March 30, 2012

"youth can move the world" ~ Olinga Njang

living in ghana enables us a link closer to musicians throughout africa.  this artist, Olinga Njang, is a Baha'i from Nigeria who sings upbeat, positive songs full of joy.  we saw him sing at a jr. youth festival last spring in accra, ghana.

his songs are infused with the spirit from the Message of Baha'u'llah which is all about the nobility of the human race and striving toward a standard of living that is moral, dignified, free of all forms of prejudice, and at peace with all the peoples of the world.  hope you enjoy the video of his latest song, Youth Can Move the World.

March 29, 2012

living..with lymphoma

dad needs to receive saline in his bloodstream every other day.  this is done at home as part of the system of healthcare he's receiving.  a nurse comes twice a week to draw his blood and someone else from a lab picks it up to have it tested.  the next day dad will receive a call to let him know if his blood is low in platelets and/or hemoglobin.  if so, later that day he will have to go to the hospital for a blood transfusion.
this is dad paying the bill at his favorite local diner where he likes to eat breakfast, the Moorestown Cafe.  he took me there for my first time last weekend.  the regulars greeted him warmly and affectionately, seeing that he's come a long way with his struggle over the cancer.  they come and sit with us as dad shares his current trials and victories.  i can see that he is fully himself as he tells his stories and makes them laugh with his light-hearted jokes and humor.
this is dad's desk.  he has been accumulating post-it notes for his business for more than 30 years.  he finally has a computer to input his sales, but the majority of his business dealings are on paper..all around him.

he comes into his office almost every morning, depending on whether he feels up to it or not.  he likes talking on the phone with his customers and they like his way of caring, being reliable and sending little gifts in the mail with their order.

this video is dad waiting for his food to come where he gets his blood transfusion.  they treat him like a king, putting warmed blankets around his shoulders and over his legs.  he has a flat screen tv with a touch screen to choose whatever he'd like to watch for the couple of hours he'll be sitting there.  he likes to nap half way through the procedure after he's eaten..

dad is living..with cancer.  he chooses to be happy and think in positive ways all throughout his days.  he says his life is in God's hands..he has surrendered to the Will of God and celebrates each day of his life this way.

March 28, 2012

suspicion vs. freedom from racial prejudice

i have found it difficult to write what i'm thinking and feeling this past week while the momentum continued to gain in protest over the trayvon martin case.  it's very painful to think of anyone in this world falling victim to violent crime.  every soul created in this world is significant and important.  injustice is rampant and too many lives have been sacrificed to war or violent crime and terrorism that if we were to stop and dwell on each story, our hearts could not bear the pain.

so i try to think of trayvon martin's life as a true sacrifice, ultimately being freed from this world which is full of pain, suffering and sorrow, and now able to sprinkle humanity with the pure spirit of his soul from the worlds of God beyond this one.  his life is now the source of a movement toward establishing social justice throughout the legal system.  change is on the way and hearts cannot but be stirred by his death not being handled with a basic sense of justice.

i like the symbolism of the hoodie.  i hope white people start to realize how much privilege it is to be white.  looking suspicious is not a load we bear each day in our psyche.  we are free of many, many burdens that african americans bear throughout their entire lives.  it is a dialogue that must begin by white people.  white people must own their role in the healing of race prejudice.  it is our God-given duty.. it is up to us to respond to the lingering effects of hundreds of years of slavery throughout the world, especially in america.

 "Let the white make a supreme effort in their resolve to contribute their share to the solution of this problem, to abandon once for all their usually inherent and at times subconscious sense of superiority, to correct their tendency towards revealing a patronizing attitude towards the members of the other race, to persuade them through their intimate, spontaneous and informal association with them of the genuineness of their friendship and the sincerity of their intentions, and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received, for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds."

    (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40)

i am white.  my husband is african-american.  we have 3 children.  we are american Baha'is living in ghana and we used to live in south africa.  we've been married for almost 18 years.  we strive to live our lives free of any form of prejudice in our hearts.  we are raising our children to love all of humanity like we love all of the flowers in a garden -- with their exquisite colors and beauty of diversity.  to be free of any form of prejudice in our hearts is a basic teaching of Baha'u'llah, so our children's hearts are full of love without boundaries of preference for any race, religion or their hearts are planted the seeds of love which will sprout to produce resistance against all these prejudices which divide humanity against itself.

when i met my husband i didn't understand the complexities of race in america until i listened to him explain the manifold aspects of 'white privilege' and what it's like being perceived as a black person by white people..everywhere..with suspicion.

i never had to think about the color of my skin.  i was able to do anything or go anywhere without anyone looking at me with suspicion.  i was free in my mind about who i was in the world -- free to be in a store without being racially profiled for to eat at any restaurant without people wondering what i'm doing there (except as i grew into an adult i chose to put myself in environments where no white person ever went or wanted to go!)..and free to pursue my life goals without the slightest sense that i was up against all odds.

