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Northern Illinois Bahá'ís

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5 Baha’i Ethics: Oneness, Love, Kindness, Humility and Peace

Baha'i Teachings.org - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 10:02am

Many books have been written about the new Baha’i ethics, but let’s see if it’s even remotely reasonable to try to summarize some of them here in a short essay....

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Inspiring Youth Through Uplifting Music

Baha'i Teachings.org - Thu, 12/06/2018 - 8:00am

When you’re young—especially when you’re young—music speaks directly to your soul. One of the contemporary, socially- and spiritually-focused artists whose music does that best, José María Fierro, currently lives in...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Everything in Creation

One Bahá'í's Approach - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 12:25pm
This week I want to tell a story about the Bab.

Well, it's not really a story about His life, but more a story of us. You see, dear Reader, I've noticed that when we talk about Him, we often talk about Him as the "John the Baptist of the Baha'i Faith". At the holy day celebrations that center on Him, for example, we often hear the same few stories and how He prepared us for the coming of Baha'u'llah.

All right. Well, this is true. He did.

But dear Reader, that's like saying, "Jesus? Christmas, Easter, and He said He would return." Yes, that's all true, but it doesn't even begin to cover the full import of what He did.

I mean come on. He was a Messenger of God, for His sake.

Regarding the Bab, it was said that “Knowledge is twenty and seven letters. All that the Prophets have revealed are two letters thereof. No man thus far hath known more than these two letters. But when the Qá’im shall arise, He will cause the remaining twenty and five letters to be made manifest.”

Ok, check this. Everything, all human knowledge up until 1843 consisted of only a couple of letters. The Bab comes and reveals more than 12 times that knowledge, and what do we say? "He said Baha'u'llah's coming."

Hmmmm.

So this week, for my story about the Bab and the early Babi's, I want to share just a single line, seven words, from the Pen of the Bab. And remember, this is a Manifestation of God we're talking about. Those seven words? Well, let's see.

I was reading Gate of the Heart, by Nader Saiedi, when I ran across this line, so if you're looking for it in Selections from the Writings of the Bab, you won't find it there. (You're welcome.)

The line? Oh, yeah. Here it is:
Everything in creation hath its own heaven.
I feel like it should be bolded, sparkling, in a special colour, and maybe even flashing. It is so amazing in its depth and profundity that I feel I should write it again.

Everything in creation hath its own heaven.
I mean, think about it.

Ok, I can hear you say, but everything?

Well, He says "everything".

But, like, everything everything?

Yes, everything everything.

Even my shoe?

Even your shoe.

How?

Ah, that's the question, isn't it? You see, dear Reader, I think the Bab is making a very profound point with these seven seemingly simple words, a point that has the power and capacity to change our very lives.

To help put this into a perspective, namely mine, and that's nothing official, as you well know, when I look through Baha'u'llah's teachings, I find that heaven is described as the fulfillment of potential. I'm not sure of an exact quote that says this, but I infer it from a lot of different references.

Anyways, if heaven is the fulfillment of potential, and everything in creation "hath its own heaven", then when we help something find and fulfill its greatest potential, it will be in its own heaven.

The plastic bag that we get when we go shopping has the potential to carry something. When it is actually doing that, it is fulfilling its potential. It finds itself in its own heaven.

However, and here's the rub, when we have carried our groceries home and casually toss that bag in the garbage, it no longer is fulfilling that potential. We are, in effect, telling it that it is useless, it's garbage. And that, if you care to anthropomorphize, would feel like hell.

Perhaps that is why garbage can be so toxic.

It is always the waste products, the by-products, those parts of a process that are not "useful", that are so damaging.

But when we look at that bag and find another use for it, either through repurposing, reusing, or recycling, we are helping it fulfill a new potential. We are, in effect, carrying it to its new heaven.

For a long time sand was considered one of the most useless things on the planet. Its coming together in the form a desert was considered absolutely ruinous. Still is by most people. But when extract the silicon from the sand, we can produce the wonders of computers. Today we have found a myriad of uses for that most useless of all things, even to the point where it is one of the most widely stolen natural resources on the planet. Check it out, if you don't believe me. It's tragic, but true.

One of the things we missed when we spoke of "Easter, Christmas, and He would return" was Christ's promise of "Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven". Perhaps this recognition of fulfilling potential is part of that promise.

Imagine a world in which we found a use for everything, every object, every person. A world in which nothing was wasted or thrown away. A world in which nothing and no one was tossed aside as useless. Wouldn't this be a heaven on earth?

I say that this line can be life-changing because when we really pause to consider it, it can change our very behaviour.

