Devotional programmes


Gabriela Denise Frank

When Tash asked whether I’d like to join her at a Bahá’í Faith devotional on Saturday, I paused. The word “devotional” is tricky. It hearkens the forced internment of my Catholic upbringing.

At age six, it occurred to me that I saw the world differently than my fellow parishoners at St. Raphael’s. When we sang during mass, they seemed moved; when Fr. Jack gave a sermon, they appeared inspired, like they intended to carry those lessons with them into the world during the coming week. No matter how hard I tried to find meaning at church, I was left cold. It troubled me, actually.

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Rollicking devotional meets attendees' spiritual, social needs

{josquote}There’s a spiritually nurturing quality about Unity Night that differs from the spiritual food you get at Baha’i Feasts and Holy Days.{/josquote}

David and Jilla Simmons are middle-school teachers. Look up “frazzled” in the dictionary and you might see their photo.

But when the first and third Fridays of each month roll around, the Simmonses don’t collapse. They open their Seattle home for a devotional gathering known as Unity Night that averages 30 to 40 attendees from the nearby University of Washington campus and beyond.

That would seem exhausting in itself. Luckily, the energies of others have helped sustain the core activity for five years — especially now, with the couple’s two children away rendering service abroad.

Regular participants help in a variety of ways, says David Simmons. They move furniture, pick up books, bring refreshments. They sometimes choose the theme and prepare quotes or lead the introductions. They connect guests who are interested with information on the Faith and its community-building activities.

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Showing The True Path

Lighted lamp at the Lotus Temple at Kalkaji Delhi. On the way to a music programme at the Bahai Temple, this lamp lit up our path. As did many others of its ilk.

I wonder, in these troubled times, could the answer to conflict and hatred lie in such a temple. No icons, no statues, no idols, no sacraments, no sacred books or scrolls. Only multi-faith prayer times at specific hours of the day and evening. You could choose to meditate or muse about your faith. Relax a little in the quietitude. And drawing strength, rise to face the world. Normally the Temple attracts a gaggle of curious tourists through day - domestic and international. Each thronging to get a glimpse of a new god, a new faith and iconography. And perhaps many among them are disappointed not to see anything dramatic. Merely, a gigantic prayer hall, rows of seats and a quiet peacefulness. As quiet as we all can be, given our tendency to stay connected with work, family, friends and colleagues, through the omnipresent Cellular phone, aka the mobile. There are special evenings at the Bahai House of Worship - when the outer facade of the lotus is illumined.

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Who is Layli and why seek her?

Majnun in the wilderness

Tell us not the tale of Layli or of Majnun's woe --
Thy love hath made the world forget the loves of long ago.
When once thy name was on the tongue, the lovers caught it
And it set the speakers and the hearers dancing to and fro

(Sa'di, Muslihu'd-Din of Shiraz)

In general. I'm going to take this advice so if you want a well-researched, accurate account pf the story of Layli do your own googling. Just briefly, possibly inaccurately, and mostly from Wikipedia it seems:

The story originated in the seventh century in a real event where a young man (Qays) and young woman (Layli or often Layla) fell in love but were prevented from marrying by family pressure. The knowledge that Layli had been married to another drove Qays insane hence he became known as 'Majnun' which means, quite simply, 'mad'. He spent the rest of his life wandering disconsolately on the fringes of society, supposedly continually searching for Layli.

The story has been picked up and reworked by many great Middle Eastern writers and has even been claimed as the source for Romeo and Juliet though scholarly opinion is against that idea.

In the hands of those influenced by Sufi thought the story takes a religious turn with Layli signifying 'the Beloved' - the Divine Essence - and Majnun standing for Everyman constantly, obsessively seeking the presence of the unknowable God.

The story of Majnun and Layli makes only a couple of brief but powerful appearances in the Baha'i Writings where Baha'u'llah speaks with approval of the intensity of Majnun's search.

Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching. "Whoso seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it."

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For Baha'is, of course, being mentioned by Baha'u'llah, is the highest pinnacle the story could have reached but others may be further impressed by the fact that the guitar god himself, at the time manifesting himself as Derek and the Dominos, named a song and indeed an album after Layla.

It is important to remember that for speakers of the original languages the hero of all versions of this tale is known as 'the insane'. It is as though 'Romeo and Juliet' was actually called 'Juliet and the Loony'.

Religions, including the Baha'i Faith, by and large are (and certainly like to be thought of as) practical, sensible, organisations working to make this world a better place. Perhaps, Baha'u'llah's endorsement of Majnun may help to remind us that religion can also be an obsessive search for the Unknowable, Unfindable which can make us appear and even be quite crazy.

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The Golden Rule

A core principle of the Baha'i Faith is that all the world religions come from the same God. Though the social teachings change over time, the essence of religion is always the same. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Golden Rule.

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