to a thought of hatred, thoughts of love

I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.29

Like many people, we live in a residential area, where many people commute to work, whether by car, bus, or bicycle. The other day at noon, a neighbour’s car alarm went off. It seemed the owner was away, because it kept on going—honking for several minutes at a time, then pausing for a minute or two before starting up again. It was still going when I got home, in the late afternoon. Quynh met me outside and told me she had gone to look at the car, and that she’d seen a bunch of handwritten notes stuck on the car’s windshield, with dark, angry messages—insulting and cursing the car’s owner, calling them the worst neighbour in the world, and worse. She didn’t like the noise at all—it gave her a headache—but she also felt bad for the car’s owner, who obviously was away and would have had no idea what was happening. How could people leave such terrible notes?

lined up in the parking lotWe talked about how stress and anger can lead people to lash out against others and to lay blame. Along the way, we met some of the children and youth who live in the neighbourhood, and we continued the conversation with them. Some of them felt annoyed, saying they couldn’t stand the noise any more. We asked them if they had seen the notes that had been left behind. They had. Some of them agreed with the sentiments that were written. But the owner was obviously away, another one said. How would it be fair if we blamed someone for something that was completely out of their control? And how would we feel if we were in the same situation, and we came home from a hard day at work to a windshield full of angry notes calling us names? Terrible, that’s how, and full of despair. Several heads nodded in agreement.

“So what can we do to change the situation?” Quynh asked. It didn’t take long for one of the children to find an answer: replace all the nasty notes with a nice note. The children brainstormed a message together, settling on “Sorry about all the bad notes, tomorrow will be a better day.” After writing it out in black marker on a sheet of paper and decorating it with hearts, stars, and peace signs, they took it and walked together towards the now-silent car. When they got there, they noticed that all the nasty notes had already been removed, so they simply left their positive note under the windshield wiper. All of a sudden, one of the neighbours stepped out of her house, looking exhausted. “So sorry about all the noise,” she said. It was her car. She had just arrived, seen the notes, and disabled the alarm. She looked around at the children, who apologized—as members of the neighbourhood—for all the notes people had left, pointing out the more positive note they had left on her windshield. Her face brightened immediately, as if a veil of misery had been lifted.

It turned out that she had taken her bicycle to work that day to save on gas. She worked across the river in Quebec, so it was a long ride. Late in the afternoon, she explained, she suddenly received a call—from the Ottawa police, who had received a complaint about her car alarm, which had been going off for hours. Nobody could tell what had happened—it might have been an electrical fault that set off the alarm, or a cat, or an actual burglar—but they advised her to come home as soon as possible to shut it off. Shocked, she biked home as fast as she could, only to find all the angry messages littering her windshield. She had just finished getting rid of the notes when the children came to leave one of their own. She thanked them sincerely for their kindness, and the children wished her a pleasant evening—reminding her that tomorrow would be a better day. When we walked back home after meeting, we assured the children that their action had restored hope to that neighbour’s heart.

Whatever happens in life, we always have a choice of how to respond. These choices we make determine whether we will create hatred or love, war or peace, despair or hope. When we create love, peace and hope in our families and in our neighbourhoods, it grows and trickles upwards through our cities, our regions, our nations and our world—that’s why we say world peace starts with us, inside of us. It makes our lives—and the lives of those around us—lighter, brighter, more livable.

making the good news: the 114 youth conferences begin

“When so much of society invites passivity and apathy or, worse still, encourages behaviour harmful to oneself and others, a conspicuous contrast is offered by those who are enhancing the capacity of a population to cultivate and sustain a spiritually enriching pattern of community life.”

Universal House of Justice, 1 July 2013

We often hear complaints that the news is too depressing, that news outlets have nothing but bloodshed, partisan bickering and chaos to report on (except the feel-good story of the night, which is usually something about cute kittens rescued from a well). Where’s the real, hopeful, honest-to-goodness good news?

Young woman at microphone reciting prayer

Well, if what you’re looking for is something to restore your hope for humanity, then consider this. During the next few months, young people who are tired of waiting for good news will be gathering together around the world, making plans to make their own good news. These are youth who have become involved in local community-building initiatives that seek to revitalize and transform the character of their families and their neighbourhoods. Their cause? Selfless service to humanity. Rather than spending the precious moments of their youth in the pursuit of amusement, wealth, or material possessions, these young men and women, members of various races, nations and creeds, are banding together, united by a desire to heal the wounds of a broken and divided world and leave it better than the way they found it.

The leadership of the Universal House of Justice, the institution at the head of the Bahá’í Faith, has been key in both bringing together these youth and establishing what they call a “framework for action”: a concrete, world-embracing one that operates at the grass-roots, helping to empower and channel the energies of individuals—youth, children and adults alike—towards service to others. Central to this framework is a process of community education, drawing from the Bahá’í Writings, that enables participants to increase their own capacity to serve by providing the knowledge, spiritual insights and skills essential to a life of service. In this process, which has been developed and put into place over several decades, studying and serving are inseparable. Thus, young people, brimming with enthusiasm, energy, and a desire to contribute to the betterment of the world, put their new knowledge into action right away, engaging in small acts of service that gradually become greater and more complex as their capacity grows, accompanying and encouraging each other as they learn together how they can best address the challenges and overcome the obstacles they face.