Every since I read that line, "Everything in creation hath its own heaven", I have thought about it almost continually. When I am about to toss something in the garbage, I find myself asking if it can be put to another use. I ask if there is some hidden potential for that object I am missing. I actually find myself reluctant to throw anything away, not in the sense of wanting to hoard stuff, but in the sense of being more fully conscious of recycling it, if possible.

In fact, this has now shaped my shopping habits, too. I find myself unwilling to buy pretty much anything that I know will result in me having to throw something away, even, or especially, the packaging.

To be clear, though, it is not a manic thing, nor is it fanatical. It is a simple awareness that is shaping my life and my buying habits. The effect it has had on me is much like the effect the law of the Right of God has had. (You can click on that link, if you want, to see what I mean.)

Instead of buying pre-made food, for example, which will result in a lot of waste, I consciously choose to buy ingredients that I can prepare myself, which produces not only better quality food for my family, but also far less waste.

Instead of buying the cheapest products possible, I find the ones that are of a better quality, ensuring the livelihood of those who are producing them. I prefer to buy from local artisans for a bit more money than to buy cheap stuff that will last a short time and need to be replaced sooner. It means that budgeting is far more important now, but as I said, it results in a better quality of life for both myself and those that I support through my purchases.

This, to me, is a teaching that is worthy of a Messenger from God. This, to me, is a message that was worth bringing to us. And while it is true that He foretold the coming of Baha'u'llah, the Bab also taught so much more.

Everything, and yes, I do mean everything, truly does have its own heaven. And when we strive to help all around us fulfill their highest potential, we will find ourselves standing amidst that heaven, too.
Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

How Art Uplifts Society

Baha'i Teachings.org - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 10:00am

I’ve always wondered: how can I use my art to uplift my community and bring people together? Reflecting on our general environment and societal norms, many of us live fast-paced...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Social Media: Force for Change or Just an Ego-Boost?

Baha'i Teachings.org - Wed, 12/05/2018 - 8:00am

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media have all galvanized crucial movements for change in our contemporary society. Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movements are just a...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

The Journey West Podcast: Exploring Abdu’l-Baha’s Travels to the West

Baha'i Blog - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 6:40pm

The Journey West podcast is an audio initiative which explores and celebrates the centenary of Abdu’l-Baha’s travels to Egypt, Europe and North America in 1911-1913. Each episode features a reading of one of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks, as well as dramatized stories and historical accounts. You can also hear discussions of the talk that was featured, and some personal thoughts on how the ideas discussed in the talk are applicable today. 

The podcast was produced by a group of friends. At the helm of the podcast’s production were Ivan Mihoci, Mary Okonkwo, and Lorraine Sherrill but dozens of friends lent their voices and their talents to the podcast, whether it was by reading a first-hand account of one of the Baha’is, or discussing one of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks.

The Journey West podcast was a part of a larger initiative called The Journey West, where you’ll also find a treasury of articles about Abdu’l-Baha, the historical context surrounding His travels, and tributes to early Baha’is. The Journey West was really my first time writing about the Faith online and I was honored to contribute a few articles. I also had the privilege of working with authors and publishing their pieces on the site. These articles are companion pieces to the podcast, which is really the heart of the project, as it chronologically follows in His footsteps. Episode 1 begins with Abdu’l-Baha’s very first public address, where He stood at the pulpit of a 17th century church, seated on the Western edge of the city of London and spoke about a “new cycle of human power” and its last episode is about His departure from America in December of 1912; you can hear two separate accounts of His departure from the perspectives of Juliet Thompson and Howard Colby Ives, as well as the Master’s farewell address aboard the SS. Celtic on December 5, 1912. When the podcast was first live, it was exciting to hear the talks read aloud on the same day as He had given them, 100 years before, but listening to the podcasts in sequence at any time is still thrilling.

In participating in this project, two things stood out to me then and continue to astonish me. For one, there is a wealth of information at our disposal about the early Western Baha’is and about Abdu’l-Baha’s travels. There are books of His talks, biographies of those who met Him, books that gather together newspaper clippings from His journeys, and so on. Many of these sources informed the podcast and the articles on the website but there is so much out there to discover. There was a small flourishing of new books about Abdu’l-Baha in honor of the centenary of His travels and so there are now even more materials at our disposal! What is also remarkable when you listen to the podcasts and follow His journeys chronologically is that you can’t help but be in awe of how much Abdu’l-Baha did during His travels. His tireless efforts to touch hearts, to speak to groups large and small, and to lovingly educate those in His presence — whether it was a lesson in how to pray, or a gesture of racial equality by asking an uninvited African American Baha’i to sit by His side as His guest of honour — the podcast gives you a faint but broad sense of the immensity and scope of what Abdu’l-Baha accomplished.

