|Roger Reini's Bahá'í Pilgrimage Journal|
Prelude to Departure
Departure for the Holy Land
Pilgrimage Home Page
December 24, 2007
As I start to write this, I am in the restaurant/bar of the Dan Panorama. I have sent an e-mail to my sister & aunt/uncle telling them I am here. I also surfed the Web a bit and learned the Lions won yesterday. It seems like a minor miracle.
Today is Christmas Eve, but it doesn’t feel like it. In Israel, it’s a regular day. It is for Bahá’ís, too. But speaking as a Bahá’í who grew up Christian, I got a heck of a Christmas Eve gift today by starting my pilgrimage, climbing half of the terraces to the top of Mount Carmel, visiting the Shrines of the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and praying inside them, and attaining the presence of Their remains. And tomorrow, my Christmas present is my first chance to visit the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh.
The day started after 8:30 when I woke up. The sun was already up, and registration for pilgrimage had started. I hurriedly took a shower, got dressed and prepared to leave. It took me a while to figure out the shower, which was hot & cold ( I thought it was marked backwards). The breakfast buffet is included in the room rate, so I partook of it. 2 of us boarded on the 19th floor, but it was packed when we reached the restaurant level. The buffet had salads and cheeses, along with cereal, eggs, juices and who knows what else. I had some corn flakes, salad, eggs & cheese and some orange juice. Then I took a taxi to the Pilgrim Reception Center. 20 shekels - the smallest I had was a 50, though. Someone at the center picked up my fare - “your turn next time.” Then I went inside to register. I received my pilgrim badge, my folder of necessary information, and paid for health insurance (10-day policy). $13, and they could make change from a $20!
We pilgrims were free until 1:45 PM, when we had to report back for orientation. Until then, we could visit the old Pilgrim House (used heavily until 2000) and the Upper Terraces. I availed myself of the opportunity. So I walked a short distance uphill, noting on my left the Monument Gardens. Then I entered the Pilgrim House gardens. As has been my experience at the House of Worship in Wilmette, the gardens were extremely well maintained. The predominant theme here was cactus. There were several cacti species here, and some of them reminded me of unusual shapes. There was one that, from one angle, looked like a cartoon character, but from a different angle, it appeared to be a bird in flight. Another one reminded me of a rooster. On the grounds were several statues of peacocks. Now with the prevalence of the peacock, does that mean that NBC will become a Bahá’í network in the future (ha ha)?
As I walked towards the first terrace up from the Shrine, I noted the clump of trees (cypress?) [yes] by the Shrine. Was this the spot from where Bahá’u’lláh specified that the Shrine should be built there [also yes]? My camera got a good workout as I ascended the terraces. So did I, for that matter. I stopped a number of times along the way to catch my breath, to contemplate, to soak in the atmosphere and view. I met a family from Texas today and took a picture of them, for their camera was acting up. Eventually I reached the top of the terraces. This area was open to the public, so a few groups were there enjoying the perspective. I walked along the Louis Promenade for a while, noting the presence of two stray cats, one of which looked like a skinny Minnie [a cat belonging to my aunt and uncle].
Then it was time to head back for the orientation session. Going down the terraces was much easier than climbing up them! The crowd at the PRC was large as we waited to be taken across the street to the new (2001) International Teaching Center. We gathered in the auditorium to see an orientation video; those who did not speak English received headphones for soundtracks in their preferred language. We were reminded of what we were going to be seeing, warned against photographing in inappropriate locations, and given important information about conducting ourselves. Then we proceeded as a group back to the Pilgrim House, where one of the Teaching Center Counselors gave a brief talk on what we could expect. Many Bahá’ís would love to be able to do what we are doing now, she said, but right now, it’s our turn. Then we turned to face the Shrine while she and a second Counselor recited the Tablets of Visitation, first for the Báb, then for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Though my back and shoulder were bothering me, I could not help but be moved as the Tablet for the Báb was recited, especially when the section describing Him in “chains and fetters” was recited. But to hear it when you are looking straight at the Shrine -- wow! We then set off as a group, led by the Counselors, to circumambulate, or walk around, the Shrine. Along the way, I noticed that the branches on some of the trees appeared to have their hands outstretched, palms up, in prayer and supplications. We were silent as we walked around the building. Here, we could see the original Shrine, a low-slung building, as well as the domed superstructure. We proceeded back to the Pilgrim House via a slightly different path so as not to collide with those still proceeding towards the Shrine. We went inside the Pilgrim House. I was not able to find a seat, so I went into the room with the pictures of all of the Hands of the Cause of God. Before long, we were asked to exit so that others might enter. We all might want to be there, but the fire marshal won’t let that happen. I don’t think ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would have wanted it, either, not if the building couldn’t handle so many.
