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Archive for October, 2010

A spoonful of sugar

A spoonful of sugar
helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way
~ Mary Poppins

I’ve written about this general theme before (“Sounds of Francillia’s laughter”), and alluded to it throughout many of these postings, but I deem it to be of such great importance that it merits revisiting over and over again. In this entry—based on experiences of the past couple of weeks—I’d like to offer a few more illustrations of how laughter is the most effective (and most readily accessible) spoonful of sugar. Life offers us every manner of bitter medicine…and while we can be assured that it’s all prescribed by the Divine Physician, taking it with a hearty dose of laughter makes it go down a whole lot easier. And makes it sweeter to the taste, too.

🙂

In last week’s posting I wrote about Siila (and her suitcases full of gifts), but what I neglected to mention is that she is a mischief-maker extraordinaire. She’s the one who, during a Bahá’í Conference or summer school, will sneak into the dormitories and paint the foreheads of her slumbering victims with bright red nailpolish. During her period of service in at the Bahá’í World Centre, she once squirted a member of the Universal House of Justice with a squirt gun, and de-feathered the pet parrot of another member with a hand-held vacuum. While in Dominica last week, she delighted in filling up coconuts with water from the pipe, and offering “refreshing coconut water” to thirsty and unsuspecting passersby. We had many a good laugh during her three-day visit, even when we were the victims of her pranks. Yet mingled with Siila’s playful mischievousness are the qualities of an army general. She possesses a commanding ability to incite action, even if it means literally pulling people out of their seats. I marvel at how she is able to combine such an unrelenting spirit of discipline with a perpetual sense of humor. And I believe that part of the reason why her style of encouragement is so effective is that while she’s barking at you to “get up off your lazy but and be of service!”—and pity the poor soul who dares remain immobile—she does so with a twinkle in her eye, and laughter in her heart.

🙂

I have written a few times about out Nineteen-Day Feasts, and quoted the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that this sacred gathering “rejoiceth the heart.” Unfortunately, I’ve attended some Feasts in various communities that are rather stiff and somber (as these are the early early days of the Faith, we’re still in a learning mode, which is totally ok…as long as we let ourselves learn). There must, of course, be an appropriate degree of reverence during the devotional portion, and a measure of structure and discipline during the administrative portion, but I think there’s much we can do (in all three of the portions), to up the rejoicing factor. At the suggestion of a new member of the community, we tried played a game during the social portion of a recent Nineteen-Day Feast. (It’s called “Eek-Zoom,” where you have to turn your head from side to side, saying either “Eek” or “Zoom” without showing your teeth.) It may seem silly, but let me tell you, we laughed so hard during that game that we shook the wooden walls of the Bahá’í Centre. “We should play a game at every Feast!” some of the friends enthused afterwards. And why not? Games can be terrifically unifying…especially ones that make us laugh. I believe that the power of prayer unifies and uplifts the hearts like no other force on earth, but laughter is a pretty close second. So when we combine the two, say, at a Nineteen Day Feast, we can be assured that hearts will rejoice.

🙂

A few nights ago, my company and I (remember, we’ve been having a lot of slumber parties this past month) were awoken by a midnight phone call. Mrs. M’s son was in trouble, and she, her granddaughter and I set off down the road to find him before the trouble got worse. It could have been a really tense walk. But instead of letting themselves be consumed with worry, Mrs. M and the young girl laughed. Despite the fear that must’ve been weighing on their hearts, they laughed at the way I hunched my shoulders as I walked. They laughed at the ragamuffin dogs that howled mightily at us as we passed. And they positively guffawed at the beat-up old car that put-putted its way down the road with two flat tires. “Where that partner is going at One AM I have no idea,” hooted Mrs. M, “But I bet I could reach there before him with my own two feet!”  Thus, with a little humor, the heaviness of the predicament—at least for the duration of that moonlit walk—was dispelled.

