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.

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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.

martin luther king jr. day

children's partyJanuary 15th, 2007 is Martin Luther King Day, an American national holiday that celebrates the birthday—and the life and times—of Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian minister who championed the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. You may be familiar with his “I Have a Dream” speech, given at the March on Washington in 1963, when he expressed the hope that the black and white races would one day live in perfect equality, harmony and unity. This sentiment is echoed in Bahá’u’lláh’s command unto humanity: “Close your eyes to racial differences, and welcome all with the light of oneness.”

Read more about the Baha’i perspective on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.

Since Martin Luther King Day is celebrated as a Day of Service, we may also want to consider today ways in which we can serve humanity. Visit the US Government’s official MLK Day website for service ideas, or consider your own ways you can volunteer or be of service. (Hint: to go along with the picture above, you may want to help out at your friendly neighbourhood children’s class!)

contemplating today

shrine of the Báb from afar. photo: Maurice & Marcelle TurgeonToday is (or was) Sunday, the 24th of September, 2006. Just a month plus a couple of days until Ottawa’s Baha’i community begins a new cycle of its program of growth; the same amount of time will pass before I leave for pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. Both of these are preoccupying me at the moment. Before I leave for pilgrimage, I need to get quite a whack of documentation done up: renew my health card, renew my driver’s license (which will entail taking my G-level exam), get passport photos taken and signed by garantors, to name a few. I need to read up on safe travel guidelines for pilgrims coming to the World Centre, so that I’m not taken by surprise during my visit. Oh yeah: most people are surprised when I tell them that I’ve never been on an airplane. Never meaning “once, when I was one and a half years old and I don’t remember a thing about it”. So that’ll be an interesting experience. And beyond all the material preparations, there are the spiritual preparations for pilgrimage. I’m not sure that I’m fully ready to sit and pray in the Shrines and be able to take it all in. I’m afraid I’ll just be so overwhelmed, or worse, be left unaware of the full magnitude of the experience. I suppose everybody goes through that sort of self-questioning… like ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, when in doubt, pray for strength. It will be given to you, no matter how difficult the circumstances. More about this later.

And then there’s life in Ottawa, and my service goals for the year. I just came back from a tutor meeting tonight (Sunday night—had to skip choir 🙁 ). We went over the latest guidance from the Universal House of Justice, looking at it from the perspective of our roles as tutors.

Note: In this case, for those who may not know, “tutor” is just shorthand for someone who facilitates the sequence of courses offered by the Ruhi Institute, a community development program that focuses on the development of skills of service through the application of spiritual insights that are gained through profound study of the Baha’i Writings. Anyone who has completed said sequence of courses can act as a tutor; most commonly, we say that such a person “acts as a tutor” rather than bestowing a title of “Tutor” upon them. —dj

Much of our discussion focused on how we could be more effective in our service as tutors; for example, focusing on implementing the practice component of institute courses—which transforms the course from a mere academic exercise to a skill-building experience. Lots of food for thought. It should help me a lot in planning how I want to serve in the near future. So far, I plan to put a sizable chunk of my effort into our neighbourhood francophone children’s class. That’s going well so far; I already have an outline of the curriculum done up for the entire school year, up to August, all based on the modified Furutan curriculum provided by the Canadian Spiritual Assembly. That’s mental! And it’s already way past what we were able to do last year. I really feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence and know-how from the past year’s experience of co-teaching this class—and that makes me feel quite optimistic about the challenge of the new year ahead.

One last note, relating to my own personal development: Certain things have been happening lately that have made me look back at the past few years of my life. Right now, I see how far my life has come in the past ten years and I’m almost brought to tears, tears of joy and of gratitude. Fact is, I barely recognize myself now. I feel like my life has done a complete volte-face, or about-face. When I was 16, I never would have thought that one day I would be confidently teaching children’s classes, establishing a successful career doing something I really enjoy, developing healthy, nourishing friendships and relationships with people I love and care about. Whereas I was quietly depressed as a teenager, now I feel like bursting with joy at the prospect of really living a rich and fulfilling life. There’s so much to tell about this that I don’t have the time to share right now, but God willing, I’ll be able to share some of these things with you. Have a good day at work or at school and keep the comments (and emails) coming.

Photo: Maurice & Marcelle Turgeon.

back from sherbrooke / de retour de sherbrooke

so I travelled down to Sherbrooke this past weekend, to visit my friends – the Baha’i youth – and to welcome back Catherine and Geneviève, who’ve been serving in Gabon for the past eight months and a half. It was a treat and a pleasure to see every one of them – I truly enjoyed myself, and felt none of the anxiety I sometimes experience when I’m in social situations. I think I must truly love these youth. I’m certainly proud of their level of energy, their great love for each other, and their willingness to bend their efforts to fulfill the Plan of God for this Day. Remember the Canadian Baha’i National Convention, where Baha’i institutions announced their intention to establish 40-odd intensive programs of growth across Canada to help meet the goals of the current Five Year Plan given to us by the Universal House of Justice? Sherbrooke’s Baha’i community is among those targeted for growth. And to know the Baha’is who live there, you know they’re ready. The love and devotion expressed in that community is awesome. I just hope I can share a part of their path.

C’était avec une grande joie que j’ai pu me rendre à Sherbrooke cette fin de semaine pour célébrer le retour au Canada de Catherine et Geneviève, deux jeunes baha’ies de l’Estrie qui sont parties au Gabon pour presque neuf mois pour enseigner la Foi baha’ie et servir l’humanité. Il y avait plein de monde là pour fêter leur retour, y compris la famille, leurs amis du cégep et de l’université, et bien sûr une gang de jeunes baha’is. Et bien sûr il y avait plein de bouffe (du barbecue, sous une averse de pluie). On a beaucoup jasé, et puis bien sûr on a pris le temps de regarder tous leurs photos du Gabon en format diaporama, avec leurs commentaires. À la fin de la soirée, on est allé voir des films on s’est loué un X-box on a enlevé les tresses à Catherine et on s’est couché tard. Le lendemain, après un bon déjeûner, du bon jasage et un fracas au Pictionary, moi, David et Karine ont repris la route pour Ottawa.

Ça me fait remémorer mes années de service au Québec de revoir Cat et Gege, de les entendre raconter leurs histoires de bonheur et de malheur. Il y a quelque chose qui se passe quand on est pionnier pour sa Foi qui provoque un changement, non, une transformation profonde, et ce pour tous et chacun sans exception. Ça m’a vraiment touché d’être ramené à réfléchir sur cette transformation en l’observant dans les autres.

Cette transformation intérieure dans nous-mêmes provoque des changements externes, bien sûr – on devient plus à l’aise avec le service parce qu’on connaît ça. On comprend mieux ceux qui souffrent, qui se sentent seuls ou désespérés, parce qu’on a vécu ça. Et, du moins je l’espère, on comprend un peu mieux ce que ça veut dire d’aimer Dieu et de s’en remettre à Lui. Tous ceux qui songent à servir en tant que pionnier, et même ceux qui se demandent s’ils auront jamais la force ou la foi ou le détachement nécessaire pour une telle affaire, faites-moi confiance – allez-y, et mettez le doute à côté. Et ceux qui ne peuvent pas? Participez dans les programmes intensifs de croissance, joignez-vous à un cercle d’étude, ou, si vous êtes animateur, offrez-en un à votre cercle d’amis qui cherchent à connaître la foi baha’ie, ses écrits et ses principes. Chacun de nous peut laisser son empreinte et contribuer au Plan Divin.

C’est tout pour l’instant, mais gardez l’oeil ouvert pour des photos de la fin de semaine sur mon site flickr!