Archive for May, 2006

On Religion: Paradoxical Questions

All photos by never happens on Flickr
You may remember Paradox who was briefly profiled back in April. She had noted in a blog post: actually a few months ago, i heard from a friend that her co-worker, being Quebecois, is converting to Baha’i as his wife (a Quebecoise) was believing in it since i-dunno-when. and they were planning on going on a sort of religious mission to Bosnia in summer. i was like: !!!???then this made me read more on it in internet… seems the Bahai’s are actively spreading their belief round the globe! Paradox has continued to raise many good questions about religion in a post on her blog and several comments, including one on this blog.

we need to be unbiased about many things first, then express our’s harmless, yet useful to be curious about different faiths and religions and their origins… not only you expand your knowledge, but you will broaden your viewpoint of human nature and probably the philosophy of life… we have great open-minded poets, among who, Sohrab beautifully says: “…the eyes should be washed(chashm-ha ra bayad shost). perspectives should alter (jour-e digar bayad did)….”but many of us only mumble these poems, but don’t try to understand their real meaning in all aspects of our everyday life!! (Comment to “unexpected …”, Paradox)
about a month ago i was talking to this Vietnamese classmate of mine, a very quiet and nice girl… about here and there. she suddenly took a book of sort of prayers or poems (of Buddha) out of her schoolbag, and said she has started going to temple since she has come here…

getting more curious about her faith, i asked her to explain more… she said things that left both of us almost surprised! i never knew many of my beliefs about life, human and world, my believing-in-no-religion, my nonreligious life are so close to Buddhism!!? (although Buddhism is said to be more like a philosphy than a religion, eh?! but does it make any difference if it’s like a real religion or a philosphy?! BTW, what is a real religion?!)

apart from those details of what Buddhists believe in, and how close i found them to what i personally believe, i’m wondering how faiths get shaped in the first place… and how they get spread, and find so many followers with time…!

not that i don’t know how sometimes the power and political influences and motivations have helped a religion or a denomination get spread out and even change in some aspects of their ideologies, and even how some “prophets” have made wars and conquered lands to force people to convert into the conqueror’s religion…, my question is deepr than that: what makes human feel the need for faith in the first place?

you might say: well, human needs spirituality and connection to supernatural powers to feel relaxed and relieved…but what is the reason behind so many changes into it, and why making it a social and collective ritual/gathering/idealogy (some so strange!!) rather than an individual one without inventing rituals …?

why the emergence of so many denominations?above all, howcome most of people on earth stay in surface about the religious beliefs and faiths… why don’t they ask “why” and “why this religion”, “why this way”… ?!

if all faiths are almost the same down in their roots, why so many wars over their surfaces?!

why is there always a fear that a religion or a denomination loses its followers, because of any reason?

why (for many of the religions and faiths) is it usually forbidden to convert into another religion?!

why most of religions (especially old ones) should be passed onto next generations just like genes and genomes that are received with birth from parents?!!

why making such a simple “need” so complicated and a source of wars and clashes?!

i personally feel that most of those “prophets” sought power behind inviting poeple to the religion they were “represent”ing or to “the spirituality and/or the right path and salvation”… who can believe that spirituality requires blood-shedding, massacre, wars, hatred, detention, and…?!

why does a religion need such a power at all ?!!? (“live it as is…,” Paradox)
i strongly disagree with any arrest or pressure becuz of religion or thought or faith or ideas… however, what i don’t personally understand is why most of “prophets” should prophesize by saying their teachings are the fulfillment of the previous religions or -as you refer to Baha’ullah introducing hima & his teachings as the fullfilment of ALL the world’s religions. although i also don’t understand the divinity related to religions and religious teachings, i am wondering why a prophet needs to prove him/herself (BTW, have we ever had a woman prophet? this is an old question of mine, posted in my blog several months ago!) by inviting more and more followers? why do they have to connect what they believe to divinity and holiness?! why do they need so many supports of people?! why so many clashes and wars for inviting people to a religion?! why so many different rituals if they (religious teachings) are all the same?! (Comment to “On Baha’i Painters: Hussein Bikar and the Treatment of Baha’is in Egypt,” Baha’i Views)

An Eqyptian Baha’i’s observation in the following post may provide a doorway for those who have similar questions to those raised by Paradox.

