SERVING THE CAUSE THROUGH THE ART OF STORYTELLING
A talk given at the Bahá’í World Centre – 29 January 2003
A talk given at the Bahá’í World Centre – 29 January 2003
Good evening Friends. I’m delighted to be among so many lovers of stories and storytellers. In this presentation of a few stories, I’ll make some remarks about serving the Cause of God through the art of storytelling.
The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, like the Manifestations of God before Them, told educative stories. The Manifestations are Divine Educators who often couched the most valuable lessons for humanity in penetrating stories. The use of parables by Jesus is greatly appreciated. In The Dawn-Breakers, Nabíl has recorded narratives Bahá’u’lláh related to him. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was a superb storyteller. It would be an excellent contribution to learning if the Master’s use of stories was examined. What were His methods? What languages did He use? How did He promote the art of storytelling? What subjects did He stress? Of course, God Passes By is Shoghi Effendi’s unique account of the outstanding events that occurred in the first century of the Faith’s history. A treasure of stories for the world is found in the Guardian’s expositions and commentaries. For example, in The Promised Day is Come, he relates what happened to some eastern rulers who opposed Bahá’u’lláh. In short, storytelling has been, and remains, a powerful instrument for the Faith’s advancement.
TEACHING THE ONENESS OF MANKIND
The young lady who introduced me, Jacqueline Ambe, is from Cameroon. The first Cameroonian woman who accepted the Faith was Mrs. Esther Tanyi. She told me how she became a believer. In her own way, she related how a believer taught her to believe in the oneness of mankind through his consumption of food.
After Mr. Enoch Olinga, the late Hand of the Cause of God, settled in Cameroon in 1953, the Guardian sent Mr. Alí Nakhjavání there with his request that five of the new and only Cameroonian Bahá’ís at that time should arise to establish the Faith in other parts of West Africa. The only question these new believers had was this: Who among them would gain this special honour? They had recently elected the first Local Spiritual Assembly in the city of Victoria. Therefore, they decided that the five who would become international pioneers would be selected by secret ballot. Ballots were cast. Those chosen left their homes for other lands. Thus, five Cameroonians became Knights of Bahá’u’lláh during the Ten Year Crusade. Mr. David Tanyi, Esther’s husband, established the Faith in Togo.
She told me that before this occurred, Mr. Olinga stayed with her family. She said she didn’t understand what he was “preaching.” She noticed, however, there was something different about him that made her like the Bahá’í Faith. In addition to his other noble qualities, what impressed her most was this: “Every dish of food I put before Mr. Olinga he ate with relish. This was very strange,” she related. For in her culture, one never ate the food of someone from a different tribe. People could put harmful things in it. She said she was testing Mr. Olinga with her cooking. He ate everything she served. To Mrs. Tanyi, this proved Mr. Olinga truly believed what he was teaching of the oneness of peoples; that God had sent a new Prophet whose teachings melted estrangements and differences between peoples. She became the first woman believer in Cameroon. I don’t know if our Cameroonian introducer can cook, but she comes from a great nation of storytellers.
THE BAHÁ’Í STORYTELLING TRADITION
In the Bahá’í world, a great storytelling tradition exists. Whenever believers attained Bahá’u’lláh’s presence, they treasured whatever He said. There are soul-stirring accounts of stories He told the friends of Himself, the Báb, of outstanding believers, and of the greatness of the Cause. In the Holy Land, He continued this practice. Thus, it is not surprising that at the Bahá’í World Centre the storytelling tradition continues. Individuals relating how they became Bahá’ís is a fascinating part of our social life here. When we hear these stories, when we tell stories of our Bahá’í experiences, the love for Bahá’u’lláh and the Faith that is expressed penetrates the heart. Our stories may expand consciousness of spiritual realities. They deepen bonds of affection and love.
Bahá’u’lláh loved humour. He often made believers feel at ease in His presence by mentioning amusing, trivial things. Here’s a story you may like. Mírzá Ja’far had been a Mullá in Iran. Soon after he met Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdád, he accepted the Faith. He threw away prestige and power as a prominent religious leader. He was a servant in the household of Bahá’u’lláh in ‘Akká. One day, the Muftí of ‘Akká visited Bahá’u’lláh. He asked the Blessed Beauty to explain the meaning of a specific religious theme. Bahá’u’lláh instructed Mírzá Ja’far to answer the Muftí. He did so brilliantly. The Muftí was astonished – a mere servant in Bahá’u’lláh’s household was so learned.
