Sunday, November 3, 2013

Day 175 - Visiting a Baha'i Temple

I have never been to a Baha’i temple. When I began my “I have never...” year, a driver behind my pursuit of new experiences was to learn and grow from new experiences that offered insight, knowledge, and enlightenment. As a result, I have made it a point to experience different faiths as my journey has progressed, which has opened my eyes to the common roots that run through the faith and conviction that defines humanity. Through my experiences with Hinduism, Buddhism, and previously undiscovered aspects of Christianity, I have been able to take away a deeper understanding of each unique faith and a more complete picture of the importance of faith in finding direction in our individual lives. These experiences have proven some of the most moving and most impacting experiences of my life, which provided more than enough motivation to continue my pursuit of experiencing more of the world’s faiths as my “I have never...” year nears its midpoint.

As a result, throughout my “I have never...” year I started making plans to experience those faiths I had yet to encounter in my journey. As I investigated the best ways to experience the remaining major religions, Judaism and Islam, I happened upon the practice of Baha’I, a more modern offshoot of the more historic religions of the world. As I read about the Baha’is’ belief that all religions pray to the same God and are bound to the same roots, I immediately became intrigued by the concept of the faith. Driven by the tenets of contributing to the betterment of society, unifying all people, and foregoing all forms of hierarchical religion in the pursuit of world peace, Baha’ism spoke directly to me. As a result, there was no question an experience with the faith would become a part of my “I have never...” year.

A little more research on Baha’i led me to discover that one of seven Baha’I temples stands just north of Chicago, Illinois. With the city little more than three hours away, I set to work finding a time that would permit me to make the trip to the Baha’i temple for a service, which happened to fall on today’s date. As a result, I grabbed my camera equipment and readied myself for a daytrip to an uncommon location at the center of a very unique faith. With Rachael at my side, I knew the day would leave a lasting impression and create many memories. I just didn’t expect to be blown away by the sights we were bound to discover.

The first view of the temple

After an uneventful trip, Rachael and I came upon our first view of the Baha’i temple towering over the shores of Lake Michigan. Now, I won’t try to explain the experience as it unfolded, but I will simply say that first moment before the temple was absolutely breathtaking. The massive domed structure glowed in the midday sun, darkened only in the groves between the intricate carvings that lined the building’s surface. I was amazed at the sight before us as we walked closer to the building, and we had yet to step inside. No matter how hard I try, I can’t describe those first moments before the Baha’i temple in a way that do them justice. As a result, I will simply let the pictures from our walk around the temple grounds do the talking on my behalf.

The temple doors

A view from the east

After taking a walk around the building, Rachael and I headed into the temple for the midday service. Unfortunately, but understandably, photographs of the intricate interior of the building are prohibited, which means I don’t have pictures to accompany our experience in the building. Regardless, I will say the interior of the building was equally as impressive as the exterior, and the service we witnessed was unlike any I have ever attended. As we sat inside the massive, open dome, no pastor, priest, or higher representative of faith approached the single podium in front of the rows of chairs. Instead, the service began with a chorus of voices singing through the open air from the second level of the dome’s outer walkway. The sound of the signing filled the chamber in an eerie but lifting way. In one of the most poignant moments in my “I have never...” journey to date, I felt my emotions swell with the sounds of voices signing of God and peace echoed off the dome walls around us.

Baha'is' roots

Tenets of the faith

Faith in action

With the conclusion of the first song, members of the Baha’i faith approached the podium and spoke passages from the Bible, the Quran, and from the books of Baha’i one by one. Between each, the chorus belted out songs supporting the underlying concepts put forth in the passages, providing a lead into the next passage spoke by the next Baha’i to take the podium. This continued for a little more than 30 minutes, with each new passage supporting the message of unity in faith and humanity in the pursuit of world peace. The message was simple and it was clear, God loves everyone and accepts all people, regardless of faith, as sons and daughters of one joining principle; that we are all people. As someone that loosely defines himself as a Deist, it was the first moment in my life I saw my beliefs about God and humanity reflected in a religion. While I doubt I will become a Baha’i in the near future, I will say the message was welcomed and provided me a refreshing outlook on faith that I haven’t felt since my first experience with Buddhism. It was enlightening to know a faith upheld these tenets as central to faith, and sought to actively live them from one day to the next. The beauty of the building around us and the sights of the temple grounds were incredible, but the service alone made the trip worth it.

Following the service, Rachael and I took one last walk around the temple grounds and stopped by the welcome center before starting our trip back home. As we made our way to the interstate highway, I reflected on my first experience with Baha’i and the knowledge I took away from today’s experience. The idea of a faith that believes in God and strives to accept people of all creeds, races, and backgrounds at first seemed too antithetical for me to truly believe it existed in the modern world, but my firsthand experience of Baha’ism in action proved it was the case. There was something strange about the realization, and yet I couldn’t think of anything more I could have hoped for from an experience with an unfamiliar form of faith. After today’s experience there are a lot of things I think Baha’ism has right, and that makes their message something worth listening to in a time when people seem so divided. Plus, getting to see that amazing building that serves one of the Baha’is’ main points of worship was one of the most amazing things I have seen in some time.

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