July 21, 2016

Conducting meaningful conversations: - Some selected excerpts adapted and grouped using recent messages of the Universal House of Justice

Topics:
  1. One’s own spiritual preparation
  2. Training received from Ruhi Book 6
  3. Approach
  4. Opportunities & Those to seek out
  5. Range of one’s “participation in the discourses of society”
  6. Themes
  7. Experience gained with action
  8. Impact on society
  9. During Social Portion of 19-Day Feasts
  10. Entire excerpt from the messages of the Universal House of Justice used in this summary
One’s own spiritual preparation
  • To increase one’s “spiritual perception” to “sense receptivity and recognize thirst for the vivifying waters of Bahá’u’lláh’s message”
  • In preparation for meaningful conversation one should cultivate “the habit of study and deep reflection upon the Creative Word”
  • The “process of transformation” as a result of one’s “study and deep reflection upon the Creative Word” will reveal “itself in an ability to express one’s understanding of profound concepts and to explore spiritual reality in conversations of significance.”
Training received from Ruhi Book 6
  • “…the illustrative example in Book 6 of the Ruhi Institute... it gives rise to a conversation between two souls—a conversation distinguished by the depth of understanding achieved and the nature of the relationship established”.
  • “To the extent that the conversation continues beyond the initial encounter and veritable friendships are formed, a direct teaching effort of this kind can become a catalyst for an enduring process of spiritual transformation.”
  • “Whether the first contact with such newly found friends elicits an invitation for them to enrol in the Bahá’í community or to participate in one of its activities is not an overwhelming concern. More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society, commencing a path of service to humanity on which, at the outset or further along, formal enrolment can occur.”
Approach
  • Adapt the “presentation to the seeker's needs”
  • Employ “direct teaching methods that draw on the Writings to offer the message in a manner both forthcoming and inviting”
  • To “directly engaging” them “in conversations about His [Baha’u’llah’s] redeeming message”
  • Engage in “meaningful conversation and weaving bonds of affection and solidarity” when visiting “with friends and neighbours in their homes”
  • “…to stimulate conversations that illuminate understanding… “
  • “conversations that enable receptivity to be discovered and nurtured”
Opportunities & Those to seek out
  • Seek out receptive souls from people one encounters: namely, "parents of neighbourhood children, peers at school, colleagues at work, casual acquaintances"
  • “enter into conversation with people of varied backgrounds and interests”
  • “engage in meaningful conversation in those social spaces open to you”
  • “participate, to the extent possible, in undertakings and efforts directed towards the common good…”
  • “seeking out souls who are willing to engage in a conversation about the world around them and participate in a collective effort to transform it”
  • To have “Conversations about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and the purpose of His mission in a variety of settings, including firesides and visits to homes”
  • “the friends’ efforts to engage in meaningful conversations bring them into many social spaces, allowing a wider array of people to become familiar with the teachings and consider seriously the contribution they can make to the betterment of society.”
Range of one’s “participation in the discourses of society”
  • “involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Bahá’í ideas into everyday conversation”
  • “more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern—climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few.”
  • “meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighbourhoods.”
  • “It will be important for all to recognize that the value of engaging in social action and public discourse is not to be judged by the ability to bring enrolments… they are not undertaken for this purpose. Sincerity in this respect is an imperative… The watchword in all cases is humility.”
Themes
  • To engage in “earnest conversation on themes of spiritual import”
  • “share a portion of that which He [Baha’u’llah] has so graciously bestowed on humanity”
  • To “acquaint” them “with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh”
  • To “directly engaging” them “in conversations about His [Baha’u’llah’s] redeeming message”
  • To “engage” them in conversations “on matters of common concern”
  • To engage them in conversations about “the critical need to remove barriers hindering the progress of women in society”
  • “undertake with them an exploration of reality that gives rise to a shared understanding of the exigencies of this period in human history and the means for addressing them.”
  • “how better to contribute to the material and spiritual welfare of others”
  • “to build a society in which the innate talents of every individual can flourish without regard to distinctions of class, creed, gender or ethnicity.”
  • “the true purpose of the world of existence and the life of man”
  • “consider the beauty and efficacy of a society founded on the principle of unity in diversity”
  • “deliberate on that essential nobility of the soul that enables the individual to see his or her own happiness in the happiness of others.”
  • To have “Conversations about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and the purpose of His mission in a variety of settings, including firesides and visits to homes”
Experience gained with action
  • “As experience grows, the friends become more adept at"
    • “discerning when they have found a hearing ear”
    • “deciding when to be more direct in sharing the message”
    • “removing obstacles to understanding”
    • “helping seekers to embrace the Cause”
Impact on society
  • “Conversations influenced by… teachings [of the Faith], concerned with the common weal” will gradually “permeate an ever-broader cross section of the [general] population”
During Social Portion of 19-Day Feasts
  • “The social portion transcends polite formalities, becoming the joyous reunion of ardent lovers, of tested companions united in a common purpose, whose conversations are elevated by spiritual themes.”
Entire excerpt from the messages of the Universal House of Justice used in the above summary

