Tuesday, January 22, 2008

more Baha'i Gardens on Mt. Carmel

Baha'i Center for the Study of the Sacred Texts, Mt. Carmel, Haifa, Israel from Leila's flickr album Arc, Terraces and Gardens

I have the Holy Land on my mind still today.

Here is such a short and sweet little video of the Terraces. Makes me just long to be able to go and sit there by the fountains surrounded by the exquisite, immaculate-beyond-imagination gardens and the immense grandeur of the Shrine of the Bab. Truly truly a "spiritual garden".

"The Baha'i gardens in Haifa have been called the eighth wonder of the world and likened to the hanging gardens of Babylon...the entire garden is enveloped in spiritual feeling." Narrator

"Spiritual garden somehow directs you to your inside and feel that you are alone with God...the fountains are designed to be so quiet it is as if someone is saying a prayer in your ears..." Fariborz Sahba--architect

Monday, January 21, 2008

Faith and the cave of Elijah

"And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?" 1 Kings 19:9

Terraces in the Baha'i Gardens on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel

I have been pondering the puzzle of how one might actively work to increase one's faith in God. Fortunately, I have access to a number of powerful and discerning individuals who are striving to walk the spiritual path through life and so I have resolved to ask these people for their advice and insight into this question. The first dear friend that I consulted referred me to the story of Elijah in the Bible in 1 Kings 19:1-18. Not only is the story rich and abstract enough to keep me engaged in trying to understand it and the meanings about faith latent within it but it is also engaging me in learning a bit about Elijah who I have wanted to learn more about.

Seat of the Universal House of Justice on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel

Elijah spent an important period of his life in a cave at the foot of Mount Carmel in Haifa Israel which is a place on this planet that is of monumental significance for all humankind and is also important for me in very intimate personal ways as my parents met on the slopes of Mt Carmel and they gave me Carmel as a middle name. Mt Carmel is the heart of the Baha'i World Center and every Baha'i feels so strongly connected to the holiness of the many spots on that mountain and the regions surrounding it.
I have wanted to know more about Elijah and the cave of Elijah since my pilgrimage to the sacred Baha'i sites in Israel. So I am delighted I have been directed the story of Elijah and the cave where he meditated about faith and steadfastness through his own sufferings.

Regarding the Cave of Elijah sacred-destinations.com has this to say:

"Many important events in the life of the Prophet Elijah (9th century BC) are said to have happened in this revered cave: he lived and meditated here before defeating the pagan prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel; he hid here when fleeing the wrath of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel; and Elijah established his school here upon his return from exile. The cave is sacred to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze, all of whom venerate the prophet Elijah. There was a mosque here until 1948. Tradition also has it that the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and Jesus) found shelter in this cave for a night on their return from Egypt."

So what of the connection between Elijah and having faith in 1 Kings 19...I still await some commentary from my friend the Bible scholar but in this story it seems that Elijah fought battles against the pagans and as a result had to suffer at the hands of King Ahab resulting in his exile far away where he went through many tests and trials that included a period of feeling remoteness and separation from God.

"11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire"

After all of these tests and trials the voice of God was heard as a "still small voice" but Elijah was listening and so was able to perceive it and the voice of God became louder and stronger instructing Elijah that he was being called to carry out tasks and missions of great importance as a result of his faith and steadfastness.

"15And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:
16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room."

That is my attempt at understanding the story of Elijah as told in 1 Kings and now I must continue to meditate on the implications for my own struggle to grow in Faith.

These days mark the three year annivesary of my 9-day pilgrimage to the Baha'i Holy Places in and around Mt Carmel. Speaking of active ways to strengthen one's faith, going on pilgrimage strikes me as one extremely important way to do this and so remembering those days also seems like a powerful tool for the activation of faith.
Baha'i Archives building on the slopes of Mt. Carmel in Haifa, Israel
It seems January is pilgrim season. Leila reminisces about the one year anniversay or HER pilgrimage in recent posts. She excerpts such a moving quotation from her own journaling during that time and I found it so inspiring that I wanted to dig out my own pilgrim's journal and choose an excerpt. I like being reminded of the powerful Zambezi River so I choose this one...

"In vibrant radiance there is no room for guilt. For gilded service there is no room for fear. Steadfastness so immovable it is as a mountain of rock... One must become so dynamic, so driven as to crash through life with the force of the mighty Zambezi river that crashes with joyous noise through the forest never deviating from its course." January 24, 2005

Leif is also just back from his pilgrimage this year. He has posted his wonderful photos in his facebook albums.

Shrine of the Bab, Mt. Carmel, Haifa Israel

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Came across this video on the blog of a dear friend. She said it was from the soundtrack for the movie the Kite Runner which I am so looking forward to seeing. It is a stunningly meditative Islamic prayer.