On Comparing Religions: An Egyptian Baha’i’s Observation

Citadel Mosque by Kodak Agfa
About Me
Blog: Eqyptian Chronicles
Name: Zeinobia
I am just Egyptian girl who lives in the present with the glories of the past and hopes in a better future for herself and for her country

Blog chatter can explode around a particular topic and carry over from one blog to another and then back again, drawing commenters from near and far. A post about the Baha’i Faith on an Eqyptian Muslim’s blog was such a catalyst. To obtain a sense of context for the following comment by an Eqyptian Baha’i made on Zeinobia’s Egyptian Chronicles, you can read this, this, and this post by Zeinobia and then this post by Marco on Povo de Baha .

Shrine of the Bab, Haifa, Photo by Marco Abrar – Baha’

Baha’ullah explains that all religions came from one source, which is the One God that we all worship. We should not “compare” religions and try to decide which one is “best”. Religions are a continuous series of Revelations from God to us and they will never stop. Every religion is the most complete and the “last” during its time. It was mentioned by Jesus that he is The One, The First and The Last, follow Him and you’re saved. Wasn’t that true during his time? Until Islam was revealed it was true.

You were asking for prophecies in Islam that tells of the coming of Baha’ullah. Even though there are, I wonder how useful are they for someone to believe or not to believe in Baha’ullah. Weren’t there prophecies in Judaism about the coming of Jesus? Did it automatically make all Jews followers of Jesus or did they fight him? The same with Christianity and Islam. The Prophet’s name was mentioned, as you said, in the Bible. Did this make all Christians believe in Islam as the fulfillment of the prophecy? I’m afraid it doesn’t work this way.

Back to the comparative approach. The Baha’i faith calls for all religions to unite. Calls for all religious leaders to work together for the sake of humanity. The Baha’i faith asks the world to consider the Divine Solutions revealed by God through Baha’ullah to all their ailments in this day. We’re not seeking the cancellation of previous religions as claimed by scared clergymen, and we’re not claiming leadership or superiority. We’re just trying to serve humanity and trying to get everyone else to see that we’re all one.

An Egyptian Baha’i, Comment on Zeinobia’s Egyptian Chronicles

On Baha’i Painters: Hussein Bikar and the Treatment of Baha’is in Egypt

This painting is posted on Roba Al-Assi’s And Far Away. She notes: Hussein Bikar – Egypt. I love the style of this one. It is interesting to note that Bikar spent the last few years of his life under house arrest simply because of his faith- he was Bahaa’i.

Thanks to Zeinobia of Egyptian Chronicles for introducing me to this wonderful Baha’i painter.

Zeinolbia writes: My Grand dad met another Baha’i , the most famous one in Egypt , the legendary Painter Hussein Bikar , the famous Turkish Egyptian painter was arrested in the famous case of 1985 of Baha’ism yet he was released for his old age , My grand dad always said that this man had a different way in praying and other worshiping matters , My grand dad didn’t ask him I guess because my grand father traveled over 100 countries and was from the early Journalists to meet with different People from different Islamic sects in Afaghanstan and India so he may think he was a muslim like us , untill the 1985 when the Egyptian Society was shocked was the confessions of the Old Artist who over 5 decades charmed the whole arab world with his great drawings like the Nubia paint on the right . Strange thing when he died from couple of years I don’t recall if they mentioned his religion or anything about his burial and so on, for me it was a shock because I used to believe that he was following some kind of Sufism order , yet grand dad corrected to me this information.

For information about the situation of Baha’is in Egypt today, read Your Religion or Your Nation? The Bahais’ Difficult Choice in Egypt.

