The Ministry of Shoghi Effendi Course: Gives New Understandings about His Life

When she signed up for the course The Ministry of Shoghi Effendi (faculty, Barney Leith, and Ed DiLiberto), Charlotte Gavin, a Bahá’í from Silver Spring, Maryland, wrote: I have been a Bahá’í since 1976. This year it dawned on me how far along Bahá’ís are chronologically since the beginning of this still very young faith. When I became a Bahá’í, we had meetings in the house of an elderly woman named Marguerite Hipsley, who had met ‘Abdul-Bahá when she was a child. I do not think there is anyone alive now who can say that. I knew many people who had personally known the Guardian or heard him speak: Dorothy Baker and Stanwood Cobb, for example. I was the guest in the house of a gentleman (Counselor) who had grown up in the house of ‘Abdul-Bahá. So in 2012, it was one hundred years since ‘Abdul-Bahá had visited North America and ninety-one years since Shoghi Effendi became Guardian. I wanted to study them both with a more organized purpose in order to put into action whatever it is they came to give us.” In 2012 Charlotte took ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America and in 2015 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: His Life and Ministry. In 2016, with her study of Shoghi Effendi’s ministry, she has completed a triad of courses on two very important figures in the Bahá’í Faith. Read on to hear what Charlotte has learned.

My Goals for the Course: “My first goals for The Ministry of Shoghi Effendi were two: First, I pledged to read everything assigned, which I have done, although I will have to re-read them repeatedly in the next months. Second, I promised to participate in the discussions and listen to others. I am fairly okay with my performance, although there is always (a lot of) room for improvement.

“My third goal was more peculiar to this course: to concentrate on Shoghi Effendi and what he endured in dragging what must have seemed like the entire world into Bahá’u’lláh’s new World Order. I sometimes envisioned Shoghi Effendi with the planet on his shoulders and him standing until Bahá’u’lláh let him roll it over to the waiting Hands of the Cause of God.

“Barney Leith, one of the course’s faculty and my mentor, advised me: ‘Your third objective is really important as we move into the latest phase of the global plans of the Universal House of Justice. Understanding the process of which we are a part will surely help us see that we are engaged in realizing the vision of the Master expressed in the Tablets of the Divine Plan. Seeing how Shoghi Effendi overcame extraordinary challenges and difficulties to move the community from how it was at the time of the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to what it had become at the end of the Ten Year Crusade helps us to meet the challenges we face as we answer the call of the Universal House of Justice in its December 29, 2015, message. . . . It would be good if you were to add one objective to your four, and that is to complete the Learning Self- Assessment at the end of the course. This is an important element of the course and one that will help you consolidate your learning—as, indeed, would the paper that you are considering.’

“Completing the entire course was my goal, and after Barney emphasized the importance of the Learning Self-Assessment, it became my fourth goal.

My fifth goal was to write an essay or paper on Shoghi Effendi’s sufferings and his joys.

“The theme of epochs/ages/phases was the essential backdrop of Shoghi Effendi’s work. They remind us how the entire universe, or at least what we know of it, moves in cycles, which may be a few moments or a few millennia. . . . Every activity with a purpose and a goal has its beginning, its middle, and its finish. Within those three categories are further divisions, depending on the process involved or how one proceeds and at what pace.

Understandings and Insights I Gained: “I was taking The Ministry of Shoghi Effendi course, studying the beautiful writings and letters that give our lives so much meaning, interacting with other souls who seemed so much better than I: you cannot imagine what a relief it is to read the encouragements of Barney and Ed DiLiberto and the postings they and the other course participants suggested. We, from all corners of the globe, were talking to each other and helping each other, for these three reasons: Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi.

“Although I have learned more about Shoghi Effendi than I knew before, I also developed a greater understanding and respect for Ruhíyyih Khánum. May Maxwell prayed for a child, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá met that child, knowing she would someday be the greatest help and shield to His beloved grandson. Knowing that, He must also have known that His own family, however numerous, would not help Shoghi in the long run. Indeed, He said to Shoghi: They will all be abased. He knew this even as they circled round him, prayed and believed in Bahá’u’lláh, and revered His son. Yet, in the final analysis, they would betray His grandson and Himself. The whole story is like a fairy tale, and one of vastly higher order than what that term evokes—or perhaps a cautionary tale. This story lives for its spiritual meaning, the meaning that fairy tales truly had in their deepest essence, and, while Shoghi Effendi did triumph, the tumbling of those “mighty oaks”—as Ruhíyyih Khánum called Shoghi Effendi’s family members—should stand as a warning to us all. No matter how close, the sun can blind one after all. Sometimes I think, oh, if only I had met Shoghi Effendi, or ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, I would be a better person. Bahá’ís seemed to have drawn such life-long inspiration from those meetings. Yet, as Ruhíyyih Khánum found, even being constantly close to Shoghi Effendi was no protection; she still suffered from the actions and behavior of the Covenant-Breakers. She was steadfast, loving, efficient, very intelligent, and totally loyal. In this relationship at least, Shoghi Effendi’s family life was fortunate. . . .

