Have hope

“We wish to address some additional words to those of you in whose surroundings marked progress is yet to occur and who long for change. Have hope. It will not always be so. Is not the history of our Faith filled with accounts of inauspicious beginnings but marvellous results? How many times have the deeds of a few believers—young or old—or of a single family, or even of a lone soul, when confirmed by the power of divine assistance, succeeded in cultivating vibrant communities in seemingly inhospitable climes? Do not imagine that your own case is inherently any different. Change in a cluster, be it swift or hard won, flows neither from a formulaic approach nor from random activity; it proceeds to the rhythm of action, reflection, and consultation, and is propelled by plans that are the fruit of experience. Beyond this, and whatever its immediate effects, service to the Beloved is, in itself, a source of abiding joy to the spirit. Take heart, too, from the example of your spiritual kin in the Cradle of the Faith, how their constructive outlook, their resilience as a community, and their steadfastness in promoting the Divine Word are bringing about change in their society at the level of thought and deed. God is with you, with each of you.”
-The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2015

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The Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah Part 3 – Day 28 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

The Bicentenary Event

Photo by Nancy Wong

We started at 5 pm on October 21 with a special reception for our friends and partners in the wider community. At 6 pm the doors opened for everyone, and people were greeted with a chocolate in the shape of a globe and incredible banners hanging from the ceiling and balconies, and they were encouraged to explore the family activity room, the art display, the display about the Baha’i Faith, and listen to Second Nature Jazz Quintet, as well as enjoy refreshments and take photos in the photo booth. We hired a local photo booth company from Hyde Park, and they did a great job. People really seemed to enjoy the live jazz…we had to have jazz music in Chicago!

Photo by Mojdeh Stoakley

At 7:30 pm, everyone was invited to the theater for the main stage performances. The decision was made to focus on the arts and on our relationships with various performers that we know through our work in the community. Many of our performers were not Baha’is, and it was wonderful to see these talented individuals participating in our event.

Photo by Lauren Herrmann

Our performers included Van Gilmer (composer, vocalist, and choir director at the Baha’i House of Worship, joined by a few friends on the day of the performance!), Emily Price (mezzo-soprano who sings with Chicago a cappella, the Lyric Opera Chorus, and Grant Park Music Festival Chorus), Shki-Bmaadzi, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, and Tsukasa Taiko.

Photo by Lauren Herrmann

I was doing stage management during the event, so I saw all of the performances from the side of the stage, and they all did a fantastic job. Our hosts for the evening were the Taylor family, and we had so many volunteers making sure the lights worked (thanks Leslie!), that people got a seat, and that those with accessibility needs were accommodated fully.

A year of work culminated in a spectacular event and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in it.

Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.


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The Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah Part 2 – Day 27 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Event Day setup for the Chicago Bicentenary event

In part 1 of this series I highlighted a little bit about the planning process for the Bicentenary. Now, I will review the actual setup of the event.

We arrived at the venue (The South Shore Cultural Center, located on Chicago’s South Side by Lake Michigan) at around noon on Saturday, October 21. We had asked a number of people to come help as the setup crew, and there were 4 different areas to set up: the foyer with the art displays and the display about Baha’u’llah, the family activity room, the special reception room, and the theater, where the main program was taking place. We needed every minute of our setup time! We had to be ready to go at 5 pm for the first wave of attendees. The most complicated part of the setup was the beautiful reusable display that Robert Reddy designed and fabricated, which had lighting and multimedia portions.

We borrowed some items from the Baha’i National Center, and were especially grateful for some talented people who were able to jump in at the last minute to set up displays, run to the store, and take care of little details that the task force members did not have time to do.  I wish I had spent more time documenting the setup, because it was really incredible, but I was running from one end of this very large building to another, responding to questions and running through the show flow.

The main stage room needed the least amount of setup outside of the audiovisual needs, as it was already a beautiful space. Luckily we had a professional AV team from Meeting Tomorrow (which is where I work for my day job!), and they were incredible. We had a lot of needs, particularly with all the singing and mic switching, and they handled it smoothly and got through rehearsals with the performers with very little guidance from our team.

“Wert thou to consider this world, and realize how fleeting are the things that pertain unto it, thou wouldst choose to tread no path except the path of service to the Cause of thy Lord. None would have the power to deter thee from celebrating His praise, though all men should arise to oppose thee.” -Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

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The Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah Part 1 – Day 26 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

The Planning Process for the Chicago Bicentenary event

So there is this funny thing that happens in my brain and heart when I get asked to serve the Faith by planning events. Since I am a certified meeting planner in my professional life, it brings me great joy to be able to use the resources and skills that I have developed over years of work in making the planning and execution of events more efficient, professional, and easier. However, I also recognize that I have limited time and energy, so I try to be careful about committing to things hastily. It is easy to get burned out, anxious, or frustrated when trying to do things in service that are also what you do for a living. Meeting planning is a highly skilled, technical job.

When the Local Spiritual Assembly asked me to be on this task force to work on the Bicentenary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah, it didn’t take long to say yes, especially when I was informed who else would be working with. Serving with people who you can truly be partners with and consult about the work in a mature, thoughtful way is a true gift!

We got pretty lucky with our planning team. We all had strengths in different areas and were able to consult on everything from volunteers to program elements to budgets. We utilized Google Docs to track our work and divided responsibilities. We tried to get a sense of attendance by using Eventbrite and social media to encourage people to register in advance. (The photos in this post are from after one of our meetings, and we used these photos to tell people to register in a fun way.) My estimate, based on the minutes of our meetings and additional time spent as individuals, is that we each spent about 125 hours planning the Bicentenary event in Chicago over the course of one year. That is a lot of time! We had 26 task force meetings and split off into smaller groups to consult and take action as needed. It wasn’t easy, but we had the support of our families and the Local Spiritual Assembly, which made the task a little bit less taxing at times.

