic requirement of a life of generous giving.

3. In recent messages we have expressed joy at witnessing the steady increase in the tempo of teaching across the globe. The discharge of this fundamental spiritual obligation by the individual believer has always been, and continues to be, an indispensable feature of Bahá’í life. What the establishment of 1,500 intensive programmes of growth has made evident is how courageous and deliberate the rank and file of the believers have become in stepping outside their immediate circle of family members and friends, ready to be led by the guiding Hand of the All-Merciful to receptive souls in whatever quarter they may reside. Even the most modest estimates suggest that there are now tens of thousands who participate in periodic campaigns to establish ties of friendship, on the basis of shared understanding, with those previously regarded as strangers.

4. In their efforts to present the essentials of the Faith plainly and unequivocally, the believers have benefited greatly from the illustrative example in Book 6 of the Ruhi Institute. Where the logic underlying that presentation is appreciated, and the urge to convert it into a formula overcome, it gives rise to a conversation between two souls—a conversation distinguished by the depth of understanding achieved and the nature of the relationship established. To the extent that the conversation continues beyond the initial encounter and veritable friendships are formed, a direct teaching effort of this kind can become a catalyst for an enduring process of spiritual transformation. Whether the first contact with such newly found friends elicits an invitation for them to enrol in the Bahá’í community or to participate in one of its activities is not an overwhelming concern. More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society, commencing a path of service to humanity on which, at the outset or further along, formal enrolment can occur.

5. The significance of this development should not be underestimated. In every cluster, once a consistent pattern of action is in place, attention needs to be given to extending it more broadly through a network of co-workers and acquaintances, while energies are, at the same time, focused on smaller pockets of the population, each of which should become a centre of intense activity. In an urban cluster, such a centre of activity might best be defined by the boundaries of a neighbourhood; in a cluster that is primarily rural in character, a small village would offer a suitable social space for this purpose. Those who serve in these settings, both local inhabitants and visiting teachers, would rightly view their work in terms of community building. To assign to their teaching efforts such labels as “door-to-door”, even though the first contact may involve calling upon the residents of a home without prior notice, would not do justice to a process that seeks to raise capacity within a population to take charge of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development. The activities that drive this process, and in which newly found friends are invited to engage—meetings that strengthen the devotional character of the community; classes that nurture the tender hearts and minds of children; groups that channel the surging energies of junior youth; circles of study, open to all, that enable people of varied backgrounds to advance on equal footing and explore the application of the teachings to their individual and collective lives—may well need to be maintained with assistance from outside the local population for a time. It is to be expected, however, that the multiplication of these core activities would soon be sustained by human resources indigenous to the neighbourhood or village itself—by men and women eager to improve material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings. A rhythm of community life should gradually emerge, then, commensurate with the capacity of an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of a new World Order.

6. Within this context, receptivity manifests itself in a willingness to participate in the process of community building set in motion by the core activities. In cluster after cluster where an intensive programme of growth is now in operation, the task before the friends this coming year is to teach within one or more receptive populations, employing a direct method in their exposition of the fundamentals of their Faith, and find those souls longing to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society and work alongside one another in their neighbourhoods and villages to begin a process of collective transformation. If the friends persist in their efforts to learn the ways and methods of community building in small settings in this way, the long-cherished goal of universal participation in the affairs of the Faith will, we are certain, move by several orders of magnitude within grasp.

19. The developments we have mentioned thus far—the rise in capacity to teach the Faith directly and to enter into purposeful discussion on themes of spiritual import with people from every walk of life, the efflorescence of an approach to study of the writings that is wedded to action, the renewal of commitment to provide spiritual education to the young in neighbourhoods and villages on a regular basis, and the spread in influence of a programme that instils in junior youth the sense of a twofold moral purpose, to develop their inherent potentialities and to contribute to the transformation of society—are all reinforced, in no small measure, by yet another advance at the level of culture, the implications of which are far-reaching indeed. This evolution in collective consciousness is discernable in the growing frequency with which the word “accompany” appears in conversations among the friends, a word that is being endowed with new meaning as it is integrated into the common vocabulary of the Bahá’í community. It signals the significant strengthening of a culture in which learning is the mode of operation, a mode that fosters the informed participation of more and more people in a united effort to apply Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to the construction of a divine civilization, which the Guardian states is the primary mission of the Faith. Such an approach offers a striking contrast to the spiritually bankrupt and moribund ways of an old social order that so often seeks to harness human energy through domination, through greed, through guilt or through manipulation.