Things I Learned: The Station of Guardianship and the Administrative Order: “While I did understand that Shoghi Effendi was in no way a Manifestation or progenitor of revelation, the course clarified his main function of “Interpreter.” I had no trouble distinguishing between the uniqueness of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Who reflected the Manifestation’s light but did not generate it. The function of the Guardian was a little harder to grasp. The Guardianship and Shoghi Effendi are not the same. . . . In His Will and Testament, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, laid out conditions whereby a subsequent Guardian, directly descended from Shoghi Effendi, might be appointed and would co-exist with the Universal House of Justice. As it turned out, these particular conditions did not come to pass. Shoghi Effendi accepted the mantle of Guardianship and guided the Bahá’ís until he died. Because he had no children, there could not be another Guardian. It is the Universal House of Justice that must make decisions. Electing a House of Justice had never been done before and would take some time; hence the Hands of the Cause of God guided the Bahá’í world for several years.

Emeric Sala’s exchange with the Guardian was illuminating. One evening, while Sala was on pilgrimage, Shoghi Effendi asked him a question: “‘Since after the martyrdom of the Báb the authority of the Faith was passed on to Bahá’u’lláh, and after his passing to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, to whom was it transferred after the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá?’” Sala first guessed Shoghi Effendi, then the Guardian, and finally the Universal House of Justice. Each time the Guardian shook his head and looked at Sala with disappointment. Then “he asked, are the friends not reading my letters? The answer, he said, is clearly stated in The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh. It is divided into four parts: Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and the fourth part entitled the “World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which is the answer to his question” (“Shoghi Effendi’s Question,” in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi 189–90). I felt quite sorry for Emeric, for he made a mistake I would have made myself—that of conflating the Administrative Order with Shoghi Effendi himself. When Shoghi Effendi became Guardian, much as he loved his Grandfather, he knew he could not, and should not, imitate him in certain ways. The new world order enshrined in the Bahá’í revelation was entering a new phase and need to severe entirely any ties to Islam. Shoghi Effendi never went to the mosque, never allowed the Bahá’ís to treat him personally as a Bahá’í icon. He did not encourage anyone to look upon him as a father figure, something which had come naturally to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. The time for a cult of personality . . . was not fitting. Shoghi Effendi signed himself as a Bahá’í brother.

“‘Abdu’l-Bahá laid the foundation for the Administrative Order in His Will and Testament and for the spread of teachings in His Tablets of the Divine Plan revealed between March 1916 and March 1917. Relatively few Bahá’ís answered the call, but even the most active, such as Martha Root, Agnes Alexander, Lua Getsinger, and Lulie Matthews, did not leave a detailed a history of their activities. It was up to Shoghi Effendi to build the template according to the blueprint laid out in the Will and Testament and the Tablets of the Divine Plan. No Bahá’í activity should go unrecorded. By keeping well-organized records and files, he ensured that the milestones would be recognized and remembered. He kept maps with Bahá’í activities indicated—in sight, in mind, at all times and in cycles and phases. Shoghi Effendi was not a mathematician, but he had a sense of Sacred Geometry.

Learning New Skills: “I definitely learned that I need to be more mathematical when considering Shoghi Effendi. He thought in terms of Sacred Geometry, of the numerical relationship of all things to all things. Of course, his Sacred Geometry is understandable to an ordinary person, not just to a mathematician. Hence I can discuss more clearly my understanding of the phases of the Faith’s development. Shoghi Effendi carefully tabulated the increase of individual believers, of local Spiritual Assemblies, of National Spiritual Assemblies, and so on. He was never afraid of being too methodical. He knew that his careful record keeping was perhaps all that stood between chaos and order, for the Bahá’ís could have fallen into confusion, as did the followers of earlier religions. . . . I have learned the true importance of record keeping, and of having a clear view of achievements and also of failings. I am endeavoring to become clearer in all my thinking, which is good since I am a librarian and must deal with details (to varying degrees of success) in my daily work.

My Changing Values and Beliefs: “I am clearer about the station of the Guardianship. Perhaps the experience of Emeric Sala was most important. I think I would have made his mistake and disappointed Shoghi Effendi. But it was an understandable mistake. The Bahá’ís bestowed so much love and devotion on Shoghi Effendi, . . . partly because of the memory of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá but also because he was the North Star for all Bahá’ís. Without Shoghi Effendi the compasses would have gone haywire.

“As far as values, I am striving to emulate the stoic qualities of the Guardian: most of all, his focused quality. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writes in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (73: 110–11) that growth of knowledge comes from focus, for if your lens is flat, your intake (and the output) of the light of the teachings will be flat and incomplete. Rather, you must have a concave or convex lens on which the light is focused on a single point, eliminating all the unimportant views. It is a fact that even the most near-sighted person can read if they wear perforated glasses—the tiny holes focus the eye and allow it to take in the words on the page.

How I Plan to Apply What I Gained: “I will start with my personal life, intensifying my reading. I have been clearing my reading and listening lists so that I can use my time for only dealing with the Faith. Time seems short and urgent. I will try and be more practical and strategic in my thinking and not fantasize about some mystical future where people will just have magically accepted Bahá’u’lláh. I am one of the ones to help that happen.”

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