Dec 12th, 2007
All praise be unto Thee, O Thou besides Whom there is none other God. Graciously enable me to ascend unto Thee, to be granted the honour of dwelling in Thy nearness and to have communion with Thee alone. No God is there but Thee. The Báb, Bábí and Bahá’í writings
The Led Zeppelin reunion concert on Monday was a huge success. My favourite song of theirs has always been `Stairway to Heaven’.
Perfect timing too. We have just returned from our own `stairway to heaven’ – the Bahá’í shrines in Haifa and `Akká. The amazingly beautiful 19 terraces up from the bottom of Mount Carmel to its top, with the Shrine of the Báb on the middle terrace and the buildings of the Bahá’í world administrative headquarters just to the left as you gaze upward, really do look like a stairway by which you can ascend to heaven.
If you are planning to go to Haifa on pilgrimage – or even on a three-day visit – in the next year or so, recall that the Bahá’í shrines in Haifa are all on Mount Carmel. This may seem obvious to you but the thing about being `Mount’ Carmel is that everything is up the hill and down the hill. In my experience, mostly UP. Now, if you live in Switzerland or Kashmir or the Rocky Mountains, Haifa’s hill will seem nothing to you. But if you live in the Netherlands or Kansas or, indeed, Bedfordshire like I do, where the ground is basically flat, then Mount Carmel, which appears so charming in the photographs, is amazingly steep and, as I say, mostly UP.
Consider this. My niece, who has been living in Haifa for nearly five years, takes her six-year-old daughter to school every morning. They have to climb 81 steps — all in one go — to get to the school and she climbs another 81 at the end of day to collect her daughter from school. Here in Bedfordshire, the standard staircase has 13 steps. So they climb just over 6 flights of stairs just to get to the school. That’s more than 12 flights of stairs a day – and that doesn’t count all the other stairs to everywhere else. The Haifa stairs are, of course, outdoor stairs, not stairs in a house, so they are somewhat steeper and less even. And wet when it rains.
Depending on where you stay in Haifa during your pilgrimage, you will have more or less the same number of stairs to climb.
If you are fit and active and used to climbing so many stairs every day, then you will be just fine. For people like me, who do everything I can to avoid going upstairs when I am down, or downstairs when I am up, the Haifa stairs are really, well, noticeable.
So I am starting a new fitness programme for my own pilgrimage in May 2008. I will build up my ability to climb stairs by climbing our own staircase every day, one flight a day at first and gradually adding more trips every day so that by May I can climb our staircase 12 times in a row without puffing. I plan to start this – soon. Perhaps tomorrow. Or the day after. Or perhaps the day after that. I think for now I will just go downstairs and get a cup of tea and think about it.