20. In relationships among the friends, then, this development in culture finds expression in the quality of their interactions. Learning as a mode of operation requires that all assume a posture of humility, a condition in which one becomes forgetful of self, placing complete trust in God, reliant on His all-sustaining power and confident in His unfailing assistance, knowing that He, and He alone, can change the gnat into an eagle, the drop into a boundless sea. And in such a state souls labour together ceaselessly, delighting not so much in their own accomplishments but in the progress and services of others. So it is that their thoughts are centred at all times on helping one another scale the heights of service to His Cause and soar in the heaven of His knowledge.

(25.) The work advancing in every corner of the globe today … will demand centuries of exertion by humanity to bring to fruition. There are no shortcuts, no formulas. Only as effort is made to draw on insights from His Revelation, to tap into the accumulating knowledge of the human race, to apply His teachings intelligently to the life of humanity, and to consult on the questions that arise will the necessary learning occur and capacity be developed.

26. In this long-term process of capacity building, the Bahá’í community has devoted nearly a decade and a half to systematizing its experience in the teaching field, learning to open certain activities to more and more people and to sustain its expansion and consolidation. All are welcome to enter the community’s warm embrace and receive sustenance from Bahá’u’lláh’s life-giving message. No greater joy is there, to be sure, than for a soul, yearning for the Truth, to find shelter in the stronghold of the Cause and draw strength from the unifying power of the Covenant. Yet every human being and every group of individuals, irrespective of whether they are counted among His followers, can take inspiration from His teachings, benefiting from whatever gems of wisdom and knowledge will aid them in addressing the challenges they face.

30. Effective social action serves to enrich participation in the discourses of society, just as the insights gained from engaging in certain discourses can help to clarify the concepts that shape social action. At the level of the cluster, involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Bahá’í ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern—climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. It entails, as well, meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighbourhoods.

31. In this connection, we feel compelled to raise a warning: …Though endeavours in [engaging in social action and public discourse] may well effect an increase in the size of the Bahá’í community, they are not undertaken for this purpose. Sincerity in this respect is an imperative. Moreover, care should be exercised to avoid overstating the Bahá’í experience or drawing undue attention to fledging efforts, such as the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme, which are best left to mature at their own pace. The watchword in all cases is humility. While conveying enthusiasm about their beliefs, the friends should guard against projecting an air of triumphalism, hardly appropriate among themselves, much less in other circumstances….

(32.) Over the coming year, the institute process and the pattern of activity that it engenders should continue to be strengthened, and teaching should remain uppermost in the mind of every believer. Further involvement in the life of society should not be sought prematurely. It will proceed naturally as the friends in every cluster persevere in applying the provisions of the Plan through a process of action, reflection, consultation and study, and learn as a result….

(33.) Undeterred by divisive social constructs, press on and bring Bahá’u’lláh’s message to waiting souls in every urban neighbourhood, in every rural hamlet, in every corner of the globe, drawing them to His community, the community of the Greatest Name

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE

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Emphasis added. Read the full message here.

Following are paraphrased notes (to be completed) from a talk by an International Counselor in Haifa. Stay tuned for more. It may be said to revolve around the beloved Guardian’s statement:

Though the society which incarnates its ideals be small, and its direct and tangible benefits as yet inconsiderable, yet the potentialities with which it has been endowed, and through which it is destined to regenerate the individual and rebuild a broken world, are incalculable.

Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 53 (emphasis added)

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Rebuilding a broken world

Whenever we’re out among people, wherever we go. And when we watch the news on television or read newspapers, there is often unpleasant news, this is what we see when we look at the world. We may see signs of oppression and injustice in thousands of things, in aspects of life – in the way things are organized, in conflicts, in relations between nations, in gender relationships, in media etc.