In describing His journeys, the Universal House of Justice wrote:

The words uttered by Abdu’l-Baha during His travels, and the deeds He undertook with such consummate wisdom and love, offer an abundance of inspiration and manifold insights from which the body of the believers can today draw, whether in their efforts to embrace receptive souls, to raise capacity for service, to build local communities, to strengthen institutions, or to exploit opportunities emerging to engage in social action and contribute to public discourse. We should, therefore, reflect not only upon what the Master achieved and set in motion but also on the work that remains undone to which He has summoned us.

I hope this article might entice you to check out the podcast series and to listen to Abdu’l-Baha’s journeys brought to life and to hear some of His talks read out loud.

All episodes of The Journey West can be listened to and/or downloaded here: soundcloud.com/bahai-blog/sets/the-journey-west-podcast

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

The Social Impact of Prayer Gatherings

Baha'i Teachings.org - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 10:00am

As our global culture becomes more focused on the material aspects of life, we can easily forget our spirituality, and our relationships with each other suffer as a result. After...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

No One Knows When Their End Will Come

Baha'i Teachings.org - Tue, 12/04/2018 - 8:00am

Certainly you’ve heard this inescapable truth before: “No one knows when their end will come.” Some die young, even as babies, children or youth. Some live to be older, some...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

The Power of Art to Transform Souls and Society

Baha'i Teachings.org - Mon, 12/03/2018 - 10:00am

The Baha’i teachings ask everyone to appreciate the “true worth of artists and craftsmen” because they cause human progress: … the true worth of artists and craftsmen should be appreciated,...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Can You Really Learn a Religion Online?

Baha'i Teachings.org - Mon, 12/03/2018 - 8:00am

I shocked and amused my high school classmates when I told them, at age 17, that the main sources of information for my new religion were all on the internet....

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Seeking a State of Heaven: A Book About the German Templers by Carolyn Sparey Fox

Baha'i Blog - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 2:46pm

Carolyn Sparey Fox’s newest book is titled Seeking a State of Heaven and it tells the story of the German Templers who settled at the foot of Mount Carmel beneath the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel.

Their avenue of homes has become an iconic landmark of Haifa and for Baha’is they have become symbolic of those who are searching and yearning to hear about Baha’u’llah’s teachings of unity, equality and oneness. To be honest, that’s the extent of my knowledge of the German Templers so my curiosity was definitely piqued when I learned that a book about them has been written.

It was great to catch up with Carolyn Sparey Fox, who I had interviewed before, about her latest book. Here’s what she shared with me:

 Baha’i Blog: What was the inspiration for putting this book together?

Since writing my first book, The Half of it was Never Told, many Baha’is have spoken to me about the German Templers, wrongly believing that they settled at the foot of Mount Carmel because they believed that the return of Christ was about to take place there. I knew that this wasn’t entirely correct, but I didn’t really have the answer, so I started doing some research — it turns out that the Templers initially called themselves “Friends of Jerusalem” and Jerusalem was actually the focus, the goal of the German Templers’ spiritual journey, not Haifa. Initially my plan was to come up with a few sentences, but as I read more and more my sentences became paragraphs, my paragraphs became chapters, and before I knew it I was launched into writing a book, which describes all about how the Templers ended up in Haifa, instead of Jerusalem.

I was also fascinated by the connection between the German Templers in Haifa and the Baha’is living in Akka, and latterly Haifa. Abdu’l-Baha knew several of the Templers personally of course, and Baha’u’llah actually wrote a Tablet to David Hardegg, one of the two men who were behind the creation of the Templers.

Baha’i Blog: What was something you learned during the process of writing this book that you cherish?

Author Carolyn Sparey Fox

It was a real eye opener for me to discover how widespread Adventism was during the 19th century (not to be confused with 7th Day Adventism of course). I already knew that it was a big movement, but it wasn’t until I really got into the business of writing this latest book that I realised just how massive it was. It was humbling really. So many people believed so strongly that the return of Christ was imminent, and they really put their personal lives on hold in order to follow their dream.

Baha’i Blog: What was a challenge you had to overcome in the process of putting this book together?

Patience!! I managed to make contact with a lovely Templer living in Australia, who offered to send me an in-depth history of the Templers which had been translated from German into English. He told me that there were dozens of copies and that he was happy to send me one for nothing! I was thrilled, and really keen to get my hands on it as soon as possible, but since he sent it by sea it took over two months to reach me here in Scotland, by which time I was just about giving up hope. But it was certainly worth the wait.

