Archives for category: from the mind

Yestderday I was dealing with a family crisis and didn’t get the chance to write a new blog post, so instead of my regular reflections you get a poem I wrote a month ago. Sorry for the abrupt change of pace, but the blog must go on! #bahaiblogging

Two Reflections on Breath


I hadn’t been to the ocean
in years, didn’t have a reference
to say this is calm or this is wild, I only knew
that it pushed me back to shore
like an angry teenager, I told you get OUT,
and I laughed and punched back
again and again,
because there is such a fierce human pleasure
in fighting without anger, just because
it is difficult, and just because.


Not for nothing you fought,
and not only for your own personhood
—a woman lecturing from behind a curtain—
but because you had seen the ocean of His mercy,
run to the shore, and jumped in.


When my feet danced out from beneath me
and something pulled, I was unafraid,
I knew
I simply had to breathe
out but not in
until my feet were mine again,
until I was cradled again by air and sun and sky.
But my feet were somewhere
just too many inches out to sea
and salt water forced itself into my throat,
and I thought I can’t believe
I am going to be the idiot
who drowns in three feet of water.
This is my unbelieving mind.


And you walked willingly
to the theft that awaited you—
air from your lungs, years from your life,
words of poems you would never speak
and that the world would never hear;
there was silk around your neck
and songs in your soul,
until the animal part of you ceased
to twitch and think and beat in salty streams.

They threw your body down a well.


Until there was my body and there was the sky
and there was the fierce pain in my chest
and ashamed, I said Oh, there’s the family,
let’s go back and see what they need,
pretending to laugh
while the ocean ran from my nose
and I breathed—knives and needles and joy.


Then there was no more body
and no more sky,
only the ocean, closer than your life-vein.

You immersed yourself
and swam free.


Context. While Tahirih’s birthday is not known for certain, she was approximately my age on her death.


What does it mean to be an animator-

  • Be a true friend to those who are younger. Junior youth, or those who are between the ages of 11 and 14, are at an age where they rely on their friends. When they experience friendship that isn’t rooted in superficial interests or appearances, they thrive.
  • Provide an example of positive growth. Since you are just a bit older than the junior youth–not so old that they can’t relate to you, but not quite so young as to be a peer–they will look to you to see what kind of person they could become in just a few years.
  • See potential in all its forms. Society offers us a vision of junior youth that isn’t necessarily accurate. Looking at adolescents and seeing their capacity for kindness, for creativity, and for service to others helps them to see themselves not as a problem to be fixed, but as protagonists and agents of change.
  • Unite youth, families, an communities. A junior youth group doesn’t only affect participants, it draws in everyone around it. Through service, visits, and consultation, the presence of a strong junior youth program can actually transform the surrounding culture.

Interested in becoming a junior youth animator? Learn more about the training institute or contact the Baha’i community nearest you.

 “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

-The Princess Bride

Coherence does not mean the same thing as balance. To balance two or more aspects of your life, they must be separate, but given equal or appropriate weight. To live a coherent life is to understand how your work, your health, your service, your family, support each other, and are one. A coherent community does not attempt to separate the needs of children, youth, adults, families, and institutions. A coherent thought does not need to be diagrammed, balance sought between nouns and verbs. If balance is a pie chart, coherence is the combined ingredients in a strawberry-rhubarb pie. There is a difference.

Sustainable does not mean the same thing as easy. Lowering your standards might seem like a great way to ensure that a program or habit can carry on for years, but without the thrill that comes from meaningful challenge and the chance to create true change, is it really so feasible? Daily flossing is easy, but many people skip it even so. Try to see the sustaining power in exhilaration, inspiring greatness of spirit rather than smallness of action. There is a difference.

Empowered does not mean the same thing as independent. Just because someone cannot take on all the responsibility for a task without help does not mean that they cannot begin by taking some. Just because someone has all the skills to act without support from others doesn’t mean that they should. Abandonment is not a condition of power. There is a difference.

walking the path

A few reflections on walking a path of service, a theme that ran through the 10 day intensive youth training campaign I helped facilitate over the last two weeks.

It’s a path, not a road. It is built by the people who walk it. It is being built by you, now, for as long as you walk it, until you stand still. And even then it is shaped by your stillness, your feet sinking into the mud and leaving the imprint of where you stopped to catch your breath and look forward and behind.

But it’s still a path. It’s not only for you. Hiding the way so that you can show how singularly unique you are does not make you a pioneer, it makes you an egotist. The one less travelled by may very well be the better choice, but it is because of the challenge of the journey and the gorgeous views from the top of the mountain, not simply by virtue of being less walked.

Some walk at different paces. Smile and accommodate them. Step to the side for the quick ones, excuse yourself to the slow ones. Touch hands and walk alongside someone for a while, then separate when your legs beg you to stretch them out and give them a really good run.

It’s not criminal to step off the path, but it will certainly expend more energy and slow you down. Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes it’s not. How important is the direction you’re headed?

When in doubt, move forward. Quit assembling maps and equipment and go. Leave your shoes if you can’t find them. There is someone else on the path who will help you if you need it. But they’re not waiting for you. Walk out and let your feet find a place they can move as they were meant to, with joy, one in front of the other.

You’re not the first person to set out on a life of service. But your service matters just the same.

photo credit: Skinnyde via photopin cc

This is a bit older. I wrote it in 2008 while living in Malawi (and clearly reading too much Rumi), but the feeling is as fresh now as it ever was then. Maybe more.

