Have you ever walked a ways in a snowstorm?
Crunch. Cruunch. Skee-runnch… My feet, plodding on the un-shoveled sidewalks, carried me north 1.2 miles from Ridge Avenue in Evanston, Illinois to the corner of Linden and Sheridan in Wilmette, in the north Chicago suburbs.
That day in February 2003 I was fully decked out in winter gear: jacket, hat, gloves, and boots, but the blowing snow kept spritzing my eyes and the chill filled my lungs. Around me, the streets hadn’t yet been plowed, creating a uniform white, level coating over the ground.
Then, around the corner, to the left, I glimpsed the magisterial pointed dome of the Baha’i House of Worship of North America, creating a stunning contrast with the blowing snow that engulfed everything. It struck me that such a noble structure, in the midst of a near-whiteout, reflected the Faith’s permanence in this cold, ever-shifting world. As the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith Shoghi Effendi declared, back in March 1943:
Neither the first [House of Worship] of the Baha’i world … nor any House of Worship to be raised in succeeding centuries, can claim to possess the vast, the immeasurable potentialities with which this Mother Temple of the West, established in the very heart of so enviable a continent, and whose foundation stone has been laid by the hand of the Center of the Covenant Himself, has been endowed. – This Decisive Hour, p. 61
Walking to the House of Worship in a February Chicago snowstorm was one of several personal experiences over the past eighteen years which revealed, to me, just a handful of the building’s “immeasurable potentialities.” (I hiked there because I was on vacation back home from overseas with no hurry, and it was too treacherous to drive). Also, this first Baha’i House of Worship in the Western world rewards everyone who visits with a unique spiritual experience.
The Lone Reader
Devotionals are held three times daily in this Baha’i House of Worship, also known as the “Mother Temple of the West.” Readers stand at a podium in front of the vast numbers of seats and share writings and prayers from the Baha’i scriptures as well as other spiritual traditions, including the Bible and the Quran. Personally, I’ve felt fortunate and blessed to hear soul-stirring prayers chanted in the original Arabic and Persian wafting through the Temple’s space. Sometimes scores, if not hundreds, of people frequent these devotionals.
Sometimes, well, not so many attend. One day, I read for such a devotional (in another blowing snowstorm at 11 AM sharp) and not one soul showed up. Yet I sure didn’t feel alone. These passages, inscribed above two of its nine entrances, imparted a potency amidst my solitude—it was almost as if the very air molecules were charged with meaning:
So powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the entire earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.
Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch. – Ibid.
The takeaway from this, I thought, was that God was always watching. As Baha’u’llah explains:
Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. iv.
In May of 2016, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States inaugurated a visitors’ center adjacent to the House of Worship. Prior to that signal event, visitors wishing to learn more about the Baha’i Faith could explore a series of displays, peruse a bookstore, and even watch informational videos downstairs in a large space beneath the sanctuary.
Yet some gems still remain there. A preeminent artifact housed in the temple’s basement is the foundation stone. In 1912, an early Chicago believer, Nettie Tobin, found this irregular-shaped stone and transported it to the future site of the House of Worship in a wheelbarrow. When Abdu’l-Baha dedicated the temple in his 1912 visit, he placed this stone with his own hands, and declared “The temple is already built!” While Baha’is don’t consider this stone as any sort of sacred object, it reminds me of the labor needed to maintain Baha’i structures such as this House of Worship. Indeed, Abdu’l-Baha noted in a special prayer for the temple:
O God, my God! I implore Thee with a throbbing heart and streaming tears to aid whosoever expendeth his energy for the erection of this House, and the construction of this Building wherein Thy name is mentioned every morn and every eve. O God! Send down Thy divine increase on whosoever endeavoreth to serve this edifice and exerteth himself to raise it amongst the kindreds and religions of the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers, p. 288.
Check it out for Yourself
Baha’i Houses of Worship are for everyone. People of all Faiths and no faith are welcome. Anyone can come in anytime to pray, meditate and contemplate the human soul and our connection to our Creator. I’ve spent many hours there reflecting, enjoying the atmosphere with friends and family, and guiding visitors. All those times had a particular transcendence..
My own experiences, though, represent a few mere snowflakes in a Chicago blizzard of what the Baha’i House of Worship of North America has to offer. Like the Baha’i Houses of Worship that now exist on every continent, including the brand new one in South America, it’s a gift from the Baha’is to everyone on Earth. I earnestly hope that you, too, may visit one day and discover innumerable potentialities of your own.
It’s a short walk from the Purple Line “L” station in Wilmette. Let’s hope the weather’s good.