america has a spiritual destiny with great capacity to utilize all of its cultural and racial diversity to the fullest.  the road is long and the struggle will persist until hearts recognize the Oneness of Humanity.. each of us is created out of the immeasurable Love of One Creator Whose Essence is Unknowable.  like a garden with infinite diversity we must live in the utmost harmony together -- seeing with our inner and outer eyes the beauty of diversity..emptying our hearts of prejudice through the power of the Word of God which is the elixir for the diseases of the soul.  these diseases -- all of the -isms -- lead to imprisoning veils which keep us all apart, isolated, and suffering as a humanity.  white people suffer spiritually if their hearts are full of prejudice, while black people suffer materially, psychologically and emotionally as a result of white people's prejudice and the system of institutional racism..

"Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá'í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá'í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies. It should, above all else, become the keynote of the policy of that august body which, in its capacity as the national representative, and the director and coordinator of the affairs of the community, must set the example, and facilitate the application of such a vital principle to the lives and activities of those whose interests it safeguards and represents."

    (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 35)

trayvon martin's life will be remembered because his life was sacrificed.  the spiritual reality is that his soul is free from this world and all of the injustice, oppression, pain and difficulty.  the material reality is that his killer hasn't been prosecuted and people are outraged, knowing full well that if trayvon was a white kid there would have been an immediate arrest.

these Xhosa children live with a natural sense of feeling interconnected with all people ~ ubuntu: we are who we are through each other

"Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom, and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country."

    (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40)

..............update may 18th, 2012 news about the Trayvon Martin case

March 22, 2012

practicing digital

pencils used by the jr. youth group

little Persian box given to us by Vida Vafaie

photo of Abdu'l-Baha that my mom used on the front of a book she made full of photos of the Master

some of my favorite Baha'i books

i LOVE this fabric on the pocketbook mindi gave me - handmade in nepal

Domani's drawings for a class assignment

if you look closely, you can see Domani's food art 'smiley face' with the tomatoes and lettuce :)

March 20, 2012

time away. with dad

reading the paper during a blood transfusion
time away is always an opportunity to reflect and allow one's heart to ponder on what's most important in one's life.  it is never material possessions or wealth.  it is always those we love..

i am in new jersey visiting my dad.  he is fighting lymphoma.  he's had it for over a year and it has attacked several of his organs.  for the past couple of months his health has suffered to the extent that he can no longer drive himself and he has suffered from a variety of complications which give him much pain..

enjoying the hospital's meal while he relaxes during the transfusion
my time here is spent mostly with family, sitting and talking, laughing or doing something together like preparing meals.  most of our time, however, is spent taking dad to doctors' appointments.  i arrived on a sunday and it is now friday -- he has had 5 appointments and one emergency room treatment.  after radiation, the blood is constantly struggling to rebuild itself.  2 times a week dad gets a blood test to determine if he'll need 2 transfusions the following day.  he almost always needs to have 2 transfusions a week..

dad reading to my neice, nina
i am grateful and happy to be here for my dad.  it is difficult to be away from my family; i am constantly wondering about them and missing them.  seeing my dad battle lymphoma in the fight for his life, it makes me appreciate my life and how to live it well, as i can see how it comes to an end, and all that matters is the bond of love we have established with our loved ones.

i love my dad..

March 14, 2012

remembering Delft, South Africa

dyami playing checkers on a handmade board with soda caps

today i am quiet and tired.  after 6 hours of sleep i woke at 4:45 for the fast.  at first i was very sleepy but after a cup of water and a cup of a green drink, i was ready to buzz around the kitchen preparing everything for the morning routine.  by the time i had taken nutritional supplements, enjoyed a strong cup of coffee, and savored toasted flat bread with homemade hummus, i was running upstairs to wake ayana (who was sleeping in my bed because dashiel is out of town) and sing a prayer to the boys who are always so sleepy upon waking.  when the time reaches 7:20am and it's time to leave, they have brushed their teeth, dressed, prayed, recited, read a story, eaten breakfast and taken turns to talk with me about whatever is in their young hearts and minds..
i actually took a short nap this past weekend

during the fast i don't pray until the kids have left for school.  the other days of the year i wake early and pray before everyone wakes.  for these days of fasting, i like to spend that first hour or so making my body strong for the day.  when the sun rises and i'm done taking care of the kids' lunches and breakfast, it's time to clean -- sweep, sometimes mop or clean the floors, wash a load of laundry, etc. and then i become immersed and wrapped in prayer, reflection and reciting of the holy Word with wholehearted devotion, humility and submission..

