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Sonjel Vreeland

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.

The Spirit of the Olympics: A Personal Reflection

Two years ago the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, wrote to the Universal House of Justice inviting it to provide a statement on the occasion of the 20th World Cup. President Rousseff saw the World Cup as an opportunity to further the cause of peace and the elimination of prejudice.

The response from the Universal House of Justice, and its tribute to the people of Brazil, is very moving (it can be read in full here). I took the opportunity to read the letter again, as it gave me a lens through which to watch the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. It highlights three positive aspects of the World Cup and these ideals were also demonstrated in the Olympics which just closed. They will undoubtably also be found in the Paralympic Games about to commence.

1. A Celebration of Diversity

The opening paragraph of the letter includes these words:

Few occasions can claim to embrace so wide a cross-section of humanity, comprising peoples of varied ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. It is clear to every observer that the sport that has brought these nations to Brazil is only strengthened by the marvellous diversity of the participants. To rejoice in this fact is to reject prejudice in all its forms.

Continue reading

Laura & Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney: Esteemed Collaborators

Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 - 18 August, 1974) and Hippolyte Dreyfus-Barney (12 April, 1863 - 20 December, 1928). These portraits of Laura and Hippolyte were done by Laura's mother, Alice, and the images are courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In the year 1900, Laura Clifford Barney and Hippolyte Dreyfus met on the threshold of the Paris home of May Ellis Bolles. Laura was on her way to the visit the Canadian Baha’i in order to find out more about the Faith – which she accepted immediately, an unquenchable fire having been sparked in her heart. Hippolyte was departing May’s company. In the months that followed, Hippolyte became the first French Baha’i and in the years that followed he and Laura would both render priceless and invaluable services to the Cause. In honour of Laura’s passing which occurred 42 years ago on August 18th, I’d like to share some facts I’ve learned about them.

Laura was born on November 30th, 1879 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a wealthy family of artists and industrialists. She and her sister Natalie lived in luxury and privilege but owing to their parents’ strained marriage, they spent their childhood in both Paris and the United States. She studied the dramatic arts and sculpture, loved the theater and wrote 25 short stories and at least two plays. Laura was keenly intelligent, serious, inquisitive and insightful – qualities for which we are all grateful.

Between 1904 and 1906, Laura travelled to Akka multiple times. She was unmarried and in her twenties and the Master was still a prisoner of the Turkish government. Dr. Youness Afroukteh (whose wonderful recollections Memories of Nine Years in Akka is a delight to read) recorded these words:  Continue reading

The Half of it Was Never Told – A New Book by Carolyn Sparey Fox

Carolyn Sparey Fox is the author of The Half of it Was Never Told, a riveting new publication. The book is set in the 19th century, when many were filled with excitement and expectation that the prophecies in the Bible and the Quran would be fulfilled. Carolyn’s book charts the stories of three men who never met, William Miller, Joseph Wolff and Mulla Husayn, who were all dedicated and devoted to their quest of finding the Promised One. Only one of them found what he was looking for.

Carolyn’s book is a George Ronald publication and it recently hit the shelves. She graciously agreed to tell us a little bit about herself and the process behind the book.

 

Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Carolyn, for your willingness to talk about your book, The Half of it Was Never Told. To begin, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well actually, I’m a professional musician, and in a way I suppose that’s another story!! Briefly, after I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and toured for two months across the USA and Canada, I worked in London, where I was in the first London production of Jesus Christ Superstar, recorded music for films and backing for pop music, and performed with many of the orchestras, which included loads of touring, including Australia, USA, Europe, and interestingly enough, many countries which were still behind the Iron Curtain at that time. Then I moved to Scotland, where I was principal viola with both the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – but not at the same time, I hasten to add!  That’s the tip of the iceberg as far as my musical career is concerned, but I suppose it gives a flavour.

Education for Girls: A Personal Reflection

(Photo: courtesy Baha'i World Centre)

On July 12th, Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 19th birthday. This Nobel Peace Prize winner (the world’s youngest) caught the world’s attention in 2012 when she was shot in the face by the Taliban for attending school and for championing the right of girls to be educated. On her 16th birthday, Malala gave a speech at the United Nations — the first after the attack on her life — renewing her commitment to fight for the right of children to go to school. The UN dubbed that July 12th as “Malala Day” and some have celebrated it since.

Education is a universal right. Abdu’l-Baha states:

The education of each child is compulsory…. In addition to this wide-spread education each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood. Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship…

The education of girls is a principle distinctly upheld in the Baha’i Writings. It is a subject that I think of often, and it is a subject more complicated than a simple Baha’i Blog article can address. Here are a few of my thoughts about the education of girls and how this goal is linked to the equality of men and women and the importance of children’s classes.  Continue reading

“Broken Winged Bird” by Carmel Zein [Audio Track]

Baha’i Blog’s “Studio Sessions” is an initiative where we invite Baha’is and their friends from around the world to come into a studio and share the Baha’i Writings put to music.