On Investigating the Baha’i Faith: Arash Gave Me a Declaration Card

Let’s go backward in time on Notwedge’s blog a bunch of stuff I decided to let out of my head on LiveJournal, starting with his most recent post in which he states his expectation that he will soon become a Baha’i. Notwedge doesn’t post a lot, but the Faith has come up with regularity for several years.

notwedge’s lj pic

The Baha’i House of Worship
May. 7th, 2006 12:18 am
Current Location:
On the couch
Current Mood: happy
Current Music: it’s pretty quiet

I went to the Baha’i House of Worship again today (the visitor’s center was closed when I went last week). I had a great experience there. There is some work being done on the exterior, but it’s still such a beautiful building. The gardens are very nice too and it was nice and sunny today. I went to the Auditorium first to pray for a little while, but I was anxious to get to the visitor’s center. I just wandered around a bit at first, looking at some of the displays and looking at some of the free literature. I got a pamphlet on Choosing to Become a Baha’i and continued to look around. I saw that a video was about to start in the presentation room so I sat down to watch it. It was about the Baha’i faith in general and the building of the House of Worship in particular.

“Bahai Temple Reflecting Pool” Uploaded on April 23, 2006 by emace
After the video, I went over to the book store. After looking for books on the Baha’i faith in “regular” book stores, it was a little overwhelming to suddenly have so many to choose from! While I was in the bookstore, I started talking to someone named Arash who works at the House of worship, he not only helped me pick out some books (I wound up getting Thief in the Night, Some Answered Questions and a book of Baha’i Prayers) he also talked to me at length about the House of Worship, the Baha’i Faith and his own experiences. He was very nice and helpful. After I purchased my books, he showed me to the foundation room where the stone Abdul-Baha dedicated is located. He told me the story of how the stone was brought there and how it was chosen. He talked to me more about his own experiences as a Baha’i such as how he had to leave his home country of Iran after he declared. He also showed me the original model of the Baha’i House of Worship. It made me feel good that both the woman who brought the foundation stone and the man who designed the House of Worship were former Catholics like me.

He also gave me some information about how to get into contact with the Baha’is of my community and introduced me to another man there named Kim who talked to me as well. Like Arash, he was very nice to me and answered a lot of questions for me. I had such a great experience there, I’m getting more and more sure that I will make the decision to become a Baha’i. I plan to contact the Baha’is in my area soon so I can talk and learn more, but I don’t think it will be long before my final decision is made. Arash gave me a declaration card for when I do.

“House of Worship Main Entry”
Uploaded on October 9, 2005 by kami009
Can’t sleep…
[May. 5th, 20060 2:29 am]
Current Mood: awake

My wife and I went to the Bahai house of worship, it was really pretty even though there soing some construction and landscaping right now. The visitor’s center was closed, but I got to attend a service. I’m really thinking it’s the right thing for me. I’m planning on going again this weekend, hopefully the visitor’s center will be open.

How the heck am I?
[Mar. 2nd, 2006 03:46 pm]
Current Mood: good

I’m still looking into joining the Bahai faith (and I figure now’s the best time since I currently live less than an hour from the Bahai House of Worship). I know, my progress on this is practically glacial, but I have been actively reading about it and I think the moving plans will motivate me to get going.
Something you never thought I’d talk about in this thing
[Aug. 28th, 2004 09:10 pm]
Current Mood: excited
Current Music:
Random music (they’ve replaced the muzak at work! Yay! )
]I’ve been doing some research on a religion and, well, I like it. Yes, I actually like a religion. I thought that 8 years in Catholic schol had perminantly beat the religion out of me but I find myself seriously thinking about joining a religion. The name of the faith is Baha’i (that’s not exactly right. there are fancy little symbols above some of the letters that I don’t know how to make). I won’t go into too much detail, you can type “Baha’i” (or even “bahai”) into Google and find sites about it. The short version is that Baha’is believe that all religions are connected and that God wants everyone to live together in peace and unity and all that other good stuff. Anyway, I’ve been reading up on it and, interestingly enought, the center for worship for the Baha’i faith in North America is located north of Chicago, less than an hour from where I live. So, I’m planning on visiting. If nothing else, it’s a beautiful building and admission is free. My girlfriend wants to visit it too. She isn’t interested in the faith, really but she’s interested in seeing the pretty building. Oh, another good thing is there are no rules against marrying a non-Baha’i if you’re one so that won’t keep me from joining. I’m going to talk to my parents about it the next time I see them. I’m hoping they’ll be happy that I’m talking about ANY religion. Don’t worry about me becoming a bible thumper or anything (or a Koran thumper or a Upanashads (sp?) thumper or a whatever-the-Buddhists-read thumper thumping any book at all for that matter. Well maybe one by Terry Pratchett or Peter David, but that’s completely different) I’m still gonna be the same strange, strange guy. I’ll just go from hardly ever drinking to never drinking at all. I’m actually excited about this, and I’ve NEVER been excited about a religion before, ever.

