My time by numbers…

4 months until I leave Haifa, Israel and go back to the United States.
My departure date is June 7.
11 weeks until the event that I came here to work on occurs.
3 weeks until Ayyam-i-Ha.
19 Saturdays until my departure.

And to think how easy it would be to spend eternity in this place…

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we felt the silence, in the way a child knows to be quiet when the room hushes suddenly.
it wasn’t heavy…it lifted the heart, and around we went
our shoes in varied sounds and rhythms.
the city moved on, in the usual way, and in our one way we spent forever
following the thousands before.

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99 days

Today I noticed that we have 99 days until a Very Important Event (I should have noticed 100, but it has been a little busy around here!).

Last night I spent time with people I usually don’t see very often, and it was a breath of fresh air. We had coffee (well, I ate an entire meal, dinner #2) and had some conversation that made my brain happy. By this I mean there were ideas and conversations that were entirely different than my usual interactions, with new stories and amusing anecdotes. Perfect.

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It has been a while

The last “Books” post was in July…and I have read a few books since then. 🙂 I am pretty sure that I’ve forgotten a few.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt, Stephen J Dubner

Tablets of the Divine Plan: revealed by Abdu’l-Baha to the North American Bahais

One People One Planet: The Adventures of a World Citizen by Andre Brugiroux
Amazing story of the journey of one man who hitchhiked around the world.

Summon up Remembrance and Arches of the Years Marzieh Gail
These two books have become some of my favorites…it is about the first Persian-American Baha’i family, and gives a glimpse into the life of the early believers, as well as a fascinating perspective on Persian culture.

Still reading:
What Is the What by Dave Eggers
Shoutout to Bill O. for sending me this book…It is about the Lost Boys of Sudan. Incredible book, although sometimes painful to read.

The Great Adventure by Florence Mayberry
heartwarming, sweet, and amusing.

Shoghi Effendi: The Range and Power of His Pen by Ali Nakhjavani

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What a wonderful wedding…

Baha’i weddings are so unique…each couple’s style comes through in the ceremony. Two of my very dear friends got married this weekend, and I have to say it was one of the best weddings I’ve been to. There was the perfect mix of humor, reverence, joy, friendship, and love. Plus really good food and lots of dancing. 🙂

I discovered blisters on my feet the next day…no surprise there! Now that the wedding is over, I’m looking forward to the next time we all get dressed up and snazzy looking.

On a completely different note, I’ve been having bad luck with dogs recently. I was walking home the other night with some friends and a dog snapped at me for no reason! It snagged my coat with its teeth but didn’t manage to get me. Last night I was walking home, and as I reached the bottom of a set of stairs, two dogs were at the end of the sidewalk barking. They started coming toward me, so I ran all the way back up the stairs and walked around the long way. I am not normally afraid of dogs, but this is just getting ridiculous.

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One Year

As of December 8th (tomorrow), I will have been in Haifa, Israel for one year. I keep writing little pieces of some kind of summary, but my words have been failing for a while now.

I know I’ve changed, and am still exactly myself.

There is something to be said for solitude. I haven’t quite figured out the words yet…when I am alone I think in pictures and concepts and it reminds me of the pieces of the notes we wrote, the words we wrote and never kept. I wish I’d saved more than one or two, I don’t remember how I used to think anymore…and the tradgedy is that I forgot about my silence.

Enough of the self-analysis!

Life is wonderful, how could it not be? The Shrines…oh, how can words even be enough? I love the work that I am doing, my friends are solid and make me laugh.

Chicago was left behind in a whirlwhind of snow and goodbyes, Chicago comes to me through pilgrims, pictures, and stories. Haifa has always been home and will always be home, and the rain now makes me smile as I sleep in my balcony, the sharp taps on glass and streetlights flash.

Staring across the foggy sea from the balcony, the glowing clouds hover just inches above, the Terraces up to the left, the Shrine of the Bab just hovering through trees, an entire city sparkling and living…these will probably be my enduring memories. Who knows? There are so many things that change and stay the same.

