November 20, 2009

true seeker

i am pausing and reflecting on who i am in relation to God's purpose for my soul in this life. this Selection from Baha'u'llah's holy book focuses directly on what my soul needs to embody before i can receive this answer:

But, O my brother, when a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading to the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse and purify his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy. He must purge his breast, which is the sanctuary of the abiding love of the Beloved, of every defilement, and sanctify his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all shadowy and ephemeral attachments. He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth. Even as thou dost witness in this day how most of the people, because of such love and hate, are bereft of the immortal Face, have strayed far from the Embodiments of the divine mysteries, and, shepherdless, are roaming through the wilderness of oblivion and error. That seeker must at all times put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords. He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vainglory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence, and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century.
(Bahá’í Faith, Baha’u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 192)

August 05, 2009

Food is making us sick

this is such a good article, as are so many on for ecological news!!

July 16, 2009

radiance of spirit ~ the Xhosa people

i love the Xhosa people i meet in cape town!  i admire how they are radiant in spirit in spite of the apartheid past and the lack of true support from those in cape town who aren’t Xhosa. every person i have met is surprised about me learning the language or going to the townships. it seems so natural to me yet i know most white people cling to what makes them comfortable without adjusting their way of life if they don’t have to. i know many people’s hearts are good but they don’t realize how significant it is to extend a sincere hello in another language, or make an effort to be a genuine friend. overall there is genuine regard for others but the self-preservation of culture seems to take over one’s sense of moving beyond cordial relationships. each generation has the potential to be full of all-embracing acceptance and love. i know it takes time, just like with america’s race relations, but it is God’s Will for humanity to be like a beautiful garden of diversity and unity, all together, contributing unique aspects of culture to the whole beauty of humanity. this is the last stage of humanity’s progression: unity of the human race. to me, it doesn’t mean uniformity. it means a recognition of our Oneness which deeply pervades our consciousness to enable the love we have in our hearts to transcend limited notions of the human family. this is where the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh ignite a spark of hope and keep it lit with constancy.

i know i am a soul who plays a unique part in helping humanity move toward a spiritual civilization, one heart at a time. i know that service to the human race is my true reality and purpose in this life. i strive constantly to overcome my weaknesses and instead grow in the perfections of God, day by day, little by little, until i wing my flight unto our soul’s eternal home….

it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the injustice in the world. i am easily sensitive to it and my heart feels pain deeply. i cannot rest then or be content with the current state of affairs, but i choose not the political path but rather the spiritual one.

July 12, 2009

O army of God! The Exalted One, the Báb, gave up His life. The Blessed Perfection gave up a hundred lives at every breath. He bore calamities. He suffered anguish. He was imprisoned. He was chained. He was made homeless and was banished to distant lands. Finally, then, He lived out His days in the Most Great Prison. Likewise, a great multitude of the lovers of God who followed this path have tasted the honey of martyrdom and they gave up everything -- life, possessions, kindred -- all they had. How many homes were reduced to rubble; how many dwellings were broken into and pillaged; how many a noble building went to the ground; how many a palace was battered into a tomb. And all this came about that humankind might be illumined, that ignorance might yield to knowledge, that men of earth might become men of heaven, that discord and dissension might be torn out by the roots, and the Kingdom of Peace become established over all the world. Strive ye now that this bounty become manifest, and this best-beloved of all hopes be realized in splendour throughout the community of man.

O army of God! Beware lest ye harm any soul, or make any heart to sorrow; lest ye wound any man with your words, be he known to you or a stranger, be he friend or foe. Pray ye for all; ask ye that all be blessed, all be forgiven. Beware, beware, lest any of you seek vengeance, even against one who is thirsting for your blood. Beware, beware, lest ye offend the feelings of another, even though he be an evil-doer, and he wish you ill. Look ye not upon the creatures, turn ye to their Creator. See ye not the never-yielding people, see but the Lord of Hosts. Gaze ye not down upon the dust, gaze upward at the shining sun, which hath caused every patch of darksome earth to glow with light. 74
O army of God! When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 72)

June 18, 2009

The potency of noble deeds and character

The wish of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, that which attracts His good pleasure and, indeed, His binding command, is that Baha'is, in all matters, even in small daily transactions and dealings with others, should act in accordance with the divine Teachings. He has commanded us not to be content with lowliness, humility and meekness, but rather to become manifestations of selflessness and utter nothingness. Of old, all have been exhorted to loyalty and fidelity, compassion and love; in this supreme Dispensation, the people of Baha are called upon to sacrifice their very lives. Notice the extent to which the friends have been required in the Sacred Epistles and Tablets, as well as in our Beloved's Testament, to be righteous, well-wishing, forbearing, sanctified, pure, detached from all else save God, severed from the trappings of this world and adorned with the mantle of a goodly character and godly attributes.

