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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The beauty of diversity. The diversity of beauty.

A diverse and beautiful little garden at the bottom of the Baha'i terraces on Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel
 This evening we had a devotional gathering at our home. We do this twice a month, and so far it has been a women's devotional gathering. We have a different theme every month, and we choose readings from the Baha'i writings and elsewhere that communicate our theme. We share readings and some prayers, and then we open the circle to discussion of the readings, and also ask if anyone brought anything to share that is inspired by the theme. Sometimes people share art. Sometimes music. Sometimes poetry or a story. Tonight our theme was beauty, and the readings were spectacularly beautiful. I will share two of my favourites here:

"Then will aggression crumble away, and all that maketh for disunity be destroyed, and the structure of oneness be raised--that the Blessed Tree may cast its shade over east and west, and the Tabernacle of the singleness of man be set up on the high summits, and flags that betoken love and fellowship flutter from their staffs around the world until the sea of truth lift high its waves, and earth bring forth the roses and sweet herbs of blessings without end, and become from pole to pole the Abha Paradise." -'Abdu'l-Baha

Here is the second reading that I loved:

"O Thou Compassionate God! Bestow upon me a heart, which like unto a glass, may be illumined with the light of Thy love, and confer upon me thoughts which may change this world into a rose-garden through the spiritual bounty. Thou art the Compassionate, the Merciful! Thou art the Great beneficent God!" -'Abdu'l-Baha

You are going to have to use your excellent powers of imagination to visualize the beautiful borders that surrounded these quotes. The women who prepared the readings for tonight's devotional took great care that the presentation of the readings, as well as the words themselves, was beautiful. Each quote was printed on a separate card, and each one had a unique, decorative border. We also had music throughout the program, and live piano at the end.

Another thing that made our "women's devotional" gathering beautiful tonight was the presence of two men! What started off as a mis-communication, led to a man who lives in our neighbourhood turning up at our thus far women's gathering! We used his presence as an excuse to get my father out of his music studio and into the gathering with us. Initially I could tell that a few of us were not sure how this was going to turn out, and whether we would prefer the atmosphere that having a gathering of women created, but as soon as we started, it became quite clear that this was going to be a wonderful evening, and that the presence of two men was going to make it far more beautiful than if it had just been us ladies!

After reading our quotes, we started talking about the ways in which beauty is manifested in the world. I talked about farming and gardening, and the beauty in diversity found in a garden. Cesar, the fellow who joined us this evening, talked about diversity in humanity, and how beautiful the idea of being able to come together despite all of our differences, and work towards common goals together was to him. Jess, a young woman who just started community college, talked about the beauty she sees in nature, and how it is the beauty that is untamed, unaltered, and often kind of unexpected and imperfect that attracts her. Pat, another friend, shared the idea that virtues like love and compassion and joy are like magnets, attracting people towards them, and how beautiful people are when they are practicing virtues in their lives. My dad mentioned how virtues are like an international language that work in every culture. He gave the example of patience, and said that patience is patience in North America, Japan, India, South Africa...spiritual virtues are like a common currency because they speak to us at the level of the soul, which we all share in common.

At the end of the night my dad was coerced into playing an original composition that he had written on the piano, which, of course, was a truly sublime way to end the devotional portion of the evening! He told us, when he finished playing, that he had been at a Baha'i house of worship in Germany many years ago, and fog had been settling all around the building he was in, and how beautiful it was to watch how it covered and then uncovered the landscape, trees and people outside. Just as he was having that thought, he noticed that there was a piano sitting in front of him, and so he sat down at it and composed the song that he played for us tonight. The story made us all smile, because it left very little doubt about the fact that this song was intended to be written. Cesar was especially moved, and mentioned how well the melody captured the magical sensation of fog moving in over the landscape. I have heard my father play this song many times, but I had never heard the accompanying story about how it was composed.

Our lively discussion continued after the closing music, into the social time. We enjoyed cake, cookies and quiche from the Freeport Bakery, and some lovely Darjeeling and apricot black teas that my mom bought today at Tea Cozy. It was a superb evening.

I am sitting here now thinking how invigorating it is to come together and share spiritually inspiring readings, reflections and discussion. How refreshing it is to engage with a group of people at such a deep level, and how centering a gathering around such depth of connection creates such an inspiring spirit of community and joy. I have been having a really tough week, and feeling very isolated and disconnected from community, but our devotional tonight gave me the gift of community and friendship. I am feeling grateful for this beautiful evening, and looking forward to our next devotional gathering, which will be on the theme of hope. I suggested hope because, having been in Canada for the past six years, I always found February to be the toughest month, because it felt like winter was never going to end. Here the idea of mid-winter depression makes me smile, because the weather is so mild, but the Californians in the group nodded knowingly at the idea that we were in the heart of winter, and how far off spring seemed, so even though it feels like winter has not started to me, the theme seemed to resonate for them also. I guess our experience is all relative to what we are used to.

Another thing I am thinking about is how happy I am that we had the men join us this evening. It added so much unexpected beauty to the evening. I loved how flexible and open the women were to having our group change shape for the night, and I am kinda hoping the gentlemen join us again next time!

What do you associate beauty with? What in your life is an expression of beauty? How do you nurture beauty in your surroundings and relationships?

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