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Science and Religion

My last post regarding science and religion was touched on very lightly, so I thought I’d explain a bit of where I am coming from.  The following excerpts explain much better than I ever could.

“Among the ancient philosophers the infallible way to knowledge was through logic. The different schools of logic weighed everything in the scales of cold scholasticism. As to religious people their criterion has ever been the sacred text which must be accepted as final. One is not allowed the slightest reflection. “The word of God,” they say, “is truth.” Inspiration is the fourth criterion. Occultists say, “I have had a revelation. This truth has been revealed to me.”   For them everything outside direct revelation is viewed with doubt. So we have indicated the four criterions: the senses, reason, the sacred text, inspirations. There is no fifth.

Let us speak of the first criterion — that of the senses. Contemporary philosophers say, “We have spent our time in universities and laboratories analyzing composition. We have not encountered the spirituality of God, or any sign of the soul’s existence. We are people of truth, intelligent, learned men, but we can find no proof of the existence of a divine being.”

The senses mistake a mirage for water; the eyes see the sun move; your train or boat seems immobile and the landscape seems to pass by, planets look like fixed points of light; but they have measurable dimensions. A lighted point set in rotation appears like a circle. These examples show the senses subject to error. How can we put our trust in them?

The test of logic is just as imperfect, for were this criterion perfect there would never have been the continual clash of opinion as to the sacred texts. How can they be interpreted by logic if the means be at fault?

Inspiration, what is it? Whence comes it? Is that which reaches our heart divine or satanic? How can we judge?

It is no proof of intelligence to reject everything which does not strike the senses. Nay, rather, such a one is brother to the animal. The cow has no idea of God; she does not know the soul. So the only difference between her highness the cow and a materialistic philosopher is that the latter takes a great deal of trouble! It is not a special or exclusive privilege to be the prisoner of one’s senses; the cow is the example of this theory.”

 (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 94)

“Until now it has been said that all religions were composed of tenets that had to be accepted, even if they seems contrary to science. Thanks be to God, that in this new cycle the admonition of [Baha’u’llah] is that in the search for truth man must weigh religious questions in the balance of science and reason. God has given us rational minds for this purpose, to penetrate all things, to find truth. If one renounce reason, what remains? The sacred texts? How can we understand God’s commands and to what use can we put them without the balance of reason?

The priests are attached to ancient superstitions and when these are not in keeping with science, the priests denounce science. When religion is upheld by science and reason we can believe with assurance and act with conviction, for this rational faculty is the greatest power in the world. Through it industries are established, the past and present are laid bare and the underlying realities are brought to light. Let us make nature our captive, break through all laws of limitation and with deep penetration bring to light that which is hidden. The power to do this  is the greatest of divine benefits. Why treat with indifference such a divine spark? Why ignore a faculty so beneficial, a sun so powerful?”

 (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 100)

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“Love is the means of the most great happiness in both the material and spiritual worlds!” -Abdu’l-Baha

Sometimes I don’t know how I got here (physically, spiritually, emotionally). Most days everything feels normal…and then there are the times I find myself in a room with a group of completely amazing people that I really admire, or walking in the gardens at night with the Shrine of the Báb glowing in front of me. More and more the concept of detachment comes to the front of my mind as the one thing that keeps me level, allows me to fulfill my capacity, and focuses me on the important things. When I forget to say my prayers for detachment, everything just seems to slide out of reach.

“Love is the universal magnetic power between the planets and stars shining in the lofty firmament!” -Abdu’l-Baha

I found this quote while looking for something else…wow:

“Universal beings resemble and can be compared to particular beings, for both are subjected to one natural system, one universal law and divine organization. So you will find the smallest atoms in the universal system are similar to the greatest beings of the universe.” -Abdu’l-Baha

It makes me think about scientists spending so much time looking for carbon-based life forms, about the search for habitable planets and our definition of the physical universe. We are so limited as human beings, in this form, and we struggle to understand our surroundings. I don’t have any answers, but it sure is fun to think about!

“Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit inspired into the human spirit!” -Abdu’l-Baha

There is this concept that the mind is not connected to the body…the mind exists in the soul. This is so beautiful! Our brain is the conduit through which our mind operates our body. So…the mind/spirit is what makes us human, which allows us to operate with free will (which in my mind is one of the distinguishing characteristics of being human).

“Love is the greatest law in this vast universe of God!” -Abdu’l-Baha

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Over halfway

September 8th marked the halfway point in my service in Haifa.  9 months left.

I know that I’ve changed, that I’ve stayed the same.   There are so many beautiful moments, and I wish I could gather every beautiful soul into my hands and carry them with me anywhere I go in the world.  I wish I could explain everything here, or write it down, but recently words have been failing me.  Perhaps pictures would suffice.

I am so, so happy here.  Autumn is slowly creeping around the corner, the pilgrim season starts in a few weeks, the magic of the smell of cold evenings still exists in the world.  

The passing of the last Hand of the Cause of God is still too recent to even understand.  As far as I can remember, I had the bounty of meeting four of them (at least the ones I remember meeting).   `Alí-Muhammad Varqá, `Alí-Akbar Furútan, Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum, and William Sears…and now they’re all gone.

“The greatest attainment in the world of humanity is nearness to God. Every lasting glory, honor, grace and beauty which comes to man comes through nearness to God.”

 (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 147)

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In loving memory

In just a short time I will attend the funeral of the last Hand of the Cause of God, Dr. ‘Alí-Muhammad Varqá.  He passed on to the Abha Kingdom on Saturday evening.

The obligations of the Hands of the Cause of God are to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things. They must manifest the fear of God by their conduct, their manners, their deeds and their words.

 (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 444)

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I love evenings at Bahji

A weekend means:
-the lending library
-an evening reading a book on the couch
-a day at the beach
-an evening at Bahji

Recently I’ve been burning pots and pans…which is usually a rare occurrence. I’m wondering if I am being haunted by an evil kitchen ghost, which I have named Bartholomew the Second. (If I believed in ghosts, of course.)

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A Holy Day

Today was the commemoration of the Martyrdom of the Bab, which we observe on the lunar calendar in Israel.

I woke up at 9 am to make a giant breakfast and shared it with some friends in my building.  At 11:30 we caught a cab to the Shrine of the Bab for the program at noon.  Every Holy Day chairs are set up in the courtyard of the pilgrim house, prayers are read, and we circumambulate the Shrine.   It is quite beautiful and peaceful.

After the program was over, 10 of us went up to the Merkaz (top of the mountain, shopping area) to eat lunch.  It was quite delicious.

I spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping on my couch and watching movies.  At around 7 pm I went over to Roya’s, and I got home just a little while ago.

So that is my day, one restful day in middle of a busy week.  People ask me what is new, what is happening in my life.  I’m busy, and that is really all I have to say.  The details are not that important, especially if you’re not me.  :-)  There are the usual things, and I document with pictures and stories and words, some things you see, some you don’t.  There are some exciting things in the works…trips, events, etc.  I think every weekend is already booked from now until November (ok, maybe I exaggerate a little, but still!).

Also, I am still getting used to the idea of being 24.  Hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

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The heat of August

The heat has not been crippling this summer, and I work inside an office during the day, so I do not get the brunt of it. Maybe 15 years of Chicago winters went so far into my bones that I need 15 years of sun to get tired of it. 🙂

Bahji (where the Shrine of Baha’u’llah is located, about 45 minutes drive from Haifa) is only open in the evenings right now because they are doing major construction and landscaping, so I have spent a few evenings there in the last few weeks. It is really quite amazing to be there in the quiet dark, with only small pools of light from the opaque globes scattered around the gardens.

Meet my new friend, from Bahji:

One thing blends into another, each night is like the other, and each moment there is more strength in my words. I made promises to myself in each place, these are now binding and I am not playing games anymore.

