Nancy Flood-Golembeck: The job of transformation

·4 min read
Nancy Flood-Golembeck
Nancy Flood-Golembeck

Along with the new year, January ushers in a time for reassessment, reflection and resolution. Resolve for an improved life runs high. While personal transformation can be gratifying, an even more fulfilling prospect is working to bring about the spiritual and material transformation of the whole society. That notion may sound unrealistic and Pollyanna-ish, but it is the goal of the Baha’i Community worldwide. Indeed, tens of thousands of people — not just Baha’is, but people of all religions and of no particular religion, are walking a path of faith and service at the grassroots level to accomplish that very thing. From the smallest villages in Africa and South America to neighborhoods in New York City and Toronto, in multitudes of locations, people are following the same general plan, modified to fit local conditions, to bring about the betterment of the world.

Last column: Nancy Flood-Golembeck: An extraordinary life, Part III: Stories of ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Elements of that plan include classes for children and junior youth, study classes based on the Baha’i teachings for adults, social and economic development projects which may include activities such as literacy programs, addressing food insecurity, working to alleviate homelessness, promoting racial equality and justice, and a wide range of similar activities customized to fit local needs.

Another important component of the plan is what Baha’is call the Devotional Meeting. This is a gathering which includes music, prayer, reading of the Scriptures of the Baha’i Faith and of other religions, and informal discussion. The Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Baha’i Faith, has described these meetings thus, “Devotional meetings are occasions where any soul may enter, inhale the heavenly fragrances, experience the sweetness of prayer, meditate upon the Creative Word, be transported on the wings of the spirit, and commune with the One Beloved. Feelings of fellowship and common cause are generated, particularly in the spiritually heightened conversations that naturally occur at such times and through which the ‘city of the human heart’ may be opened.”

These devotional gatherings address what the late Dr. Daniel Jordan, Baha’i scholar, educator and musician, termed a “cosmic hunger.” That is, “a need to be related to all things, including the infinitude of the universe.” They also speak to the “core of religious faith” that author Wendi Momen describes as “that mystical feeling that unites man with God.” These connections and spiritual susceptibilities are the base of and inspiration for the actions which will create lasting change in the world. For prayer and meditation are reciprocal with action. Both are essential to the other and, to paraphrase the New Testament book of James, “by works is faith made perfect.”

Previously: Nancy Flood-Golembeck: An extraordinary life, Part II: Journey to America

Basic to Baha’i teachings is the belief that servanthood is the highest station to which anyone can aspire. Thus, working not just for personal “salvation,” but serving the whole of mankind, Baha’is and those who work alongside them, as further stated by the Universal House of Justice, “are seeking to gain an ever more profound understanding of Baha’u’llah’s teachings . . . and apply them to the needs of their society. They are committed to the prosperity of all, recognizing that the welfare of individuals rests in the welfare of society at large. They are loyal citizens who eschew partisanship and the contest for worldly power. Instead, they are focused on transcending differences, harmonizing perspectives and promoting the use of consultation for making decisions. They emphasize qualities and attitudes — such as trustworthiness, cooperation and forbearance — that are building blocks of a stable social order. They champion rationality and science as essential for human progress. They advocate tolerance and understanding, and with the inherent oneness of humanity uppermost in their minds, they view everyone as a potential partner to collaborate with, and they strive to foster fellow feeling, even among groups who may traditionally have been hostile to one another. They are conscious of how the forces of materialism are at work around them, and their eyes are wide open to the many injustices that persist in the world, yet they are equally clear sighted about the creative power of unity and humanity’s capacity for altruism. They see the power that true religion possesses to transform hearts and overcome distrust and so, with confidence in what the future holds, they labor to cultivate the conditions in which progress can occur. . .”

This work of transformation, this society-building, is intense and sometimes frustrating but ultimately meaningful and joyous. And all are welcome to walk this path with us.

Nancy Flood-Golembeck is a retired teacher and longtime member of the Baha’i faith.

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Bahai's work toward spiritual, material transformation of society