What is that mystery underlying human life which gives
to events and to persons the power of mutation, of
transformation? If one had never before seen a seed,
nor heard of its latent life, how difficult to believe that
only the cold earth, the warm sun, the descending showers
and the gardener’s care were needed to cause its
miraculous transformation into the growing form, the
budding beauty, the intoxicating fragrance of the rose!
Or who can understand the reason why a chance perusal
of a book, the presence of a friend or the meeting with
a stranger often alters a determined course of action,
profoundly affects our attitude toward life, and, not –
seldom, so nearly reaches the roots of being and the
springs of action that never after is life quite the same?
Howard Colby Ives
Dear friends, I apologize for not making good on my promise to send the “two beautiful stories” on Friday. Thanks for checking back in today, despite my negligence last week! I hope you find these stories worth the wait. Actually, it’s just one story…about two heroic souls. But before I introduce them, a bit of background information:
I mentioned the expansion phase in the little note I posted here last week, but didn’t really explain what that is for those who aren’t familiar. Basically, the worldwide Bahá´í community has begun to operate in three-month cycles, in order to help us become more systematic in the process of consultation, action, and reflection. These cycles include a 1-2 week period of collective outreach, called the “Expansion Phase,” in which Bahá’ís intensify their teaching efforts, and seek to widen the circle of those interested in the Faith and the core activities (children’s classes, the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program, study circles, and devotional gatherings). Pictured in the photograph above is the teaching team I was honored to be a part of, “Team Creativity” (Fetaui, the young lady on the left, suggested that each team name itself after a virtue).
In the Carib Territory, we are still a teeny-tiny community, and—before March— hadn’t yet launched a full-on collective teaching campaign. So, after four months of very little growth here, it was time to call for backup. And backup came—in the form of two angels from Barbados, Siila and Fetauimamanu Knight (a mother and 10-year-old daughter), who lovingly guided us in carrying out our first real expansion phase. Whereas before their visit we had been allowing ourselves to become discouraged at the fewness of our numbers, and the lack of appreciable progress, our eyes have now been opened to the enormous potential of this community, and of the individuals within it.
I’ll introduce you to the two heroic souls I told you about soon—I really will—but please permit me to first mention something very important that Siila and Fetaui taught us (of the numerous life lessons imparted by these two wonderwomen). You probably noticed from the picture that Team Creativity is composed almost entirely of children (with only one exception…and she feels like a child most of the time!). All too often, we leave the little ones out, deeming them not-old-enough, not-mature-enough, too-noisy, too-fussy, too-easily-distracted…yet the Bahá’í writings tell us that each one of them is “potentially the light of the world.” And this means, Siila and Fetaui showed us, that the children must be at the forefront of everything we do. And they are the most wonderful teachers! I believe that a lot of the hearts we reached out to during the expansion phase were opened because of the purity and sincerity of the children in our teaching teams.
One of the afternoons we went out teaching was a Saturday, the day of our children’s class in St. Cyr. We planned to be back in time for the class at 4 o’clock, but as the teams were leaving the Bahá’í Center, three children—Akeema, Burchard, and Mayra, who have recently begun attending the children’s classes—arrived several hours early for the class. What we’d done in the past when this had happened (the children here often arrive quite early) was to give the kids a piece of paper to color on, or a picture book to flip through until it was time for class to begin. As per routine, I handed the kiddos their coloring sheets and told them we’d be back in a couple of hours. Siila, however, refused to brush off the kids so easily. “Wait a second,” she said. “Why don’t we invite them to come with us?”
Well, that had simply never occurred to us. But, oh, how the kids were delighted at the invitation! Mayra and Burchard (pictured on the right in the photo above) joined Team Creativity, and Akeema joined Roushy, Francillia, and Kira in Team Beauty. While the latter team was sharing the Faith with Ms. Beulah down the road, Akeema listened quietly for a while, and then began to color. When they headed back to the Center, Akeema gave Roushy the drawing she’d made. It was covered with attempts at 9-pointed stars (hey, those things aren’t easy to make!), and around the margins, the child had written ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
As a result of this expansion phase, three homes began hosting regular devotional gatherings. Nine people began studying Ruhi Book 1, “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit.” And eight souls—most of them youth—declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh. All of them are remarkable individuals, and I could easily devote a blog entry to each one. But there are two young women in particular who have astounded me with their courage, their radiance, and the strength of their faith. I think it’s probably best if I change their names—not because I think they wouldn’t want their stories shared, but so as not to publicly indict their family members…especially since these family members are simply doing what they believe to be right in the sight of God.
We will call these two brave women Nell and Lia.
Nell is a 17-year-old high school senior, who lives in Roseau but stays with her Grandmother in the Carib Territory during school holidays. She declared her faith in Bahá’u’lláh during the expansion phase, and immediately after signing her card, called her 15-year-old brother into the Baha’i Center, sat him down on one of the wooden benches, and proceeded to share with him everything she’d just learned about the Faith, with total confidence and joy.
She practically devoured “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit,” and finished the book—including all the memorization—in just a few days. To carry out her practice (each Ruhi book has an act of service associated with it, and for Book 1, it’s visiting two people to share prayers with them), Nell asked if I would accompany her to visit her grandmother, with whom she was staying for the Easter holidays. When we arrived, the grandmother refused to come out of her room. After I left, she told Nell that she will never again permit any Bahá’í to enter her home. Nell responded, “But, Granny, I am a Bahá’í!” The grandmother then told her to pack her bags.
