|Day 2||Visits to the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and|
Meeting with the members of the Universal House of Justice
So, today is THE day. No words can really describe it but I hope I can convey just a hint of what I experienced.
At 9.00 we set off down Hatzionut to the waiting buses for our first visit to Bahjí. This quite a long journey, passing through both residential and industrial areas of Haifa, both affluent and derelict. Gradually we leave behind the urban sprawl and are in "the country". I had expected the landscape to be semi-desert but in fact there is still a fair amount of greenery about, with orange groves and fertile fields—but it is all very dusty. On this initial trip we approached Bahjí from the north, so as to avoid the less attractive route through the suburbs of ‘Akká so there is no warning that we are approaching Bahjí. On our arrival, we drive through a beautiful pair of wrought iron gates, hardly any wider the bus, and then up the narrow driveway to the car park where we alight into the dusty heat.
There is an air of anticipation. Some, of course, have been here before but for us that haven't it is yet another of those moments when we just do not know what to expect. We are less than 500m from the most holy spot on the face of the earth. But we do not approach the Shrine directly. Rather, we turn left and pass along the perimeter path or the Haram-i-Aqdas, past two pine trees which used to shade the Holy Family during their picnics in the grounds around Bahjí. Currently only a quarter of a circle (it is late autumn), I have to imagine the Haram-i-Aqdas totally encircling the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh and that pilgrims will use its outer path to circumambulate the physical remains of the Blessed Beauty.
After a short talk from our guide, we pass though the Amelia Collins Gate – what an honour to have a gate named after you at Bahjí – and, gradually getting quieter as we approach our destination, proceed up the path to the small porch in front of the Shrine of the Blessed Beauty.
The gardens surrounding Bahjí are beautiful and extensive though, at this time of year, not complete (i.e. all four quadrants are there but not planted). Work was going on rapidly to plant the complete gardens ready for the spring. However, all too soon it was time to get back onto the bus and head to Haifa. As we approach the city, we can see the golden roof of the Shrine of the Báb standing out amongst the yellowish-grey of the buildings (yet it is not an unattractive city).
Several of the pilgrims leave the bus in the Hadar district and lunch on falafels (Israel's national dish) before climbing back up the "hill" to the Pilgrim House.
In the afternoon, we are taken up to the Seat of the Universal House of Justice to be greeted by the members of the House. What gentle men, and yet they exude such a power. For the first time, I see one of my fellow pilgrims in tears, overcome by the realization that this group of nine, when meeting, are the channel for God's work on earth here and now. Not something remote, in the past or inaccessible, but present, and talking with us just like any of our friends would. They are IT!
After the formal introduction, our chairs were moved away and the members of the House came down and greeted and spoke to us personally. It is so quiet and yet so powerful, this place, though in a totally different way from the shrines. There is absolutely no way I can express it.
More views of the gardens at Bahjí