First and foremost, one should use every possible means to purge one's heart and motives, otherwise, engaging in any form of enterprise would be futile. It is also essential to abstain from hypocrisy and blind imitation, inasmuch as their foul odour is soon detected by every man of understanding and wisdom. Moreover, the friends must observe the specific times for the remembrance of God, meditation, devotion and prayer, as it is highly unlikely, nay impossible, for any enterprise to prosper and develop when deprived of divine bestowals and confirmation. One can hardly imagine what a great influence genuine love, truthfulness and purity of motives exert on the souls of men. But these traits cannot be acquired by any believer unless he makes a daily effort to gain them...

It is primarily through the potency of noble deeds and character, rather than by the power of exposition and proofs, that the friends of God should demonstrate to the world that what has been promised by God is bound to happen, that it is already taking place and that the divine glad-tidings are clear, evident and complete. For unless some illustrious souls step forth into the arena of service and shine out resplendent in the assemblage of men, the task of vindicating the truth of this Cause before the eyes of enlightened people would be formidable indeed. However, if the friends become embodiments of virtue and good character, words and arguments will be superfluous. Their very deeds will well serve as eloquent testimony, and their noble conduct will ensure the preservation, integrity and glory of the Cause of God.

(From a letter dated 19 December 1923 written by Shoghi Effendi to the Bahá'ís of the East - translated from the Persian)

May 13, 2009

service...with a soapy basin

Nthombekhaya, one of the mothers of the students in children's classes, had suggested she wash our car a few weeks ago. It's something we rarely get around to doing, and it was a mess. She must have wanted to wash it for months! When she proposed the idea, she explained that she does a very good job washing cars, and that all she wanted was a 2 litre bottle of Sprite. A 2 litre bottle of Sprite costs R14.95 which is about $2.00. We knew it was worth more to us, so we had planned that in addition to the bottle of Sprite, we would also offer some cash if she accepted.

We parked outside of Siboleke's home where we meet to hold children's classes every Saturday morning (the photo shows the front tip of our white Golf polo). The big blue basin was full of soapy water and cloths as the children helped Nthombekhaya prepare to wash our car. It was the coolest production line I've ever seen! Some were soaping up the car; others were using newspaper to clean our filthy hubcaps; 2 were inside the car brushing out the sand and crumbs; while others were scrubbing our floor mats and hanging them on the line to dry. Then many dry cloths were used to dry and polish the car in every possible spot they could reach. It brought me so much joy to see how eager the children were to help wash our car -- they were doing it purely for joy and excitement, not for any material compensation. :)
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May 05, 2009

a vignette..Delft Baha'i School ~ 2nd year

i will try to describe a picture of a typical Saturday morning in Delft, the township in Cape Town of Xhosa and colored populations where we hold Baha'i children's classes, Devotions and now 2 study circles on a weekly basis...
one of the classes praying to begin class
celebrating a Baha'i holy day in a vacant lot
we come off the highway and enter the main road which is always full of people walking, riding bicycles, standing and waiting for 'taxis' (vans that smoosh people in tightly), playing and pushing homemade go-carts, and carrying groceries. on every corner a little vegetable stand has bags of oranges, potatoes and onions while selling a variety of other produce. barber shops, car washes and cell phone shops are abundant as well. we drive about 2 miles until we turn into the neighborhood area of south Delft, passing one large shopping and market area of vendors selling products for the home and hygiene. we wind around until coming close to the area where we know most of the people now, and the children, jr. youth and adults wave, give us thumbs up, and sometimes run after the car until we park. it's always a joyful welcome and the heart leaps with love amongst all of us. we open up the hatch and the children are eager to assist us, taking the drums, bags and crate full of learning materials. if we arrive early enough, we'll give them the soccer and football as well before classes begin.