A beaming Nell knocked on our door the next morning, radiant as ever. She shared with me some new quotes she’d memorized, and then plopped down on the sofa to read stories from Adib Taherzadeh’s Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh. “How’d it go with your granny after I left last night?” I asked her.
“Oh, she kicked me out,” Nell said offhandedly.
“WHAAAT?” I responded incredulously. “Are you serious??? Why? Oh my goodness! Are you okay? What are you going to do?”
Nell calmed me down with her gentle smile. “It’s alright. I’m staying with my aunty now. And we shouldn’t be vexed with my granny…it’s just that she doesn’t understand. Hey, maybe we could say some prayers for her?”
So we prayed for Granny, whose intentions—Nell insisted—were in the right place. Nell called her mother that morning to explain the situation, and her mom was entirely understanding and accepting of her daughter’s decision. “When I get home, Mommy,” Nell told her, “I have a very special presentation to share with you.”
As she headed home later in the week, Nell carried a bag full of teaching materials, declaration cards, prayer books, and a copy of Ruhi Book 7, “Walking Together on the Path of Service,” which trains people to become tutors of the earlier books in the Ruhi sequence. We’ll be meeting with Nell every Thursday afternoon, when Roushy and I come into town, to study the book with her. Nell told us that she’s “one of those people who wants to serve in every capacity possible,” and can’t wait to become a tutor, junior youth animator, and children’s class teacher. And…she plans to move to the Carib Territory after graduating from high school in June! She’s not yet sure where she’ll stay…but trusts that, eventually, her grandmother’s heart (and front door) will open.
Lia is a 20-year-old mother of two beautiful children. Her life has not been easy, and she recently had to part ways with her children’s father, seeking refuge in the home of an in-law. Last week, Lia became a Bahá’í. We all sat under the mango tree outside Francillia’s home, and shared stories about the life of Bahá’u’lláh, which deeply touched Lia’s heart. That same evening, her sister-in-law—upon finding out that Lia is now a Bahá’í—locked her door and windows, removed Lia’s belongings, and left them outside in the mud and rain.
Lia is now sleeping in a makeshift hut outside of her grandmother’s home. It’s barely big enough for her foam mattress, and the space—though cozy—is quite cluttered. One corner of the hut, however, remains immaculately clean…for it’s there Lia places her copy of “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit,” her prayer book, and her Hidden Words. We have been meeting in that precious little dwelling every day, and each time, Lia recites a new verse or prayer she’s memorized.
I don’t know how she does it. When we first arrived, Roushy and I had promised ourselves we’d memorize for fifteen minutes a day…but we haven’t been as consistent about it as we’d hoped. Lia, on the other hand, is so deeply enamored of the Creative Word that—despite the struggles of homelessness and singlehandedly nurturing two small children —she makes time, every day, to engrave the Words of God upon her heart.
And she prays with her children each morning. Lia has taught her 4-year-old daughter to say “O God, guide me,” and offers prayers of forgiveness for the woman who kicked her out. Yesterday, she suggested that we do something kind for the lady. “We have to help people no matter what they do to us,” she reflected. Lia’s words do not differ from her deeds. She’d obtained a little bit of money earlier in the day, and had planned to use it to buy pampers for her infant son. But when she found out that a family member of hers—one who has caused her a great deal of hardship—had gone without lunch that day, she gave him a portion of the money to buy some bread and meat.
Her dream, Lia told me, has always been to buy a big house that she could turn into a shelter, where all the stray dogs and all the hungry people could come and be nourished and cared for. Lia’s eyes lit up as an idea occurred to her. “Just imagine the devotional gatherings we could have there!” she said.
I don’t know how to end this blog posting but with a prayer. Since the day I arrived here, nearly five months ago, I have been saying this prayer every morning…but not until two weeks ago did I understand that, all along, this prayer has been for Nell and Lia. As Howard Colby Ives has so beautifully described, they are among those souls who “profoundly affect our attitude toward life, so nearly reaching the root of being and the springs of action that never after is life quite the same.”
Lia and Nell, my life is forever altered for knowing you. You inspire me to reach higher, to strive harder, and to love more deeply. Nell, by this time next year I have no doubt that you will be serving as the Regional Institute Coordinator for the entire Caribbean. And Lia, beloved Lia, one day you will have a home of your own…and that home will be a garden of God. Just imagine the devotional gatherings we will have there.
I offer this prayer for the two of you, with gratitude and wonder.
O Thou kind Lord!
From the horizon of detachment Thou hast manifested souls that, even as the shining moon, shed radiance upon the realm of heart and soul, rid themselves from the attributes of the world of existence and hastened forth unto the kingdom of immortality. With a drop from the ocean of Thy loving-kindness Thou didst oft-times moisten the gardens of their hearts until they gained incomparable freshness and beauty. The holy fragrance of Thy divine unity was diffused far and wide, shedding its sweet savors over the entire world, causing the regions of the earth to be redolent with perfume.
Raise up then, O spirit of Purity, souls who, like those sanctified beings will become free and pure, will adorn the world of being with a new raiment and a wondrous robe, will seek no one else but Thee, tread no path except the path of Thy good pleasure, and will speak of naught but the mysteries of Thy Cause.
O Thou kind Lord! Grant that this youth may attain unto that which is the highest aspiration of Thy holy ones. Endow him with the wings of Thy strengthening grace—wings of detachment and divine aid—that he may soar thereby into the atmosphere of Thy tender mercy, be able to partake of Thy celestial bestowals, may become a sign of divine guidance and a standard of the Concourse on high. Thou art the Potent, the Powerful, the Seeing, the Hearing.
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