San Diego social network thrives even through social distancing
As the coronavirus pandemic deepened, Julie Iraninejad saw more and more how “the close social networks that have been created through the core activities have really helped us at this time of struggle.”
Iraninejad, a Baha’i in San Diego, was able to smoothly move those Baha’i-initiated core activities of community building online — or, in the case of children’s classes, provide materials for parents to use with their kids at home.
A devotional gathering held every week in the home of a person who is learning about the teachings of Baha’u’llah, prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, was taken onto Zoom and opened via Facebook invitation to anyone.
Slides with quotes and prayers are shared on the screen, and attendees have started using them in their own devotionals, says Iraninejad.
Another gathering for a small group of neighborhood friends also has gone online, along with sessions of a group studying Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, in the Ruhi curriculum that prepares people to offer core activities.
Later, Iraninejad added a weekly Tuesday afternoon online children’s devotional and spiritual storytime, as well as a Friday evening women’s devotional and discussion.
In preparing materials for these Zoom meetings, the assistance of Iraninejad’s “technical advisers” — daughters Lilly, 12, and Rose, 10 — has been invaluable, she says.
“I do the content and they clean it up and make it look good,” relates Iraninejad. “During one devotional, I had to call on my technical advisers twice.”
In addition to the activities themselves, friendships built over time in her Del Sur neighborhood have enabled participants to ensure one another’s needs are met.
“We’re checking in on each other,” relates Iraninejad. “People have gone and gotten groceries for others who have not been able to. There’s a couple of single moms in the core activities that struggle to make ends meet, and others have arisen to serve and support them.”
Reflecting on this, she says one can readily see “the wisdom of connecting on this neighborhood level, and definitely there’s increased receptivity to spirituality in this crisis.”
“People are longing for something that transcends the turmoil of this realm,” says Iraninejad. “And I think that’s why we’re seeing an increase in participants.”
It’s an opportunity for Baha’is “to really seize the day and be of service and empower” those friends of the Faith, she says.
“The comfort that comes from the vision of the writings, and the guidance that comes from that, is such an important thing. And we need to give that plenteously to those around us, in this time especially.”
To her, this process of community building brings to life a quotation from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, son of Baha’u’llah: “Lift your hearts above the present and look with eyes of faith into the future!”
That applies within her family as well, says Iraninejad. Julie, her husband, Mehraban, and their daughters have held weekly family meetings for years, and those increased in frequency when circumstances forced all members home full time.
The girls’ Monday-to-Friday schedules — weekends are “chill time” — devote sufficient hours for study, recreation, service and other activities, she says. Mother-daughter time with each child also is built in.
The inevitable concerns that arise from being together 24/7 are addressed as well. But Iraninejad sees them and everything happening in this period of time as “a blessing and also an opportunity for spiritual growth.”
As she sums it up, “It just gives you hope that whatever happens, you can continue to serve the plan of God.”