Walking in the Steps of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Sorry everyone! This first post is a long one. I promise the upcoming reflections will be much shorter!
I doubt that I’m walking in the steps of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.I am walking on a path – imagine a path with no end in sight. Somewhere along this path are ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s footsteps. Somewhere along this path, I’m stumbling about, trying to go in a more forward direction than backwards or sideways. If my footsteps could leave marks, they would show a zig zag rather than a straight line.
But I am trying, stumbling and bumbling along, perchance even walking confidently straight at times. And that’s the important thought to remember: I am trying. And I am moving.
I have been excited about being able to arise gallantly to serve as those brave souls in the past have served. We read their stories, we exclaim with delight at their accomplishments, we marvel at their remarkable endurance and outstanding endeavours.
The weeks leading up to my “official” start date, arbitrarily set by myself according to when I can alleviate myself from my work commitments, were fraught with confusion, a bit of worry, excitement, and eager waiting. What to do?
My initial thought was that I would serve alongside groups of others, planning and preparing, studying and consulting, acting and reflecting. I would be asked to go to specific locations and carry out specific tasks. But as the time approached when I had announced that I would be able to join together in service with others, and there were no directions or suggestions being sent my way, I began to realize that those that might provide directions or suggestions were increasingly involved with those blessed souls who had committed to full-time, year-round service. And many others who, like me, had committed to 9-day cycles of service, had made the commitment with a group of others and were already planning, preparing, consulting, and studying together. Then there was me, eagerly waiting. What to do?
It took a while but the realization finally dawned: if I want to gallantly arise to serve, I had best get on with making plans. Nobody is going to do that for me! So much for my original idea of how my service was going to look.
Plan B. Talk to myself: don’t go get all down and disappointed. This is your chance to arise and serve! But how? The answer was staring me in the face but I was busy trying to look around the corner at all the (from my perspective) very interesting activities going on in other places. Then I remembered the story about Grace Robarts Ober. And I realized that I needed to follow ‘Abdu’l- Bahá’s advice given to her. I needed to serve joyfully in whatever capacity I was being called to serve in, even if it felt tedious or not as thrilling as what others were doing.
I came up with a plan that really could have been extremely obvious from the start. But dwelling on that is not useful so I won’t. Instead, I will joyfully proceed with the basics and focus on what we have constantly been asked to do, over and over again through the past several years: working within our neighbourhoods, getting to know those geographically close to us, focusing on what resources are available and what resources need to be developed.
So now I have a plan. I know working with a group of individuals would be far more productive, so I send out some “feelers” to get an idea of anyone else in my area who might like to meet up and say some prayers, discuss, perhaps plan a bit. One person responded and I have an actual activity to put on my calendar! What joy!
I realize that my first day will likely be more of a preparation day rather than a “hit the ground” day, and I remind myself of the story about Grace again. Whatever I do, I will do joyfully. I get up early and change my routine – I want these 9 days to be different. I read a prayer and illustrate what comes to mind as I meditate on its meaning. I walk my dog and enjoy the warm morning’s sun. I say prayers for a dear friend in need of healing. I eat breakfast, drink coffee, and allow myself some time to sit and relax. I read a story about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and say more prayers. Then a few text messages come from others asking to meet up for a variety of reasons over the next couple of days. More activities to get on the calendar!
Another individual arising to serve during the One Year Plan asks to study a Ruhi book so we set up a time to meet. As I prepare for her visit, I reflect on the story I read about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá dealing with the “tedious duties” so His Father could take care of the more important matters. I think of Grace and clean my house…joyfully!
My friend and I have a great time, catching up on news, chatting about all types of subjects, including the needs of the Faith, studying the Ruhi book and making plans as to how we can complete as much of the book as possible over the 9 days I have set aside for service. After she leaves, I arrange to meet with two other individuals in a few days. Now I have lots of activities on my calendar, and I’m beginning to get worried about having the ability to get them all done calmly (and joyfully!).
I still have some lingering work commitments so the day ends with my taking care of the last of those. As I’m winding down a reasonably busy day, that didn’t involve a lot of “field work” but more “planning and organizing work”, a crown falls off one of my teeth. Luckily, there’s no pain associated with the mishap. And even though it is late, I take the time to reflect on my day’s activities, typing my thoughts as I stare at the crown sitting on my keyboard. Tomorrow is a day that has a lot of activities reasonably close together, each one an important element of my service plans. And I have a missing crown that will need attention.
Reflecting back on the story I read about ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the thought arises: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá illustrated clearly and continuously how it was possible to put into practice lofty spiritual ideals regardless of the circumstance He was put into, which were far more difficult than the inconvenience of a crown falling out.
I will retire to bed knowing that I am part of the many innumerable others who have arisen during this plan to gallantly serve, joyfully and regardless of circumstances, to answer the call of our Beloved at this time. And that service can encompass something as tedious as vacuuming; as inconvenient as dealing with an emergency dental appointment; as simple as counting books and adding numbers; as basic as praying, meditating, and reflecting on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s life; as joyful as eating peaches with a friend; as exciting as making plans with others, whether that involves simply enjoying their company, delivering resources so they can carry out their service plans, or studying together to better serve; as routine as walking my dog or making supper for my son and I; and even something as unique, but ultimately necessary, as reflecting and recording the feelings, thoughts, and events of the day.
I have moved along the path.