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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.

New Book: Spiritual Mothering – Toward an Ever-Advancing Civilization

Spiritual Mothering cover 350x543Spiritual Mothering: Toward an Ever-Advancing Civilization is new publication compiled and edited by Rene Knight-Weiler.

The book is composed of articles that were published in a magazine called Spiritual Mothering Journal that circulated for 10 years in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Its topics are diverse – from more meditative pieces about the daily struggles and victories of motherhood to concrete step-by-step articles about sibling conflict resolution – and its contributors from around the world vary in their perspectives and writing styles (they are primarily, but not soley, Baha’i).

Rene Knight-Weiler writes, “what all these authors have in common is a love of children, a love of writing and a wealth of ability in both arenas. The wisdom they offer is not limited to one generation. It is timeless, just like parenthood itself.” Continue reading

Who Were the Hands of the Cause?

Some of the Hands of the Cause with Counsellors of the International Teaching Centre, in 1973: (front row, left to right) Mr. Ali-Akbar Furutan, Mrs. Florence Mayberry, Madame Ruhiyyih Rabbani, Mr. Abul-Qasim Faizi, (back row, left to right) Mr. Paul Haney, Mr. Aziz Yazdi, Mr. Hooper Dunbar. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

The Hands of the Cause of God were Baha’is appointed by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, as the “Chief Stewards of Baha’u’llah’s embryonic World Commonwealth.”.

What is a chief steward? A steward is similar to a manager, or director, and so the ‘chief stewards’ of the Faith managed and directed the global activities of the Baha’i Faith. Shoghi Effendi clearly defined their work as “the propagation and preservation of the unity of the Faith of Baha’u’llah.”.

Abdu’l-Baha also described the duties of the Hands of the Cause. He stated that they…

…are to diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things. They must manifest the fear of God by their conduct, their manners, their deeds and their words.

Baha’u’llah appointed four Hands, four were posthumously named by the Master, and 42 were given this station by Shoghi Effendi. Little is known about the Hands from the early days of the Faith and the Guardian stated that little will be known about them until the history of the Cause in Iran and the near East is written and available – a time which the Universal House of Justice has said has yet to come. Furthermore, as the study of letters and archives are conducted, we may even learn about other Hands from that time period. Continue reading

Who Are the Knights of Baha’u’llah?

Who were the Knights of Baha'u'llahWhen you hear the title ‘Knight’, different connotations come to mind. Historically speaking, a medieval knight was known for their steadfast honor, their allegiance to God, and their loyalty to their lords and ladies. Their lives were dedicated to religious faith and military action – for example, in the Middle Ages they set out to conquer the Holy Land in the name of Christendom. Shoghi Effendi did not choose his words lightly, and hence the title “Knight of Baha’u’llah” authored by Shoghi Effendi, was a title that was bestowed on those selfless souls who opened 131 specific virgin territories to the Faith during what was known as the Ten Year Crusade.

Even as a child with little knowledge of the development of the Baha’i Faith, the title of “Knight of Baha’u’llah” was connotative to me of the qualities of medieval knights, of spiritual battles and sacrificial heroism. This knightly demeanor is masterfully called for by Shoghi Effendi in a cablegram to the Baha’is of the world sent in 1952 in preparation for the coming Ten Year Crusade which took place between 1953-1963, and which I explain in a little more detail further on. Continue reading

The Significance of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah

The Shrine of Baha'u'llah (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

The Shrine of Baha’u’llah (Photo: Baha’i World Centre)

At the hour of dawn on May 29th in 1892, Baha’u’llah, “transcendental in His majesty, serene, awe-inspiring, unapproachably glorious”, passed away in the Masion of Bahji in what is present-day northern Israel. Shoghi Effendi describes the events that followed in God Passes By:

The news of His ascension was instantly communicated to Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid in a telegram which began with the words ‘the Sun of Baha has set’ and in which the monarch was advised of the intention of interring the sacred remains within the precincts of the Mansion, an arrangement to which he readily assented. Baha’u’llah was accordingly laid to rest in the northernmost room of the house which served as a dwelling-place for His son-in-law, the most northerly of the three houses lying to the west of, and adjacent to, the Mansion. His interment took place shortly after sunset, on the very day of His ascension.