Meaningful Conversations: - 
Some extracts from recent messages of the Universal House of Justice

... the purpose of such campaigns in local communities which have been dormant for years would not be to find every Baha'i , whose name appears on the membership list and verity his or her status. The list of names should be considered, rather, as a starting point, leading to opportunities to meet individuals who are willing to engage in meaningful conversation, exploring spiritual realities and learning more and more about the Faith. (Letter dated 3 June 2001 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Union of Myanmar, quoted in ‘Building Momentum’)

Nowhere has the rise in individual initiative been more clearly demonstrated than in the field of teaching. Whether in the form of firesides or study circles, individual efforts to teach the Faith are indisputably on the increase. Equipped with skills and methods, effective and accessible to all, and encouraged by the response their actions elicit, the believers are entering into closer association with people of many walks of life, engaging them in earnest conversation on themes of spiritual import. With greater and greater spiritual perception, they are able to sense receptivity and recognize thirst for the vivifying waters of Bahá’u’lláh’s message. From among all those they encounter-parents of neighbourhood children, peers at school, colleagues at work, casual acquaintances-they seek out souls with whom they can share a portion of that which He has so graciously bestowed on humanity. Increased experience enables them to adapt their presentation to the seeker's needs, employing direct teaching methods that draw on the Writings to offer the message in a manner both forthcoming and inviting. (The Universal House of Justice, 27 December 2005 to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

As we survey what has been accomplished around the world, our hearts are filled with particular admiration for the believers in Iran, who, under the most arduous conditions, have arisen boldly to serve their country and are bending their energies toward its revitalization, though the avenues open to them are limited. And given the restrictions placed on the administration of the Faith, they have set out on an individual basis to acquaint their fellow citizens with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, directly engaging them in conversations about His redeeming message. Not only have they received unprecedented support from enlightened souls as they have begun to do so, but they have encountered a receptivity far beyond anything they would have imagined possible. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2008)

Our 3 June 2008 letter expressed our appreciation for the courage and steadfastness that you have manifested during these difficult days and encouraged you to work diligently for the good of your fellow citizens and engage in conversations with them on matters of common concern. There are, of course, many pressing issues that occupy the minds of those striving to promote the prosperity and well-being of Iran. Chief among them is, no doubt, the critical need to remove barriers hindering the progress of women in society. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 20 June 2008 to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith – authorized translation from Persian)

In its Ridván message of 2008, the Universal House of Justice referred to the widening impact of the dynamism flowing from the interactions between the three participants in the Five Year Plan. The celebration of the Nineteen Day Feast has not remained unaffected by this growing dynamism. Everywhere the devotional portion of the Feast is enriched by the sense of reverence cultivated through personal prayer and regular devotional gatherings. The administrative portion is animated by reports on the progress of the Cause, as well as insights contributed by eager believers drawn from diverse populations, both newly enrolled and long-standing, engaged in Bahá’í activity. The social portion transcends polite formalities, becoming the joyous reunion of ardent lovers, of tested companions united in a common purpose, whose conversations are elevated by spiritual themes. (From a message dated 17 May 2009 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies)

