Arts Academy

The Bahá’í Arts Academy ’09 was not only the highlight of my summer, but also one of the very best weeks of my life. It began on the evening of August 1st with a dinner, followed by an opening presentation and announcements. The mood was set with a beautiful devotional, and then we were left to socialise for the remainder of the evening.

I have always found that the friendship groups made with fellow Bahá’í youth are extremely strong ones, aided by the amazing atmosphere that is created by spending a week with a large group of several hundred people who share your views and ideals. Everyone can become your close friend very easily. One is not constantly surrounded by unnecessarily ineloquent and continuously unseemly conversation; one rarely finds oneself engaged in wholly trivial banter; rambunctious behaviour is voluntarily restricted to an absolute minimum. One doesn’t feel inhibited about, for example, requesting that people refrain from backbiting (though it is rare for such unsavoury talk to even arise anyway). As a result, close friendships that hardly falter are easily established, and the company with whom I spent the week of the Arts Academy was one that created a wonderful sense of joy and happiness to be with. At the end of it all, parting with the all the friends from the Arts Academy was deeply saddening.

Every morning, there would be what was called a “Morning Focus”, in which the entire Arts Academy assembled after breakfast for a devotional (which never failed to be beautifully prepared) followed by the necessary announcements that were made to ensure the smooth running of the Arts Academy. Everyone would then move on to their chosen course.

The course I was on was one aimed at older junior youth and younger youth, entitled “Agents of Change in a Challenging World”, which was run by Thenna Abbas and Tessa Roche-Saunders from Wales. Though the vast majority of other courses at the Arts Academy were focused around developing skills in a single chosen form of art, this one was unusual in that throughout the course of the week various different arts were covered. I thoroughly enjoyed contributing my point of view in the deep and meaningful group discussions that took place (including, at one point, a formally conducted debate!). We even began to develop the skills required to animate a junior y
There was also an evening programme every night, and I very much enjoyed performing in the Open Mic Nights whenever possible!

Above all, the brilliant atmosphere created by the Arts Academy served to renew my spiritual energy. It created in me a spirit of service; it left me uplifted; it helped me to gain the willingness to teach the Faith. And, of course, I had a fantastic time while learning in class, while attending and being in various activities, and while being with my friends. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincerest thanks to its organisers for making it all happen, and I would highly recommend it as an excellent experience for anyone who attends.outh group.

The age of spiritual maturity

Roshan Forouhi reflects on turning 15: For the average schoolboy the fifteenth birthday is merely a regular birthday, but for me as a Bahá’í it was extra special, for reasons besides simply receiving greater material gifts than normal! It was a major milestone in the progression of my life so far. Turning fifteen as a Bahá’í meant that I had reached the age of spiritual maturity, and I had the right and privilege to officially declare as a Bahá’í. Previously, I barely had to think about the idea of declaring. Having been brought up in a Bahá’í family all my life and already living by the Bahá’í teachings, I had always felt myself a Bahá’í at heart. On the very day that I turned fifteen I sent an email to the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly informing them of my decision to declare my faith in Bahá’u’lláh. By the following day I had received confirmation of the NSA’s reception and acknowledgement of this email, and within a few days I received a beautiful card congratulating me on reaching the age of spiritual maturity, signed by each of the nine members of the NSA individually.
For this special occasion, our own Local Spiritual Assembly of Cambridge very kindly invited me to attend part of one of their meetings in order that they might discuss the meaning of spiritual maturity with me. I was presented with a thoughtful gift, and given an encouraging and inspiring insight into the years of my life as a Bahá’í that are to follow (as well as a short briefing on the new responsibilities that go with it!). Physically, as I had expected, I felt just the same as before, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually it was the beginning of a new era. I am very grateful to the LSA for helping to make the transition so smooth and easy for me.

Swedish Summer School

I attended the Swedish Summer School in the small village of Lundsbrunn located in central Sweden. Over four days I enjoyed the opportunities to be stimulated by an exchange of ideas from the different speakers, reconnect with old friends and deepen new friendships, and drink from the cup of wisdom offered to us by former Universal House of Justice member, Ali Nakhjavani, whose presence and talks were the jewel of attraction that had beckoned me to traverse the Swedish landscape. When Mr. Nakhjavani first entered the main hall I was struck by how much he had aged from when I had I first met him during my first pilgrimage in 2000. Nevertheless, at the age of 89 he retained a youthful vigour in his tone complemented by his wit and humour.