Bahá’u’lláh states regarding this condition in the world –

Justice is, in this day, bewailing its plight, and Equity groaneth beneath the yoke of oppression. The thick clouds of tyranny have darkened the face of the earth, and enveloped its peoples. Through the movement of Our Pen of glory We have, at the bidding of the omnipotent Ordainer, breathed a new life into every human frame, and instilled into every word a fresh potency. All created things proclaim the evidences of this world-wide regeneration. This is the most great, the most joyful tidings imparted by the Pen of this Wronged One to mankind. Wherefore fear ye, O My well-beloved ones? Who is it that can dismay you? A touch of moisture sufficeth to dissolve the hardened clay out of which this perverse generation is moulded. The mere act of your gathering together is enough to scatter the forces of these vain and worthless people.

– Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets 84 (emphasis added)

He is telling us that everything has been recreated – right after talking about injustice and tyranny, He talks of “regeneration.” Where is this regeneration He is speaking of? We may have doubts sometimes when faced with present world conditions. We certainly become inspired by the vision in the writings and the messages of the Universal House of Justice, but may well ask ourselves where this “new creation” that Bahá’u’lláh speaks of may be found. But then He continues the in the same passage:

Wherefore fear ye, O my well-beloved ones? What is it that can dismay you?

Do we fear sometimes? When He says that, “The mere act of your gathering together is enough… “, how does this actually work? I don’t know how it works! Why don’t we just get together? Do things together, be together, serve together!

Bahá’u’lláh says it’s enough to “dissolve the clay” to be able to change the world!

When speaking of clusters, we hear of core activities.

Aren’t a study circle, a devotional meeting, children’s classes, junior youth groups all acts of getting together?

This goes not only for the believers, we’re asked to get everyone together, and that means everyone.

Counselor Mora visited a cluster in which there were 145 devotional meetings going on, 63 study circles, 88 children’s classes, and 15 junior youth groups, with 2500 people in total participating. On top of that there were Nineteen Day Feasts, Holy Days, deepenings, firesides etc.

If doing a core activity, it is important to know how many more people we can invite. How many contacts, friends, family members etc. Can we invite neighbors? Why is it important? Because out there there’s oppression, which is affecting people.

So let’s bring everyone to join us.

The Guardian writes:

In a world the structure of whose political and social institutions is impaired, whose vision is befogged, whose conscience is bewildered, whose religious systems have become anemic and lost their virtue, this healing Agency, this leavening Power, this cementing Force, intensely alive and all-pervasive, has been taking shape, is crystallizing into institutions, is mobilizing its forces, and is preparing for the spiritual conquest and the complete redemption of mankind. Though the society which incarnates its ideals be small, and its direct and tangible benefits as yet inconsiderable, yet the potentialities with which it has been endowed, and through which it is destined to regenerate the individual and rebuild a broken world, are incalculable.

The beloved Guardian tells us that we’re small, but at the same time he gives us a vision of this very Bahá’í community as containing “incalculable” potentialities…

Excerpts from a talk by Dr. Peter Khan on 3 July 2009 regarding the concept of change in religion and in the Bahá’í Faith, and the importance of wholehearted obedience to the Covenant in this context, with reference to the Ridván 2009 Message (read it here). The whole of the talk is available here. Please note that this transcript may not be entirely accurate.

“The solution [to meeting the challenge of change in the Faith] is no more and no less than unreserved acceptance of whatever the central authority of the Cause, in this case the Universal House of Justice decrees. If we would hold to that, if we would contemplate it deeply, if we would absorb the implications and meaning of unreserved acceptance and implementation of whatever the Central Authority in the Cause decrees we are safe.  Nothing can trouble us…”


* * * * * *

A talk by Dr. Peter Khan

3 July 2009

THE RIDVAN MESSAGE

I’m very very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about a document as significant and of such far reaching importance as the Ridván 2009 Message.

As you know it was and is unique, as far as I can tell, among the various messages of the Universal House of Justice in its brevity and in its tone.  It comes hard on the heels of a remarkable event, unprecedented in the history of the Cause, or indeed in the history of the religion throughout the world; and that was the convening, at the instruction of the Universal House of Justice, and with the invaluable assistance of the Members of the International Teaching Centre, of a series of 41 Conferences held throughout the length and breadth of the planet, attended by some eighty thousand people.