After a few minutes of preparation at the Shrine, we pilgrims were allowed to go and enter the hallowed precincts. We removed our shoes and left our belongings along the north wall, the one overlooking the bay. I entered on the west side, the one towards the sea. I first entered the Shrine of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. At first I thought it was the Shrine of the Báb, but I noticed that the Tablet of Visitation for ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was posted in English and Persian flanking the entrance. We could not enter the actual room where He is buried. Rose petals adorned the Threshold. Lamps or candles surrounded the spot where He lay, topped with 2 9-candled menorahs (that’s what they looked like to me). All in attendance were praying silently or meditating. I “read” some prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from the official Bahá’í Prayers book, and then I thought about everyone on the prayer list I compiled, or everyone I could remember. Knowing that many others wanted this bounty, I moved to the Shrine of the Báb. It was arranged similarly, although the Tablet of Visitation posted was that used for Bahá’u’lláh and Him. His resting place was surrounded by candles (mostly unlit), though there were some electric lamps. I went to the Sacred Threshold and bowed down before it. The verse running through my mind was one that has spent a great deal of time on my mind lately: “Say: God sufficeth all things above all things and nothing in the heavens or in the earth but God sufficeth. Verily, He is in Himself the Knower, the Sustainer, the Omnipotent.”
I remembered the names on my prayer list again, this time adding a catchall of those on the list whom I had forgotten (I had left the list at my hotel). Many pilgrims were backing out of the Shrine, not wishing to turn their backs on the Primal Point. The desire was understandable, but I also remembered the injunction of walking the spiritual path with practical feet. I feared injuring myself or others, so I did a sideways walk out of the holy area, repeating it after a second visit to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s shrine. My first visit to the Shrine had concluded.
Now I collected my belongings and put on my shoes, and then I walked down 3 terraces. Some appeared set on going all the way down, but not me, not tonight. It was tough getting back up those 3 terraces as it was, for my legs felt very weary. It was now after 4:30, after sundown. I wanted to return to the hotel. I walked back toward the PRC, then took the streets that would lead to stairs that would lead to the hotel. But after starting up the first stair, I noticed it was getting very dark, and I was quite tired. Discretion had me return to the Pilgrim Reception Center. Here I looked for taxi information; not finding any where I was looking, I got a bit distressed. One of the staff said take the 22 or 23 bus. It only costs 5.15 shekels. So I took her advice and went to the bus stop. Before a bus came along, though, a sherut stopped by. 5 shekels for the hotel district. Wonderful! So that was how I returned to the hotel.
Back at the room, I took off my jacket & tie, then took out my iPod and my pilgrim diary. I wanted to see what the attached shopping mall was like. It was 3 floors, kinda small, not much in the way of eating establishments. So I went back to the hotel and ate at the bar. It wasn’t busy at all. I had a Diet Sprite, French onion soup and vermicelli alfredo with smoked salmon -- all kosher, all good [Diet Sprite was always available at restaurants, something not true in the US. Drinks came from bottles, not from a fountain]. While waiting for my meal, I bought an hour’s worth of Internet time and composed an e-mail to my sister and my aunt and uncle. Then it was back to the room to rest and contemplate the events of the day. I drank from a bottle of water left for me by the hotel staff, but I came to regret it later on [this meant I got a case of intestinal distress. It happened just that first night; drinking that water never bothered me again. Maybe it was the meal instead of the water]. I worked on this journal. I set up my camera to take a long exposure (5 sec) of the view from my window, first a closeup of the Shrine of the Báb, then a wider view. Unfortunately, the wider view was slightly spoiled by glare from the bathroom light that reflected off of the window.
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DISCLAIMER: this is not an official page of any Bahá'í Institution. All comments are my own and derive from my personal understanding of the Bahá'í Teachings. For official information about the Bahá'í Faith, you may wish to visit www.bahai.org or www.bahai.us.
Text and Video ©2008 Roger W. Reini. Photos ©2008 Roger W. Reini except where noted. Photos marked "© Bahá'í International Community" are reproduced with permission of the Bahá'í International Community (http://media.bahai.org/).
by Roger Reini