(there are games and then there are games, and I haven’t played either in a very long time)

I hope I am not getting sick, the tiredness is in my head and my throat and I am not sure why midnight is a magic time, suddenly I must sleep. I know there is much more for me to say, about beach days and bridal showers for friends, dinners and birthdays and moments with every single person I meet. The stuffy Jasmine-filled heat of sanctuary, home is here and home left the moment I opened my eyes today.

I made promises. I say this out loud to hold myself to them, the prayers will not drift away in the wind and everything is tied down with the most beautiful pieces of string.

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The Garden of Ridvan

“Every tree uttered a word, and every leaf sang a melody.”

“God’s power and the perfection of His handiwork could enjoyably be seen in the blossoms, the fruits, the trees, the leaves and the streams.”

“In brief, all in the Garden were recipients of the choicest bounties and in the end expressed their thanksgiving unto their Lord. O that all God’s beloved would have been present on this day!” -Baha’u’llah

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I am a pilgrim.

It is strange to be a pilgrim AND a staff member.  Not as weird as I thought it would be, but still.  I really appreciate that my fellow BWC staff members are respecting the fact that I’m on pilgrimage and are not calling me and such.

If you haven’t already, you should check out my pictures that I’ve been putting up nearly every day on my flickr.

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Starting tomorrow

I start my Baha’i pilgrimage tomorrow. The last time we went was in 1997, so I was 14 at the time. A lot has changed in Haifa since then…the Terraces were finished, the Arc project was completed, etc. It is wonderful to be able to go while serving here, and to go with my family.

I got to spend time with my family (and some extended family) tonight, and it really makes me feel more centered to be around them. There is something about the family interaction that makes me feel like all is right with the world.

For 9 days I will spend time in the places Baha’is consider the holiest on earth. I really needed this right now.

Love and prayers to you all.

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Random pieces of life in Haifa

I saw a man washing his dog with a garden hose on Hamegenim Street last night.  I wish I had gotten a picture, because he had put the dog in a shopping cart so that it would not run away.

This country is a haven for those who love pickled veggies…cabbage, cucumbers, cauliflower, olives, beets…it really is done well here.  yum.

My interaction with Israelis is usually limited to taxi/sherut drivers and wait staff at restaurants.  Between work, social activities, programs at the BWC, and friends/family visiting from all over the world, I rarely have time to do anything else. 

Some of you who read my blog may not understand how it is that I can know people from all over the world, and why it is such a constant thing.  Every two weeks a new pilgrim group arrives in Haifa, and their pilgrimage lasts for 9 days.  Now, the “Baha’i world” is rather small, communicates openly, and moves around quite a lot.  So you end up seeing a lot of Baha’is, and 1 or 2 degrees of separation between people who know each other.

I’ve gotten so used to the rather patchwork style of buildings and homes that it is strange to me when I see things that are newer/well maintained.  There are buildings here that haven’t been fixed since last summer’s war.

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Chores, Family, and Pilgrimage

It has been a busy week. Friends & family in town on pilgrimage, a consultant in the office, and social engagements. Whew! Today started another work week (remember, we work Sunday-Friday noon here), and I must say it was one of the busiest days I can remember in our office.

Now I am home, looking longingly at a little art project I’d been wanting to finish, and a Harry Potter movie I bought for $4. Also, bed is looking really great (it is only 6:45 pm!). But the flat needs to be deep-cleaned, I need to cook food…

My mom and little sister get to Haifa tonight, they’ve already landed in Israel. It has been 6 months since I’ve seen them, so I am pretty excited. Dad gets here Thursday, and we are all on pilgrimage starting June 25th, through July 4th. It has been 10 years since our last pilgrimage, and I’m not sure I’m even ready for it. But is anyone ever really ready?

So now I start this week with a new focus on work, family, friends, and my relationship with the Baha’i Faith. I couldn’t be happier.

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The King of Samoa

From Baha’i World News Service:

“….His Highness Susuga Malietoa Tanumafili II…passed away on the evening of 11 May…A follower of the Baha’i Faith, he was one of the longest reigning monarchs in the world. ”

He was the first ruling monarch to accept the Baha’i Faith (Queen Marie of Romania was not a ruling monarch when she accepted the Faith), and there is a Baha’i House of Worship in Samoa.
Please keep him in your prayers.

