Night view of lit windows on the octagon of the Shrine of the Bab. Photo courtesy of the Baha'i International Community.
It is the time of year when physical beauty is in abundance. Along the waterfront across from my house the lilacs, honeysuckle and wild roses are all in full bloom. Every evening I walk over and sit among the flowers, the air redolent with sweetness, and I feel like the luckiest woman in the world to have such ready access to beauty that I can immerse myself in. When I walk through the flowers and along the harbour watching sail boats fly gracefully past on the deep blue water of the bay the sense of calm and peace that descends on me is similar to sensations I experience when in a state of prayer.
The Baha’i Writings describe music as a ladder for the soul—I have always assumed this is because of its beauty. Years ago I attended a talk given by the architect Fariborz Sahba in which he described the beautiful details that William Sutherland Maxwell included in the design of the cupola at the top of the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel. This tiny space is only actually ever seen by the individuals who go up into the dome to clean and do maintenance on the structure, so I was surprised by the attention and energy given to creating beauty that would never be seen.
His talk raised a number of questions for me: When we create with beauty in mind, who are we creating it for, and what purpose is it intended to serve? Clearly beauty is supremely important to our spiritual growth—an entire month in our calendar is named Jamal, which is “beauty” in Arabic. But what is beauty, really? Are there different kinds of beauty, or is all beauty simply an expression of one essential truth? And what is it about beauty that draws us to it? Continue reading
I call Prince Edward Island off the east coast of Canada home. Recently my community gathered on Zoom to study the 9 May 2020 message from the Universal House of Justice. The letter contains important guidance about navigating through this difficult time, but one particular point struck a chord with me, and I’ve been reflecting on it ever since. The section I’m referring to is this:
…while certain possibilities have been temporarily closed, others have opened up, and new means have emerged for strengthening existing patterns of activity. Flexibility has proven to be an asset, but so has vigilance in ensuring that the primarily local character of community activities is not diluted; efforts to nurture flourishing communities within neighbourhoods and villages and across clusters must continue.
Like most of us, I have embraced a more insular lifestyle in the interest of protecting myself and the more vulnerable members of my community. As someone who lives alone, over the last few months I have joined a few online communities and participated in a number of virtual events. Some are local initiatives: holy day commemorations, Nineteen Day Feasts, devotional gatherings and opportunities to study messages like the May 9 message from the House of Justice; others have been regional—I even attended a Zoom wedding this spring! But many have been international in scope, and while they enrich my life significantly, they also require a considerable investment of time and energy, which begs the question: is my participation online diluting efforts to nurture a flourishing community at the local level? How can I find ways to take what I am learning virtually and use it to invigorate my role within my own community? In exploring these questions, another arose: what exactly am I learning? Perhaps identifying the skills I am developing in these online communities, and what I find so enriching about participating in them will help me to identify practical ways that I can better support local activities too. Continue reading
The Cambridge dictionary defines kindness as “the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people, or an act showing this quality.” I like to think that we are all innately kind whether we are conscious of it or not, but events around the world this year are showing me that believing in kindness is simply not enough. We need to find practical ways to practice kindness every day. Continue reading
My first role model as a child was Annie—the red-haired, precocious orphan who sings her way through some tough times before she manages to build the life she has always dreamt of. I loved her so much that a family friend made me a life-sized Annie doll, complete with the black patent leather shoes, frilly ankle socks and white-collared tomato red dress. My envy of her outfit was very quickly followed by the realization that she and I were the same size. I don’t know what happened to the doll, but I wore her clothes everywhere until they were splitting at the seams, triumphantly belting out “it’s a hard knock life” and (unsuccessfully) lobbying for a four-legged sidekick called Sandy. Continue reading
I have always found it interesting how there are some emotions that we think we can avoid feeling—even though history and experience consistently demonstrate otherwise. We are happy to fully embrace the joyful moments—the successful interviews, promotions and scientific breakthroughs; finding true love, marriages, births and anniversaries. And yet we all know that for every joyful, celebratory experience there are undoubtedly many hours of sacrifice, failure, loss and grief, and that we wouldn’t appreciate the moments of happiness and contentment nearly as acutely without the periods of struggle and pain that preceded them. Continue reading