Notwedge, A bunch of stuff I decided to let out of my head

On Baha’i Blogs: Dan’s Baha’i Children’s Class Ideas

Ottawa, Canada, is served by some of the best blogs. Want pictures of Baha’i life? You will always be able to find pictures of Ottawa Baha’is. Who is writing the blogs and who is taking the pictures. Well, Dan is, for one. Dan of Doberman Pizza, a Baha’i blog and Jeunesse Baha’ie – blogue baha’i pour jeunes baha’is! and dragfyre’s photos on flickr and — da da! the primary reason for this post — baha’i children’s class ideas… Activities, lesson plans, curriculum ideas, inspirational quotes, and various ideas and notes about Baha’i children’s classes.

Crafts at Pure Heart Baha’i School
O how I admire Baha’i childen’s class teachers. Take Roya who teaches at Pure Heart Baha’i School here in my cluster. Little Veneda of Cambodian ancestry couldn’t come to Baha’i children’s classes, so Baha’i children’s classes were brought right onto her doorstep and into her home with the enthusiastic support of her grandma and grandpa with whom she lives. Ten children from Cambodian immigrant families were guided in simple activites by dear Roya, who is a professor of engineering during the work week.

Dan teaches children’s classes, too. This from a post he wrote about it back in November: have you ever taught children’s classes? you should try it. it’s a trip. I started getting involved with Baha’i children’s classes when I moved back to Ottawa from Drummondville, back in the summer of 2004. I was asked to help put together a set of online resources for teachers of children’s classes, which was integrated into the intranet on the Baha’is of Ottawa web site. Afterwards I got to serve as part of a children’s class in my neighbourhood. Recently, some of the kids that were part of that class joined up with a newly established local French-language class. It’s being taught by a brave band of Baha’i youth – Catherine, Julie, and Fanfan – oh, and me.

A few months back Dan started up a blog devoted to supporting the Baha’i children’s class teacher with nitty-gritty ideas all ready to put into use. The latest post is on teaching justice.

learning concepts
God loves justice.Justice means that we must respect the rights of every human being and make sure we do not take away from anyone what they deserve.

story: pp. 43-44, Ruhi Book 3: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the stagecoach.
games: we often play games as examples of justice… is it just to break the rules? how can we ensure that we can be just while we play games?

Tread ye the path of justice, for this, verily, is the straight path. (Gleanings, p.250)

Click here for the rest of the lesson plan from Dan’s baha’i children’s class ideas…

On the Strange Vulnerability that Blogging Entails: Child of Africa Tells the Rest of the Story

I asked Child of Africa if I could excerpt from her latest entry on LiveJournal. I don’t usually ask permission in advance, as I understand an unrestricted blog to be public discourse. In CoA’s case, I felt the nature of her post was so extraordinary that I couldn’t just rush ahead without first getting permission.

There was this line in the opening paragraph of CoA’s previous entry that I had re-posted in its entirety: May is also the month in which my mother was born–May 23rd, 1926–and the day her life was so violently taken away from her–May 9th, 2001. There was nothing in “May Is Mother’s Month” that provided furthur explanation. It hadn’t been written yet. “Haunted,” CoA’s most recent post, tells the disturbing rest of the story.

