Unexpected: How a Pioneer Achieved His Goals for Course on Shoghi Effendi

Shoghi Effendi: His Life and Ministry 2017
Faculty: Ed DiLiberto, Anne Perry

Brian Wessel became a Bahá’í when he was fifteen and pioneered to the Marshall Islands in 1990. Since then, he has married a woman from Kiribati, raised one son in Yap, Western Caroline Islands, and a second son in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. He has taken ten Wilmette Institute courses since 2010 and began the course on Shoghi Effendi with a goal of transferring all he would learn “into action on the pioneering front toward advancing his Saipan cluster toward its first and second milestones.” He was surprised about how his goal came to fruition:

It was unexpected how some of my goals were achieved for this course. Every Thursday, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the Mariana Islands meets to continue its study of Ruhi Book 10. Since eight of the members are in Guam, and I am in Saipan, I skype in for the study from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Last Thursday, we finally started Unit 2 of Book 10, which is all about consultation. Somehow, I remembered that one of our study readings included a transcript of a talk by Mr. Ian Semple, a former member of the Universal House of Justice. During his question-and-answer session at the end of his talk, the question of infallibility was asked of him. His response included plenty about how the House of Justice consults. The friends in the study wanted to hear this talk regarding consultation, so I got to read Mr. Semple’s entire answer. It informed our study nicely and uplifted it from conjecture to higher levels of certitude, especially from the examples of the House of Justice. My goal was to use my learning and sprinkle it amongst my peers.

The end of the course on Shoghi Effendi left Brian with a continued quest for learning, albeit one that has him pondering how to study the Bahá’í writings:

Now, what I need to figure out (and this has always been on my mind) is how to dive deep and sprinkle while not taking a Wilmette course. I am reading a brand new publication, Hand of the Cause of God Furutan, written by his daughter Iran Furutan Muhajir (the same author of Dr. Muhajir). But I need to develop the discipline of reading and reading Bahá’u’lláh’s works such as the Kitáb-i-Iqán. I just find biographies so interesting, and am not sure how to approach the reading and re-reading to get the full force of the Bahá’í writings. If I read Shoghi Effendi, he sprinkles in the full force writings of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which makes it easier because he surrounds the writings with context.

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There are undoubtedly a variety of answers to Brian’s question about how to read the Bahá’í writings. One answer involves yet another Wilmette Institute course: Finding the Hidden Gift: An Approach to Studying the Bahá’í Writings. The course “introduces students to a systematic method of studying Baha’i scripture using a number of literary and exegetical tools” In it, learners “view passages from Bahá’í scripture through four ‘windows’ on the meaning of divine wisdom: language, theme, structure, and the work as a whole.” They “also discuss briefly five other ‘windows’: biography, historical context, oeuvre (the place of a work in the entire body of the author’s works), literary tradition, and world scriptural tradition. The course is designed to help students learn to read slowly and carefully and to assist them in developing tools for analyzing Bahá’í texts systematically.”

The 2018 course began on January 15, 2018, and is now in progress. But it will be offered again in January 2019. You can make plans to take the course then.

As for reading biographies, Shoghi Effendi read a great deal himself, and he embeds in his books and letters (The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, The Advent of Divine Justice, The Promised Day Is Come, for example), many mini-biographies and historical accounts. Keep on reading biographies.

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