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Archive for April, 2010

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A new friend, and a poem. Two gifts I’d like to share with you this Ridvan.

The new friend I’m honored to introduce to you is the Hand of the Cause of God we’ve been calling on this week (if that sentence makes no sense, it’s explained a little bit in the posting “Calling All Angels”). His name is Hájí Mírzá Muhammad-Taqí, and he is a joy. Roushy and I have gleaned a great deal of inspiration from reading about Bahá’ís who lived in the time of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and their heroic acts of love and sacrifice. Hájí Mírzá Muhammad-Taqí was one of these early believers, and he is a wonderful new friend. As I write, I’m imagining him sitting beside me at this table, laughing. It’s said that he laughed a great deal. (Oh! I just received a beautiful quote, written by the Universal House of Justice in a letter to an individual: “Humour, happiness, joy are characteristics of a true Baha’i life.”)

Describing Hájí Mírzá Muhammad-Taqí in The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh Volume I, Adib Taherzadeh writes:

…His whole being was magnetized by love for Bahá’u’lláh- and he became filled with a new spirit which enabled him to realize the station of Bahá’u’lláh before His Declaration and to arise in His service. His devotion and enthusiasm in the Cause of God were exemplary and, as he walked in the streets of Baghdád, he radiated such heavenly joy that the believers in that city used to refer to him as the ‘delightful Afnán.’ It seemed as if the flame of divine love kindled by the hand of Bahá’u’lláh had completely burned away all his attachments to this world.

A couple other things I love about this wonderful soul. One is that, as Taherzadeh recounts, whenever ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was grief-stricken, meeting with Hájí Mirza Muhammad-Taqí brought happiness to His heart, and caused His sorrow to melt away. Imagine!

Also, our new friend had beautiful devotional gatherings, all by himself. It is said that every morning, he would but on his best clothes, and sit alone in a room for several hours, communing joyously with his Beloved. At such times, he felt as if he were in the very presence of Bahá’u’lláh.

*********

The second gift is this poem, written by Robert Hayden (incidentally, a young man in Newark, New Jersey who was named after this poet has put this poem to music, and sings it beautifully. If you meet him, ask him to play it for you).

Bahá’u’lláh in the Garden of Ridvan

Agonies confirm His hour,
and swords like compass-needles turn
toward His heart.

The midnight air is forested
with presences that shelter Him
and sheltering praise

The auroral darkness which is God
and sing the word made flesh again
in Him,

Eternal exile whose return
epiphanies repeatedly
foretell.

He watches in a borrowed garden,
prays. And sleepers toss upon
their armored beds,

Half-roused by golden knocking at
the doors of consciousness. Energies
like angels dance

Glorias of recognition
Within the rock the undiscovered suns
release their light.

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Cornucopia

“This is the Day whereon the unseen world crieth out: ‘Great is thy blessedness, O earth, for thou hast been made the footstool of thy God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne…This is the Day whereon the rushing waters of everlasting life have gushed out of the Will of the All-Merciful. Haste ye with your hearts and souls and quaff your fill, O Concourse of the realms above!”