When CoA said I was welcome to excerpt from this entry, she commented: it is a strange thing. the reason blogs and reading other people’s blogs is so powerful is the degree to which people seem willing to share such deeply personal stories in this very public space. i love to read other people’s blogs and gain windows into other lives and how they are affected by the Faith…when it comes to one’s own blogs it is so nice to have communicated with people and received their response and yet there is a kind of a strange vulnerability in how open one has been.

She is so right. I have been intensely aware of the vulnerability of which she writes on a number of occasions when putting together this blog. I share CoA’s love of blog reading and for the same stated reasons, but I don’t want to cause offense in the process of excerpting from others. I am glad that Child of Africa has decided to share this deeply personal story.

Some Baha’is may think that crime and violence never strikes Baha’is or that political upheaval will always spar us. This is a violent world we live in, both at a personal and a societal level. Baha’is certainly can be deeply personally affected.

the police investigation suggested a robbery…but all that was likely to have been taken was a few hundred zimbabwe dollars from her purse and nothing else…it seems she may have known her assassin. i often wonder if she knew too much about her killer and that was the reason she died…

well they never found the person…did they look? i didn’t go to the police to ask, d. and the friends in the community had done that before i arrived…i was only home for a week…the assembly arranged for the funeral…i asked that it be an African funeral. i was not sure what i really meant but they beat wonderful drums and sang wonderful songs in both shona and english.

there was the matter of the will. my mother, thankfully, had put all her affairs in the hands of a professional executor. the house would have to be sold to pay off the inheritance tax. the executor arranged for it all. it was not possible to take any of the remaining money out of Zimbabwe. i was grateful for that. After paying Huquq’u’llah for my parents and for myself the money was donated to the national fund and i heard went towards the much needed funds for the expansion of the National Baha’i Center. It seemed most fitting that all of their worldly goods would go back to the Faith…they had already given their lives for the Faith surely their worldly possessions should also go towards it. Most of the household contents were also sold at a fundraiser. My mother was the secretary of the fundraising committee when she died.

I had items of sentimental value shipped to me and they surround me daily with fond memories– family heirlooms.

there was a confluence of moments and incidents that brought me comfort at the time of immediate loss.

two in particular: the long phone conversation that i had had with my mother about 3 weeks prior to her death. she had been so bubbly and happy and excited and i remember distinctly feeling that i had never in my life felt that my mother was so happy and at peace with herself. in the recent years she had been feeling restless and spending more time in Finland considering returning to her homeland as a “pioneer” there. she had done some “homefront pioneering” i guess you could call it by moving to a town that the Finnish NSA had told her needed people and staying there for a few months…but she discovered how much she missed Africa. it was this brief stay in Finland that really made her realize how much Africa had given her and how rich a life of service she had been able to live there. she had recently returned to Zimbabwe and now she was telling me that she now knew deep down that she was meant to be in Africa and how much she wanted to bury her bones there. she was on fire with a new energy to teach the faith and had initiated some Ruhi institute work in one area outside of Harare and was seeing amazing results. [Click here to read the entire story.]

Child of Africa, “Haunted,” LiveJournal

On Baha’i Perspectives: Who Was Jesus Christ?

A best-seller book very much in the news and a recently rediscovered Christian manuscript featured on the National Geographic Channel both raise questions about long-held Christian beliefs. It is characteristic of the era that we live that nothing is taken for granted anymore. Every belief is subject to new scrutiny, including Christian belief.

The Baha’i Writings, too, have much to say about Jesus Christ. Robert Stockman’s article “Jesus Christ in the Baha’i Writings,” published in the Bahá’í Studies Review, vol. 2.1 (1992), is one of many commentaries. Here is how the article begins.

