It is 6am on another sunny August morning in northern California (USA). I am standing beside my mother looking out through the kitchen window at a hummingbird feeding on the sun-warmed nectar in the throats of the crimson trumpet-shaped hibiscus blossoms on the bush outside. Mom has always loved hummingbirds. Perhaps it is the miracle of these tiny, brightly coloured and graceful beings, who, despite having a heart the size of a fingernail, can fly hundreds of kilometres without pausing to rest that mesmerizes her. Hummingbirds can feed on more than a thousand flowers in a single day. Perhaps because of the intensity with which they live, hummingbirds’ lives are incredibly brief. Like the hummingbird, my mother has always given everything of herself that she could possibly give to life. She has always been strong and resilient. She is a rock for my entire family. However in this delicate moment of reflection, my giant-hearted mother is dying. Unbeknownst to us, in this moment, she has less than a month to live, and so much more that she wants to do in this world that it breaks my heart.
The Baha’i Writings speak a lot about accompaniment. In its 2010 Ridvan Message, the Universal House of Justice said that we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, supporting each other through our struggles and partaking in each other’s joys. We dedicate a great deal of energy learning how to accompany each other during our earthly lives. But as my mother approached the day when her soul would end its association with her physical body, I realized that I knew very little about how to best accompany her as she moved towards the end of her life. Continue reading
The month of Loftiness (which is also the period of the Baha’i Fast) is the final month in the Baha’i calendar year. Loftiness means to be elevated in character and spirit; to have noble ideals—to rise to great height. The Baha’i month of Loftiness culminates at sunset the day before Spring Equinox in Tehran, the birth place of Baha’u’llah. In the northern hemisphere, this is the time when the invisible work that has been happening below ground all winter is visibly manifested as tiny buds along tree branches and the green tips of early spring flowers pressing skyward. Just as the natural world where I live prepares to emerge from what outwardly appears to be a period of dormancy, I observe the Baha’i Fast—a time of prayer, reflection, and heightened awareness of my spiritual reality and purpose. Outwardly it involves hardship and sacrifice. I abstain from consuming food and drink from sunrise to sunset, and from indulging personal desires that I know are not conducive to spiritual growth. During the month of Loftiness, I also actively engage in acts of devotion that will help me to better serve my family and community in the new year.
To me the month of Loftiness and the Baha’i Fast are inextricably intertwined and mutually complementary. There are innumerable ways in which the last month of the Baha’i year prepares us for another year of service ahead. Here are four that stick out to me: Continue reading
The month of Dominion is the second to last month of the Baha’i calendar. Dominion means to have absolute ruling or controlling power. In our physical world it is often used to refer to absolute power over things of limited duration—countries, people, cities…but in the Baha’i Writings, Dominion is used to refer to spiritual power, and the domain of this power is the human heart. Baha’u’llah says:
He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion. To this He Who is Himself the Eternal Truth will testify. The things He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts, that He may cleanse them from all earthly defilements, and enable them to draw nigh unto the hallowed Spot which the hands of the infidel can never profane. Open, O people, the city of the human heart with the key of your utterance. Continue reading
The month of Sovereignty (Sultan) is the 17th month in the Baha’i calendar. As an attribute of God, sovereignty implies unquestioned authority. I see this month as an invitation to reflect upon the power, wisdom and infallibility of God, and on what it means to be subjects of a Creator so merciful and just that we want to confidently serve Him with unquestioned and humble devotion. Continue reading
I have always wanted to be a writer. But despite writing through childhood and high school, and completing a bachelor’s degree in creative writing with a focus in poetry, until recently I had never wholeheartedly committed myself to my art. The reason was that I was, and sometimes still am, scared. I was scared because I didn’t know what I would do if I fully devoted myself to the reason I think I was put on this planet, and then found out that my writing did not make a meaningful contribution to society. Sound like a cop-out? I’m pretty sure it was. I lacked the courage to pursue writing because I was afraid of failing. Instead, I pursued many other things—some of which I really loved, and a few of which I was actually very good at—but the whole time I was doing those other things I was carrying a silent awareness that if whatever I was doing didn’t work out it didn’t really matter because what I really wanted to do was write. The result, of course, was that I was always second-guessing myself and never entirely fulfilled by what I was doing: always wondering what it would be like to be truly committed to my chosen line of work, but afraid to give up on the certainty of reliable and even enjoyable work for the possibility of embracing my true calling. Continue reading
If there ever was a word that carried enough emotional baggage to sink a boat, “ego” would be it. We all have one, but it is far easier to both see and criticize in others than it is to identify and get to know better in ourselves. Recently I’ve been wondering: What is ego? And given that we all have one, what purpose does it serve in our lives? Continue reading
The independent investigation of truth is one of the fundamental teachings of the Baha’i Faith. On the surface the idea that each of us should investigate the truth for ourselves instead of blindly adopting a belief simply because it is held by those around us sounds logical and fairly self-explanatory. It is hard to make one’s faith one’s own without researching the truths upon which it is founded and assessing whether these resonate with who we are and the values that are most important to us. Instead of attempting to explain my elementary understanding of this topic, which I am coming to realize is constantly evolving, I thought perhaps the best approach might be to share my personal process of investigation, and what I have gleaned from my effort to find answers in the Baha’i Writings.
