Northern Illinois Bahá'ís

Northern Illinois Bahá'ís

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How to Avoid Feeling Envy in the New Year

Baha'i - Tue, 01/08/2019 - 7:00am

Shakespeare wrote “O beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Maybe a new calendar year presents a good opportunity...

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Have You Volunteered for Anything Lately?

Baha'i - Mon, 01/07/2019 - 10:00am

Booker T. Washington, in his book Up from Slavery, said “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.” If you’ve ever volunteered to help someone else,...

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5 Ways to Make 2019 a Really Happy New Year

Baha'i - Mon, 01/07/2019 - 8:00am

Have you made your New Year’s resolutions? The holidays have come and gone, and the new year has arrived! No matter what your religion may be, the holiday season can...

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How Can We Nourish the Future?

Baha'i - Sun, 01/06/2019 - 11:14am

Hiking through a regional park on a lovely summer day, and coming upon the massive trunks of many fallen trees, I paused to read a sign along an interpretative trail....

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3 Spiritual Ways to Avoid Financial Regrets

Baha'i - Sun, 01/06/2019 - 10:47am

As I get older, I spend more time reflecting on my life—on the right choices I’ve made and the regrets about the wrong choices I could have avoided. This reflection...

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When the West Comes to the East: Laura Barney’s Lessons from Persia

Baha'i Blog - Sat, 01/05/2019 - 6:48pm

Laura Dreyfus-Barney (30 November, 1879 – 18 August, 1974). This portrait of Laura was done by her mother, Alice, and is courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

May 16, 1909, New York City: a group has gathered to hear Laura Clifford Barney speak. Her name is familiar to the audience from Some Answered Questions, which was published last year. This book brought Abdu’l-Baha’s commentary on subjects ranging from the New Testament to criminal justice to the newborn Baha’i community in the United States. Barney, the book’s compiler and translator, has spent most of the past decade far from this, her homeland, living in Paris and Akka. But now she has returned to visit—and to share what she has learned from her sojourns with Baha’is in the Middle East. One audience member has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this anonymous scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day, divided into two talks: the first, on her journey to Persia, and the second, on her observations of Abdu’l-Baha.

Barney had a long, productive life, which you can learn about in this Baha’i Blog article on her relationship with Hippolyte Dreyfus, whom she married in 1911. I’ll focus on her efforts as a young woman to build a bridge between continents. 

Recently, the Journal of Baha’i Studies published an article I wrote about Barney based on my research on her early writings:

  • Two transcribed talks (1909) (held in the US National Baha’i Archives)
  • God’s Heroes: A Drama in Five Acts (1910), a play about Tahirih (available online)
  • The Opium Pipe in the Land of Persia (1912), a play staged in 1915 (held in the Smithsonian Institution Archives)
  • From the Peace of the East to the War of the West (1916), a memoir of her travels and service during World War I (held in the archives of the Smithsonian Institution and of the Baha’is of France)

In these texts, I’ve witnessed how Barney sought to share the inspiration she gained from her experiences in the Middle and Far East. As she put it in From the Peace,

Can one really know any man? Can one really know any country? I am drawn to nations as others are attracted to individual beings. I find them complex, both lovable and imperfect, and I am made to realize that alone an intermingling of certain racial customs, of certain social aspirations can form a civilization worthy of life and of the genius of man.

The 1909 talks are especially intriguing to me, for in them, I see Barney building a bridge for her US listeners to enter the Middle East and learn from the people there. Indeed, in the early 1900s, the Baha’i communities in Persia and the United States forged a relationship through travelers like Barney. I’d like to share some passages from the first talk, which focuses on Barney’s 1906 travels through Persia, a trip she made with two French Baha’is, Hippolyte Dreyfus and Madame Lachenay. These excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity.

Barney explains that she journeyed to Persia at the request of Abdu’l-Baha, who wanted her to learn from the Baha’is there:

Five years ago, I arrived at Acca. I remained there but a few days, when Abdu’l-Baha realized I had much to learn, so little by little, I received a fuller realization of his teachings. They are not of the Master but of the Spirit that speaks through him…. Gradually I became familiar with the past and existing conditions of Persia. This was in accordance with the wish of Abdu’l-Baha, that I should see how the love of Baha’u’llah had enkindled the hearts of men.

