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Two anecdotes from the life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá regarding teaching – not to be taken as His authentic words – not authoritative – but they convey the spirit we are called upon to nourish in our hearts!

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The Master made it quite clear that people of very different capacities were qualified to teach this great Faith, each in his own way. John David Bosch, who had come to America from Switzerland, felt that he could not be a speaker—instead he circulated pamphlets and books. The Master encouraged him: ‘You are doing very well; you are doing better than talking. With you it is not words or the movement of the lips; with you it is the heart that speaks. In your presence silence speaks and radiates.’

(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 59)

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Once, in the early days, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent an eager believer there to ’sow the seed, deliver the Message.’ The man went, and two years later returned very discouraged. “I have sown the seed. I have delivered the Message through the length end breadth of India and they will not listen. Not one single soul has declared his belief in Bahá’u’lláh! What shall I do now?” And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said rather sternly, “Go back and sow the seeds. I did not tell you to gain believers. I told you to sow the seeds.”

(Reginald Grant Barrow, Mother’s Stories: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Early Believers told by Muriel Ives Barrow Newhall to her son, p. 39)

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Hear this enlightening explanation of the purpose of teaching – from 26:15 minutes – in the recording of a talk given by former member of the Universal House of Justice and renowned author Mr. Adib Taherzadeh, at a conference in Alaska in the mid-80s.

(US – MA, 7 February 2010)

Here some cogent learnings shared by the Boston, MA cluster Area Teaching Committe on effective means for establishing children’s classes in a community.

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Dear Friends,
 

Please find attached below some learning about children’s classes from the cluster reflection gathering…

 

What we’ve learned

  • Many classes are facing burnout from having only one teacher. In addition to new classes we need support for the existing ones
  • We may need to visit people who have gone through Book 3 previously and are not active and try to engage them in our classes that are already set up
  • Having prospective teachers at established sites helps them to learn how to conduct a class and also lends more support to the existing class
  • It may help existing classes to also look in the neighborhoods for prospective co-teachers (providing opportunity to teach as well)
  • Try as much as possible to interact with parents to build vision…. this may take multiple visits so do not be discouraged
  • Potential ways to start a class:
    • Start small in  a neighborhood and allow the kids to bring their friends
    • Try to conduct classes in an open space because kids will be curious/interested in finding out
    • Initiate with Baha’i children. If you can capture their interest then they will be more apt to reach out to their friends/neighbors and bring seekers
  • When starting new classes a lot of emphasis has to be put in finding teachers that don’t have to travel far to get to site (reduces burnout)
  • Understanding how to have control over kids also reduces burnout

* * * * * *

 

Quotations – children’s classes

Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children.

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


Classes for the spiritual education of children and junior youth serve to strengthen the roots of the Faith in the local population… Whatever the nature of the cluster, it is imperative to pay close attention to children and junior youth everywhere. Concern for the moral and spiritual education of young people is asserting itself forcefully on the consciousness of humanity, and no attempt at community building can afford to ignore it.

– The Universal House Justice, 27 December 2005


Confidence is patiently built as the friends engage in progressively more complex and demanding acts of service.

– The Universal House Justice, 27 December 2005

 

Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo

[It is] important…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.

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….

Those who serve in these settings, both local inhabitants and visiting teachers, would rightly view their work in terms of community building…  [It is] 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… —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. …

[…]

In every cluster with an intensive programme of growth in operation, efforts need to be made to systematize further the provision of spiritual education to increasing numbers of children, from families of many backgrounds—a requisite of the community-building process gathering momentum in neighbourhoods and villages.

– The Universal House Justice, Ridván message 2010

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(The Ridván message of the Universal House of Justice is available here. Photo reprinted with permission of the Bahá’í World Centre. View it here)

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… —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.

(US – FL & MA, February)

Some key insights regarding the establishment of children’s classes that were shared at reflection meetings in Pensacola (“Emerald Coast”) and Boston (A-stage) clusters, respectively.

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From a report in the Emerald Coast cluster’s newsletter:

The friends [were encouraged] to describe the core activities consistent with the language used by the Universal House of Justice about their purpose and nature:

How to describe the core activities

Memorize:

We are building a spiritual community and we need you! The Bahá’í Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all races and peoples into One Universal Cause, One Common Faith.

For inviting families to children’s classes:

Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world and their need for spiritual education, we’re working to involve more and more children in children’s classes to serve as centers of attraction for them and to strengthen the roots of Faith in society.


From the reflection meeting

A “demonstration children’s class”, was performed where all the participants could watch an actual class being conducted. Each portion of a children’s class (prayer & memorization, song, story, coloring, and game) was presented by one or more of the friends in a class setting. It included

  • the initial gathering
  • setting the children down (with need of reverence)
  • sharing of prayers
  • how to help the children memorize short quotes and prayers
  • the process of teaching patience and sharing when passing out colors
  • instilling the theme for that day with the picture to color
  • the game (always a hit)

The performance by the teachers made it seem easy for the viewers to follow their example.

* * * * * *

Report from the Boston cluster’s reflection meeting:

What we’ve learned

  • Many classes are facing burnout from having only one teacher. In addition to new classes we need support for the existing ones
  • We may need to visit people who have gone through Book 3 previously and are not active and try to engage them in our classes that are already set up
  • Having prospective teachers at established sites helps them to learn how to conduct a class and also lends more support to the existing class
  • It may help existing classes to also look in the neighborhoods for prospective co-teachers (providing opportunity to teach as well)
  • Try as much as possible to interact with parents to build vision…. this may take multiple visits so do not be discouraged
  • Potential ways to start a class:
  1. Start small in a neighborhood and allow the kids to bring their friends
  2. Try to conduct classes in an open space because kids will be curious/interested in finding out
  3. Initiate with Baha’i children. If you can capture their interest then they will be more apt to reach out to their friends/neighbors and bring seekers
  • When starting new classes a lot of emphasis has to be put in finding teachers that don’t have to travel far to get to the site (reduces burnout)
  • Understanding how to have control over kids also reduces burnout

* * * * * *

Leading a song during a children’s class, Jenjarom, Malaysia.

