5 things to do while you’re waiting for the 95 youth conferences

what's happened to me?!?So, you’ve heard the news. In a letter dated 8 February 2013, the Universal House of Justice announced the convocation of 95 youth conferences across the globe. And whether you live in Kinshasa or Kiribati, in Auckland or Atlanta, in Chisinau or Cochabamba, you’re hyped. The excitement is coursing through your veins like a fever, and the only prescription is for summer to come as quickly as possible.

But why wait? You can start preparing right now for your local youth conference, whether it’s in July, October or any time in between. Here are five little tips—call them humble suggestions—that can help you pass the time constructively until the time for your local youth conference rolls around.

  1. Brush up on the latest guidance. You’ve probably read the 8 February 2013 message already; why not take a half-hour out of your morning to study it a little more? You’ll get a sense of what the 95 conferences will be all about, and why exactly the Universal House of Justice is calling on you right now. If you haven’t managed to get yourself a copy of the letter yet, get in touch with the closest Spiritual Assembly or Auxiliary Board Member, and ask if they could send it over. And while you’re at it, make plans to study other important pieces of guidance, too. The 2010 Ridván message is a good one, as are the 28 December 2010 and 12 December 2011 messages.
  2. Get trained up—especially with Ruhi Book 5. Having brushed up on the latest guidance, you’ll probably see a trend emerge: the empowerment of junior youth is a big deal, and a huge part of the Plan. Without knowing much more about the content of the upcoming conferences, then, it’s a safe bet that involvement with junior youth will feature prominently. Getting trained in Book 5 of the Ruhi curriculum—Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth—will give you one up when your local conference rolls around. And beyond that, don’t forget that Ruhi Book 8—The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh—is being piloted worldwide, and may be available in your area. Studying either one of these is transformative enough on its own—imagine two in a row!
  3. Pick a path of service. The call of the Universal House of Justice is pretty clear: we are standing at a pivotal moment in history. “For the present generation,” they wrote in their 8 February letter, “the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessing will flow in abundance.” Naturally, we might wonder: Can I really do a “life of service”? What should I be doing to serve? Well as they say, every journey starts with a single step, and the first step into service is just to pick something and start doing it. Maybe you’ve studied Book 5 and found it awesome, so you might decide to dedicate yourself to empowering and inspiring junior youth. Or maybe you’ve found that you’re best at teaching younger children, or studying the Word of God with other youth or adults, or sharing prayers with others, or visiting those who are isolated or ill, and so on. Wherever it is that your talents lie, you can focus on using them to serve mankind. And if you’re not sure where your path lies, then it doesn’t hurt just to try something out to gain some experience.
  4. Get to know your neighbourhood. Go back ten or fifteen years and ask any youth where they planned to go and offer a year of service, and you’d get a list of destinations scattered across the planet. Nowadays, though, don’t be surprised if you hear friends telling you they’ll be staying right where they are. The focus for service is shifting closer and closer to home—from your own city to your neighbourhood. Whether or not you have concrete plans to serve, a great way to prepare is to just look at your neighbourhood. Are there a lot of young families, elderly couples, single mothers? Do they have young children or junior youth? What are their pastimes, their concerns, and their hopes for the future? The more you learn about your neighbours, the better you can build close, loving connections that will not only enable you to serve better, but uplift the whole community.
  5. Pray, meditate, and conquer yourself. This might just be one of the most important things you can do to prepare. When Shoghi Effendi learned that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had appointed him as the Guardian, he retreated for a long time to Switzerland in order to pray and meditate, until he conquered himself—at which point he returned to the Holy Land to become the Guardian. Prayer gives us strength to meet life’s challenges. In fact, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá assures us that if we pray for strength, it will be given to us, “no matter how difficult the conditions”—no matter how reluctant, inadequate and powerless we may feel. And through meditation and reflection, He explains, one “receives the breath of the Holy Spirit”; meditation “frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.” The challenge laid before us by the Universal House of Justice will require us to reflect, to commit, and to steel ourselves, calling on a strength that is beyond ourselves, and relying on an abundant flow of blessings—and to accomplish this, deepening our spiritual life through prayer, meditation and reflection will be essential.