In this Baha’i Blog Studio Session, we’re in Sydney, Australia with Carmel Zein singing “Broken Winged Bird”, based on a prayer from Abdu’l-Baha.  Continue reading

A Tribute to Anis Zunuzi

The Shrine of the Bab (photo credit: Baha'i World Centre)

The significance of the Bab’s station and of His martyrdom is beyond what my mind can grasp. Shoghi Effendi tells us that this event can “be rightly acclaimed as unparalleled in the annals of the lives of all the Founders of the world’s existing religious systems.”

In an attempt to study and meditate on the station of the Bab and the historical meaning of His execution, I found myself thinking of Anis Zunuzi, the youth who shared the crown of Martyrdom with the Bab on July 9th, 1850. Reflecting on Anis’ life and his deeds, as someone intoxicated with love for the Bab, may help me understand and better commemorate the Bab’s life.

Anis’ story is recounted in several places. For example, you can read about it in Shoghi Effendi’s translation of Nabil’s The Dawn-Breakers, Hasan Balyuzi’s The Bab, and William Sears’ Release the Sun – an excellent book, particularly for youth or younger readers. The retelling of Anis’ story is included in Midsummer Noon: A Narrative of the Life of the Bab, a dramatic audio recording produced by Jack Lenz (and available for purchase or download from 9StarMedia) which never fails to bring tears to my eyes. The details of his story are few, but here are some key points worth reflecting on. Continue reading

Vahid: A New Baha’i-inspired Creative Journal

Baha’i inspired literary journals are rare but the creative people behind the fantastic website Nineteenmonths have recently launched Vahid.

Vahid showcases fiction, photography, poetry, creative non-fiction, and other visual pieces: it is both beautiful to look at and wondrous to read. Two issues have already been published (available in print or electronically through Amazon) and a third issue is currently accepting submissions.

I was thrilled when Caitlin Castelaz, the founding editor of Vahid and the writing editor for the website, agreed to tell us about this exciting new publication. Continue reading

Thomas Breakwell: Mysterious Luminary

Mr. Thomas Breakwell (31 May, 1872 - 13 June, 1902)

I didn’t know who Thomas Breakwell was until recently, but once I heard his mysterious and heartbreaking story he became impossible to forget. He was born on May 31st, 1872 in Woking, England, became a Baha’i when he was 29 and passed away of tuberculosis when he was only 30. And yet, Abdu’l-Baha described him as “a lamp amid the angels of high Heaven”.

Thomas’ family immigrated to the United States and when he grew up he held a serious position in a Southern cotton mill that gave him a considerable income and so he spent his summer holidays in Europe. He was “of medium height, slender, erect and graceful, with intense eyes and an indescribable charm” and he was open minded and attracted to different religious ideas and philosophies. This thirst for knowledge of all things spiritual perked the ears of Mrs. Milner, whom he met on a steamer to France in the summer of 1901. Mrs. Milner had no interest in matters of the soul, but she was friends with May Bolles (who later became May Maxwell) who had found a truth that had given meaning to her life. Continue reading

Purity of Heart, Determination and Devotion: A Tribute to Mulla Husayn

On the evening of May 22, Baha’is throughout the world commemorate the Declaration of the Bab, which took place in the room pictured above in the Persian city of Shiraz in 1844 when the Bab met with and revealed His station to Mulla Husayn. The Bab announced there that His mission was to alert the people to the imminent advent of Him Whom God shall make manifest, namely, Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. The observance takes place about two hours after sunset. To mark the Holy Day, Baha’is abstain from work on 23 May. The House of the Bab, where the Declaration occurred, was destroyed in 1979 during a wave of persecution that swept across the Baha’is in Iran following the Islamic revolution. (Photo: Baha'i World Centre)

In honour of the Declaration of the Bab, I have been thinking of that immortal hero who was the first to receive and embrace the truth of the Bab’s revelation: the young, pure-hearted, determined and devoted Mulla Husayn. We are indebted to Mulla Husayn because he left us with an account of that pivotal evening, unlike the Festival of Ridvan for which no historical records of the exact words or manner of Baha’u’llah’s declaration exists. In Release the Sun, William Sears tells us:

Never before in the history of religion have the exact words of such an unforgettable meeting been preserved by an eye-witness. Mulla Husayn, however, has left in everlasting language a memory of the first announcement by Ali Muhammad, the Bab. He could never forget the inner peace and serenity which he had felt in the life-creating presence of the Bab. He spoke often to his companions of that wondrous night.

What happened on that fateful evening and its impact on the world are sublime — attempting to comprehend it is like trying to imagine the size of the universe. Reflecting on Mulla Husayn’s story, however, helps me to get a better idea of the spiritual import of the Bab’s declaration. In thinking about Mulla Husayn, I am struck by 3 outstanding qualities that he demonstrated in the moments leading to and immediately following the birth of the Bab’s revelation: his purity of heart, his determination in pursuing his quest, and his devotion and faithfulness to the Bab, the object of his heart’s desire.  Continue reading