Apr 21st, 2008
Rejoice with exceeding gladness, O people of Baha, as ye call to remembrance the Day of supreme felicity, the Day whereon the Tongue of the Ancient of Days hath spoken, as He departed from His House, proceeding to the Spot from which He shed upon the whole of creation the splendors of His name, the All-Merciful. God is Our witness. Were We to reveal the hidden secrets of that Day, all they that dwell on earth and in the heavens would swoon away and die, except such as will be preserved by God, the Almighty, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. Baha’u’llah, Baha’i writings
Having spent last weekend in Hirschberg, near Heidelberg, Germany, working with Udo Schaefer on the second volume of his Baha’i Ethics, this week we have wandered through religions and religious history, especially those that are established here in Bedfordshire.
On Monday Moojan and I attended the very English and very Anglican funeral of our friend and neighbour Pam Barnes. Held in our parish church at the end of our lane, it was a beautiful service, with hymns, prayers and readings to assist Pam’s soul to wing its way back to God.
On Tuesday I went to meet with Mike Fudger, Rector at the Parish Church of St Peter de Merton with St Cuthbert in Bedford. I am chair and Mike vice chair of Bedford Council of Faiths (this is our old website – the new one is under construction) and he and I are the team responsible for the `devotional’ evening of our Festival of Faiths next November. We are both struck by the similarities and commonalities we find in our religions. We decided we will focus on the stories that each religion has of the journey that brings a soul closer to God or uplifts the spirit.
On Wednesday was a meeting of the steering group for the Festival of Faiths, held at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Bedford. where our colleague George Chaplin welcomed us. Again, nice to be with a group of people who are not embarrassed by their beliefs and although we come from different directions, we all understand the power of religion to transform the individual and society.
Thursday was the annual Faith Walk, where we visit different places of worship. This year the theme was `Journeys’. We went first to the Polish Catholic church in Bedford
where we heard the story of the journey of first Poles who came to Bedford and how the congregation has increased four-fold in recent years with the influx of Poles following Poland’s accession to the EU. The church is filled with icons and statues and pictures, including a huge statue of Christ with his heart exposed and radiating shafts of light.
We then proceeded across the street to the Bunyan Meeting Free Church to hear the story of John Bunyan the great Puritan preacher and writer, author of the Pilgrim’s Progress, the stages of whose journey are set around Bedford and environs. The church could not be more different from the Polish church – using architecture only for its decoration and symbolism – no statues or icons or paintings here.
The Jewish community in Bedford is small and there is no synagogue so we stayed in the Bedford meting to hear Rabbi Daniela Thau tell the story of Donna Gracia Mendes Nassi, a 15th century Portuguese aristocrat who lost nearly all of her relatives in the Spanish Inquisition. She refused to convert from being a Jew to a Catholic and with her daughter and nephew journeyed to Constantinople where Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent allowed them to maintain their Jewish traditions. She worked tirelessly to save many Jewish refugees from persecution in Portugal and Spain.
Friday night we went to the Bahá’í devotional meeting hosted by Malcolm and Parvin Lee in their home in Bedford. The theme for the evening was `Divine Springtime’ and the prayers, readings and music reminded us that this is a time of spiritual renewal as well as – at least in the northern hemisphere – the renewal of the physical earth, a journey the world, as well as religion, is continually embarked upon.
On Saturday evening we went to the home of Rabbi Thau and her husband Laurie Bender for the first night Passover Seder, the Jewish ritual feast. We each had a different version of the Haggadah, the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, and we each read aloud the story of that extraordinary journey towards freedom and the Promised Land. While the Seder includes drinking four cups of wine, Daniela and Laurie offered us delicious grape juice instead – and drank it themselves, to respect the Baha’i prohibition on the drinking of alcohol. We ate handmade matza and the other symbolic foods including bitter herbs and eggs – as well as a full dinner! We were still eating at well past midnight and had a fascinating time reading the Haggadah, opening the door for the arrival of Elijah (he didn’t come, but of course, Baha’is believe he has already arrived!), and singing special Passover songs at breakneck speed.
Sunday evening we went back to the Lees to celebrate the holiest day of the Bahá’í year, the first day of the festival of Ridvan, the 12-day period when Baha’u’llah publically declared His mission in a garden called Ridvan (Paradise) outside Baghdad in 1863. Here `He shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of His name, the All-Merciful’.
Bahá’u’lláh went to the Garden of Ridvan to just prior to His journey to Constantinople after the Ottomans exiled Him from Baghdad. Baha’u’llah’s physical journeys, from His house to the garden, from Baghdad to Constantinople, were – like all the journeys we experienced this week – of huge spiritual significance. They are journeys of the soul, the most important journeys of all.