a jr. youth, siphesihle, who became a Baha'i
after a long period of quiet time and working in the kitchen, i started to feel tired.  writing gives me energy so i decided to write a post.  i stayed up a bit too late last night looking through old videos on our external drive.  i wanted to find a short one that would not take up too many megs and one that was from south africa, related to our time of serving there as Baha'is.  the videos of south africa evoke a deep longing in me to return there -- to cape town in particular -- where a group of young souls touched our lives in immeasurable ways.  words continue to be inadequate to express the love our hearts experienced living in south africa.  that love reached it greatest depths in delft when arising to serve in one of the neighborhoods -- we offered spiritual education classes from the Baha'i teachings on Oneness, universal brotherhood, justice, peace and a high moral standard of conduct.  we have very few memories on video that capture the essence of joy, unity and spiritual bonds of friendship that were established over a period of 3 years, but the one above depicts the joy they felt being with our family.
a few of our closest young friends from Delft

my heart is still saddened if i dwell on how much i miss those dear souls.  when i am tired, as i am now, i close my eyes and pray for each soul in south africa that is in my heart..each morning..each i remember them.

March 12, 2012

building a keyhole garden ~ service project

the first step in establishing the foundation
this past saturday i went outside early to prepare the land for building the keyhole garden.  this required leveling the land with a shovel and trowel, and then laying down the rusty, metal pipes in a circular pattern wide enough to encompass an inner circle which will serve as the compost pile.  after 45 minutes i was already full of sweat and ready to come home to rest until the time was set to begin with the kids.

i came at 10am as we had planned and began arranging rocks and cement blocks that we have been collecting from within this family's compound area.  since they live where a big home has started being constructed, there were enough to form a low wall for the garden.  cement is not ideal because it erodes rather quickly in this climate, but we wanted to use what we have available to us without waiting a long time to have enough money to purchase proper rocks or bricks.  soon 2 of the 'gems of justice' boys came.  i was so happy to see them because they were willing and able to work hard.
the triangular area will be the entrance to the central compost area
this was the beginning of a 5 hour project that i could not have done without them.  we laid the rocks in a circle along the perimeter of the poles until it was as round as we could make it, with a triangular entrance area to be able to reach into the compost pile in the middle.

we didn't have enough good-sized and shaped rocks to make a higher wall so we managed to integrate smaller ones to create a semi-high wall that was about the same height all the way around.    it took a long time to match them well enough that they fit together well and would enable other rocks to be places above them securely.  this stage was labor intensive and required some level of engineering skills to complete. :)

it was then time to dig a circle in the middle of the garden for the poles to stand around.  at first we used a basic hoe and then we went to ask my gardener for a pick-axe to make deep holes which worked a lot better.  the pick-axe was also essential for breaking up a mound of hardened dirt which we needed to remove so the walkway around the garden would be flat.  the kids ended up digging a hole out of the raised ground and finding better quality soil to add into the garden.  the dirt that was on top was used to fill up the hole and now it is nice and flat!
trying to dig a circular trench in which the poles will be standing
beginning to secure the poles into their positions, using rocks to hammer them down
joshua placing small rocks around the base of each pole (domani's idea) :)
 as the older kids started hammering the poles into place in the middle of the garden, the younger ones gathered small rocks to place around the base of each pole.  it was incredibly sweet the way they worked together and gently, with the utmost care, placed each little rock -- as if now the pole would not fall over. :)

once the poles were secured, one of the boys began twisting twine around them from the base upwards.  the other jr. youth started emptying out the bags of chicken fertilizer and cow manure and mixed them up with the soil that we had.   it was now time to add the layers of ash, rusty metal, cardboard and plants into the garden with the soil.  it was a very enjoyable part of the process because everyone was doing something at the same time.  by this time 3 girls came who are part of another jr. youth group a few blocks away.  they observed for awhile and then started helping.

we included cardboard in our layers because we didn't have straw or dried grasses

trying to knit the long grasses around the poles and twine
  we soon realized that the middle circle would either need a LOT of twine or the grasses they brought needed to be wrapped around the poles.  they were hoping to use the grasses to lie on top of soil to trap moisture.  i asked them if we could use them for the compost pile and if they could continue to bring more because we will need it for both purposes when we are ready to begin planting seeds.  they proceeded to intertwine the long grasses in and out of the poles so they would be secure.  we could see how it was going to look when it can be finished all the way to the top of the poles.
though we were dripping wet, very tired and hungry, the rewards of this service project began to show on our faces as we started to smile with the joy that comes from working hard.
using some better quality soil from where the mound originally stood

using the rake for the final mixing of the soil
we have laid the foundation for the garden but will need to add a lot more soil, ash and grasses before watering and planting seeds.  for our first time making a keyhole garden -- learning from videos from YouTube -- it was an experience that developed many skills and is already making an impact in the lives of the people of the neighborhood.  kids and adults feel excited.  they see it as beautiful.  they tell us they want to see food growing here.  for the jr. youth, it is an immeasurable, indescribable experience that will be something they continue to learn from and enjoy for years to come..

