Perhaps you live in a place like I do where the weather is a big topic of conversation. You could be in line at the market or among friends. No matter the situation: casual talk always begins with a commentary on the weather of the hour and its forecast.
As the Fast draws to a close, Baha’is celebrate the New Year when the vernal equinox begins in Tihran, the cradle of the Baha’i Faith. While snowstorms may still rage in my corner of the world and while any greenery is still dormant and hidden, spring has nevertheless sprung. One of my favourite Writings is:
The Divine Springtime is come, O Most Exalted Pen, for the Festival of the All-Merciful is fast approaching. Bestir thyself, and magnify, before the entire creation, the name of God, and celebrate His praise, in such wise that all created things may be regenerated and made new.
In its Ridvan message of 2010, The Universal House of Justice cautions the Baha’is to avoid “false dichotomies,” or simplifying complex phenomena into either/or propositions. At times, I’ve found that my reflections on my own spirituality can slip into this way of thinking. Am I a good person? Am I sufficiently deepened in the Faith? Am I serving enough?
There are many ways in which your faith, your belief in Baha’u’llah and His teachings, can be tested. In its most outwardly violent form, some of us are publicly persecuted, discriminated against, or pressured to recant. Some of us are tested by calamities and intense physical suffering, like the loss of a loved one, or the destruction of everything you own. For some, other people — including other Baha’is — are a test of faith. Who hasn’t experienced difficulties with someone who just “rubs you the wrong way” or whose understanding of a teaching stands in sharp contrast to your own? And we can all be a test to ourselves. I was once asked, “What do you do when there is an aspect of your religion that troubles you? What do you do then?” I mumbled through an answer but studying excerpts from the 19 April 2013 message from the Universal House of Justice has helped me think through my answer to this question more profoundly. Continue reading
There’s a well-documented scientific study that’s been all the rage in the past few years about something that happened in the Israeli Defence Force. Before entering the Defence Force, all the cadets had to sit pre-entry exams testing intellectual capacities like cognition and problem-solving, to physical capacities like fitness, endurance and the like. The cadets were then assigned to their training officers accordingly.
In this particular year, a couple of the training officers were told that they had tested and found the best of the best, ‘the mother-shawarma’ of all cadet groups, showing great promise for future leadership roles in the Defence Force. Other training officers were then assigned ‘regular’ cadets, and everybody started training.
Fast-forward a year and lo and behold the group that showed remarkable signs of promise did indeed deliver, and significantly out-performed all other groups of cadets in both intellectually and physically-based exams.
There was just one catch: Continue reading
Image by Shahrzad Maydani (apresnovembre)
apresnovembre is a blog featuring the fascinating work of Shahrzad Maydani, a Baha’i artist from Toronto. The work on her blog features some of the truly beautiful art that she’s created in response to some of the major tests that have come her way in recent years.
Lemons, which feature quite prominently in her work, as you’ll no doubt notice, are used as a metaphor for life’s tests and difficulties – a clever play on the popular expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
In times of difficulty, it is only natural that we turn to our closet friends and loved ones for support.
They lovingly listen as you talk endlessly about the same thing. They remain patient and kind with you as you struggle to work through your thoughts and emotions, regardless of how ridiculous some of the things you are saying might be. They let you cry on their shoulder without commenting on the tear splotches and mascara stains you leave on their shirt. They give you amazing advice – with a wisdom that comes from knowing you inside-out, and an honesty that comes from wanting to see you overcome the test. And most importantly, they pray with you – and, for you.
This process is how we gain the insight and encouragement we need to resolve our situations.
But more fundamental than all of that, I think, is the ability to change the way we look at all of life’s tests that come our way. One of my closest friends – one of the wisest and strongest people I know – has, in the relatively short time that we’ve been friends, not only been a rock in times of adversity, but has always encouraged me to embrace life’s tests and to find beauty in them. This is perhaps the most valuable skill I could ever hope to learn and an ability that I feel that every person needs to continually nurture in themselves and others!
Be not troubled because of hardships and ordeals; turn unto God, bowing in humbleness and praying to Him, while bearing every ordeal, contented under all conditions and thankful in every difficulty.
Changing our perspective doesn’t make the test, in itself, go away, but it allows us to stay grounded even when the strong waves of emotion and doubt hit us, and allows us to remain hopeful even in the darkness and dreariness of our pain and anxiety!