post-pilgrimage one

moonlitThy love, O my Lord, hath enriched me, and separation from Thee hath destroyed me, and remoteness from Thee hath consumed me. (Bahá’u’lláh)

sadness came over me today as I realized that I was no longer in Haifa, and that pilgrimage was over. perhaps it was while posting my 100th pilgrimage photo to flickr, reliving the enriching thrill of nearness to the Holy Shrines, and fondly remembering all the new friends I made amongst my fellow pilgrims. since returning, I haven’t been following my daily programme of prayer, readings, and meditation as closely as I’d like. Maybe getting back on track with these will help soften the impact and help put me back into conscious contact with my Higher Power.

Catherine graciously typed out all the email addresses of people we met while on pilgrimage, so we can get back in touch with them, share photos, and so on. there’s a lot of getting in touch to do and I’m looking forward to that.

Yesterday morning, I dreamt that I was writing an exam at school – except that I didn’t recognize or understand most of the questions. For the ones I did understand, I didn’t have the tools I needed – for example, a ruler to measure lines, a calculator, etc. I remember feeling scared and anxious.

glorious

shrine of the bábwe’re back from pilgrimage.

There’s no way I could possibly share with you the full range of emotions we experienced, nor the depth and intensity of the spiritual forces that overtook us at every moment. There’s no way to share with you the transformation we’ve undergone in our outlook and our understanding. Every atom of my body wants to sing out in praise and I feel like my soul is blazing out with oceans of light.

In the weeks to come, I will try to share with you glimpses of our experience as guests of Bahá’u’lláh in the Holy Land, but be warned that my tongue and my pen will necessarily fall short of conveying the full grandeur, glory and beauty of the experience.

shalom from israel

hi everybody – greetings from Tel Aviv. It’s currently 7:47 PM. Mom, Catherine and I arrived in Israel this morning at about 4 AM local time. Left from Montreal on the night of the 27th, arriving at Heathrow Airport in London at around 9 AM local time. We visited the Guardian’s resting place and said prayers, and spent a little time in London (visited Piccadilly Circus) before taking the underground back to Heathrow in time for our connection to Tel Aviv. The weather here is OK; it’s overcast and mild. We’ve hardly had any sleep since leaving from Montreal, so we booked a room for the day in a hotel here and just slept straight through. We just had dinner (mexican food… ?!??) and are about to depart for the bus station to catch a ride to Haifa, where our reservation awaits and the pilgrimage program begins tomorrow morning.

We can’t wait to get there, to meet our fellow pilgrims, and to begin the experience of pilgrimage to the Baha’i Shrines and holy places. It is really exciting to be here. We will keep you all in our prayers – no, really, we have lists – and hope that God will accept our devotions and shower confirmations on all your (and our) efforts to love and serve humanity.

Update: Nov 8 2006 – hey everybody. it’s 10 AM Israel time, and we’re getting ready to leave our cozy little hostel in Haifa, the Port Inn. At 11 AM, our bus leaves for Tel Aviv; our flight to London leaves at 4:45 PM. Pilgrimage has been very moving and beautiful – very hard to describe. All of us have been praying in the shrines a great deal, and have been remembering our friends, co-workers, and family – along with those who asked us for prayers for their loved ones, as well as the Baha’is of Iran (read the recent story from the Baha’i World News Service). We’ve met a lot of wonderful Baha’is from all around the world and received a lot of inspiration. I’ve got about 2 gigs of photos to post up; I’ll be adding a whack of them to my flickr site as soon as I can. I also plan to put together a more complete photojournal to tell the story of our pilgrimage to the Baha’i Holy Places. There are so many stories to tell.

Anyway I will be back in action (but jet-lagged) this Friday, the 10th.

three days until pilgrimage

I can scarcely believe it, but it’ll be only three days until I’m on my way to Haifa with my mother and sister for Baha’i pilgrimage. It’s a strange, almost unearthly feeling, like I’m half expecting to wake up at any moment from a wonderful dream. I’m really excited – I feel kinda like a little kid who’s going on the biggest adventure of his life. I know in cases like these I have to watch myself lest I get so distracted that I forget to take care of important last-minute arrangements (like filling out the online security precheck so I can get through the airports more quickly). My passport arrived this past Friday; plenty of time to spare. Last night, I read through all the pamphlets sent out by the Office of Pilgrimage to make sure I was familiar with all their guidance on travel; I’ve never travelled abroad, so this is really the new experience of all new experiences for me. I still haven’t packed, despite my sister’s loving reminders. I’m still wondering whether I’m really spiritually prepared for the journey, and going through my mental list of all the people I intend to pray for while I’m there. I have to make sure to persevere in reciting my daily obligatory prayers and reading and striving to understand the Writings of Baha’u’llah every morning and evening – a habit our tutor movement group worked together to establish during this past month.

That’s it for now. I’ll post one last time before we leave on Friday; I may opt to remain in communicado during the time of pilgrimage, or I may opt to make a quick post at some point during the trip to show signs of life. We’ll see how things go.

gratitude

rusty leaves 1It’s autumn again. I went out for a walk this afternoon to gather kindling, and took some photos along the way. Check ’em out on flickr. It’s still early in the season, and there are quite a few green leaves left, but as the weather gets colder, more and more of them will be reddening, drying up and making their final downward journey, ending up in a pile at the back of the parking lot. Autumn is definitely my favourite season. Maybe it’s the massive flourish of colour that overtakes the city – the country, even – within a few weeks. Maybe it’s the sudden snap of cold air that makes me want to curl up in front of a fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate. Last year, I blogged:

Autumn gives me a feeling of gratitude for the things I have that keep me warm and dry, the friends who bless me with the gift of their presence, and the joy of closeness to the ones I love.