writing notes in booklets about virtues
joyful after Devotions in the evening time
the narrow roads are always obstructed by people walking slowly, dogs barking loudly, cement pieces sitting just enough in the way that you must turn your wheel to avoid them (sometimes they are used as goals for soccer), and lots of sand piled thickly in some areas where the wind has blown it. we park on a sandy lot next to a container that is full of gardening supplies for the proposed community garden that i can't wait to be involved with. we meet in the home of Siboleke and Noxolo Ngqathane who have graciously allowed the Baha'is to use their space for children's classes each Saturday morning. their home is spacious compared to many. white laminated cabinets are situated in such a way as to create a little kitchen area with hot plates, a sink and refrigerator. before we had clip boards to press on, children would use the kitchen area counter space to write and draw, standing up to do their work. one futon style couch lines the cement block walls, covered with a sheet that is tucked around to cover the old mattress. an old crate serves as a seat against the back of one of the kitchen cabinets. wood planks and wires adorn the ceiling with a bare lightbulb that is used only when necessary to bring light into the home, as well as a chain of paper people holding hands, one of the art projects done recently. two desks, an office chair and a bookshelf are lined up in the opposite corner of the couch to hold all of Siboleke's business materials and supplies [he is the community leader who serves voluntarily in many capacities, including on the Board of Directors for the local primary school; he is also a local pastor]. the last piece of furniture is a stereo unit where the dvd player, speaker and television are arranged. on that shelf is a photo of their son, Mphatiswa, from Bahá'í School classes last year.

special class teaching martial arts
American football: Dashiel taught them how to play & created tournaments
the room quickly fills up with children and jr. youth (the latter being often late to arrive) for group prayers, singing and announcements before classes begin. the children begin singing the Bahá'í prayers and songs on their own and always enjoy learning a new song. we have been able to share with them a handful of Baha'i songs in the Xhosa language, but we don't yet know any songs in the Afrikaans language which is spoken by the colored population. we now have 4 separate classes for 4 age groups: 3-5, 6-8, 9-10, and 11-14. we meet in 4 different homes, all of which have children in the classes. the spaces are small and inadequate by U.S. standards of comfort but no one cares or comments. it's just reality and it doesn't matter or hinder the experience. the jr. youth use an empty cement block garage which encourages groups sitting in a big oval on the ground and then provides ample space to practice dance workshop moves. what i always experience is this innermost sense of bliss when seeing the children's radiant faces and enthusiasm about these classes. we face so many obstacles, not just physical limitations but also cultural ones like mistrust and tension between the two populations, but there is a momentum of unity growing there, a release of spirit because of the Creative Word, and it is truly taking root in the hearts of that neighborhood.
Xhosa dancing during Baha'i celebration

Karin Abedian, artist, offering a special class to teach art

March 26, 2009

Dyami turning 8 years old

Dyami Mandela Douglas. Our middle child and eldest son. He touches everyone's lives in a unique way of being adorable, inquisitive, and pure-hearted. His heart is tender and his mind is brilliant. He's a brilliant star.

This morning, before 6am, he came and sat quietly very close to me while i was praying. He waited until there was silence and then asked if he could offer his prayers. He chose the short healing prayer, singing it in a sweet and lovely way. Then he recited one of the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah and quickly asked if he could have the very long-awaited cereal of his choice: chocolate-flavored rice krispies. :-)

His favorite friend this year is Amkele Nyamza, a kind and sincere soul. Being in South Africa for these very precious years of our children's lives makes it that much more special when celebrating one's entry into this world. How grateful we are to have this opportunity to grow as souls in a land which encompasses the beauty of diversity and awesome challenges to overcome racial prejudice. Dyami is a pure-hearted soul who is naturally breaking down all the racial barriers at school - he is a companion to all without regard to race. What a most joyful day it is to honor Dyami's birthday.