Baha’i Blog: How has writing this book changed you?

There’s no easy answer to this. In one way it hasn’t changed me at all, because my first book, The Half of it was Never Told, had already put me on the map as someone with in-depth knowledge on 19th Century Adventism. In another way it has changed me, because it’s given me even more enthusiasm for the subject, which I’m still researching.

Baha’i Blog: What do you hope others will take away from this book?

I’m hoping that Baha’is who visit Haifa on pilgrimage will finally have a true understanding of the German Templers who built their homes at the base of Mount Carmel. I also hope that anyone reading the book will be inspired by the extraordinary spirit of those intrepid Templers who gave up their country and their comforts in order to travel to a virtually unknown country and culture in order to follow a deep spiritual conviction.

Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Carolyn, for discussing your new book with us!

You can purchase a copy of Seeking a State of Heaven here on Amazon.

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Remembering Abdu’l-Baha’s Call For Unity, a Century After World War I

Baha'i Teachings.org - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 10:01am

Baha’is recently commemorated the Day of the Covenant, a day dedicated to the remembrance of Abdu’l-Baha’s unique station in Baha’i history. A century after the end of World War I—the...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

How to Feed Your Soul’s Hunger

Baha'i Teachings.org - Sun, 12/02/2018 - 8:00am

When you search for something new—a new belief system, a new set of values or new moral principles—you feed a powerful hunger in yourself and in the world. This kind...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

What Praying in a Group Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Baha'i Teachings.org - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 10:00am

Have you ever gotten together with people from other faith traditions to pray? It can have a powerful and even transformative impact on your life. Interfaith prayer gatherings help people...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Why I Don’t Regret My Life’s Mistakes

Baha'i Teachings.org - Sat, 12/01/2018 - 8:00am

Have you ever made mistakes in life—mistakes that affected your future and other people’s futures, too? I know I have. Those mistakes have now become part of my baggage for...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Patriotism, Race and Politics: Do They Really Keep Us Together?

Baha'i Teachings.org - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 10:00am

When you say “My country,” it means more than just the name of a nation—it has emotional resonance in our hearts. It means the place you live, its boundaries, its...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

Is Voting Enough? What You Can Do to Improve Society

Baha'i Teachings.org - Fri, 11/30/2018 - 8:00am

Prior to the recent midterm election, my social media pages were flooded with get-out-the-vote promotions. Everyone and their mom seemed to encourage, beg, or sometimes bully, each other to get...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

“What I Saw of Abdu’l-Baha”: Vignettes by Laura Barney

Baha'i Blog - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 12:44pm

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. She lived for months at a time in Abdu’l-Baha’s household—a “village” bustling with Baha’is of all ages, as she fondly recalls—from 1904 to 1906, when she compiled Some Answered Questions. During these Akka sojourns, she had many opportunities to interact with and observe Abdu’l-Baha.

“It is not what I think [that] is of much importance but what I saw…of the characteristics and habits of Abdu’l-Baha,” she tells her New York audience. One attendee has a pen poised above a stack of lined paper, ready to transcribe Barney’s words. Thanks to this unnamed scribe, we have a record of Barney’s comments that day. For this post, passages have been arranged by topic: first, anecdotes of Abdu’l-Baha; second, reminiscences of life in His household; and third, reflections on His attributes and guidance. These excerpts have been lightly edited for readability. 

STORIES OF ABDU’L-BAHA The Solomon of Akka

As to Abdu’l-Baha Himself, it is very difficult to describe Him owing to His diversity—so many aspects. Perhaps I had better give you the view as to how outsiders look upon and think of Him.

All around the surrounding country of Akka He is known as Abbas Effendi. They look upon Him as a very wise man, likening Him to Solomon. They come to Him for advice and many difficult questions are put before Him for solution. They all trust Him, and even though He is a prisoner, the Governor himself has come to Him for comfort and consultation. He is felt to be a wise and remarkable saint. He is extraordinary in His dealings with the poor, being their best friend.

A Prisoner’s Outing

The Governor one day asked Him to go on an outing. He complied with this wish, but all during the outing, He was calm and meditative. Finally He spoke and said, “This outward prison is of no importance. It is the prison of self from which we must be free.” The prisoner in this case was more powerful than the Governor, as the Governor had really to request the Prisoner to go out of the prison.