Now that the season of the Bahá’í Fast is upon us, we’re joining with Bahá’ís of all ages in every nation in abstaining from food and drink, and, above all, engaging in the more important spiritual Fast, with all the self-reflection, prayer and meditation that it entails. Soon enough, Naw-ruz will be here, ushering a new year full of promise and opportunity—the opportunity for young people across the world “to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life.” What better time than now to start preparing ourselves—reflecting, committing, and steeling ourselves to play our part in writing the future?

spring cleaning the baha’i centre

It’s a warm, sunny Saturday in Ottawa. Saturday has become a de facto Service Day; I tend to spend most of my time here in the Baha’i Centre on Saturdays, while Sunday is quickly becoming a family-time day (for the past few weekends, anyway). This morning, our children’s class did a little spring cleaning on the grounds surrounding the Baha’i Centre, picking up trash in the parking lots and sweeping old leaves into piles to stuff into garden bags. They were proud to have offered a service to the Earth, or “one percent of a hundred percent” of the Earth anyway. The Weather Channel showed an interview this morning(!) with David Suzuki, who spoke a little about public involvement in keeping climate change and the environment high on Canada’s and the world’s agendas—mainly focusing on political action, of course. We seem to be doing our part of spreading some environmental awareness in our children’s class—we’ve already done several classes full of gardening and a few other ones about recycling and taking care of the Earth; that, and the children seem to be learning a lot about being “green” at school, which is good to see. Commuting by bike is an enjoyable way to stay environmentally friendly too—now that the sun is out, I’ve been biking to the children’s class every Saturday morning, since I don’t have a car (oh, and I just happen to live a twenty-minute walk away).

That’s all for now; time to close up shop.

blitherblather

today’s a fine sunny day and I’m inside :O oh well, it’s for a good cause anyway—looking after the Baha’i Centre while a children’s class is at the playground down the street, in case parents come early looking for their kids. spring has come to Ottawa like a mad berserker, pumping the temperature up to 25 C with clear, bright blue skies and nary a cloud. the funny thing? piles of snow still persist after this winter’s heavy snowfall, so every hundred metres or so you’ll see a (dirty) pile of it—they’re shrinking though. I took my bike out and started riding it into work—such a treat! I’ve been waiting the whole winter to ride my bike again; it’s my favourite form of exercise. I’ll certainly need it after visiting a sugar bush last weekend… 😛

For those of you who read childrensclasses.org, I’ve kept up with the regular children’s class at the Baha’i Centre with very few interruptions. It’s been a little difficult this past season—the winter brought me down a lot, mood-wise; I still haven’t managed to work in some good, regular winter activities to keep my spirits up when it’s cold and dark. Winter’s becoming less and less my favourite season because of it (although I still enjoy the month of December). Anyway, I digress. The class has been smaller this season, and a lot of the cooler activities and initiatives we’ve talked about haven’t really happened; I blame my own lethargy 😛 Still, the important thing is that we haven’t let up on it—we’ll be going on our fifth year of classes soon. Not bad huh?

A little personal note: I’ve started watching a lot of anime. I went through the entire Rozen Maiden series, and I’m currently watching Azumanga Daioh as well. I’ve gotten lots of recommendations from friends so far, so there’s no shortage of anime left to watch… maybe this is a sign that I’ll get over my dislike of watching TV and movies soon? One can only hope.

welcome to 2008

santa's in the hoodthe Gregorian calendar year came and went without much of a fuss this year—much like last year, when I was holed up in Winnipeg watching movies, I spent the fateful moment with friends (Tassnim, Basim and Rhetta) watching DVDs and eating pie and ice cream.

After a short visit with brother Gabriel and his family to bring them soup and good cheer, my parents dropped me off at Catherine’s place to feed her cat while she’s away in Vancouver. No sooner had I broken out the kibble than the windows began to rattle, resounding with the clatter of an early-evening fireworks show. I dashed downstairs, across a church courtyard and into the streets of downtown, following the noise and the lights into the back lot of the Supreme Court building, which offers a most beautiful view of the Ottawa River and was the perfect place to see the entire display of fire and light. It was a very impressive display, put together to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Ottawa’s designation as the capital city of Canada back in 1857. Several people remarked—to my agreement—that the fireworks display was more impressive than most Canada Day fireworks, what with the entire span of the Alexandra Bridge outfitted with fireworks shooting left, right and centre, reminiscent of the millennial fireworks in Sydney, Australia I remember seeing on television back on New Year’s Eve 1999.


Continue reading

sunday snow day

snowstorm aftermathhuge snowstorm swept through the Ottawa area today, coating the landscape with white fluffy snow. the roads got pretty fouled up, so most people (myself included) stayed inside to do laundry, play with the cat, read, and blog. it was fun. it brought back memories of the snowstorm a few years back in Drummondville—you know, the one that preceded my accident. instead of spinning out on a major highway and landing sideways in a snowbank, though, I have a lithotripsy session to look forward to tomorrow (Monday) in order to break up the kidney stone that’s still hanging around inside me after causing problems in mid-November. that’s a whole other story which I’ll share with you later on; for now, prayers would be much appreciated so that everything goes well.

