Saturday, July 30, 2011

Trustees of the Merciful

The story of birth and development of Bahá’í Local Spiritual Assemblies is a fascinating one. There is of course a very practical side to such stories. But there is also a deeply spiritual side which is entirely mystical.

I remember that while teaching the Faith in Africa during the 1980s I arrived with a group of other teachers in a certain village, where no one had yet heard of the Faith. As we met with the headman, and he called his people to come and listen to us, we were able to lay bare the message of Baha’u’llah with beauty and simplicity. In the course of that same afternoon we were able to answer many questions, as there were many people who were sincerely interested and profoundly touched. Scores declared their Faith that same day. They asked, and we also wondered, what will come next. We knew that this particular village was far off the beaten path, and that our experience told us that we may not get another chance to revisit this village anytime soon. So we offered several complimentary options to help deepen their love for Baha’u’llah and for service for humanity. They could send a few selected young people to visit the capital city where they could stay for a few weeks to learn more, and there was also a deepening course that was available through mail, and we would leave some literature behind. But there had to be more. We had little understanding then of how to effectively build capacity.

We knew about the special spiritual blessing that would come from having formed a Local Spiritual Assembly. So I described this to them, and they agreed that on that same day we should help them form this Assembly. With all the declared Baha’is present at the meeting, it was simple enough for us to conduct the Bahá’í electoral process in an atmosphere of joy. This sacred election was done, and the headman and his village people were content.

I thought to myself, and I prayed as well, that while receptivity is to such an extent, how could we expect that in one afternoon this whole village would be so transformed as to stand on its own feet. I have no doubt that while the Assembly did not function in any meaningful way, that for years after that day, those far off believers in that remote village would read their Bahá’í books, would receive the regular national newsletter, perhaps make up their own songs, and will continue to regard themselves as new Baha’is with a sense of renewed vigor. It was sad that I was never again able to visit that village, but I heard from other visitors who went there that the community has continued to exist. I know that the mysterious blessings that are associated with forming their Assembly has helped them keep on to their new identity. If there were clusters in place then, with their schemes of coordination, and nearby tutors they could have carried on the work that we had started, such an Assembly would have a chance to take ownership.

Now as we learn in this Plan how to raise the capacities of the members of such remote communities, it is possible for them not only to exist as Baha’is, but also to trace a path for growth and development. We can now join the practical and systematic effort at capacity-raising to that essential mystical element of faith and confirmation.

The following questions may help in the study of the 26th paragraph of the letter of 28 December 2010, from the Universal House of Justice.
  1. What are some of the attributes that the Local Spiritual Assemblies should gradually develop?
  2. What does it mean that the members of the Assemblies can be seen as "the trusted ones of the Merciful among men"?
  3. If the Assemblies in villages develop their expected attributes, how will their members be seen by the inhabitants of these villages? Can you elaborate on the dynamics of this social development?
Abdu’l-Baha wrote: “As to you, O ye other handmaids who are enamoured of the heavenly fragrances, arrange ye holy gatherings, and found ye Spiritual Assemblies, for these are the basis for spreading the sweet savours of God, exalting His Word, uplifting the lamp of His grace, promulgating His religion and promoting His Teachings, and what bounty is there greater than this? These Spiritual Assemblies are aided by the Spirit of God. Their defender is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Over them He spreadeth His wings. What bounty is there greater than this? These Spiritual Assemblies are shining lamps and heavenly gardens, from which the fragrances of holiness are diffused over all regions, and the lights of knowledge are shed abroad over all created things. From them the spirit of life streameth in every direction. They, indeed, are the potent sources of the progress of man, at all times and under all conditions. What bounty is there greater than this? [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 79]

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