“i am not of the lost”

Still reeling from the shock of hearing of the tragedy in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, Bahá’í artist Munirih Sparrow was inspired to share a video of herself performing “I am not of the lost”, an original song based on words written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to a mother whose son had passed onwards into the spiritual worlds.

The song was originally written for her new album Nightsong, which was released in November 2012. I had the chance to catch up with her recently during a break from touring the USA and asked her about the song and its significance.

Originally I went searching for a prayer for mothers, in my search I came upon this prayer. It was beautiful and comforting and had a feeling of “otherworldliness”.

A few years ago a close family member of mine lost her baby girl Ocean and around the time of writing that song it would have been Ocean’s 12th birthday. As I tried to put the writing to music, I literally asked Ocean to help me. Now, I know that sounds pretty “fuu-fuu” but spirits in the next world are always inspiring us and few artists create by themselves. My family continues to grieve Ocean’s death and I just had this feeling that she was there with a message of love and comfort for her parents.

On Friday, she dedicated the song as a prayer for the mothers and fathers of Newtown who lost their children, describing the importance of prayers and music in bringing about healing and peace in the face of grief and loss.

In the wake of such sad events as we saw in Newtown I feel confirmed in my belief in the power of prayer and music. Not only is that prayer important to the families who are personally devastated by these events but also for people like you and me who do not know these families but are still so saddened and upset.

It is prayers like these that assist us all in grieving and processing our anger and sadness about this event and others going on around the world. Through prayer we make peace in our hearts and our communities.

Munirih’s words largely reflect my experience helping Quynh’s family to grieve after her father’s sudden passing in August 2010. As many have said before, there are no words for the pain felt when a loved one passes away; particularly the pain of losing a child, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá calls “heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance”. Two things helped us recover from our grief: the power of prayer—of spiritual conversation with God and intercession on behalf of those who have passed onwards—and the power of community. I suppose these are common to all humanity; we all tend to lean on each other, and on a Higher Power, when we feel overwhelmed by suffering.

Learn a little more about Munirih Sparrow, and listen to her music on her Bandcamp site.

See also: the prayer vigil offered in Newtown; a few of my reflections on the tragedy.

a prayer for newtown

prayer vigil was held recently in the town of Newtown, Connecticut, the scene of a tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th. Faith leaders gathered from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Bahá’í religions. President Obama addressed those gathered, and the entire world through a live broadcast, offering not only words of comfort and sympathy, but also words that cried out longingly for transformation: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

John Woodall, member of the Newtown Bahá’í community* who was present at the vigil, shared the following on Facebook over the weekend, perhaps echoing President Obama’s call for transformational change:

We are all quite overwhelmed and exhausted today and wonder how we can move forward. This is the time for grief as the grief is a proof of our love. So, we grieve openly in honor of the love of those lost. We have come in contact with our powerlessness over events. We had no control over this event. But, we have decisive control over our response which can be as life-affirming and noble as our heart can dare to reach. We all have this choice in life with the trials we face.

Mr. Woodall and his wife, Margo, offered a profoundly moving reading from the Bahá’í Writings at the vigil, sharing a letter written by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to a mother who had lost her son.

The Woodalls have been asked, through their organization The Unity Project, to be a part of the response to the shootings by helping train youth mentors to help counsel younger kids, strengthen family and community bonds, and to help the town heal through large numbers of student inspired service projects. If you’re interested in helping the people of Newtown recover, you can check out The Unity Project on indiegogo—and check them out on Facebook if you’d like to know more.

See also: a few of my reflections on the Newtown tragedy.

* Although various reports have referred to Mr. Woodall as a “minister” or a “leader” of the Bahá’ís, the Bahá’í community has no clergy and its members do not act as priests.

united across the battle lines

flags flyingPrior to going to Vietnam in 2009, I really had little idea about the history of the place. I knew my father had made the choice to come to Canada from America in the 1960s to avoid being drafted into the army and sent to fight the war in Vietnam, but I had little knowledge of that conflict itself, its background, or indeed of any of Vietnam’s thousands-of-years-long history. I suppose until the country and its culture became a part of my life through marriage, I was too lazy to learn much about it. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the history of Vietnam, and even compiling information about the history of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam. The latter has been really fascinating, as I’ve learned just how active the Bahá’í community was in the 1950s and 1960s, and how far it had been able to develop by the end of the war.

One of the most amazing stories was related to me and Quynh on a trip to Moncton this past summer, about a Bahá’í who had fought as a soldier during the Vietnam War. There seem to be a few versions of the story floating around, but the one we heard was similar to this one related by a Mr. “B. Knott Wildered” on a Yahoo Answers thread:

[…T]here was a young American soldier in Vietnam, experiencing his very first time in an actual battle and scared to death. In an attempt to gain some courage, he yelled the Bahá’í greeting [Allah’u’abhá] and was surprised to hear it returned from the other side of a clearing. But after a bit of hesitation, he went in that direction, saw a Viet Cong soldier who again repeated that greeting. They met, hugged each other and each took off in the opposite directions. While I was not there to see it, I can well believe it actually happened, and probably more than once, and the one I heard it from told it with conviction and with tears in his eyes.

TheMerryOnion, a Bahá’í blogger formerly from Newfoundland, blogged about a similar story last year in a post about her personal heroes, the first of which was the subject of the story, a Vietnam War veteran named Reggie Baskin.

