Contributing to Community Building through Presentations and a Devotional

Wilmette Institute learners are encouraged at the ends of their courses to undertake a written or art project or to share what they have learned with an individual or their community (just as in Ruhi study circles where students are expected to take actions and put what they learn to use). Below you will read about how one learner made three presentations at the end of his course on The Kitáb-i-Iqán and another gave his first ever devotional using materials from the course on Science and Religion.—The Editors

­­­­­­James Muehlbach is a long-time Bahá’í from Faribault, Minnesota, where he lives with his wife Cindy, his “other wing.” The Kitáb-i-Iqán is James’ fifth Wilmette Institute course. A high-school graduate who work in a dairy, he says that he finds “Wilmette Institute courses accessible to anyone.” About Lead Faculty for the course, Dr. Christopher Buck, James had this to say: He “kept this lively, informative, and challenging throughout the course—to me one of the best faculty members—and I would encourage others to seek out courses taught by him. In general, all the courses I have taken have been quality experiences, but this one has stood out.” James ended with this: “Don’t be shy about taking any Wilmette Institute course; they are accessible to all.” Here is his account of the three presentations he made about the Kitáb-i-Iqán:

James Muehlbach“On December 14 I met with a friend in Rochester, Minnesota, and presented a brief overview of the Wilmette Institute class on The Kitáb-i-Iqán. On December 18 I met with an isolated believer in a rural area and presented the same material. On December 19, at a study circle in Burnsville, Minnesota, I again presented the material—rather appropriately as Ruhi book 9, Unit 1, Section 19, starts an overview of the Kitáb-i-Iqán.

“The material I covered included the following:

  • The family of the Báb with a brief history leading to the meeting of Hájí Mírzá Siyyid Muhammad and Bahá’u’lláh.
  • The questions presented and the Revelation of the Kitáb-i-Iqán.
  • An overview of the main themes of the Kitáb-i-Iqán.
  • A discussion of the minor apocalypse of Mathew and how it was interpreted physically with unbelievable results, then allegorically, then metaphorically.
  • A discussion of the “seal of the prophets” and how Qur’an 33:40 and 33:44 were used.
  • The comparison of the section of the “True Seeker” with the story of Joseph.
  • Mírzá Abu’l Fadl’s reactions to reading the Kitáb-i-Iqán.

“During the presentations that I gave, the information that fascinated most of my listeners was the story of the interaction of the Báb’s maternal family and how the Kitáb-i-Iqán came to be revealed. What fascinated me during the course was the same story and a paper provided by Todd Lawson, comparing the story of Joseph with its analysis of forgiveness, love, purity, and hope to the section of the Iqán that many know as “the true seeker” [“The Bahá’í Tradition: The Return of Joseph and the Peaceable Imagination”].

JJohn Lyons-Baralohn Lyons-Baral, a geological engineer currently working for a mining- and geology-software company in Tucson, Arizona, became a Bahá’í in 2008. During the last fifteen or sixteen years he has thought often about reconciling religion and science and has worked on it when he had time. At his last cluster reflection gathering, he committed to leading a devotional on religion and science for his community, something he had previously decided to do. Then the Wilmette Institute intervened. John saw an email from the Wilmette Institute advertising Dr. Steven Friberg’s free Web Talk on “Science and Religion” on November 15. He signed up for the talk, which increased his desire to take Dr. Friberg’s course Science, Religion, and the Bahá’í Faith, which began on November 20, 2015. John was intrigued by Dr. Friberg’s statement in his Web Talk that there is a need for more literature on religion and science, something about which he is interested in learning more. Now let John tell you how his devotional turned out:

“On Sunday, January 3, I conducted my first devotional ever. Its theme was science and religion because the subject is where my heart is. I prepared the readings from various sources in the course on Science, Religion, and the Bahá’í Faith, mostly from the first couple of units. Since this devotional was intended to be ongoing, I made sure not to delve into any of the scientific discipline-specific writings immediately and rather focused on the general, like this course. Ten Bahá’ís and three youth friends attended the two-hour meeting. We had coffee, tea, donuts, and muffins.

“I started the devotional with a brief introduction of myself, why I chose the topic of science and religion, and a brief overview of the devotional. I started with a prayer and then we all read one of the Bahá’í writings I had brought. After that, I had us break for food and beverage and to let our thoughts settle in before we returned to have a discussion of the readings and the subject. As people trickled back in, the discussion started naturally from a smaller conversation that had already begun. It was wonderful to see everyone so interested and provoked by the writings and the challenge of reconciling science and religion. There was a diversity of ideas and opinions but within the Bahá’í framework of the oneness of religion and science and the general unity of humanity; the conversation was only positive and focused on understanding everyone’s’ perspectives. I closed the meeting on a funny note from one of the youth friends, who commented on our conversation reminding him of the game Settlers of Catan, where players must determine how to advance their settlements on an island that does not have enough resources for the amount of people.

“As we were closing, four people asked if I would do another devotional. Everyone seemed engaged, open to talking and listening. It was a pleasure, and I look forward to the next devotional in February.”

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