|Roger Reini's Bahá'í Pilgrimage Journal|
Prelude to Departure
Departure for the Holy Land
Pilgrimage Home Page
December 31, 2007
I woke up before sunrise again, around 5:30 this time. This let me watch the 4th quarter of the Tennessee-Indianapolis game. The Titans won, so they made the playoffs. I then took a shower, but the shower curtain really annoyed me today. It kept getting in my way as I washed. At the breakfast buffet, I had pancakes and what may have been blintzes or latkes in addition to my usual.
I walked down the public stairs to Golomb Street, our meeting place today. On the way down, I encountered a dog. When he noticed me, he started barking up a storm. I spoke to him calmly, suggesting he go find someplace else to play. I never got the impression he was mean or vicious (his tail never stopped wagging). Eventually, he moved away; I heard his master call him. I could then proceed in peace.
We gathered at the Golomb gate, and not too long after I arrived, we started our tour of the buildings of the Arc. First was the International Teaching Center, home to the International Teaching Council. The building was designed so that light could pass completely through it. Where the wall of the council chamber blocks the way, there is a prism that bends the light and lets it pass through. The prism had the ringstone symbol and a verse engraved on it; I read the English translation of this verse outside before we entered the building:
I am the Sun of Wisdom and the Ocean of Knowledge. I cheer the faint and revive the dead. I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way. I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight.... Say: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. (Bahá'u'lláh, in Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 169 and 164)
Next came the Seat of the Universal House of Justice, which we had all visited last Tuesday. The building was first used in 1982 and officially dedicated in 1983. By the light of a chandelier in a window above the entrance, we knew that the House of Justice was in session this morning, meeting in the chamber on the second floor. Furio pointed out the honeybee carved in one of the columns as a mark of the Italian artisans who carved the columns and the marble that make up the exterior of the Seat. One could say it was the Queen Bee of Carmel (ha, ha). I had the bounty of reading from a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá about the House of Justice:
Let it not be imagined that the House of Justice will take any decision according to its own concepts and opinions. God forbid! The Supreme House of Justice will take decisions and establish laws through the inspiration and confirmation of the Holy Spirit, because it is in the safekeeping and under the shelter and protection of the Ancient Beauty, and obedience to its decisions is a bounden and essential duty and an absolute obligation, and there is no escape for anyone.
Say, O people: Verily the Supreme House of Justice is under the wings of your Lord, the Compassionate, the All-Merciful, that is, under His protection, His care, and His shelter; for He has commanded the firm believers to obey that blessed, sanctified and all-subduing body, whose sovereignty is divinely ordained and of the Kingdom of Heaven and whose laws are inspired and spiritual. (from a Tablet of 'Abdu'l-Bahá)
We then moved on to the Center for the Study of the Texts, home of the Research Department. Most of the structure is underground so as not to disrupt the symmetry of the Arc or the beauty of the mountain (no doubt it helps with preserving the Tablets, as well). Then we walked to the Office of Public Information, which is set up to provide information about the Faith to visiting dignitaries, the diplomatic corps, and so on (not the general public, though). After being briefed in the auditorium, we proceeded to the special exhibit area. In the entrance was a hologram of the revolving earth. In the rotunda, surrounded by quotes from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, there was what could be called a resonance chamber. A person standing at the center would hear his voice magnified with little or no delay, somewhat like a monitor speaker. This may be a common feature of the pulpits at mosques for the benefit of the imams. Then we moved on to our true goal, the special exhibit of pictures and replicas or facsimiles of relics and Tablets. We were being shown these as inspiration should we ever need to produce an informative exhibit. And inspiring they were -- facsimiles of Tablets, photos or drawings showing important sites or people in the life of the Báb, a typewriter similar to the one used by Shoghi Effendi -- it’s hard to remember them all! As our visit ended, Furio distributed copies of a letter from the Universal House of Justice to the believers “in the Cradle of the Faith” dated December 25. It is not wise to discuss the specific contents of the letter here, as this journal is being written for a mixed Bahá’í and non-Bahá’í audience. Suffice it to say, it was very inspirational.
Back at the PRC, I reviewed the pictures I had taken today. One of them, though, I didn’t take. This was a picture of our group inside the Seat of the Universal House of Justice. Our group had gathered on the stairs from which the House would receive visitors, and we had left our cameras for guide Furio and his assistant/trainee (Cathy?) to take. Unfortunately, my flash was not enabled, so mine turned out blurry. Other pictures I had taken at the special exhibit without flash were blurry as well.
Now I wanted to visit the spot where Bahá’u’lláh had pitched His tent on Mount Carmel on one occasion. There were many such locations, but this was highlighted on our guide map. It was accessible from the lowest terrace, so I went down from Shrine level. At one point, I stopped and recorded 2 minutes of the sights and sounds from a terrace midway down. I inserted a fresh memory card to be sure I’d have room for the clip, then swapped it out when I was done. The Illinois couple I’d met on Tuesday were doing the same thing at the same level. We were all walking down to the bottom. But at Terrace 2 (the next-to-lowest), we encountered a problem: the gate was locked, and the guard was nowhere to be found. Actually, he was with other guards at the ground-level entrance. I looked toward the entrance, trying to think of an appropriate way to catch their attention. The guards were there because the lowest level was open to the public. Indeed, two members of the public asked me if they could go inside where I was. I said no; I didn’t say that I couldn’t open the gate even if I wanted to. Finally, I caught a guard’s attention. He came up, opened the gate to let me out, explained to those tourists why they couldn’t go farther up the terraces, and pointed out the path to the spot where the Blessed Beauty pitched His tent.