A number of you have raised questions in your letters that revolve around the theme of strengthening the community. This, indeed, is a matter of fundamental importance, and every believer would do well to bear its requirements in mind. Already you have seen in the unity of thought and action achieved among the believers, in their enthusiasm and fellowship, the effect that performing your individual spiritual responsibilities has on the life of the community. There are a host of other factors that enhance the vitality of community life as well. Chief among them are the spiritual education provided to children and youth, opportunities created to deepen understanding of the teachings, gatherings held to celebrate the Nineteen Day Feast and to mark other occasions, efforts made to foster and maintain unity in all matters, assistance offered to young people and families in need, and the time spent visiting with friends and neighbours in their homes, engaging in meaningful conversation and weaving bonds of affection and solidarity.

To the degree that the principles and spirit of the Faith are reflected in the character of the community, its vitality will show forth and its individual and collective endeavours increase in efficacy. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 19 May 2009 to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith – authorized translation from Persian)

In their efforts to present the essentials of the Faith plainly and unequivocally, the believers have benefited greatly from the illustrative example in Book 6 of the Ruhi Institute. Where the logic underlying that presentation is appreciated, and the urge to convert it into a formula overcome, it gives rise to a conversation between two souls—a conversation distinguished by the depth of understanding achieved and the nature of the relationship established. To the extent that the conversation continues beyond the initial encounter and veritable friendships are formed, a direct teaching effort of this kind can become a catalyst for an enduring process of spiritual transformation. Whether the first contact with such newly found friends elicits an invitation for them to enrol in the Bahá’í community or to participate in one of its activities is not an overwhelming concern. More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society, commencing a path of service to humanity on which, at the outset or further along, formal enrolment can occur. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010)

Effective social action serves to enrich participation in the discourses of society, just as the insights gained from engaging in certain discourses can help to clarify the concepts that shape social action. At the level of the cluster, involvement in public discourse can range from an act as simple as introducing Bahá’í ideas into everyday conversation to more formal activities such as the preparation of articles and attendance at gatherings, dedicated to themes of social concern—climate change and the environment, governance and human rights, to mention a few. It entails, as well, meaningful interactions with civic groups and local organizations in villages and neighbourhoods.

In this connection, we feel compelled to raise a warning: It will be important for all to recognize that the value of engaging in social action and public discourse is not to be judged by the ability to bring enrolments. Though endeavours in these two areas of activity may well effect an increase in the size of the Bahá’í community, they are not undertaken for this purpose. Sincerity in this respect is an imperative. Moreover, care should be exercised to avoid overstating the Bahá’í experience or drawing undue attention to fledgling efforts, such as the junior youth spiritual empowerment programme, which are best left to mature at their own pace. The watchword in all cases is humility. While conveying enthusiasm about their beliefs, the friends should guard against projecting an air of triumphalism, hardly appropriate among themselves, much less in other circumstances. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2010)

…a notable number of friends find themselves ready to enter into conversation with people of varied backgrounds and interests and to undertake with them an exploration of reality that gives rise to a shared understanding of the exigencies of this period in human history and the means for addressing them. (The Universal House of Justice, 28 Dec. 2010, message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

It is befitting that in this vernal season, this outward symbol of the spiritual springtide, in your meaningful conversations with your friends, neighbours, acquaintances, colleagues and other like-minded souls, you explore together how better to contribute to the material and spiritual welfare of others and to build a society in which the innate talents of every individual can flourish without regard to distinctions of class, creed, gender or ethnicity. Ponder together the true purpose of the world of existence and the life of man; consider the beauty and efficacy of a society founded on the principle of unity in diversity; and deliberate on that essential nobility of the soul that enables the individual to see his or her own happiness in the happiness of others. (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 21 March 2011 to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith – authorized translation from Persian)

