June 18, 2023 will mark 40 years since 10 Baha’i women were hanged in Shiraz. Their only ‘crime’ was their refusal to renounce their beliefs in a faith that promotes the principles of gender equality, unity, justice, and truthfulness. This collection highlights Baha’i Blog content relating to the ongoing persecution of Baha’is in Iran.
Cluster Reflection meetings are an important part of Baha’i community life now, but depending on the community you live in, attendance can sometimes be low and it’s still something many communities are learning about, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the importance of these meetings and why we should make an effort to attend.
Plan. Act. Reflect. Repeat.
Farzam Arbab, in the foreword of ‘Learning About Growth’, states:
The sharing of experience is extremely valuable. Reflection on the dynamics of the efforts of others yields insights into the causes of crisis and victory in one’s own endeavors.
Learning About Growth, p. 14
The value of reflection is indisputable. As Baha’is and as a community however, its value requires more than mere acknowledgement: Reflection is one of the fundamental principles underlying the mode in which we operate.
In the document Farzam Abab prefaced with the abovementioned words, the story of the Colombian Baha’i community and their efforts to achieve large-scale expansion is told. It tells of their humble beginnings, their journey to bring about growth and the subsequent evolution of the Ruhi Institute.
Of their role as teachers and administrators of the Faith, it is described that, “the most they could expect from themselves was to engage wholeheartedly in an intensive plan of action and an accompanying process of reflection and consultation.” 1
Over time, the process of action accompanied by reflection and consultation became their method of learning and service, giving rise to the eventual development of course and educational materials that we now refer to as the Ruhi Books. It is hard to imagine that something as comprehensive and powerful as the Ruhi Institute process could have been developed through anything less than a set of ideas put into practice, subjected to reflection and consultation, and then further modified.
Similarly, in our own efforts to reach out to the wider community, we operate in a cyclic – though not linear – modus. As the Universal House of Justice describes, a community ideally grows through three-month cycles of activity:
…the burst of expansion experienced as a result of intense action; the necessary period of consolidation during which increases in ranks are fortified; and the opportunities designated for all to reflect and plan.
UHJ Message 12th December 2011, Universal House of Justice
Each stage of the cycle – expansion, consolidation, reflection and planning – is equally important, leading to the enhancement of the next and the effectiveness of the whole. The stage of reflection is to not only celebrate our accomplishments, but to analyze our challenges and learn from both to inform our plans for the next cycle.
Key to the progress of an intensive program of growth is the phase dedicated to reflection, in which the lessons learned in action are articulated and incorporated into plans for the next cycle of activity. Its principal feature is the reflection meeting — as much a time of joyous celebration as it is of serious consultation.
Message to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors, 27 December 2005
Having a voice, having a choice
In the 2013 Ridvan Message, the Universal House of Justice stated:
Gatherings for reflection are increasingly seen as occasions where the community’s efforts, in their entirety, are the subject of earnest and uplifting deliberation.
The Universal House of Justice, 2013 Ridvan Message
This description in no way excludes members of a community who are not formally registered Baha’is. The purpose of a cluster reflection meeting is to deliberate on the affairs of a community and as such, all members of the respective community are encouraged to participate.
To see the purpose of a cluster reflection meeting is to see its potential. For instance, a friend attending a cluster reflection meeting in an area of Nepal explained that some 300 people attended while only around five of the attendees were declared Baha’is. In Toronto, Canada as well, as seen in the film Frontiers of Learning released by the Universal House of Justice, reflection meetings are held on a neighborhood level to more acutely address the needs of a particular community.
Whether you are a child attending a neighborhood children’s class, a junior youth supporting a local group’s service project, a participant in a study circle or an individual believer not involved in any formal core activity – the cluster reflection meeting is a space in which you can become an active protagonist in your community.
In Insights into the Frontiers of Learning – a document released to supplement the aforementioned film – particular mention is given to the increased capacity in formerly underrepresented population groups, such as women and girls:
Women and girls have gained increased confidence by initiating core activities and are having a greater voice in community affairs through participation in reflection meetings and other gatherings.
Insights into the Frontiers of Learning, p. 8
While individual capacity is built through the educational process offered by the Baha’is, so too can a community’s capacity be built by providing collective spaces in which voices are heard. For action to be collaborative, the forum that gives rise to it must be participatory.
Greater than the sum of its parts
The value in reflecting as a greater whole becomes clearer as we understand both its practical and spiritual implications. When following the narrative of the Colombian community, the importance of collective reflection becomes apparent:
The purpose of joint reflection was to seek in the unfathomable depths of the ocean of Revelation the answers to questions, challenges, and problems and to discover the next steps in a path that, if trodden with absolute faith, would lead to unprecedented expansion.
Learning About Growth, page 14
We also see the necessity for collective reflection in the Insights into the Frontiers of Learning document:
As with other structures in the cluster, the means for planning and reflection has also developed organically, becoming more organized, systematic, and varied as complexity has grown. Initial informal interactions […] eventually give rise to a cluster reflection meeting and to other formal and informal occasions for reflection.
Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, p. 13
How then should a reflection gathering look and what form should it take? Again, we look to the Universal House of Justice for guidance:
[In] Gatherings for reflection…participants learn what has been accomplished overall, understand their own labours in that light, and enhance their knowledge about the process of growth by absorbing the counsels of the institutions and drawing on the experience of their fellow believers.
Ridvan Message 2013, Universal House of Justice
Careful analysis of experience, through participatory discussions rather than overly complex and elaborate presentations, serves to maintain unity of vision, sharpen clarity of thought and heighten enthusiasm. Central to such an analysis is the review of vital statistics that suggest the next set of goals to be adopted. Plans are made that take into account increased capacity in terms of the human resources available at the end of the cycle to perform various tasks, on the one hand, and accumulated knowledge about the receptivity of the population and the dynamics of teaching, on the other.
Message to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors, 27 December 2005
However, as mentioned in the Insights from the Frontiers of Learning document, we should also not lose sight of the intended purpose of a reflection meeting:
Reflection meetings sometimes centred too much on planning or instruction rather than the opportunity to learn from experience and revise action accordingly.
Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, p. 14
Above all, regular reflection gives us an opportunity both as individuals and as a community, to “make each morrow richer than its yesterday” and where we fall short – to try again.
I am learning so much from this series on the Ruhi training service. I am so thankful to the Universal House of Justice!!
Carol Campbell (December 12, 2014 at 1:23 AM)
Very nice information on the Reflection meetings and well put together. .
Kalman Basin (December 12, 2014 at 1:03 PM)
What we’ve come to realize is that in community life no service is in isolation. So having a chance to come together and reflect and better understand what we’re doing is critical.
As we act, we also begin to understand the guidance of the UHJ better so we often find that going back to the messages helps refine our action.
Finally, as our communities advance we have challenges that we need to resolve. Getting together and consulting on how to overcome these challenges is a key skill for ever advancing communities.
A M (December 12, 2014 at 2:22 PM)
“Careful analysis of experience, through participatory discussions rather than overly complex and elaborate presentations, serves to maintain unity of vision, sharpen clarity of thought and heighten enthusiasm. Central to such an analysis is the review of vital statistics that suggest the next set of goals to be adopted” Universal House of Justice, 2005 to the Continental Board of Counselors.
Complexity and elaborateness seem to this amateur implicit dangers in more ways than one in the advice stated above by the Universal House of Justice to the Counselors. (Though I’ve lived long and met many intelligent people I know no one more intelligent, more quick witted or more eloquent at expounding than the Baha’i counselors I’ve encountered; a close second are the many hard working officers of the Faith I’ve had the pleasure to meet.)
On the other hand, I admit it, at composition, in conversation, in realizing my life’s role I am so slow and methodical that I am inclined to attend few Cluster Reflection meetings. For example, it’s taken me two decades to compile a new book entitled “PROOF for the lay person”
If my arithmetic is correct, no sure thing, we are approaching number 40 Cluster Reflection meeting in Australia.
These inadequacies of mine obviously constitute no fault vis-a-vis Baha’i institutions. Nor is it necessarily a fault of Baha’i institutions per se that CONCERNS AND SUGGESTIONS which I’ve raised several times in print and verbally at Cluster Reflection time about conducting surveys of the public some months after our Teaching Campaigns, i.e. surveys seeking the public’s opinion regarding the way we conduct Teaching Campaigns in general and especially when other religions coincidentally conduct Teaching Campaigns concurrently in the same area GO UNANSWERED, UN CONSULTED.
Once answers emerge vis-a-vis issues like those raised above a much higher participation rate at Cluster Reflection meetings and TCs might correspondingly occur. In the mean time, for people like me who shun complexity and elaborateness, especially surrounding stats, I seek your help in locating the exact advice from Haifa from about a decade ago in which the Universal House of Justice advises that those who prefer not to engage the institute process shall in no way be pressured to do so. What I’m asking for please is the exact wording as it rarely surfaces i m o.
PS Fascinating though statistics are some people, myself included, find them daunting and chilling to the heart when analysed with great care or when actual membership-enrollment numbers are so difficult for me to ascertain.
Paul Desailly (December 12, 2014 at 10:17 PM)
Actually am very happy i have learned alot through this information you guyz are providing please next time can in it possible to share the element of consultation of the institution? If so i will be very greatiful thanks very much
Frankline khaemba kisuya (February 2, 2015 at 4:59 AM)
i have been exhilarated by the institute process since 1994, enchanted with its simplicity and systematic approach, chastened by the diligence and humility of its many collaborators, and encouraged by its growth world wide!
Mike Pietrzak (July 7, 2015 at 2:31 PM)
Great work ! Thank you, for making the Cluster Reflection meetings information available and very well put together.
Prince (August 8, 2015 at 10:32 PM)
i real love this site
Frankline khaemba (April 4, 2017 at 7:33 AM)
Thank you for your kind words, Frankline!
Sonjel Vreeland (April 4, 2017 at 3:45 PM)