“Let them step forth to take their places in the arena of service where their talents and skills, their specialized training, their material resources, their offers of time and energy and, above all, their dedication to Bahá’í principles, can be put to work in improving the lot of man.” -The Universal House of Justice, 20 October 1983

(Part 2)

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Hoist the sail of love: Day 24 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Heavenly ceilingI have been spending this past week with family, and during one of our family devotion times this quotation from ‘Abdu’l-Baha was read and I wasn’t sure that I ever really heard it before. Which is hard to believe but it is possible! I particularly love how poetic and encouraging this Tablet is. I imagine being the person receiving this beautiful message from ‘Abdu’l-Baha and how happy it must have made them.

“O thou whose heart overfloweth with love for the Lord! I address thee from this consecrated spot, to gladden thy bosom with mine epistle to thee, for this is such a letter as maketh the heart of him who believeth in God’s oneness to wing its flight toward the summits of bliss.

Thank thou God for having enabled thee to enter into His Kingdom of might. Erelong will thy Lord’s bounties descend upon thee, one following the other, and He will make of thee a sign for every seeker after truth.

Hold thou fast to the Covenant of thy Lord, and as the days go by, increase thy store of love for His beloved ones. Bend thou with tenderness over the servitors of the All-Merciful, that thou mayest hoist the sail of love upon the ark of peace that moveth across the seas of life. Let nothing grieve thee, and be thou angered at none. It behoveth thee to be content with the Will of God, and a true and loving and trusted friend to all the peoples of the earth, without any exceptions whatever. This is the quality of the sincere, the way of the saints, the emblem of those who believe in the unity of God, and the raiment of the people of Baha.”

-‘Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha

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A list of Baha’i books, Part 3: Day 23 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

I am ending this series (Part 1, Part 2) with a few reference documents that I found very helpful over the years. There are many Baha’is that may not even know about these documents. I included the description from the Baha’i Bookstore because, quite frankly, I can’t write it better.

We each have the responsibility as individuals to understand our Faith and how the Administrative Order works. No one else can do it for us! And we have so many amazing resources in this Faith!

The Constitution of the Universal House of Justice
“This is a declaration of the trust and by-laws of the supreme governing and legislative body of the Baha’i Faith. It was officially adopted in 1972 and acclaimed by Shoghi Effendi as the “Most Great Law of Faith of Baha’u’llah.” It establishes the functions of the Universal House of Justice on the basis of powers and duties invested in it by Baha’u’llah. Every informed Baha’i should commit to reviewing this document.”

The Institution of the Counsellors: A Document Prepared by The Universal House of Justice
“This document prepared by the Universal House of Justice describes the operation of the Baha’i institution of the Continental Board of Counselors and its duties, and contains a digest of the guidance previously given on the subject. It includes a list of statements addressing specific aspects of the functioning of the Board, and should increase the friends understanding of not only the responsibilities of the Counselors and their auxiliaries but also the workings of the Administrative Order in general.”

National Spiritual Assembly: A Compilation Issued by The Universal House Of Justice
“A compilation of extracts from letters written by and on behalf of Shoghi Effendi intended to develop appreciation of the institution of the National Spiritual Assembly. This compilation discusses the membership, and its relationship to the national convention, the community, the functions of its officers, its meetings, committees, appeals, and more.”

The Ministry of the Custodians: 1957-1963
“These are the communications of the body of the Hands of the Cause of God residing in the Holy Land during the years 1957 to 1963. An introduction by Amatu’l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum places in perspective the events of the critical years between the passing of Shoghi Effendi in 1957 and the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963.”

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A list of Baha’i books, Part 2: Day 22 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

In part 1 of this series I shared some of my favorite biographies/autobiographies about Baha’is. This next list is books that are more introductory or history of the Faith. Part 3 is here.

God Speaks Again by Kenneth E. Bowers
-Such a good, straightforward explanation of the Baha’i Faith. I recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t know much about the Baha’i Faith but really wants to dive into it.

The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh series by Adib Taherzadeh
-This is the most comprehensive history of the life of Baha’u’llah and the events surrounding His life that I’ve ever read. I mean, pretty much anything by Adib Taherzadeh is worth reading. There are four books in the series.

Door of Hope by David S. Ruhe
-“Door of Hope is an indispensable guide to the history and sites of pilgrimage of the Bahá’í Faith in the Holy Land.” Not much more needs to be said!

Some Answered Questions by Abdu’l-Baha
-I use this book constantly in my study circle as a reference guide and find that it has been helpful for a wide variety of people. Abdu’l-Baha proofed this book after it was written, and the explanations are so interesting and cover many topics.

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A list of Baha’i books, Part 1: Day 21 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

I have always loved to read. I was blessed with parents who read to me a lot as a child, and who acted as though reading an entire adult-level book in one day was a totally normal activity. There are so many Baha’i books to read and obviously our first priority should be the Baha’i Writings themselves…but as a young person, I often connected more to stories, and by reading stories I found joy in the Writings.

Here is a list of books with some of my favorite stories about Baha’is, just to get you started. Part 2 and Part 3.

Summon Up Remembrance and Arches of the Years by Marzieh Gail
-I honestly connected with these books first because it is the story of the first Persian-American Baha’i marriage, and since I am a product of one of those marriages, I found this story fascinating. Marzieh Gail is the daughter of Ali-Kuli Khan and Florence Breed, and she shares her family history with humor and reality.

Portals to Freedom by Howard Colby Ives
-This is a book that I recommend to a lot of people because it is an easy read and is a passionate, loving account of Howard Colby Ives’ interaction with Abdu’l-Baha, as well as his own reflections and struggles.

