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Abdu’l-Baha, who dedicated his entire life to service to humanity, has inspired millions of people to follow his example of serving others. In my town, we’re trying to do that, too – and it has changed us.
In August of this year BahaiTeachings.org published an article about a special project initiated by the members of my Baha’i community in a small town in Southwest Ontario, Canada. In that article I wrote about our “100 Days of Service” initiative, during which we — as individuals and as a group — are offering a daily act of service in honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the passing of Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith.
In quotations such as this one, Abdu’l-Baha explained that service to humanity is one of the ways to grow closer to God: “… nearness to God is possible through devotion to Him, through entrance into the Kingdom and service to humanity; it is attained by unity with mankind and through loving-kindness to all …”
At this mid-point of our project, I am reflecting on what I have done, what I am learning, and what’s yet to occur for me and for our group.
My acts of service have often been pre-planned. As one example: On my own I have donated items and money to a charity; with others I have sorted produce at the food bank. Frequently my service has been a spontaneous response to something I see. For example, a few days ago I was in the quick checkout line at the grocery store and noticed a woman with only one item in a queue with customers with full carts. I invited her to stand in front of me in the quick line. Surprised, she smiled at my small act. I don’t suppose I changed her life, but I did save her some time and hopefully connected with her human-to-human. Moments like this have reminded me that service can happen anywhere and anytime.
In his book Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, he wrote: “See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness.”
Since the beginning of this project and as an extension of my ongoing commitment to environmental care I have been picking up litter. Sometimes I have done this with others; for example, I organized a group for an “adopt-a-highway” cleanup project. Other times I go on my own to pick up litter. Most of our neighborhoods seem relatively free of litter, though sadly that is not uniformly true. In fact, I usually find litter along the streets where construction is taking place, along railroad tracks, and in parks.
Yesterday I enjoyed our lovely autumn weather by going on a long walk. For almost two hours I greeted walkers, joggers, bicyclists, and bench sitters. I saw people mowing or mulching leaves; parents playing catch with their kids; neighbors washing cars. In perhaps the best encounter, I chatted with a man who was unloading a wheelbarrow of pumpkins from the back of his car, and he offered me one as a gift.
When I got home I decided to express my gratitude for living in a such a friendly town by going to a local park to pick up some litter that I had noticed a few days earlier. I began along the trees parallel to the driveway and parking lot. In less than 20 minutes, having not gotten beyond this small area, the bag was bulging with trash. I didn’t even get to the trails, where I know there is yet more litter.
I felt both perplexed and sad about this, thinking admittedly harsh thoughts about people who thoughtlessly litter. On further reflection, I realized that whoever these people may be, and whatever may be their reasons for disregarding the environment, I cannot know their inner thoughts and I must learn to not judge them.
In his writings, Abdul-Baha gave this advice: “Let your thoughts dwell on your own spiritual development and close your eyes to the deficiencies of other souls.”
November 25, the final day of our 100 Days of Service initiative, we will host the official dedication of our Township’s first outdoor fitness circuit for adults. As a group, the local Baha’is chose this major service project, which has had us working with the Township and some of its personnel to select the site and the equipment, even as we held our own fundraising projects to pay for it.
This project is bringing us great joy. The town’s residents, learning about it through social media and the newspaper, have responded with such enthusiasm that we are inspired to do even more. I think that’s how service generally works. Those offering service feel uplifted by their acts. We don’t do it for a reward; we do it because we want to – and because it feels wonderful.
In the book Paris Talks Abdul-Baha is quoted as saying: “… all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”
We’ve all learned something important during this project – that we are blessed to be engaged in this 100 Days of Service initiative, not only because of the actions themselves, but also because of the impact they’ve already had on our own attitudes. In a final installment of this series I will share more about our learning and how it might propel us all to further action.