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.

a light to the world

Talking to the four-year-old about blogging.

Papa: I’m going to be doing some writing soon.
Dude: Writing?
Papa: Yeah, writing. What do you think I should write about?
Dude: Write about Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday.
Papa: That’s a good idea. What should I write about Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday?
Dude: Write about how Bahá’u’lláh was always worried about the poor, and how He took care of them.
Papa: OK.
Dude: And how He loved roses.
Papa: That’s good too. Any other special things I should write about?
Dude: Write how He wrote a lot of things, all of His teachings.
Papa: That’s a great idea. What kinds of teachings?
Dude: He taught us that we have to be kind and love each other.

On the weekend of October 21st–22nd, Bahá’ís around the world celebrated the Festival of the Twin Holy Birthdays, which commemorate the “twin birthdays” of the Twin Manifestations of the Bahá’í Faith: The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. That would be awesome on its own, but this year also happens to be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. During this bicentenary year, officials and public figures around the world have paid tribute to Bahá’u’lláh and to His teachings, which have inspired a growing worldwide community, characterized by its unity and inclusivity, to arise and dedicate themselves to lives of service to their fellow human beings, becoming like a light to the world.

Bahá’u’lláh was born to a noble Persian family. His father was a minister in the court of the Sháh, and it was expected that He would follow in His father’s footsteps. Instead, however, He dedicated himself to caring for those who were less fortunate than He was, becoming known as the “Father of the Poor” for His great generosity. Even while very young, He showed signs of greatness that led others to believe that He was destined for something much greater than a life of ease in the court of the Sháh.

In time, Bahá’u’lláh became a follower of the Báb, who had proclaimed that the time had come for a renewal of religion, and that a great figure would soon be made manifest to bring humanity into a new era of justice and peace. Bahá’u’lláh quickly became a respected and influential member of the Báb’s religion. But because many of the clergy of Persia felt threatened by the Báb’s message, Bahá’u’lláh also became a target for those who wished ill will to the new religion. In 1853, Bahá’u’lláh and many others were imprisoned in a notorious, stench-filled dungeon in Tehran known as the “Black Pit”, or Siyáh-Chál. Although this was one of the darkest moments of Bahá’u’lláh’s life, it was also the moment at which a new light dawned upon Him; it was in this dungeon that He received a Divine revelation that He was that great figure whose advent was foretold by the Báb.

Released from the dungeon after four months, Bahá’u’lláh was banished from Persia to Baghdád, in the Ottoman Empire. He spent many years in the area, including two years living in solitude in the mountains of Kurdistan. With every year, His fame continued to grow. Fearing His growing influence, the Persian authorities petitioned the Ottoman authorities to remove Bahá’u’lláh to a place farther from Persian borders. The people of Baghdád wept when they learned He was to leave the city, but their sorrow would turn into joy when, in a rose-filled garden known as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise), Bahá’u’lláh declared Himself to be the One whom the Báb had foretold. During the twelve days He spent in that garden—days which are now celebrated as the Festival of Ridván—He welcomed countless citizens: rich and poor, men and women, Jews, Christians and Muslims, beggars and dignitaries, offering them each a rose picked from the garden as a token of His loving-kindness.

Throughout His life, Bahá’u’lláh revealed many teachings and laws meant to help His followers work together to carry forward an ever-advancing, global civilization: “It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.” “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” With these words, and many more, He laid the foundation for a world that will eventually rise above petty differences and firmly establish a great peace based on principles of justice, equality, unity, and love.

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).

150-year anniversary, 170-year calendar

walking these blessed pathsThis year, Bahá’ís in all corners of the world celebrate a special anniversary: 150 years since Bahá’u’lláh, the Manifestation of God for this age, openly declared His mission to humankind. Round numbers inevitably give pause for reflection, and there’s been quite a lot of it recently. Lots of blogs and news sites have posted some potent reflections about Ridván, including Bahá’í Blog (written by Ottawa/Dalian’s own James Howden), Bahá’í Perspectives (returning after a long hiatus), the Canadian Bahá’í News Service, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Huffington Post, have all posted meaty articles about Ridván this year. Moreover, this year is that one year out of every five during which the Bahá’í International Convention takes place, a grand international gathering whose purpose is to elect the Universal House of Justice, the Institution at the head of the Bahá’í Faith. The convention starts on April 29, and delegates from around the world, from Virginia to Vietnam and from Finland to Fiji, have already gathered in the Holy Land to pray at the Bahá’í Shrines in Haifa and ‘Akká to prepare themselves for this most sacred duty.