Memorials of the Faithful by Abdu’l-Baha
-This collection of short biographical sketches of early Baha’is is great to read because Abdu’l-Baha Himself wrote it, and because you can read it in shorter pieces. I remember my mother reading this book to me as a kid.

Lights of Fortitude by Barron Harper
-Like the above book, this is a short collection of the histories of the Hands of the Cause. I read this book when I served at the World Centre, and it helped me get an overall sense of who they were, which then took me to the individual biographies of several of them.

The Maxwells of Montreal (volumes 1 & 2) by Violette Nakhjavani
-“One family, bonded in their love for the Bahá’í Faith and for each other, committed through decades of uninterrupted service to the promotion and establishment of that Faith worldwide. They were born during the Heroic Age of the Faith – the parents during the lifetime of Bahá’u’lláh, the child during the Ministry of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – and they lived to serve the Guardian of the Cause during the early decades of the Formative Age at the most critical time of his ministry.” This series is sweet and contains so many stories that none of us ever knew, and helped me understand the sacrifices this amazing family made in their service to the Faith.

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Nineteen Day Feast Part 4: Day 20 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

The fallen leaves in front of my condo look like rose petals.It is really hard to write blog posts while on vacation with family. So for this last part of the Feast posts (1, 2, and 3) I will just post a few final quotations. I wasn’t super organized about these posts, and there are a lot of other well thought out posts and resources out there (I find the Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies document that the US NSA has compiled to be a fantastic source).

“Since children of Bahá’í parents are considered to be Bahá’ís, they are to be encouraged to attend all Feasts, there to share the reading of the Writings and prayers and be bathed in the spirit of the community. It is the hope of the House of Justice that every Feast will be a feast of love when the children will give and receive the tangible affection of the community and its individual members.”
(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice)

“As to visitors to a Nineteen Day Feast, Bahá’ís from anywhere in the world should of course be warmly welcomed, and may take part in consultation. However, only members of the local community can vote on recommendations to the Local Spiritual Assembly.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice)

“With regard to your question concerning the use of music in the Nineteen Day Feasts, he wishes you to assure all the friends that not only he approves of such a practice, but thinks it even advisable that the believers should make use, in their meetings, of hymns composed by Bahá’ís themselves, and also of such hymns, poems and chants as are based on the Holy Words.”
(Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated April 7, 1935)

“The social portion transcends polite formalities, becoming the joyous reunion of ardent lovers, of tested companions united in a common purpose, whose conversations are elevated by spiritual themes.”
(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice)

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Nineteen Day Feast Part 3: Day 19 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Tulips around town.In parts 1 and 2 of the series, I reviewed the importance of Feast and the times and locations of Feast, and now to look at the guidance about the structure of Feast.

“This institution, established by Bahá’u’lláh, has been described by the Guardian as the foundation of the new World Order. The National Spiritual Assembly understands that it is incumbent upon every believer, unless ill or absent from the city, to attend each of these Feasts.

In a general letter issued to Local Spiritual Assemblies several years ago, it was pointed out that the Guardian instructs that the Nineteen Day Feast be held according to the following program: the first part, entirely spiritual in character, is devoted to readings from Bahá’í Sacred Writings; the second part consists of general consultation on the affairs of the Cause, at which time the Local Spiritual Assembly reports its activities to the community, asks for suggestions and consultation, and also delivers messages received from the Guardian and the National Assembly. The third part is the material feast and social meeting of all the friends.”
(Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States)

There are three distinct portions of Feast, and they should stay in that order. I was struck by the part about “eloquent, uplifting talks”, which I had not heard about until a few years ago.

“Even though the observance of the Feast requires strict adherence to the threefold aspects in the sequence in which they have been defined, there is much room for variety in the total experience. For example, music may be introduced at various stages, including the devotional portion; Άbdu’l-Bahá recommends that eloquent, uplifting talks be given; originality and variety in expressions of hospitality are possible; the quality and range of the consultation are critical to the spirit of the occasion. The effects of different cultures in all these respects are welcome factors which can lend the Feast a salutary diversity, representative of the unique characteristics of the various societies in which it is held, and therefore conducive to the upliftment and enjoyment of its participants.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice)

The guidelines below delineate some simple, yet very helpful guidelines about what steps need to be taken to prepare for Feast. In many communities, individuals can offer to host Feast and coordinate devotions. What an opportunity to change the nature of Feast, to uplift everyone and bring joy!

“If the Feast is to be properly experienced, beyond an understanding of the concept must also be the preparation of it and the preparation for it. Although the Local Spiritual Assembly is administratively responsible for the conduct of the Feast, it often calls upon an individual or a group of individuals to make preparations— a practice which is consonant with the spirit of hospitality so vital to the occasion. Such individuals can act as hosts and are sometimes concerned with the selection of the prayers and readings for the devotional portion; they may also attend to the social portion. In small communities the aspect of personal hospitality is easy to carry out, but in large communities the Local Spiritual Assemblies, while retaining the concept of hospitality, may find it necessary to devise other measures. Important aspects of the preparation of the Feast include the proper selection of readings, the assignment, in advance, of good readers, and a sense of decorum both in the presentation and the reception of the devotional program. Attention to the environment in which the Feast is to be held, whether indoors or outdoors, greatly influences the experience. Cleanliness, arrangement of the space in practical and decorative ways — all play a significant part. Punctuality is also a measure of good preparation.

To a very large extent, the success of the Feast depends on the quality of the preparation and participation of the individual. The beloved Master offers the following advice: “Give ye great weight to the Nineteen Day gatherings, so that on these occasions the beloved of the Lord and the handmaids of the Merciful may turn their faces toward the Kingdom, chant the communes, beseech God’s help, become joyfully enamoured each of the other, and grow in purity and holiness, and in the fear of God, and in the resistance to passion and self.

