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Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. 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.

The Life of Effie Baker

Life of Effie Baker

Euphemia (Effie) Eleanor Baker, 25 March, 1880 – January 1, 1968.

As most of the world celebrates the new year, January 1st also commemorates the passing of someone special: Effie Baker. In fact, if you visit bahaullah.org (a wonderful photographic narrative of the life of Baha’u’llah) you’ll notice that many of the photographs of 1930’s Iran are credited to Effie Baker. A western Baha’i woman photographer in Iran in those days? I was a fish on a hook and needed to know more.

Effie (a nickname for Euphemia) Eleanor Baker was born 25 March, 1880 in Goldsborough, Australia. She was petite but energetic and had brown hair and blue eyes. Her childhood was spent with her grandparents in Ballarat. Her grandfather founded the Ballarat Observatory and if you visit it today, you can still see a specimen of his award-winning astronomical work: a 26 inch telescope called “The Baker”. Effie inherited an enthusiasm for science, a facility with technical instruments, and a keen observing eye from her grandfather. For a turn-of-the-century country girl, Effie was very well educated and when she wasn’t at school, she could be found exploring the countryside on a white pony named Nugget.

Effie studied and then worked as a visual artist. Armed with a formal understanding of colour, light and composition, Effie became enamored with photography. She also excelled at toy-making at a time when imported toys were scarce in Australia. In 1914 she published Australian Wild Flowers, a small volume of hand-painted photographs of local flora.

The turning point in her life was when she heard Hyde Dunn speak publicly about the Baha’i Faith in 1922. He and his wife Clara responded to the Master’s Tablets of the Divine Plan by moving to Australia two years prior. Effie noticed something radiant about Hyde’s face and during his talk, she wholeheartedly accepted the Faith. Continue reading

3 Ingredients for a Home of Peace

Peace at HomeWhen my husband and I married eight years ago we were given a print of an illumined prayer of Abdu’l-Baha’s. The prayer, found in Star of the West, reads:

My home is the home of peace. My home is the home of joy and delight. My home is the home of laughter and exultation. Whomsoever enters through the portals of this home, must go out with gladsome heart. [1]

How to create a home of peace is a subject of a lifetime’s study and meditation but these are my meager thoughts to date.

It goes without saying that a tranquil dwelling depends upon spiritual qualities: unity, consultation on all matters, kindness and consideration, a lack of backbiting, loyalty and chastity between marriage partners, respect, gratitude and obedience on the part of children, and patience, humility and generosity on the part of the parents. And the list goes on. However, I think there are also tangible elements to creating a home of peace: beauty, a space for prayer and hospitality.  Continue reading

Prison Poems by Mahvash Sabet

I recently finished reading Prison Poems, a collection of poetry written by Mahvash Sabet on the fifth anniversary of her incarceration. She is a prisoner of conscience. She was arrested simply for being a Baha’i, along with six other members of the Yaran (the national level group that guided the affairs of the Baha’i community of Iran of which Mahvash served as secretary).

I often find myself sitting in my driveway, with my baby fast asleep in her carseat. I can be found just sitting and waiting. But this week, I read this anthology. It is difficult to imagine Mahvash’s situation today — still imprisoned —  and it is equally difficult to imagine that the words in my hands were written on scraps of paper and smuggled by intermediaries out of her cell until they made their way to French homes of Violette and Ali Nakhjavani and their author daughter, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. Their adaptation of these poems into English is a labour of love to Mahvash, and all those imprisoned without a voice.

Mahvash Sabet is a 60-year-old former teacher and school principal and a mother of two. After being dismissed from her work during the Revolution, she began informally teaching Baha’i youth who were denied the right to higher education.  She was arrested in 2008 and after three years of show trials on trumped up charges, she was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. She is being held in Evin prison, Iran’s infamous and brutal detention block. Continue reading

Illustrated Prayer Books: An Interview with Constanze von Kitzing

As a new mother and a life-long bibliophile, I get giddy when new Baha’i books for children hit the shelves – in these early days of the Faith, they are so preciously few! You can imagine my excitement when I discovered Constanze von Kitzing’s works. She is a German illustrator of children’s books, and both the American and German Baha’i publishing trusts have already printed her illustrated prayer book for children and her edition of Blessed is the spot…

A book of excerpts from the sacred writings, entitled Pearls of Wisdom, will be available in the near future and I am grateful that my daughter will grow up with Constanze’s playful images in her hands when we share family devotions. Her art is joyful, colourful and delightful. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about Constanze and she graciously agreed to tell me about herself and her craft. Continue reading

The Bab’s Revelation

Photo: tiffa130 via flickr

One of my favorite questions to ask friends over dinner is: what convinced you of the truth of this Cause? Was it the social application of the teachings? Or the beauty of the Writings? The tribulations suffered by the Manifestations? Or a dream?

Every soul has a different response to this question and historical accounts of early believers are filled with their answers. One of the proofs of the Bab’s station that fascinates me is the sheer speed with which He revealed the Word of God. Consider the following account of the spiritually thunderstruck Mulla Husayn when the Bab declared His mission: Continue reading