God and I have an inside joke about chairs.
In the first year or so after I became a Bahá’í, I helped organize the Sunday devotionals program at the Dallas Baha’i Center. This was during the time when the Center was in a funky old house on Northwest Highway, not the big church that it’s in now.
The devotionals were held in the big room in the back. At the back of the room we’re stacks and stacks of chairs which could be configured however people wanted depending on what we were doing for the event.
If it were the 19-Day Feast, the chairs would the line the room to accommodate 100 Persian Baha’i’s and other friends who gathered dutifully for the sacred monthly meeting of prayer, consultation, and the “social component.”
But on Sundays, a small group would gather to say prayers. These devotionals were designed more for people who came from Christian traditions and who liked to get together on Sunday. It also presumably more comfortable for visitors to come on Sunday. People could browse the bookstore, have lunch after prayers and readings, and have spiritual talks.
I was in charge of opening the center, setting up the chairs, and greeting people. I’d help facilitate the prayers as well by putting programs together for the small events. Since we never knew how many people would be there, we always place ample chairs about.
One morning, I was by myself setting chairs out, frustrated that I was doing so little to serve the Cause of Peace.
Wasn’t I a teacher? Wasn’t I a writer? Wasn’t i good at organizing events to bring people together?
Could I do more than set up chairs?
I daresay, I lamented my task. It seemed beneath me. And in that space of prayer, God heard me.
Over the next few years, a whirlwind of service tossed me about. I served on committees and four different Local Spiritual Assemblies. I took all the study circles and started facilitating those. I facilitated junior youth groups and taught other people how to serve the junior youth in four Southern states in the U.S. I was an area training institute coordinator. Did newsletters. Did trainings and devotionals and children’s classes and home visits and travelled and sang with the Voices of Baha in several countries and in Nashville at Ryman Auditorium. I helped with deepenings and fireside talks and conferences and more.
And I got burned out. I had to get quiet. I had to get away and fall in love again with why I was doing all of this in the first place. I had to be with what made me want to be a Bahá’í in the first place: The renewed Spirit of Christ in the world and the Most Great Peace.
I had to sit and ponder in my heart how it behooveth me to Be.
So I grabbed a chair. Was still. Knew that He is God.
I found a path of service to the wider community. Developing friendships in the railroad town where I grew up, just south of Dallas, I saw how I could “teach peace” here. The community theatre became the place where I would serve, through laughter and touching hearts with story.
I stayed in touch with some Bahá’í friends, but I wasn’t actively engaged in the community.
I’d pick up a prayer book every once in a while. Some mornings, I’d awaken with the Morning Prayer on my lips. I’d think the Noon obligatory prayer from time to time but I’d rarely say it aloud or intone it.
I always kept pictures of Holy places near. Abdul Baha and I have always been close. He’s the Father of my heart.
But I didn’t have people over for tea and spiritual talks, meditations on the Names of God, or to plan events or classes.
Even though I have the “My home is the home of Peace” quote near my front door, few people entered my home at all to “go out with a gladsome heart”or to enter to “become illumined.”
Then one day, I was at the theatre arranging the chairs for the audience that would come, while pondering what Abdul Baha purportedly said about theatre being the pulpit of the future.
I laughed when I saw myself quietly arranging chairs.
I had come full circle.
It’s funny how God makes these grand circles so neatly for us. I suppose it’s the nature of this revolving world around the Sun, around Him.
Chairs, they are sacred. They allow us to gather, to be one in the task of the day. They provide us comfort while we make plans, tell stories and sing songs. We grieve, we fall in love, we dream in chairs.
Chairs are for bodies. Chairs are for souls.
I am thankful to be an arranger of chairs.
When I arrange chairs now, I have a quiet laugh with Our Creator and say the best prayer I know: “Thank You.” When I arrange chairs now, it is with reverence, humility.
I’m thankful for the chair where I am. I’m thankful for your chair, too. Let’s arrange them more closely so we can see eye to eye, so can share some time, space, and kindness.
Make plans for the New Day.