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Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abhá Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory.

It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God’s abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world.

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections Sec. 106

* * *

Classes for the spiritual education of children and junior youth serve to strengthen the roots of the Faith in the local population… Whatever the nature of the cluster, it is imperative to pay close attention to children and junior youth everywhere. Concern for the moral and spiritual education of young people is asserting itself forcefully on the consciousness of humanity, and no attempt at community building can afford to ignore it.

– The Universal House of Justice, 27 December 2005

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(From reports, adapted from the teaching blog http://teaching.bahai.us/2010/02/newsletter-coordination-describing-core.html, and from an email circular received from the Boston Area Teaching Committee.) (Image is copyright Bahá’í World Centre – view here.)

(US – 25 January)

Wonderful insights emerge from selected learning-arenas on how to make the expansion and consolidation process sustainable. (Cursive in article added.)

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Each effort has to yield new fruit

In some regions, certain clusters have been identified as “Learning Labs”. These clusters regularly host visitors from other clusters (and sometimes other parts of the country), enabling the visitors, through on-the-ground participation in service, to learn from their experiences. It is a conversation arising out of action. We are VERY excited to share some intriguing and rich insights generated from a recent visit to one such Learning Lab. Working within the vision outlined by the Universal House of Justice, the friends are reaching out to their neighbors, focusing on finding new human resources, and walking together to build new patterns of community life.

Here are just some of the insights shared by the friends in the Learning Lab cluster:

A few cycles ago the cluster was focused on trying to achieve high numbers of declarations over the two-week expansion phase. This level of enrollments had proven to be beyond the capacity of the community to carry out consolidation, and so was therefore unsustainable. . . .

Now the focus is on coherent growth: This is growth that is structured but organic. The “structure” is formed by a network of core activities that takes root ever more strongly in a neighborhood, and the key unit of service is the teaching team.

Thus the focus is on establishing an initial core activity with a family or group of neighbors. It is CRUCIAL that the team be able to mobilize resources from the neighborhood they are serving. Thus, teaching projects do not begin with trying to share direct presentations about the Faith. Rather, they focus first on finding people who want to collaborate in realizing the work and vision of building a spiritual community through establishing core activities. When these individuals become interested in learning about the Faith, then at that point the teachers would of course then teach them.

Each effort has to yield new fruit. For example, a devotional meeting could lead to opportunities to share Anna’s conversation or to start children’s classes. The friends here have learned that when an effort does not yield fruit, it becomes unsustainable and eventually dies out. This is not a bad thing, because it frees up resources for other efforts with more potential.

A teaching team needs to be grounded in the terms of discourse used by the Universal House of Justice; for example, children’s class teachers need to view their service in terms of creating centers of attraction for children that strengthen the roots of Faith in society. Unless we view our efforts the way the Universal House of Justice views them, we will not achieve the results that the Universal House of Justice is calling for.

Efficient collaboration and sharing of learning between teams, support, prayer, encouragement, and joy are all vital.

In short, “intensity” does not mean bringing many people to one uniform level of activity. Now it involves everyone stretching just a bit more each IPG cycle and thereby gaining a little more capacity to serve. The “intensity” is in the rhythmic pattern of progress, rather than a frenetic pace of fragmented effort.

And here are some of the ways how the visitors “carried the learning home”, particularly the goal of each effort yielding additional fruits:

A Book 6 study circle has taken on, as part of its regular activity, home visits to a new believer to share the deepening themes from Book 2. The goal is to start a Book 1 study circle with this believer upon the completion of the deepening themes.

A monthly devotional gathering has resulting in a number of participants declaring their Faith in Bahá’u’lláh, and appears to be ready to give birth to a Book 1 study circle.

Home visits to another new believer is attracting the sustained attention of family and friends—growing the community of interest.

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Children’s classes strengthening the roots of community life

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In just a few years, the intensive programme of growth has emerged as a powerful means for the expansion and consolidation of the Faith on a large scale. Leading the process of learning that impels progress are scores of clusters where the friends have, through painstaking, systematic effort, come to understand how best to implement the cycles of activity that constitute such a programme. So instructive is the experience of these clusters, we asked the International Teaching Centre to choose one example from each continent and prepare a document that would demonstrate at once the diversity of conditions in which the believers everywhere are labouring and the coherent vision that unites them as they advance the process of entry by troops… It is inspiring indeed, and we commend it to your study.

While the case studies offer an impressive account of the activity in each cluster, you will, we hope, not be content only to read the narrative but will try to identify the principles, qualities, and approaches that have made possible the progress achieved. What should become clear to you is how aptly the friends and institutions in the clusters have managed to exploit the framework for action referred to in our 27 December 2005 message to breathe the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation into places as diverse as the crowded city of London and the tiny island group of Kiribati.