I began with the following six questions:
- What is truth and where do we find it?
- What tools and methods can we use to investigate truth?
- How do we know when we’ve reached the truth?
- What if there are contradictions in what we know to be true?
- Is independent investigation of truth a single event or a life-long process?
- Where can we look to find out more about this teaching?
My first job after finishing my master’s degree in sustainable agriculture was on an organic farm on Prince Edward Island, Canada. One day my boss Raymond handed me a tray and asked me to go harvest the cusa – a small, pale green zucchini-like squash popular in the Middle-East. I headed out into the field and walked up and down each row, carefully harvesting all the cusa I could see, surprised that Raymond had sent me out to harvest such a small quantity of squash. I returned to the barn and presented him with a measly 15 cusa rolling around in the bottom of the tray. Raymond was a generous optimist who always chose to focus on my strengths rather than my weaknesses. He scooped what I had harvested out of the tray, handed it back to me, and repeated his request that I go harvest the cusa. I wondered if I had misheard him, and politely explained that it was highly unlikely that there would be any left on the plants, since I had just picked the plants clean. He smiled at me good naturedly and asked me to indulge his request. I agreed reluctantly, and possibly with a slight roll of the eyes that he was generous enough to ignore. Back out in the field, I walked in a full circle around each plant, squatting down to peer under the dense canopy of leaves and stalks, searching for any that were hiding there, but eager to be able to return to him triumphantly empty-handed. To my surprise, by the time I had repeated this process on every plant, I had harvested twice as many cusa on this second attempt as I had on my first pass through the field. I returned to him with a nearly full tray, feeling more than a little embarrassed. He was kind enough not to say, “I told you so,” his generous silence giving me the space I needed to learn an important lesson. Continue reading
One day a young man was composing jazz tunes on a rented piano in his apartment in Boston when the doorbell rang. He opened the door to find himself face-to-face with his blue-eyed neighbour, a classically trained singer who had heard his music through the floor and needed someone to accompany her while she rehearsed. Two years later this singer gave birth to me at home, accompanied by jazz played by my father and the doctor, who was (naturally) also a musician.
Our house was always full of live music and artwork from all over the world. The arts were a way of life. Creating and appreciating art was how we related to each other, and how we built community. So the first time someone asked me what I saw as the purpose of the arts I was thrown off guard. They seem as essential as food and water. There are an endless number of ways that the arts enrich our lives and shape our reality. Here are five that I keep coming back to: Continue reading
As I write this rain is pattering against the window above my desk. Outside, a tree that has been covered in brilliant yellow leaves for the past couple of weeks is in transition—the topmost branches are already bare. A slow but steady release is happening lower down, and the bottom is still blazing colour against the slate grey sky. Around me the world is in a season of radical transformation. We’ve come to a point where none of us can avoid the truth that individual wellbeing is inseparably connected to the wellbeing of all. Personally, the physical separation from those I love, coupled with a heightened awareness of the brevity of this earthly life is making me ask myself bigger questions than I had been previously. Three that come up for me a lot are: What is God’s Will for humanity? How do I align my life’s purpose with the Will of God? And what specific capacities can I strengthen in myself right now that will help me to better serve the needs of humanity at this pivotal time? Continue reading