150 Years of Ridvan and Counting: Celebrating Like a Baha’i

“Going anywhere special for The Festival this year?”

“Usually we spend Paradise at home, but this year we’re going on a 12-day luxury cruise to Baghdad.”

“Really? Oh, I’m jealous. My husband just can’t miss the Ridvan golf junket in Las Vegas, so it’s going to be more reading and pomegranate tea by the pool for me…”

No, I haven’t heard many conversations like this at devotionals or reflection meetings, either! (And aren’t we lucky? Our Holy Days still focus on the holy part.) Still, it is the Most Great Festival, and who knows what it will be in futures that more or less distantly shine in our imaginations? As with the 19 Day Feast, so with Ridvan: we have only the barest notion of how to celebrate them. As with everything, we’re learning, and nothing stops our education more quickly than the thought that we know how to celebrate our festivals and nineteen-day spiritual gatherings. They will be “unimaginably glorious”, as the Guardian might have said, but for now we do the best we can.

For me, Ridvan started on the number 27 bus to a hotel where some friends had gathered to celebrate. Manning and Andrea were in charge of the program. There were dozens of roses strewn ‘round the central pillar (a tall coatrack) of a flowing white tent (curtains, I think, anchored by chairs). We sang. Children prayed. “Mirza Asad’u’llah” told his eye-witness story from a century and a half ago, in the voice of a gentle, blonde and blue-eyed American daddy. Children gaped and wondered. As the sun set, and the first day of Paradise commenced, the food was splendid and the fellowship was better. This was our big Ridvan celebration together, as by the next time we meet, Baha’u’llah will have already mounted that red stallion and begun His triumphant exit from Baghdad, on a day that had been intended to tarnish His reputation and discourage His followers. (Good luck with THAT, powers of the earth!)

Ridvan is 150 years old this year. For us, it has so far included study circles and a devotional gathering; at the latter, since we live in China and we can eat strawberries in April, we did as we fashioned a gorgeous bouquet of roses, home-made from wire and ribbon and crepe paper. (Chopsticks, you may wish to know, are indispensable to the proper curving of each petal.) That’s not the only distinctive thing about Ridvan in China of course.

Here’s the thing that has always fascinated me about this whole festival. Baha’is kick off their biggest annual wing-ding, in most places in the world, by holding their local (and later their national) Baha’i elections. Oh, there is feasting, song and dance and drama and generally boat-loads of roses and other beauties, but a sacred kind of voting is typically how it all begins. As a young Baha’i, this was one of my first clues that this new community I was lurking on the edges of was organized a little differently than others. We are learning to love the electoral process, as well as the institutions themselves. Before I came to China, I genuinely looked forward to this process every year, because it is one that induces hope, requires prayer, deepens friendships and forms the basis of, as the Universal House of Justice termed it recently, “a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society”. Even the way we celebratecontributes to this!

Back home in Ottawa, Canada, and likely where you live  – though not, we remember, in the land where the Faith was born – they gathered to select the nine members of the Spiritual Assembly. There were no campaign slogans, placards, or nominations, no multi-million-dollar campaign warchests or vicious attack ads, for heaven’s sake. Just this, among many other calls to an electoral process that is oddly simple but incredibly profound:

“Consider, without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.” -Shoghi Effendi

So they did. And so the process begins, and so it evolves and specializes and builds its capacity – and ours. And isn’t that better than a golf holiday?

“In the rose garden of changeless splendour” and in my home and adopted towns, and yours, too – “a flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither…” -Baha’u’llah

The best of the season to you, wherever and however you honour it.

About the Author

The author's website at www.JamesHowden.com is subtitled "Sport, Culture and Other Obsessions". It touches on many things: books, personal growth, sustainable societies and the art in athletics. James is a litwit, coach and writer, and lives in Dalian, China with his wife and youngest son.

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Discussion 3 Comments

  1. I really appreciate this sweet, fragrant reminiscence of Ridvan. It fills me with hope for the future that our elections are, and will continue to be pure celebrations of choice, and being chosen-that allow even the most self-motivated achieve a degree of detachment.

  2. The building of the structure of this new world Faith, a structure with many functions, was at the core of Baha’i programs and policies, goals and game-plans, Ridvan messages and literally 1000s of letters from the elected and appointed branches of this world Faith, from 1921 to 1996, a period of 75 years—-as well as back into the 19th century. The following book of 550 pages and 230 thousand words contains reflections and understandings regarding the new Baha’i culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha’i community from 1996 to 2016.

    This new culture, or paradigm, will be developing in the decades ahead at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Baha’i Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into that third century of the Baha’i era, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Baha’i community. This latest Ridvan message and the ITC document also released at Ridvan has been integrated into the context of this book. For those readers with the interest go to this link. Skim or scan to read the parts of interest to you. Website moderators should feel free to delete this post, if they feel the content is too extensive, too wide of the mark, the thrust of this latest topic at Baha’i Blog, or too much of a promotion of my book. The book is found at this link: http://bahai-library.com/price_culture_learning_paradigm

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