Immediately apparent from the description of all five clusters is the degree to which the friends have relied on the power of divine assistance; this has fortified them in the field of action and enabled them to persevere in the face of inevitable difficulties. Equally evident is the sense of purpose that animates their endeavours—a purpose complemented by the attitude of learning they have espoused. Even more striking, however, is the way these attributes are perpetuated in the body of believers as it grows in size, for in all cases they have come to characterize not only individual action but also the community’s as a whole. So focused is the collective energy of the friends as they carry out the central tasks of the Five Year Plan, whether in taking individual initiative or participating in organized campaigns, that they are catching the first glimpses of what it means for their powers to be multiplied in unified action. …

– The Universal House of Justice, Attaining the Dynamics of Growth, Introduction (emphasis added)

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(Adapted from the teaching blog http://teaching.bahai.us/2010/01/each-effort-has-to-yield-new-fruit.html. Image copyright Bahá’í National Center of the United States – view here.)

Excerpts from a paper by House of Justice member Paul Lample which he adapted in giving his plenary talk given at the 32nd annual conference of the Association for Bahá’í Studies – North America, 29 August to 1 September 2008. A link to the full text is available here.  Audio of the talk can be accessed from here.

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Learning and the Evolution of the Bahá’í Community

by Paul Lample

With regard to the harmony of science and religion, the Writings of the Central Figures and the commentaries of the Guardian make abundantly clear that the task of humanity, including the Bahá’í community that serves as the “leaven” within it, is to create a global civilization which embodies both the spiritual and material dimensions of existence. The nature and scope of such a civilization are still beyond anything the present generation can conceive. The prosecution of this vast enterprise will depend on a progressive interaction between the truths and principles of religion and the discoveries and insights of scientific inquiry. This entails living with ambiguities as a natural and inescapable feature of the process of exploring reality.”

(On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, letter to an individual, June 19, 1995.)

How do we Bahá’ís, with our diverse, sometimes conflicting, understandings of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, collaborate to bring about the society that reflects His will? The answer will have to be found in learning, over time, to better understand the text and translate it into efficacious action consistent with its divine intent.

To expand the Faith, to build Bahá’í communities, to apply the teachings to address social concerns, to educate youth or children, to engage in scholarly study and research or to work in any other area for the progress of the Cause or the advancement of civilization provides opportunities for achieving a balance of study and action in which questions are raised, problems defined, and solutions attempted. By engaging in an ongoing conversation about how to understand the teachings and, simultaneously, an ongoing reflection on action about how to translate these teachings into reality, the Bahá’í world gradually learns how to contribute to the emergence of a civilization that reflects the oneness of humanity.

For, on the one hand, the teachings do not provide a recipe for the creation of a new world order, while on the other, there are certain principles, procedures, methods, and processes found in the Revelation must be properly implemented. There is not “one way” to do things, but, at the same time, we cannot indiscriminately support all activities and all methods.

Learning—consultation, action, and reflection on action in light of divine guidance—over the course of our lives and over the course of the dispensation is the means by which we find our way forward toward Bahá’u’lláh’s intended purpose for humanity. To speak of the need for learning is an acknowledgement that we are not perfect, we make mistakes, and we must learn to do things better over time. It is an appreciation that human knowledge is limited, and we must continually strive for a better understanding of the meaning and implications of the Revelation. It is also an acknowledgement that the Faith is organic, our responsibilities will evolve and capacities will develop over time, and we will act at ever higher levels of complexity and achieve greater results in the future. Without learning, our thoughts and actions are trapped in an endless circularity. The challenge is to grasp this learning process and use it to support systematic action—to learn how to learn.

Construction Ctr_Study_TextsHER-460

Construction of the Centre of the Study of the Texts

For decades, the Bahá’í world struggled with the problem of sustaining large-scale expansion. In the Four Year Plan, the Universal House of Justice focused attention on consciously cultivating a capacity for learning about growth, and by the year 2000, observed that it had taken root.

The culture of the Bahá’í community experienced a change. This change is noticeable in the expanded capability, the methodical pattern of functioning and the consequent depth of confidence of the three constituent participants in the Plan—the individual, the institutions and the local community. That is so because the friends concerned themselves more consistently with deepening their knowledge of the divine Teachings and learned much—and this more systematically than before—about how to apply them to promulgating the Cause, to managing their individual and collective activities, and to working with their neighbors. In a word, they entered into a learning mode from which purposeful action was pursued.(5)

The culture of learning that is emerging is characterized by dialogue rather than debate, by constructive experience at the grassroots level rather than elaborate planning from the top, by systematization rather than freneticism, by reflective refinement rather than derogatory criticism. It has proven effective in resolving long standing challenges that paralyzed the progress of the community. This paper will examine the learning process that is driving growth and will explore its implications for other areas of concern to the further development of the Bahá’í world. …

Shoghi Effendi explained that the growth of the Faith would involve three stages, beginning with a “steady flow” of fresh recruits that would be followed by entry by troops and, eventually, mass conversion.(12) Signs of the start of the second stage, marked by the entry of large numbers of new believers, were already evident in some countries in Africa and in Indonesia during the lifetime of the Guardian.(13) Starting in the late 1950s, and accelerating over the next three decades, campaigns of rapid enrollment unfolded whereby hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands entered the Faith quickly in country after country. Membership in several countries surpassed 100,000 believers, while in India, the number of believers surpassed two million.(14) Despite the success in obtaining new enrollments, however, no national community was able to achieve the appropriate balance between expansion and consolidation necessary to sustain the process of entry by troops.