🙂

Recently, I began reading The Priceless Pearl, Ruhiyyih Khanum’s reflections on the life of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi. His existence, she writes, was “an ocean of daily work and sorrow,” and her descriptions of the agonies that the Guardian endured, day after day, are so heart-rending that one often has to close the book and look away. And yet…we also learn in these pages that Shoghi Effendi laughed. Ruhiyyih Khanum tells us that the Guardian, “like his grandfather and great-grandfather before him, had a delightful sense of humour… His eyes would fairly dance with amusement, he would chuckle delightedly and sometimes break out into open laughter.”  And he loved to tease, and tell jokes. Ruhiyyih Khanum recounts that she was the subject of continuous teasing on the Guardian’s part, and once he even told her (during the war) that Winston Churchill had been killed, just to see her dramatic reaction! When Ruhiyyih’s mother, May Maxwell passed away, Shoghi Effendi brightened her spirits by joking that he could picture her mother “as she wandered about the Abhá Kingdom making a thorough nuisance of herself because all she wanted to talk about was her beloved daughter on earth!” On another occasion, the Guardian entered the house covered in mud. When asked by his startled family and friends what had happened, he replied that he’d gotten in a fight with General Mud, and General Mud had won. They all had a good laugh over this one. I have to hope, as I read this beautiful and heartbreaking book, that the Guardian’s ability to laugh made the burdens he bore just a smidgen lighter.

🙂

We have been watching the Mary Poppins movie a lot these past few weeks. The kids just can’t get enough of it (as I never tire of it either, this suits me just fine). And there’s one scene in particular that everyone wants to watch on repeat…I call it the “I Love to Laugh” scene. Maybe you’re familiar with it. Jane, Michael, Mary Poppins, and Bert visit Uncle Albert, who’s experiencing a relapse of a very special condition: when he’s overcome with laughter, he floats up to the ceiling, where he hosts tea parties, and turns somersaults, and has a jolly good time. The kids and I watch this scene over and over, and laugh and laugh. Like Uncle Albert, those children recognize the beauty and necessity of laughter. So evening after evening we smoosh onto the living room sofa and play that dearly loved DVD, singing along with Mary Poppins and co, and laughing ’til our bellies ache. And though our bodies may not float upwards, turning somersaults and having tea-parties on the ceiling, our spirits—most assuredly—do. And it is so very sweet.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it
is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
~William A. Ward


They arrived with two suitcases, bursting at the zippers, and left with one suitcase, mostly empty. Out of those sated suitcases came chocolate biscuits, cans of sardines and jack mackerel, stacks of Baha’i literature and teaching materials, prayer books, a coconut grater, magical blooming trees, a watch, envelopes of DVDs, shoes, bath towels, and all manners of clothing (from sports bras to Samoan skirts), which our beloved weekend visitors from Barbados distributed to us and to the community. My goodness, Siila and Taui, did you ever come bearing gifts! On the way back from dropping you—and your feather-light suitcase—off at the airport on Tuesday, after a joyous and bountiful three days in your company, I reflected on the enormity of your contributions to this effort. Indeed, on the enormity of contributors to this effort. And, at that moment, a flood of gratitude hit me so hard that it almost knocked me off the back of Mr. Ricky’s van.

I don’t know if anyone (besides me) ever reads the “Acknowledgements” section of a book, but I’ve come to believe that it’s the most important part. The front cover may bear the author’s name, but the Acknowledgements section reveals that—as it takes a village to raise a child—it takes a community of contributors to bring a book into being. A farmer can plant seeds ‘til the cows come home, but those seeds will not sprout without the assistance of the sun, the rain, and the soil.

The same is true of our efforts in Dominica, and as we approach the one-year anniversary of this endeavor, I feel an Acknowledgement posting is long overdue.