Speaking of warmth, joy, and closeness—and above all, gratitude—it’s Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. We celebrate it in October up here because it’s too cold in November (maybe that’s not the real reason). My family’s having a little dinner tomorrow (Sunday) night, with promise of good food and sharing some good times. some of the conversation will probably have to do with pilgrimage; my mom, sister and I will be going to Haifa in about two and a half weeks. I can still barely believe that this is IT, we’re actually going on pilgrimage, we’re actually going to be right there at the Baha’i Holy Places, walking, talking, breathing where Baha’u’llah was just a little over a century ago.

I mentioned spiritual preparation the last time I blogged about our upcoming pilgrimage, and I left the definition rather vague. Recently, I was invited to be part of a group that offers a unique sort of spiritual preparation—based on the courses of the Ruhi Institute…what else? What a blessing! Some of us were describing it as a “Baha’i Support Group”: we meet weekly to share our trials and pitfalls in teaching, and communicate by email and phone regularly during the week to 1) share insights about a set of readings from the Hidden Words that we’re all doing in parallel, and 2) share elements of our daily and weekly plans and encourage each other to take action on them.

The focus on action and support has been encouraging; we’ll focus on a small set of actions each week, mostly based on practice components of the Ruhi books. For example: reading and understanding the Hidden Words, or studying a prayer with someone. The goal is to make habits out of these actions: the more comfortable we are reading and understanding the Baha’i Writings, the easier it is for us to remember to turn to them at all times. The more comfortable we are visiting people to study prayers with them, the easier it is for us to get up and pay someone a visit at their home when they need our fellowship, and to share prayers and Writings with them that can provide the solace, comfort, and inspiration they may need. We’re creating life habits—that’s what you call a culture of learning. And once we’ve experienced the process of creating these habits, we can help others create those same habits in study circles.

More later; for now, roam around on flickr and enjoy the sights. I posted a bunch of photos from Ilya’s going-away party on the 10th of September; see how many people you recognize! And OMG how could I forget this link: Ilya is blogging his day-to-day experience in Haifa, so if you’re wondering what he’s up to, you should definitely visit his blog.

contemplating today

shrine of the Báb from afar. photo: Maurice & Marcelle TurgeonToday is (or was) Sunday, the 24th of September, 2006. Just a month plus a couple of days until Ottawa’s Baha’i community begins a new cycle of its program of growth; the same amount of time will pass before I leave for pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa. Both of these are preoccupying me at the moment. Before I leave for pilgrimage, I need to get quite a whack of documentation done up: renew my health card, renew my driver’s license (which will entail taking my G-level exam), get passport photos taken and signed by garantors, to name a few. I need to read up on safe travel guidelines for pilgrims coming to the World Centre, so that I’m not taken by surprise during my visit. Oh yeah: most people are surprised when I tell them that I’ve never been on an airplane. Never meaning “once, when I was one and a half years old and I don’t remember a thing about it”. So that’ll be an interesting experience. And beyond all the material preparations, there are the spiritual preparations for pilgrimage. I’m not sure that I’m fully ready to sit and pray in the Shrines and be able to take it all in. I’m afraid I’ll just be so overwhelmed, or worse, be left unaware of the full magnitude of the experience. I suppose everybody goes through that sort of self-questioning… like ‘Abdu’l-Baha said, when in doubt, pray for strength. It will be given to you, no matter how difficult the circumstances. More about this later.

And then there’s life in Ottawa, and my service goals for the year. I just came back from a tutor meeting tonight (Sunday night—had to skip choir 🙁 ). We went over the latest guidance from the Universal House of Justice, looking at it from the perspective of our roles as tutors.

Note: In this case, for those who may not know, “tutor” is just shorthand for someone who facilitates the sequence of courses offered by the Ruhi Institute, a community development program that focuses on the development of skills of service through the application of spiritual insights that are gained through profound study of the Baha’i Writings. Anyone who has completed said sequence of courses can act as a tutor; most commonly, we say that such a person “acts as a tutor” rather than bestowing a title of “Tutor” upon them. —dj

Much of our discussion focused on how we could be more effective in our service as tutors; for example, focusing on implementing the practice component of institute courses—which transforms the course from a mere academic exercise to a skill-building experience. Lots of food for thought. It should help me a lot in planning how I want to serve in the near future. So far, I plan to put a sizable chunk of my effort into our neighbourhood francophone children’s class. That’s going well so far; I already have an outline of the curriculum done up for the entire school year, up to August, all based on the modified Furutan curriculum provided by the Canadian Spiritual Assembly. That’s mental! And it’s already way past what we were able to do last year. I really feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence and know-how from the past year’s experience of co-teaching this class—and that makes me feel quite optimistic about the challenge of the new year ahead.

One last note, relating to my own personal development: Certain things have been happening lately that have made me look back at the past few years of my life. Right now, I see how far my life has come in the past ten years and I’m almost brought to tears, tears of joy and of gratitude. Fact is, I barely recognize myself now. I feel like my life has done a complete volte-face, or about-face. When I was 16, I never would have thought that one day I would be confidently teaching children’s classes, establishing a successful career doing something I really enjoy, developing healthy, nourishing friendships and relationships with people I love and care about. Whereas I was quietly depressed as a teenager, now I feel like bursting with joy at the prospect of really living a rich and fulfilling life. There’s so much to tell about this that I don’t have the time to share right now, but God willing, I’ll be able to share some of these things with you. Have a good day at work or at school and keep the comments (and emails) coming.

Photo: Maurice & Marcelle Turgeon.