The exhilaration one feels at living in this day, the day in which the newly reborn Faith of God is coalescing, raising up its Institutions and putting in place the structures that humanity needs to advance into the long-awaited stage of maturity, is incredible. So hard is it to describe that I don’t have too much to write about it yet. For the time being, I did want to address one very good question that’s come up recently that a few friends have had trouble putting to rest, one that has to do with the Bahá’í calendar.

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anticipating the fast

dawn of a new dayFebruary rolls around, and the groundhogs have poked out of their holes and carried about their business. Shadows or no shadows, we know the spring is coming, and with it, a busy season for Bahá’ís: First, Ayyam-i-Há, a time for fellowship, generosity, and hospitality; then the Feast of Loftiness, which opens the 19-day-long month of fasting from March 2nd–20th, 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 2013, complete with links to Fasting calendars for major Canadian cities and selected cities worldwide, and a ready-made chart for Ottawa.

ascension of ‘abdu’l-bahá

ascension of 'abdu'l-baháWe awoke after only a brief rest, and slipped downstairs quietly. lighting candles and gathering around the fireplace, we placed His portrait before us and began to call to mind His life, His sufferings, His legacy. It was 91 years ago tonight that He, the Master, the Mystery of God, had passed onwards into the spiritual worlds, a most unique and blessed soul returning to His place of origin, having done as much as He could with the time allotted to Him in the limited, physical worlds.

We commemorated His passing with reflections on the sufferings He endured, reading a section of His Will and Testament in which He described the calamities heaped upon Him by those who broke Baha’u’lláh’s Covenant:

O MY LORD, my heart’s Desire, Thou Whom I ever invoke, Thou Who art my Aider and my Shelter, my Helper and my Refuge! Thou seest me submerged in an ocean of calamities that overwhelm the soul, of afflictions that oppress the heart, of woes that disperse Thy gathering, of ills and pains that scatter Thy flock. Sore trials have compassed me round and perils have from all sides beset me. Thou seest me immersed in a sea of unsurpassed tribulation, sunk into a fathomless abyss, afflicted by mine enemies and consumed with the flame of their hate, enkindled by my kinsmen with whom Thou didst make Thy strong Covenant and Thy firm Testament, wherein Thou biddest them turn their hearts to this wronged one, to keep away from me the foolish, the unjust, and refer unto this lonely one all that about which they differ in Thy Holy Book, so that the Truth may be revealed unto them, their doubts may be dispelled and Thy manifest Signs be spread abroad.

Yet now Thou seest them, O Lord, my God! with Thine eye that sleepeth not, how that they have broken Thy Covenant and turned their backs thereon, how with hate and rebelliousness they have erred from Thy Testament and have arisen intent upon malice.

As a testament to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life, upon His passing, the entire city of Haifa was swept by “an unprecedented stir and tumult, and filling all hearts with unutterable grief”. This grief transcended all boundaries of race, nation and creed, uniting “Jews and Christians and Muslims and Druzes, of all persuasions and denominations; Arabs and Turks and Kurds and Armenians and other ethnic groups… in mourning His passing, in being aware of a great loss they had suffered.” (H.M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 452.)

This year, which marks the 100th anniversary of His visit to North America, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada has asked each of us to consider how each of us might carry on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s legacy through our own actions, becoming involved, as He did, with the people around Him, striving to improve their situations and contribute to their well-being, and to be to each one of them a channel of God’s grace. Six years ago on this day, I wrote down my own personal list of “to-do” items, many of which still stand: increasing my involvement with children’s classes; encouraging others to serve in whatever capacity they are able; making effort to turn towards God each day, imploring His assistance; teaching and serving with selflessness and humility. On this day, then, I concentrate my thoughts on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and ask God to help me follow His example more closely, little by little, day by day, and to “strengthen me in my servitude“.