the sweetness in the scorn

 our jr. youth group, 'gems of justice', painted a wall that belongs to 2 of the brothers in the group.  their mom, monica, is featured in a previous post.  this family allowed us to bring a brightly colored message of their joy to one of the walls surrounding their compound.
the kids bonded while cooperating to share the paints, consulting about what it would look like, and through laughter while expressing themselves in joyful, silly ways.
we began the project a half hour before sunset.  it attracted a bunch of kids and some adults who stopped by and partook of the excitement and enthusiasm of the group.  there was one car that rode by and yelled out that we shouldn't be painting the wall like that, but Monica responded with 'pay him no mind.'
by sunset they were finished and feeling proud of their work.  we celebrated with some photos and jumping up and down. :)  it was such a 'happening' as my grammum would call it -- a moment shared together where the energy is very positive and everyone feels present, very conscious that this is a wonderful memory shared together.  the group and i left a bit suddenly when it became dark so i could be home to break the fast.  my heart was uplifted to turn around and see the wall and the kids running around with joy.  we shared Devotions together before the jr. youth left -- a perfect way to end the day.  my heart felt full of the beauty of what a jr. youth group is all about: positive, service-oriented, high-minded activities all done in the spirit of striving for spiritual and material excellence.  the theme of 'confirmation' fills their minds and is gradually translating into actions.
this morning i received a knock on my front door.  it was the security guard explaining that a man came to the gate complaining about the words painted on the wall.  he had heard that the idea came from someone living in my compound -- the guards knew it was me because of us coming in and out with paints that day.. the guy insisted that the words on the wall be covered with paint.
i could feel my emotions starting to stir.  another complaint.  more scorn to sour the sweetness of good deeds.  the sweetness of children's joy.  the sweetness of collaborating with families and building trust through friendships.
the guard explained that it seemed like the guy who said we have to paint was a government official.  the view of this guard and Monica is that the government knows they aren't 'doing their job' so to speak and they feel threatened by any public messages having to do with development.
as i gathered the paintbrush and can of white paint leftover from the outdoor benches we had made, i could feel my heart ready to burst with sadness.  my sensitivity to nagging prejudice against those who profess to be leaders but who are corrupted by selfish desires, dishonesty and lingering pain from the next door neighbor who called to ask us to stop having the kids come to our compound..
when i was at the gate, the guard offered to help me.  i acquiesced.  i was in no mood to be self-sufficient.  we walked silently up the dirt road.  i stared at the wall painting with a heavy heart, not knowing how to be positive and wise when it's time to tell the jr. youth group what happened.  monica approached the edge of the wall and sweetly greeted me with a smile on her face, 'auntie pamela'.  when i looked into her pure-hearted face full of radiance and eyes that emit great humbleness, i softly uttered, 'sorry' and the tears began to pour out of my eyes.
monica hugged me and they both started explaining that this is an issue with the government official.  my mind knows what they are saying but my heart needs time to catch up with being able to understand.  as my head rested against monica's chest, i listened to her calm heartbeat.  she speaks little english but our bond is of the soul.  she comforted me when i was vulnerable and she didn't let go until i was ready.  the guard painted over all of the words and i quietly walked away after expressing my gratitude.
in the scheme of life this is not a big deal.  it may be a symbol of a lot of things, but for me, it must be an opportunity for deeper self-reflection.  the fast is full of mysterious forces surrounding our lives, working on our soul in ways to serve its ability to be strengthened.  we must consciously spend the moments of our day immersed in prayer and meditation, drinking deep from the Ocean of God's Revelation.  the fast is..
..essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul.
    ~Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 176

i feel my heart recoiling from the world and clinging to God's Revelation for all that is nourishing for my soul.  i must discover the sweetness in the scorn..

March 10, 2012

Devotions in our home..'the golden rule'

a few nights ago it was our weekly Devotions and fireside night.  without fail, some kids arrive on time while others continue to arrive up to an hour late..but they keep coming!

this week we skipped the discussion because Devotions went on for a long time and i could tell the kids were restless.  since no adults have been coming, our fireside time ranges from a serious presentation to a short deepening on one of the Selections from the Baha'i Writings.

