Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pilgrimage thoughts

Recently, my family and I got back home from the Holy Land.What an amazing experience, as I'm sure you can imagine.


What can I say about it? For those of you who have had this incredible experience, you know what I mean, and for those who have not yet had this great bounty, well, nothing I say can begin to describe it.

One thing I can mention fairly easily is how it is a full-person workout. On the one hand, it is truly an uplifting experience for the soul, at the end of which experience you will feel completely exhausted and yet refreshed. On the other hand, it is also a work out for the mind, giving greater clarity to your purpose in life through meditation on your prayers in the Shrines, as well as the reward of the talks by the members of senior institutions in the evenings. On the third hand, it is also a great physical workout, bringing together the spirit, mind and body through the climbing of the seemingly interminable number of steps on the terraces of the Shrine of the Bab. I learned that climbing the stairs is a cardio workout, which left me gasping for breath after just a few of the Terraces, while going down the steps is a muscular workout, of which my now-steel calves are still reminding me.

But really, the big question is what is the purpose of pilgrimage? Why do we do it? I mean, aside from the fact that Baha'u'llah has said we should.

Now, I could give you all sorts of quotes about it, beginning with the actual law in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, as well as the various commentaries by either 'Abdu'l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, but this is not the purpose of this article. No, I would rather you do your own research on this subtle yet weighty topic. Besides, I'm not that big a fan of quotification, preferring a sprinkling of one or two quotes that really emphasize the point, as opposed to drowning the poor reader in the ocean of His Writings.

Myself, I'm more concerned at this time with a different question altogether: How do the various aspects of pilgrimage today work together as a coherent whole?

Well, let's see. What are these various aspects of which I speak? I'm glad you asked. Oh, and please remember that this is just my own personal opinion and nothing official.

To start, the most important thing, the primary purpose of the pilgrimage is to be able to pray at the Holy Shrines. Everything revolves around that.

Aside from the time spent in the Shrines, you visit the places in Akka associated with Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha, and Shoghi Effendi. You also get to visit the administrative buildings on Mount Carmel, such as the Seat of he Universal House of Justice, the International Teaching Centre, the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts, as well as the International Archives. And then there are the various gardens and houses associated with the Central Figures. Oh, and the talks in the evenings. Can't forget those.

So, let's look at this. Why do we spend so much time at these other places if our primary purpose is to pray at the Shrines?

I think it is because when we spend time at these other places we get a better idea of what They went through and just how miraculous it is that the Faith is where it is today. I mean, our group began by looking over at the sea gate in Akka, and I recalled the absolute antagonism that Baha'u'llah and His companions faced when they entered the city. Personally, I compared this to my own welcome where people said, "Oh, you're Baha'i? Here on pilgrimage? I love the Baha'is." Truly, we could not have been more warmly welcomed.

We continued through the land gate and looked at the building where the enemies of the Faith who were exiled with Baha'u'llah lived. From this vantage point they were able to notify the authorities of any Baha'is who came to Akka, thus preventing them from meeting Baha'u'llah. We heard the stories, and saw the actual places. How could we not think about the sufferings of the friends when we went to the Shrines later that evening?

As we progressed on our pilgrimage, we moved from the dreariness of the prison to the House of Abbud. We heard the story of the murder of the Azalis and how the Baha'is were treated: Baha'u'llah re-imprisoned, the Master in chains, some of the innocent Baha'is held unjustly for months, and even the fear of His neighbour which led the re-inforcing of the wall between the houses. I could recount the stories here, but I'm sure you know them. And if you don't, they are easy enough to find without me having to type them here.

As Pilgrimage continued, we moved through history a decade or two per day, from the small house in Akka to the mansion at Mazraih. We saw the beautiful gardens that Baha'u'llah was finally able to enjoy towards the end of His life. We spent time in Bahji, in awe of the sheer beauty of the place, especially when compared and contrasted to what He suffered in Akka.

We went to the International Archives, able to see some of the relics that we had heard about, artifacts from the very places we had just seen in the previous few days. We went, for example, from seeing the skylight in the Citadel where Miraz Mihdi fell to his death to seeing the actual blood-stained shirt he was wearing when he fell. The Archives, far from being a museum, helped plunge the reality of these stories ever deeper into our hearts. These were not some distant heroes out of a remote history. They were real people that lived just a few short decades ago. They lived and breathed. They had to wash their clothing, and brushed their hair. But then, as we stepped outside and saw the magnificent administrative buildings arcing across the mountain, we could see what their heroic and epic lives led to. As we heard the talks in the evenings, we began to get a glimpse of Their vision for what was not only potential for humanity in the future, but was slowly becoming a reality before our very eyes.

We saw the displays at the Visitor's Centre, and were given a vision of how to better present the Faith to the general public. We heard stories of great and simple triumphs from all over the world and left with a better idea of how to bring this transformative power of the Faith more effectively to bear on our own communities. And we entered the Shrines every day with a greater sense of awe at what They had accomplished, a greater love in our hearts for what They suffered to bring this vision to fruition.

And every day we awoke ever more eager to soak in what we could before being turned out to face the world once again.

Pilgrimage really is an amazing experience, and in many ways reminds me of the Kitab-i-Iqan.

Part 1 of the Book of Certitude is all about how to recognize a Messenger of God, and the beginning of the Pilgrimage, the time you are there, is all about better appreciating those Messengers Who have been sent to help raise humanity out of the depths of the misery in which we find ourselves.

But Part 2 of the Kitab-i-Iqan, to me, seems to say, "So what? You've recognized. Now, what are you going to do about it?" Now is our Part 2. We've come home. Refreshed. Rejuvenated. And with a new vision.

So what?

What are we going to do about it?

And that, dear Reader, is the real Pilgrimage: when we put this new vision into more effective action.