Mírzá Ja’far was quick-witted. He often made Bahá’u’lláh laugh. One day, Bahá’u’lláh asked, “Mírzá Ja’far, would you like me to reveal for you some of your bad qualities?” Mírzá Ja’far quickly, and very wisely, responded, “No, thank you!”
Storytelling is one of the oldest arts. It exists in every culture. In Africa, some villages have a resident storyteller: the person who, at the end of the day, over the night fires, tells stories from the culture and history of the people. There are also traveling storytellers.
It may be that the great explosion of storytelling in the world is connected with the influence of Bahá’u’lláh’s Manifestation. As you know, the Revelation places before mankind the great story of religion. It is an epical account of the Almighty’s loving intervention in mankind’s affairs. This story is being revealed with a fullness and clarity never seen before in human history. Since the appearance of the Twin Manifestations, Bahá’u’lláh and the Báb, the world has had fresh and stirring accounts of the spiritual rebirth of Their followers and the extraordinary recreation of society.
The teaching of progressive revelation is part of the story, as are those of the oneness of religion and the oneness of God. The equality of men and women is a portion. The ushering in of a divine, equitable World Order is another feature. It is, perhaps, the most profound account ever revealed of the desperate opposition of religious and secular leaders against God’s Prophets. Of course, the unfoldment of the story continues. The recent message to the world’s religious leaders has its place in it. Efforts believers are making to understand the station and mission of Bahá’u’lláh, to appreciate more deeply the nature and the purpose of religion are other sections of the lofty tale. The victories won in the current Plan are another part. Is it not a wonder that the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His own sphere, have made people across the planet fall in love with the story of religion?
A unique feature of the divine story, it seems, is that Bahá’ís are really striving to understand it! The ones who are listening to the divine tale. The ones who are thrilled by the story! We know that two Manifestations of God have appeared. We know that the Mystery of God, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, achieved the purposes of their ministries. We know that there remains in the world divine guidance for mankind through the Universal House of Justice, a perpetual institution that will exist until the next Dispensation. These are major features of the story of religion that we are enjoying.
STORIES OF SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION
At social gatherings at the World Centre, there are wonderful storytellers. Believers share how they became Bahá’ís and more. This sharing deepens love for the Faith. I was at a dinner last Friday with twelve others. Individuals were asked to recount how they became Bahá’ís. Thirteen marvelous stories were presented. As I listened, I thought how splendid it was to hear such stirring accounts from every part of the planet as to how the teachings of the Faith had penetrated receptive hearts. We learned about each other’s backgrounds, families, and how each person acquired a new consciousness, a new relationship with and commitment to God. There were two believers from Iranian background at the event. They had the best story. They didn’t have the sad tale of stumbling through life, as was my experience, until they found Bahá’u’lláh. They grew up with His Teachings.
When my turn came, I related how Dr. Eugene Byrd kept telling me about the Faith until something happened within me, through the mercy of God, which made me seriously investigate the Faith. But the believers from Persian background had grown up with the Faith. Before they were born, Bahá’í prayers had been offered for their well-being. This is the best of the stories, isn’t it? To have been associated with Bahá’u’lláh and the Faith from the first moments of being, even if they were not conscious of the blessings.
I have a friend of Iranian background who often lamented that she hadn’t had the “fortune” to have heard of the Faith for the first time when she was an adult. Then, according to her thinking, she could have investigated it, and independently embraced the Cause. She said I was lucky. I told her she was wrong. It wasn’t any good fortune for me not to have been a believer all my life. She was in the best position. It was like she was thinking she had to first eat garbage before she could appreciate the wonderful banquet that is the Bahá’í teachings. Who would like to eat garbage before being led to the Bahá’í feast of divine teachings and laws, and then say, “Oh, it was wonderful, I ate garbage! Now, I’m ready to be a Bahá’í.” She had the best story. She had some strange, romantic confusion; thinking it would have been better for her to have waited until she was an adult before finding the Faith. She had it all her life. This is the best story. You may discover different ways of thinking about personal Bahá’í stories. You may find they are profound experiences of God’s mercies and His blessings.
