Asking the Clergy: How were you called to a life of religious service?
The call to religious service can be experienced by laypersons as well as clergy. This week’s commenters discuss how influential teachings, a desire to help others and a friend’s gift enlarged their spiritual journeys.
Marie McNair of East Patchogue
Secretary, Regional Baha'i Council of the Northeastern States
The Baha’i faith has no clergy, but as a member of the faith I am dedicated to a life of religious service by striving to put the teachings of Baha’u’llah, our religion’s founder, into action in two interconnected ways. One is through the cultivation of my spiritual life by developing such qualities as kindness, love and compassion, and the other is by serving humanity.
My study of the Baha’i writings reassures me that as we come to understand and put into practice the unity of humanity, the oneness of religion, the equality of women and men, and freedom from prejudice, we contribute to the betterment of our communities. I feel a sense of purpose every day from my involvement in the same community-building activities that I do here on Long Island as millions of Baha’is throughout the world facilitate in the communities where they live.
These activities include classes that provide spiritual and moral education to children, junior youth groups that develop the moral, ethical and spiritual lives of young adolescents, study groups that combine textual studies with acts of service and community development for adults, and devotional gatherings for people of all or no religions to share prayers.
Teacher, Global Harmony House (Brahma Kumaris), Great Neck
When a close friend gives you a useful gift that you didn’t realize you needed, you instantly recognize how appropriate it is in your life and how much you appreciate the gift. You received something that only a true friend who knows you well could offer. My experience in becoming a spiritual teacher developed in the same way.
In my 30s I was given a gift, an awareness about my true nature: an eternal spiritual being, a soul, which I did not know before. This made me feel complete, whole and holy. It felt as if I received the gift of knowledge and insight from God. Unfortunately, or fortunately, there was not a community for me of the Brahma Kumaris in Chicago 35 years ago, and I was somewhat thrust into the role of sharing and teaching others the fundamental principles of the practices of Raja Yoga Meditation, which is central to our faith.
If there had been others to play the role of teacher or preacher, I would have supported that, but instead it was a call for me to step up and play the role of a spiritual resource. I felt it deeply and wanted to share the blessing I had received with others. It continues today.
Michel Engu Dobbs Roshi
Zen priest, Ocean Zendo meditation center, Bridgehampton
I am blessed to be the younger brother of Nico Dobbs, a wonderful, loving man who has Down syndrome. Growing up with him opened my eyes to the struggles people face in life and fed the anger I felt as a young man that eventually led me to start practicing Zen. Growing up with my brother also awakened in me a desire to help people, especially those who were somehow marginalized. I suppose this was my call to ministry.
My Zen teacher, Peter Muryo Matthiessen Roshi, asked me to ordain as part of my study, and I reluctantly agreed. Despite my initial hesitation, I embraced the practice and study that followed, a practice of being fully present and taking care of this moment, breath after breath. Being ordained has allowed me to spend time with people who are dying and with young men in the prison system. I’ve been led to bear witness to human suffering from Auschwitz, to the streets of New York, to the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations.
The lesson that I have learned in doing this is that ministry is not a one-way street — we are all called to care for one another, just like Nico has always cared for me.
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