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A New Way of Looking at Service

Every aspect of a person’s life is an element of his or her service to Bahá’u’lláh:  the love and respect one has for one’s parents, the pursuit of one’s education, the nurturing of good health, the acquiring of a trade or profession, one’s behaviour towards others and the upholding of a high moral standard, one’s marriage and the bringing up of one’s children; one’s activities in teaching the Faith and the building up the strength of the Baha’i community . . . and, not least, to take time each day to read the Writings and say the Obligatory Prayer, which are the source of growing spiritual strength, understanding, and attachment to God.  (Universal House of Justice, to the European Baha’i youth Council, 7 December 1992)

Where has this quote been all my Baha’i life?  I realized when reading it, how narrow was my understanding of service.  I used to think that service was just participating in the core activities and raising up the community building process within our clusters.  I can see how I would get that impression because study of the Ruhi curriculum teaches us that this is what means to walk a path of service, and when the Statistics Officer contacts me to see what I’ve been doing, these are the only things they want to track.  Living in an inactive cluster and being an introvert, happier teaching and serving in an online environment, I have beaten myself up mercilessly for not being a good Baha’i, because I’m not currently serving in my cluster the way I think I “should”.  So I was very grateful to find this quote today!

I relate better to bullet points, which I can use as a checklist, so let’s take these one at a time:

  1. the love and respect one has for one’s parents
  2. the pursuit of one’s education
  3. the nurturing of good health
  4. the acquiring of a trade or profession
  5. one’s behaviour towards others
  6. the upholding of a high moral standard
  7. one’s marriage
  8. the bringing up of one’s children
  9. one’s activities in teaching the Faith
  10. building up the strength of the Baha’i community
  11. reading the Writings
  12. saying the Obligatory Prayer

Were any of these a surprise to you?  I was certainly surprised that they are all aspects of service.  I was happy to see that nurturing good health is also part of service, because of course, we can’t serve when we aren’t healthy.  I love belonging to such a compassionate religion and am grateful for the House of Justice elaborating on this issue!

Knowing that service is much broader than just “walking a path”, I can relax and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read through today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

 

 

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The Theory of the Big Toenail – or Taking on Roles that Don’t Belong to Us

 

In this year’s Ridvan Message, we’re reminded yet again, that:

Everyone has a share in this enterprise; the contribution of each serves to enrich the whole. (Universal House of Justice, Ridvan Message 2014, paragraph 5)

It reminds me of a theory I like to call “Big Toenail”.  It’s one of my rants, so bear with me!

Bahá’u’lláh equated the world to a human body, where every cell, every organ, every nerve has its part to play. When all do so the body is healthy, vigorous, radiant and ready for every call made upon it:

Regard the world as the human body,” wrote Bahá’u’lláh to Queen Victoria.  We can surely regard the Bahá’í world, the army of God, in the same way. In the human body, every cell, every organ, every nerve has its part to play. When all do so the body is healthy, vigorous, radiant, ready for every call made upon it. No cell, however humble, lives apart from the body, whether in serving it or receiving from it. This is true of the body of mankind in which God “hast endowed each and all with talents and faculties,” and is supremely true of the body of the Bahá’í World Community, for this body is already an organism, united in its aspirations, unified in its methods, seeking assistance and confirmation from the same Source, and illumined with the conscious knowledge of its unity. Therefore, in this organic, divinely guided, blessed and illumined body the participation of every believer is of the utmost importance, and is a source of power and vitality as yet unknown to us. For extensive and deep as has been the sharing in the glorious work of the Cause, who would claim that every single believer has succeeded in finding his or her fullest satisfaction in the life of the Cause? The Bahá’í World Community, growing like a healthy new body, develops new cells, new organs, new functions and powers as it presses on to its maturity, when every soul, living for the Cause of God, will receive from that Cause, health, assurance and the overflowing bounties of Bahá’u’lláh which are diffused through His divinely ordained order.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42)

No cell, however humble, lives apart from the body, whether in serving it or receiving from it:

In the human body, every cell, every organ, every nerve has its part to play. When all do so the body is healthy, vigorous, radiant, ready for every call made upon it. No cell, however humble, lives apart from the body, whether in serving it or receiving from it.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 42)

Although the parts of the body are numerous, the animating spirit of life unites them all in perfect combination:

Consider how numerous are these parts and members, but the oneness of the animating spirit of life unites them all in perfect combination.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 320)

The parts of the body are all perfectly connected.  For example: the foot and the step are connected to the ear and the eye; the eye must look ahead before the step is taken. The ear must hear before the eye will carefully observe:

It is obvious that all created things are connected one to another by a linkage complete and perfect, even, for example, as are the members of the human body. Note how all the members and component parts of the human body are connected one to another. In the same way, all the members of this endless universe are linked one to another. The foot and the step, for example, are connected to the ear and the eye; the eye must look ahead before the step is taken. The ear must hear before the eye will carefully observe. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 47)

If any part is subjected to injury or becomes diseased, all the other parts and functions sympathetically respond and suffer:

It establishes such a unity in the bodily organism that if any part is subjected to injury or becomes diseased, all the other parts and functions sympathetically respond and suffer, owing to the perfect oneness existing.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 320)

Whenever there is a deficiency in one part, the body produces a deficiency in the other parts:

And whatever member of the human body is deficient produceth a deficiency in the other members. The brain is connected with the heart and stomach, the lungs are connected with all the members. So is it with the other members of the body.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 47)

