celebrating the bicentenary

So, this year is a special year. It’s the 200th anniversary, or bicentenary, of the year Bahá’u’lláh was born (1817). People around the world have been taking the opportunity to celebrate in big and beautiful ways. And many, many people are still celebrating, in smaller, but no less beautiful ways.

roseTake us, for instance. We’ve all been really busy, but owing to the unique nature of the occasion, we knew we had to commit to doing something to make the bicentenary stand out. So we decided to go around on the big weekend of the Festival of the Twin Birthdays, and deliver roses to our neighbours. Why roses? Well, because Bahá’u’lláh loved roses, of course. Every year at Ridván, we tell the story of Bahá’u’lláh giving out roses to those who came to see Him in the Ridván garden, so it makes a lot of sense. Anyway, smiles appeared all around as we went around sharing rosy moments of kindness, and it gave us an excuse to talk to our neighbours—some for the first time.

While we were at it, we decided to also collect food for a local food bank that has been stretched thin and was in need of donations. We were hoping to collect 200 items, and by my count we probably have about 40 right now. We’re aiming to do some extra shopping, which might bring us up to about 80 items. That’s still not too bad, and it should help the food bank quite a bit. And, as if you had to ask, why the food bank? Well, because Bahá’u’lláh was always concerned with looking after those who were less fortunate than He was, making sure they were clothed and fed—which earned Him the name “Father of the Poor”. The last time we collected food for the food bank was at Ayyám-i-Há, and there were smiles aplenty when we brought it all in—and even a grand tour of the operation. We’re not expecting a grand tour this time around, but hopefully there will be just as many smiles.

Finally, because every birthday deserves a party, we held a family birthday party for Bahá’u’lláh, complete with a lovely cake, prayers, and stories about Bahá’u’lláh’s life. So there you have it—not a major public gathering, but several little, meaningful things that we shared with family, friends, and neighbours, that helped us to open our hearts a little more to everyone around us, just like a rose lets its petals open to the morning sun.

sharing some “new” music

rainy cedarIt’s raining today, so it’s a good time to stay inside and listen to some music. I’ve been discovering some new music that I like for the first time in… well, a while. They say (who says?) that your ability to discover and appreciate new music goes down as you age, so I suppose that that’s a good sign. I’ve been looking for ambient music that can help me to concentrate on tasks—something that I can tune out, but that has enough of a beat and good harmony that it keeps me going. Something atmospheric—not in the “lounging in a private spa” sense, but in that it creates a good atmosphere for me to get things done. Here’s some of what I’ve found, just because it’s a sharing kind of day.

Tycho, a project led by San Francisco-based musician Scott Hansen, is what I’m listening to right now, particularly the new album Awake. I’ve had it on for the past little while as I smash my keyboard in search new ways of making websites look pretty. Also new to the playlist is Bonobo, or British musician Simon Green, based in Brighton, UK. What I’ve heard from him is more down-tempo and perhaps a little darker than Tycho, yet still rhythmic and very enjoyable. From the other side of the pond (i.e. the Pacific Ocean) hails another recent addition to my collection, DJ Okawari of Shizuoka, Japan, who bills himself as a “representative artist of Japanese jazz hiphop”, a genre fostered by Tokyo-based Seba Jun or Nujabes, whose music has also been doing the rounds on the playlist lately. These last two have a distinct harmony of their own that I would call characteristically Japanese: lighter, brighter and even a little more conducive to introspection, if that makes sense—almost as if you were having an intimate conversation with a trusted friend.

Besides being good work music, I would put all of the above on a travel or road-trip mixtape, or even just rainy-day music to help you chill out on a gloomy, overcast day. They’re definitely all relaxing and ambient, so they fit perfectly into that side of my music collection. Most of them have been active since the late 2000s, so I don’t know if I’m really right to call any of them “new” artists—but new to me is good enough for now.

finding love and wonder on pluto

When I was in elementary school, I was fascinated by science, especially astronomy. I was the nerdier kind of kid who preferred reading books to kicking a ball in the playground, and so, I would hole up in the library and gather up all the books I could find about stars, planets, the universe, and more. At that time, exploration of the solar system was still just beginning. Humanity had walked on the moon and come back. Probes had been launched even further, landing on the surfaces of Mars and Venus, sending back the very first images of other planets. More probes had been launched at the other planets, sending back to Earth the very first snapshots of these other worlds: the sun-hugging Mercury, and the gas giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Reading about these newly explored worlds sent my mind on journeys of its own, journeys of awe and wonderment.