When we are aiming for true understanding of religious stories, we have to be careful to hit the mark of reality. When I was with those believers Friday evening, listening to their stories, I appreciated that the arrows of their spiritual strivings had hit the bull’s eye. Once there was a famous archer. He went around villages and towns looking for someone who was a better archer, someone who could teach him. Finally he came across a tree in which an arrow was stuck. Around that arrow there was a target ring and the arrow was perfectly in the center. The archer went on. He found another tree. Again, an arrow was straight in the center of the target: A straight bull’s eye. He went on. He found many other trees with arrows in the bull’s eye. Then he came across a barn. On the side of the barn, there were several target rings with arrows stuck perfectly in the center.
He asked everyone he met, “Where can I find the master at shooting the bow?” Finally, he was led to the master. He was weak. He had poor vision. The man asked him, “How did you become such a good archer? You hit the target each time.” The master answered, “It’s easy. Anybody can do it.” He said, “I shoot the arrow in the tree. Then I paint the target around it. Wherever the arrow lands, I just paint the bull’s eye around it!” This is what you and I are when we launch-tell-stories. We humbly surround it with the target of servitude. In this way, whatever our experiences in storytelling, we know stories help us hit the target of service.
Storytelling is an art. It’s one of the oldest arts. One scholar described it as a deathless art. It exists in all cultures. It is one of the finest forms of communications. It brings people together. It will never die. It refreshes. It makes experiences come alive. Therefore, no one should feel that he or she can’t tell stories for the advancement of the Faith. Acquiring skills in telling tales is achieved through practice.
When I became a Bahá’í, I was in a very dynamic community. The Bahá’í teachings of the oneness of mankind, the establishment of racial equality, unity in diversity, and, particularly, the Guardian’s matchless exposition about the elimination of racism in America in The Advent of Divine Justice, had moved me deeply. I would like to mention a few individuals who were in that community. I start with Mr. Clarence Percival.
At one of my first Bahá’í meetings, Clarence Percival came up to me. He was a thin and wiry man. It seemed he hadn’t done too well in life. He told me he was once a member of the Ku-Klux Klan organization. This organization believes in white supremacy. The members, and their supporters, believe black people are inferior to whites. The organization has acted out this conviction throughout a long history of violent terrorism against African-Americans. Mr. Percival said that when he accepted Bahá’u’lláh’s Teachings, he realized how wrong he had been. He said, “My conception of myself, my conception of race, my ideas of whites and blacks were wrong, against the teachings of God.”
He went on telling his story. He wept. He told me, “I’m telling you my story, so you will appreciate how the Faith changed me”. I understood. The Faith had given him a new consciousness. He was speaking about the quickening power of the Teachings of the Faith. His tears showed how sincere he was; how eager he was to continue his spiritual transformation.
Mrs. Margaret Hipsley was also in that community. She had been a believer 60 years when we met. She warned me to never miss any opportunity to serve the Faith; never to miss any opportunity to receive the bounties the Faith bestows. To illustrate the lesson, she said that when she was a young woman ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited our city for one day. On that day, one of her girlfriends said to Mrs. Hipsley, “Let’s go to the beach”. This girl wasn’t a Bahá’í. She said, “Let’s go to the beach. You’ll have another time to meet the leader of your Faith”. Mrs. Hipsley said she went to the beach and that she missed the one opportunity in her life to meet the Master. She was heartbroken forever after. She would say, “Never miss an opportunity to reap the bounties the Faith offers and never miss an opportunity to serve the Faith.”
As for the tension between whites and blacks in America, she told me one day about her husband. He had passed away. He liked the Faith, but he couldn’t accept the teaching that black people and white people are equal in God’s sight. He grew up with the false doctrine of white superiority. It tormented him that his wife went to Bahá’í meetings where blacks and whites associated with one another in warm fellowship, in love with one another as sisters and brothers. This caused Mr. Hipsley considerable anguish.