At the end of the video the supplication is in English

"O my Lord, my sins are like the highest mountain. My good deeds are very few. They are like a small pebble. I turn to you, my heart full of shame, my eyes full of tears. Bestow your forgiveness and mercy upon me. Send Your peace and blessing on the Final Prophet and His family and companions and those who follow Him."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

wave your body like a bandy snake

well this is the day i am supposed to be finally hunkering down for the long haul, focusing on my work and avoiding all distractions BUT i just had to write quickly about the wonderful creative, spiritual, exercise experience i had this morning.
dear lisa told me about this little yoga studio right here in highland park that she had been to once and loved. i have passed by it many times but i thought i would go and try it out this morning and participate in something called "The Wise Woman Workout"... it was yogic and athletic but it was also so joyful and creative and the lovely laid back teacher/owner also shared words of wisdom as we went through the class . And so much FABULOUS music!!... just exactly the type of music i have been hungering for and trying to immerse myself in... music from Africa, aboriginal digeridoo, soulful, indian, new agey meditative and more.... a different sound for each phase of the class. and she made us all move and create our own movements and connect with each others movements during the class in SUCH a safe and inspiring way AND there was lots of sweating to be had but so much fun and joy. just what i needed :) THANKS LISA!! i am going to try and work it into my schedule this semester.

and somehow related in my mind is the wondeful CD that Bradley and Cynthia loaned to me but which i am going to buy my very own copy of-- Ancestry in Progress by Zap Mama. I am such a fan. Her flare in the following video from this album reminds me a bit of Leila's recent post on Bjork. The video and lyrics for Bandy Bandy capture an element of the class I experienced this morning-- just the pure celebration of being a woman and "like bandy bandy wave your body"

"there is something i learned long ago..
something people do to set their spirit free
in the morning time in the afternoon in the cool evening breeze
like bandy bandy
wave your body
like bandy bandy
wave your body
anytime of day
any place
if you are feeling down
move your body like a bandy snake"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Rebuilding war torn regions--Bosnia and Birmingham, AL

I never did finish all the storytelling about the remarkable individuals I met in Florida.

Jay Craig is an urban designer and was (still is?) the executive director of a non-profit organization called Global Networking for Rebuilding. We were at lunch with a group of wonderful individuals with experience around the world from Uganda to Finland and it took some prodding to get Jay to tell us about his experiences in Sarajevo where he spent a month in 1994 in the middle of a war zone! and has returned several times since then to work in the rebuilding of urban landscapes to try to heal the tremendous damage that war caused to the cultural heritage of the nation. There is a great deal of material on the website...Here is one example of the work and vision that they had:

"In the Old Town of Sarajevo, as in Jerusalem, all the major religions of the Western world are represented. Mosques, cathedrals and temples co-exist within a few hundred feet of each other, testament to Sarajevo's long tradition of ethnic and religious tolerance.

What had taken centuries to build has been brought to the edge of ruin in a matter of months, victim of a ruthless campaign against diversity and freedom of expression. During the siege of Sarajevo religious buildings were targeted for their emotional value. Those who wished to destroy the community recognized that the Old Town is its heart, and that to break the historical bonds that bind the city they had first to loosen the spiritual moorings that hold neighbors firm to their beliefs.

We seek to highlight and enhance the common ground of the religious district, both literally and figuratively, to de-emphasize symbols of contention among competing ethnic groups while emphasizing their shared heritage and the doctrine of toleration common to all the world's great religions.

Just as Sarajevo, as an intersection of fervent beliefs, might prove to be the flash point once again for a war reaching far beyond the boundaries of Bosnia, so too can it be the place where reconciliation gains rebirth.

Studies should focus on linking foot traffic between religious sites and nearby parks and markets. Motor traffic and parking must be accommodated, perhaps with space taken from demolished buildings, in order to embrace future tourism."

What is Jay doing now? Now he is in the US trying to rebuild inner-city USA starting with Birmingham, AL. He is a white man who has invested in real estate where he lives in a neighborhood of Birmingham surrounded by his African American brothers and sisters. He is summoning his extensive network of corporate and government partners to contribute to efforts to support community revitalization from the ground up. I am not aware of an internet presence for further information on this newest endeavor. But I will be sure to post a link if I hear of any. Here is an article he wrote in the Birmingham News comparing his experiences with racial and ethnic hatred in Bosnia and in Birmingham, AL and why We are all better off as members of one family.
Jay's own life in earnest work for the unity of mankind and the elimination of both religious and racial prejudice is really quite extraordinary wouldn't you say?

[For other exciting work by Baha'is in Bosnia-Herzegovina see the work of the organization Education for Peace]
A link on the GNR website will take you to this prayer of 'Abdu'l-Baha written after a journey to Sarajevo almost a century ago:

"O Thou Kind Almighty, we supplicate at the Throne of Grace for mercy for the blood that has been shed in the Balkans; the children that are being made orphans; the mothers losing their dear sons; the sons who have become fatherless; the cities that have been destroyed; the many hearts that have been filled with sorrow; the many tears that are being shed and the many spirits that are in a state of agitation!

