Ontario’s Virtual Baha’i Summer School: Fellowship, Music and Reflecting on the Life of the Master

Written by Emma Persaud

From Friday, the 20th of August until Sunday the 22nd, people gathered in various groups across the province for a summer school. The focus was on making plans and laying the foundation for the Nine Year Plan to come. A special session was held on the first evening, with Dr. Firaydoun Javaheri, former member of the Universal House of Justice, who shared insights into this special moment in humanity’s collective history. This session was attended by over 300 individuals, many of whom remained connected with others over Zoom, or consulted in their family or teaching group over the course of the weekend. A few families even managed to come together at the Bethany Bahá’i Centre of Learning and at Shining Lamp Baha’i School, north of Marmora, to share in the experience of an all-ages seasonal school that focused on enriching the community-building process underway across Ontario.

With Shabnam Tashakour as the main facilitator, the participants explored the power of the Covenant in the community-building process. The Covenant is the promise between God and humanity, that God continues to guide humanity through Divine Messengers, as humanity strives to live in accordance with God’s Teachings. This Covenant can be understood through reflecting on the life of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. By striving to live a life like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s, Shabnam explained, we are able to see how to live according to God’s teachings. The group looked at a series of quotations and guidance that showed how the Covenant is the centre around which humanity flows and its influence is felt at every level of society. Individuals shared about their own relationship with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as the Centre of the Covenant and how He has reshaped our understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. Many of the participant’s comments were captured on the website Padlet, which was used to help participants reflect throughout the weekend.

Through all-ages sessions led by Tahirih Naylor, Brooke Talisman, Nancy Minden and David Honsberger, participants were able to take inspiration from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s daily life and teachings to plan their own activities. Participants delved into what it means to see one’s family as a teaching team that can gather, reflect and develop plans to better their community. Over the course of the weekend, groups made concrete plans rooted in a growing understanding of the role they play in bringing their friends closer to the community-building process underway. 

Stratford’s rap musician and teacher Karim Rushdy guided everyone in a music-making workshop that allowed people to creatively express what they had learned at the school. He left everyone with an important message: to leave criticism at the door and focus on meeting goals with a spirit of love and enthusiasm. This idea continued to affect people as they made their plans together. People left the school prepared to enter their community with purpose and the support of their friends and family members.

A unique session about the Huququ’llah took place on the final morning of the school. Huququ’llah is a spiritual law that allows for prosperity for all, it invites Bahá’ís to sacrificially offer a portion of their excess wealth for the wellbeing of humanity and as such, invites profound reflection on one’s means and capacity to give. This year, stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and a few early believers were presented by five storytellers, offering examples of incredible generosity and sacrifice. The creative approach to storytelling was greatly appreciated by participants and provided examples of those qualities that we can apply in our everyday lives and as we strive to learn more about spiritual dimensions of the law of Huququ’llah. The early believers in the stories demonstrated such exact obedience and sacrificial generosity. For example, Thomas Breakwell obeyed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá immediately by resigning from his position at a company where child labour was employed, and also became the first believer in the West to pay Huququ’llah. For the rest of his life he lived in humble circumstances, but in a state of material and spiritual purity, thanks to his obedience to the Master. 

Families gathered together to enjoy the seasonal school virtually and participate in activities alongside one another

Despite the necessity of holding an online school due to Covid-19, the three components of a seasonal school: recreation, devotions and study were meaningfully integrated. In addition to the rich facilitation and content of the sessions, the school, both online and in-person, was steeped in beautiful devotions and the spirit of fellowship. The conversations that took place between sessions online were evidence of this, and many comments were made by participants expressing their gratitude for the school both during and after the event. 

Get in touch with the neighbourhood team in this story, or share your own learning with Ontario Baha’i here.

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