within a few minutes of letting the kids hang out, the little girl in the front of this photo, Magdelene, who i've written about in a previous post, came to sit with me at my desk.  i decided to plug in the external drive and look at old videos we have.  the sound from the computer attracted all of the kids to come and watch.  they laughed and pointed to our kids when they were younger, enjoying how small and cute they were.  soon we found videos from South Africa which sparked all kinds of interest and joy -- even singing along to a few of the songs that they've now learned here in Ghana.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Solomon wearing the hat from Cameroon
i gave Jude the camera to take photos.  he captured some of the details of our living room which reflected his heart.  when i saw this photo of Magdelene and those around her staring at the computer screen, it reminded me of the Norman Rockwell print that hangs in our living room.  we, too, are looking at something like the people in his print. 

the spirit released through Devotions and the hearts of these young souls in our home feels like a magnet for divine confirmations as we all desire to abide by the Golden Rule.  our home becomes transformed into a refuge with abundant joy, a sanctuary from the troubles and difficulties that surround the harsh realities of life..

i never want these moments to end.  i could have sat at the computer until we watched every video taken in South Africa (which our family still deeply misses).  i could have smiled for hours watching them be themselves in all their pure-hearted, silly and sincere ways.  these are precious days of our lives that we appreciate and treasure..we are happy to be living in Ghana, surrounded by the radiant spirit in the hearts of our neighbors..

Emil with Dyami's Ben10 book
Boadi, Emil's brother being silly with the ball they use to play soccer inside
Jude, an illumined soul who has brought 3 other jr. youth to the group

March 09, 2012

Baha'i children's classes..east legon, ghana

after prayers and singing, this photo is how we began last week's children's class.  they made happy, crazy, angry and serious, thoughtful expressions.  it's one of those little shared experiences that they enjoy together..

i have been opening the classes up to the jr. youth for 2 reasons:  we have a very small group of children who come regularly, and we have jr. youth who are sincerely interested in attending a 'Baha'i children's class' in addition to being a part of the jr. youth group.  the entire group of children and jr. youth who have come to the classes is 10.  some of the jr. youth who are in the group do not attend these Friday afternoon classes.

holding children's classes in ghana is just as different from south africa as south africa was from america.  not only is the core number very small, it is held in our home and jr. youth are a part of it.  i stick mostly to the Ruhi, Book 3, but sometimes integrate Book 3a and the Kenyan materials as well.  since the same kids don't come all the time, i do a lot of repeating of lessons.  since last September -- with a month break while our family went to America -- i've only introduced lessons 1-6 and 12.  they have learned a handful of the lessons' songs, stories and Selections from the Baha'i Writings.

good conduct is emphasized more than any other aspect of the lessons.  the most important result is that the children's behavior begins to conform to a high standard of behavior, beginning with good manners and attitudes toward each other.  it is about being polite and courteous, kind and generous, patient and truthful, cooperative and honest.  it is also important to me that they leave happy, that happiness is what the associate with a Baha'i class.  true happiness is derived from spiritual behavior so i strive to make the environment both serious and light-hearted.

kids made decorations for the Ayyam-i-Ha party in one of the classes

keyhole garden..ready to begin

this is the (blessed!) spot where the neighborhood 'keyhole garden' will be built.  the other day the children and i gathered rocks for the initial layer to make the circle this weekend.  we have gathered a lot of grasses, plant clippings, wood shavings and cardboard.  the kids have been collecting ash from the charcoal they use to cook food, and i decided to use the rusty, metal poles that were for my beans to climb for the keyhole's center circle instead.  we also will use twine to hold them in place since no one has any reeds for tying.  there is probably not enough regular soil, but we have a lot of chicken fertilizer and cow manure to mix into it and create a rich soil to cover the sheet mulching and layers of greens and ash.

the best thing that we have is the interest and enthusiasm of the kids and 2 mamas!  i was so impressed the other day when i came to gather the rocks and weed the area that a group of them came to help without being asked.  almost the entire jr. youth group has now watched the 2 videos of keyhole gardens and are excited about making one.  even my gardener watched them and wants a DVD to show his son so they can make one, too!

March 08, 2012

strive for spiritual capacity

"Sterile soil will produce nothing, even if the cloud of mercy pours rain upon it a thousand years. We must make the soil of our hearts receptive and fertile by tilling in order that the rain of divine mercy may refresh them
and bring forth roses and hyacinths of heavenly planting. 
We must have perceiving eyes in order to see the light of the sun. We must cleanse the nostril in order to scent the fragrances of the divine rose garden. We must render the ears attentive in order to hear the summons of the supreme Kingdom. 
No matter how beautiful the melody, the ear that is deaf cannot hear it, cannot receive the call of the Supreme Concourse. The nostril that is clogged with dust cannot inhale the fragrant odors of the blossoms. 
Therefore, we must ever strive for capacity and seek readiness. As long as we lack susceptibility, the beauties and bounties of God cannot penetrate. Christ spoke a parable in which He said His words were like the seeds of the sower; some fall upon stony ground, some upon sterile soil, some are choked by thorns and thistles, but some fall upon the ready, receptive and fertile ground of human hearts."