First, a disclaimer: this “shout-out” will not be comprehensive, and I could sooner count the drops of water in the Caribbean Sea than enumerate the myriad contributors to this effort. I mean, anyone who has ever given to the Bahá’í Fund has contributed to this effort. Anyone who’s sent me an encouraging email or Facebook note these past twelve months has contributed to this effort (as I’ve mentioned in an earlier posting, those messages from overseas are a a weekly recharching of my spiritual batteries). Anyone who has offered a prayer—for the Carib Territory, for Dominica, for the Caribbean Initiative, for the betterment of the world—has contributed to this effort…invaluably. Please know, friends, that whether or not your name is listed in this posting, I acknowledge you with all the fullness of my heart.

Material contributions are a whole lot easier to measure than spiritual ones. Sure, the former are probably of lesser grand-scheme-of-things value than the prayers and counsel and emotional support, but they are hugely, hugely appreciated…and I feel moved to mention a few of them here.

Mook: when you visited last month, you, like Siila and Taui, left with an empty suitcase. You came so laden with gifts that you didn’t even have room to bring a single item of clothing for yourself. And, since your visit, I observe the plants and vines and blossoms of the Carib Territory with far greater reverence. Thank you for heightening my sense of wonder…and for introducing me to Tahitian Vanilla Hazelnut tea.

Bahá’í Community of the Columbia Gorge: The children and youth of the Carib Territory have a great love of the written word, but a tragically limited access to it. The books you’ve donated have opened up new worlds for the young ones in our community, and provided countless hours of delight. An 8-year-old recipient of one of the books you sent carries her copy of “Are You My Mother?” with her wherever she goes. The board games, too, have been an enormous hit (pickupsticks especially), and our devotional gatherings are a whole lot livelier with the accompaniment of those harmonicas.

The Junior Youth Groups of Marietta, Georgia and Hood River, Oregon: the art materials and school supplies you sent with your groups’ hard-earned money have enabled the junior youth of the Carib Territory to produce countless essays, poems, paintings, collages, illustrations to the stories from Walking the Straight Path, and multi-media creations involving buttons, pipe cleaners, and colorful string. Your gifts have been the catalysts for oceans of creative output.

Tamara: I will never forget the afternoon I showed up at the Roseau General Post Office, expecting to pick up a shoe-box sized package, only to find that the parcel awaiting me was a footlocker, an imposing silver and black trunk large enough to fit at least two bodies. Upon opening it, I was delighted to discover that the footlocker did not, in fact, contain bodies, but did contain just about everything else, from Prismacolors to a lime green yoga mat to Godiva hot chocolate. And enough tootsie rolls and lolli-pops to share with the postmen, the customs official, the bus driver, and all the children of the Carib Territory. And now that we’ve shared and devoured its contents, the footlocker is serving as a living room sofa. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Prema: it is preposterously expensive to make copies here, and you saved us a hefty sum by sending those junior youth books. I imagined you being right here with us throughout the study of Glimmerings of Hope and Spirit of Faith. Thank you for that accompaniment. 🙂

Tess: you are officially the world’s (well, my world’s, at least) greatest care-package-sender and CD maker. I wear your clothes every week, and listen to your playlists every time I’m cleaning the house, doing pretend yoga (‘cause it’s more like stretching), painting, or riding the bus to Roseau.

Kathy and Michael: I send you a little prayer every time I use those watercolors, or write in that beautiful journal.

Caity: Every time I visit Marvis, she’s working on a new jewelry creation. I hope she acknowledges your tutelage when she’s selling her works on 5th avenue! 😉 Our evening hours are now filled with the movies, talks, and music you sent, and the prayer books and teaching materials donated by the NYC Baha’i community have all found happy homes. And you already know how hard that cupcake tray has been working. (By the way, I smile and think of you every time I turn on the computer and see those Mac icons!)