As you are, I am sure, aware, that series of conferences had a galvanizing effect on the Bahá’í Community throughout the world and ultimately on the larger society. It was a tangible demonstration of the global spread of the Faith and it created a most welcome surge toward the goal of 1500 Intensive Programs of Growth by the end of the present plan.

This Ridván Message can be regarded as celebratory in [tone]: celebrating the fact that we have achieved an important milestone in reaching  some 1000 Intensive Programs of Growth by Ridván 2009, and expressing the confidence of the Universal House of Justice that the goal of the Five Year Plan would be accomplished.

My purpose tonight is not to dwell specifically on those details, but rather to share with you my thoughts about what I see to be two underlying issues, the exploration of which I believe to be crucial to a deeper understanding of this Ridván Message and indeed of the direction in which the faith is now going.

These two issues which I will address in turn have firstly to dwell upon the significance of Bahá’í activity at the present time in the history of the world, and secondly to examine the question of change in religion. …

Change in the Bahá’í Faith

We now come to the Bahá’í Faith. Obviously it must deal with change, and it must deal with it in two quite distinct, but somewhat related dimensions: one is legal and the other one is psychological.

Within the structure of Bahá’í Law the problem is straight forward: the authority Bahá’u’lláh conferred upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and in turn upon the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice provides an impregnable stronghold for the legal authority to implement an appropriate degree of change. In the case of the House of Justice, the authority is given to implement change is quite fascinating, it has several components to it.  They include:

The right of the House of Justice to carry out progressive clarification and application of Bahá’í Law gives it authority to make change.  For example Huqúqu’lláh: it was around in the books for a long time, but it became universally applicable in 1992. There are a number of other laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas not yet applicable, change will occur as the House of Justice decides to apply them.

– The right of the House of Justice to make and change subsidiary laws is also a legitimate application of the legal authority of the House of Justice to make change, obviously within the limits prescribed.

uhj_2005-460

Members of the Universal House of Justice, April 2005. First row, L to R: Dr. Payman Mohajer, Mr. Hartmut Grossmann, Mr. Kiser Barnes, Mr. Paul Lample Second row, L to R: Mr. Glenford Mitchell, Dr. Firaydoun Javaheri, Dr. Peter Khan, Mr. Hooper Dunbar, Dr. Farzam Arbab

Shoghi Effendi has referred to the Faith as it developed in the future and he says:

“The Bahá’ís should not always be the last to take up new and obviously excellent methods, but rather the first, as this agrees with the dynamic nature of the Faith which is not only progressive, but holds within itself the seeds of an entirely new culture and civilization.”[11]

And this right, the legal right of the House of Justice to make and change subsidiary laws is part of the apparatus of the Faith to remain progressive and at the forefront of cultural civilized change.

–  The House of Justice is also given a remarkably broad authority, as stated in its Constitution; it has the right to found Institutions, to usher in the World Order of Baha’u’llah: this is an enormous degree of power and authority assigned to the House of Justice as its legal right in this religion.

Nevertheless it remains the challenge to the Bahá’í community to deal with the psychological dimension of change. I mention this because one tends to be secure if there is no change: one does the same old thing day after day, you do it in your sleep, you do it without even thinking, and everything is stable and comfortable. Change disturbs all that, and one just tends to be resentful of it: “this is not the way it used to be, I have very fond memories of childhood and the pattern of behaviour of that time.”  Shoghi Effendi has in a number of places warned us of avoiding extremes.  It tells us for example:

It is our primary task to keep the most vigilant eye on the manner and characteristic of the characteristic of the growth of the Faith,…lest extreme orthodoxy on one hand, and irresponsible freedom on the other, cause it to deviate from that Straight Path which alone can lead it to success.[12]

And there are a number of other passages which deal with the same theme. There’s one of the House of Justice.

