dear kiên

ultrasound picture of a beautiful babyMẹ Quỳnh wants me to write you a few words to let you know how things were before you were born.

We saw you for the first time when we were in Da Nang, Vietnam. That’s where your mom was born, so it’s a special place for all of us. One of your uncles is a doctor who helps parents see babies before they’re born, and he helped us see you. You were small, but you jumped and moved around a lot. So we gave you a nickname, Tôm nhảy—or just Tôm for short. From the first time we saw you, we loved you. The first time we prayed for you, we cried—not because we were sad, but because we were so happy you were there. We felt as though God had given us a very precious gift: the gift of your presence.

As you grew up inside your mom’s womb, you took up more and more space, and her belly got bigger and bigger. We were so happy, because we knew someone we loved—that’s you—was in there. You were nice, snug and warm inside her womb, even when it was cool outside. We could feel you when you kicked your mom’s belly. You may not remember all the kicking you did, but you did it a lot. You kicked when you were hungry, when you didn’t have enough space, and at other times. Your mom says you tickled her sometimes.

Soon after you began to grow in your mom’s womb, we met a wonderful lady, a midwife. That’s someone who helps babies be born into the world outside the womb. She was very helpful and loving, and she helped us listen to your heartbeat. It gave us so much joy to hear your beating heart. The midwife introduced us to a friend who helped us see you again, only this time you were much bigger. You still moved around a lot, and you looked like you were folded in two, with your feet near your head—like you were doing yoga.

We prayed for you every night, asking God to help you grow up well. You often kicked when we said prayers, so we knew you were paying attention. Every day we would talk to you, and play music for you to listen to. Sometimes we would sing prayers to you, too. They say that music helps babies to grow well and uplifts their souls. Someday, when you grow up, I hope you sing for your children in the same way, so that they grow up well. Your family living far away would call us up every day to hear how you were doing, and they prayed for you too. In fact, there were many people who prayed for you before you were born—people living in many different places, near and far. With all their hearts they asked God to fill your life with blessings, happiness and love.

As time passed and you grew bigger, we prepared the way for you to be born into the big, bright world outside the womb. We learned all about how to take care of you, feed you, wash you and clothe you. It was a lot of work for us, but we trusted that God would help us take care of you and provide everything you would need. We moved into a cozy apartment surrounded with big old trees and a lovely pond. Lots of friends and family helped us get everything ready for you, because they love us, and they love you too. Just like us, they want you to be happy, healthy and comfortable as you take your first steps into this big world.

Soon it’ll be time for us to meet you and introduce you to this beautiful world. We’re looking forward to it so much: seeing your first smile, your first steps, your first words. You will have developed everything you need for this world in the womb, and in this new world you will develop everything you need for the next one. And we will pray together with you every day, just as we did before you were born.

6 qualities of the empowered

studying the guidanceYou know how you can read something one day, get something out of it, and then read it again next week and get a fresh new insight? That’s often what happens to me when I read the Bahá’í Writings. Most recently, I’ve been working hard to finish reading all of the recent messages of the Universal House of Justice—the 8 February 2013 and 1 May 2013 messages announcing the convocation of the worldwide youth conferences, for example, and the 1 July 2013 message to all the conferences; the 2013 Ridván message; and Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, the long but fascinating companion document to the wonderful new film Frontiers of Learning.

Anyway, a friend of mine shared the last sentence of the 8 February 2013 message the other day, and I took the opportunity to read it again with fresh eyes. In it, the Universal House of Justice writes of its hope for the youth of the world, giving an overview of the kinds of qualities that characterize the “new race of men” anticipated by Bahá’u’lláh—a race not defined by nationality or ethnicity, nor by superhero-style mutations or magical powers(!), nor indeed by any material considerations, but by the strength and maturity of their character, by their spiritual qualities. To give a little context, the Bahá’í International Community gave some very useful commentary on this term in its Statement on Bahá’u’lláh:

The distinguishing feature of humanity’s coming of age is that, for the first time in its history, the entire human race is consciously involved, however dimly, in the awareness of its own oneness and of the earth as a single homeland. This awakening opens the way to a new relationship between God and humankind. As the peoples of the world embrace the spiritual authority inherent in the guidance of the Revelation of God for this age, Bahá’u’lláh said, they will find in themselves a moral empowerment which human effort alone has proven incapable of generating. “A new race of men” will emerge as the result of this relationship, and the work of building a global civilization will begin.

In the last paragraph of the 8 February 2013 message, the Universal House of Justice enumerates some of the qualities that youth will need in order to make a difference in the world—qualities related to moral and spiritual empowerment. Let’s examine them here, point by point. “In our prayers at the Sacred Threshold,” the message reads, “we entreat the Ancient Beauty that, from out a distracted and bewildered humanity, He may distil…”: Continue reading

vietnam at the international baha’i convention, 2013

To follow up on my earlier overview of the 11th International Bahá’í Convention held this year, I’ve put together the following informal translation of an account written by the Vietnamese delegates, which was published on a popular Vietnamese interfaith portal. It gives a good overview of the activities that took place at the Convention, and the joy and love with which the Vietnamese friends were welcomed by their fellow delegates.

The 11th International Bahá’í Convention was held in Haifa/Akka, Israel, from April 25 to May 2, 2013. In document No. 260/TGCP-HTQT, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs approved the application of seven members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam to attend the event, including: Nguyễn Thức; Nguyễn Hoàng Lộc; Nguyễn Thị Lâm; Lê Nhất Phương Hồng; Diệp Đình Hữu; Bùi Phước Kỳ Nam; Nguyễn Đình Thỏa.[1] The delegation from the Bahá’í Community of Vietnam travelled to Israel on April 24, and returned to Vietnam today, May 5, via Turkish Airlines.

Participants from 157 countries registered to attend the Convention. The nine members of National Spiritual Assemblies from around the world acted as delegates to elect the Universal House of Justice. Those who could not attend sent their ballots by mail. […]

The official programme of the Convention lasted four days, from April 29 to May 2. The plan for April 25–27 included registration, orientation, visits to the Holy Places in Haifa and ‘Akká, and prayers in the Mausoleum of the Báb (in Haifa) and the Holy Tomb of Bahá’u’lláh (in ‘Akká), so that delegates might pray and meditate to aid them in casting their ballots to elect the Universal House of Justice in a spiritual atmosphere. […]

Delegates gathered in front of stage in colourful costumes

Continue reading

to follow a path of service…

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MNHS_Yes-O_Mangrove_Tree_Planting_at_Bugang_River (1)

To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity. In this connection, the benefit of walking that path in the company of others is immense. Loving fellowship, mutual encouragement, and willingness to learn together are natural properties of any group of youth sincerely striving for the same ends, and should also characterize those essential relationships that bind together the components of society.

The Universal House of Justice, July 1, 2013

Photo: MNHS Yes-O Mangrove Tree Planting at Bugang River, JC T. Alonsagay (CC BY-SA)

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.