En route to Persia, Barney visited vibrant communities in Ashgabat, home of the first Baha’i House of Worship, and Samarkand. She then entered Persia, visiting Rasht, Qazvin, Tehran, Isfahan, Tabriz, and Maku. She recounts meeting Baha’is in Tehran:

In Teheran I met a great teacher. He was like Mirza Abul-Fadl, only he had the enthusiasm of youth…. I said to him, “You have never made the journey to Acca?” He replied, “I have never taken the material road, but I have often journeyed there in the spirit.”

Barney recounts how, in spite of persecution, the Baha’i Faith had attracted many Persians: “Radiating around these cities which we visited were smaller towns and villages, the entire population of which were Baha’is.” She reflects,

It was also wonderful to find these people so advanced in the great economic and ethical questions of the present day, such as universal peace and other social problems, which proves that they are more advanced than we are in social conditions…[and] proves how great the teachings of Baha’u’llah were to them to turn these people into true philosophers and religious men. They were men of the fields and of menial labor and degree yet they were intellectual as well as spiritual.

After more visits with Baha’i communities, the travel party returned to Akka, spirits aflame from their interactions with Persian Baha’is:

We couldn’t express to Abdu’l-Baha our deep gratitude at what we had seen and heard. Little by little we spoke of it. Then I said to him, “Do you think it will be long before our country (America) will be like that? When will the great peace come to the world?” And he replied, “When the people of the West come to meet the people of the East for peace and unity, this problem will be easily solved.” “When do you think that unity will come?” And he replied, “In the twinkling of an eye, when love and unity are established in the hearts of the people.”

I find Barney’s account of Abdu’l-Baha’s response intriguing: peace will arrive only when the people of the West come to meet the people of the East. This prediction conveys the necessity of humility on the part of Westerners, who, despite apparently holding the world’s economic reins, are actually mere pupils of spiritual teachers from the East. Barney—a wealthy, educated heiress, no less—exemplified this humility in her eager pupilage to the Persian Baha’is and Abdu’l-Baha.

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Do You Get Your Identity from Your Religion?

Baha'i - Sat, 01/05/2019 - 12:00pm

If you met my dear friend Gail, you’d quickly see that she is a Muslim woman. She wears a hijab, eats halal and does her best to follow Muhammad’s teachings....

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Did Our Universe Have a Beginning? Debunking the Big Bang Theory

Baha'i - Sat, 01/05/2019 - 10:06am

In the past century, science has completely overhauled the entire concept of the macrocosm in cosmology—as well as the microcosm, in particle physics.   In previous essays in this series,...

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The Baha’i Administrative Order Explained

Baha'i - Fri, 01/04/2019 - 10:00am

The Baha’i Administrative Order begins with the individual Baha’i, who tries to live life in accord with the spiritual, social and practical guidance found in the Baha’i writings. It begins...

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Meeting Baha’u’llah and Discovering the True Meaning of Unity

Baha'i - Fri, 01/04/2019 - 8:00am

The Baha’i teachings offer humanity the personal, social, and cultural benefits of unity—and the means for its achievement. Since the passing of Baha’u’llah—the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith—in...

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The Teacher

One Bahá'í's Approach - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 3:41pm
Shaykh 'Abid was a very interesting man. He was a disciple of both Shaykh Ahmad and Siyyid Kazim. He was well known for both his piety and his learning. He was also, as stories about him show, quite humble, and this, I think, is one of his most important qualities.

He was a teacher in Shiraz, and his students referred to him as Shaykhuna. Personally, aside from the linguistic tie to the word Shaykh, I have no clue what that means, but I presume it is something good.

What he is most known for, though, in history, is being the teacher of the Bab when He was a young child.

One day, he said, he asked the Bab to recite the opening words of the Qur'an, Bismi'llahi'r-Rahmani'r-Rahim. The Bab, oddly enough, hesitated. He said that He would not attempt to pronounce the words unless He was told what they signified. And to think, He was only 7 years old, or so.

Shaykh Abid, of course, could have translated the Arabic words for Him, "In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate". He could have described the meaning to his young student. He could have insisted that the Bab just do as He was told. But he did none of those things. Instead he pretended not to know their meaning and asked the Bab what He thought.

"I know what these words signify", said the Bab, "by your leave I will explain them."

