Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Obedience part 2, and a philosophical exploration on the nature of virtue.

What a great class today! It was a last minute call, it being so close to Christmas and all, but goodness am I glad we met. I love these kids more every week. And watching them gradually start to own this beautiful, amazing, inspiring Faith? Such a gift.

Teaching classes on spiritual qualities (virtues) each week means I have to grapple with their application in my own life if I'm going to have any chance of then translating them for the slightly shorter population. Often I end up feeling like I have less of a handle on the virtue than when we started, but I've come to realize this is actually a good sign. Thinking you have a handle on a spiritual quality? Why not just scream, 'Test me now, God!' Knowing you're one step ahead of clueless? A much safer position.

In thinking about obedience, I kept coming back to Baha'u'llah's words: "Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty." Any parent can testify to the complete futility of trying to coerce your child into doing something they DO NOT want to do. It's hopeless. Without resorting to means we are not proud of. And so I've come to the conclusion that spiritually educating our children boils down to somehow nurturing their own love of God/the Manifestations so that they WANT to obey. Ultimately, we obey because we love. Because we trust that God knows us better than we know ourselves. Loves us better than we love ourselves. And that His (Her) vision of reality encompasses the entire truth and not just our limited and skewed perception of it. Besides, when you love someone so much, is there anything better than pleasing them?

I am certainly not saying I achieve this in our weekly children's class, or even that it is achievable in such an environment. After all, developing a lasting and meaningful relationship with anyone, let alone a Manifestation of God, takes time, dedication, WORK, commitment. I'm just saying that this is what I strive for each week; to create a space in which these children can develop a relationship with their Creator and fall in love a little more each time. Now this seems like a pretty abstract and lofty goal, but for the 3-6 year-old crowd, it boils down to this:

1. Prayer: If you want a relationship to work, you sort of have to talk to each other.
2. Stories: We have been given the most precious gift of Abdu'l-Baha whose life is a perfect example for our own lives. Not only do we learn how to be kind, generous, joyful, patient, etc. through his example, but Abdu'l-Baha is the bridge between us and Baha'u'llah. Getting to know one, brings us that much closer to getting to know the Other.
3. And practicing virtues. Virtues are what animate our every interaction. They are the language of the spirit. When children learn early on to function primarily from their spiritual nature, their default language becomes the language of virtue.

And what a different world we will live in one day when our daily interactions with each other are characterized by love, kindness, justice, compassion, generosity, patience, compassion...

and obedience! To practice following directions this week, we went on a pictorial treasure hunt. I had taken close-up photos of different landmarks around Fellowship House and hidden them at each location. The children received the first picture in the mailbox, and had to consult about where they thought it was. It was just tricky enough that they had to really think and listen to each other.  

Receiving the first picture

Finding the next clue

Searching along the stone wall

Huddling up

Talking it through with Lucie. She figured it out, and called everyone back to point them in the right direction. Love it when the youngers lead the olders. 

Taking turns opening each clue. 

I found it!

The reward: strawberry banana muffins. Jonah declared, "This is the best class EVER!"  

And isn't that what happens in life too? When we obey the laws of God, we are rewarded with blessings and sweetness.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Our new memorization for obedience is:

"Make firm our steps, O Lord, in Thy path and strengthen Thou our hearts in Thine obedience..."

We discussed how Baha'u'llah gives us laws and rules to obey so that we stay safe and happy. Obeying these rules ensures that we stay on the path toward God. Choosing not to obey is like stepping off the path into the wilderness and away from God's protection. God has given us our parents to protect us as well, and we must obey them to be safe and happy.

Do you think maybe Mora was excited to be the mail carrier this week? That face right there makes teaching children's classes SO worth it. 

Stories of Abdu'l-Baha have become a central component of classes this year.  I told the children the story of Lua Getsinger and the poison ivy. Abdu'l-Baha was hosting a unity feast outside of New York City. He had recently asked Lua Getsinger  to go to California without him, but she could not bear the thought of leaving his side. So during the Feast, she snuck out into the woods and walked barefoot through poison ivy. When Juliet Thompson informed him of Lua's condition the next morning, he laughed, handed her an apple and a pomegranate, and told her they would cure Lua. This time, she obediently did as she was told. She did make one more attempt at getting out of the trip, but again Abdu'l-Baha urged her on toward obedience.    

See that? Wrapt attention with only a plastic apple and pomegranate for props. It's all about the dramatic presentation, folks. 

We practiced following directions by getting our yoga on.

butterfly pose

spinal twist

and a final leap frog over to art. 

They illustrated our obedience quotation after a little lecture on the importance of creative, careful work. (ie. no quick scribbling in order to finish as quickly as possible and the run like crazy folk around the room.) 

too funny not to include. 

virtue journals

And, completely coincidentally, pomegranate for snack! (Nice one, Sawka family.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Generosity, part 2

Today we finally used our brains and set the tone of class from the very beginning. Instead of letting the children run circles around the room as soon as they arrive and getting completely ramped up before we expect them to do a 360 and sit down for prayers, we were ready with a few books on the blanket. And what a difference! The children came in, the new procedure was v.e.r.y. c.l.e.a.r.l.y. communicated. A couple times. And then they all sat huddled together in wrapt attention until it was time to begin. The class went far more smoothly, though we are still working toward appropriate behavior during prayers and circle time. 

The children are working on saying individual prayers, even if it is only the first line, and they are certainly gaining confidence in this area. Almost everyone said a prayer today! 

We finished up the virtue of Generosity today by reading Patti Rae Tomarelli's book, Something Important. Maggie's class is asked to bring in a 'memento'- something that is very important to them and tells the class something new about them. She finally decides to bring in her prayer beads and share the gift of Allah'u'abha with her classmates and teacher. Then she shares Allah'u'abha with everyone she sees on the way home, whether they know what it means or not! We talked about how we can share things that we cannot see or touch--like our love, our time, our help, and even a prayer for someone. These can be the most precious gifts of all. 

Then we played a game called "I would like to give this to you" in which we played a song while passing a small gem around the circle. When the music stopped, whoever had the gem chose a friend to give it to and said, "I would like to give this to you!" We continued until everyone had a gem.

For our art project today, we counted out exactly 19 beads and strung them onto pipe cleaners to make prayer beads so we can practice reciting our Allah'u'abhas each day. Back in our circle, we played a variation of "I would like to give this to you," only this time whoever ended up with a set of prayer beads got to keep them (and say 'thank you!' of course.) It was a good lesson in detachment as well as generosity. 

And let's not forget about our class magician! Sisay has been coming at the end of each class and dusting off his magic skills. I'm pretty sure the kids are digging it :)

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Today's class went something like this:

Circle Time
  • Hello song
  • Group prayers 
  • Individual prayers (some of the children have memorized the prayers we have been saying each week and shared those for the first time today!)
We are still memorizing  "Be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity...". Each prayer or quotation that we memorize in class gets added to our prayer tray. The children pick from here or say a prayer by heart during individual prayers:

Mail Time
  • Passed around the 'Gem of Generosity' and read the...ahem...invisible letter (aka Laurel forgot it at home)
  • Made a list on the white board of how God is generous to us (trees, rain, sun, wild animals)
  • Made a list of how we are generous with each other (showing love, donating clothes/ coats to people in need, sharing toys with siblings)

I did a (hopefully) dramatic retelling of the story of Abdu'l-Baha giving cloaks to the poor of Akka. Amazing what a single prop (in this case a piece of silk thrown over the shoulders) and a change in voice somehow creates sacred space around a story. The children went from high energy silliness to wrapt attention:

Before a winter’s cold took hold of ‘Akka, the Master would go to a clothing shop where He would arrange that a number of the poor should come to receive their annual cloaks. He would adjust the garments over some of those poor shoulders. He gave where He felt it was merited and kept a record of the recipients. He did not wish to be abused—but even abuse was known to receive kindness at His generous hands, as has been shown. Small wonder that the Arabs called Him the ‘Lord of Generosity’ and Bahá’ís became ablaze by observing His actions of continuing kindness and loved Him as the Servant of God.
(Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76)


As an extension of the story, the children all had a chance to be tailors and sew their own cloaks. I pre-cut coat shapes, traced them onto scrapbook paper, and poked holes through both layers. The children each got a piece of string taped at one end to create a 'needle' in which to sew their coats onto the paper. Unfortunately, the 'needles' didn't function very well and it was a struggle to keep the children engaged in what they quickly realized was not worth the frustration. Lesson learned: buy enough tapestry needles for each child and poke less holes. They turned out cute nonetheless and each child went home with a copy of the story to share at home.

*Next week please bring in any warm clothes that your children have outgrown and we will donate them to a local thrift store that supports families struggling with cancer.