Modern biblical scholarship has shown that it is difficult to determine who Jesus was and what His teachings were. The first generation of Christians did not necessarily have a consciousness of the importance of preserving history, and thus did not make an effort to preserve the life of the historical Jesus accurately; and the gospels were written by the second generation of Christians in Greek, not in the Aramaic that Jesus used. Among Christians who accept academic biblical scholarship there is a range of views about the nature of Jesus and His mission. Since not all Christians accept such scholarship, the various traditional views of Jesus also remain important to millions of Christians. Thus, among Christians there exists a very wide range of views about Jesus Christ. Generally they fall on a spectrum: on the right is a literalistic reading of scripture that assumes its complete historical accuracy; on the left is a thoroughly sceptical approach that questions the historical accuracy of almost every biblical passage. Christians are not the only people with a conception of Jesus Christ’s nature and mission; the sacred writings of the Bahái Faith also offer a perspective on Him. Click here for the full article.

On a "Sisu" Baha’i: May Is Mother’s Month

Here is a Mother’s Day story from Child of Africa on LiveJournal that, to my mind, evokes Abdu’l-Baha’s Memorials of the Faithful. Sisu is a Finnish word for a combination of stamina, perseverence, strength, and determination. Through reading this author’s tender story we come to understand why she calls herself “Child of Africa.”

May is my dear mother’s month. Mothers’ day is in May of course. May is also the month in which my mother was born–May 23rd, 1926–and the day her life was so violently taken away from her–May 9th, 2001.

So there are many occasions to think of her in May.

Google image: Finland

My mother was an extraordinary woman. She was Finnish and embodied that Finnish national characteristic of “sisu.” (I first heard the concept of sisu from xl…she also has finnish connections…it gave me a whole new layer of appreciation of my mother.)

Here are a few comments on sisu that I found online: “Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of what it takes. Sisu is a special strength and persistent determination and resolve to continue and overcome in the moment of adversity…an almost magical quality, a combination of stamina, perserverance, courage, and determination held in reserve for hard times.
Google image: Finland
“In the past Finns were obliged to struggle against nature and against foreign intruders. Despite all of the drawbacks along the way, the struggle gave a lot of strength. The early settlers found inspiration in the Finnish landscape, sky and in mythological heroes who taught them that it was possible to overcome obstacles. In more recent times the same sources have been the basic source of inspiration for athletes, artists, designers and architects who have made Finland known to the world.”

As residents of one of the northern most countries in the world, the people of Finland have learned to survive and prosper by developing extraordinary inner strength, courage, stamina and stubborn determination. This wellspring of core qualities that allows Finns to meet the challenges of an often rough environment is called sisu…The following is an excerpt from “The Winter War”. This book chronicles the Soviet Attack on Finland in 1939 to 1940. The book describes extraordinary hardship endured by the Finns while defending their homeland.

“In such areas, people could have never survived all the hardships of history and climate without that quality known as “sisu” which loosely translated means “guts”. The country gave the northern Finn a stolid rock-like obstinacy, patient endurance, and dogged courage, closely akin to the ancient formations on which he lived…”

I often wish I had more of my mother’s spunk… I need to have faith in the sisu that I have inherited in my finnish blood :)

My mother became a Baha’i through reading Baha’u’llah and the New Era. She had a naturally curious and inquiring mind, a fierce independence of thought. In her thirties, still single, working as a bank clerk in Helsinki, she was at a point in her life where she was feeling a deep spiritual hunger that was not satiated by what the church had to offer. She felt a strong need to learn about the other kinds of spirituality were out there. She went to the library in Helsinki and browsed through the religion section thinking about getting some books on Buddhism and other faith traditions. Among the books on the shelf her eye was immediately drawn to a book that stood out shining in its brand spanking newness. This was in the early 1960s…(perhaps someone had just put it there)… the translation into Finnish of Baha’u’llah and the New Era [there is a list of all editions of this book available in the baha’i world center library…including the first edition in Finnish in 1940 and one that was produced in 1962 as well as further editions after that . She took it home and devoured it, identifying strongly with everything that was written in the book….she tried to contact the Baha’is immediately after she had finished reading the book. It was quite difficult to find them but she persisted and arranged for a visit with a Persian family who were pioneering there. After a few months she became a Baha’i and soon was serving on the National Spiritual Assembly. She was honored with the opportunity to participate in the election of the second Universal House of Justice at the International Convention in Haifa, Israel, in 1968.