The spot is next to a public stairs, separated from it by a fence. A circle of cypress trees marks the actual spot, with orange trees and formal gardens surrounding it. I felt moved to recite the verse “Blessed is the spot ... where mention of God hath been made...” and to circumambulate the circle of trees. This prompted more contemplation and meditation, along with one official, formal prayer. A busy city street was nearby, but its noises seemed to stay outside of that realm.
As I left the terraces and walked down Ben Gurion Avenue, an old woman in the corner house called for me to come over. She did not speak English; I’m not sure if she was speaking Hebrew or Arabic. I couldn’t understand her, but I think it was something good. I thanked her as best I could. Was she reacting to my pilgrim badge?
For lunch, I went to Al-Diyar on Ben Gurion Avenue. I had hummus with tahini and chicken kebab -- pretty good. The menu had a picture of the terraces on it (at least the English side did). Then I proceeded to the area of the House of the Master. It was not on the Mountain, so this was an area I had not previously visited. I arrived quite early, which gave me the chance to visit the resting place of Amatu’l-Bahá Ruhiyyih Khanúm, wife of the Guardian, Hand of the Cause, accomplisher of so much. She was born the same year as my grandma Reini but died 4 years before her. I noticed a number of cats hanging around nearby, including one whose markings made me think he/she was wearing a Batman mask/cowl. Batcat, anybody? As one of the earlier pilgrim groups left the scene of its earlier visit, many of them came to the gravesite and paid their respects, offered their prayers. Our group was beginning to gather, so I went outside to join them. Actually, two groups were gathering, one to visit each holy place. I spoke a little while with an Australian Bahá’í from another group (his name was Owen, I believe) who had in-laws in the Detroit area and had been there in the mid-80’s.
Our group went first to the house at 4 Haparsim. This had served as a pilgrim house for Western believers in the 1910’s. Many important early believers came here and stayed in its bedroom, including John Esslemont, May Maxwell and daughter Mary (the future Ruhiyyih Khanúm). Some of the last pictures ever taken of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were taken here, including some at the gate through which we entered the property. Before we left, we were given rose petals that had been on the Thresholds of the Shrines while we were here. In times past, they would have been placed in envelopes for us to take. But that’s no longer feasible for the size of pilgrim groups these days, so now we get to place them ourselves into the sleeves that once held our badge holders.
We then crossed the narrow street to the House of the Master. Before we entered, we had another group picture taken on the steps, but this time, only one camera was used. The owner promised to send a copy to everyone. Now about the house: unlike all the others we had visited, this house had been built by an important figure within the Faith and had always been in the hands of the Faith. We were greeted at the door by a Persian woman who had served there since 1944 -- and she looked like she might be able to continue serving until 2044! Here, as the name implied, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá lived the last few years of His life. Here, too, lived the Greatest Holy Leaf, the Guardian and Ruhiyyih Khanúm. The funerals for all except the Guardian were held in the central hall. The Will and Testament of the Master was read for the first time in that hall. The first election of the Universal House of Justice took place in that hall in 1963.
We saw the bedroom of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá; we saw His reception room, where He greeted many important visitors. We also saw the tea room and reception room of Ruhiyyih Khanúm. On its walls were paintings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and of His sister, the Greatest Holy Leaf, as a young woman. On tables near the entrance were photos of Ruhiyyih Khanum meeting with important personages. We gathered here for readings involving departure and separation for, like it or not, our pilgrimage was drawing to a close. This would be the last activity for group D as a whole. Once again, I had the honor of doing one of the readings. It was guidance from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to departing pilgrims, telling them (and, by extension, us) how we should conduct ourselves on our return to the world. Physical separation was drawing near, but the spiritual presence would always be with us. There was one last prayer and two songs, and then we left.
Here is the reading I gave -- from Summon Up Remembrance by Marzieh Gail:
In saying goodbye to some departing pilgrims 'Abdu'l-Bahá told them:
'You came, you visited the Consecrated Spot, you associated with God's loved ones. The hope is that you will carry away with you the effects of this visit as a gift to your countrymen. The fruits of such an encounter are good deeds, devotion, enthusiasm, love for humankind, rectitude, honesty, harmony, gentleness, benevolence, and glad-tidings of the love of God. Do not look upon the world, or the doings and sayings of its peoples, or their hostility, or lack of kindness. Look upon the Blessed Perfection, and show your love to every human being for His sake.
'If any harm you with his tongue or hands, do not be grieved, but smile and be rejoiced, and deal with him in your turn with unfeigned love. If in your hearing anyone reviles you and expresses hate, pay it no mind. Say to him that the Blessed Perfection has ordered you to wish good things for those who hate you, to love all those who wish you harm, to look upon the stranger as a friend, to cleanse your eyes from what men do, and turn them unto God Whose grace embraces all that is. Say you are bidden to speak not a single evil word against man or government....
'To sum up, God willing, the confirmations of the Blessed Perfection will come to your aid. You will be favored by His protection; you will win His good pleasure.'
Now how would I get back up the mountain? Would I take the Carmelit subway all the way to the top, or would I brave the stairs? If I went all the way up, I wouldn’t want to come back down for that evening’s presentation -- and I did want to see it. So I and a small group went up the public stairs. It wasn’t easy; I asked for a couple of rest stops along the way to catch my breath. We had a great view of the Shrine of the Báb at one of those stops. Still, at the top of the Shifra stairs near the PRC, I was breathing heavily. Good thing I’d passed my stress test recently! And so I stayed around for the 8 PM talk, then it was back to the hotel.
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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 ©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