Of course, Mrs. Hipsley wanted her husband to accept the Faith. She loved him, and hoped to be with him in all the worlds. She stopped going to Bahá’í meetings, because attending the gatherings disturbed her husband. She said that, occasionally, when her husband was at work, some believers visited her; but she didn’t go to the Bahá’í Centre for seven years. After seven years, her husband told her, “I realize what an injustice I have done you. I have been selfish and unfair. You go to your Bahá’í meetings. Please forgive me. I cannot understand the new way of thinking and acting that your Faith commands”.
She returned to the Bahá’í meetings with her husband’s support. He assisted the local Bahá’í community in many ways. He never could overcome his prejudice against African-Americans. But Mrs. Hipsley thanked God that as a result of her sacrifice, her sensitivity to her husband’s difficulties, and her effort to teach him the Faith, he did make some progress in recognizing her commitment to the principle of the oneness of humanity.
DRESSING TRUTH IN STORY
Perhaps you realize from what’s been presented thus far, how fascinating it is that the Prophets have used stories to advance Their Revelations. It is also meaningful that believers everywhere are sharing anecdotes in their homes, in children and youth classes, in deepening classes, and in study circles. Perhaps in the Bahá’í Dispensation, it will be more fully appreciated that storytelling is one of the best ways to convey religious truths. Through them, one feels the power of spiritual insight. One senses that stories have an important role in the advancement of religion. They feed the flame of enthusiasm that glows in the heart of every Bahá’í.
You may have heard this old teaching story. “Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her, she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into the people’s houses. They invited her to eat at their table and warm herself by their fire.” (Annette Simmons, The Story Factor, Perseus Publishing, Cambridge 2001, p.27) Wherever Truth went, the people welcomed her with joy. Truth, dressed in story, thrills all hearts.
I give you another example of truth dressed in story. I was living among the Yoruba people in Nigeria. At my university there was a highly-regarded, internationally acclaimed African Studies Department. Professor Akin Isola was in the Department. During our meeting, when I requested him to help me learn more about Yoruba culture, he asked why I wanted to learn about the culture. “In order to better teach the Yoruba people about the Bahá’í Faith,” I responded.
Professor Isola was not interested in religion. He was a socialist, a renowned linguist, a published poet and playwright. He laughed at my curious request. Finally, he said, “I will help you, but in this way; this story will demonstrate how I’ll help you.”
Once in London, he began, an Englishman visited his father’s grave. He had dozens of bright red roses that he intended to lay atop his father’s resting place as a means of expressing his love. When he arrived at the grave, he was greatly surprised. There was a new grave next to his father’s. What was even more incredible to the shocked Englishman was this: A Chinese man was setting bowls of rice and herbs on the new grave. It was the resting place of his father who had recently passed away. Then, the Chinese mourner began sprinkling herbs upon the grave. Finally, the Englishman, Professor Isola said, couldn’t restrain himself any longer. Looking over the roses he was clutching, he asked the Chinese man, “When do you think your father is going to rise up from the grave and eat that rice?” The Chinese man looked at the Englishman with astonishment. Then he said, “My father will come up from his grave to eat the rice the same time your father will come up from his grave and smell those roses.”
Through this wonderful story, Professor Isola said he would help me, if I respected the culture of his people. The story showed that my heart had to open up and appreciate the ways and the traditions of the Yoruba people. He couldn’t have made me understand the point any better than by that story. Some beautiful truths were dressed in it.
I’ll tell you another truth I learnt from the Yoruba culture that helped in our teaching efforts. According to some international studies, Yoruba women have more twins than any other women. There are twins everywhere in Yorubaland. The Yorubas also have a very strong traditional seniority system that helps regulate social relationships. They have this great story from their tradition about twins. Before twins are born, according to the legend, the older twin tells the younger: “You go out and be born first. If everything is all right, give a yell. Then I will come.” Thus, according to the Yorubas, the second born twin is the older, since he commanded the first born to enter the world first. The second born, the elder, could have been born first, had a right to be born first, but he sent the younger twin ahead to see what the world was like; to prepare the way for his coming, the coming of the older.
This lofty conception was included in our presentations on the Faith. With excitement and joy, we began to speak about the Twin Manifestations of God. When Yoruba seekers were told the Báb had come first to prepare the way for Bahá’u’lláh, many said, “Of course! Your religion expresses truth. Such a wise religion. So consistent with tradition, expectations – Twin Manifestations of God!”
