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My husband John and I recently returned from a three-month camping trip across North America from our home in Southern Ontario to Vancouver Island and back.
Fortunate to have the time for a leisurely pace, we wandered through both the United States and Canada, staying in state or provincial parks for two, three or even more nights as we made our way westward and back. Along the way we were immersed in the glorious natural beauty of North America and experienced the graciousness of the people, experiencing the kindness of strangers, camaraderie among fellow travelers, and the joy of sharing arts and culture in a variety of settings.
We also visited Baha’is in large and small communities. Some of these visits were pre-planned, as we stopped to see friends from our days as volunteers at the Baha’i World Centre (in Haifa, Israel) as well as our years living in Canada. Some of these visits were unplanned, as we found ourselves invited to gatherings and homes by friends-of-friends.
Sometimes we joined Baha’is in organized activities. For example, we attended an intercommunity gathering for a Baha’i Holy Day in a small town reachable only by ferry. In yet another town, we timed our visit to include a surprise birthday party for a dear friend’s 95th birthday. We participated in devotional gatherings and Baha’i study classes in numerous communities. In other instances our visits were more social—dinners, swimming, hiking, boating, and other day-trips.
Though the activities themselves varied, in essence they had much in common. All were characterized by genuine welcome and loving hospitality. Plus, we noticed that everyone we met involved themselves in community service projects, creating arts, and devoting energy and enthusiasm toward a very special event occurring in October of this year.
What is that event? It is the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah. If you can imagine early Christians anticipating the 200th anniversary of the Birth of Christ–well, there is a similar degree of excitement in the global Baha’i community. In fact, October launches a 2-year period of enriched Baha’i activities, culminating with the 200th anniversary of the Birth of the Bab, the forerunner and herald of Baha’u’llah, in October of 2019.
So I’ve been thinking about the spirit of those service projects, expressing spirituality through the arts, and preparing for coming together with friends throughout the world. When I contemplate all those activities, the following quotation from Baha’u’llah keeps popping up in my mind:
The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 215.
Baha’u’llah came, in other words, to unite humanity. Our working in unison, our collective vision, our commitment to the betterment of society—these principles are manifest through our desire to share our teachings, our history, and our ideals.
As we talked with Baha’is during our trip, and as we continue to correspond with our friends around the world, we notice that, though we are all celebrating the same anniversary, our ways of doing so differ according to our culture, preferences, and resources.
Just to cite a few examples: In a town with only a handful of Baha’is, each has pledged to perform 200 acts of service in honor of this bicentenary anniversary. Several communities have invited youth to write essays about peace. Expression through the arts is especially flourishing, with exhibits, special quilts, music, film, and other media being produced and shared. A group in California will host a street painting day. A friend in Australia has created a web-based repository of new choral music.
In these examples, the Baha’is have initiated the projects. Yet sometimes they plan to join with other individuals or groups. Perhaps the most common outcome of the latter is interfaith joint-worship services. What a wonderful fulfillment of Baha’u’llah’s words: “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” – Ibid., p. 94.
There is no end to how humans come together to celebrate. If you wonder what is happening near where you live, and would like to join the festivities, be sure to look up the local Baha’is. To learn more about this special anniversary and its significance, BahaiTeachings.org will focus on Baha’u’llah’s life and teachings throughout this entire month.