March 10, 2009

Rainn Wilson on Oprah

This is a special moment in the history of the Baha'i Faith because a tv actor/comedian spoke with Oprah about the Faith while millions of her fans listened. I feel happy to share this with friends, so I'm posting it here as well, just to capture the moment. :-)

March 08, 2009

service is the magnet

Each Saturday morning, in a neighborhood of south Delft, South Africa, 3 children's classes and one jr. youth class are now being held in the home of a family who is supporting the early stages of a Baha'i School. This year's classes began on February 6th with a lot of excitement in the neighborhood after a long holiday without the classes. It's been 5 weeks of trying to coordinate teachers and settle many logistical obstacles along the way. Each week feels like an investment toward the children's lives, their souls, nurturing the seed of their faith and community which is being immeasurably touched and affected by Baha'u'llah's Message of Oneness, universal brotherhood, and the upholding of a moral rectitude of conduct which is being revealed and understood very gradually. We are just now at a point where I feel a sense of sustainability exists for building momentum for the year ahead.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of this undertaking. Most of the children speak Xhosa and Afrikaans as their first language. It isn't until the age of 9 or so that a lesson can be understood well enough in English by the students to convey basic concepts, principles and words such as purity of heart, gems, nobility, character and conduct. We haven't had any Xhosa-speaking Baha'is be able to teach a class, and local help with translation is hard to come by. The logistics of ensuring that the classes are held are often full of unpredictability, unreliability, miscommunication, cancellations, and a lack of commitment. In addition, it is difficult for me to create an atmosphere of praiseworthy conduct in an environment where many students do not yet listen while I speak, wait politely for their turn, show consideration to others, respect the girls, etc. Abdu'l-Baha reminds us what we are facing along this journey:
"Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory.

It is, however, very difficult to undertake this service, even harder to succeed in it. I hope that thou wilt acquit thyself well in this most important of tasks, and successfully carry the day, and become an ensign of God's abounding grace; that these children, reared one and all in the holy Teachings, will develop natures like unto the sweet airs that blow across the gardens of the All-Glorious, and will waft their fragrance around the world."

(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 133)

By the end of February, I had spoken several times with the children's class coordinator about a lack of teachers for the classes. The cluster is aware that this is a receptive population and it has grown so fast within the past 6 months. We were planning on having 4 separate classes this year. Just when it started to become discouraging, I supplicated for assistance and the ability to arise with greater capacity to sustain the attendance of so many interested souls. A few days later a person who hasn't shown any interest in serving in this capacity came to me and said she was ready to commit as a full-time teacher for one of the classes! In addition, that same evening, a Xhosa Baha'i also said he was keen to be a much-needed teacher for the 3-5 year olds who understand very little English! It was such a sign of faith in action as I needed to keep on, keepin' on...

These past 5 weeks have been quite difficult in terms of seeing the potential for this Baha'i School remain unrealized and possibly damaged as teachers do not arise to serve, as venues and curriculum are not available when the students are ready, and chaos and confusion occur. Throughout all these challenges and sometimes feeling overwhelmed, there is nothing that prevents me from striving with all my heart, mind and time to exert effort in this direction. I continue to put my trust in God while constantly needing to practice patience and understanding, search for solutions, and then witness the divine confirmations which inevitably come as a result of perseverance, determination, long-suffering and steadfastness. I am compelled from the depths of my inner being to serve these children no matter what the tests are along the way. As long as I keep striving to selflessly serve in this capacity as the person who is getting it off the ground, the grace of Baha'u'llah continues to enable this embryonic Baha'i School to grow.

"Faith is the magnet which draws the confirmation of the Merciful One. Service is the magnet which attracts the heavenly strength."

(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v1, p. 62)

March 03, 2009

Voluntary Sharing

My husband and I recently prepared a talk on the Baha'i Faith. We consulteda lot on how to put together a powerpoint presentation. It soon became obviously clear that it was difficult to keep the presentation short and brief with regard to the principles, the purpose, the history, and most importantly the spiritual significance of the Writings. We looked all through the online websites which offer a magnificent and beautiful portrayal of the Faith. I also used the Ocean search engine to find all of Abdu'l-Baha's speeches about the Faith of Baha'u'llah. They inspired and helped us tremendously. When it came time to decide what to keep and what to leave out at this time for the purpose of this presentation, however, my heart was struggling about what was most important or significant to convey. It was drawn like a magnet to this one teaching which isn't often among the first principles explained to people who have never heard of Baha'u'llah:

"...among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is voluntary sharing of one's property with others among mankind. This voluntary sharing is greater than equality, and consists in this, that man should not prefer himself to others, but rather should sacrifice his life and property for others. But this should not be introduced by coercion so that it becomes a law and man is compelled to follow it. Nay, rather, man should voluntarily and of his own choice sacrifice his property and life for others, and spend willingly for the poor..." (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 288)

This teaching makes my heart beat fast in an impatient sort of way as I desperately long for the people of the world to begin to wholeheartedly prefer others before themselves in an economic manner. When we reflect on the lives of Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian as the truest examples of servitude unto others and thriftiness in all the use of their means, we see a completely different standard of conducting one's affairs and usage of time and substance.