In past Dispensations believers have tended to divide into two mutually antagonistic groups: those who held blindly to the letter of the Revelation, and those who questioned and doubted everything. Like all extremes, both can lead to error.[13]

I mentioned this because one is more comfortable clinging blindly to the letter of the law:

–  “Why are you doing this?”

– “Look, here it’s written black and white, read for yourself. It’s so clear!”

And yet we are warned to avoid the extreme of clinging blindly to the letter of the law, just as Shoghi Effendi warns us against extreme orthodoxy. And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also of course warned us against this rigidity. In one place, this was a statement attributed to him, it’s in Star of the West, he says:

“Holding to the letter of the law is many times an indication of a desire for leadership. One who assumes to be the enforcer of the law shows an intellectual understanding of the Cause, but that spiritual guidance in them is not yet established.”[14]

It’s quite a sobering passage from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

At every stage of the unfoldment of the Cause, where there has been change it’s been a test to the believers: …

The House of Justice, in its conduct over the years has provided the same degree of test through change. Sincere, devoted, highly faithful believers were tested. When the House of Justice, in one of its first actions, combined the Eastern and Western pilgrims, I’ve talked to a number of people who were deeply tested by that. They remained faithful to the Cause, they remained devoted, but they were shaken by it. The decision that the Huqúqu’lláh, in the absence of the Guardian, should come to the House of Justice was a test to many. The establishment of the Continental Board of Counselors tested a number of individuals who had some misgivings about appointed people and titles and all the rest of it, and then of course the Teaching Centre; the establishment of Regional Bahá’í Councils, even though the Constitution of the House of Justice has the right to found institutions, this was a test to the believers:  “what will happen to the National Assemblies? Why was their power been taken? We got by very well without Regional Bahá’í Councils for decades, why do we need them now?” Etcetera.

The House of Justice has far greater latitude than that, and I think if we would live for another century, we would see all kinds of changes in the future.

I dwell on this as my final point because the House of Justice in 1996 began a process of quite significant change and that change is a test to some sincere and devoted believers.  The concept of clusters has been a challenge to some, not to everybody, but to some: “what about the LSA, are we going to forget about that?  Shoghi Effendi gave us the LSA? Why do you need the cluster?”

The priority given to the core activities such as the focus on the intensive and prolonged group study of the Ruhi books, has been a test to some:  “It means we can’t have firesides? We can’t have deepening classes? What about all the things in the Writings?  Is that all we have to study?”  And the like.

The focus on Intensive Programs of Growth has been a test. The deeper involvement of the International Teaching Centre, the Counselors, and Auxiliary Board Members in the life of the community has been a test, not to disputative or contentious believers, but to a number of devoted believers who remember the old days, who remember when life was simpler: they went to Feast, we had a fireside, we went to deepening classes and occasionally did something else. Life was simple, life was straight forward, it was entirely comprehensible, and then along came this whole apparatus using words that do not appear in the Writings, as far as one can tell from earlier times: Cluster, Intensive Program of Growth, Core Activity and the like.

This is a challenge of change.  It can be avoided very simply by allowing the Faith to remain static and to wither. We cannot do this, we have no choice, we have to build the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Things have to expand and develop in ways we cannot yet comprehend. This requirement of necessity is that change can and must occur if the Faith is to fulfill its ordained destiny and its future.

We must overcome any psychological barrier to change, any misgivings, any concerns and troubles. We must recognize that when there is change you get extremes.  In this case the change since 1996 has produced in a few people a very colorful extreme: the accusation that the Ruhi material is only applicable to the Third World . This is very interesting, it’s very colorful, because when you open a Ruhi book what do you find there? The sacred Texts! The authoritative Writings.

If you look at Book 1, there are passages you can spend your life contemplating, just as devoted Christians have spent their lives contemplating the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer.  Another extreme is the accusation that we are ignoring Assemblies, feasts, firesides, and deepenings; the false accusation that Anna’s presentation could be given by a parrot; these are an extreme distortion which reflect one’s unease and frustration at the change that has been brought about by the House of Justice.