Thus will they separate themselves from this elemental world, and immerse themselves in the ardours of the spirit.””
(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, dated August 27, 1989, to the followers of Bahá’u’lláh)

The part about punctuality made me laugh ruefully. There are so many jokes about this in Baha’i communities but honestly, it really bothers me when we make it a habit of being late to gatherings! Things happen, of course, on an individual basis, but as a community we should have a higher standard of being on time.

During the devotional part of the Nineteen Day Feast any part of the writings of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and the Master can be read, also from the Bible and Qur’an, as these are all sacred scriptures. This part of the meeting need not be confined to prayers, though prayers can and should be read during it.
(In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi)

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Nineteen Day Feast Part 2: Day 18 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Botanic Gardens are in bloom and it is amazing. A good day.In part 1 of this series, I contemplated the importance of Feast. Now, what are the guidelines on where should it be held?

“The matter of where the Nineteen Day Feasts should be held is certainly one for the Spiritual Assembly to decide; but the Haziratu’l-Quds seems the logical place on most occasions. Until the friends have a place of worship … this building will also be used for devotional meetings, as well as for administrative purposes.

“If under some circumstances, some special Feast is offered in the home of one of the believers, with the approval of the Spiritual Assembly, there can be no objection; but, generally speaking, he feels it is better to use the Haziratu’l-Quds.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

“There is no objection to holding meetings in the open air as long as they are conducted with dignity.”
(Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi)

I would love to have Feast outside sometime! And as for the below guidance, it is important to consider the appearance of us being a sect of another religion, or being just a mixture of a bunch of different religions.

“Generally there is no objection to holding … Baha’i functions in places or facilities owned and operated by non-Baha’i religious bodies, provided such use does not tend to identify the Faith, in the eyes of the public, with other religions.”
(Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice)

When should it be held?

“As to your questions concerning the times for Feasts and Holy Days: The Baha’i Day is from sunset to sunset, therefore if in summer the sun sets too late to enable the Nineteen Day Feast to be held on the
preceding evening, it should be held on the day itself. As long as the meeting begins before sunset it is considered to be held on the day which comes to an end with that sunset. Naturally Nineteen Day Feasts should be held on the first day of the Bahai month if possible, but if it should be difficult to do so, for example if it coincides with a regular public meeting evening, it is permissible to hold it on the following day, i.e., on a succeeding day of the Baha’i month.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated June 23, 1964, to a National Spiritual Assembly)

One Assembly that I served on considered carefully when the Feast should be held, looked at the times of sunset, and also tried to hold Feast during the day whenever it fell on a weekend in order to accommodate families or those who worked different shifts. It was reassuring to know the Feast schedule for the year and when it would be far in advance, because I could put it in my calendar and plan around it.

“…You ask if it is within the discretion of a Local Spiritual Assembly, to schedule the Feasts at times other than the first day of a Baha’i­ month, and point out that attendance was very low when the Feasts were held in the middle of a week, but that when held on a Saturday many more of the friends were able to attend. It seems obvious, therefore, that the intent of the Local Assembly, in loving consideration of the members of its community, was to make the participation in a Nineteen Day Feast available to as many of the believers as possible. Perhaps the Assembly was basing its decision on Abdu’l-Baha’s statement, taken from the compilation on the Nineteen Day Feast, that the ‘object’ of the Feast is ‘concord, that through this fellowship hearts may become perfectly united…’

“Other passages from that same compilation are: ‘This Feast is a bringer of joy. It is the groundwork of agreement and unity. It is the key to affection and fellowship… ‘The believers of God must assemble and associate with each other in the utmost love, joy and fragrance.’

“On the other hand, since the beloved Guardian expressed a preference, and considered it ‘most suitable’, for the Feast to be held on the first day of each month, the House of Justice hopes that the friends everywhere will aim at scheduling their Nineteen Day Feasts in this way, and that the friends themselves will arrange their personal affairs to be able to attend.

“As in so many aspects of our beloved Faith, this is a matter of the gradual maturing of the Baha’i­s and of the institutions. The House of Justice feels that you should lovingly guide the Local Assemblies in this matter, but leave it to their discretion for the time being.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Mexico)

Obviously there needs to be a certain amount of flexibility with holding Feast at dates and times where people will attend…but how will we ever learn to center our lives around the rhythm of the Badi calendar when we keep trying to adjust it to fit our lives?

I also found this 2009 letter from the Universal House of Justice about Feast to be very helpful when thinking about Feast as a whole.

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Nineteen Day Feast Part 1: Day 17 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

One of the children drew this during consultation at the Bahai Feast.I think this is going to be a longer and more thoroughly researched post at some point, but I’ve been wanting to record these quotations somewhere for a while, because I spend a lot of time thinking about Feast, how we can improve it, and what it may evolve to be in the future. Sometimes we approach Baha’i Feasts as a boring, every 19 days obligation, rather than as a source of community, of joy, and strength. And sometimes that is because we get guilted about not attending very often, or because our Feast is boring/frustrating to attend, or we are tired and the idea of going somewhere in the cold after working all day is exhausting. But we are still in the infant stages of what the Feast will be someday. Maybe we can take ownership of changing our attitudes around Feast. As much as I love Feast, I still struggle with my own frustrations around it at times. I found the following quotations helpful as I wrestled with some of these thoughts.

What is the purpose of Feast?

O thou who art steadfast in the Covenant!

Your detailed letter hath been received, but because of the press of work a brief answer must suffice. You have asked as to the Feast in every Bahá’í month. This Feast is held to foster comradeship and love, to call God to mind and supplicate Him with contrite hearts, and to encourage benevolent pursuits. That is, the friends should there dwell upon God and glorify Him, read the prayers and holy verses, and treat one another with the utmost affection and love. Should trouble arise between two of the friends, let both be invited in, and efforts be made to compose their differences. Let all discussion centre on the doing of charitable acts and holy deeds, that laudable results may be the fruit thereof.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a Tablet to an individual, translated from the Persian)

Give ye great weight to the Nineteen Day gatherings, so that on these occasions the beloved of the Lord and the handmaids of the Merciful may turn their faces toward the Kingdom, chant the communes, beseech God’s help, become joyfully enamoured each of the other, and grow in purity and holiness, and in the fear of God, and in resistance to passion and self. Thus will they separate themselves from this elemental world, and immerse themselves in the ardours of the spirit.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, from a Tablet to the local Spiritual Assembly of Spokane, Washington, translated from the Persian)

So there is obviously a spiritual component, but what about the food?

O ye loyal servants of the Ancient Beauty! In every cycle and dispensation, the feast hath been favoured and loved, and the spreading of a table for the lovers of God hath been considered a praiseworthy act. This is especially the case today, in this dispensation beyond compare, this most generous of ages, when it is highly acclaimed, for it is truly accounted among such gatherings as are held to worship and glorify God. Here the holy verses, the heavenly odes and laudations are intoned, and the heart is quickened, and carried from itself.

The primary intent is to kindle these stirrings of the spirit, but at the same time it follows quite naturally that those present should partake of food, so that the world of the body may mirror the spirit’s world, and flesh take on the qualities of soul; and just as the spiritual delights are here in profusion, so too the material delights.

Happy are ye, to be observing this rule, with all its mystic meanings, thus keeping the friends of God alert and heedful, and bringing them peace of mind, and joy.

(Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá)

I also really like the last sentence in the above selection. “…bringing them peace of mind, and joy.” If we turn Feast into a place where people feel this way, imagine the things our communities could accomplish in that environment! Also, we still don’t fully understand how important the various components of Feast are in combination…there are “mystic meanings” involved here.

Are we required to attend Feast? Why is it so important?

“Attendance at Nineteen Day Feasts is not obligatory but very important, and every believer should consider it a duty and a privilege to be present on such occasions.”

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer)

“…The main purpose of the Nineteen Day Feasts is to enable individual believers to offer any suggestion to the Local Assembly which in its turn will pass it to the National Spiritual Assembly. The Local Assembly is, therefore, the proper medium through which local Bahá’í communities can communicate with the body of the national representatives….”

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada)

“In reply to your letter of November 8th we feel that all friends, whatever their circumstances, should be encouraged to observe the Nineteen Day Feast.

Obviously it can only be an official administrative occasion where there is a Local Spiritual Assembly to take charge of it, present reports to the friends, and receive their recommendations. But groups, spontaneous gatherings of friends, and even isolated believers should certainly remember the day and say prayers together. In the case of a group it may well hold the Feast in the manner in which a Local Spiritual Assembly would do so, recognizing of course that it has no official administrative standing.”

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles)

Alright, so we know that the Nineteen Day Feast is one of the important patterns of our community life, and it seems pretty clear that we can observe Feasts even if there are no other Baha’is nearby. In my next post I will highlight the different portions of Feast and the guidelines surrounding them. 

Go here for Part 2!

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Abdu’l-Baha at the zoo in Chicago: Day 16 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

I live about one mile from the Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the last free zoos in America. On a summer evening, we may ride our bikes there, stroll in the gardens, or look at the animals. It is a magical place to me in many ways. I remember coming across this photo years ago and being struck by it. Abdu’l-Baha leaning over the railing of the enclosure, looking at the animals in 1912 on His visit to America. Having mostly seen posed photos over the years, it was a revelation to see Him doing such a relatable thing in my hometown.

I wonder what the conversation amongst the local Baha’is was like when planning His visit and trying to figure out where to take Him. I may try to find out if any of the original structures shown in these photos still exist.

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The Baha’i Proofs: Day 15 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Another of the discoveries from my time at the Baha’i National Center (I think?). This one is something that I actually own. It is the 1929 edition of a book originally published in 1902, and was a standard introductory book to the Baha’i Faith for many years. It was written by Mirza Abu’l-Fadl and translated by Ali Kuli Khan, who is a fascinating person himself. I love old books, though I don’t collect them, and history is a passion of mine. I was especially struck by the paragraph about the lack of the application of the transliteration standard set by Shoghi Effendi. How fascinating to see how early in the Guardian’s ministry he was working to standardize the system of translation and word usage.

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Having a voice: Day 13 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Feast was lovely in Wilmette tonight. Scattered at times, but lovely.When I was a child, I remember curling up under a blanket or even pulling a rug over myself during long meetings, or Feast, or any activity in which adults were talking and I stayed in the room. I remember being small, but assertive. (Nothing has changed about the assertive part.) I remember my parents telling me that I needed to have a voice, even if my voice was small and my thoughts not fully formed. That this was my Baha’i community and that participation from individual community members is one of the things that made the Baha’i Faith different from other religions.

I remember having a voice. I remember that sometimes people struggle with that voice, that nothing has changed since then, that we still fight against the influences of a failing society, with its flaws and racism and misogyny. But that I had a voice, and a community, and that was more than a lot of people I knew. And now I am more aware, and I can speak up, and bring up the tough conversations.

We are learning, as a community, how to give others a voice, and what consultation truly looks like. We are human, and therefore flawed, but we are learning. And I promise that I will always try to hear everyone’s voice.