With His burial, the home of His son-in-law became the most precious spot, the holiest of places, for Baha’is all around the world – a place to which we turn to daily when we recite our obligatory prayers and which we aspire to visit as a pilgrim at least once in our lifetimes. Continue reading

An Introduction to the Bayan

Pictured above is the House of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran, where the Bab revealed His message. His House is considered one of the holiest sites for Baha'is and it was destroyed by Revolutionary Guards in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Pictured above is the House of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran, where the Bab revealed His message. This house is considered to be one of the holiest sites for Baha’is and it was destroyed by Revolutionary Guards in the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

Every year Baha’is around the world celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab, the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, on the 8th of Azamat according to the Badi calendar. In honour of that joyous holy day, let’s take a look at the Bayan, a priceless gift the Bab bequeathed to mankind.

What is commonly referred to as ‘the Bayan’ are in fact two distinct and separate texts: the Persian Bayan and the Arabic Bayan. The word ‘bayan’ means ‘exposition’ or ‘utterance’ in Arabic, and there are also instances in the Writings where it refers to the entirety of the Bab’s revelation. Continue reading

My 3 Questions to Frame a Study of the Baha’i Writings

3 Questions to Frame Study of the Text

I naively and ignorantly thought that because I had been raised a Baha’i that I knew the Writings well. It wasn’t long before I realized that while I knew many of the principles of the Faith, I barely knew its sacred texts at all. Baha’u’llah exhorts us to immerse ourselves in the ocean of His words, and I was merely floating on the surface. In a boat.

I personally find that a small part of diving into the study of a text requires that I figure out its context. Through various deepening classes, I have learned that these 3 questions can prove very useful. Continue reading

Lady Blomfield: Her Life and Times – An Interview with Robert Weinberg

Lady Blomfield 350x530The recent post in honour of the Day of the Covenant that asked us what we thank Abdu’l-Baha for really got me thinking. I am grateful for the rich constellation of historical accounts of the life of the Master — many give us an intimate glimpse of the Perfect Exemplar. I am also thankful for the life stories of those bright souls who knew Him and who served Him.

Lady Blomfield was one of those early believers whose spiritual conquests are moving and fascinating. Her contributions to the Cause span a unique period in history as the hostess to the Master in the United Kingdom, a collector of recollections by the ladies of the Holy Family, and a literary assistant to the Guardian. Her services to the wider society in which she lived — at a time of suffrage and World War I — are inspiring.

Owing to the dedicated work of Robert Weinberg, we can now enjoy and study Lady Blomfield: Her Life and Times. Robert graciously agreed to give us a behind-the-scenes look at his marvellous and thoroughly-researched book recently published by George Ronald. Continue reading

Baha’i Houses of Worship: A Personal Reflection on the Work Ahead

The Baha'i House of Worship in Panama City, Panama (Photo: Baha'i Media Bank)

The Baha’i House of Worship in Panama City, Panama (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

My mother often comments that she feels as though the annual Ridvan letters of the beloved Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is of the world are written specifically to her – there is always one sentence or one paragraph that strikes her to her very core and that makes the whole letter very personal and relevant. I don’t always feel the lightning bolt that she does but over time, I find myself mulling over morsels and sentences like a squirrel with acorns in its cheeks.

I am still delighting in the Ridvan message of 2012. It stirringly portrays the current state of affairs, framed by a historical account of the Master’s travels to the West and a vision of the work to be done in the coming years. It joyously announces the seven new Houses of Worship to be built: two new national temples, one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the other in Papua New Guinea, and five local temples in Battambang, Cambodia; Bihar Sharif, India; Matunda Soy, Kenya; Norte del Cauca, Colombia; and Tanna, Vanuatu. The House of Justice writes: Continue reading

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 Baha’i Faith. Continue reading