In every country of the world, some to lesser or greater degrees, there exists the extremes of wealth and poverty. This extreme extends deep into every area of life, denying those without opportunities of a good education and fair housing a part in the building of a new and spiritual civilization, while denying those with all the privileges of wealth and opportunities passed down through the generations a part in contributing to the welfare and prosperity for all. As a Baha'i I know that this principle will not be embodied in the world unless the love for Baha'u'llah and the reality that we are all truly one beats within the innermost chambers of the heart...but it will become a reality in its fullest transformative capacity as more people respond to this glorious Cause.

This principle, just one of so many, is so powerful, so revolutionary, and so potent that it makes me profoundly humble to call myself a follower of Baha'u'llah and His Teachings. It is particularly powerful because Baha'u'llah didn't make it a law whereby it must be enforced by coercion. In this Day of God, the pure and generous-hearted soul must offer itself without being forced by law to do so. It is a spiritual principle that transcends the outward guidelines of the necessary laws which govern individuals' lives and society in general. I am still at a loss to describe it adequately enough...

Dash and I noticed during the presentation that the audience was quite interested in this teaching. In a land where the remnants of apartheid linger abundantly in how most people still live their lives, we could see the Word of God for this Day touching those whose hearts were ready to let it take root.

February 20, 2009

Peace Blossoms in Delft

Sahba Shaker & Siboleke Ngqathane in Delft with a group of students
Last Saturday's session for Baha'i School in Delft felt like a milestone had been achieved. We hooked up a mic so we could hear the children speak. It was our second class since the new year began. It was time to create rules of good conduct. I wanted them to come up with the suggestions themselves. The mic enabled what is usually a very challenging process of encouraging them to speak, the most enjoyable experience of offering ideas for what will make this year's classes a success.

With much ease, the children raised their hands and excitedly offered rules like "No stealing", "Come into the class with a good attitude toward learning", and "Don't disturb others". I couldn't stop smiling. This group of children were demonstrating how much they care about the environment within the class. It was the first time full attention was focused on what matters the most about us coming together and enjoying the class. They were so eager to keep it going -- and the microphone was the key to opening up their sense of feeling important or significant because it was so quiet and everyone was actually listening (which is so NOT the norm).

I feel now we can always refer to the list of rules and they will own them. It's a new beginning and a long but tremendously rewarding road to walk with them as they begin to blossom into peaceful blossoms.

January 27, 2009

T.I.A. ~ this is africa

I just experienced a little TIA. I was gathering produce in my basket without plastic bags in the spirit of trying to reduce waste and live a life of ecological consciousness the best i can. Here one must weigh the fruit or vegetable first before taking it to the cashier. I had weighed the broccoli and onions without a bag, so the label of cost was put onto the bag of bananas.

When it was my turn in line, i showed the cashier where the labels were for the broccoli and onions, explaining that I wanted to save some plastic bags. She proceeded to weigh the loose vegetables and pass them on to her assistant who puts the items into the cloth bags. This assistant immediately took the loose items and placed them with care into respective plastic bags before putting them into the cloth bags. :-)

On a side note: there are no screens in anyone's homes here, including ours. We have just moved to a location that is loaded with spiders. Instead of screens, we are learning to appreciate the spiders' webs as a screen from various insects that would love to fly through our bathroom window. :-)

January 22, 2009

Jamaica..visiting family

Our family has been out of South Africa for a month, traveling to visit family in Jamaica and the States. It was a great time together as we all shared a lot of joy and appreciation of being with each other. Our favorite aspect of the trip were the soul to soul connections shared. We will always miss family and cherish our memories with them. We felt grateful for their continued support in seeing our life in South Africa as a great experience and adventure for our family, especially the children.