Course: Bahá’í Faith and the Arts 2023
Faculty Mentor: Anne Perry
Did I meet my Personal Learning Plan Goals? Yes. Creatively, I wrote a lot, that is, I responded ‘creatively’ to the readings and questions. My recent output has been largely ‘creative nonfiction’ (CNF), which for me is free-form, essay-like explorations of issues that arise during Wilmette courses. Poetry so far has only dribbled out and no fiction has yet emerged. But if CNF is what comes out of me, could that be my thing?
I engaged with all the course materials. Particularly, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani’s “Artist, Seeker, and Seer” showed me an entirely new and higher level of thinking and writing is possible, in this case, about the Faith and the Arts, but on any other subject. Each sentence structured, and the sequence of sentences creating structure in each paragraph, and paragraph by paragraph, section by section, structure within structure, each element imbricated within a larger structure. This is higher order and thinking and writing — which order I can’t say; I never took the class that discussed orders of thinking. It’s just way up there, dude. I was driven to tears by Elizabeth de Souza’s “Views from a Black Artist in the Century of Light.”
The tragic failure of white fellow believers to respond adequately to Bunch Washington’s concerns is not only relevant to the past but to the present. On the margins of American Bahá’í communities are Black people we don’t see at events very often. Why don’t they show up? If you don’t know, then that’s part of the problem right there. To be continued. Anne’s “Dilemma of the Artist” summed up the issues of creatives and the Bahá’í community. Our wish to come in from the cold might not lead to the warmest welcome. We might be invited in long enough for a hot cider and to warm our hands by the fireplace before being nudged back outside, lest our lingering neuroses and impertinent questions disturb the tepid waters of the club. One day, we might stay long enough to ignite a hotter fire.
I have created one item that fully qualifies as a creative work: my essay intended to contribute to the #OurStoryIsOne project. I want to work on it further, but I believe it can be a worthwhile contribution.
As for my intended dialogic engagement, it appears to be in progress.
The understanding and insights I’ve gained: the depth and breadth of Bahá’í Writings on the Arts. I hadn’t previously seen them all gathered. The sense of validation I get from this knowledge is hard to measure. I’m grateful for it and pointlessly lament what might have been had I learned of these writings earlier. It happened, and the only way is forward.
I have learned, after 32 years in the Faith, that there are many Bahá’í Artists out there, working tirelessly and sometimes thanklessly, creating to the best of their ability in a form of worship. To become aware of this community is, for me, to find a way out of my habitual isolation. Not only are there people on the same path as I am, but they like what I have to say. Despite years of people liking what I say when I say it, I somehow don’t get the message. I don’t expect a favorable reception but keep on saying. Where might this newfound ‘fan club’ lead me in the future?
New attitudes, beliefs, feelings? Yes. Gratitude for the gifts I’ve already received, and gratitude for the encouragement to improve and further deploy my gifts in service to the Faith and Humanity.
For my own tiny and shrinking community, I don’t know what I can affect other than sharing my work and learning with the community, which I already do. I will continue to find outlets for publishing my writing, and the Bahá’í Artists’ Hub that germinated in this course will be part of my time and effort going forward.
The takeaway: Ever since my wife passed 5-1/2 years ago, I’ve been asking this question: Why am I still here? I just might have the answer.