It is my hope that the Nineteen Day Feast may become firmly established and organized so that the holy realities which are behind this meeting may leave behind all prejudices and conflict, and make their hearts as a treasury of love…These spiritual gatherings must be held with the utmost purity and consecration, so that from the site itself, and its earth and the air about it, one will inhale the fragrant breathings of the Holy Spirit.
One of my earliest postings on “Sounds of Laughter” told of our first Nineteen-Day Feast in the Carib Territory (click here for that link…I just learned about putting links on these entries from my friend Leila’s wonderful blog “A Light in the Sea,” in which she reflects on her experiences as a pioneer in St. Lucia. Incidentally, another great blog from the Caribbean Initiative is “Serve Like the Soil” by Cara in St. Thomas).
Since that Feast of Qawl (Speech) back in November, nine months have elapsed, and fourteen Feasts have come and gone. And much remains the same. There is still no electricity in the Bahá’í Centre, so our nighttime Feasts and devotions continue to be held by candlelight. There is still (we hang our heads in shame) no Treasurer’s report, as the local Fund is yet to be established in the Carib Territory…although this must, must happen soon, as contributing to the Bahá’í Fund (click on the link to learn more about it—it’s something beautiful), is the sacred privilege of every Bahá’í. There is still no Feast Letter, since Dominica does not yet have a National Spiritual Asssembly (hee-hee, these links are fun. I can already sense that I’m gonna go overboard with them). Occasionally, someone’s cousin will still wander into Feast with a bottle of rum. And, most importantly, there is still an atmosphere of profound joy within the four wooden walls of the St. Cyr Bahá’í Centre. Yes, much has remained the same in the course of these nine months and fourteen Nineteen-Day Feasts.
But much has also changed.
For one thing, the tattered old pictures of Caribbean Flags and Queen Elisabeth that once adorned the Centre’s walls have been replaced by vibrant paintings from the children and youth of the Carib Territory (“A Collective Beautification Project”). And this transformation of the Centre has mirrored, in a sense, the (gradual but steady!) transformation of the community. Most notably, the majority of our activities—children’s classes, junior youth groups, devotional gatherings, and study circles—are no longer carried out by the pioneers (who are assuming more and more of a background role), but by local youth, adults, and children, yearning to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of their community.
And the community has grown. In fact, pretty soon (hopefully!) we’ll have to hold separate Nineteen-Day Feasts in each Hamlet, as the most recent Feast filled our little Centre to capacity. Granted, this particular Feast had some special visitors, such as my friend Tamara, one of the new members of Kira’s children’s class, one of the participants in Vern’s newly formed junior youth group…and the Carib Chief.
But I get ahead of myself—there’s an interesting backstory to this.
Ever since our Reflection Gathering in Trinidad, Francillia had been wanting to visit the Chief, to share with him a bit about the Bahá’í Faith, and the community-building activities that the local friends are striving to carry out here. The Chief, of course, is a very busy man, and his full schedule of travel and meetings made it difficult for Francillia to secure an appointment with him. It so happened, though, that the Chief was free on the Tuesday morning of our teaching campaign in mid-July. Buoyed by prayer and the assurance that the message they carried was the mightiest instrument for the healing of the world and the means of upliftment for its peoples, Francillia and Ismenie—a youth in the community—ascended the Horseback Ridge Hill in Salybia to the counsel chambers of the Carib Chief.
The Chief greeted them warmly, and, right away, began asking questions about the Faith, of which he knew very little. As Francillia and Ismenie shared with him the Faith’s essential teachings, and explained the nature of the activities the Bahá’ís in the Carib Territory are engaged it, the Chief’s interest seemed to grow. At the end of the visit, he asked that he please be invited to an upcoming gathering.
The very next day, the Carib Council—a group of the Chief’s advisors—convened for their weekly meeting. In the consultation, one of the council members, who also happens to serve as a lay-Priest at the Catholic Church, raised a concern about the spreading influence of the Bahá’í Faith in the Carib Territory. In the phone call he placed to Francillia immediately after the council meeting, the Chief explained that the timing of her visit was fortuitous…because had he not met with her and Ismenie, he would not have been prepared to defend the Faith to his council members. Yet, as the Chief had been made aware of how the work of the Faith was benefitting the Carib Territory, he was able to impart to his council members that they had nothing to worry about. In fact, he told him, they needed to offer their support to the Bahá’í Community in whatever way possible.
God is good. All the time.
Shortly after the council meeting, the Chief traveled abroad…and when he returned, Francillia invited him to the Feast of Asmá.* And he came. This Feast of Names was, I feel, the best one yet…and not only because of the Chief’s presence. Some of the youth and children in the community had, in the days leading up to the Feast, been busy making preparations. They pored through the prayerbooks and selected fifty Names of God, which they carefully wrote out on small notecards, for people to read during the devotional portion. With colored pieces of tissue paper, they decorated the Centre from wall to wall, and covered the chalkboard with a bright sign proclaiming: “Feast of Asmá!” The Junior Youth from the St. Cyr group, which is studying Walking the Straight Path, made sock puppets and put together a delightful puppet show based on one of the stories. The Feast was hosted by Vern, a 17-year-old new believer. She welcomed everyone to Feast with confidence and joy; in the administrative portion she shared stories of her experience animating a junior youth group; for the social person, she served lovingly prepared corned beef sandwiches and ginger juice.
During the devotions, the Chief read a Hidden Word. In the social portion, as we munched on our sandwiches, Francillia proposed to the group that we serenade our special guest. “Let’s sing ‘I think You’re Wonderful’!” she suggested. So we tuned up the Ukulele, someone grabbed the drum, and we belted out the most rollicking rendition we could muster. The Chief was beaming.
I think you’re wonderful
When somebody says that to me
I feel wonderful, as wonderful can be
It makes me want to say
The same thing to somebody new
And by the way, I’ve been meaning to say
I think you’re wonderful, too!
The quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the beginning of this posting speaks of how, when a 19-Day Feast is carried out with purity and consecration, from the site itself, and even the earth and air about it, one will inhale the fragrant breathings of the Holy Spirit. I have to admit that I don’t always perceive those “fragrant breathings” (perhaps because not all gatherings emanate the requisite purity and consecration, but more likely because my spiritual perception is not so finely-tuned). But at this recent Feast of Names, I felt them. Palpably. And something tells me the Chief did, too.
A snapshot of some of the friends during the social portion. The Chief is seated beside the hot pink songbooks.
*“Technically, “ Feast is meant to be just for Bahá’ís (in fact, it’s the only Bahá’í activity generally not open to the wider community), since only Bahá’ís are permitted to give to the Fund, and sensitive issues may be discussed during the administrative portion, among other reasons. Yet—as in everything we do—love and inclusivity are the most important things, and no visitor should ever be turned away from a Feast. Here, where there are always new people popping into the Centre, it’d be tricky to keep Feast as a Bahá’í-only affair. So we took the liberty of inviting the Chief. We hope that’s OK. 🙂