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Who signed the guest book? Day 11 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Things I find when cleaning out the Wilmette archives. Look at those top two names!When I lived in Wilmette, I served on the Local Spiritual Assembly for a few years and also served as the Wilmette Archivist. This title was more of an honorary acknowledgement of my natural interest in old things and my organizing ability as the Wilmette community had to move its boxes and books to a storage unit when the Baha’i Home was turned into an office for the Baha’i National Center. I often regretted not taking more photos and spending more time with the papers in those files. I would love to have the time to completely digitize them and allow people to search through them.

One day I found a guestbook that had a few names on the first page that I recognized. As a child I heard stories about these individuals, and it looks like they came for a visit on the same day from opposite ends of the country. They were both serving as members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada at that time (it split into two different Assemblies in 1948), so I’m guessing they were in town for a National Spiritual Assembly meeting. It was really special to come across this and imagine them in town, attending some Baha’i gathering, and signing that guestbook.

January 11, 1943: Amelia E. Collins; Phoenix, AZ

January 11, 1943: Louis G. Gregory; Eliot, ME

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My visit to Spain in 2007: Day 10 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

When I was serving at the Baha’i World Center in Israel from 2006-2008, I needed to leave the country to renew my visa, and I was also due for a vacation. I didn’t have much money, so I decided to go visit my friend Lorenia, who I had met online through our blogs and who had just recently become a member of the Baha’i Faith. We had never met in person, but she was living on the northern coast of Spain at the time and I decided to take a chance and take a week-long trip to stay with her.

We match!Luckily, she wasn’t a criminal, and in fact, has become one of my closest friends (oh my goodness, look how young we were!). The timing was great, as it was October and we were able to attend many Baha’i activities in the local Baha’i community. We went to a study circle, Feast, the regional unit convention, and the celebration of the Birth of the Bab in the week that I was there!

Where the regional convention was held todayAttending the regional convention was a magical experience. We left Gijon when it was still dark, early in the morning, and drove to a farm somewhere in the country. The roads were winding, the fences were made of stone, and a light fog swirled through the farms and trees. When we arrived we went to this guest house where chairs and tables were set out and there were snacks. I couldn’t follow most of the conversation, but every gathering we attended was full of love…and really amazing food.

For the Birth of the Bab celebration, we went to the home of one of the relatives of the Bab, which made it even more special, where platters of food were shared and we spent the entire day hanging out, speaking a mixture of Persian, English, and Spanish, and meeting new people. They spent much of their time trying to convince me to move there…which was tempting, given how beautiful it was there and how lovely the people were.

Holy Day dinner

The experience of being immediately embraced by this community of people who knew nothing about me is something that I have experienced my entire life, yet is hard to explain to people who don’t know what that feels like. It is like having aunts, uncles, and cousins where ever I go in the world, and I’ve never felt truly alone. This is a gift that I am eternally grateful for.

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Map of the travels of the Central Figures: Day 9 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Map of the travels of the Central Figures

Another of the treasures that I found in my work at the US Baha’i National Center is the discovery of copies of maps that were probably created in the 1950s. This one is a map of the travels of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith: The Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha.

First of all, I love the design from this era. The fonts and colors are all so appealing to me. The softness and elegance make you want to hang this on your wall. I am pretty sure that I have the original document lying around somewhere, and I’d love to get it framed and displayed someday.

Second, growing up as a child attending Baha’i children’s classes, we learned about Their travels but rarely had a visual to rely on. Especially one that showed all three at once. I would love to see a map of Shoghi Effendi’s travels too!

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Sustainability at Gatherings: Day 8 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Have you ever noticed the pile of papers after Baha’i Feast, or a reflection gathering? We want to make sure we have enough copies of the Feast letter, or the Treasurer’s report, or whatever documents we need to share or read…and then we kill a bunch of trees and waste paper and very few people refer to those documents again.

We hosted Feast on Friday at our home, and though we have a printer, we decided to put the letters up on the TV for everyone to read. It wasn’t a perfect solution, though we tried to zoom in to help people see the letters…and we successfully managed to have no paper printed! We have done this once before and got good feedback on it.

I realize that we may not always have access to technology (or the know-how!) at our gatherings, and I also know that screens just don’t feel the same as a piece of paper in our hands, but we should consider the responsibility we have toward our planet when planning our gatherings!

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Historic photos of the Baha’i House of Worship for North America Part 3: Day 7 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Back when I worked at the Baha’i National Center in 2012, I found this series of photos in a stack of items that were being given away. I decided to scan them in and post them, but then I never actually shared them widely. I split it into different posts because they’re from different time frames. I love seeing the progression of the House of Worship over time, and it really helped give me a sense of how long it took to construct this building.

You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

March 5, 1953
1953-Auditorium of the Baha'i House of Worship


March 5, 1953 - alcove at the Baha'i House of Worship

Unknown date
Mid 1950s? No date

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Historic photos of the Baha’i House of Worship for North America Part 2: Day 6 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Back when I worked at the Baha’i National Center in 2012, I found this series of photos in a stack of items that were being given away. I decided to scan them in and post them, but then I never actually shared them widely. I split it into different posts because they’re from different time frames. I love seeing the progression of the House of Worship over time, and it really helped give me a sense of how long it took to construct this building.

You can find part 1 of this series here.

December 5, 1940
December 5, 1940

December 18, 1941
Baha'i House of Worship with scaffolding

July 1, 1942
July 1 1942 Baha'i House of Worship

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Historic photos of the Baha’i House of Worship for North America Part 1: Day 5 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Back when I worked at the Baha’i National Center in 2012, I found this series of photos in a stack of items that were being given away. I decided to scan them in and post them, but then I never actually shared them widely. I split it into different posts because they’re from different time frames. I love seeing the progression of the House of Worship over time, and it really helped give me a sense of how long it took to construct this building.