Liz: all of those dearly loved Havaiana flip-flops have met their demise—you know how unforgiving is this terrain on shoes!—but the traces of spirit (to borrow a Michael Penn term) you left here will endure far longer than the flip-flops, the mixed nuts from Trader Joe’s, the bright pink nailpolish, and the Wegman’s coffee. 🙂 And of course, our vibrant new Bahá’í Centre is, in itself, a tangible trace of Liz Washington’s spirit.

Rene and Willy: your contributions are too great to list here. I offer you this prayer, because all of my “works in this path” have been made possible by your unwavering support (and by your monthly shipments of Seattle’s Best Coffee):

Thou seest, O Lord, our suppliant hands lifted up towards the heaven of Thy favor and bounty. Grant that they may be filled with the treasures of Thy munificence and bountiful favor. Forgive us, and our fathers, and out mothers, and fulfil whatsoever we have desired from the ocean of Thy grace and divine generosity. Accept, O Beloved of our hearts, all our works in Thy path. Thou art, verily, the Most Powerful, the Most Exalted, the Incomparable, the One, the Forgiving, the Generous. ~Bahá’u’lláh

Hayden: knowing that you read my blog, without further need for bribery, bolsters my spirit more than you can imagine.

Counselor Debbie: four words—Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Four more words—they make everything better.

Clearly, this has been a collaborative effort. Beloved co-workers, partners, givers: thank you. Your contributions are my sun, my rain, and my soil.

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Company

Some of the creatures of existence can live solitary and alone. A tree, for instance, may live without the assistance and cooperation of other trees. Some animals are isolated and lead a separate existence away from their kind. But this is impossible for man. In his life and being, cooperation and association are essential. Through association and meeting we find happiness and development, individual and collective.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Company: The fact or condition of being with another or others, esp. in a way that provides friendship and enjoyment.
From the Macbook Dictionary

I am writing by the soft, flickering glow of a kerosene lamp. The clock on the wall reads 7:02 pm, which means we’ll be going to sleep in about an hour. (Here, we tuck ourselves into bed shortly after the sun does). Granny, Kimberly and I just partook of our nightly supper of bread and strong ginger tea with milk, and before saying prayers together and brushing our teeth under the stars, we’ll turn on the radio. On weeknights, the staticky local station plays soft rock from the 80s, and I must say, I never knew I could derive so much pleasure from listening to Phil Collins ballads in the light of a lantern. But it is pleasurable indeed…mainly because I am in such good company.

Company. This has been the silver lining to the dark cloud of Roushy’s month-long absence…and an unexpected silver lining, I might add. Roushy left for the States four weeks ago today, and the community and I have missed her tremendously. After struggling with illness all summer, she finally returned to the US for what she hoped would be a very brief stay, visiting medical specialists and trying to get well. It’s taken quite a bit longer than anticipated, however, and Roushy is still unsure of her return date (yesterday, Kimberly declared that she’s going on a hunger fast until Roushy is able to come back. She said this over a plate of rice and lentils, but her heart was certainly in the right place!). Kimberly and her grandmother (introduced in an earlier posting, and known as “Granny” by everyone in the community) were the first of many who were to proclaim to me, as Roushy was making her travel plans last month: “You cannot stay there you alone!”

I didn’t get this at first. Of course I can stay in my house alone. Despite the prevalence of rum shops and cutlass-weilding troublemakers in our little corner of Gaulette River, we’re also surrounded by doting, protective neighbors, who’d be on our doorstep the instant we hollered. We’ve got a pack of potentially ferocious puppies on our front porch, and enough centipedes and oversized spiders in our home to frighten any would-be intruder. So, what was everyone so concerned about? “You cannot stay there you alone,” they continued to insist…and by the, I don’t know, 47th time I heard these words, it finally dawned on me that they had nothing to do with my personal safety, but my personal well-being. It turns out that, in this community, a far greater concern than physical protection is protection from loneliness.

I didn’t get this, at first, either.