In 1996, Bahá’í communities were, for the most part, small and inwardly directed. In some countries this was the result of the lack of effective teaching, and, in others, the lack of success in deepening the new believers who were enlisted in successive waves of teaching activity. The December 26, 1995 message of the Universal House of Justice that introduced the Four Year Plan “focused the Bahá’í world on a path of intense learning about the sustained, rapid growth of the Faith.” It drew on previous experience, but could only describe “in general terms the nature of the work that would have to be undertaken in meeting the challenges ahead.”(15)  By 2006, after a decade of learning, the House of Justice was able to describe a new pattern of action involving a coherent integration of activities for expansion, consolidation, and spiritual upliftment that were mutually reinforcing and which could be readily replicated in other areas. “The elements required for a concerted effort to infuse the diverse regions of the world with the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation,” it stated, “have crystallized into a framework for action that now needs only to be exploited.”(16) “The way forward is clear, and at Ridván 2006 we will call upon the believers to steel their resolve and to proceed with the full force of their energies on the course that has been so decidedly set.”(17)  The problem of sustaining large-scale expansion that stymied the Bahá’í world for almost four decades found a resolution in less than ten years.

The achievements of the Four Year Plan were attributed by the Universal House of Justice to a change in the culture of the Bahá’í community that resulted from a new capacity for learning. Learning drove progress across the entire decade, from the first efforts to establish training institutes at Ridván 1996 to the emergence of intensive programs of growth in certain clusters by Ridván 2006. What was the nature of this learning process? What were some of the specific lessons learned?

At the start of each Plan, and at Ridván and other strategic points during the decade, the Universal House of Justice provided guidance to the Bahá’í world based on its current level of development, summarizing what had been learned and accomplished, and outlining new directions and challenges… As the institute process was established in a cluster, the believers involved acquired the habit of gathering periodically in reflection meetings to study the guidance from the Bahá’í World Centre, consult on the progress of their area, share experiences, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their efforts, and try to discover more effective approaches. A steady stream of questions flowed to the Bahá’í World Centre, to which the Universal House of Justice would respond with clarifications or additional elucidation. The flow of guidance to all parts of the world resulted in the blossoming of new activity and in a flow of experience and insights from communities around the globe back to the Bahá’í World Centre. …

Learning about growth did not result in a simple formula for action. Rather, sacrifice and perseverance, critical thought, and constant valuation and revising of methods were required. In clusters where progress may have been stalled by one or more vexing challenges, it was often difficult to appreciate the accelerating movement of advanced clusters that was unmistakable from a global perspective. And invariably, obstacles would arise whenever the friends in a cluster advanced into new, uncharted areas of endeavor. Within a cluster, it was the daily struggle of individuals to grasp the Plan and act on it that drove progress. …

Seat House_Ctr_Study_Texts_BOO-460

The Seat of the Universal House of Justice, and entrance to the Centre for the Study of the Texts in foreground

While it is impossible to summarize all the lessons learned in the decade from 1996 to 2006, the following examples illustrate how various elements emerged and were combined to shape an integrated pattern of action that has proven its effectiveness in diverse settings worldwide.

• At the start of the Four Year Plan, the House of Justice observed that institutes “must offer courses both at a central location and in the villages and towns so that an appreciable number of believers can enter its programs.”(18)  No specific approach was described, however, for offering the courses at a distance. By 1998, as a result of the experience in one area, a practical approach was discovered involving the establishment of study circles, groups of some “six to ten believers in the towns and villages throughout the country, who will go through a series of basic courses together with a tutor.”(19)  Because of their proven effectiveness, study circles soon became a feature of institutes worldwide.

• In 2001, the House of Justice made reference to stages of community building and observed that “among the initial goals for every community should be the establishment of study circles, children’s classes, and devotional meetings, open to all the inhabitants of the locality.”(20) One year later, as a result of the experience gained by implementing these activities, the House of Justice observed an evolution in these activities that went far beyond what was originally envisioned:

Where a training institute is well established and constantly functioning, three core activities—study circles, devotional meetings, and children’s classes— have multiplied with relative ease. Indeed, the increasing participation of seekers in these activities, at the invitation of their Bahá’í friends, has lent a new dimension to their purposes, consequently effecting new enrollments. Here, surely, is a direction of great promise for the teaching work. These core activities, which at the outset were devised principally to benefit the believers themselves, are naturally becoming portals for entry by troops. By combining study circles, devotional meetings and children’s classes within the framework of clusters, a model of coherence in lines of action has been put in place and is already producing welcome results. Worldwide application of this model, we feel confident, holds immense possibilities for the progress of the Cause in the years ahead.(21)

• The experience with some twenty-five area growth programs in the Twelve Month Plan contributed directly to the specification of propitious conditions for the establishment of intensive programs of growth presented in the Five Year Plan. Yet in 2001, it was not possible to describe the specific nature of an intensive program of growth, but only to clarify some desirable conditions and outline general principles. “Success will depend on the manner in which lines of action are integrated and on the attitude of learning that is adopted,” the House of Justice wrote. “At the core of the program must lie a sound and steady process of expansion, matched by an equally strong process of human resource development,” it further explained. “A range of teaching efforts needs to be carried out, involving both activities undertaken by the individual and campaigns promoted by the institutions.”(22)

By the midpoint of the Plan, the features of the intensive program of growth emerged from experience and, by its end, they could be clearly defined… While, in 2001, it was not possible to describe an intensive program of growth, by the start of the new Plan in 2006 they were well understood and a goal was established to multiply their number to more than 1,500 worldwide.