The automatic equivalence in the minds of some between the House of Justice call to direct teaching, to present the coming of Bahá’u’lláh in more direct terms, based upon the condition of the world, based upon the spiritual hunger of mankind, trivialized and gravely distorted into a call for the universal application of door to door teaching. These are all expressions, to my mind, of the unease of capable and devoted believers who are struggling with change.  Of course when you go to one extreme you get the other extreme, you get the criticism of those who are not involved in the Institute Process, extreme statements to not bother with the LSA or with firesides, the confusion between priority and exclusive, and so on.

This is the challenge we face and it’s inherent in the Ridván 2009 Message.  The solution is childish simple; the solution is so simple, it is hardly worth mentioning.  The solution is no more and no less than unreserved acceptance of whatever the central authority of the Cause, in this case the Universal House of Justice decrees.

If we would hold to that, if we would contemplate it deeply, if we would absorb the implications and meaning of unreserved acceptance and implementation of whatever the Central Authority in the Cause decrees we are safe.  Nothing can trouble us, we are in an impregnable stronghold, and we would become part of this massive movement of humanity to rescue the world from the perilous disorder, the intense suffering of the declining process and to usher in the ordained new world civilization in the Golden Age of the Cause.

Notes:

[11] Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 283
[12] Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 42
[13] Compilations, Scholarship, p. 16
[14]  Star of the West, vol 6, no. 6, June 24, 1915, page 44

* * * * * *

1807-460

Gathered on the steps of the Seat of the Universal House of Justice on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel, in 2005, are members of the Continental Boards of Counsellors together with members of the Universal House of Justice, the Counsellor members of the International Teaching Centre, and, at front, centre, the Hand of the Cause of God Dr. Ali-Muhammad Varqa.

* * * * * *

No wonder that He Who through the operation of His Will has inaugurated so vast and unique an Order and Who is the Center of so mighty a Covenant should have written these words: “So firm and mighty is this Covenant that from the beginning of time until the present day no religious Dispensation hath produced its like.” “Whatsoever is latent in the innermost of this holy cycle,” He wrote during the darkest and most dangerous days of His ministry, “shall gradually appear and be made manifest, for now is but the beginning of its growth and the dayspring of the revelation of its signs.” “Fear not,” are His reassuring words foreshadowing the rise of the Administrative Order established by His Will, “fear not if this Branch be severed from this material world and cast aside its leaves; nay, the leaves thereof shall flourish, for this Branch will grow after it is cut off from this world below, it shall reach the loftiest pinnacles of glory, and it shall bear such fruits as will perfume the world with their fragrance.”
To what else if not to the power and majesty which this Administrative Order—the rudiments of the future all-enfolding Bahá’í Commonwealth—is destined to manifest, can these utterances of Bahá’u’lláh allude: “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.”
The Báb Himself, in the course of His references to “Him Whom God will make manifest” anticipates the System and glorifies the World Order which the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is destined to unfold. “Well is it with him,” is His remarkable statement in the third chapter of the Persian Bayán, “who fixeth his gaze upon the Order of Bahá’u’lláh and rendereth thanks unto his Lord! For He will assuredly be made manifest. God hath indeed irrevocably ordained it in the Bayán.”

– Shoghi Effendi, WOB, p. 146-7

* * * * * *

(Obtained through an email list, 26 July 2009) (Images reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view here and here)

(Haifa, 27 November 2008)

From the Universal House of Justice:

We were deeply grieved to learn of the untimely passing of cherished handmaiden of the Blessed Beauty Rebequa Murphy. Her long years of sacrificial, devoted labor for the Cause of God were distinguished by tireless efforts to protect and propagate the Faith as a member of the Continental Board of Counsellors for the Americas, preceded by her membership on the National Spiritual Assembly of Alaska, her service as a pioneer in West Africa, and her work as a representative of the Faith to the United Nations in New York. With abiding admiration we pay tribute to her fervor for teaching, her close and caring relationship with youth, her capacity for showing genuine love and affection to individuals from all strata of society, and her ability to enkindle in the hearts of the friends the desire to serve. We ardently supplicate at the Sacred Threshold for the progress of her luminous soul throughout the heavenly realms and extend our heartfelt sympathy to her family and friends.
.