Shaykh Abid later recalled, "He spoke with such knowledge and fluency that I was struck with amazement. He expounded the meaning of 'Allah', of 'Rahman', and 'Rahim', in terms such as I had neither read nor heard. The sweetness of His utterance still lingers in my memory."

Years later, this humble but knowledgeable teacher became a devoted Babi.

It's such a simple story, and really, can be told in just a few sentences. But like all stories of the Bab, like any story from religious history, it is filled with many layers of meaning.

One important learning that we get from it is to allow the students we are teaching to offer what they know. When the Bab asked Shaykh Abid what the words meant, he responded by asking the student what He thought. Of course, even if your student is not a Manifestation of God, it is still good to ask. Students, whether children or adult, already have a knowledge within them. And by asking what they think, you are giving them a chance to share, which is very encouraging. You also are taking the opportunity to learn, either from their new perspective, or learn what they are missing.

This, of course, is also the very basis of tutoring, too. As teachers or tutors, our job is to guide, not to try and fill "empty vessels".

To me, Shaykh Abid demonstrated the most important qualities of a teacher, and perhaps that may be why he was rewarded with the opportunity to both hear the Bab on this wonderful occasion, and recognize His Station later in life.

A second learning that we get from this story is from the actions of the Bab, Himself.

We note that He refused to utter the words unless He knew what they meant. Doesn't that just speak to the importance of understanding what we are doing? Knowing that of which we speak?

This is a lesson that I think we all need to consider far more these days.

Even as a young child, the Bab was demonstrating His station as a Manifestation of God, for His every action teaches us many lessons.
Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Jacqueline Claire Shares About Her Interactive Arts Talk Based on The Seven Valleys

Baha'i Blog - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 11:32am

Although we’ve never met, I feel like I’ve gotten to know Jacqueline Claire over the years as we’ve connected over creating Baha’i-inspired content for Baha’i Blog. She wrote about her experiences creating imaginative spaces for elevated conversation, what she has learned in striving to be a spiritually restored and active participant at Nineteen-Day Feasts, and she shared with us some of her artwork and an arts newsletter she sent out every day of the Fast. When I heard about a new initiative she has developed that combines storytelling, art and dynamic conversation, I was eager to find out more. It’s called Awake to Your Life as a Spiritual Journey and I loved what she shared with me:

Baha’i Blog: To begin, could you tell us a little about this initiative?

Sure, I would love to. Awaken to Your Life as a Spiritual Journey is an uplifting and interactive blend of art show, storytelling and dynamic discussion designed to empower attendees to see their life path in a new way. It incorporates a series of seven mystical landscape paintings of mine called The Seven Valleys of Summer. It begins with an icebreaker that immediately creates a warm, friendly environment and starts to connect people with each other, the artwork and passages from The Seven Valleys of Baha’u’llah. I speak a little about the series and how it came about, branching in to larger concepts about life as a spiritual journey. Collectively we then discuss the Valleys, gleaning wisdom from each one.

Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to put it together?

Several threads came together to inspire what this event has become. First and perhaps most important, I wanted to create an uplifting and meaningful social experience for everyone. Though I love being a storyteller and engaging people I am actually not a “party person”. I find small talk uncomfortable and I have a sense that many others do, as well. Parties can also be threatening if you don’t know anyone else. So the icebreaker was invented to even the social playing field: to give everyone a fun task and reason to be friendly and approach people they don’t know. It’s great to witness. It often connects people of different ages and backgrounds that might not have come together otherwise. I also wanted to empower people to engage with the artwork. Art and spirituality can intimidate people because they think they have to be sophisticated or know specific jargon to discuss it. I feel that is a limiting misconception. In this event, the artwork is used as a catalyst for a deeper exploration of spiritual topics, in a down to earth way and we all learn from each other. The first run of this event was actually on my birthday in the location I painted the series the summer before. I had a challenging but somewhat transformational year in between and I wanted to honor that marker. I had no idea the event would become what it has, or indeed ever be repeated!

Baha’i Blog: How is it being received? 