While these examples provide some insight into the progress made, a number of problems also arose… In the effort to establish a culture of learning, it is difficult to escape the pull of old patterns of behavior. …

Some countries struggled for years to have their institute become fully operational and to integrate training with systematic growth. The initial implementation of the sequence of courses and the translation of new skills into action was often wooden and awkward. Out of a desire to apply the guidance “correctly,” there was a tendency in isolated cases to go to extremes… Among some of the specific problems that arose were the following:

• Study circles, initially intended as a means to provide institute courses to individuals in their communities proved to be attractive to those who were not Bahá’ís but were interested in studying the teachings. As many of these individuals accepted the Faith, often after studying one or two books, it was realized that study circles could be tools of teaching as well as training. Some mistakenly concluded, however, that Bahá’ís were being told to abandon firesides or other teaching methods and replace them by study circles. To a query on this matter a letter written on behalf of the House of Justice responded:

To call upon the Bahá’í world to focus its energies on a certain set of activities at a particular stage in the unfoldment of the Divine Plan does not in any way diminish the importance of other endeavors. . . . While it is highly desirable to include seekers in study circles wherever possible, the individual believer retains the inescapable duty to teach the Faith on his or her own initiative.(26) …

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Assoc_Bahai_St_breakout_2008

Participants at the 32nd annual conference of the North American Association for Baha’i Studies meet in a break-out session. The conference was held in San Diego.

(Emphasis added. Photos Copyright Bahá’í international Community – view here, here and here.)

 (September 2009)

Thanks go to the blessed soul who took and shared these cursory yet enlightening notes from a recent talk by member of the Universal House of Justice Dr. Payman Mohajer. 

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The Purpose of Core Activities

.
In the course of the consultations, Dr. Mohajer posed a thought-provoking question to the participants, “What is the purpose of our core activities?”
 
Dr Mohajer then went on to share an explanation by giving the example of a glass. He said that while it is not inaccurate to say that the glass is transparent, it is evident that transparency is not the purpose of the glass. Transparency is one of the attributes of the glass, but its purpose is to hold liquid. Similarly, one of the attributes of our core activities is that they become portals for entry by troops or instruments for teaching — but that is not their purpose. Dr. Mohajer stressed that the purpose of our core activities is to enable us to serve society and help “translate that which hath been written into reality and action” (ToB 166).
 
How many of us have looked at core activities as a way of building an ever advancing civilization, of creating a new race of men, as a way for the betterment of society? Perhaps for a lot of us core activities are simply about teaching the Faith and getting new declarations. But the primary purpose of our core activities is to raise our capacity to serve society, such that these activities become instruments for developing communities, and not merely instruments for teaching the Faith.
 
Dr Mohajer encouraged the participants present at the seminar to re-read the Ruhi Institute books 1 to 7 with an eye to society and to reflect on how the concepts embedded in them could be used for social action and not just for the sake of expansion and consolidation. For instance, the very first quotation in Ruhi Book 1 talks about the betterment of the world being accomplished through pure and goodly deeds (ADJ 24-25).
 
Did we ever think about ‘Abdul-Bahá’s quotation, “let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path” (PT 16) as applicable to the removal of prejudice? Do we remind ourselves that the reason for becoming more truthful is to contribute as much to a better society as it is for the sake of our own spiritual progress? It is clear that we need to imbue participants engaged in our core activities with a vision of social transformation as well as of personal transformation.
 
Now if someone were to ask us whether the purpose of our inviting them to join study circles is to make them Bahá’ís, we can confidently say ‘no’ and tell them that the purpose of our core activities is to assist in the transformation and betterment of society.
 
 
* * * * * *
 
Information about the core activites:
 
 

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Peacebwns_5859-0

 Example of a Baha’i children’s curriculum, known as the Peace Pack, developed in Western Australia for State Schools classes. It is accompanied by a CD of songs for children, prepared by Western Australian Baha’i musician Greg Parker.

 Children100_1920

 A Baha’i Education in State Schools class in Norfolk Island, New South Wales, Australia.
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To whatever place We may be banished, however great the tribulation We may suffer, they who are the people of God must, with fixed resolve and perfect confidence, keep their eyes directed towards the Day Spring of Glory, and be busied in whatever may be conducive to the betterment of the world and the education of its peoples.

  – Bahá’u’lláh, GWB 270

 

Promote ye the development of the cities of God and His countries, and glorify Him therein in the joyous accents of His well-favoured ones. In truth, the hearts of men are edified through the power of the tongue, even as houses and cities are built up by the hand and other means. We have assigned to every end a means for its accomplishment; avail yourselves thereof, and place your trust and confidence in God, the Omniscient, the All-Wise.

 – Bahá’u’lláh, KA 77 §160

 

HOW-460

Bahá’í House of Worship in Ashkhabad before its destruction by an earthquake

You are welcome this afternoon, most welcome. I am ever happy to see you. … I hope that these gatherings may be productive of great results, and there is no greater result than the love of God. There is no greater result than bonds of service in the divine Kingdom and attainment to the good pleasure of the Lord. Therefore, I desire that your hearts may be directed to the Kingdom of God, that your intentions may be pure and sincere, your purposes turned toward altruistic accomplishment unmindful of your own welfare; nay, rather, may all your intentions center in the welfare of humanity, and may you seek to sacrifice yourselves in the pathway of devotion to mankind. Even as Jesus Christ forfeited His life, may you, likewise, offer yourselves in the threshold of sacrifice for the betterment of the world; and just as Bahá’u’lláh suffered severe ordeals and calamities nearly fifty years for you, may you be willing to undergo difficulties and withstand catastrophes for humanity in general. May you bear these trials and tests most willingly and joyously, for every night is followed by a day, and every day has a night. Every spring has an autumn, and every autumn has its spring. The coming of a Manifestation of God is the season of spiritual spring. …

Praise be to God that the teachings of God are revoiced, the light of reality has dawned again, the effulgence is increasing daily, and the radiance is shining more gloriously in the zenith. From the cloud of mercy a deluge is descending; the Sun of Reality is brilliant in its eternal station. Again we are hopeful that the same springtime may pitch its tent and that these boundless bestowals may appear once more among us. Through your efforts and sincerity this is made possible. If you arise in the Cause of God with divine power, heavenly grace, the sincerity of the Kingdom, a merciful heart and decisive intention, it is certain that the world of humanity will be entirely illumined, the moralities of mankind will become merciful, the foundations of the Most Great Peace will be laid, and the oneness of the kingdom of man will become a reality. This is the great bounty I desire for you, and I pray and supplicate the divine threshold, imploring in your behalf.