O Lord, be merciful, extinguish this spirit of war, this consuming fire, this peril, this gloomy darkness! Cement together these hearts, let the sun of Thy Truth dawn upon all.

O Lord, this world is dark, guide us toward a brilliant light. The horizons are glooming with the clouds of war; disperse these impenetrable clouds. Grant us holiness and calm! Dispose of these quarrels, illuminate the horizon of life, so that the sun of real loyalty may shine with its rays. May these dark hearts become illuminated, may these blind eyes become open, may these deaf ears become gifted with hearing.

O Lord! cause Thy divine justice to appear in this world. Summon these people to the Banquet of International Peace, so that they may live together in the utmost state of love. May all the religions and all nations embrace each other with this spirit of universal kindliness, and may hatred be forgotten.

O Lord! confirm this just government in the establishment of peace, so that it may hold aloft the banner of reconciliation in the Balkans. May the light of love shine and flame forth undefiled. O Lord! Thou art Almighty; Thou art Merciful; Thou art Clement; Thou art Kind!"

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Indian Idol--Abhijeet Sawant

i have a tremendous appetite for new music especially as I am spending so much time alone recently. I feel that as soon as I am listening to music that I enjoy my mood and energy picks up. It is hard to keep my appetite sated with fresh sounds however. the last couple of days I have been hooked on Pieters Imeem player. This has been giving me a taste of "the East"--near East that is. One song in this collection that I have been enjoying is called Junoon by Abhijeet Sawant so I decided to look it up and see if I could find out more about the artist. It turns out he was a winner of Indian Idol. Indian Idol!??? Another American cultural export I guess. Not only is there Indian Idol there is also Singapore Idol and when all the various "idols" in the region come together for a competition there is the Asian Idol. Well apparently Abhijeet Sawant did not manage to win the Asian Idol competition but I have enjoyed his song Junoon. You can listen on Pieter's blog or you can watch the video here:

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

three of my favorite people on this planet

i discovered a photo of my favorite family on facebook. they were here in highland park, nj last year, now living in england, and in this picture attending Sham's sisters wedding in Namibia. they DO get around a lot. aren't they EXQUISITE!! i do MISS them so much!

South Africa--alive with possibility

Saturday, January 05, 2008

contemporary Iran and the plight of the Baha'is

i am continuing my search for readings for my course in Comparative Education. this evening I have been reading "Children of Jihad" by Jared Cohen. In his first chapter he describes his trip to Iran in 2004 to conduct research for his studies at Oxford University. He juxtaposes the severely repressive regime and the constraints it imposes upon its citizens with the vibrance, warmth, resistance and openness of Iran's youth. He describes the power of the use of technology for giving the youth of Iran a means of connecting with each other and also with the rest of the world.

Technology is also offering Baha'i youth in Iran an opportunity to get an education. Baha'is represent the largest religious minority in Iran, the birthplace of this cause that aims to reinvigorate human civilization and unite the hearts of all the diverse inhabitants of the planet. Baha'is have been persecuted in Iran since the inception of the Faith. A renewed wave of persecution began in 1979 at the time of the Iranian revolution. When I was growing up as a Baha'i youth we were all galvanized by the story of the ten Baha'i women who were executed for their Faith in 1983. Among these ten women was a 16 year old named Mona Mahmudnizhad who was found guilty of crimes such as "corrupting and misleading the youth" for her work teaching children and also for being a Zionist (the Baha'i World Center is in Israel. Baha'u'llah was exiled to Palestine in the latter half of the 1800s and so this is where He is buried and this is the reason that Baha'is are often accused of being Zionists though they take no sides in the current conflict.) Really the only crimes of these women were that they were Baha'is. They were given the opportunity to recant their Faith and "return" to Islam and all of the women refused.

On the website above be sure to click on the tab "freedom" to read a paper that Mona turned in to her teacher on one of her assignments and you will see how "dangerous" and courageous she was in her speaking out against the tyranny and injustice her co-religionists were enduring.
In the 1980s Jack Lenz made a music video about Mona, Mona with the Children, sung by Doug Cameron, to inspire youth around the world to carry out her wish that youth around the world would gather together and create unity.

But back to the theme of the role of technology in granting greater freedom and access to education for the youth of Iran. In Iran today Baha'i's suffer many restrictions including the fact that they are denied access to higher education. The Baha'is have established the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education so that Baha'i youth can have access to distance education offered by faculty members around the world. Would you like to be a volunteer faculty member or an ESL tutor for these youth? See what you can do here at BIHE. I have sent in my volunteer application.
Find out more about the project:

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

attract the hearts

today's pick of music by baha'i artists discovered on that authoritative compendium of all things virtual Baha'i--Baha'i Views

mellow oh so mellow... very good for those two items on my new year's wish list--calm and stillness.

Talia Johnson
and Safa Paulson
and produced by
Jon Rezin [this may well be my favorite profile pic of all time]
Lyrics for Let All Associate
"Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side ...Love ye all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds..." (Abdu'l-Baha)
The Tongue of Grandeur hath, however, in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: "It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world."