And yet, there was still more to this journey. In the pages of every book that chronicled the sums of our knowledge of the planets, one section still remained a mere footnote, a tantalizing mystery. Pluto, the last and farthest planet (as far as anyone was sure at the time), was a mere speck on a photographic plate, twinkling in the night sky as would any star—except that it moved. We knew it was there, but its great distance from Earth meant that it would surely remain unknown for a very long time. Who, after all, would ever travel that far, through all that nothingness, far above the ecliptic—the plane of the solar system—to snap a picture of this, the tiniest planet?

The New Horizons mission, then, is somewhat of a dream come true—the fulfillment of a long-cherished hope, and the continuation of that long journey of awe, of wonder and discovery. It allows us to fill in a blank in our knowledge of the universe. For those of my generation—who were taught that Pluto was a planet (although there’s nothing particularly wrong with being considered a dwarf planet, either)—this mystery cried out especially loud for resolution. The beautiful thing, of course, is that now that we have pictures, now that we have all this knowledge and data, we become acutely aware of how much more there is to discover. The wonder doesn’t disappear—instead, it builds. Our thirst for learning kicks in, and we want to know more. And in time, we will.

as I pick myself back up

It’s been a while since I’ve spent much time looking after this blog. No doubt there are still people out there reading, whether they’re subscribed by email or RSS, or follow on Facebook, or simply check back every now and then out of curiosity or nostalgia.

It’s been a tumultuous time for the owner of the world’s longest-running Bahá’í blog (if it hasn’t been stripped of that title due to the succession of hiatus after prolonged hiatus). Things started getting busy around the end of 2010. Life started getting in the way of writing, you know, in the way it does. Successive tests descended. Things which were once clear became muddied and murky, as the hand of providence stirred up the water of the ocean of life. They say that in that kind of muddy water, the beautiful lotus will bloom, resting calmly upon the water, opening up its petals and offering itself to the sky.

I can’t really say that the tests have ended yet—nor can I say that I’ve reached that perfect state of calm—but what I can say is that there is something of a growing sense of clarity budding somewhere deep within. Things are clearer, while still being unclear. I am—and we are—slowly learning how to draw from that sacred quiet space within our hearts the living water of certitude.

There is so much to fear in the world today, so much anger, hatred, instability and chaos. And yet, there is also the evidence of a growing, collective movement of humanity towards something much, much greater and more beautiful. Something that looks like kindness, and courage, and justice, and love, and patience, and perseverance, and generosity, and sacrifice, and service. Every day, we pick our side: Shall we advance towards a day of despair, or one of hope? O Great Spirit, give me the strength to choose hope today, to love and to serve Thy creatures.

So, yes, it’s been a tumultuous time, and most of the time I’ve simply felt too confused and exhausted to spend time sharing quips and queries or telling the little stories of my life. I dare to cherish the hope that this time of crisis is coming to a close, and that victories lie ahead. But I must be humble, and remember my place: A mere gnat that only aspires to become an eagle. Sorry. I know this sounds cryptic, and I hate to be one of those cryptic bloggers. The gist of it is that I’m feeling a little better nowadays, now that things have become a little less chaotic. But big things are in store in the coming years. Big changes, big growth, big challenges, and hopefully big adventures worth telling stories about. Maybe I’ll be blogging those too in a little while. For now, I’m off to rest and meditate a little. Greetings and glad-tidings to you and yours, dear friends.

ayyam-i-ha and the fasting season

It’s a busy time of year for Bahá’ís, no matter where they are. The joyous festival of Ayyam-i-Há is taking place, a festival of fellowship, generosity, and hospitality. The Bahá’ís in Da Nang have been busy with a campaign of home visits to elderly members of the community. Tonight, Quynh and I gathered together with them at a fun musical celebration, and tomorrow we’ll be doing some visits of our own in our neighbourhood, and cutting out some Ayyam-i-Há decorations with some of the local kids.

dawn of a new dayTomorrow evening comes the Feast of Loftiness, which kicks off the 19-day-long Bahá’í Fast, during which Bahá’ís from the ages of 15 to 70 years abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise ’til sunset. The Fast comes to an end with the celebration of Naw-Rúz on March 21st. Falling on the spring equinox, Naw-rúz is a celebration of revival, renewal, and springtime, in both the physical and spiritual senses. Fasting is a period of preparation for this springtime, during which we not only fast physically, but pay special attention to our spiritual life as well, in order to come into a new year with our souls refreshed and strengthened.

Interested in finding sunrise and sunset times for the Bahá’í Fast? Check out the list of Bahá’í Fasting Times for 2014, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa (for the folks back home).