Abdu’l-Baha was the eldest son of Baha’u’llah. When Abdu’l-Baha passed away on 28 November 1921, He was eulogized as One who led humanity to the “Way of Truth,” as a “pillar of peace” and the embodiment of “glory and greatness.”
Throughout history, God has sent us a series of divine Educators. They include (among others) Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha’u’llah. Baha’u’llah explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion.
I love books and have a particular soft-spot for Baha’i books. I was doubly happy when I heard that a friend, JoAnn Borovicka, has published a new book called Light of the Kingdom: Biblical Topics in the Baha’i Writings. I was joyful that a new Baha’i book was made available to the world, and proud of her accomplishment. To write a book is no small feat and this one is the culmination of many years of work.
JoAnn lovingly agreed to share behind-the-scenes details about her beautiful new book.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, JoAnn! I’m very excited to hear more about Light of the Kingdom. To start, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work as a writer?
I’m an educator; my passion is making information accessible by delivering it in digestible portions. At the time of the origin of this project I was working as a master trainer for Global Learning Partners, Inc. where I specialized in workshop design and facilitation. I was also a storyteller performer with the South Carolina Artist in Residence program—I wrote my own material based on stories of the ancient Near East. Both of these interests served me in the making of Light of the Kingdom, which strives to systematically present certain Baha’i teachings through the organizational framework of the Bible.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about Light of the Kingdom? How did the idea to write a book on this subject come about?
Around 1999, I was part of a small group of Baha’is in South Carolina who had many questions about how best to have uplifting conversations about religion with Christian friends and relatives. As I mentioned, at that time I worked professionally in workshop design, and as one effort to help myself and other Baha’is figure out how to successfully have interfaith conversations in the Bible Belt I created a dialogue-based half-day workshop that we called “Baha’i Bible Study” during which we studied Baha’i scripture on a few high-interest biblical topics and practiced stating the teachings in our own words. We learned a lot through that workshop and, perhaps not surprisingly, there were a lot of joyful tears—mostly arising from the realization of the absolute spiritual oneness of Baha’u’llah and Jesus Christ. This oneness was something that the Baha’is may have known in their heads, but focus on the Writings in this regard helped the friends feel the oneness in their hearts.
There followed another workshop, another, and eventually I facilitated scores of Baha’i Bible Study workshops over several years—most in Baha’i Sunday school venues in Conway and also Greenville, South Carolina. Whatever the topic of study, more questions would always arise. I love questions. I’m a question fanatic. It’s hard for me to leave a question alone; therefore, I was always researching biblical topics in the Baha’i Writings. Meanwhile, the friends who engaged in this study over several years requested that I compile everything and index it for easy access. In 2009 I took that on as a project and experimented with different ways to present all the research I had done. The result was a whole different creation that is Light of the Kingdom but the seminal workshops are still around and freely available on my website.
Baha’i Blog: Where does the title of the book come from?
The title got its inspiration from an inscription that Abdu’l-Baha wrote in the “Old Bible” of the City Temple of London in which He refers to the Bible as “the mystery of the Kingdom and its light.” I liked how the title Light of the Kingdom could refer to all the sacred texts in the book: Jewish, Christian, and Baha’i. That was the easy part. The subtitle, Biblical Topics in the Baha’i Writings, took more time to figure out. The original subtitle was “The Bible from a Baha’i Perspective” but I wasn’t satisfied with that; I felt it set up the expectation that the Bible was the focus of the book, and that’s actually not the case. The focus—what the book explores, what it looks into—is the Baha’i Writings. Its unique approach is that it does that through the organizational framework of the Bible and through high interest biblical topics.
Baha’i Blog: What is the process like when working on a Baha’i book of non-fiction? How does creativity play a role in the writing process for a work of this kind?
Light of the Kingdom is an introductory reference volume that is organized in the form of questions and responses. On virtually every page there is a question paired with sacred text that, from my experience and the experience of others, is highly relevant to that question. The creativity is in the choice and composition of the question and the choice of sacred text to use in the response. Because this book is intended as an introductory work, and because it addresses so many topics, the responses had to be kept very brief. This was difficult, really, because most of the topics could be books in themselves. There were a lot of hard choices.
Another venue for creativity is in the introductory and summary statements that accompany every topic. Initially, the material included only questions with sacred text responses, but the feedback I got with the initial draft was that the readers wanted a step up to the quotations; a paraphrased form of what they were about to read. That’s tricky—try to keep yourself out of a paraphrase. If five different people paraphrase a verse of scripture, you’ll have five different understandings. I tried to be aware of my own peculiar way of understanding things and put as little interpretation in the intros and summaries as possible—that took creative thinking. I did allow myself two brief sections for personal interpretation—the two “Reflections” sections, “Reflections on the Old Testament” and “Reflections on the New Testament.” Both begin with clear “not authoritative” disclaimers.
Baha’i Blog: What was your favourite part of writing this book?
I enjoyed the entire process—studying with the friends, collecting questions, researching answers, compiling the material, and testing the content with friends again. As the material began shaping up as a book I enjoyed the editing process. Catherine Hosack, Carey Murphy, and Jeanne Aguirre were invaluable as content editors of the entire work before its submission to the Publishing Trust and were fabulous to work with.
Baha’i Blog: How did you choose the topics in the book?
The process that drove the choice of topics was over ten years of conversing with Baha’is and friends of the Faith in Baha’i Bible Study workshops, and collecting information on the teaching experiences that followed. There were one-hundred or so topics that were the highest interest, and those are the topics that are addressed in the book.
Baha’i Blog: I can imagine that working on a book involving holy texts would be a very powerful experience. Did you find it to be a spiritual experience in any way?
It was a spiritual experience in every way, every day. I love immersing myself in the sacred text and studying with others. I also felt guided throughout the process. There were so many serendipitous happenings through which I received direction and by which the work moved forward—chance meetings, essential resources that popped out of seemingly nowhere, confirmations that would happen when I needed them the most.
Baha’i Blog: I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but your book’s cover is absolutely beautiful. Did you design it yourself?
Misha Maynerick Blaise did the cover design. The imagery comes from the British Library Catalog of Illuminated Manuscripts. I agree, it is beautiful. When contracting with the Publishing Trust it is specified in the contract that the Publishing Trust has complete control over cover design—I love what they chose. The book presents multiple questions that spin off from each topic and I think the cover illustrates that energy.
Baha’i Blog: What other projects do you have in the works?
Right now I’m working on a study of the context of biblical references found in Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets of the Divine Plan. I’ll be presenting a paper on this topic at the Irfan Colloquium at Louhelen this October—the Colloquium is celebrating the 100th year anniversary of these Tablets.
I’m also enjoying the opportunities that the book has opened up to talk with people about Baha’i teachings on biblical topics. I’ve recently done a few presentations in the Southeast and am in the process of scheduling a book tour through Texas in September. Folks who are interested in hosting a presentation in their area could contact me through my website, JoAnnBorovicka.com
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, JoAnn, for sharing this with us!
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.