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Prior to attending one of the 114 worldwide youth conferences in Sydney, Australia, I was grappling with the concept of coherence and what it looked like in reality to live a life that was not fragmented. I would look at all the different components in my life and wonder how it was possible for each of them to tie seamlessly together while still devoting my time to the progress of the Five Year Plan. I saw myself as a mother, a wife, a journalist, a Baha’i – with each aspect having its own distinct purpose.
The paragraph below, taken from the youth conference participant materials, expands on this idea of coherence:
It is essential then that ever-growing numbers of those in the prime of their lives “steel themselves for a life of service” to society. Naturally, many matters occupy their time and energy: education, work, leisure, spiritual life, physical health. But they learn to avoid a fragmented approach to life that fails to see the connections among life’s various aspects. Such a disjointed view of life often makes individuals fall victim to the false choices suggested in questions such as whether one should study or serve, advance materially or contribute to the betterment of others, pursue work or become dedicated to service. Failure to approach one’s life as a coherent whole often breeds anxiety and confusion. Through service, young people can learn to foster a life in which its various aspects complement each other.
114 Youth Conferences Participant Materials, July to October 2013, p. 1–2
After participating in the conference, I felt my understanding was elevated in this regard and I was able to better visualise what it means to approach my life as a coherent whole. I realised that it wasn’t about categorising your life into different components, but about harnessing your desire to serve the Faith and using it to determine your life’s path. No single matter in our life is more important than the other because everything we do comes from our desire to serve. If we understand this, then we can live a life where aspects such as education, work, leisure, and spiritual life each have the one distinct purpose to serve mankind. The Universal House of Justice states:
It brings us equal pleasure to know that the friends are on their guard, lest new false dichotomies be allowed to pervade their thinking…The tendency to see activities, and the agencies that support them, in competition with one another, a tendency so common in society at large, is being avoided by the community.
Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010
Whatever matters we choose to engage in, we choose in order to fulfil our desire to serve Baha’u’llah’s Cause and contribute to an ever-advancing civilisation. With this in mind, we are able to live a life where we are less inclined to perceive false dichotomies and to make decisions between such matters as studying and serving the Five Year Plan. To further illustrate this point, I have come up with two examples of what I believe it looks like to take a fragmented approach to one’s life versus a more coherent approach.
FRAGMENTED: “I work full time every day and study on weeknights and my weekend is for serving the Faith.”
COHERENT: “My life’s aim is to serve humanity. I do this by going to work and providing for my family who can in turn serve and also by furthering my capacity for this through study. On weekends I feel a direct contribution to my neighbourhood by participating in specific core activities.”
And another example:
FRAGMENTED: “I have my final exams this year so I won’t be able to serve the Faith.”
COHERENT: “As I continue with my service activities in the community, I should ensure time to study as my final exams approach. I want to be accepted in a specific program which will enable me to serve in new capacities.”
After attending the youth conference in Sydney, I started to see that my role in this world was as a servant of humanity and there were many different matters in my life that allowed me to fulfil this role. Sure there are duties that come with being a mother, a wife, a journalist and a Baha’i, but those duties are all set to serve the greater good. Abdu’l-Baha states:
As to the terminology I used in my letter, bidding thee to consecrate thyself to service in the Cause of God, the meaning of it is this: limit thy thoughts to teaching the Faith. Act by day and night according to the teachings and counsels and admonitions of Baha’u’llah.
Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 100
…is there any deed in the world that would be nobler than service to the common good? Is there any greater blessing conceivable for a man, than that he should become the cause of the education, the development, the prosperity and honor of his fellow-creatures?
Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilisation, p. 103
I’d like to know, what is your concept of coherence? How do you think we can approach our life in a way that is not fragmented?
Dellaram is a Baha'i, wife, and mother of three, who works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in her hometown of Ballarat, Australia. She is passionate about building community and loves the thrill that comes with op-shopping!
Thank-you for this timely and thoughtful article. I’m also a mom and attended one of the conferences so I felt deeply connected to what you had to say. Since the conference, I have struggled with this idea a lot, especially since I am more comfortable with black and white, not grey! I will often feel guilty when I leave my pioneer post to vacation with family or take time in the summer- an opportune time in my neighbourhood- to work on my career. Even taking much needed time to work on my marriage brings feelings of shame. I now find myself calming down and repeating a gentle reminder that everything I do is toward the lofty goal of contributing to an advancement of civilization! I have also found praying for the teaching efforts when I am not able to be physically present a reminder of the coherence in my life. Thank-you for helping me continue on the process of understanding this vital concept.