Zimbabwe 2004 Festival participants

There she met a fellow delegate, a dashing American man with sparkling blue eyes and a shock of thick black wavy hair, a pioneer in (what was at that time called) Rhodesia… My mother was 42, he was 45…she returned to Finland and she wrote a few letters to him, Finnish-English dictionary in hand, and he wrote a few letters to her, and a few months later she made a dramatic decision; in the face of the shock and horror of her friends and family she left everything behind of the world she knew in Finland to travel to Rhodesia, in Southern Africa as a Finnish pioneer, and to marry a man she hardly even knew! Africa was such a different world for her, she was still struggling with English, her new husband was away alot as a result of his work as a geologist that took him away for weeks on end in the African bush…they were the caretakers of the national baha’i center…I was born just over a year later…in January 1970…they gave me the middle name of Carmel after the holy mountain where they met and in honor of the Faith which was the single most important focus of their union.

Early Baha’is of Zimbabwe at 2004 Festival
My mother had so many adventures of service during those 33 years of her life in Africa. she had a rich life…rich in friendship and service…rich in the warmth of the African sun and the radiant smiles and warmth of heart and purity of spirit of the African people …she loved it there…Africa truly became her home…

Child of Africa, “May Is Mother’s Month,” Live Journal

On Becoming a Visiting Angel: Stephanie’s Baha’i Devotional Meeting Story

What’s attending a Baha’i devotional meeting for the first time like? Stephanie has a story…
A tiny red-headed girl looked back at me from the front passenger seat.

“Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person?”

A feeling of fear mixed with hilarity came over me. I choked out a loud laugh, and immediately felt ashamed of my sarcastic suit of armor. “Um, not exactly, what do you mean by that?”

“By what?”

“By spiritual?”

I was apparently on my way to something called a devotional gathering – whatever that was – in a car with a couple of strangers who were…well… strangely peaceful. And I was mighty uncomfortable.

I had just phoned and tried desperately, several times, to shake this unusual girl who I met in a crowd of a couple hundred Lyric Opera supernumerary hopefuls.

“No, really, I’m on the train, I’m running late, and won’t be able to make it. The train is running late, too. It’s sooo crazy!” I said, hoping to shake the potential for discomfort.

“Oh, you’re running late?” the unusual girl said on the other end of the scrambled cell phone babble call, “Okay…well…what train station are you arriving at? I’ll pick you up there.”

Oh crap, I thought, there’s no way to get out of this now.

I was scared out of my mind.

Why me? A devotional? Now this other strange girl is asking if I’m a spiritual person?

I had been raised Roman Catholic and had always understood that spirituality was solely reserved for Mother Teresa and certain other deserving people, such as Jesus Christ, the apostles, all those tortured saints and the pope, of course.

But priests, those were another story, and nuns, well, they were bizarre too. I knew spirituality wasn’t reserved for every priest because I had always been convinced that my childhood priest was secretly the devil – for real. He had a certain frighten-them-with-the-prospect-of-hell-happiness in every sermon, and at Christmas the tree in the rectory was satanically lit with exclusively bright red burning lights. Yikes.

“Have you every tried to go around living your life like a visiting angel?” said the girl.
I didn’t understand.

“Be as a visiting angel no matter where you go,” she said, “and observe the things that happen around you – it’s magic.”
We arrived at the devotional gathering, which turned out to be in someone’s home – err – apartment. That was peculiar. How can anyone devote in someone’s apartment? I thought. Apparently, I was about to find out.

The people there were very unusually friendly and glowing. We sat silently in a circle, eyes closed. I saw many prayer books on the table in the center of the circle. Some Baha’i, others inter-faith, the Koran was there, the Bible. People were taking them and reading different passages.

I became quite nervous and closed my eyes, too. I had never seen or done anything like this before, and I almost laughed out of pure anxiety. It was at that point I began to contemplate, for the first time, the prospect of becoming a visiting angel. I quickly realized that I had no other choice.

O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit, someone said. Purify my heart, Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.

That’s how I’ve got to be! I thought. That’s how I can be a visiting angel. It’s so easy.