The mind directs and coordinates all the other parts; and if there’s some interruption in the power of the mind, all the members will fail to carry out their essential functions, deficiencies will appear and the power of the body will prove ineffective:

And each one of these members hath its own special function. The mind force — whether we call it pre-existent or contingent — doth direct and co-ordinate all the members of the human body, seeing to it that each part or member duly performeth its own special function. If, however, there be some interruption in the power of the mind, all the members will fail to carry out their essential functions, deficiencies will appear in the body and the functioning of its members, and the power will prove ineffective. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 47)

If man were all brain, eyes or ears, it would be equivalent to imperfection and the absence of hair, eyelashes, teeth and nails would be an absolute defect:

In the same way consider the body of man. It must be composed of different organs, parts and members. Human beauty and perfection require the existence of the ear, the eye, the brain and even that of the nails and hair; if man were all brain, eyes or ears, it would be equivalent to imperfection. So the absence of hair, eyelashes, teeth and nails would be an absolute defect, though in comparison with the eye they are without feeling, and in this resemble the mineral and plant; but their absence in the body of man is necessarily faulty and displeasing.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 129)

A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing:

A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith, because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing. This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain.  (The Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, Selected Letters 1983-1992, p. 80)

So here’s my rant!

If I’m a big toenail, my job is just to protect the big toe.  If I don’t do my job, or if I somehow get separated from the big toe, so that nothing is protecting it, the foot is in agony, and the whole body suffers.

A big toenail doesn’t feel guilty because it can’t see or hear.  It doesn’t try to speak; or step in when the arm is broken.  It just does what it was created to do.

So if the Bahá’í community is like the body, why do we take on roles that aren’t ours to take; or feel guilty when we say “no”?

Those of us who see that:

The field is indeed so immense, the period so critical, the Cause so great, the workers so few, the time so short, the privilege so priceless, that no follower of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, worthy to bear His name, can afford a moment’s hesitation.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 46-47)

We want to do something about it, and in doing so, we often take on roles that aren’t ours to take on, and then burn out.

I’m a visual person and can relate to charts, so perhaps this will help illustrate the point.  I live in a community that is largely inactive.  There are 16 Bahá’ís on paper, but only 3 of us come out to things, as we see below.  This can certainly be extrapolated for larger communities as well:

 

Person A

Person C

Person B

Each of us has a role to play; and when we try to fill the gaps of the people who are missing; we aren’t doing the job that God gave us to do.

Another way to look at it is that our Bahá’í communities are like puzzle pictures; and each person has their own puzzle piece.  If someone isn’t participating, their piece is missing; and if I try to jam my piece into someone else’s spot, it doesn’t quite fit; and if I force it to fit, it won’t be available for the spot in which it was intended.

The House of Justice has cautioned us against taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go. This is God’s Cause and despite the seeming slowness of the process, He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant; and to do our part:

The Universal House of Justice has emphasized the importance of our avoiding any tendency to take responsibility for the Cause into our own hands: ‘Service to the Cause of God requires absolute fidelity and integrity and unwavering faith in Him. No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’  (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)

What’s been your experience of taking on jobs that weren’t yours to do?  How has this helped your understanding?  Post your comments below!

Unity in Diversity – Lessons from the Body

 

The concept of “Unity in Diversity” is a given in the Bahá’í Faith and a term that’s been bandied around so often, that we’re now seeing it in the non-Bahá’í world too.  The best known usage inside the Faith, is around the concept of the oneness of humanity, being likened to a garden, but recently I came across this quote (which I’ve broken in 3 parts) and had an entirely different understanding of what it means:

A unity in diversity of actions is called for, a condition in which different individuals will concentrate on different activities, appreciating the salutary effect of the aggregate on the growth and development of the Faith . . .

Think of the human body – a beautiful example of unity in diversity in action!  We need big toenails just as much as we need eyeballs and kneecaps and thumbs.  The big toenail doesn’t feel guilty it can’t see.  The kneecap isn’t depressed because it can’t pick things up.  Each part is important to the functioning of the whole (have you ever had a sore big toe nail?  The whole body suffers!).  Each part has a role to play, which is different from every other part.  We accept it without giving it any thought, because typically, the body functions without any conscious effort on our part.

That’s what our Bahá’í life needs to be like.

. . . because each person cannot do everything and all persons cannot do the same thing . . .

The Universal House of Justice has asked us to concentrate on 4 core activities:  Study Circles, Devotional Gatherings, Children’s Classes and Junior Youth programs, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do one or more of these activities the same as anyone else.

If you’re a big toenail, perhaps you will tutor a study circle, or put together the devotions, or teach the children’s classes and junior youth programs.

If you’re a kneecap, you might organize the activities (find the tutors, teachers and animators, order the books, call the students, parents etc.)

If you’re the eyeball, you might host the events or bake the cookies.

If you’re the thumb, you might provide transportation or child care.

If you’re the eyelash, you might pray for the success of the event.

If you’re the elbow, you might serve on the institutions that do the planning.

But how many of us try to do everything and either burn out or become inactive because they feel that what they have to offer isn’t appreciated, or isn’t what others are doing etc?

. . . This understanding is important to the maturity which, by the many demands being made upon it, the community is being forced to attain.  (Compilations, Promoting Entry by Troops, p. 17)

So the next time you are tempted to do it all, remember that it’s a sign of maturity to know which part of the whole you’re best at, recognize that you are a big toe  nail, and leave the work of the eyeball to the eyeball.

What are your thoughts?  Post your comments here: