Below is an account of a conversation between a few families in a neighborhood participating in their first study circle together, “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit.” Please read the following narrative, keeping in mind the main idea of “learning in action“. How is the study circle enabling participants to talk with one another about oneness and nobility, racism and prejudice in an elevated and practical manner as they participate in this community building activity?
How does each individual, as well as the families portrayed in the case study, see themselves as protagonists, helping to eradicate racism by participating in the institute process and sharing the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh?
Audio Narrative of below text-
It was Maria, the mother of Esperanza, the children’s class teacher, who contributed selected readings from The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh. These stimulated often difficult, but thought- provoking conversations. Maria invited those present, both youth and adults to share how the concepts from these verses might relate to oneness and help counter the divisive forces of prejudice. This led to a desire to better understand the writings of the Bahá’í Faith, and then to the decision to hold a study circle. The simple yet profound concepts found in “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit” offered an opportunity to study, consult, reflect and act on how the most vital and challenging issue facing America, racial prejudice, could be systematically eliminated.
“Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone; let your heart burn with loving-kindness for all who may cross your path.”
After re-reading the above passage to the group, Mr. Wilson, one of the fathers, was moved to say, “I have a question.”
“You always have a question,” Mrs. Wilson interrupted, bringing a few smiles from the group of grandparents, parents and youth.
“No, this is something that I have been meaning to share with you all for some time, but I didn’t have the right words to express myself.” He looked into the eyes of the family and friends in the neighborhood he had come to know better. “I get all the concepts we’ve been studying and thinking about together, like “nobility,” “oneness.” I think we are all better people from our being together. I sure see us as good friends, as a community. I think I am beginning to understand the message that Bahá’u’lláh is bringing, and how ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is an example to humanity, especially for our children. I see the benefits to my family. We all do… But what is in my heart is pain… Deep pain. And I don’t know how to stop the pain.”
The honesty shown by Mr. Wilson in sharing his feelings caused everyone to pause, to gradually become filled with emotion and a sense of heartfelt reflection. There were no words, but little by little, hands joined together in silence, and the room of noble souls huddled in close embrace.
Mr. Turner was moved to lift his voice in song – a refrain which they had learned together previously. One by one the group joined in, singing:
“In the prayer room. In the prayer room.
Bahá’u’lláh is my doctor. He gives me all of my medicine. In the prayer room. In the prayer room.”
Esperanza and those in the children’s class sat nearby on the carpet in the adjoining room, busy memorizing and coloring. Hearing the rising melody, Mrs. Turner’s daughter, Tenisha, made her way silently across the room to her mother’s side and when all went quiet whispered, “Why is everyone so sad, Mama?
Mrs. Turner wanted to tell her to immediately hush up, but as she looked into Tenisha’s eyes, she knew the question required a voice filled with love and understanding. She cleared her throat and said, so everyone in the room could hear, “When I was a little girl growing up in this city, black people lived on one side, and whites lived on the other. The only time we got together, was in schools, which happened because some people rose up and said we all should have the same opportunity in education. It took a lot of courage to stand up for equality.”
“And we won’t stop marching,” Mrs. Wilson added, staring with love at her husband.
Mrs. Turner continued, trying to explain it another way through her daughter’s eyes. “Tenisha, the world is full of selfless people working for oneness and unity but there are others who are unaware of the oneness of humanity and still have prejudice in their hearts.”
“Like bullies,” Tenisha interjected.
“Tenisha, selfishness and prejudice take many forms that divide us. Mr. Wilson experienced a lot of injustice in his life and he doesn’t want that world for his boys, nor do we want that for you or any child in this world.”
“Then we should just stop being prejudiced, Mama.”
“And just how do think we should do that, Tenisha?” Mrs. Turner probed.
Tenisha looked over to Esperanza for an answer. Esperanza encouraged her with a nod to share what was in her heart and thoughts.
“Justice and… Trust in God?”
“Now where did you learn that?” Mrs. Turner questioned with a smile.
“In our children’s class!” Tenisha hopped over to Esperanza and returned to drawing with the other children.
Maria shared, “You know friends, one of the unique bounties of being a Bahá’í is the connection of every heart to the flow of divine guidance from the supreme Institution, the Universal House of Justice seated on Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel. This Institution, which Bahá’u’lláh promised in His Writings would provide unerring guidance for all humanity, including not only an evolving framework for establishing oneness and unity, but allowing every soul to seek clarification on any issue that comes to his or her heart so that each may arise and serve the goals of the Divine Plan of God. Across the years in our country, many dedicated friends have sought to better understand how to respond to the issue of racism and racial prejudice by writing to the Supreme Body of our Faith. Often times in our country the National Spiritual Assembly answers and shares additional guidance with the friends and community to assist them. One compilation I think we could study together intensively is “Achieving Race Unity and Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops: Extracts from Letters Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States”. And within that compilation there are some passages I think relate directly to the conversation we’ve just been having. For example:
“You are encouraged to take heart from the Master’s assurance that racial prejudice will one day be eliminated from the face of the earth, although as the Guardian explained, the road to be travelled will be “long and thorny” and “beset with pitfalls”.