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The power of speech

Last night we were studying the Kitab-i-Ahd, and this particularly struck me, because recently I’ve been feeling the need for more wisdom in my utterance and my thoughts…been a bit tangled and thorny recently…

Verily I say, the tongue is for mentioning what is good, defile it not with unseemly talk. God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men.
-Baha’u’llah“Unseemly talk”, in my opinion, isn’t just using bad language or saying cruel things…it is also idle chatter or unwise speech. Moderation in all things, of course, since we can’t always talk about philosophy and deep subjects (well, I can’t, I need to be silly once in a while). It seems like a lot of my friends and acquaintances have been thinking about the power of language and speech recently. (See Abi’s excellent post here.)

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The Baha’i World Centre Choir

At Naw Ruz (the Baha’i New Year), the choir sang in the Seat of the Universal House of Justice for the Holy Day observance. If you look closely, you can see me in there. This video was put together by one of our choir members, Glenn, and it really gives you a good idea of how Holy Days are observed at the World Centre. Thanks to Glenn for uploading it and allowing the rest of us to embed it.

And for Ridvan, the choir sang in the Auditorium of the International Teaching Center building. Unfortunately I was unable to join them, since I’d had pneumonia while they had been practicing, but they did a wonderful job. The music on this one isn’t the choir’s actual performance (it is a professional recording), but about halfway through you can see the choir getting ready for the performance.

Finally, today marks 5 months that I have been serving in Haifa, Israel. Hard to believe.

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Is this still happening?

I saw this article on CNN the other day, and wondered if I had gone back in time to the time of the Civil Rights movement.

“Black and white students attended the prom together for the first time on Saturday. In previous years, parents had organized private, segregated dances for students of the school in rural Ashburn, Georgia, 160 miles south of Atlanta.”‘” ‘There was not anybody that I can remember that was black,” she said. “The white people have theirs, and the black people have theirs. It’s nothing racial at all.’ “

The first thing I thought was, “Aren’t there any students who come from mixed ethnicities? Do they have to ‘identify’ as a particular race to attend the white or black dances?” I was happy to see that the initiative was finally taken to have one prom, but the fact that it has taken so long (and that there is still resistance to it) is so sad.

There is no reason that I can possibly fathom to separate based on skin color. I was lucky enough to be raised in a Baha’i family, and the Baha’i Writings are very clear on the subject of racial harmony:

“It is racial, patriotic, religious and class prejudice, that has been the cause of the destruction of Humanity.”“One of the great reasons of separation is colour. Look how this prejudice has power in America, for instance. See how they hate one another! Animals do not quarrel because of their colour! Surely man who is so much higher in creation, should not be lower than the animals. Think over this. What ignorance exists! White doves do not quarrel with blue doves because of their colour, but white men fight with dark-coloured men. This racial prejudice is the worst of all.”

-Abdu’l-Baha, 1911

Our children deserve better than to be taught to hate each other, for any reason.

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Look up

when I tasted the rain
there was salt on my tongue,
and I knew the sea was in the sky today.

there is dust on my hands
and I wait.

Tomorrow is the first day of Ridvan, one of the “Most Great Festivals” in the Baha’i Faith, and which lasts for 12 days. At the Baha’i World Centre, we will celebrate this day at Bahji, where Baha’u’llah was laid to rest. I hope everyone has a wonderful Ridvan.

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today I was alone in the Shrine for 30 minutes
and I let the rare tears fall
today I realized that the jasmine flowers are opening up
and I chased the faint scent around the gardens
today I thanked God for allowing me to be here
and asked for the strength to be of service
today I felt the sun on my face
and realized how alone I have been.

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Last night I walked down the long gravel path arm in arm with my flatmate. We looked at the sky with scattered stars over an empty field, and the lights shining behind and in front of us. Saturday evenings at Bahji are priceless. I will look back on these short days with longing, and I am so glad that I know this now.