MR. WILLIAM ATIYAMA SPREADS THE FAITH THROUGH STORIES
Bahá’u’lláh says in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas that for every end there is a means. One of the means for teaching the Faith, for highlighting the truths it reveals, is through stories. Another verse from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is that the edification of the hearts of men depends upon the tongue.
One of the great teachers of the Faith in Nigeria was Mr. William Atiyama. You may have heard me speak about him. He was a very dignified man, noble in his bearing, big and tall. He was a farmer and a small trader. It was a pleasure to collaborate with him in teaching and consolidating the Faith in many villages. Much was learned about service and the dignity of humanity from him. It’s one of the crimes of our age that a person with such potential, who might have succeeded in any professional career, was uneducated. Because his parents hadn’t had enough money to pay his school fees, he was illiterate. He was a great teacher of the Faith. He taught new believers by the dozens. The sincerity of his speech, the illumination of his countenance, and the purity of his heart attracted souls. He consciously made many sacrifices for the advancement of the Cause. On all his teaching activities, he carried what he called his “Bahá’í Bible”. It was his copy of Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. He couldn’t read or write. But he knew the power of holy verses, and the importance of showing that the Faith has holy books. He also knew the importance of relying on divine assistance.
One day, he and I went to a nearby town to present the Faith to some friends of his. At the meeting there were five women. They had heard William had accepted a new religion. They wanted to hear about it. In his confident and moving style, he presented some principles of the Faith. It always excited me to hear him teach. His countenance shone. One could feel his soul was inflamed with the beauty and power of the Teachings. At the end of his presentations, he always invited individuals to embrace the Faith. He was confident that what he was offering – the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh – was best for the seekers. When he finished speaking, the ladies dropped their heads. They were shy. Finally, one of them said what he had told them was good. Now, they wanted the professor, meaning me, to speak. She was indicating that they doubted that an uneducated, simple man like William Atiyama could be expressing such beautiful thoughts correctly; that I should confirm what he had said.
William leaped up from his chair. He cried, “What do you mean, hear from professor? I have presented my Faith. I have studied my Faith, just like professor.” He explained, “Bahá’u’lláh says every believer must study the Writings. He has commanded that every believer should read, morning and evening, the holy verses. And this is what I do!”
I looked at him. He couldn’t read. The ladies knew he couldn’t read. I thought he hadn’t realized he was exaggerating. Pointing to Gleanings, he told those astonished ladies, “This is my Bahá’í Bible. I read it each morning and evening like Bahá’u’lláh said I must.” After some seconds of silence, he continued, “Yes, I read my Bahá’í Bible. Bahá’u’lláh said I must.” Then he explained: “When I go to sleep at night, I put my Bahá’í Bible under my pillow. This is how I read the Words of God.” Can you imagine? Such faith! He said, “The Bahá’í Faith makes me do the best I can.” He went on to say, “When I wake up in the morning, I place my Bahá’í Bible over my heart and my heart reads the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.”
This is a story of a believer’s new consciousness, his new way of thinking, a new way of coping and using creative powers. Those ladies became Bahá’ís. The experience moved me greatly. Still, it does. William’s story excites me to study more intensely. The account of an illiterate man propelled me forward on to a new way of learning, of thinking, of seeing, and loving the Faith.
THE BEST OF STORIES
The Bahá’í Faith began with a story. You may recall that Mullá Ḥusayn decided that if he found anyone claiming he was the Báb, he would ask him to write a commentary on the Súrih of Joseph. In the Qur’án, Muhammad has described the story of Joseph as “the best of stories”. You remember the story. Joseph’s eleven brothers hated him. They were jealous because their father loved the younger son very much. They decided to kill Joseph. They placed him in a deep hole expecting he might die. Traders came along. The brothers then decided to sell Joseph to them. He was taken to Egypt. Eventually, he became sort of like the Second-in-Command to Pharaoh.
Mullá Ḥusayn had asked Siyyid Káẓim to write a commentary on the story of Joseph. Siyyid Kázim had answered, “This is, verily, beyond me. He, that great One, who comes after me will, unasked, reveal it for you. That commentary will constitute one of the weightiest testimonies of His truth, and one of the clearest evidences of the loftiness of His position.” (The Dawn-Breakers, p.59). As you know, this is exactly what the Báb did.