The Second Way

There is a way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry. To see injustice,
famine, the virus of the blood, and yet stand
straight enough to speak
is difficult, but not impossible: forget your glasses.
Bring instead your weak
myopia, your astigmatic haze,
dulling the vistas of hopelessness until
there is only your nose and one pot of maize,
one school fee, one welcome song, one child
wailing in your arms. This way,
survive, and serve again.

There is only one way
to look at the crisis,
and not cry.

But if you would cry, get up!
Walk out of that body, prostrated
and voiceless in its shame. Baptize
yourself in its tears and turn your back.
When you see the fires of impossible hope,
jump in! Blaze. Immolate fear in the coals
of your joy. This is the second way.
Then watch: these sparks,
they are heating a nation,
they are lighting the world.


I came into your house when it was empty,
turned on all the lamps, and waited for you to arrive.
When you did, you stomped your feet and scolded me:
Did you think I was made of money?
No, I answered truthfully.

I thought you were made of light.

Jef and I developed this chart to help junior youth group animators and their supporters reflect on their stages of growth and the path forward. I thought I would share so that other communities could us it too!

Cluster Junior Youth Group Development Chart

It looks at the various stages in the growth of a junior youth group: an idea, a new group, a group that has been in existence for 1 year, a group that has been in existence for two years, a group that is transitioning into a study circle, and a group that is now engaged in animator training. (Yes, these latter two are study circles, and the first might involve a children’s class, but the focus here is on growing the junior youth spiritual empowerment program.)

A given cluster might have groups in some or all of these stages, so there’s a place to track this.

Each stage of growth has unique needs and challenges that are learned about through experience. Animators can share these challenges and note them, as a group, in the challenges section.

Growing through these challenges requires certain actions to be taken. What are they?

And taking these actions requires certain skills of the animators. What are they?

For example, a challenge of boredom/repetitiveness at Year 1 might be addressed by engaging in service projects of increasing complexity (beyond very simple actions initially taken by a group, such as picking up litter). This plan of action might require the animator to have the ability to:

  • consult effectively with the junior youth
  • connect and partner with other groups, businesses, or institutions in the community
  • organize multiple aspects of projects simultaneously
  • ensure legality and safety

A junior youth group that’s transitioning to a study circle might encounter a challenge of attrition. A special period of home visits to youth and their families might be an appropriate action. Helpful skills include the ability to:

  • contact families to arrange a visit
  • speak well and logically
  • clearly and succinctly explain the institute process
  • observe conventions of courtesy as a visitor
  • assist youth to define their own paths of service
  • place junior youth groups in the wider context of community-building

Obviously, these aren’t the only skills needed for these particular stages of development. They might not even BE challenges with any given group in any given cluster. But they’re examples

Once we’ve identified the skills, we can get to the meat of the matter: how can we help our current animators develop these skills? And how can we ensure that our junior youth begin to develop these skills now, so that they will be prepared to animate when they are ready?

Anyhow, here’s the file again:

(Yes, it’s an Excel file, but not as ugly as most Excel files! It was designed to be printed out for participants to write on, while the coordinator can type notes directly into the file, if desired.)

Cluster Junior Youth Group Development Chart

I hope it’s helpful for others!

So, I have really vivid dreams.

Full-color, plot-intensive, backstory-including dreams.

Often I’ll dream, then dream that it is the next morning and I’m telling the dream to someone (most often at my mother’s kitchen table), and then re-dream the dream, this time edited for improved dialog.

I’m not always myself in dreams. I’ve been King Arthur, an evil spirit, and even a dog. But the most interesting is when I dream up scenes from novels that don’t exist.

I write them down, because what else should I do? But I’m not a fiction writer. I have zero sense of plot. There’s basically nothing useful I can do with the opening chapter of a science fiction novel, aside from give it to my sister to write. I keep telling the dream world to send these things to her instead, but it never listens.

I have four opening chapters to novels that will never exist, because I dreamed them.

Last night was a little different. I didn’t dream up a new opening chapter. I dreamed up the climax. When the hero (a fourteen-year-old girl) and her father take on the bad guy (a giant evil thing that eats peoples’ souls).

And for the first time, I have something to work with. Because I know exactly where this is going. A showdown in a grassy area that looks suspiciously like the one next to the B-W Conservatory.

(Who am I kidding? It looked exactly the same. This lawn is basically the generic backdrop to my entire childhood.)

So … it appears that I’m about to be writing a YA fantasy novel. I’ve never, never, NEVER written fiction before. I’m a pretty strictly nonfiction and poetry kind of gal. But I know Point A, and I know Point Z, and I’ve got a pretty clear picture of why it has to happen that way, if not all the details of how.

Any tips from those who know how to do this sort of thing are very welcome! It will be an interesting adventure, to say the least.

The Gaps in Us

The God of my dream has narrow hands—
He is a violinist, perhaps,
or a scholar who never sleeps.
This God slips His fingers into spiderweb cracks
in sidewalks, plaster, linoleum floors,
memories, teacups, clay,
in between the ribs at odds in my chest.
The bones should feel stranger, I think,
as God lifts us up by the gaps in us.

Sore Thumbs

Poets are contrary creatures,
always in search of sore thumbs.
We like the shock of hototogisu
or red wheelbarrows,
a sudden host of daffodils,
a collapsing pleasure-dome.
Little is said of a corn-colored girl
in a corn-colored field,
or the unremarking cars that pass her
on the freeway, sounding all the same.