March 06, 2012

morning time here in ghana

it's 7:10am.  the familiar sounds which fill the air -- pavers being swept by the gardener with a handmade straw broom, heavy trucks with squeaky breaks and bundles that rattle, roosters cockadoodle-dooing, and ghanaian music from a small handheld radio at the guards' area in our compound -- are dulled a bit by the fan of the air conditioning as i sit, for the first time in many months, on my bed (instead of downstairs at my desk) to capture a moment of mama time before being on call as a mama for the rest of the day.  i awoke at 4:35 this morning for the fast, wanting to wake up earlier than usual so i could peruse the Ocean of Baha'u'llah's Revelation in a relaxed manner while eating a variety of small portions of food before the sun rose.  now that it has risen, the neighborhood is very alive with people walking or riding bicycles along dirt and paved roads.  taxis are beeping all along the roads in the hope of getting business, and my neighbors are outside brushing their teeth, washing their clothes and preparing for the day of selling smoked fish, sachets of water and a variety of convenience foodstuffs.  last, but far from least, i hear the door handles of my boys' bedroom open and close as quietly as they can as they leave and enter their room -- they go downstairs to pray, read stories, take their supplements, turn on the computer (only during a non-school day like today) and sometimes go outside to play ball or ride their bicycles.  ayana, age 13, is still sleeping with all of the curtains closed as much as possible to prevent the sunlight from entering her room..

Gideon, our young friend next door, is planning on coming by at 8:30 -- he will be on time because he doesn't want to miss going to the market with us.  yesterday he came over with a sullen face.  when i asked him if he wanted to talk, he nodded his head and we left the living room (where everyone was starting to watch Karate Kid) to talk in the kitchen.  as i sat on the floor with him, he whispered to me that he heard that the jr. youth went swimming in the ocean that day.  he wishes he was a jr. youth and part of the group (he's only 9).  i told him i understood and that since today was a public holiday, perhaps he could hang out all day with some of the jr. youth.  his face lit up with anticipation of hanging out with us.  when i said his sisters would come after i went to the market in the morning, he asked if he could come with us.. of course i said yes!

5 of the jr. youth weren't able to make it to the outing yesterday so today they will come to hang out.  we'll work on the keyhole garden now that everyone is eager and ready to begin the work.  i'm grateful that they are interested in this kind of service and pray that we can sustain it so that it may serve as a model for other youth and families in this area to begin their own.  i'm looking forward to just being with the jr. youth, some of whom are shy and are gradually coming out of their shell through these moments of being together..

it's time to help the boys with breakfast.  i can hear them in the kitchen, making all kinds of clanging sounds. :)

counsels of Baha'u'llah that guide us through each day:

"Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth and be of some benefit to him."
"Ye live to do good and to bring hapiness to others."
"The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct."
"Ye must show forth tenderness and love to every human being, even to your enemies."

March 04, 2012

51 reasons to Kevin Locke

dyami's painting, april 2011: the tree is reaching up to the sun

my dear friend, Cindy Ravines, sent this list to me, as forwarded to her from Kevin Locke:

reposted from Kevin Isgor-Locke

1.  The Fast is a bounty.

2.  The Fast induces tranquility.

3.  It is the supreme remedy.

4.  If is the most great healing for the disease of self and passion.

5.  Innumerable effects and benefits are concealed therein.

6.  It produces awareness and awakening in man.

7.  Fasting is the cause of the elevation of one’s spiritual station.

8.  Makes you mindful of the woes and sufferings of the destitute.

9.  Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man’s life.