  O Thou merciful God! O Thou Who art mighty and powerful! O Thou most kind Father! These servants have gathered together, turning to Thee, supplicating Thy threshold, desiring Thine endless bounties from Thy great assurance. They have no purpose save Thy good pleasure. They have no intention save service to the world of humanity. 
O God! Make this assemblage radiant. Make the hearts merciful. Confer the bounties of the Holy Spirit. Endow them with a power from heaven. Bless them with heavenly minds. Increase their sincerity, so that with all humility and contrition they may turn to Thy kingdom and be occupied with service to the world of humanity. May each one become a radiant candle. May each one become a brilliant star. May each one become beautiful in color and redolent of fragrance in the Kingdom of God. 
O kind Father! Confer Thy blessings. Consider not our shortcomings. Shelter us under Thy protection. Remember not our sins. Heal us with Thy mercy. We are weak; Thou art mighty. We are poor; Thou art rich. We are sick; Thou art the Physician. We are needy; Thou art most generous. 
O God! Endow us with Thy providence. Thou art the Powerful. Thou art the Giver. Thou art the Beneficent. 

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, PUP 54-56 

* * * * * * 

(Emphasis added) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community – view here and here; direct links to first two photos here and here

 (US-DC, 27 August)

A report (slightly edited) that sets out the path to and delineates the processes involved in establishing the new pattern of community life that the institute courses are seeking to build.  

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Bulls Eye in DC

A report from Washington, DC (A-stage cluster): THIS IS WHAT THE FIVE YEAR PLAN IS ALL ABOUT—raising up and empowering human resources.

Ms.__ is a new believer who declared her Faith in March of this year during a neighborhood teaching effort. She has completed Book 1 and is in the middle of studying Book 2, Arising to Serve. I have been working with her as the tutor.

In the course of studying Book 2, Ms.__ gave a presentation on the deepening theme about the Eternal Covenant to a group of Book 1 study circle participants, several of whom are seekers. Before doing so, we had practiced several times going over the presentation until she felt comfortable with the content and progression of ideas. Although she said she felt a little nervous in front of the group, she made a clear presentation and felt very happy about it.

Afterwards, she was encouraged that the next step in doing the practice of Book 2 is to present the deepening theme in a more conversational manner in the home of new believers or those who are interested in the Faith. An opportunity to do this soon came up, since there are people waiting to receive home visits as part of the consolidation phase for the present cycle of growth. I invited Ms.__ to assist in such a visit, and asked her to be prepared to offer the deepening theme. She accepted the invitation and practiced going over the deepening theme so she could, as she put it, “do it in my own words and be eloquent.”

Thursday night Ms.__ came, and after saying prayers with her, we both visited a woman whose granddaughter is in a children’s class that has recently been formed in the neighborhood. I had visited this lady before, and when we arrived, I asked if we could say some prayers and for Ms.__ to do a presentation on the Eternal Covenant. The woman asked, “What is the Covenant?” to which Ms.__ responded, “It is God’s pact with us, with you and me, that He will never abandon us and He will always send a Manifestation to teach us His Word and Bahá’u’lláh is the latest Teacher.” The lady invited us into her home.

What followed next was an hour of connecting with the lady, talking about different subjects, laughing and praying. During this time Ms.__ spoke about the Eternal Covenant in an eloquent and forthright manner, answered questions about the Faith and in the process described how she became a Bahá’í and the joy and calm she feels since becoming a Bahá’í… She spoke about the theme of Book 2 which is to serve humanity, invited the lady to investigate the Faith further, and offered to come back and read from the Bahá’í scriptures with her and answer her questions. The lady liked the idea. We said a few healing prayers and the visit ended.

Afterwards, as we were reflecting on what happened, Ms.__ said she really loved this experience and felt the spirit was truly guiding her. We talked about why we teach, to which she commented that we teach not because of any rewards but because the act of teaching is sacred and precious, and then she said, “Isn’t this the theme of Book 2?”

Last night in the Book 1 study circle at our home (where she had initially practiced making the presentation), Ms.__ told everyone how the home visit went. This was good not only for her but also for the Book 1 participants: They were able to see how these practice components of the training institute courses can help build community by making this kind of visiting and spiritual discussions part of the normal pattern of life.

Ms.__ plans to take Book 3 as soon as it is offered so she can teach children’s classes.

 

Warm regards,

M

 * * * * * *  

 COL_1884

Making a home visit in Norte del Cauca, Colombia

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The thirsty ones are many yet the bearers are few. The seekers abound but the teachers are scarce. The thirsty ones are there in troops yet the guides of the True Path are scarce indeed! At present few indeed are the teachers of the Cause and so from every side the cry is raised, “Whither are the teachers? Whither are the teachers?”

No solution is there to this, save the establishment, in each town, for instructing the believers in teaching the Cause of God. Perchance the children of the Abhá paradise who are filled with yearning, longing, excitement, and enthusiasm could study the skills of teaching. If this is done in a proper and befitting matter, in a short while, in every town, there shall appear perfect teachers and steadfast orators of the Cause.
 
– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

(from a newly translated tablet)

* * * * * *

(Adapted from the teaching blog http://teaching.bahai.us/2009/08/bulls-eye-in-dc.html. Emphasis added) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community – view here)

The following article is adapted from an address given by Dr. Vahid Saberi to a recent conference in Victoria, Australia.