In his first talk, Mr. Nakhjavani focused on the Covenant and the law of succession, specifically the succession of the Universal House of Justice to Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of Faith. He clarified the question that had perplexed so many Baha’is regarding the relationship between the guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, which was how could these two institutions not coexist if the Guardian had written that they were inseparable from each other. Mr. Nakhjavani directed us to find the answer revealed by Baha’u’llah in full detail in paragraph 42 of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, but under the guise of revealing the authority to whom endowments may be dedicated for the service of the Faith.

In his second talk, Mr. Nakhjavani deepened the participants on the dual processes of integration and disintegration that is carrying us to the goal of a new world order. His explanations offered insights that were invaluable to furthering the believer’s understanding of the World Order letters of Shoghi Effendi and to increasing his certitude in the Faith such that he will not be distracted by the crises and perils afflicting the world. Mr. Nakhjavani assured us that the processes of integration and disintegration will unfold in parallel such that the most triumphant victories of the Faith will coincide with the lowest point in the abyss of moral degradation.

In addition to the talks by Mr. Nakhjavani, there were talks by Dr. Stephen Phelps from the Research Department in Haifa on a systemic study of the Writings and Dr. Sepideh Taheri from Edinburgh on the rise and fall of civilizations. As the Swedish summer school drew to a close, I returned home with renewed energy and gladdened by the new insights I had gained.

The Spiritual Development of Junior Youth

“First I was afraid, I was petrified…”

At the London Regional Conference, I first approached a Counsellor asking her for advice on the core activities. I wanted to explain me situation and (ideally) for her to tell me how to juggle the different activities together. Instead, she told me to concentrate on one: Junior Youth. Why? “Because it takes courage, Saba. And unless a few of you start it, it will take longer to build momentum”. And it is true, this core activity is not for the faint-hearted. It does take courage, but the steps were small and many to get us to where we are now. Here is the story

Four months ago I found myself overwhelmed with work. I had too many commitments, and the urgency of the current needs of the Plan seemed like an added strain. Here I was, a full time graduate student, part-time dancer, full-time sister and daughter, part-time colleague, and full-time friend; and we were meant to be intensifying our actions? I hardly had time to do laundry in my normal life, let alone when the ‘intensive period’ was about to start. I could not conceive how it would all come together. I had a choice: either give up a few of my commitments, or combine the efforts into one cohesive whole. I chose the latter. Why? Because it made more sense; it meant I would be putting my Faith and the centre of all my activities. All my efforts, desires, and time spent could be directed towards my love and commitment to this Faith. Once I realigned myself that way, things could work. And they did.

Back in August, while completing their Book 5 animator course, a group of to-be animators set up an outreach project to launch a junior youth group in a northern area of Cambridge. The chosen venue was the Arbury Community Centre, a friendly, family-friendly building that was in need of activities for young people. Another organisation, the Harambee project, already held activities for youth aged 15+ but, as the caretaker told us, nothing was available for youth aged 10-14. Our services had the potential to fill a gap in the market.

The outreach project involved knocking on doors, giving out fliers, and inviting families to the event. Nobody turned up, but the animators had a wonderful time learning the games for themselves, and we made friends with the caretaker. He told us not to hold the event in August again. Following that, one family had been conducting devotionals in the same centre. On one visit to the centre to help advertise the devotionals, there, I saw it: a poster advertising dance lessons for youth aged 10-15 every Monday night.

I got in touch and asked if I could watch and meet some of the kids. I also came and met some of the parents and told them about the service we had to offer. This was very well received. “These kids have nothing to do at night apart from going out to the streets,” the mothers told us, “and they really could do with being taught some morals sometimes!”

We starting booking a small hall for an hour before the dance class and distributed new fliers around the centre. It took some time for the word to spread: The first time there were no children. The second, one was there at 6.30, and about seven more appeared by 6.45! The four of us were overwhelmed.

We started chatting about what we can do these nights, what they were interested in, and generally got a feeling for their tastes, habits and interests.

Needless to say, we were exposed to language and expressions very different to what we were used to elsewhere, but it was a good learning opportunity. Here are the highlights of what I am continuing to learn:

  • to meditate, truly meditate, on my situation and how I can best serve
  • to acknowledge fears and learn to let go of them
  • to work with others in the community, even if I cannot fully participate in their area of service, and delegate tasks when necessary
  • to pray for the success of my efforts
  • to persevere and *intensify* my efforts, even if they are only in one area of service
  • to plan ahead with each junior youth session
  • to use our community of interest (we have at least two people who have helped with this group in their own way)

My dance involvement connected me to my junior youth projects. Maybe that is what the character Musonda meant when she exclaimed at the end of the Junior Youth Book, Confirmation!

I encourage you to take a similar step in your chosen area of service. Remember, you will survive.