Baha’u’llah

roses.jpg roses image by IULIA_013

cor·nu·co·pi·a–noun

1. Classical Mythology. a horn containing food, etc., in endless supply.
2. a representation of this horn, used as a symbol of abundance.
3. an abundant, overflowing supply.
______
Cornucopia. I became acquainted with this word when searching the computer’s thesaurus for a synonym for “abundance,” which I’d used too many times in the initial draft of this posting (I try to write the blog entries on Wednesday nights, and then make little tweaks and adjustments when I post it online the next day. Sometimes, though, I end up writing a new entry altogether on Thursday, and use up every minute of my internet café time doing so. This is my excuse for rarely sending personal emails anymore!). I was going to title this entry “Abundance.” But “Cornucopia” is a little more fun and playful, don’t you think? The word has been dancing around in my head all morning, and I may have unwittingly murmured it aloud a few times (is that why those folks on the bus were looking at me funny?).
Each week here seems to have aslightly different flavor. Different triumphs, different struggles, different methods of frying a green fig (we’ve been trying to innovate as much as possible!). And more often than not, when Wednesday night rolls around and I begin compiling my thoughts for the week’s blog entry, I find that a certain theme emerges. This week, the theme has been abundance. Profusion. Cornucopia. It’s quite the fitting prelude, I feel, to the Most Great Festival—Ridvan—which began yesterday.
The twelve days of Ridvan, spanning from April 21 to May 2, celebrate Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration as the Promised One of All Ages. After nearly ten years of exile in Baghdad, Iraq, Bahá’u’lláh’s was banished yet again—in attempts to curb His growing influence—this time to Constantinople. His final days in Baghdad were spent in a rented garden, the garden of Ridvan, or “Paradise.” It was there, in this garden, that He announced the most joyous tidings mankind has ever received.
What abundance must have characterized those days in the garden. The hearts of His loved ones would have been, assuredly, overcome with an abundance of sorrow over Bahá’u’lláh’s impending departure from their presence. Yet, a far greater abundance of joy must have flooded their beings—indeed, flooded the entire creation—at the announcement that the Promised Day of God, foretold in all the holy books and sacred scriptures, had come. And then there was the abundance of roses.
Nabil’s Narrative, a historical account of the early days of the Faith, describes it thus:
Every day ere the hour of dawn, the gardeners would pick the roses which lined the four avenues of the garden, and would pile them in the centre of the floor of His blessed tent. So great would be the heap that when His companions gathered to drink their morning tea in His presence, they would be unable to see each other across it.”
Just imagine the fragrance that must’ve emanated from those piles of roses, so high that—when seated—one could see nothing but soft red petals.
Now, the abundance we’ve experienced here this past week hasn’t exactly come in the form of heaps of red roses. But I believe that from whatever type of cornucopia the universe proffers, we can inhale the fragrance of rose petals…especially if we really strain our nostrils, and the muscles of our faith.
One of the cornucopias recently bestowed upon Roushy and me was brimming with centipedes. We’ve been in Dominica for over five months now, and have had centipedes as housemates pretty much since Day 1—but the centipede sightings used to be comfortably few and far between. This week, however, they’ve showed up in startling profusion. We have been finding themeverywhere: stretched along the seams of our tee-shirts (they like the smell of laundry soap), hiding under the sofa, lounging on our bath towels, and, quite literally, dropping from the ceiling at our feet. Last night, Dante skillfully beheaded three of them on the front porch with his cutlass. Later on, as I was about to go to sleep, I found a massive one beside my bed, and smashed it—not quite so gracefully—with a flip-flop. Earlier in the week, I woke up to a centipedenext to my pillow. I know I should be accustomed to them by now, but even after all these months, I still shriek like the sky is fallingevery time I see one, and do a terrified little hop-dance before I collect my wits enough to (attempt to) smoosh the thing. There’s gotta be some spiritual lesson to be derived from the existence of these creatures–I just haven’t found it yet. Maybe it’ll make itself known by month 18. 🙂