Young man and woman drawing a map on a large sheet of paperAnnounced earlier this year by the Universal House of Justice, the 114 youth conferences taking place this summer are the logical next step in this process of accompaniment, providing opportunities for youth to gather together with like-minded youth in their countries and regions—those young souls who long “to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society”, and together, “to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance”. As they make individual and collective plans to serve alongside one another in their neighbourhoods, villages, cities, and regions, they are aware of their part in a “mighty, transforming process that will yield, in time, a global civilization reflecting the oneness of humankind.”

The first few gatherings have taken place: in Cali, ColombiaMontreal, CanadaSan José, Costa Rica, and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Many more are yet to come, and tens of thousands of youth—perhaps hundreds of thousands—are preparing themselves for their local gatherings. Undeterred by the tremors shaking the world around them—signs of the inevitable demise of systems built upon selfish materialism, exploitation and injustice—they instead rise above them with hope, confidence, and above all, trust: trust in God’s unfailing help, and in the capacity of their generation “to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society.

Read about the 114 youth conferences, including official reports from each, or read the official press release about the launch of the conferences.

Read about how to prepare for the 114 youth conferences!

“We should not think about ourselves, we should take joy in the joy of others and encourage each other.”

Participant at the Cali Youth Conference, 5–7 July 2013

ces anges du grand rassemblement

C’est aujourd’hui que commence une grande conférence à Montréal, regroupant des jeunes d’à travers le Québec, le Nunavut, et les provinces maritimes du Canada, “qui aspirent à se défaire de la léthargie que la société leur impose et à travailler côte à côte dans leurs quartiers et leurs villages pour commencer un processus de transformation collective”. Rappellant mes jours de service au Québec, et inspiré par le zèle et l’enthousiasme de la génération présente, j’ai composé quelques versets en leur éloge.

photo de groupe (ti-groupe)Ces jeunes qui quittent leurs foyers,
se rassemblant, se dispersant
tout comme autant d’aigrettes au vent,
parsèment de vie les prés d’été.

Se mêlant parmi leurs compères,
ils soufflent en eux la brise de foi,
et fracassant les chaînes du moi,
s’occupent à récréer la terre.

Voyez comment leur danse est belle!
Ces âmes célestes, esprits de bien,
reserrent les nœuds, renouent les liens,
en répondant au grand appel.

“Voilà des anges,” l’on dira d’eux :
bien qu’issus de lignée mortelle,
mais bénis d’une force spirituelle
propre aux habitants des cieux.

© 2013 Daniel Jones.

rising through the waves

sea wall in akkáAt every moment, the ocean of humanity is astir with waves. This morning, Bahá’í youth around the world are probably feeling two different waves washing over them. One is the wave of excitement, anticipation, and hope generated by their imminent participation in the 114 youth conferences set to begin next week—gatherings meant to uplift their souls, steel their resolve, and impart the vision they will need to carry forward the work of the Divine Plan at a scale they have never witnessed before. The other wave is that of shock, broken-hearted sorrow and grief, brought about by the news of the destruction of the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad—the House that was the site of His exile for so many years, and from which He travelled to the Ridván Garden on the day of His Declaration in 1863.

Crisis and victory. Integration and disintegration. One force tears down, another builds anew. As we are buffeted by the waves today, oft-recalled words and phrases wash through our minds too, reminding us that in every calamity, there are the seeds of a greater providence. Ours is the work of gardeners, to plant and water those seeds and to help them grow.

Many of us are still busy preparing for the 114 youth conferences across the globe, some of which are beginning as soon as next week. If you’re reading these words right now, you’ve probably read about the 5 things to do while you’re waiting for the youth conferences. You may have been going through a checklist in your mind, asking yourself: Have I read up on everything the Universal House of Justice expects of me? Am I lacking any training in the various skills of service? Do I even know how I want to serve humanity? And many other questions. Although these preparations are important—essential, even—we must also be open to the idea that the setbacks and crises we experience in life are a form of spiritual preparation. Yes, even terrible, hurtful and tragic things. When I look back on the last ten years of my life, I can identify several points—though they were painful and even traumatic to go through—that have helped me to increase my spiritual capacity and prepared me for the challenges I face today. Experiences such as these prompted me to pen the following reflections on a grey autumn afternoon, just a year after I returned to Ottawa from a difficult experience as a homefront pioneer:

Being a Baha’i is such a beautiful, beautiful thing. Harrowingly difficult at times, and challenging, to be sure. Challenging because we are called to be the quickeners of mankind, pillars of strength around which a shattered, crumbling humanity is destined to seek shelter and solace. Difficult because we must set aside our own ego, our own self, and seek the improvement of the life and condition of all. Tests and difficulties come at us from all sides sometimes, and they seem designed to make us as uncomfortable as possible. Sometimes I wonder: when will it all stop? Sometimes I get tired and discouraged, and I want to slip quietly into my bed, sleep it off and wake up in spring when things are better and there’s more light. Yeah, sometimes it’s harsh. But those are the breaks for everybody – all are tested, and only so much as their capacity allows. We are all meant to grow, that’s why we have tests. “The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks). When we hear this we don’t mind any more that the tests will never stop. We don’t mind that this life will be nothing but a continuing cycle of crisis and victory, of triumph and setback. When we hear this we know that there is a plan. The more we exert ourselves, the further ahead we get.