The task of transforming the human race begins with transforming ourselves.

The Four Year Plan, Twelve Month Plan and the last and the current Five Year Plans are nothing more than instruments to achieve this great goal.  The power to achieve this rests with us individuals.

Bahá’u’lláh deliberately left the assignment of transforming the human race to countless ordinary, unassuming people like us.  Look at the first disciples of Jesus; they were just fishermen, but they took on the world and changed it utterly.

We are now called upon to do the same, but on a far more momentous scale.

He has entrusted us to begin by transforming ourselves.

Consider the plight of the world; never, at any other time in history, have so many people been so materially prosperous, and at the same time, so spiritually lost.  Never has there been so much despondency, depression, dysfunction, loss of purpose and fear.  Why is this happening?

We know that the “…world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order….revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System.”

Shoghi Effendi has told us that only Bahá’ís “….know full well whence it comes, and what it will ultimately lead to [and that] they clearly recognize its genesis, are aware of its direction, acknowledge its necessity ….”  And it is cleansing the world.  Gripped in the clutches of this tempest, humanity, even while it is bewildered, continues painfully to move towards peace and unity.

That turmoil will continue because humanity has not yet turned away from Godlessness.  That is why Shoghi Effendi told us that “…all humanity is disturbed and suffering and confused; we cannot expect to not be disturbed and not to suffer – but we don’t have to be confused.”

We know that the only panacea of the world’s ills is the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, which is why ….  “The believers must rest assured that having the Faith, they have everything”.

That is why we must act.  Through taking ownership of our personal suffering and spiritual development, we can learn to be more compassionate and concerned for others, until “confidence and assurance, hope and optimism are our prerogative”.

But how do we measure our efforts?

The apex of the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India, from inside.

Apex of Bahá’í House of Worship, India

Shoghi Effendi clearly states that ….. “The successful carrying out of our various Plans is the greatest sign we can give of our faith and inner assurance, and the best way we can help our fellow-men out of their confusion and difficulties.”

Bahá’u’lláh Himself took on humanity’s turmoil when He was imprisoned in the “Siayh-Chal”.  In this grim place of utter darkness reserved only for the most degraded of criminals; amidst foul stench, deprived of food and drink, rest and sleep, with a huge chain galling his neck, Bahá’u’lláh experienced a moment of intense illumination which revealed His task to be the Manifestation of this unprecedented Age of Fulfilment.   In the Black Pit, God promised Bahá’u’lláh that “Ere Long shall the Lord send forth and reveal the treasures of the earth, men who shall give Thee victory by Thyself and by They name …”

So, how can we be silent?  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’’ reminded us of this responsibility when He wrote: “Why then are ye quenched, why silent, why leaden and dull?  Ye must shine forth like the lightning, and rise up a clamouring like unto the great sea.  Like a candle must ye shed your light, and even as the soft breezes of God must ye blow across the world … know ye the value of this chance, ere it slip from your hands.”

In reality, the time we give to serve the Faith matters above all else.  As many aspects of society continue to break down and the surrounding community begins to disintegrate, Bahá’ís must respond by building a genuinely loving, compassionate and inclusive community.

Gradually, we can learn to purify our motives, live prayerfully, strive to understand and do only what is right, and work together in love and harmony.  Our victories over ourselves must be demonstrated through how we work and consult together, both with each other and with those around us.

Above all, we must enthusiastically involve ourselves in the implementation of the Five Year Plan.  We must implement the core activities, which are nothing more or less than creative opportunities to teach.

They are about opening the hearts to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s message, They are about listening intently, like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá did.  They are about using Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, rather than our own, to teach.

They are about learning to be responsive to the needs of seekers.  They are about gaining new skills and personal resources.

Above all, they are about making teaching the dominating passion of our lives.

So, my task and yours are crystal clear; take the next step whatever it is.  Those who have completed Book 1can move onto Book 2.  Those who have completed Book 7 can become tutors.  And once your cluster achieves an “intensive programme of growth”, the heartbeat of each of the core activities begins to quicken.

When starting a fire, you fan a tiny spark.  Then, carefully shielding it, you softly blow until it is ready to burst into flame.  More time and purposeful effort is needed to bring that flame to a fire and ensure it becomes a blazing inferno.  This is how the intensive programme of growth works.  It starts slowly and then organically grows and intensifies.

So, let us not neglect our task.  Let us not lose our chance.  If we neglect our role, we have no right to call ourselves Bahá’ís.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá has added: “Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty handed into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more.”  There is no need to be overwhelmed when we can: “Be confident in Bahá’u’lláh’s help.  His Spirit will help you, and will feed your soul with that spiritual sustenance whereby you will be able to overcome the obstacles which seem to so hopelessly beset your path”.

* * * * * *

BRA_8070_Attaining

Sharing the Teachings, Cidade de Bahia, Brazil

* * * * * *

The Blessed Perfection, in a clear text, hath promised us in the Book: “Verily I behold you from the Horizon of Abha and will make victorious whomsoever will arise in the service of my cause with the hosts of the Supreme Concourse and the cohorts of the favored angels!” Praise be to God! that this victory and confirmation became visible and manifest and hath shone forth from the horizon of the world like unto the sun. Therefore, O ye friends of God! Show ye forth an earnest endeavor and display ye a resolute effort, so that ye may become assisted in the adoration of the Ancient Beauty and the Manifest Light; to be the cause of spreading the light of the Sun of Truth; to infuse into the dead, antiquated body of the world a new spirit; to cast in the fields of the hearts pure seeds; to arise in the service of the Cause; to speak with eloquent tongues; to become candles of guidance in the assemblage of the world; to become shining stars in the horizon of the existent being; to become merciful birds in the rose-garden of oneness; to sing the melodies of realities and significances; to spend every breath of your lives in the most great Cause; and to devote the period of your existence to the service of this conspicuous Light; so that in the end ye may be freed from loss and failure and attain to the inexhaustible treasury of the Kingdom. For the life on man is wholly subject to danger and impermanency. A person cannot put his assurance even in one moment’s continuity. Notwithstanding this, the nations of the world, deceived by the mirage of superstition, imagine themselves secure in the heavenly way.