October 8, 1930
October 8, 1930

October 23, 1930
October 23, 1930 Baha'i House of Worship

October 23 1930 Baha'i House of Worship

October 31, 1930
October 31 1930

November 14, 1930
November 14, 1930 Baha'i House of Worship

April 28, 1931
April 28, 1931

April 28 1931 dome

April 28 1931

March 6, 1934
Baha'i House of Worship, March 6, 1934

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Why am I participating in the Baha’i Blogging Challenge? Day 4 – Baha’i Blogging Challenge

Some of my Baha’i internet friends started this initiative to blog each day in November and I thought it was a great way to get back into something that I used to do quite regularly. I’ve made lifelong friendships through my blog and learned to express myself creatively in ways that I never would have without an audience.

I started blogging in 2001, in my senior year of high school, before most people knew what blogging was. My first post on this blog was in June 2003, which seems like a lifetime ago. And it really is, in internet terms. Back then, it was considered strange and dangerous to meet up in real life with people that you met on the internet. Sharing personal information about oneself online was such a new concept and I remember so many people being very concerned about it…and then this little pocket of the internet where we were all sharing all the things. It was surreal to be able to connect to so many other people online, particularly Baha’is, that I could then meet at conferences or when traveling.

I think in some ways it helped me develop my Baha’i identity even further. I could learn about how Baha’is lived in other countries, and in the days before Facebook, I got a glimpse of personal connection that seems deeper than what I have now with most social media. Sometimes we didn’t even know what we looked like, all we had was a screen name and the written word, and it was somehow more intimate for all of that.

There is a certain amount of nostalgia in this blog, and I’m glad that I have not deleted it and that I’ve tried to keep it going. It helped shape who I am now in some pretty important ways, and I am grateful for that.

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Nineteen Months & why I continue after 7 years – Day 2 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

I post about Nineteen Months quite a bit on my social media channels, but rarely do I actually explain my involvement in it and the amount of time it takes in my life. It is something that I never expected to keep going as long as it has!

A friend and I originally started the site based on a now-defunct yearly Fast blog called Nineteen Days, with the goal of generating Baha’i-inspired art and content based on the cycles of the Badi Calendar. The first post was March 19, 2010 with photos only. As time went on we added articles and various forms of the written word. Four years ago when he stepped down, my friend Caitlin Castelaz came on board to be my co-editor. Since she has a writing and editing background, she had the training to take on or start a lot of the projects, like Vahid, that I would never have been able to do.

There are background logistics that are required for such an endeavor. Recruiting photographers and writers to provide content at no cost is, of course, a challenge. We have been lucky to have a large number of talented people assist us over the years, and I’m grateful for the time and energy they have given to this project.

Every 19 days I send an email to all the photographers on my current roster and remind them that their photos are due. They send me a photo and quote, and I arrange it and format it for posting in WordPress (our publishing platform). It takes about an hour each Baha’i month to arrange everything. I have to upload the photos (sometimes resizing), then ensure that the photographers are credited and the location, quotation, and any notes are included. If the quotation is from the Baha’i Writings I check the source to make sure it is noted correctly. Then I publish the post, share the link on the Nineteen Months Facebook page, and on my own Facebook page.

Of course there is basic maintenance and upkeep of the site. We have to pay for hosting, renew it each year, update the WordPress template and do a site redesign every so often to keep things fresh. We recruit new contributors, respond to emails, and have phone consultations. We recently collaborated with Baha’i Publishing to put out a calendar. All of these things take time, and this is not a site that generates revenue.

As the editors, we are fairly open with who we are and who contributes to the site, because I think it is important to know the faces behind the posts and who we are. I hope to continue working on Nineteen Months as long as it is useful and people want to contribute to it. If you know anyone that wants to be a contributor (photographer or writing, no requirement to actually be a Baha’i!), please send them our way.

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The importance of Chicago according to Abdu’l-Baha – Day 1 Baha’i Blogging Challenge

I have lived in Chicago for the majority of my life. We moved here when I was 8 years ago because my parents wanted to live near the House of Worship and my dad was offered a job in the area.  Recently someone reminded me about this specific passage from Tablets of the Divine Plan: “Up to the present time, every movement initiated in Chicago, its effect was spread to all parts and to all directions, just as everything that appears in and manifests from the heart influences all the organs and limbs of the body.”

I included the full text of the Tablet, as I feel you need context when reading these quotations to get the true impact. There is a great article from Baha’i Blog that discusses the history and significance of the Tablets of the Divine Plan…written during World War I, they were the blueprint for the Baha’is to teach the Faith and build the administrative functions of the Faith. There is also a site with some additional information about these Tablets…including some photos of the original postcards that they were written on!

As a child I recited the prayer at the bottom of this post all the time, memorizing it shortly after we moved to Chicago. It is a blessing to live in the shadow of the Baha’i House of Worship.

Revealed on February 8, 1917, in Bahá’u’lláh’s room at the house of Abbúd in ‘Akká, and addressed to the Bahá’ís of the twelve Central States of the United States: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

He is God!
O ye old believers and intimate friends:

GOD says in the great Qur’án: “He specializes for His Mercy whomsoever He willeth.”

These twelve Central States of the United States are like unto the heart of America, and the heart is connected with all the organs and parts of man. If the heart is strengthened, all the organs of the body are reinforced, and if the heart is weak all the physical elements are subjected to feebleness.

Now praise be to God that Chicago and its environs from the beginning of the diffusion of the fragrances of God have been a strong heart. Therefore, through divine bounty and providence it has become confirmed in certain great matters.

First: The call of the Kingdom was in the very beginning raised from Chicago. This is indeed a great privilege, for in future centuries and cycles, it will be as an axis around which the honor of Chicago will revolve.

