March 1, 2007
Fourth in a series—
The room is warm and crowded, and the sounds of children’s squeals fill the space between the 38 Bahá’ís who have gathered in a local home to observe the 19th day of the Bahá’í calendar month with feast. They have come together to pray, to conduct community business, and to connect with each other in a way that feels very much like family.
The Yellow Springs Bahá’í community includes 22 adults and 16 children, each of whom plays an active role in unifying their Bahá’í community here and reaching out to others in the village, across the nation and around the world in pursuit of the oneness of humanity. For the Bahá’ís of Yellow Springs, it isn’t a church or a minister that stands at the center of their faith, but a fire burning in their hearts that propels them toward that goal.
A community with goals
Nacim, an Iranian-American Montessori school teacher who grew up in Yellow Springs, and Cyprian, who came to the village by way of Uganda, Iowa and Jamaica, are a busy young couple expecting their first baby in March. And yet the energy they dedicate to their faith is not uncommon for Yellow Springs Bahá’ís who are united in their purpose: overcoming the divisive barriers of gender, class, race, religion and nationalism to create world unity.
Bahá’ís were given a detailed democratic system for achieving a peaceful and united future for the world when Bahá’u’lláh declared his message from God in Iran in 1863, according to Jim Malarkey, a Bahá’í who chairs the Undergraduate Studies program at Antioch University McGregor. Through careful interpretation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and other sacred scriptures, Bahá’ís understand that there is only one God and one human race, and that all the world religions contain divine truth, each appearing in its own context with a message appropriate for the times, he said.
“All religions have truth, but what we need now is to get rid of the sectarian divisions that have accumulated over the ages and become aware of our interdependency,” Malarkey said.
The purpose of life for a Bahá’í, according to Jim’s wife Nadia Malarkey, is to know and love God through daily prayer and meditation and through action toward the transformation of a more unified global society. Community members serve the duties a church minister might provide, but they do it through group consultation by the local spiritual assembly. The assembly arbitrates in community about interpersonal conflicts and also provides social services for several members with mental and physical disabilities.
Every 19 days the Yellow Springs Bahá’ís convene in a local home for feast. Bahá’ís host regular devotionals and fireside events for prayers from the holy writings of, for example, the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, according to www.bahai.org, the official Web site for the Bahá’í Faith. Together community members interpret and rely on Bahá’í writings and the administrative order of the faith, a very specific outline of the most peaceful process of governance needed to resolve local, national and global issues.
Coming to the faith
In describing his investigation of the Bahá’í Faith as a solution to the world’s problems, Jim Malarkey said he felt the Bahá’í Faith presented a path-breaking view in accepting the truth of all religions.
“I’m not a joiner, I like to be independent of thought; I am an anthropologist and I find great value in other cultures and religions, but I’ve found no other single ideology that accepted all of them,” he said. “Bahá’ís also value racial unity and feel it’s a good idea to marry people of a different race. This is outrageous! Either this is divine revelation or… .”
Miracle and Shane Elum, the parents of two adopted African-American children, Reese and Christian, became Bahá’ís last year because they wanted to be part of a spiritual group that was dynamic and inclusive, Shane said. According to Miracle, the Bahá’ís were warm and open and offered virtues education through youth classes for their children.
“The closeness of the community really and truly seemed like an extended family, with a very powerful focus on world peace, unity and humanity being one,” Miracle said. “This Yellow Springs Bahá’í community has so many children and the classes are doing such a good job of educating them.”
Children are the future
“We have an opportunity to raise the first generation of people to be free of prejudice,” Mulhall said. “The work we do with the children is for the whole community, not just for the Bahá’ís. It’s a service to help bring about that recognition of the oneness of humanity from the youngest child up.”
According to Malarkey, all the Bahá’í communities are urged by the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of Bahá’ís worldwide, to focus their efforts on the children, who are “the most precious treasure a community can possess because they guarantee the future.”
An older member of the youth group, Kevin Malarkey, 18, thinks of the Bahá’í community as his second family, with people he could always go to for help or to talk about things. It wasn’t always easy in high school to be the one who refrained from experimenting with drinking, drugs and sex, he said. But he remained committed to his beliefs that he knows will guide him in his future decisions to perhaps go abroad for a year of service, to study drama in college, and to marry and raise a Bahá’í family of his own.
Legacy of Bahá’ís in Yellow
The three Yellow Springs Bahá’ís were encouraged by their regional counselor to continue to hold feast and to organize devotional and fireside events focused on relevant political and spiritual issues. By the early 1980s, the events were drawing as many as 60 people, amongst them several singles and young Bahá’í families who soon moved to town, he said.
The current generation of Bahá’ís in Yellow Springs has sustained a level of continuity for nearly 20 years, and has seen growth amongst its ranks in the past few years that parallels national growth in Bahá’í membership, Mader said. Though the local group does not have the visibility that the older religions in the village have through their historic structures, it is nevertheless growing beyond the means of the homes of its members. To make their Bahá’í events work, the group rents space at the Senior Center, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and the First Presbyterian Church.
But the group is preparing for a more permanent solution in the future by setting aside funds in anticipation of finding a building of its own. “It’s unclear at this point, but we’re clearly in a growth mode and we’ve been blessed with a committed group,” Mader said. “The Bahá’í community of Yellow Springs is remarkably vibrant in the capacity and quality of servitude of its members.”
The lofty goals that followers of the Bahá’í Faith feel they can attain through spiritual practice give them hope and compel them to commit to their community. According to Cyprian Sajabi, all the world’s citizens benefit from better communication and greater peace, therefore non-Bahá’ís benefit as well as Bahá’ís do from the teachings of the faith.
“The Bahá’í revelation is a gift for all humanity and it’s not conditioned on being a Bahá’í,” Sajabi said. “The creator loves all of us, and we as Bahá’ís are to love everybody with an infinite ray of love.”