…keep fixed before your eyes God’s consummate wisdom and His unfailing promises; look to the future with optimism; dedicate your lives, as you have always done, to serving humanity; continue to fulfill your individual spiritual responsibilities; engage in meaningful conversation in those social spaces open to you; and participate, to the extent possible, in undertakings and efforts directed towards the common good… (The Universal House of Justice, from a message dated 14 May 2011 to the Believers in the Cradle of the Faith – authorized translation from Persian)

From another perspective one thinks in terms of the three-month cycles of activity through which a community grows-the burst of expansion experienced as a result of intense action; the necessary period of consolidation during which increases in ranks are fortified as they, for example, participate in devotional gatherings and the Nineteen Day Feast and receive visits at their homes; and the opportunities designated for all to reflect and plan. The question of teaching among receptive populations moves to the foreground in this light, and the challenge of seeking out souls who are willing to engage in a conversation about the world around them and participate in a collective effort to transform it comes into focus. (The Universal House of Justice, 12 Dec., 2011, message to all National Spiritual Assemblies)

…to stimulate conversations that illuminate understanding… (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 2015)

As a person cultivates the habit of study and deep reflection upon the Creative Word, this process of transformation reveals itself in an ability to express one’s understanding of profound concepts and to explore spiritual reality in conversations of significance. These capacities are visible not only in the elevated discussions that increasingly characterize interactions within the community, but in the ongoing conversations that reach well beyond—not least between the Bahá’í youth and their peers—extending to include parents whose daughters and sons are benefiting from the community’s programmes of education. Through exchanges of this kind, consciousness of spiritual forces is raised, apparent dichotomies yield to unexpected insights, a sense of unity and common calling is fortified, confidence that a better world can be created is strengthened, and a commitment to action becomes manifest. Such distinctive conversations gradually attract ever-larger numbers to take part in a range of community activities. Themes of faith and certitude surface naturally, prompted by the receptivity and experiences of those involved. What is clear, then, is that as the institute process in a cluster gains momentum, the act of teaching comes to assume greater prominence in the lives of the friends. (The Universal House of Justice, 29 Dec., 2015, message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

Conversations about the Person of Bahá’u’lláh and the purpose of His mission occur in a variety of settings, including firesides and visits to homes. The actions undertaken during this phase allow abilities developed through studying the relevant institute materials to be exercised and refined. As experience grows, the friends become more adept at discerning when they have found a hearing ear, at deciding when to be more direct in sharing the message, at removing obstacles to understanding, and at helping seekers to embrace the Cause. (UHJ, 29 Dec, 2015, Counsellors)

Reaching the second milestone along the continuum of development, which we described to you five years ago, is accompanied by advances qualitative, but also quantitative—such as a rise in the number of those involved in conversations that enable receptivity to be discovered and nurtured, in how many homes are being visited, in core activities and participation, in how many individuals are beginning the sequence of courses or supporting others as they gain the confidence to serve. (The Universal House of Justice, 29 Dec., 2015, message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

As the growth process continues to gain intensity, the friends’ efforts to engage in meaningful conversations bring them into many social spaces, allowing a wider array of people to become familiar with the teachings and consider seriously the contribution they can make to the betterment of society. In addition, more and more homes are provided as venues for community-building activities, making each a point for the diffusion of the light of divine guidance. The institute process comes to be supported by a growing number of friends serving capably as tutors who, cycle after cycle, offer the full sequence of institute courses between them, at times with marked intensity. Thus, human resource development proceeds with minimal interruption and generates a constantly expanding pool of workers. (The Universal House of Justice, 29 Dec., 2015, message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

The Bahá’í community is afforded higher standing as a distinctive moral voice in the life of a people and is able to contribute an informed perspective to the discourses around it on, say, the development of the younger generations. Figures of authority from the wider society start to draw on the insight and experience arising from initiatives of social action inspired by Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. Conversations influenced by those teachings, concerned with the common weal, permeate an ever-broader cross section of the population, to the point where an effect on the general discourse in a locality can be perceived. (The Universal House of Justice, 29 Dec., 2015, message to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)