Bahá’u’lláh has revealed that He is the true Joseph, referring to Mírzá Yaḥyá, his half-brother and arch enemy’s “monstrous behaviour” towards Him. In one of His Tablets, He indicated that the story of Joseph refers to Him, the True Joseph, because of the persecution, the vilification, and the hatred of Mírzá Yaḥyá, who tried to kill Him. The story of Joseph also reveals God’s protection of Joseph and of all the Prophets. The point I wish to make is that it seems quite meaningful, in this age of storytelling, that the Báb’s Dispensation began with a story.
In relation to our subject, we may further examine the Báb’s Declaration to Mullá Ḥusayn. As you know, in his initial meeting with the Báb Mullá Ḥusayn thought he should test Him. He had composed a treatise, which he expected the One claiming to be the Qá’im to comment on to his satisfaction. The story of how Mullá Ḥusayn failed his own test before the Báb on the glorious evening of His Declaration is recorded in The Dawn-Breakers. Mullá Ḥusayn has related: “Will you,” I asked Him, “read this book of mine and look at its pages with indulgent eyes? . . . He graciously complied with my wish. He opened the book, glanced at certain passages, closed it, and began to address me. Within a few minutes He had …unraveled all its mysteries and resolved all its problems. ... “Had you not been My guest,” He (the Báb) afterwards observed, “your position would have been a grievous one. The all-encompassing grace of God has saved you. It is for God to test His servants, and not for His servants to judge Him in accordance with their deficient standards” (The Dawn-Breakers, p. 61).
You may wish to study again Bahá’u’lláh’s story of His receiving the intimations that He had been chosen by God to manifest Him in The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. Bahá’u’lláh has said that for the sake of justice and equity He revealed various accounts. It seems extraordinary in the history of religion that a Manifestation of God has told how He became a Manifestation in so much detail.
THE DAWN-BREAKERS: A STORYTELLER’S TREASURE
In The Dawn-Breakers, you also find stories that Bahá’u’lláh related to Nabíl. The recorded story of His first teaching mission as a Bábí is riveting. At page 209 of The Dawn-Breakers, He recounts that He went to His hometown, Tákur, to promote the Revelation announced by the Báb. This was always an interesting feature of the Faith’s growth for us in Africa. From it, believers were encouraged to take the Faith to their ancestral villages. When Bahá’u’lláh took the Faith to Mázindarán, the people there greeted him warmly. They were anxious to hear news of the capital – the gossip of what was happening in political circles. Bahá’u’lláh wasn’t interested in those topics. He told His relatives and friends about the Báb. Many accepted the Báb. This was the first large-scale enrollment into the new religion.
Bahá’u’lláh wanted to tell Mullá Muhammad, the religious leader of the district, of the Báb. The Mullá refused to meet with Him. He sent two disciples to listen to what Bahá’u’lláh taught. After hearing Bahá’u’lláh’s presentations, the students informed their master they had become Bábís. The Mullá was astonished. Still, the students surrounding him insisted he meet Bahá’u’lláh. He refused. Finally, Bahá’u’lláh visited him for the purpose of enlightening him regarding the “new and wondrous Message, divinely inspired and fulfilling the promise given to Islam.” The Mullá disparagingly responded, “I undertake no action unless I first consult the Qur’án … of opening at random His sacred Book, and of consulting the first verse of the particular page upon which my eyes chance to fall. From the nature of that verse I can judge the wisdom and the advisability of my contemplated course of action.”
The frightened leader opened the Qur’án and closed it again, refusing to reveal the nature of the verse he had read. Bahá’u’lláh, not wishing to embarrass the leader further, excused Himself and bade Mullá Muhammad a cordial farewell.
This story is part of the great treasure of stories in The Dawn-Breakers. The Guardian said he translated The Dawn-Breakers so that the stories there would be a source of inspiration for believers. He was pleased that the study of Nabíl’s Narrative created in believers a burning desire to serve the Cause. He said those stories of believers who had been transformed by the Revelation provide a model of service. The stories in The Dawn-Breakers, presenting the first eight years of the Bábí Dispensation, take us into the heart of the Bábí religion with a spiritual reality that is profound and startling.
