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A certain power emerges when words from scripture are accompanied by soul-stirring music—they can transport you on wings of the spirit.
An example of this phenomenon occurs in a scene in the movie “The Mission.” Penitent slave hunter and murderer turned acolyte priest Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro) reflects on how he has transformed from predator to friend and champion of the native Guaraní. He then reads from the New Testament over a piece from the movie’s extraordinary musical score:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. – Corinthians 1:13
The brand-new Baha’i film Light to the World brilliantly uses this technique as well.
Leveraging modern technology, we can replicate this effect with Tranquility Zone (TZ) style devotional gatherings, which synthesize both calming music and uplifting writings to create a stirring experience and engender a mood of deep relaxation and meditation for participants. Have you ever heard of Tranquility Zones? They are generally about 30 to 45 minutes long, and usually draw upon Baha’i writings, scriptures from other traditions, and even poetry.
These gatherings are based on the Baha’i idea that:
Devotional meetings are occasions where any soul may enter, inhale the heavenly fragrances, experience the sweetness of prayer, meditate upon the Creative Word, be transported on the wings of the spirit, and commune with the one Beloved. Feelings of fellowship and common cause are generated, particularly in the spiritually heightened conversations that naturally occur at such times and through which the ‘city of the human heart’ may be opened. – The Universal House of Justice, December 2015.
Five Tranquility Zone Ingredients
Calming music is the first ingredient for an effective Tranquility Zone. Fortunately, you can find myriad songs of this type through online music services. Depending on the length of the gathering–, six to eight tracks is usually enough, plus shorter calming tracks (without reading accompaniment) for the opening and closing, and a “Wake Up” track near the end, as guests may be in deep meditation.
My favorite piece of music for these gatherings is “Solomon,” from the “12 Years a Slave” soundtrack. Other fitting choices are “Spiegel im Spiel,” by Avro Part and “Moonlight Sonata,” by Beethoven. The soundtrack from “The Mission” teems with uplifting music, such as “Falls.” Some excellent artists for TZ’s are Secret Garden and pianists George Winston, Ludovico Einaudi, and Paul Cardall. You can even use Gregorian Chants for engaging meditative pieces. However, these are only a few possibilities, and everyone has their favorites.
The second ingredient is inspiring text, matched with each track. Stirring Baha’i passages like this one tend to focus listeners’ attention:
Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge…. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 285.
The brief, beautiful writings in Baha’u’llah’s Hidden Words fit universally, from my experience, with any relaxing musical track. For example:
O Befriended Stranger! The candle of thine heart is lighted by the hand of My power, quench it not with the contrary winds of self and passion. The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not. Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life. – Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words of Baha’u’llah, p. 33.
To delve into other faiths you can replicate reading Corinthians, or select passages from different scriptures and different Faiths. If you google “Buddha Quotes,” for example, an array of quotes appear, such as: “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”
For poetry, I’ve found Langston Hughes’ “I, Too,” a powerful statement against racism, to be particularly effective in a TZ:
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
These are just samples of what can work—the only limit is your creativity. This website abounds with amazing examples of Baha’i and other writings which you can use in a TZ.
A few other additive elements complement music and text. The third key ingredient for a powerful TZ, in my opinion, is at least one person of the opposite gender. A man and woman reading in turns, in addition to lending vocal variety, is an indirect testament to the Baha’i principle of the equality of men and women.
The fourth ingredient is good equipment, such as a tablet or a laptop connected to a quality wireless speaker. That computer equipment will also allow you to create playlists for the music, and, on the program, note which music accompanies which piece of writing.
The fifth ingredient is practice. Before your guests come over for the program, it’s beneficial to have rehearsed the program at least once to ensure that the words match the music.
Putting it All Together
With the above in mind, a short potential program might look like this:
- Opening: Gregorian Chant Amen– no reading
- Selection One – female reader: Le Onde (Ludovico Einaudi) with “Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity…” passage
- Selection Two – male reader: “Solomon” (from “12 Years a Slave” soundtrack) with Hidden Words selections and/or “Create in me a pure heart…” prayer (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 248)
- Selection Three – female reader: “The Falls” (from “The Mission” soundtrack, Yo-Yo Ma version) with Corinthians 1:13
- Selection Four – male reader: “Amazing Grace” (Paul Cardall, instrumental) with “I, Too”
- Celtic Chant: Meditation, no reading
- “I’ll Put a Stone on Your Cairn”: Meditation, no reading
- “I’m Going Home” (Cold Mountain soundtrack): “Wake Up” music
On the day of the devotional, keep a few more elements in mind. Create an inviting atmosphere with candles. Explain to your guests that the purpose of the program is to create a meditative, tranquilizing experience, drawing on different traditions. Minimize distractions and background noises. When the “wake up” music plays, thank your guests for attending.
With this formula in mind, and your personal Tranquility Zone devotional a reality, you’ve taken a step toward opening the cities of human hearts.