Reggie was the first person I ever interviewed. […] I chose Reggie because I knew he had been to Vietnam as a soldier during the war, and also that he was a Bahá’í and therefore fighting and violence had to have been against his conscience. The interview went well and he told me some fascinating stories that I still remember. One in particular sticks in my mind: he got separated from his group and met up with a group of about twenty Viet Cong soldiers. He figured he was about to be killed, but the CO of that group recognized the symbol on his Bahá’í necklace. This man was also Bahá’í, greeted him with “Allah-u-abhá” (the universal Bahá’í greeting), and took his men on their merry (or not) way. Who says religion always causes conflict? In this case, it saved a man’s life.

Look forward to more of these stories in the future as I continue to dig through the history books. There are just too many amazing things to share.

three headed hill

Can you hear the echoing ring
A century of bells sing to their steeples
We will, on this three-headed hill,
Soon see the gnat become the eagle.

Crowning the city of Montreal is a hill, Mount Royal, with three peaks: Westmount, Colline d’Outremont (or Mount Murray), and Colline de la Croix (also called Mount Royal proper). ‘Abdu’l-Bahá himself gazed out onto to Montreal from atop the highest of these a hundred years ago, having taken the now-defunct Mount Royal Funicular from Fletcher’s Field (Parc Jeanne-Mance) to the East-End Lookout.

Commemorating the centenary of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit, The Brothers Farr composed an original song, “Three-Headed Hill”. They performed it with Jacques Proulx on violin in St. James Church, where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave one of His talks, on September 5, 2012—one hundred years to the day He gave it. Watch above, or check it out on Youtube. If you like what you hear, give their band a like on Facebook.

For here, one hundred years ago,
A mystery none can fathom
Came and uttered the Name
That can create life from a mound of atoms.

conquering oneself

Grabbed this wonderful quote from Melody on Facebook. (Don’t worry, you’ll be seeing much more than a few borrowed Facebook statuses starting in December, along with some other fairly significant changes.) Shoghi Effendi would know plenty about conquering the self, of course, having spent several years doing just that after he learned that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had named him to be the Guardian in His Will and Testament. I feel like I’ve been working on this myself for so long, and wish I was a little further along in my self-conquering work, but then don’t we all?

‘Now,’ he said, ‘Every Bahá’í in the world, every person in the world, has to do exactly that same thing. Whether you’re a Hand of the Cause, whether you’re a Knight of Bahá’u’lláh, whether you’re a member of a national Assembly, whether you’re a teacher, whether you’re a pioneer, whether you’re a administrator, regardless of what you are, with anything in the Cause, every Bahá’í must fight with himself and conquer himself. And when he has conquered himself, them he becomes a true instrument for the service of the Cause of God. And not until then! This is what every Bahá’i in the world should know.’

And this one of the main things I want you to get out of this talk tonight. The Guardian’s instructions that every individual must fight with himself, must conquer himself, must overcome his lower nature, must overcome his self, and turn himself over to God, so that the Holy Spirit can function through you. For when the Holy Spirit functions through you, then you will gain victory after victory. Because the Holy Spirit is the creative aspect of God and it cannot do other than win victories and make successes for the Cause.

Extract from a talk by Hand of the Cause of God Leroy Ioas,
transcribed from a recording made in Johannesburg, South Africa, October 31, 1958

honour the sacrifice, not the war

A friend shared the following as a status update on Facebook recently. I was going to repost it there myself, but it’s long enough to warrant its own blog post. Out of all the comments people had posted about Remembrance Day, this is the one that stood out for me the most.

As we remember those who have lost their lives in conflict, we should honour the bravery and the sacrifice of these individuals, and always think of them with great respect and gratitude. But we must be cautious that we never honour or romanticize war itself. War will never be the solution.

“Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. All created things are expressions of the affinity and cohesion of elementary substances, and nonexistence is the absence of their attraction and agreement. Various elements unite harmoniously in composition, but when these elements become discordant, repelling each other, decomposition and nonexistence result. Everything partakes of this nature and is subject to this principle, for the creative foundation in all its degrees and kingdoms is an expression or outcome of love. Consider the restlessness and agitation of the human world today because of war. Peace is health and construction; war is disease and dissolution. When the banner of truth is raised, peace becomes the cause of the welfare and advancement of the human world. In all cycles and ages war has been a factor of derangement and discomfort, whereas peace and brotherhood have brought security and consideration of human interests. This distinction is especially pronounced in the present world conditions, for warfare in former centuries had not attained the degree of savagery and destructiveness which now characterizes it. If two nations were at war in olden times, ten or twenty thousand would be sacrificed, but in this century the destruction of one hundred thousand lives in a day is quite possible. So perfected has the science of killing become and so efficient the means and instruments of its accomplishment that a whole nation can be obliterated in a short time. Therefore, comparison with the methods and results of ancient warfare is out of the question.

According to an intrinsic law all phenomena of being attain to a summit and degree of consummation, after which a new order and condition is established. As the instruments and science of war have reached the degree of thoroughness and proficiency, it is hoped that the transformation of the human world is at hand and that in the coming centuries all the energies and inventions of man will be utilized in promoting the interests of peace and brotherhood. Therefore, may this esteemed and worthy society for the establishment of international peace be confirmed in its sincere intentions and empowered by God. Then will it hasten the time when the banner of universal agreement will be raised and international welfare will be proclaimed and consummated so that the darkness which now encompasses the world shall pass away.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá