Archive for November, 2007


To Be a Pilgrim

. . . although pilgrims upon earth, we should travel the road of the heavenly Kingdom . . . `Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i writings

Tomorrow I travel down to Heathrow airport and then, early on Sunday morning, I will be flying with my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren to Haifa where they will be making their first Baha’is pilgrimage as a family. I will be looking after the children when they are tired and visiting my mother-in-law and her sister, niece and her family, cousin and other relatives and friends who are serving as volunteers at the Baha’i World Centre in the Holy Land.

Being a pilgrim is a privilege for Baha’is and the opportunity to make a full nine-day pilgrimage comes only once every ten years. Family visits and three-day visits can happen more often. Moojan and I will be on our own pilgrimage in May.

The Baha’i shrines and the gardens and properties are stunningly beautiful – but more important are the spiritual benefits one receives from visiting these holy places.

I expect I will be away from my blog for the duration of my stay in Haifa – so look out for me after 9 December.

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Impossible Journey

Do not think the peace of the world an ideal impossible to attain! Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God. If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men. Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate. How many seemingly impossible events are coming to pass in these days! `Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í writings

In 1984 my husband and I decided to drive to Turkey from the UK – I wanted to see the Blue Mosque. We also thought it would be a chance to see something of Eastern Europe, which was difficult to enter for western tourists.

We planned to visit Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and, we hoped, Czechoslovakia and Albania. I was particularly interested to go to Hungary, as my father’s family came from there. We were asked to visit the one or two Bahá’ís who lived in each of these countries, cautiously talk about the Bahá’í Faith to people we met and say some prayers in those countries where there were no Bahá’ís and where it was impossible to talk about the Bahá’í Faith.

It was difficult to get visas, however. Visas were not generally given to `independent travellers’, that is, people not travelling with a recognized group and not entering the country via an airport. Eventually we were able to receive visas for everywhere except Albania (absolutely impossible) and Czechoslovakia (virtually impossible).

We had a number of unexpected adventures on that trip: we ran out of money, we could not buy petrol in Romania, we had great difficulty getting a hotel room in Bucharest, we were not allowed to buy food or get water in Bulgaria, we were the centre of (unwelcome) attention in our blue, right-hand drive Honda Civic automatic in Edirne. And we could not enter Czechoslovakia.

We got very close. We were in Vienna, just over the border. We even went to the border to see if they would let us in. We had thought to drive through Bratislava and then enter Hungary from Czechoslovakia. But we were turned back. Impossible for us without a visa to enter the country. Impossible to get a visa. We had to take another route into Hungary.

Last night I flew into Bratislava from Stansted airport on a very cheap and very packed Ryanair flight. No visa required (no ticket, either, just a boarding pass printed out on my computer). Czechoslovakia is no more – Bratislava is the capital of the independent Slovak Republic — Slovakia. Slovakia is, like its northern neighbour the Czech Republic, part of the EU now. Today, 17 November, they are celebrating the 18th anniversary of the peaceful student demonstration that launched the Velvet Revolution which culminated in the stepping down of the communist government less than a month later. In 1984 that seemed an impossibility.

At about the same time EBBF was founded. Taking its inspiration from the Bahá’í teachings, EBBF (European Bahá’í Business Forum) is a non-profit professional association of women and men practising and promoting ethical and moral values in business and spirituality in the workplace. In 1984, putting the words `business’, `ethics’, `moral’, `values’, `spirituality’, `women’ and `men’ in the same sentence seemed an impossibility.

This weekend, the EBBF governing board — elected by a membership living in over 60 countries — is meeting in the beautiful snow-covered countryside around Bratislava. Tonight we dined with some of the wonderful local people, including members of the Bratislava local assembly, the governing body of the Bahá’í community here.


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I testify that through Thee the sovereignty of God and His dominion, and the majesty of God and His grandeur, were revealed . . . Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í writings

tree of life

It was the practice in ancient Britain to plant trees to mark the boundaries of parishes or individual properties and even today land is marked out by rows of trees or hedges.

In early 19th century Tennessee, surveyors often used trees as boundary markers. More than just a traditional and quaint practice, it was a necessity in a wilderness where there was no other practical way to permanently mark the boundaries land.

The Arabs used to plant trees along certain roads, the end of the road being marked by one final tree, known as `Sadratu’l-Muntaha’, the tree beyond which one could not travel.

In Islam, this idea of the last tree along the road beyond which one could not pass was used as a symbol to mark the point in the heavens beyond which neither men nor angels could pass in their approach to God. This tree was symbolic of the limits on human knowledge of the divine.

One hundred and ninety years ago today, Bahá’u’lláh was born in Tehran. As a child He displayed extraordinary knowledge, kindness and wisdom. He attended no school but by the time He was a youth He was renowned for His intelligence, excellent character, generosity and compassion. As a young adult His personal qualities were such that He became known as the Father of the Poor. He turned His back on the trappings of the court life that had been His father’s and which could have been His, preferring instead to walk in the woods around His home and drink in the beauty of the countryside. Imprisoned in 1852 for His adherence to the outlawed Bábí religion, He was kept in a disused underground water cistern. This dungeon became a palace of light when He received there a divine revelation that He was the intermediary between God and humanity, whose task it was to act as a conduit for God’s message for this day. His life thereafter was one of constant suffering, persecution, imprisonment and exile. His message, on the other hand, was one of life and light, joy and love, peace and hope.

In His many writings Bahá’u’lláh used the concept of the `tree beyond which there is no passing’ as a symbol of the station He Himself held, the station of the Manifestation of God, a station which is beyond human understanding and beyond human reach. Knowledge of the Manifestation of God is the closest we can get to knowing God.

Celebrate this day! We will not see its like for a thousand years.

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