Students at a Catholic University in San Antonio discussing quotes from The Seven Valleys

Amazingly well! Because it is so unique sometimes the invitations or bookings are a challenge (there is no existent model that I know of to describe exactly what the event is.) I call it an “interactive talk” and I think of it like a visual art version of a concert because it is definitely dynamic and memorable. Once people get the vision – or better yet attend, it all makes sense! And the components work together beautifully. Everyone engages during the discussion and often express profound insights, whether they are familiar with the Baha’i Faith or are new to it. Afterwards, there is a collective feeling of vitalization. A professional friend who is a certified Spiritual Director and Director of the Center for Women in Church and Society at a Catholic University said she “walked away with a sense of joy.” That it was a “spiritual experience” for her.

Baha’i Blog: What have you learned in the process?

So far, the biggest thing – I feel this may be empowering to others – is the discovery that people deeply want to talk about spirituality, the Baha’i Teachings and Baha’u’llah. I have literally discussed Baha’u’llah and The Seven Valleys with audiences entirely unfamiliar with the Baha’i Faith and so far they have all been receptive and participatory. I feel the key is to invite people to the conversation in a way that is engaging and meets them where they are. In the case of my event, the Baha’i aspect is very up front. People always know ahead of time there will be discussion of faith in general and the Baha’i Faith specifically, but it is also very personal. It is an individual artist sharing her own inspiration, experience and understanding (or lack thereof in some cases!) of faith. Also, incorporating the arts is always a draw. Art is incorporated through the painting exhibit and by sharing The Seven Valleys in the style of storytelling. I’ve observed from people’s reactions and desire to continue the conversations that sharing in this way seems to affect them like a “wisdom teaching,” sparking a desire to learn more on their own. In other words, it bypasses many potential barriers.

Baha’i Blog: What are your plans for the future?

I would like to go on tour! I would love to bring this event to more Baha’i homes and communities throughout the U.S. and beyond. It is a special way to share some of Baha’u’llah’s teachings with people who are spiritually seeking but perhaps initially hesitant to explore “religion”. I am also engaged in discussions with groups and business that are likewise interested in sharing these themes with the people they serve – behavioral health facilities, medical institutes that embrace the spiritual dimension, interfaith organizations, corporate retreats and nonprofits; anyone who is looking to foster a sense of hope, peace and meaning. I feel very blessed to have been guided to create this model of community engagement that blends visual art, storytelling and discussion because there are so many directions to go with it. Maybe one of your readers has a suggestion as to which Baha’i theme I should explore next!

Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Jacqueline, for sharing this with us! If you’d like to sign up for Jacqueline’s art newsletter, here’s the link: And if you’d like to know more about Jacqueline, please visit her website: You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.


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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Why You Need to Love the Age You Live In

Baha'i - Thu, 01/03/2019 - 10:00am

I often read dystopian books and watch dystopian films. While asking provocative questions about humanity’s fate, they typically portray the future as a dark, troubled place. Less common are books...

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How to Find Volunteer Work That Inspires Your Sense of Service

Baha'i - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 10:01am

There are many strategies to tackle the world’s problems. So why do Baha’is focus on “community building”? Followers of the Baha’i Faith all around the world, along with their friends...

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Does Humanity Have a Right to a Livable Climate?

Baha'i - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 10:00am

Do we humans have a fundamental right to a livable climate? No—not yet, at least not in strictly legal terms. But that may be coming soon! A potential change in...

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Where is Caucasia, Anyway?

Baha'i - Wed, 01/02/2019 - 8:00am

In one of his stand-up sets, the comedian George Lopez hilariously asked: “Where is Caucasia, anyway? Maybe somewhere north of Hispania?” I remembered Lopez’s line the other day, when I...

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2018 in Review: Progress and Insights of the Baha’i World

Baha'i - Tue, 01/01/2019 - 11:53am

For the Baha’i world, 2018 was marked by a wide range of developments. Through its podcast and written articles, the Baha’i World News Service sought to capture some of these developments and...

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Why We Need to Balance Faith and Reason

Baha'i - Tue, 01/01/2019 - 8:00am

I recently attended an event featuring a magician, and at some point I found myself looking at the audience and not at him. I noticed that all ages were captivated...

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Why You Should Have a Spiritual New Year’s Resolution

Baha'i - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 8:00am

Tomorrow, on January 1st, much of the world will celebrate a brand new year—and make New Year’s resolutions to improve their lives. Have you ever made a New Year’s resolution?...

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Bringing the Sacred Home

Baha'i - Mon, 12/31/2018 - 7:30am

Each of us brings a variety of things home in the course of our lifetime, both into the place where we dwell and into the home within our heart. Every...

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