thoughts about pilgrimage

nine pointed starMy family’s pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre is over, but the journey of others has only just begun. Several friends and acquaintances—Sham, Sahba and Melody are among those leaving for pilgrimage this season; the Moradipours (you may know Tassnim, Basim or Salim) just returned from their pilgrimage last week, and their photos are already up on flickr—good time, considering mine weren’t up for an entire month.

Maruška from Slovenije, er, I mean Slovenia—took time away from writing her thesis to write up her pilgrimage experiences for everyone to read. Go check them out, it’s definitely worth the read. Maruška is one of the Baha’is who stayed with us at the well-recommended hostel, the Port Inn, in Haifa. She taught me that cmrlj means “bumblebee” in Slovenian. We have fond memories of the good times shared with our fellow “Port Inners”. We miss Rachel too 🙁

A few more friends we met on pilgrimage have made their presence known on the Internet. Seth from Georgia, Nina from NZ and Farideh from Saskatoon were all part of our 250-strong set of pilgrims. See Farideh’s photos, Nina’s photos and Seth’s photos on flickr. Juliette was part of our group—the French group—and has posted her photos to flickr as well.

A few folks have asked me questions about pilgrimage tips—what to do, what not to do, where to go, etc. Here are a few tips that might be helpful to those visiting the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa and ‘Akká:

  • Spend as much time in the shrines as possible, and attend the evening talks. You’ll probably find that they help you understand the nature of pilgrimage and your role as a pilgrim.
  • Make effort to say the long obligatory prayer as much as you can. Make a special effort to say it within the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh at Bahji if you can.
  • Use your time in the shrines to say the Tablets of Visitation. That’s what they were revealed for and you will find that they will really come alive when you say them in the Shrines.
  • Crying is not mandatory, so don’t feel bad if you don’t.
  • When visiting, try and stick with a group of six to ten people; that way, it’ll be easier for you to fill up a sherut (communal taxi). Travel by sherut as much as you can, whether within the city or outside; it’s the cheapest way to get around and is reasonably comfortable. Taxi drivers (driving normal-sized taxis) will stop whenever they see you to ask if you need a taxi; tell them that you’re waiting for a sherut. Taxis are ridiculously expensive, sheruts are not. Sheruts usually look like minibuses, and can hold ten people.
  • Spend a day in the Old City of ‘Akká if you have the time. We did it and enjoyed it a lot. You should be able to get a map of a walking tour of ‘Akká that you can follow on your own; if you know someone who lives in Haifa who can show you around, that’s even better.
  • Use the time spent visiting the Holy Places to call to mind the sufferings of Bahá’u’lláh and the Holy Family.
  • Read the pamphlets you received from the Department of Pilgrimage; read them carefully and all the way through. They include a lot of really useful information that you will really be glad you knew.

That’s it for now. I’ve been pretty busy lately, but you should be able to look forward to a continuation of the “post-pilgrimage” series in the next few weeks, sharing more of my impressions of pilgrimage as they relate to my understanding of the Baha’i Writings.

pilgrimage photos

all you patient people. look at you out there, I could just kiss you! it’s taken a whole month, but your patience has been rewarded. my pilgrimage photos—all 545 of them—are now online on my flickr photostream. go see them, leave notes and comments (free flickr or yahoo account required), and, most of all, relive the nine-day pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre through my trusty camera. Oh yes, and tell your friends. kthx. bye.

post-pilgrimage four

shrine of baha'u'llahPraise be to Thee, O my God, that Thou hast aided me to remember Thee and to praise Thee, and hast made known unto me Him Who is the Dayspring of Thy signs… (Bahá’u’lláh)

When I visited the Bahá’í Shrine in Montreal this past summer—I was on my way to Moncton by train and stopped over at the Shrine moments before it closed—I had a singular experience. Believe it or not, it was my first experience in any sort of Bahá’í holy place; I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know what to do. So I just sat by the window in the room of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, trying to close my one eye to “the world and all that is therein” and open the other eye to “the hallowed beauty of the Beloved”[1], and wordlessly asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to help me pray. And oddly enough, as I opened one of the available prayer books and began to pray, I seemed to hear the voice of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saying the words with me, helping me pray.

I admit that, as I first set foot into the Holy Shrines in Haifa and in Bahji, I expected the same sort of experience, and was quietly surprised (and disappointed) when it didn’t happen. If I had to try and describe what happened instead, I would say that it was as if I was gradually aided to understand just what the heck I was saying while praying. Through the loving guidance of, among others, Hand of the Cause Dr. Varqa and the members of the Universal House of Justice who spoke to us at the nightly talks in the Auditorium of the International Teaching Centre, I came to believe that one’s highest duty when visiting the Shrines is simply to offer praise and worship to those Blessed Figures who are the centres of our adoration. So I tried it. I entered the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and simply remembered and praised ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. I entered the Shrine of the Báb and remembered and praised Him. I entered the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh and, powerless to do much else, I remembered His sacrifice and offered what little praise I could offer, asking for God’s grace in accepting it. And, well, I guess it worked.