I am a person who relishes alone time. For example, I can think of nothing I’d like more on a birthday than—after a nice long round of dawn prayers—to take myself out to breakfast (yes, alone), savor two or three cups of good coffee, and do a New York Times crossword puzzle. I enjoy going to movies by myself (back in the day when I had access to movie theatres). I refuse to go running with a partner (back in the day when I used to go running). And, in college and graduate school, I always preferred indepentent work to group projects…in fact, I’d often go to ridiculous lengths to avoid them.

Preserving and protecting our alone time is easy in the States; “Me-time” is pretty much regarded as one of our fundamental human rights. Not so in the Carib Territory (or, I’d venture to guess, in most of the world). Alone time, as a concept, doesn’t seem to exist…and if it does, it certainly isn’t raised to the exalted station that I, and many of my fellow Americans, have afforded it. Here, even the simple act of walking down the road to buy a bag of sugar requires company. “Can’t you just go by yourself?” I inquired once, when—during a busy afternoon—a friend asked me if I’d accompany her to the shop, a stone’s throw away. She looked at me quizzically. I looked back at her quizzically. Neither understood why the other didn’t understand.

I am beginning, though, to understand. In the quote above, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains that in the life of humanity, “cooperation and association are essential.” It is through togetherness—not aloneness—He states, that we grow, and find happiness. I still maintain that alone time can also conduce to happiness…but I have been made aware this past month of how much deeper and richer is the happiness with company than happiness alone.

Our days here are replete with interactions. From the time we leave our house around 9am, ‘til the setting of the sun behind the green mountains to our west, the hours are filled with conversations, consultations, laughter, and song. And this is a wonderful thing. But oh, how we cherish those evening hours when—at the end of a long, people-filled day, we retreat into our home, close the door, and indulge in alone time. For me, this usually means brewing a pot of coffee or rooibos tea, curling up with a good book, or—with headphones in my ears, in order to fully zone out from the world—creating something colorful with paint and scraps of paper. I am really, really attached to these evenings…but this month, I’ve had to relinquish them, in exchange for something of greater value: company.

The community worked out an arrangement which I had very little say in: during the week, I would stay with Kimberly and Granny in St. Cyr, and from Thursday-Sunday, people would come and keep me company in Gaulette River. Bascially, it has been a month-long slumber party. J Some of my overnight guests have been people I never would have expected. Of course, the “regulars” have been there a lot too—Vern, Marvis, Kira, Kim—but I was surprised when a grandmother from a few houses down, with whom I’d had few interactions—offered to come stay, along with her three adopted grandsons. I felt a teensy bit awkward about the situation at first, as I didn’t really know them and weren’t sure they’d be comfortable, but from the moment they arrived it was effortless, as if we were lifetime friends. There was no expectation of being entertained, or being given the special “guest” treatment…we were simply members of the human family who were keeping each other company for the evening. And, oh, did we have fun. The five of us fixed a simple supper of bread, Vienna sausage from a can, and hot chocolate, and smooshed onto the couch to watch Mary Poppins. Afterwards, we played several rounds of pick-up sticks, and then the three boys spread out the bag of art supplies on the living room table, and proceeded to make decorations for our wall. One of the works of art featured a boy with spiky hair, holding a sign that read: “Roushy and Denali’s house. No stealing or you will go to jail.” Another, written in pink letters above a picture of a heart, said: “Thank you, friend, for so much fun. Thank you for being are friend.” Other nights, one of the junior youth and her mother stayed with me, and taught me their special method of making “bakes”—a Dominican version of fry bread. We watched Mary Poppins with them too, and sang prayers, and played the ukulele.