I told you the Guardian said the stories in The Dawn-Breakers of believers rejoicing in their sacrifices for the advancement of the Faith would influence people. We tried it with a seeker in Benin Republic. She read every page of The Dawn-Breakers. We were eager to know how the stories had touched her, but had heard that all she had to say was something like, “It’s a nice book.” We were disappointed. She was such a receptive soul. Some years later, she became a believer. The stories in The Dawn-Breakers did their work. Apparently, the tales of those valiant souls stayed in her heart.
STORYTELLING: A MEANS OF SERVICE
Bahá’ís everywhere are using storytelling with children and the youth as a means of strengthening their Faith. We are dressing truth in stories. We are using stories for personal deepening and the quickening of hearts. I told someone recently that I wish I had had an organized program of storytelling for my children. Those of you with children may wish to consider establishing a systematic storytelling program for them – a regular family event, perhaps at fixed times, at which stories from The Dawn-Breakers, stories of Bahá’u’lláh, of the Báb, and of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá are regularly presented. May I suggest that you continue using stories to convey the truths in the Revelation? Continue examining and studying Bahá’í stories. Memorize them. Tell them. Use them in your teaching and consolidation work.
Here is a humorous teaching story. A law student had accepted the Faith in Nigeria. I was anxious to hear how he became a believer. I soon met him. He said he was taught by a Bahá’í lady from Switzerland. I knew her. Her husband was a prominent politician. I asked the new believer, “How did you meet her?” He said, “One Sunday, she was sitting next to me in church.” He went on to relate how she had aroused his interest in the Faith.
Let me say that this lady was a very devoted and active Bahá’í. Her husband insisted that she attend church with him each Sunday. The Bahá’í wife had agreed to the arrangement for the sake of family unity. After the service, the lady and the student fixed a time to meet. He became a Bahá’í. When I saw the lady, I asked about her unusual teaching style. She responded that she went to church with her husband, but she was finding receptive souls there.
We are using stories for the advancement of the Cause. You may wish to consider learning new ones. Study those that are in the Writings. Make notes of good stories that you hear. Always, we’re adopting effective means to advance the Faith. A few weeks ago, Nancy and I, and two other believers, visited the Galilee area. We are always thrilled to visit Christian Holy Places there. We offered prayers there for our Christian parents and other relatives for the training and perspectives they gave us about religion and moral behavior. During the visit to the Sea of Galilee, it was recalled that in the Holy Land we have the two great seas, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Both seas are fed from a source. Water flows into the Galilee and water flows into the Dead Sea. The difference is that the Galilee has an outlet; water flows in and flows out. But in the Dead Sea, the water doesn’t flow out. Salt, chemicals and particles accumulate there. This is what makes it the Dead Sea. There is no outlet. We are not like that Dead Sea. Our services are always flowing out. We are always looking for means of service, always searching for ways of giving of ourselves; so we don’t become apathetic about serving the Cause, so we don’t become, you know, a little spiritually dead. So, these heavenly bounties we are receiving, the insights we are gaining from the Writings, the spiritual energies that are building up in us do not accumulate, but are released in service.
I tell you one last story about Mullá Ḥusayn. One day he and another Bábí passed a religious school for mullás. Mullá Ḥusayn looked at it and recited the following poetry:
Never from this school has come learning,
This house of ignorance is fit for burning.
The friend asked him, “Why should we complain about these schools, when they have produced a man like you?” “No, my friend,” interrupted Mullá Ḥusayn, “if it were not for the education I received in these schools I would not have argued with my Lord!” (Rúhu’lláh Mihrábkhání, Mullá Ḥusayn: Disciple at Dawn, Kalimát Press 1987, p.71) – meaning that he wouldn’t have contended with the Báb at the moment of His Declaration. Meaning, he wouldn’t have tested the Báb.
Storytelling is a means to serve the Cause. Continue enriching these wonderful gatherings with stories. Tell the children stories. Tell the youth stories. Ask each other about your Bahá’í experiences. You may wish to keep in mind that storytelling is an art. It does have methods and techniques. Don’t feel inhibited. Continue doing the best you can, remembering that when we serve we receive divine assistance.
(Updated by Kiser Barnes, February 2010 and posted to
http://bahai-storytelling.blogspot.com with Mr. Barnes' permission)