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.