a fire but no owie at the baha’i conference

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Sunrise over Green Lake, 25 August 2012

I snapped this photo of an early morning sunrise over Green Lake as I found myself up early on a Saturday morning with nothing to do but reflect.

There has been a lot for me to reflect on and think about as I’ve made efforts to toss aside what has been unhealthy for me or an obstacle to my growth and goals, and focus just on that which is important to me.

One of those efforts has been to re-establish my relationship with the Bahá’í Faith, which got neglected somewhat during the previous crazy year of me working full-time while attending school part-time.  Hence I found myself at a retreat center about one and a half hours northeast of me with perhaps thousands of Bahá’ís.

I’ve never been fanatical about religion.  Actually, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it.  I have always been grateful to the Madison Bahá’í community for accepting me who I am rather than attempting to change me in a certain way.  After dealing with some rather scary people in ministerial positions in my previous spiritual path, a religion that has eliminated clergy is a breath of fresh air to me.

Nevertheless, I still get a little sick to my stomach when I hear people talk about being spiritually “on fire.”  That’s because I’ve been burned before.  And while this wasn’t the first Green Lake Bahá’í Conference I’ve attended, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d like the idea of being “on fire.” After this conference, however, the “fire” feels a lot more like the tranquility of the sun rising over Green Lake on a beautiful morning.

The Faith believes strongly in social justice, but cautions us to avoid partisan politics, and a number of people have different opinions as to how to walk between those lines. One of the keynote speakers at the conference–Michelle Alexander, a Bahá’í and the author of the New York Times best-seller The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness–put social justice front and center on the stage at the conference.  What she talked about will be the subject of a separate post.

Her perspective was different from what I’d heard at other Bahá’í gatherings and I appreciated that.  This surprising diversity also included a workshop entitled “Sharing Baha’u’llah‘s Message through Hip-Hop,” a workshop about the Buddhist concept of the “Middle Way,” workshops about dialogue with Christians and Muslims, a study of the Fire Tablet in the Bahá’í Faith, and other subjects.

The people attending were equally diverse.  I found people who come from a long line of Bahá’ís spanning several generations and those recently declared as Bahá’ís, and others who still struggle with their doubts about the Faith.  People I met included an older Iranian man at the hip-hop workshop with whom I talked about quarter-step tones that are unique to Middle Eastern music; a naturopath who also uses feng-shui and energy healing; and a Bahá’í vendor who seems to share my mischievous streak–among others.  I also had several good conversations with a few African-Americans at the conference about issues of race.

This spiritual boost is just what the doctor ordered.  Ten days after leaving my job, in the midst of significant changes in my life, the timing was perfect.  I feel much more like that sunrise over Green Lake than I have in a long time.  The fire I feel is the fire of God’s loving embrace–so much missing from my previous path, but very much front and center in this path.

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