The rest of the time—weekdays, mostly—I have had the bounty of staying with Kimberly and Granny. In this little wooden home beside the Bahá’í Centre and the St. Cyr General Post Office, I have slept more soundly than I have since…elementary school? (Our 8pm bedtime may have something to do with it. It feels so right, somehow, to sleep and rise with the sun…and the last time I adhered to this rhythm would have been early childhood.) A message just flashed on my computer screen, informing me that I am now operating on reserve battery power. I guess it’s time to wrap this up. Kimberly and Granny have gone to sleep already, the radio and Phil Collins have been switched off for the evening, and the only sounds that remain are the chirping of crickets and Granny’s gentle snoring. The kerosene lamp will remain lit throughout the night, a sentinel as we slumber. I am grateful not to be sleeping alone. I am grateful for the warmth, and the light, of company.

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“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

I’ve asked plenty of times, and I’ve always haven’t been able to afford it.

I did just the other day at a really uppity coffee shop downtown. “Coffee is how much?! PaPa! (Americans don’t seem to understand this Dominican terminology). It’s much cheaper at our one coffee shop in Roseau (they also don’t know where Roseau is).” I also asked this recently as an uninsured patient at the doctor’s office. “It costs how much to have your blood drawn?! You don’t have discounts for in debt college graduates working hard to transform and build communities?”

I ask like most of us do a small part of me clinging onto the slight possibility of hearing an answer that won’t make me cringe like “Today is our $1 coffee day” or “As of today there is free health care in the US!” but instead I always get a sympathetic look in return and in an apologetic tone am told a price that they know I can’t afford and that I know I can’t afford and thus I almost always walk away with my head hanging low. Yet knowing all this I still ask. I always ask knowing I don’t want to know the answer.

But for the purposes of this blog entry I’m asking you to think about this phrase not in a material context but in a spiritual one. Yes, spiritual. Its been a spiritual phrase for me since 2007. When I was in London we would have Monday Night Clubs (a deepening on God Passes By on…you guessed it Monday nights) and a lot of the discussions (and slogans that resulted from it) have resonated and stuck with me since then–slogans such as “Got Fruit?,” “What’s written on your hand?” and my personal favorite, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

So what does it mean?

Well, it resulted from a discussion after reading about the Bab’s martyrdom (Most of you know the story so I won’t go into details. If not, Book 4).

Anis, that intrepid youth and devoted follower of the Bab, begged not to be separated from his Beloved.

As the Báb was approaching the barrack courtyard, suddenly a youth leapt forward, forcing his way through the crowds; his face haggard, feet bare, hair dishevelled, and breathless with excitement and exhausted with fatigue, he disregarded all personal peril and flung himself at the feet of the Báb. He seized the hem of His garment, and passionately implored Him; “O Master, send me not away from You – suffer me to follow You wherever You go.”

And when the Bab asked who among His companions would comply with His request ”to be slain by the hand of a friend, than by that of the enemy,’
only Anis sprung to his feet ready to comply to His wishes. What did the Bab’s amanuensis, his closest companion, do? Well, he asked. He asked, ‘What should I do?’

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s comment on the episode:

“Among the disciples of the Bab,” He continued, “were two: His amanuensis and a firm believer. On the eve of the Bab’s martyrdom the firm believer prayed: ‘Oh let me die with You!’ The amanuensis said: ‘What shall I do?’
” ‘What shall I do?’ ” mocked the Master. ” ‘What do you want me to do?’ ” The disciple died with the Bab, his head on the breast of the Bab, and their bodies were mingled in death. The other died in prison anyway, but think of the differences in their stations!”

(-‘Abdu’l-Baha, Diary of Juliet Thompson, page 319)

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

One asked and the other acted. One asked and the other chose the most sacrificial path. Think of the differences in their stations!”

What if instead of asking, the amanuensis said ‘let me die with You!’ ? Would he have still died years later in a prison or would he have also had the bounty of quaffing the cup of martyrdom with His Beloved?

What if instead of asking, we choose the path of sacrifice?

We often ask, but we don’t want to know the answer, because the answer is usually not something that is ‘comfortable.’ We ask holding onto the slight possibility that the answer won’t make us cringe.

