There are many topics worthy of focus in the 29 December 2015 message from the Universal House of Justice: it is packed full of wonderful insights and guidance that generations of people around the world will continue to learn about as they work together to build a new society. I chose to look at the analogy of farming as it relates to the community building process. At the very end of the message, the Universal House of Justice states:
All that the followers of Baha’u’llah have learned in the last twenty years must culminate in the accomplishments of the next five. The scale of what is being asked of them brings to mind one of His Tablets in which He describes, in striking terms, the challenge entailed in spreading His Cause:
‘How many the lands that remained untilled and uncultivated; and how many the lands that were tilled and cultivated, and yet remained without water; and how many the lands which, when the harvest time arrived, no harvester came forth to reap! However, through the wonders of God’s favour and the revelations of His loving-kindness, We cherish the hope that souls may appear who are the embodiments of heavenly virtue and who will occupy themselves with teaching the Cause of God and training all that dwell on earth.’1
The Universal House of Justice calls to mind this particular quote when they think about “the scale of what is being asked”. I wondered about the significance of this beautiful passage. I decided to try and read up a little more to try and find other instances where the analogy of farming is used in the Baha’i Writings. I started reading The Tablets of the Divine Plan written by Abdu’l-Baha during the period of 1916-1917, and realized that He used this analogy all the time. A few examples below are highlighted:
Now you must become heavenly farmers and scatter pure seeds in the prepared soil. The harvest of every other seed is limited, but the bounty and the blessing of the seed of the divine teachings is unlimited. Throughout the coming centuries and cycles many harvests will be gathered.2
A person declaring the glad tidings of the appearance of the realities and significances of the Kingdom is like unto a farmer who scatters pure seeds in the rich soil.3
The sons and daughters of the Kingdom are like unto the real farmers. Through whichever state or country they pass they display self sacrifice and sow the divine seeds. From that seed harvests are produced.4
While I reflected on the passage from Baha’u’llah and these writings of Abdu’l-Baha, I was reminded of the Ruhi Institute, the tool that the Universal House of Justice has guided the Baha’i community to use in order to sustainably assist ever-expanding numbers of people to build capacity for meaningful service to their communities. As many people are aware, the Ruhi Institute is one of the central components of the current series of Plans that the Baha’i community is engaged in. In the last section of Book 6 (Teaching the Cause) of the Ruhi Institute it states:
The principles governing the growth of plants are the same in a small flower bed and in a farm spread over hundreds of hectares. Yet tending a few plants in one’s personal garden is very different from farming large extensions.5
So how is farming very different from tending a few plants on one’s personal garden? Those who are actually farmers would definitely know a lot about this, though from my limited knowledge, I could list a few ideas:
- Farms can never rely on just one person to do the farming. A team of people who work together must tend the farm. This sounds like the spirit of mutual support and assistance, and the idea of “core teams” that the community building process fosters!
- The team of people must be trained. They might not all carry out the same functions, but they have specific tasks, and specific training that suits those functions. Isn’t it interesting that the Ruhi Institute parallels this with its sequences of courses? Each course is focused on developing the knowledge, skills, qualities and attitudes for different aspects of community building, and individuals can choose to focus on different aspects of the community building process such as home-visits, children’s classes, animating junior youth groups, tutoring study circles, teaching the Faith directly in campaigns, hosting firesides and youth gatherings, to name a few.
- The workers on the farm use machinery to make their work easier, and enable them to tend to many more crops at once. Ok, this might be a little bit of a stretch, but maybe this could relate to our cluster reflection meetings that happen every three months, the youth gatherings that are now proliferating across neighbourhoods, regions and cities, and even the administrative structures that are developing in harmony – the Local Spiritual Assemblies, Auxiliary Board members and their assistants, coordinators and the Area Teaching Committees.
- Farming must be systematic. It requires a plan that all can follow and different steps along the way. The stages of sowing seeds, cultivating and harvesting correspond really well to the stages of the 3 month cycles that the Baha’i community operates in – expansion, consolidation and reflection.
There are probably many more insights we could gain from farming and too many to write in this blog. Perhaps this is a topic we can learn more about with our communities. I have often heard the statement, in conversations about teaching the Faith, that “we are planting the seeds for the future”. Maybe now we can take this statement further, and ask ourselves the questions: How do we sow large numbers of seeds, cultivate them, and harvest them systematically? How do we ensure that there are growing numbers of workers on the farm and it is not just one or two farmers trying to do everything? How do we ensure that the farmers are supported to carry out and sustain their work? What is the nature of the crop that we are trying to cultivate and harvest?
Good luck with your farms everyone!