thank goodness the holiday season is coming soon; hopefully I should have some time to rest and recover from the treatment—no big trips scheduled for now, unless they’re short ones. I keep thinking I’d like to pop by Montreal for a little bit to visit friends but I suppose I’d have to hook something up first. argh planning! we’ll see. things are wonderfully busy here in Ottawa; I spent part of yesterday (Saturday) with another Baha’i friend, following up with some people we met during the Varqa Teaching Project in November. it was a really moving experience—we were visiting a neighbour of mine who seemed to be very receptive to the Message of Bahá’u’lláh and very open to learning more about it through further home visits and Ruhi Book 1. I felt blown away and humbled by the experience. Again, I’ll write more about that later on as things continue to progress; needless to say, it’s the first time I’ve felt so confirmed while teaching the Faith.

fire and snow

Martin’s been away for the past two weeks, participating in a program called Fire and Snow that’s been organized by the Baha’i Institute Board of Ontario. Following in the footsteps of the successful “Pebbles to Pearls” program offered in Summer 2006, Fire and Snow offers its participants the opportunity to learn about establishing and sustaining community-building activities for the general public and to gain tangible experience with community outreach. The program revolves around community groups for junior youth[1], aimed to help them “develop their capacities for teaching and service” and to “learn and strengthen their identity as selfless servants to humanity”. I’ll let Martin explain what’s been happening lately…

Things are going well here at the Fire and Snow training in Toronto. As you know I’m here with Mom and we are delivering firesides[2] (hastily armed with Anna’s presentation[3] and themes for elevating conversations[4]), knocking on doors and inviting to core activities[5], and sustaining those core activities as we go. Today we held a junior youth course with seven junior youth from the neighbourhood, a Baha’i children’s class with the same amount of children, a Baha’i devotional gathering with five people, and we are hoping to launch a mothers’ group tomorrow—using materials that we have not even seen—or are confident that we will be able to get in time—a feature that describes much of the nature of our work!

Basically we study from the books composing the main sequence of the Ruhi curriculum[6] (in our case, we used Books 2, 3, 5 and 6) during the morning and early afternoon and then prep quickly and go to our neighbourhoods from 6-9pm. It took some getting used to physically, but we soon established a rhythm (our days are from 7am-11:00pm).

There is nothing, on the whole, ‘magical’ about the process, just tons of Ruhi done with breakneck speed, heaps of singing and prayers, sagacious words from the Counsellor[7], and of course, unremitting action in the field of teaching.

Helpful Glossary:

[1] “Junior youth” refers to young adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14. youth in this age group are granted particular importance in the Baha’i community, falling as they do just before the “age of maturity” as defined by Baha’u’llah (15), by which time advanced mental, emotional and spiritual faculties are developed.

[2] “Firesides” (or “fireside chats”) usually refer to a friendly encounter in someone’s home, for the purpose of introducing someone to the Bahá’í Faith. The term originated with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who broadcasted his presidential addresses via “fireside chats”, creating an intimate and accessible atmosphere by holding them in his home, by the fire.

[3] “Anna’s presentation” is a nickname referring to several sections of Book 6 of the Ruhi curriculum, “Teaching the Cause”, in which participants explore how to effectively share with receptive souls a general overview (or presentation) of the Baha’i Faith that is detailed enough to be considered complete. When people talk about using “Anna’s presentation” they are generally referring to using notes they have distilled from these sections in order to present an accurate and complete overview of the Baha’i Faith.

[4] The act of “elevating conversations” refers to a skill developed in the last unit of Book 2 of the Ruhi curriculum, “Arising to Serve”. Participants study the many talks and lectures of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and familiarize themselves with the way He introduced uplifting topics and ideas into conversation, that they may use that same skill in their everyday lives.

[5] “Core activities” are fundamental activities on which healthy communities are founded, and which make up the core of Baha’i Community life worldwide. There are four generally recognized “core activities”, which are present with great variety and diversity throughout the world: devotional meetings (for prayer and meditation), study circles (to learn skills of service through interaction with the Creative Word of God), junior youth groups (to develop the latent capacities of young youth aged 12-14; see #1 above) and children’s classes (for the moral and spiritual education of children).

[6] The “Ruhi curriculum” refers to a sequence of courses offered as distance education by the Ruhi Institute in Colombia. the courses are offered as part of a dynamic curriculum meant to build skills of service, which, in turn, can be used to build a community. the courses involve examination of and interaction with the writings of the Bahá’í Faith, so as to understand their meaning and apply them to the real world. The “main sequence” of the Ruhi curriculum consists of the seven books which make up the foundation of this curriculum. For more information, visit Ruhi Resources.

[7] “Counsellors” are appointed individuals who serve on the continental level within the Baha’i administrative order as learned advisors to individuals and institutions. They hold no executive or legislative power; their only role is to advise. Counsellors and their auxiliaries often provide a much-needed global perspective to local efforts through their close ties to the World Centre of the Baha’i Faith.