A few years ago I prayed: “God, tell me what should I do. Should I stay here or should I go there? If you tell me to stay (although I don’t want to) I will. Although it will be hard, I’ll stay, and if you tell me to go (which is what i want!) I’ll obey immediately.”

I asked. I asked hoping to get the answer I wanted, and I waited and He didn’t tell me to stay or to go (at least not as directly as I would have wished).

I don’t think you can make a wrong choice when it comes to service. I think I would have grown spiritually in either place I would have chosen, but when I asked this question, in my head I clearly knew there would be one path that would involve the most sacrifice–one that would make me cringe and uncomfortable but that would inevitably bestow upon me the great bounties that one receives when we sacrifice, but instead of choosing this path of sacrifice like Anis did, I asked…

The people of the Carib Territory always act selflessly taking the path of sacrifice. A friend of Francillia’s calls and says her father is sick and asks if she can visit him. She never hesitates. She doesn’t ask whether or not she should go. It doesn’t matter if she is under a tight deadline having to complete an order of baskets so that she can buy school supplies before the start of the year. She’ll still go. The days are full for many women of the Territory–taking care of and educating their (and others) children, cooking hours over the fire, washing clothes in the river, spending hours making baskets and for an increasing handful doing acts of service in the community. And yet despite their full, busy and often difficult lives, when it comes to performing an act of service whether big or small and no matter the level of sacrifice required, they don’t stop to ask whether it should be done.

I think Denali might have posted this in earlier entries, but Ruhiyyih Khanum talks about this–this mystery of sacrifice, being moderate on the one hand and yet also rising to the level of sacrifice. Marion “General” Jack, although alone, old, sick and frail and a foreigner thrust in the middle of the War in Bulgaria, despite the dangers on her health and life, stayed wanting to be with the community she loved and nurtured. She cabled Shoghi Effendi asking, pleading to stay in Bulgaria and although he had previously advised her that it would be best to leave, he agreed with her request to stay with the people she loved and did so with great admiration. Marion Jack didn’t ask whether to go or to stay. She stayed and rose to the level of self-sacrifice.

There is a great mystery involving the levels of service. Shoghi Effendi always advised the friends to pursue a moderate and wise course, but if they did not, and chose to rise to heights of heroism and self-sacrifice, he was immensely proud of them. After all, there is nothing either wise or moderate in being martyred — yet our crowning glory as a religion is that our first Prophet was martyred and twenty thousand people followed in His footsteps. I have tried to understand this mystery, moderation on one side and Bahá’u’lláh’s words on the other: ‘… then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this than all else…’ and it seems to me that the best example is an aeroplane: when it trundles along on the ground on its wheels it is in the dimension of the ground, going along steadily on an earthly plane, but when it soars in the air and folds its wheels away and leaps forward at dazzling speeds, it is in a celestial realm and the values are different. When we are on the ground we get good sound earthly advice, but if we choose to spurn the soil and leap into the realms of higher serv1ce and sacrifice we do not get that kind of advice any more, we win immortal fame and become heroes and heroines of God’s Cause.

Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, p. 54

When we ask, can we afford the “immortal fame and become heroes and heroines,” or is what we’re really wanting to hear the “good sound earthly advice?”

If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

All this came back to me this weekend as I attended the Unit Convention. Nicely tucked into the program was a letter from the US National Spiritual Assembly reminding the friends that pioneers are still urgently needed before Ridvan and hung up on the walls around the room were big sheets of paper titled Study Circles, Junior Youth Groups, Children’s Classes, Teaching. And I thought to myself how many of the friends here will ask themselves today Should I pioneer?, Should I participate in the next teaching campaign?, Should I finally start a junior youth group? And I thought to myself how many of the friends like Anis won’t ask but will act knowing the intended sacrifices that might be called for.

Can we sometimes forgo the “moderate and wise course…and choose to rise to heights of heroism and self-sacrifice?”

Is there always a need to ask or can we just sometimes act?

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