Mrs. Turner’s fifteen-year-old son, Louis, was listening intently. He looked over to Maria, having drawn an insight from the passage she just shared. “You mean the Bahá’ís are struggling with this issue too?”
Maria nodded, adding a Spanish phrase in agreement: “Claro que sí! We’re all walking together on a path towards race unity and oneness.”
Mr. Wilson closed his Ruhi workbook, reflecting, “I apologize for baring my soul earlier. Life in this country has not been easy for me, or for my brothers and sisters. I feel our pain, our history and our struggle. I know you feel me and you hear me. That’s why I keep coming here… because you people, my neighbors, my friends, my family, not only have a dream, but are, as you said, all marching on a path — without stopping — towards unity and oneness.”
A confirming “Amen” came from several of the neighbors present.
“Next week we will complete the final section in “Reflections on the Life of the Spirit” with a call to action for each individual and family,” Maria said to close the study circle, handing out a print-out for daily readings in the morning and evening. “Don’t worry, there are many other writings and Institute books to follow that share concepts whereby principles from the Revelation can be put into action. For example, from recognizing Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for all humanity today, to building our capacity to serve our families and neighborhoods, both spiritually and materially, in every culture and community around the world.
Mr. Turner noticed Louis busy on his cell phone and nudged him to put it away. Louis explained to his father and the study circle, “Sorry. I was looking up on the bahai.org website the letter the youth were studying together from the bicentenary celebration for the twin Holy Days. If it’s okay with you all, I think it makes sense to share a few paragraphs here:”
“The matter at hand is a challenging one, and requires candour. There are many noble and admirable causes in the world, and they arise from particular perspectives, each with its own merit. Is the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh merely one amongst them? Or is it universal, embodying the highest ideals of all humanity? After all, a Cause that is to be the wellspring of enduring justice and peace—not for one place or one people, but for all places and all peoples—must be inexhaustible, must possess a heavenly vitality that allows it to transcend all limitations and encompass every dimension of the life of humanity. Ultimately, it must have the power to transform the human heart. Then let us, like the Báb’s guest, observe attentively. Does not the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh possess these very qualities?
“If the teachings brought by Bahá’u’lláh are what will enable humanity to advance to the highest levels of unity, then one must search the soul for the right response.
“… Let everyone who is awake to the condition of the world, and to the persistent evils that warp the lives of its inhabitants, heed Bahá’u’lláh’s call to selfless and steadfast service— heroism for the present age. What else will rescue the world but the efforts of countless souls who each make the welfare of humanity their principal, their dominating concern?”
(Universal House of Justice, October 2019)
Mr. Turner put his hand out for Louis’ cell phone. Louis was surprised to see his Dad interested in studying the passage for himself.
As Esperanza brought the children into the room to join their families, Mrs. Wilson had a quiet word with Mr. and Mrs. Turner, before turning back to consult her two sons and husband. Mrs. Wilson held her husband’s hand, and said loudly above the chatter. “Friends, if it’s alright with everyone — I consulted with the Turners, and you’re all welcome to our house next week for lunch and prayers.” Then looking at Tenisha, she added, “And learning how we should all “trust in God.”
1 (Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, Unit 1 Section 5)
2 Achieving Race Unity and Advancing the Process of Entry by Troops: Extracts from Letters Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States (From a letter dated 1 April 1996)
Please consult with your break-out group and reflect on the following questions. Each individual is encouraged to share her or his thoughts and perspective:
1. How does Tenisha’s example of striving to understand assist the study circle participants to deepen their knowledge, of the guidance from the Universal House of Justice in how every believer can contribute to freedom from racial prejudice?
2. The Universal House of Justice states that we should have no doubt that in America “race prejudice will finally be exorcised from the body politic”. Discuss the necessary precondition given in the quote to translate our community’s social vision into reality.
3. What are the characteristics that we need each of us might try to display to demonstrate Bahá’u’lláh’s call “to selfless and steadfast service— heroism”, especially in the current discourse about racial prejudice?
4. When incidents of prejudice or racism arise in the community, what tools do all the members of the family have to bring forward when discussing, openly and confidently, race unity as a process of growth?