The words were so eloquent, so meaningful. They reached out, yanked at my soul and spoke to me. The prayers actually spoke to me! And I listened. I felt a sense of profound joy I had never experienced before. In contemplating these beautiful words, I instantly became a visiting angel – no longer a stranger – at the strangely familiar prayer circle.

Was I really a spiritual person?

You betcha!

Stephanie, “On Becoming a Visiting Angel,” MySpace

On Real Life, Real Baha’is: Melody Kristina’s Story

Life isn’t easy. “Some of us were not born with a gold spoon in our mouth,” as my father used to say. We have no control as to whom we are born or what family we find ourself in.

It is the job of parents to nurture and support. Some parents do a better job than others. Each child grows up to be responsible to God, no matter who his or her parents are or what family he or she grows up in.

The Baha’i Faith is not for the perfect, as no one is perfect. It is the means by which we human beings strive for perfection on this plane of existence, attempting to acquire God’s attributes along the way, despite any shortcomings of the family we grew up in or our own.

1. Consider Melody Kristina’s statement of faith and then 2. learn her personal story.

(1)I am a Baha’i ( by choice. I could undeclare if I wanted to but why would I? If you get a chance, go to the link above to find out more to why I love this religion sooo much! Being a Baha’i has much to offer and it makes me realize the reason for existence – my existence. Don’t get me wrong, I have made many mistakes and I’m not a “perfect” individual who abides by all the rules. I will tell you this… growing up, I have learned that I have a choice to do better – greater things no matter how deep or how hard I fall.

Ive gained a lot from my own experiences and of others to put current situations into perspective. Most of the time I think about the consequences of the decisions I make and how it will effect myself and other people. I have been the type of person who is indecisive and have taken a very long time to decide what it is that I want. Its been that other people have made decisions for me while now I can see how my choices effect the way I think and do things. Its easier for other people to tell you what to do and how to do it but I think the real meaning of life is to face the battle everyday of making choices, decisions, and mistakes that will make us stronger individuals.

I’m a person with a lot of motivation and desire to be the best I can be. I am not one who is easily influenced by others and instead you will find me doing my own thing, thinking my own way, and having strong beliefs about individualism. You can say that I like to be different because I could care less how you think of me, see me, and judge me. I don’t care for copycats nor people who will belittle others for their own satisfaction. I speak my mind and give an opinion when necessary. The choice to do what you want and how you go about it, is yours. I enjoy conversation and hearing other people’s stories because I believe that everyone can benefit from other’s experiences.
(2)So many people ask me what my nationality is and from then on it’s basically explaining my life. Some of you know but for others who have no idea… I was born in South Korea and I am full Korean. My two younger sisters and I were placed in an orphanage when I was about 5 years old. After a few months were then placed in a foster home where I was molested and abused. About a year later we were all adopted overseas to a Persian mother and a Native American/Irish father here in California.

A few years after the adoption our parents divorced and our mother had custody of us. Since she was working full time and always in and out of town for business trips she hired a live-in nanny from Mexico. I really didn’t see my mother as much and when I did see her it was always drama between her and I. I didn’t really get to enjoy my childhood as much as I would have liked but no regrets. I believe that there is a Greater Cause and everything happens for a reason, whether we will admit to the fact that we may not even know the “whys”.

I have been blessed with being able to choose my own name. When I was 6 years old I chose ‘Melody’. Since then I have been facing the battle of finding my identity. But I will tell you this… Everyone goes through heartache and crazy drama; honestly it’s how you deal with it that really matters. You always have a choice and every decision you make will affect someone or something.

If I was not adopted, I would not know where I would be today. My love for diversity and culture has been implanted in me since the first day I arrived her in Cali. Being adopted has taught me a lot about values and family. I have learned to appreciate more than what life has to offer me. I did not really understand what my purpose was in life but now after talking to people and hearing their stories; I have taken that understaning to another level. My purpose in life is to help other people in less fortunate situations than myself… I intend doing just that…

Melody Kristina, MySpace