A Troubled Governor

Once a governor was there who insisted on being bribed to permit the Master’s friends to visit Him. Yet the Master refused to pay these bribes. He never bribed any one. Shortly after, this governor was sent away and became disgraced and in trouble. Then did the Master—when all other men had left the governor to [fend] for himself—send the exact sum of money to him.

Abdu’l-Baha’s Belongings

A large basket of fruit being sent to Him passed through the Custom House and came to the household half empty. He questioned, “How comes this?” The reply was that the officers helped themselves freely in the Custom House. He frowned for a moment, then His face lit up with a smile, and He said, “Did they do this secretly? Then they should be punished, yet did they do it openly. Bravo, for those things that belong to Abdu’l-Baha belong to all men.”

Compassion for the Sorrowful

I remember one day He came in for lunch, looking weary and grieved. After a few moments, we asked, had anything happened? Could we send a message to any one?

Then He related a heartbreaking experience which he had gone through that day. How He had been passing the barracks where they were enlisting soldiers. How a father and mother were bitterly weeping over the enlistment by the government of their only son. They had no other consolation but the love of God…

Abdu’l-Baha realizes the difficult position people pass through. He has a heart filled with love for humanity and realizes the necessity of peace in the hearts of the people.

LIFE IN ABDU’L-BAHA’S HOUSEHOLD Welcoming Pilgrims

When a pilgrim goes to Akka, Abdu’l-Baha knows his true condition, but He does not judge by the outward expression but judges by their inward self. He seems to know intimately the action of their secret minds.

One of the questions is after personal welfare: “Are you happy and have you rested?” He has this kindly greeting for everyone.

Exemplar for the Baha’i World

Akka is the center of the world. It is the place of meeting for all pilgrims. Many of my dearest friends are pilgrims. Many of my dearest friends are people I have met there, Muhammadans, Jews, Zoroastrians, etc. Not only there do we feel that bond of unity. It is everywhere we meet the Baha’is. They are all connected with one another and like one great happy family.

This bond of sympathy creates beautiful actions and it is really wonderful what we can accomplish in this world.

Abdu’l-Baha is wonderful in His example. He displays two principles which are very powerful. They are toleration and vigilance… We must be tolerant to all mankind and vigilant not to harm.

ABDU’L-BAHA’S ATTRIBUTES AND GUIDANCE Love for Humanity

His life of activity is remarkable. There is never any great haste. Everything seems to be well balanced. His idea is that anything begun should be finished with the same pains as when the undertaking was started.

His interest in all of us is one of wonderful insight. He seems to focus all that is in us so that we are a mirror to Him.

It is almost a miracle how He reads and understands all letters written to Him and how He answers all according to their needs. Everyone is carefully considered and yet everyone receives that which they long for.

What pains in detail He takes for those that love and come to Him. It is the principle that Baha’u’llah taught, the force of love. … It depends on us to love Him. When He spreads the love of God, it falls upon this universe, and everything takes that love differently. It all depends how we accept that love.

Reliance on God

As the Centre of the Covenant, His station is humility. He would be a brilliant being in any walk of life and would have made a success in any material undertaking because He depends wholly upon that force which is of God.

Imagine a pool of water: not connecting with any other water, it soon becomes stagnant, but when connected with the ocean itself, it remains always pure. So it is with us. We must be connected with God and always fill that Connection, and then we will always be attuned with the infinite.

Patient Guidance

Abdu’l-Baha is sensitive and poetical in the midst of all this activity. When He is about to answer a question He is calm and meditative, and seems to be looking out on nature. He seems to forget your presence, and by and by when He answers, all that which seemed difficult for you to comprehend becomes easy to understand. All mysteries are imparted unto you.

Vision for America

Abdu’l-Baha says of the various groups and masses in America that their true state of understanding the real brotherhood of man will be accomplished through our efforts, as we continually grow in the love of Baha’u’llah. Then we will be able to reach these great masses, and will altogether through His love and thoughts of Him grow and grow until love becomes universal.

The transcript of this talk is held in the US National Baha’i Archives. You can learn more about Laura Barney’s writings from my article in the Journal of Baha’i Studies (which you can access here).

 

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

How Interfaith Prayer Gatherings are Changing Communities

Baha'i Teachings.org - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 11:00am

All around the world, neighbors, families and groups of friends gather in different spaces to pray together—regardless of their religion, race, nationality or background. In the global Baha’i community, we’re...

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

How to Go Beyond Simply Being a Good Person

Baha'i Teachings.org - Thu, 11/29/2018 - 8:00am

We would all like to be fully mature beings, but humans develop slowly—after we’re born, it takes at least a decade and a half for us to reach physical maturity....

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Categories: Bahá'í Blogs

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