Sunday, March 20, 2011

A space for reflection

The Baha'i community has been growing and developing in many dimensions since 1921, the inception of the Formative Age. From an early stirrings it has expanded to become truly a world wide community. In addition to expansion into many new countries, and building of institutions at the local, regional, national, continental and global levels, it has paid attention to both material and spiritual well being of communities. But none of its achievements is greater than its accomplishments during the past 15 years in systematizing its experience. This world wide community now operates in over 1600 clusters according to a pattern that has the potential capacity to capture the learning that is being generated every day in the field of action. Since 1996 the training institutes have systematized the educational process for capacity building and raising of human resources. And since 2001 the operation of the programs of growth in each cluster have systematized the teaching work.

Consider the case of a neighborhood. A few of the residents in this neighborhood can engage in action to strengthen the spiritual life of some of its residents, with the vision that this development will eventually impact the whole neighborhood. A few families can take ownership of their own progress. They can come together on a regular basis to say prayers together and deepen the devotional character of their neighborhood. A class can be held for their children so that they can connect with their higher nature. Naturally these residents will want to open a space for reflection, so that they can analyze their own actions and the results thus far obtained. As these activities increase in number beyond a handful the demands for planning and decision making will increase. A more formal scheme of coordination is then required if these activities are to produce a unified and coherent influence on the lives of the residents. It is here that it is important to create a more institutionalized arrangement for reflection.

Activities are carried out in cycles of roughly 3 months each. Each cycle consists of 3 phases of expansion, consolidation and reflection. This arrangement enables the residents to act and then reflect on their action and learn from how they are building their community. In some clusters the reflection phase is some two weeks long. During this period a number of actions can be taken. Those who have been facilitating study circles can meet together and consider their service. What has been the quality of the educational process fostered at the level of the study circles? What has been the environment of these circles? To what extent have the participants taken ownership of their own progress? What have they learned from walking on a path of service related to the particular course that they have been studying?

Similarly those who have been teaching classes for the children can meet together and reflect on the quality of their classes, and their relationship with building a community in which the children are fully participating, and perhaps displaying their consciousness of the qualities of human spirit. A third set of meetings may relate to the work of those who animate groups of junior youth. A fourth set of meetings may relate to the work of those who host devotional meetings. Other specialized meetings may also relate to the nature and quality of visiting families in their homes, or engaging in meaningful conversations with friends and strangers alike. Finally the learning generated from these meetings can be gathered together and considered at the final reflection meeting for a cluster.

This systematization and institutionalization of various reflection meetings should be in response to the level of activities in any cluster. It is important that such efforts are not reduced to a set of procedures, and there are no formula for the effectiveness of these efforts. Each group of residents in any neighborhood and cluster are in the best place to determine the needed complexity of these activities in response to the level of intensity and the number of people involved. 

This then is the subject of paragraph 7 of the letter of 28 December 2010 written by the inspired pen of the Universal House of Justice. The work of this community has truly become scientific in its method even as the content remains and becomes even more intensely spiritual. The following questions are suggested by the study of this paragraph.

1.     Initially the cluster has “occasional meetings of a few believers” who are working together to implement the framework for action. What is the next stage? 

2.     As the number of teachers increases, what is the concern of “an expanding core group of friends”?

3.     As the work further gains momentum, what indications might there be that “the demands of planning and decision making” are not fully met?

4.     Once a “fully fledged scheme for the coordination of activities becomes operational” the cluster can then “conform to the rhythm established by pronounced cycles of expansion and consolidation… punctuated every three months by a meeting for reflection and planning”. In such a cluster what three things will “flow efficiently”? 

5.     Have you observed a cluster where the “scheme for the coordination” is fully established, and yet the teaching work – either expansion or consolidation – is not progressing as desired? Why do you think that this is the case?

Baha'u'llah wrote: "The first Taráz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty."

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