A Tutor Reflects: Robot Competitions and Spiritual Perception in London

“Consort with all men, O people of Bahá, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and good-will. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained.”

-Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

Written by Eric Kianfar

Rain is an international student who, while attending secondary school here in London,  stumbled upon a Bahá’í text in her host family’s home. Over a short period of time, she became enamored with the Faith and eventually enrolled into the Bahá’í community. The following is a narrative of how our paths crossed.

One day in early spring of 2018, I was leaving the house to attend my weekly study circle of Ruhi Book 2: Arising to Serve, in which I acted as tutor. However, that week, not all participants were able to attend and our session was postponed. In consultation with one of the available participants, we decided to spend the evening home visiting another participant, who had missed a previous session. It turned out that the participant we were home visiting had two international students, Rain and her friend, as homestays in her home.

Our conversation focused on the theme of unity in the community. During this time, Rain and her friend were listening in the adjoining room and eventually asked if they could join us. They were welcomed to participate, but I noticed my own feelings of hesitation about bringing a new participant through these specific sections of Book 2. I decided to let go of all reservations and embrace her participation in the space.

As soon as we finished our study for the evening, the two homestays, who had heard about the Bahá’í Faith previously, asked: “Can you do this for us and our friends? There are six of us and we have been eager to find a tutor for four months…”

Oh, how the forces of society train our minds to put up barriers! My first thoughts were an account of my many limitations, existing commitments and time constraints. Then I noticed the words ‘four months’ ringing repeatedly through my mind, and new thoughts came to replace the old ones. In a community that has grown so much, how could a group of six youth be seeking a tutor for four months? How could any one soul seeking assistance to investigate the Revelation of Bahá’u’llah be left unassisted? How could I possibly decline their request to accompany them through their study?

The following week, I was waiting to welcome six new friends into my home for a six-hour session beginning Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. Two of them were barely acquaintances and the other four were complete strangers. I had feelings of nervousness, but I found comfort in the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, a quote I had memorized from Book 6: 

“O thou lamp who art enkindled with the fire of the Love of God! Verily, I read thy recent letter which showed thy strong love, thy being ablaze with the fire of the love of thy Lord, the Mighty, the Praised, and the penetration of the Spirit of Truth in thy limbs, nerves, veins, arteries, bones, blood and flesh, until it hath taken the reins of power from thy hands and moveth thee as it willeth, causeth thee to speak in what it willeth and attracteth thee as it willeth.”[1]

Through the love of God, all concerns about finishing the unit in time, all hesitations about teaching strangers about our spiritual reality and the power of prayer–all these weighty feelings fell away. Our study was rich, they all left holding new copies of The Hidden Words, and we became fast friends.

A person taking notes as they study (unsplash)

When they returned the following week, I asked one of them, “Have you had the chance to read The Hidden Words?” She said yes and proceeded to pull out her copy. Where a week before it had been new, it now appeared to have aged a hundred years! She proceeded to flip the pages of the book and said: “…A LOT. And I have many questions…” As the pages flipped in her hands, I noted they were marked to the edges with notes. 

The next month and a half were filled with prayers, dinners, studies, visits, and fun. Our sessions began to extend into dinner time and we came to enjoy our on-going discussions and strengthen our camaraderie. Our friendship was extended to other spaces and common interests as well.

The Robot Competition in London, where those from the study circle were able to encourage one another.

Shortly before their school term was complete, I was going through a professional certification course as they were competing in a series of regional robotics competitions through their school. It just so happened that my licencing exam was scheduled at the exact same time and place of their robotics tournament in town. Upon completing my exam, I rushed over to the stadium where I sat amongst the crowd to watch them compete. As the robots were retrieving and collecting basketballs tossed around the court, I felt a tap on my shoulder; two of the friends were inviting me to come down into the pit where they were performing last minute adjustments to their robot. They asked me how my exam went and some shared that they had said prayers for my success. 

We managed to complete Book 1 before they returned to their home country for the summer. In her goodbye card, Rain wrote, “It’s actually very sad for me to write this card since I know once I give it to you, we will have a long time where we do not meet each other. But, just like the Revelation refers to, the relationship and connection will last forever.”

A drawing made by one of the study circle participants.

As I write this, two years have passed since I met Rain. Three of the six participants returned to Ontario for post-secondary school, and we remain in contact with the others through a messaging group. Not all the friends advanced at the same pace, but all clearly were motivated by understanding, which as Book 7 teaches us, is the primary motivator.

Those that did return continued to study Book 2.  They have also held a public information gathering in the community about the role of religion in education, with some fifty friends in attendance, drawing on quotes from the Bahá’í Writings. Rain is on fire with the love of God, sharing concepts with new friends and inviting them to join our Tuesday-night study circles. Another participant is connected with a local children’s class, and building her capacity as a children’s class teacher through studying Ruhi Book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes. One of the participants who returned to her home country has connected with the Bahá’í International Community.  She is also part of a teaching team there and is beginning to serve as a children’s class teacher.

As we prepared to depart to various corners of the globe, we reflected on the power of memorization throughout our study and how it also shaped our connection with one another. We noticed that committing these passages to memory was developing our spiritual perception and faculties. Perhaps in the same way they had built their robots, it seemed we were building a spiritual house of sorts, collectively using our imagination and memory. We each contributed to its construction: the colour, the architecture and the surrounding verdure. We realized that we share this memory and can visit it together. 

Throughout our friendship, I’ve often reflected on how spiritual perception is enhanced through the power of the Word of God. Each of us enters into the main sequence of courses as active participants, with a trust that the content will guide us in building our capacity to deepen our understanding and effectively transform society. And I think, what if we had had the four additional months together when they had been looking for a tutor? What if we had decided to take the night off that night when our Book 2 study circle was postponed? What if they had not been welcomed to join in our Book 2? What if I had declined their request to act as a tutor because I was busy? How many more friends might be invited to walk with us in service and learning as our spiritual perception grows?

[1] Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Abbas

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