In the winter it smells like roses in the Shrines, and in the summer I remember the smell of jasmine. At sunset the trees are aflame and the shadows grow slowly when I circle the gardens. At night there are the shimmering globes that give off a cool illumination, isolated spots of focus in the darkness.

I gazed at the ceiling, my knees pressed against the thick carpets and my hands folded in my lap. The vines, stones, flowers, and metal intertwine, the softness of the silence contrasts with the brightly lit room.

“Let thy soul glow with the flame of this undying Fire that burneth in the midmost heart of the world, in such wise that the waters of the universe shall be powerless to cool down its ardor.”

(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 38)

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Naw Ruz

I decided that for a new year, a new design was needed. I spent hours staring at CSS code, ensuring that I will need a new prescription for my glasses in the next 6 months. Explore the site, there are more pages and information. Thanks must go out to Jordan for designing such a beautiful banner…with no input from me! And to my webmaster and friend Paul for helping with the switch.

Tomorrow is the Baha’i New Year, which is one of my favorites. Holy Days in Haifa are beyond description.

I wonder if maybe you would know me better if you read my words,
or if I tell you all of my stories (in chronological order),
or if I sat quietly with you in the silence of a sunny day in the car.
I think that it has probably been years since I last ate cottage cheese
or peanut butter straight off the spoon.
I think it has been years since time moved so slowly.

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the Madness of March

Ok, so I can’t claim to be a sports fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this weekend I have been heeding the siren call of the NCAA college basketball…and last night the Xavier vs Ohio State game was so intense I was actually shouting. hah.

So I took a little break from the basketball craziness to visit some of the Holy Places on Saturday…I didn’t take a lot of pictures because it felt good to just watch, listen, and participate in the visit. The sun came out and the sea air was crashing against my senses…what a wonderful day.

(House of Abdu’llah Pasha, Saturday)

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Happy Ayyam-i-Ha

Today is the last day of Ayyam-i-Ha, which is a time of joy and gift-giving before the Fast, and is about 4 or 5 days long. The Fast lasts for 19 days…no food or drink between sunrise & sunset. At the end of which we celebrate the Baha’i New Year (Naw Ruz). I had a rather quiet Ayyam-i-Ha, mostly consisting of reading at home and cooking.

When I was wandering down in the Hadar the other night I saw a kids (and their parents!) trying on costumes. Purim is in a few days, and it was kind of surreal to see the familiar sight of Halloween-type costumes in the stores.

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A Book Update

I am still reading Muhammad and the Course of Islam, but since it is such dense material I am taking my time.

I finished Reading Lolita in Tehran and The Tipping Point and I just finished reading Blink, Gladwell’s more recent book on the power of snap judgements. It is fascinating.

I borrowed Years of Silence: Baha’is in the USSR 1938-1946 last week, and finished it over the weekend.

Years of Silence presents the dramatic and harrowing story of the imprisonment, torture, and exile to Siberia of Russian Baha’is during the Second World War who refused to leave their pioneering posts regardless of the consequences.

Excerpt from the book:

“Indeed, when the human heart is bereft of the fear of God, it changes into a frightening and dangerous monster; for one who believes in the might and omniscience of the God who watches over us all and is aware of all of our doings, would never perpetrate such brutality and inequity towards other human beings and would never subject the servants of God, all of whom are the signs of divinity, to tyranny or maltreatment.”

My great-grandfather likely knew some of those Baha’is, since most of them were from Iran, and he had a import-export business. It was a very difficult book to read because it was so heart-rending, but I think it is important to read and understand these things about the history of the Faith, the things that normal human beings suffered.

Last night I started reading The World Order of Baha’u’llah, which are letters from Shoghi Effendi. Some people have a hard time reading Shoghi Effendi’s writing because he manages to put so much information in, but it is really great so far.

I am really enjoying having so few distractions that allow me to read so much. Also, thanks to all of those people who have been lending me books!

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