It might come as a surprise to some, but the only activity outside of raising children that gives me a sense of purpose and joy is Ruhi. What is Ruhi? The Ruhi Institutes website introduces the program as follows:
Bahá’ís everywhere are engaged in a global process of learning that is helping to build their capacity to apply the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh to the transformation of society…As a contribution to this learning process, the Ruhi Institute carries out action and research in the field, in order to develop programs and materials that enhance the capacity of individuals and communities to serve humanity.
The Ruhi institute provides educational programs for children, junior youth, youth and adults. The program designed for youth and adults is “intended to be used as the main sequence of courses of a formal educational program aimed at building capacity for service. The sequence is conceived in terms of three cycles, each one concerned with the spiritual and moral empowerment of individuals from a particular perspective. Books 1 to 7 are centered on the practice of the freedom the individual enjoys to undertake acts of service within the framework of the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith and the guidance provided by its institutions. Book 8 begins a cycle of courses dedicated to the individual and the community, which will be followed by the third cycle focusing on the individual and society.
This is just about as much detail as I’m willing to share on the pedagogical framework of the Ruhi program, for more information visit: www.ruhi.org. The important point to remember here is that some of the jargon and ideas that I’ll be discussing in this post may not make sense to those of you who have never experienced the Institute process.
The following is a summary of our Ruhi groups’ experience with Unit 1 of Book 6. Hopefully, our experience can serve as a bit of learning for others engaged in the process.
Our group is currently studying Book 6 of the program, which is titled Teaching the Cause, and consists of three units. We trudged our way through the first 17 sections of Unit 1 by discussing the concepts in depth, challenging our preconceptions with new knowledge, and allowing ourselves to digress into the epistemology of words and ideas. The evening that we completed section 17 I drove my sister home (she’s also a participant). During our drive I asked her for some critical feedback on the way our study circle was progressing. At first, she was diplomatic, “oh…yeah, it’s great!”
I wasn’t buying it.
“Okay, the truth is that we’re supposed to be learning about teaching the Cause, but it feels like we’re just talking about stuff totally irrelevant to teaching” (well, that’s not exactly how she put it, but that’s basically what she said).
I found her insight very helpful – clearly I had strayed from the main point of the sections. That evening I read through the first 17 sections again, and teased out what I thought to be the main “themes.” I came up with this list:
1) Human nature to give ceaselessly
2) Section 12 passage: “We shall render the Cause victorious through the power of a single word from Our presence.”
3) Section 13 memorization: teach “because of God’s Will that God may be known”
4) Section 14: unlocking the city of men’s hearts.
5) Section 17: attitude of a teacher
At the beginning of our next gathering I explained to the group how we were going to consolidate our learning up to section 17 by revisiting the above themes. I asked the participants to write down the 5 themes and the following question:
“How do these themes relate to the act of teaching?”
The participants were then paired up into groups of two, and were instructed to explore the 5 themes and to create brief presentations for the whole group. We did this for about an hour. Now, I can’t speak on behalf of everyone in the group, but I found this exercise really helpful. The participants were clearly interested in the process as their presentations were both thoughtful and creative. For instance, one pair created a visual illustration of how these themes related to the act of teaching.
The next time we got together we flew through sections 18 and 19 and then we did not meet again for three weeks because of conflicting schedules. We decided to set aside a day after exams to have an intensive Ruhi party where we would finish Unit 1. To prepare for this intensive, I reviewed the course outline at the beginning of Book 6, which read:
The first unit works largely at the level of concepts: the nature of a duty prescribed unto us by the Manifestation; the commandment to teach as a token of God’s bounty; enkindlement; the relation between teaching and knowledge; sacredness; teaching as a sacred duty of every Bahá’í; teaching as the unlocking of the gates to the city of the human heart; teaching as an act that sets in motion a process of spiritual transformation; the Word of God as the power that effects this transformation; and the role of love in teaching.
To say that the first unit largely deals with concepts does not mean that discussion should remain at the level of abstractions. The tutor of the group should see to it that the purpose of the various exercises is indeed accomplished, namely, that understanding is profound enough to affect attitudes and to motivate the participants to equip themselves with the necessary skills and abilities. Particularly, in a world from which the very notion of sacredness is disappearing, in which almost everything is reduced to an act of buying and selling, the students need to emerge from the course with an acute awareness of “the sacred”, conscious that, when teaching, they are interacting with the human heart and the myriad spiritual forces that guide a person to recognition and then to certitude.