Second: A number of souls with the utmost firmness and steadfastness arose in that blessed spot in the promotion of the Word of God and even to the present moment, having purified and sanctified the heart from every thought, they are occupied with the promulgation of the teachings of God. Hence the call of praise is raised uninterruptedly from the Supreme Concourse.

Third: During the American journey ‘Abdu’l-Bahá several times passed through Chicago and associated with the friends of God. For some time he sojourned in that city. Day and night he was occupied with the mention of the True One and summoned the people to the Kingdom of God.

Fourth: Up to the present time, every movement initiated in Chicago, its effect was spread to all parts and to all directions, just as everything that appears in and manifests from the heart influences all the organs and limbs of the body.

Fifth: The first Mashriqu’l-Adhkár in America was instituted in Chicago, and this honor and distinction is infinite in value. Out of this Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, without doubt, thousands of Mashriqu’l-Adhkárs will be born.

Likewise (were instituted in Chicago) the general Annual Conventions, the foundation of the Star of the West, the Publishing Society for the publication of books and Tablets and their circulation in all parts of America, and the preparations now under way for the celebration of the Golden Centenary Anniversary of the Kingdom of God. I hope that this Jubilee and this Exhibition may be celebrated in the utmost perfection so that the call to the world of unity, “There is no God but One God, and all the Messengers, from the beginning to the Seal of the Prophets (Muḥammad) were sent on the part of the True One!” may be raised; the flag of the oneness of the world of humanity be unfurled, the melody of universal peace may reach the ears of the East and the West, all the paths may be cleared and straightened, all the hearts may be attracted to the Kingdom of God, the tabernacle of unity be pitched on the apex of America, the song of the love of God may exhilarate and rejoice all the nations and peoples, the surface of the earth may become the eternal paradise, the dark clouds may be dispelled and the Sun of Truth may shine forth with the utmost intensity.

O ye friends of God! Exert ye with heart and soul, so that association, love, unity and agreement be obtained between the hearts, all the aims may be merged into one aim, all the songs become one song and the power of the Holy Spirit may become so overwhelmingly victorious as to overcome all the forces of the world of nature. Exert yourselves; your mission is unspeakably glorious. Should success crown your enterprise, America will assuredly evolve into a center from which waves of spiritual power will emanate, and the throne of the Kingdom of God will, in the plentitude of its majesty and glory, be firmly established.

This phenomenal world will not remain in an unchanging condition even for a short while. Second after second it undergoes change and transformation. Every foundation will finally become collapsed; every glory and splendor will at last vanish and disappear, but the Kingdom of God is eternal and the heavenly sovereignty and majesty will stand firm, everlasting. Hence in the estimation of a wise man the mat in the Kingdom of God is preferable to the throne of the government of the world.

Continually my ear and eye are turned toward the Central States; perchance a melody from some blessed souls may reach my ears—souls who are the dawning-places of the love of God, the stars of the horizon of sanctification and holiness—souls who will illumine this dark universe and quicken to life this dead world. The joy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá depends upon this! I hope that you may become confirmed therein.

Consequently, those souls who are in a condition of the utmost severance, purified from the defects of the world of nature, sanctified from attachment to this earth, vivified with the breaths of eternal life—with luminous hearts, with heavenly spirit, with attraction of consciousness, with celestial magnanimity, with eloquent tongues and with clear explanations—such souls must hasten and travel through all parts of the Central States. In every city and village they must occupy themselves with the diffusion of the divine exhortations and advices, guide the souls and promote the oneness of the world of humanity. They must play the melody of international conciliation with such power that every deaf one may attain hearing, every extinct person may be set aglow, every dead one may obtain new life and every indifferent soul may find ecstasy. It is certain that such will be the consummation.

Let the spreaders of the fragrances of God recite this prayer every morning:

O LORD, my God! Praise and thanksgiving be unto Thee for Thou hast guided me to the highway of the kingdom, suffered me to walk in this straight and far-stretching path, illumined my eye by beholding the splendors of Thy light, inclined my ear to the melodies of the birds of holiness from the kingdom of mysteries and attracted my heart with Thy love among the righteous.

O Lord! Confirm me with the Holy Spirit, so that I may call in Thy Name amongst the nations, and give the glad tidings of the manifestation of Thy kingdom amongst mankind.

O Lord! I am weak, strengthen me with Thy power and potency. My tongue falters, suffer me to utter Thy commemoration and praise. I am lowly, honor me through admitting me into Thy kingdom. I am remote, cause me to approach the threshold of Thy mercifulness. O Lord! Make me a brilliant lamp, a shining star and a blessed tree, adorned with fruit, its branches overshadowing all these regions. Verily, Thou art the Mighty, the Powerful and Unconstrained.

-‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan

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The Nineteen Months Calendar!

I can’t express how excited I am about working with the Baha’i Publishing Trust to create a wall calendar that is now for sale on their website. Caitlin Castelaz, my co-editor, and I worked with our photographers to submit photos and quotations to be included in this 15 month calendar. It is great for your cubicle or wall in your house. The photos are beautiful and I’m so grateful to our photographers who contribute every 19 days to this project…which has been going on for 7 years (the project began in March of 2010).

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Nineteen Months Poetry

Over at Nineteen Months (the site that I founded and now run with my friend Caitlin), we had 19 day project of words from various authors about the Baha’i Fast, and Caitlin organized it all. She put it together in a PDF for everyone to enjoy: A Fast Word: The Anthology.

The poem that I contributed:

My Mother’s Hands 

My hands do not yet look like my mother’s hands
but they are starting to move in the same ways
and express themselves on their own.
When I pour coffee early in the morning
my hands cradle the cup
and I view the skyline of my home.
Dawn comes in little pieces
the tests come in waves
each chasing the other.

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