We stand at a pivotal moment in the fortunes of humanity. Terrible trials lie in wait, but also incredible triumphs—that’s just how the cycle of crisis and victory works. When we come to understand this more deeply, we stop being so anxious at what might be, and we come to see setbacks as sparks that further ignite our faith, turning the flame of our love into a raging blaze of fire and light, a spiritual fire that can never be extinguished. And as we strain every nerve to conquer ourselves, so do fear, sorrow and doubt begin to fall away. As we pray for strength, so is it given to us, “no matter how difficult the conditions”. We reflect, we commit, and we steel ourselves, calling on a strength that is beyond ourselves, and relying on an abundant flow of blessings. These blessings, too, are like waves of the water of life. Rather than struggling to keep our heads above water, let us plunge into the deep, drink our fill and arise.

Heroes are they, O my Lord, lead them to the field of battle. Guides are they, make them to speak out with arguments and proofs. Ministering servants are they, cause them to pass round the cup that brimmeth with the wine of certitude. O my God, make them to be songsters that carol in fair gardens, make them lions that couch in the thickets, whales that plunge in the vasty deep.

Verily Thou art He of abounding grace. There is none other God save Thee, the Mighty, the Powerful, the Ever-Bestowing.

Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.225

house of baha’u’llah in baghdad destroyed

From the Bahá’í World News Service, we read this morning of the heart-breaking news of the destruction of the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad, Iraq.

houseThe worldwide Baha’i community has learned that the house of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith, in Baghdad, Iraq – a profoundly sacred site known as the Most Great House – has been destroyed. The precise circumstances surrounding the demolition are not yet clear.

Bani Dugal, the Principal Representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations said: “This deplorable act has robbed people throughout the world of a priceless piece of their spiritual heritage.”

“While the details are not yet clear, there should be no doubt as to the Baha’i community’s strength of feeling about this terrible and shocking deed”, she continued.

“The Baha’is of the world are, of course, heartbroken by the news. Yet, as always, they remain positive and focused on their efforts to promote peace and contribute to the betterment of their communities”, she added.

The Most Great House was Baha’u’llah’s place of residence for much of the time of His exile from Iran to Baghdad, Iraq. The site is located close to the banks of the River Tigris.

Upon reading of this tragic development, many of the Bahá’ís turned immediately to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, who himself foretold of the indignities which would befall His House, saying that it would “be so abased in the days to come as to cause tears to flow from every discerning eye”—but that, in time, it would be exalted in the eyes of the world:

Call thou to mind that which hath been revealed unto Mihdí, Our servant, in the first year of Our banishment to the Land of Mystery (Adrianople). Unto him have We predicted that which must befall Our House (Baghdád House), in the days to come, lest he grieve over the acts of robbery and violence already perpetrated against it. Verily, the Lord, thy God, knoweth all that is in the heavens and all that is on the earth.

To him We have written: This is not the first humiliation inflicted upon My House. In days gone by the hand of the oppressor hath heaped indignities upon it. Verily, it shall be so abased in the days to come as to cause tears to flow from every discerning eye. Thus have We unfolded to thee things hidden beyond the veil, inscrutable to all save God, the Almighty, the All-Praised. In the fullness of time, the Lord shall, by the power of truth, exalt it in the eyes of all men. He shall cause it to become the Standard of His Kingdom, the Shrine round which will circle the concourse of the faithful. Thus hath spoken the Lord, thy God, ere the day of lamentation arriveth. This revelation have We given thee in Our holy Tablet, lest thou sorrow for what hath befallen Our House through the assaults of the enemy. All praise be to God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh,
No. LVIII, p. 114-115

Upon reading these words, I was immediately reminded of the concept of crisis and victory as explained by Shoghi Effendi—that with every calamity comes the seeds of a greater victory—which inspired me to put down a few thoughts about how we can rise through the waves of tests.

“be not dismayed…”

Quote

“Be not dismayed if your endeavours are dismissed as utopian by the voices that would oppose any suggestion of fundamental change. Trust in the capacity of this generation to disentangle itself from the embroilments of a divided society. To discharge your responsibilities, you will have to show forth courage, the courage of those who cling to standards of rectitude, whose lives are characterised by purity of thought and action, and whose purpose is directed by love and indomitable faith. As you dedicate yourselves to healing the wounds with which your peoples have been afflicted, you will become invincible champions of justice…”

Excerpt from a Letter to the youth of Paraguay
from the Universal House of Justice , 6 January 1998