10.  The Fast increaseth your love.

11.  It is the source of purification.

12.  Fasting acts as stimulant to the soul.

13.  It strengthens the soul.

14.  It revives and purify it.

15.  Fasting refreshes and reinvigorates the spiritual forces latent in the soul.

16.  It heightens the awareness of conversation with God.

17.  It is a spiritual pilgrimage toward the sacred heart of the faith.

18.  Fasting is a symbol, a sign, a reminder of the life realities.

19.  It is a divine law.

20.  It forces us to remember who we are.

21.  It allows us to gain control of the appetite.

22.  Fasting initiates a healing process in the body.

23.  It forces the body to divest energy from the digestive system to the immune system.

24.  It reduces the core body temperature.

25.  It increases the efficiency of hormone regulation.

26.  Fasting brings about a feeling of rejuvenation.

27.  It forces a slower metabolic rate.

28.  It creates more efficient protein production.

29.  It improves immune system.

30.  It contributes to longer life.

31.  Fasting increases physical and mental endurance.

32.  Fasting brings the ultimate rest.

33.  It is the spiritual exercise.

34.  It makes us attain to the station of knowledge of one’s self.

35.  Fasting offers a period of meditation and prayer.

36.  It offers a period of spiritual recuperation.

37.  It helps one to make the necessary readjustments in the inner life.

38.  It refreshes and reinvigorates the spiritual forces latent in the soul.

39.  Fasting is symbolic.

40.  It is a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.

41.  Fasting is the cause of awakening man.

42.  During fasting the heart becomes tender and the spirituality of man increases.

43.  Material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting.

44.  Thoughts will be confined to the commemoration of God.

45.  Though this awakening and stimulation surely ideal advancements follow.

46.  Fasting is the exercise of self-control which is of great benefit to the soul.

47.  Fasting, like prayer, is between you and God.

48.  It is an opportunity to focus on our spiritual nature.

49.  It is a test of all acquired virtues.

50.  It positively reforms the mold of attitudes.

51.  The station of absolute self-surrender transcendeth, and will ever remain exalted above, every other station.

fasting reflections..suffering

the plant i look at each day while sitting at our dining room table
this flower looks to me as if it is praying.  it has opened itself up to the sun, beseeching and praising the sun for its energy and sustenance.  its beauty symbolizes the Beauty of God.  it is majestic and full of astonishment.  it is in this spirit that i raise my hands in supplication to the Almighty One and draw upon the mysterious forces at work during the Baha'i fast.

outside of the days of the fast, i am usually zipping around the house, constantly doing something, even if it is sitting down preparing a lesson for a children's class.  i carry joy in my heart, with a quiet gratitude for everything that God has chosen for my life -- including the bugs, humidity and our kids' conflicts. :)
my energy during the days of fasting shifts to an inward, reflective mode and outwardly i slow down.  i call God consciously to mind as much as i can, emptying my mind of anything i consider petty and material.  i tap into and depend on the spiritual forces derived from prayer and detachment from the things of this world to sustain me, inspire me, cleanse me of impurities and strengthen me to overcome my many weaknesses.

this weekend (the 2nd and 3rd days of the fast) we hosted a friend who spent about a year in the northern region of ghana.  she shared many stories of great difficulty -- extreme heat, giant locusts, no electricity or water sometimes, many types of insects and geckos finding their way to her bed, silt from dirt roads in the air and constantly settling in her home, rashes from the water stored in tanks, never a clean or accessible toilet when traveling, etc.

just listening to these stories -- the most creepy being when she woke up to a giant ant burrowing itself in her open wound by her knee when she fell the night before -- flooded my being with awe at how people have great capacity to endure the difficulties of this life.  i have had my share of hardships, pain and sufferings but it feels like nothing compared to the daily experience of living in extreme hot temperatures without modern conveniences (including something simple like bug repellent) -- every aspect of life is difficult.  the body doesn't get to shower away the never-ending presence of perspiration; the food one prepares is without running water to simply rinse rice and beans or clean vegetables; the clothes one wears requires handwashing and hanging (on which invisible eggs are laid by bugs that make the skin itch when worn); the time of menstruation must be indescribably difficult without enough water to wash oneself or any linens that become soiled..

tests and difficulties are blessings in disguise.  they are the means by which we, as souls on this journey we call life, grow nearer to God -- we must choose to respond to them using the virtues of God with which He has endowed our souls, no matter how excruciatingly difficult.  sometimes we are tested in ways that feel beyond our capacity.  but God never tests a soul beyond its capacity.  those who suffer the most attain the greatest station in the sight of God.  with God's inscrutable wisdom, there is recompense in the world beyond for the suffering in this world..
"It is only through suffering that the nobility of character can make itself manifest...It is transformed into fortitude, steadfastness and magnanimity. The lives of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá are the best examples for this. Sacrifices in the path of one's religion produce always immortal results, 'Out of the ashes rises the phoenix'."

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 603)
in my silent reflection today, i realize that i haven't been tested in ways that i perceive as very, very difficult to endure.  i do not know how i would be facing their circumstances.  i trust their suffering -- which is primarily a result of the body politic not having true love and unity which it needs to care for everyone -- will be recompensed according to God's inscrutable wisdom in the worlds beyond this physical life.  in addition, i know that we are all tested by God, each according to our own unique role in God's Will.  there is no comparison.  each soul has its own suffering to face or struggles of self to overcome.  there are many ways in which God tests His servants:  money, other people, natural disasters, disease, poverty, death, materialism and many other changes and chances of this world.
"... Suffering, of one kind or another, seems to be the portion of man in this world. Even the Beloved ones, the Prophets of God, have never been exempt from the ills that are to be found in our world; poverty, disease, bereavement - they seem to be part of the polish God employs to make us finer, and enable us to reflect more of His attributes!.."