What? The participants are supposed to have an acute awareness of “the sacred”?! Woah, I totally missed that. I went back to section 16 and 17 and realized that we had totally skimmed over the concept of sacredness. It was crucial that we revisited these sections in a different way than we had before. I thought, perhaps, the best way to explore “sacredness” would be to create some ambience first, and then to discuss the subject in greater detail. So I tried my best to decorate the living room with objects and pictures that symbolized sacredness, or would be considered sacred by the participants in our group. For example, pictures of the holy family, prayer books, prayer beads, a tree sapling, an aboriginal wood carving of a mother carrying her child, some birch bark, and candles (there might have been a few other things). Also, I played some of Xavier Rudd’s music in the background because I know that our group is mostly composed of youth who appreciate his music, and his style is very conducive to reverence and thoughtfulness.
After some prayers the participants were asked to state the themes that were explored during the last gathering and to give a brief explanation of each. Next, we used the following set of questions to explore sacredness:
What is sacredness?
What does it mean for something to be sacred or to be sanctified?
Can sacredness/sanctity be observed with our five senses? Studied? Tested?
How do we experience that which is sacred?
How do we know when something is sacred or sanctified?
How do we experience the Writings?
How do we experience the Holy Shrines?
How do we experience persons whom we revere?
How do we experience natural wonders?
How do we experience teaching the Cause?
Do you feel like sacredness is a part of your everyday life?
How can we introduce sacredness into our social/phenomenological world?
How can we introduce our friends to the sacred?
So we explored these questions briefly, and our discussion produced a few ideas. First, we found that sacredness was a very personal experience, but one which can be shared between people. Second, we agreed that although it is very difficult to describe something sacred, the experience involves a state of focus, reverence, meditation, an overwhelming power (sometimes intimidating), and a feeling of serenity. Third, we agreed that objects and environments are not inherently sacred, nor do we simply impose our phenomenological experience of sacredness onto an object or situation. Rather, there is an intercourse between our experience and the environment that results in a sacred experience. This last point really helped to inform our discussion of section 17, which explores the attitude of a teacher when teaching the Cause. Specifically, we realized that when a teacher of the Cause approaches teaching as a sacred experience it not only affects the act and outcome, but, more significantly, the preparation.
The participants agreed that our exploration of sacredness really helped to inform our conversations in the subsequent sections of Unit 1. Then, something wonderful happened. We arrived at the end of section 23 where we are asked to memorize the following passage:
This is the day in which to speak. It is incumbent upon the people of Bahá to strive, with the utmost patience and forbearance, to guide the peoples of the world to the Most Great Horizon. Every body calleth aloud for a soul. Heavenly souls must needs quicken, with the breath of the Word of God, the dead bodies with a fresh spirit.
So we memorized it…by composing a song!
Note: we composed, arranged, and performed this song in under 2 hours. So the quality is clearly lacking, but their is SOOO much potential 🙂
After pizza (thanks Azar) the group started its discussion on the power of the Word and how the Word of God is related to the Creative Word. Our conversations around these ideas were far too awesome to effectively communicate through this blog post. In summary, the group agreed that having a deepened understanding of the Writings makes it easier to incorporate passages naturally into our speech without sounding preachy, mechanical, or fanatical.
At the end of Section 28 we were inspired by the imagery of the following passage from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
O thou son of the Kingdom! All things are beneficial if joined with the love of God; and without His love all things are harmful, and act as a veil between man and the Lord of the Kingdom. When His love is there, every bitterness turneth sweet, and every bounty rendereth a wholesome pleasure. For example, a melody, sweet to the ear, bringeth the very spirit of life to a heart in love with God, yet staineth with lust a soul engrossed in sensual desires. And every branch of learning, conjoined with the love of God, is approved and worthy of praise; but bereft of His love, learning is barren — indeed, it bringeth on madness. Every kind of knowledge, every science, is as a tree: if the fruit of it be the love of God, then is it a blessed tree, but if not, that tree is but dried-up wood, and shall only feed the fire.
So we drew some pictures.
Upon completing Unit 1, my wonderfully creative wife, Brooke Talisman, joined us for a final bit of crafting. The participants were guided through a book binding session where we created personalized notebooks that would be used to compile our memorization passages plus any ideas and/or reflections that the participants should have during the rest of Book 6. Here are some photos:
Well, that’s about it. I hope this summary of Unit 1 of Book 6 helps in some way to inspire you with your study circle. Please share your experiences as a response to this post so that we can all learn from one another. I’d love to know how others have approached Unit 2!