We call for memorial services to be held in her honor in the Houses of Worship in Wilmette and Panama City and for commemorative gatherings to take place in communities throughout the Americas and in her native Ethiopia.

Here are two excerpts to inspire us from stories in the news quoting her:

“Providing spiritual education for children is a fundamental part of social development,” said Counselor Rebequa Murphy at the 2006 Baha’i Conference on Social and Economic Development. Her comments came in a talk titled “The Preservation of Human Honor,” explaining how human progress will organically spring from core activities. The primary development task of Baha’is today is to “strive to safeguard the sanctity of the human spirit.””Baha’u’llah says, ‘The well being of mankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established’,” said Ms. Murphy. “So nothing we do, no amount of money, no amount of research is going to guarantee the security of mankind unless its unity is firmly established. So that’s what our job is – to lay the foundation [for development], which is the unity of the world.”

http://news.bahai.org/story/500

And in 2003 at the Southern Regional Baha’i Conference together with Counselor Eugene Andrews:

[Mr.] Andrews told the participants that the Faith is not a church, and its members should not conduct themselves in a way where leadership comes from an individual or individuals presumed to be qualified for the purpose.”Where does our spiritual vitality come from? It comes from you all,” he said.

Rebequa Murphy…used an urban analogy to illustrate her point that the institute process (which includes study circles, children’s classes and other community activities) was aimed at raising a community of teachers of the Faith.

“In New York City you learn [to] only hail cabs that have their light on, because if their light’s not on they’re not open for business,” Ms. Murphy said.

“When we become communities of teachers, what happens? What the institute process does, it turns on [our] lights. So people know we’re open for business. And they come to us.

“We must never forget the purpose for which we live — to bring about the oneness of the human family.”

http://www.bahaiworldnews.org/story/267?storyid=267

At the 2007 US National Convention she demonstrated her deep and sincere attachment to the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh and her reverence for the Supreme Body, the Center of the Covenant today, when she said, to effect, “[We want to see and hear] through the eyes and ears of the House of Justice [and not through our own eyes and ears].”

Here are the words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself:

If it be your wish, O people, to know God and to discover the greatness of His might, look, then, upon Me with Mine own eyes, and not with the eyes of any one besides Me. Ye will, otherwise, be never capable of recognizing Me, though ye ponder My Cause as long as My Kingdom endureth, and meditate upon all created things throughout the eternity of God, the Sovereign Lord of all, the Omnipotent, the Ever-Abiding, the All-Wise.

(Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, 272-3)

.

A touching anecdote about a meeting with Ms. Murphy can be found here.

Two audio files of one of her talks are available here and here.

A PowerPoint presentation she made on “The Condition of Humanity” can be downloaded from here.

* * * * * *
.                                                                                                                                                                       .
Counselor Rebequa Murphy(died 25 November 2008 in New York City, after recent travels in Florida)
God bless her radiant soul!

Delegates and observers at the yearly national convention of the Baha’is of the United States (at which Ms. Murphy frequently participated) in 2005 pictured outside the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois

* * * * * *

O my God, Thy Trust hath been returned unto Thee. It behooveth Thy grace and Thy bounty that have compassed Thy dominions on earth and in heaven, to vouchsafe unto Thy newly welcomed one Thy gifts and Thy bestowals, and the fruits of the tree of Thy grace! Powerful art Thou to do as Thou willest, there is none other God but Thee, the Gracious, the Most Bountiful, the Compassionate, the Bestower, the Pardoner, the Precious, the All-Knowing.

I testify, O my Lord, that Thou hast enjoined upon men to honor their guest, and he that hath ascended unto Thee hath verily reached Thee and attained Thy Presence. Deal with him then according to Thy grace and bounty! By Thy glory, I know of a certainty that Thou wilt not withhold Thyself from that which Thou hast commanded Thy servants, nor wilt Thou deprive him that hath clung to the cord of Thy bounty and hath ascended to the Dayspring of Thy wealth.

There is none other God but Thee, the One, the Single, the Powerful, the Omniscient, the Bountiful.

—Bahá’u’lláh, BP 44-45

* * * * * *

(Images reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community. The second was photographed by Eric Van Zanten)

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