Saturday, February 16, 2008

What Did We Find?: The DayFinders Conference

The weekend conference for Baha'is of African Descent with the mysterious name "DayFinders" has come and gone. On Friday evening a large number of the participants arrived from far and near even as far away as Mexico. We kept it simple and prayed it up for about an hour or so and the Holy Spirit was definitely in the house. On Saturday morning we prayed some more and then started with introductions, people saying who they were, where they were from and why they came to the conference. The simple exercise quickly took on a testimonial tone as people shared their hearts desires in space of safety, the kind of space so rare in our lives as black Americans. After the introductions we participated in an experiential session where the participants wrote down the challenges they faced in their lives relative to their race on strips of paper that were linked together in chains that the participants had to wear. The prospect of putting on those chains evoked strong feelings especially once they were told that they would have to wear the chains to lunch! Gladly every one demonstrated great courage and did it anyway. Seeing all these black people walking around in chains was enough to make you have to sit and think a bit. After lunch several of the group were linked together with larger chains and then made to march in a circle as one of the women chanted a prayer. Talk about cryin' me a river. There was not a dry eye in the joint. When you thought it couldn't get any deeper, everyone then took off their chains and placed them around a portrait of 'Abdu'l-Baha, symbolically offering their burdens to him. Folks, you had to see this with your own eyes to grasp what went down. The next part of the day was a presentation on key portions of a Letter from the Universal House of Justice commenting on the destiny of black Americans. If you haven't read this letter, you need to do so immediately whatever your race and whether you are a Baha'i or not. The presenter helped us to focus our attention on the specific things that we were being called to do in the world as black folk. It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the Universal House of Justice:

"At this exact time in history when the peoples of the world are weighed down with soul-crushing difficulties and the shadow of despair threatens to eclipse the light of hope, there must be revived among the individual believers a sense of mission, a feeling of empowerment to minister to the urgent need of humanity for guidance and thus to win victories for the Faith in their own sphere of life."
(The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)

After the presentation we broke the participants into small groups whose task was to use the letter as a way of "acting out" some of the challenges that they face in their local communities. The idea was to act out a scenario as if they had not yet read the letter and then act it out again with the letter as a guide to what they should do in such situations. Participants studied the letter in their small groups and engaged in deep reflections about its contents before putting together their skits. On Saturday night all six groups presented. The things that they came up with were totally brilliant and painfully hilarious. After the heavy nature of the chain exercise, to hear so much laughter was healing for the soul. The skits prompted some vigorous consultation about promoting the maturation of our Baha'i communities regarding racial unity and justice while effectively reaching larger numbers of black Americans who may be receptive to the Baha'i teachings. Finally on Sunday we welcomed a few guests to pray with us and pretty much prayed the roof right off the place! People, the joint was jumpin'. As we moved toward the end of the weekend we continued consulting about the importance of a systematic, collective effort to make our faith accessible to people of African descent who are seeking a spiritual home for themselves and their families. We talked about the need to overcome the geographical and spiritual isolation that many of us feel in our local communities. Most of all we reminded each other of the need to balance a pragmatic view of the challenges we face with reliance on the Divine Assistance promised to us by Baha'u'llah. As one of the crew who helped organize the weekend the biggest lesson for me was the importance of creating these kinds of forums for black Baha'is everywhere. I urge any Baha'i of African descent reading this to get other black Baha'is together even if only for an evening. Study the June 3rd letter, pray, consult and love each other up! Don't wait for someone else to come and do it for you. As Bob Marley would put it "Get Up, Stand Up!". It's time to CLAIM. YOUR. DESTINY.

"Now is the time to serve, now is the time to be on fire. Know ye the value of this chance, this favourable juncture that is limitless grace, ere it slip from your hands. Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty-handed, into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more; wherefore must we bind our hearts to the manifest Beauty, and cling to the lifeline that faileth never. We must gird ourselves for service, kindle love's flame, and burn away in its heat. We must loose our tongues till we set the wide world's heart afire, and with bright rays of guidance blot out the armies of the night, and then, for His sake, on the field of sacrifice, fling down our lives. Thus let us scatter over every people the treasured gems of the recognition of God, and with the decisive blade of the tongue, and the sure arrows of knowledge, let us defeat the hosts of self and passion, and hasten onward to the site of martyrdom, to the place where we die for the Lord. And then, with flying flags, and to the beat of drums, let us pass into the realm of the All-Glorious, and join the Company on high. Well is it with the doers of great deeds."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 266)