This week’s abundance didn’t end with centipedes—we received a more conventional fruit-filled cornucopia too. But first came the rains…the rains and the mud. I guess it had been “dry season” for most of the time we’ve been here…but it appears that dry season has come to an end. For ten straight days, rain fell so heavily in the Carib Territory that every footstep made a squashing sound, and carried with it a bucketful of mud. Consequently, the floors of our little home became a rich shade of brown. Our laundry piled up. The smell of wet dog permeated our sofa, where Capacity and Shaloop now sleep (such spoiled creatures!), and soon spread throughout the house. The students stayed home from school, our children’s classes of 15-20 kids dwindled to 4 (what intrepid little souls!), and the banana trees became so heavy withrain that some of them collapsed from the weight. But it was a beautiful thing, despite the mud and the inconvenience. The earth became greener and more glistening, we slept more soundly than we had in months, and, best of all, the mangoes ripened. The rains, our neighbors told us, brought about the early onset of mango season…and when the skies finally dried up, the ripe mangoes fell from the branches like manna from heaven. Since then, my fingers and face have been perpetually sticky from mango juice. In a single day this week, I consumed eleven mangoes. Eleven. I don’t know how to approach mango season with moderation, nor do I know how to eat a mango without making a comical mess of myself. I gotta say, though, of all God’s earthly bestowals, mangoes have to rank among the most glorious.
But there was something even better than the mangoes. As I mentioned in the previous posting, the growth of the Faith in the Carib Territory has begun to accelerate significantly. This growth has brought with it, of course, a cornucopia of strengthening tests and bounties…and one of these precious bounties is the newly elected Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the Carib Territory—the first one in decades! We came together in the Bahá’í Center on April 21st, sang some prayerful songs accompanied by table-top drumming, discussed the spiritual and historical significance of this occasion, and cast our simple, hand-written ballots. There are now 16 adult Bahá’ís in the Carib Territory, and 15 of them voted in this election—a great victory in itself. As we waited for the votes to be counted by a team of four junior youth, we sang some more, and feasted on mango-banana juice and green and blue cookies (dyed with food coloring to represent the flowers in the Ridvan garden…which probably were not blue, but selection is rather limited at the town grocery store). When the tellers returned, and began to read out the names of the nine women and men we had prayerfully and thoughtfully selected to serve our community, I felt overcome with reverence and awe for the sacredness of this process, and of the Bahá’í Administrative Order. A line from a prayer by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sounded in my mind: “…they hastened unto Thee and gained Thy presence, and arrived at Thy welcoming door, and received of gifts an abundant share.”
And speaking of gifts: I feel that if ever there were a time for the exchanging of presents, it would be this Most Great Festival. Maybe in the future people will send out Ridvan cards with pictures on them, like they do at Christmas. I’m laughing to myself as I imagine the Ridvan card we’d send to our family and friends. It’d feature our newly elected Local Spiritual Assembly, Capacity, Shaloop, and some centipedes lurking in the corner, with a caption exclaiming: “We wish you a most joyous Ridvan!” We’d have big goofy grins on our faces, our flip-flops would be caked with thick mud, and we’d be holding armfuls of mangoes. At least one of us would have mango juice dripping down her chin.
It’s not the most polished cornucopia, I know. But I’d love to believe that if you were to hold that whimsical Ridvan card up to your nostrils, close your eyes and inhale deeply… you just might detect the fragrance of roses.

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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

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

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.

~’Abdu’l-Bahá

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Coming SOON!

Dear friends–I have two beautiful stories to share with you, but as we’re still scrambling to submit all our reports from the recent expansion phase,  the stories will have to wait til tomorrow. I will type them up tonight and send them from the computer of the Dodds’ family down the road. So please check back in on Friday! 🙂

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Growing Capacity

Buy a pup and your money will buy love unflinching. Rudyard Kipling

The posting this week, dear friends, is just a little update on the growth of Capacity. I should probably check in soon about how capacity-with-a-lower-case-c is developing as well, ’cause there have been some wonderful surges forward in the past couple of weeks. But for now, I just want to share a recent picture of our sweet little friend, who has been the most delightful companion. Back in November, I knew the five dollars we spent to purchase her  (Eastern Caribbean dollars, at that!) was quite a bargain…but I don’t think I could have predicted the amount of joy and laughter this crazy pup would bring into our lives. Truly, love unflinching. Even when she poos on the sofa, or drags cow skulls into our bedrooms. I mean–no matter how great her shennanigans–how can you not adore a creature who greets you with gleeful yelps, wet doggie kisses, and clumsy little somersaults…and whose favorite cuddle toy is a duck-billed platypus?

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