Partying with the Baha’is

The “Most Great Festival” of the world-wide community of members of the Bahá’í Faith is underway. It is called “Ridván”, an Arabic word meaning “paradise”, which is pronounced several different ways depending on one’s origins and one’s ability to get tongue and lips organized. (My Canadian mouth manages something like ‘Rez-VAWN’.) It’s a 12-day period that contains several major celebrations of the public declaration of the Faith’s founder, Bahá’u’lláh, in a Baghdad garden in 1863. His exile from Persia was just about to be extended farther to penal colonies of the Turkish Empire.

Here’s the thing that has always fascinated me about this whole celebration. Do you know how the Bahá’ís kick off their biggest annual wing-ding? They hold their local and national elections. Oh, there is feasting, song and dance and drama and generally boat-loads of roses and other beauties, but a sacred kind of voting is how it all begins. This might have been my first clue that the community was organized a little differently: they love their elections. No lie: I genuinely look forward to this process every year, because it is one that induces hope, requires prayer, deepens friendships and forms the basis of an entirely radical, completely new way of organizing human affairs. A Boston-area believer named Philippe Copeland writes about it very well here, if you’re interested. (He starts with the menu for his local gathering – mmm! – but then gets on to a good description of how one community does it, and the principles on which it’s based. Cool.)

In Ottawa, and around the world, they gathered to select the nine members of the Spiritual Assembly. There were no campaign slogans or placards, not even any nominations, for heaven’s sake. Just this, among many other calls to an electoral process that is oddly simple but incredibly profound: “Consider, without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.” So we did. And so it begins, and can you wonder why I love spring?

In the rose garden of changeless splendour and in my home and adopted towns, and yours, too a flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither…

The best of the season to you.

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