Janna (January 1, 2014 at 3:02 PM)
You’re welcome Janna. I’m so glad this post helped you in some way. And yes, praying is such a vital component of maintaining that coherence! Thank you for your thoughts.
Della V. (January 1, 2014 at 10:15 PM)
just to let you know that I’m always looking forward to opening one of your posts, and I often forward them to some or all of my big family and/or friends (hoping they might decide to subscribe!)
Gisela (von Brunn)
…after ~40 years in Bolivia, most of the time in the Amazon,
back in Germany, at least for the time being.
Gisela von Brunn (January 1, 2014 at 7:18 AM)
Dear Gisela. I’m so glad Baha’i Blog is bringing you such joy. It truly is a valuable resource!
Della V. (January 1, 2014 at 10:18 PM)
Hello! I loved the article, by the way.. I’m an Indian citizen and I come from a non-Bahá’í background. I’m still a student and education, is given more importance in my family, at least.. It used to irk me (and still does sometimes) that I don’t get to “serve” as much as I would probably want to.. But a wonderful lady told me that if I viewed my education as a tool that will help me serve society in future, it would be my own kind of service! And so I’ve come to believe that the spirit of service in me, even through my studying, will be accepted in the sight of my Lord 🙂 So according to me, if you view and do whatever work you do in the spirit or service and betterment of society, it helps you lead an unfragmented life and in the end you do find a way to hold BCCs etc because you don’t regard it as different from your everyday work..
Ritika (January 1, 2014 at 11:01 AM)
Yes Ritika! I agree with all you have said! Thank you so much for sharing.
Della V. (January 1, 2014 at 10:21 PM)
Dear Dellaram, your article has touched a deep chord in me, as I too found the various aspects of my life incoherent at times and wondered how I could tamp down my desires so as to better serve the Cause and still fulfill my destiny. I believe we are all created unique and we all have a specific unique role to play in the infolding drama of humanity’s existence. That desire to accomplish the unique task or tasks I was created to accomplish in the Divine Plan was always lurking in the back of my mind and pushing me to question my fidelity to the Cause as opposed to my fidelity to my desires and expectations. So my reflexive response to any activity had to be countered not just with my or my families’ or my community’s needs, but also with the Divine Plan which I felt was all-pervasive yet shrouded in mystery. Consequently the fragmentation of my life increased as I continued to try and break my day into ever smaller segments, denying none their time and effort, yet denying me the overall coherence I sought as I kept questioning myself and my priorities. Consultation with others helped me re-direct myself at times, but overall I felt disconnected and uncertain. As I continued to pray for guidance, I was led to a wonderful book which I read just before I went on pilgrimage, the book described a person’s search, defying all other’s opinions and facing all obstacles, to reach an unknown destiny. Reading that book was fun but I thought unconnected to my own desire to fulfill my destiny. At the first visit to the Shrine of the Bab, a feather fell into my hand, ( which was also the symbol used in the book to start the search ), and I was graced with the knowledge that I would find my destiny and my desires both. From that moment on, my life has taken unexpected turns, and I have been blessed with continual guidance to assist me when I get confused and disheartened. Somehow or other, my life has become a flowing stream of twists, turns, lilting splashes of grace and joy, and ever widening encounters of differing tempos ( like little whirlpools), that come and go with no warning but are experienced to the fullest, then let go as I flow ever closer to …………….perhaps my destiny? I can only hope so! I no longer feel disconnected or confused, and I know now that the incoherence I deplored was simply my ignorance of my connectedness with others according to their needs, not my perceived offerings I wished to offer them. In other words, I thought I knew what I had to offer others, but was not listening to them. When I started to listen, then I was able to offer whatever I could at the time, and be free of expectations that it be accepted, or rejected. If I wish to be coherent, I must be ready to offer whatever I am led to offer without expectation and without fear as long as I allow my love for others, for Baha’u’llah, and for service, to guide me. I have felt more certain, more closely guided and more relaxed in my subsequent life, and more connected in ways I cannot even describe, so I think that is what is meant by being more coherent. At least for now, who knows what more I can learn?????? THank you for your wonderful clear and specific article, it has helped me clarify my thoughts! Happy growing!
elda (January 1, 2014 at 2:28 PM)
Dear Elda, thank you for sharing some insights into your journey towards leading a coherent life. Indeed we all face many obstacles, but in the end we have this one desire to serve Baha’u’llah and with this as our overarching purpose in life, then I believe everything will fall into place. Happy growing to you too!
Della V. (January 1, 2014 at 10:39 PM)
What a wonderful insight! Thanks for being able to share the insights generated from the youth conference materials.
Nesto Jehnson Myombe (April 4, 2014 at 10:18 AM)