Whenever I recite the long obligatory prayer now, I remember saying it in the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, two rooms over from the Qiblih—from the Point of Adoration towards which Bahá’ís offer their obligatory prayer every day.

[1]: Bahá’u’lláh, Persian Hidden Words, no. 12.

post-pilgrimage three

gathering together on the arcO My friends! Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? (Bahá’u’lláh)

The first big snow came a few days ago in Ottawa—though certain unlikely candidates had been snowed in far earlier. The first month of snow is always so beautiful to me; magical, wonderful. It evokes impressions from the earlier years of my life, bringing forth feelings of happiness and well-being, security, and anticipation of the month of celebration to come (my birthday is on the 7th, and well, there’s Christmas). For some reason, though, all those feelings seem to fall short compared to the feelings of serenity, happiness and well-being I felt strolling through the Ridván garden, visiting the houses once occupied by Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and praying in the Holy Shrines. When I stop to reflect on my experiences over the past month or so, I am struck by the intensity of that experience, so much so that every other joy seems to be nothing but a trifle in comparison. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a source of dismay or—as I see it—a source of joy, certitude, and hope.

“Remember My days during thy days,” says Bahá’u’lláh, “and My distress and banishment in this remote prison.” These words are companions to me now, standing as reminders of Bahá’u’lláh’s life, filled with sorrow and tribulation, the evidences of which I saw with my very own eyes while walking through the streets of ‘Akká, while climbing the steps of that Most Great Prison, where Bahá’u’lláh lived for two years, and where His youngest son gave his own life. I focus on these thoughts now whenever I feel weak or confused, or when I feel I’m losing that vital connection to the Divine Spirit that keeps us all going deep down inside. Calling to mind Bahá’u’lláh’s life reminds me that He “consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage,” and that He “accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty.”

Remembering our spiritual life is hard sometimes, especially when we’re not used to it. The more we do, though, the more free we feel from the ups and downs of life. Some people go to church, or whatever spiritual gathering applies. Some people get out into nature or putter around in a garden. Some people burn incense or chant and sing. Some people pray and meditate. And some people do all of the above (at least once in a while). I’ve blogged before about the useful spiritual habits that Bahá’ís rely on for spiritual growth; Hand of the Cause Mr. H. Collis Featherstone describes prayers and similar spiritual habits as the only thing we can bring with us into the next world (hence the importance of memorizing prayers). Even so, I still continuously struggle, day by day, to remember these basic building blocks of spiritual life. I know that the more I struggle and the more effort I expend, the more I learn—and the closer I grow towards God.

This post is dedicated to Mees, in the hopes that he’ll remember to answer my email!

post-pilgrimage two

baha'i terracesO Son of Being! Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent. Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation. (Bahá’u’lláh)

Feeling better now, and getting back into the swing of things. I’ve got less laundry lying around, the jetlag has mostly faded, and work is getting back on track. Keeping alive the conscious contact with God is a challenge when there are so many things around to steal away your energy—the effect of messy, disorganized environment has begun to dawn on me quite clearly. So, ok, doing laundry is one step, but managing my time is another thing that saps a lot of my energy right now. I haven’t yet found one reliable way to manage my time that allows me to efficiently and consistently juggle all the different things going on in my life. Which reminds me: another step I would like to take is to rewrite the set of rules by which I carry new ideas to action. In the past, my pattern has been to impulsively jump on new projects that look interesting (shiny objects, anyone?) I’d like to adopt a new pattern, in which I run all these new ideas through a set of reality checks to weed out the projects that will obviously never get done. Hopefully, something like this would help me maintain focus on those important things that are most necessary in day-to-day life and those that are (hopefully) most aligned with the Will of God.

There’s been more prayer and meditation in my life lately, and my mood has improved, which is good. I feel like I’ve learned how to pray through being so close to the Holy Shrines and asking for help at the Sacred Thresholds. Attaining to the Presence of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdul-Bahá was such a powerful experience—I feel like it’s left its mark on my soul, or at least I fervently hope it has. I hope that by the grace of God, I may be enabled to continue turning my will over to His day by day, one day at a time.

The grace of God is something I want to share about with you all—but that’ll have to wait for another night. Stay tuned and keep checking out the new pilgrimage photos on flickr. Also check out Maruška’s livejournal for another view of our pilgrimage from a fellow “Port Inner“.