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 603)

i will continue praying to remain steadfast in my love for God, no matter what He chooses for my path to grow nearer to Him..i don't want to be ensnared by materialism, frozen with lethargy after a natural disaster, or frustrated with cockroaches.. we are each like that flower whose beauty is revealed gradually through opening itself up to the Creator and submitting to whatever forces of Nature come its way.

March 02, 2012

fasting..a reminder of the sufferings of the destitute

today is the first day of the Baha'i fast which lasts for 19 days and is followed by the Baha'i New Year.  the Baha'i fast transcends the physical restraints of abstaining from food and drink after sunrise and before sunset.  each moment holds an exalted position in the realms of God as one fasts "out of love for Thee and for Thy good-pleasure -- and not out of self and desire, nor out of fear of Thy wrath.." [Baha'u'llah, 'The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting', p.3]

as a Baha'i, one never knows if one's deeds are accepted in the sight of God.  it is known to Him alone.  fasting is a very personal and intimate time of communing with God.  in one of the Baha'i prayers, Baha'u'llah reveals for us,
"..Deign to accept, O my God, the deeds that we have performed in Thy path wholly for the sake of Thy beauty with our faces set towards Thy Cause, free from aught else but Thee.."

   [Baha'u'llah, 'The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting', p.5]
when i meditate on the prayers revealed for the fast, i am brought into that position of submissiveness, humbled before the Almighty One.  i know that i strive to serve God and His creation but have i truly offered up any service in His sight as wholly for His sake?  is my intention pure enough?  is my heart empty of all self-interests and detachment from all else except Him?
 "We, verily, have set forth all things in Our Book, as a token of grace unto those who have believed in God, the Almighty, the Protector, the Self-Subsisting. And We have ordained obligatory prayer and fasting so that all may by these means draw nigh unto God, the Most Powerful, the Well-Beloved. We have written down these two laws and expounded every irrevocable decree. We have forbidden men from following whatsoever might cause them to stray from the Truth, and have commanded them to observe that which will draw them nearer unto Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Loving. Say: Observe ye the commandments of God for love of His beauty, and be not of those who follow in the ways of the abject and foolish."
[Baha'u'llah, 'The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting', p.1] 

observing the law of fasting for these 19 days enables me to draw upon the spiritual forces released through prayer and detaching ourselves from all physical pleasures and selfish desires.  i am focused on cleansing or purifying my heart and mind of all my weaknesses and faults which prevent me from drawing nearer to God. this law of Baha'u'llah is like the brightest light which attracts my soul like a magnet in the direction of selflessness, obedience to God, sole reliance upon Him, and increased capacity to serve Him with a pure heart.

it is my first time fasting in ghana.  many Christians here fast several times a year, sometimes for 21 days at a time.  i am aware that the ghanaian farmers in the northern region fast as a way of life because there is so little food, water and money available to them (they eat once a day, in the evening).. most of the families i know, whose kids visit us all the time, have no pipes with running water.  they have no electricity.  they pound cassava root.  they wash their clothes by hand.  they depend on Nature to provide for the food they grow and for God to bless them -- in this way they have a great love for God and His grace, which they call to mind constantly when asked how they are doing.  there is no separation for them in their day for prayer.  it is a constant breathing in their minds and hearts..knowing them and seeing how they live

these friends, and millions of souls i don't know in the world, suffer from hunger and thirst on a daily basis.  water is not always able to be collected, and when it is, it may not be pure enough to drink.  even if it is pure enough to drink, it needs to be rationed and used for cooking, cleaning and washing.  these days water can be purchased in small sachets for a small amount of money, but money is scarce for most people as well.  many children do not even attend public schools because they don't have enough money for school uniforms and books.  so when i read..
"All praise be unto God, Who hath revealed the law of obligatory prayer as a reminder to His servants, and enjoined on them the Fast that those possessed of means may become apprised of the woes and sufferings of the destitute."
 [Baha'u'llah, 'The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting', p.2]
..i am moved to the depths of my being because i know i need to be more 'apprised of the woes and sufferings' of my friends, my neighbors.  i am constantly thinking of the suffering around me, and i expend on my brethren as much as i can each day, but i know it's not enough.  i know the standard is the life of Abdu'l-Baha.  each year i am striving to reach closer to that standard of servitude -- selfless servitude and sacrifice for the sake of others, perfectly knowing how, when, and what to offer of my substance to all who cross my path..

"One who performeth neither good deeds nor acts of worship is like unto a tree which beareth no fruit, and an action which leaveth no trace. Whosoever experienceth the holy ecstasy of worship will refuse to barter such an act or any praise of God for all that existeth in the world. Fasting and obligatory prayer are as two wings to man's life. Blessed be the one who soareth with their aid in the heaven of the love of God, the Lord of all worlds."
[Baha'u'llah, 'The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting', p.1]