Alas! Alas! Former communities in bygone ages entertained the same perishing thoughts; but by one of those periodical fluctuations they were all hidden under the ground and afflicted with deprivation and loss, except those souls who had become pure evanescence and had arisen with great self-abnegation in the path of God. Such souls shine forth as brilliant stars from the Horizon of the Ancient Glory, and the results which emanated from their lives in succeeding ages and cycles are the proofs of this statement. Therefore, do ye not rest, neither day nor night; seek ye not for composure; talk ye of the mystery of servitude, and seek ye the path of thralldom; so that through the promised confirmations ye may become assisted from the Kingdom of Oneness.

– ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, 566-7

* * * * * *

(Article reprinted from “The Australian Bahá’í, March 2008”) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view it in the gallery here)

(US – CO, 1 April)

This community has evidently found the key to creating enthusiasm for and ownership of the processes of growth which the Reflection meeting was meant to foster!

* * * * * *

“Something truly great is happening here”


There’s a certain point in a cluster’s history where a threshold is crossed. The hearts of the friends are touched in a new way, and they arise with love to serve the Cause with new levels of dedication. It is a point where the friends’ hearts, filled with both courage and love, arise to share the Message as part of an organized, collective, direct teaching effort. Here is a description of that joyful evening where this milestone was reached in Arapahoe-Douglas Counties, CO (B-stage), shared by a member of that cluster’s area teaching committee.

Dear S,

I want to recount our second Cluster Reflection Meeting since we became a “B” Cluster. It was wonderful.

The clubhouse is full in Arapahoe County. 35 Adults, 7 children and 6 Junior Youth. We had 48 red and white roses next to a large photo of the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh. There was a slide on the screen of the Sea Gate in Akka. One believer told us about Bahá’u’lláh’s experience on that dark day entering the prison city while crowds threw things and called Him names. But what was happening in the spiritual realms was a different story. He heard the angels sing and was greeted by banners of light. She then sang “Soon will all that dwell on earth be enlisted under these banners.” It was beautiful. We had a prayer for the 7 friends imprisoned in Iran. . . .

Then a junior youth gave an amazing and well presented account of his teaching team experiences. He began with a prayer and guitar music. It was so wonderful. And sitting in a ring around him, very quiet and respectfully, were all the children. They really looked up to him! Next, a new believer gave a talk about her teaching team’s experience and how they now have 6 kids in their neighborhood children’s class. And how one little girl memorized a prayer of Bahá’u’lláh’s perfectly!

D was a perfect emcee. G and J gave a wonderful presentation about forming teaching teams and we broke up into discussion groups, came back together and reported our learning.

Then something wonderful happened: We formed 6 teaching teams for the cluster. Six groups of enthusiastic, excited and creative people decided their own individual paths of service and formed teaching teams! We have 6 teams and already 6 contact people. 6 different goals and focuses. And they all had children, youth or junior youth on them!

It was magic. It was wonderful and I think I actually heard the angels singing, “Soon will all that dwell on Earth be enlisted under these banners!” I am very, very happy tonight!

Something great is happening here. Something truly great. I think even when we don’t we see it, when we feel like nothing is happening, there are things occurring in the spiritual realms that are so amazing. There really are banners of light. The angels really do sing.

In His Service,

M

* * * * * *

mansion_star_bahji2

The final place of exile of Baha’u’llah: the Mansion at Bahji, Acre, Israel

* * * * * *

It is natural for the heart and spirit to take pleasure and enjoyment in all things that show forth symmetry, harmony, and perfection. For instance: a beautiful house, a well designed garden, a symmetrical line, a graceful motion, a well written book, pleasing garments–in fact, all things that have in themselves grace or beauty are pleasing to the heart and spirit–therefore, it is most certain that a true voice causes deep pleasure. What is music? It is a combination of harmonious sounds. What is poetry? It is a symmetrical collection of words.

Therefore, they are pleasing through harmony and rhythm. Poetry is much more effective and complete than prose. It stirs more deeply, for it is of a finer composition.

A fine voice when joined to beautiful music causes a great effect, for both are desirable and pleasing. All these have in themselves an organization, and are constructed on natural law. Therefore, they correspond to the order of existence like something which would fit into a mold. A true voice fits into the mold of nature. When it is so, this affects the nerves, and they affect the heart and spirit.

In the world of existence physical things have a connection with spiritual realities. One of these things is the voice, which connects itself with the spirit; and the spirit can be uplifted by this means –for though it is a physical thing, it is one of the material, natural organizations– therefore, it is effective.

All forms when understood aright gladden the spirit. Melodies are like water. The voice is like a goblet. The pure water in a pure glass is pleasing. Therefore, it is acceptable…

– ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s words to Mrs. Mary L. Lucas, as quoted in “A Brief Account of My Visit to Acca” pp. 11-14 (quoted here)

* * * * * *

(Excerpted from the teaching blog, http://teaching.bahai.us/2009/04/something-truly-great-is-happening-here.html ) (Image reproduced with permission of the Bahá’í International Community, view it here)

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