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My friend Naomi recently went on a Baha’i pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel, and shared some of the inspiring thoughts she had on her journey.
When I moved to New York City I faced a challenge that many transient young people face: how do I find the people who I can develop deep and loving friendships with? Naomi is one of the many beautiful souls I found in answer to this question.
She went to school at Barnard College, and even though our schools were literally neighbors, we did not become friends until a mutual friend introduced us. Through our friendship I’ve learned peace through hardship, had uplifting and clarifying conversations that have helped me understand how to better serve others. In our friendships I’ve found genuine comfort and love.
Naomi became one of thousands of Baha’is from around the world who go on pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel. For nine days, she visited historical sites, prayed and meditated in the sacred shrines of Baha’u’llah and the Bab, and saw precious artifacts from their lives. This tradition extends to the very early years of the Baha’i Faith, when believers would travel for months on foot to simply catch a glimpse of Baha’u’llah, the one they believed to be God’s new messenger for this age.
The Baha’i teachings say that Baha’is who can, should travel to visit the shrines and resting places of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith: “The Lord hath ordained that those of you who are able shall make pilgrimage to the sacred House …” – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book
My friend Naomi is a deeply insightful person, so I thought I would share some of her reflections.
Q: Where are you from, where do you live, and how did you get here?
A: I am from Northern California but have now been living in New York City for six years. College brought me to New York City; life and work has kept me here!
Q: How did you become a Baha’i?
A: When I was in sixth grade, my dad’s yoga instructor invited my parents to a devotional on her last day teaching the class. As the youngest child by a large margin, I got taken wherever my parents went so I went along. That was the beginning of my exposure and introduction to the Baha’i Faith. At the same time I started looking into different churches and developing a personal religious identity. Over the next few years, I learned more about the Baha’i Faith, what it meant to be a Baha’i and I was drawn to the vision of community being worked towards. Shortly after turning fifteen, while attending a youth gathering over the summer, I declared as a Baha’i.
Q: What has been your journey since becoming a Baha’i? Were there challenges when you embraced a new Faith?
A: Since becoming a Baha’i, I am constantly learning the different teachings, dimensions and histories of the faith and how to incorporate them into my life. It was challenging for me to figure out how to explain what I was and why, especially to those who had known me previously.
Q: You recently went on a Baha’i pilgrimage. You’ve shared some of what your experience was like with me, but I am wondering if you could share what you learned about the significance of your visit to the Holy Land?
A: When on a Baha’i pilgrimage we were given a guide who stayed with us for the full nine days. Mine shared that there is significance to being able to pray in the holy shrines. I felt that being in the shrine of Baha’u’llah is the closest thing that I can have to being “face-to-face” with God. Pilgrimage is a time to connect spiritually with the history of the Baha’i Faith, and then also to see the physical manifestation of the sacrifices that have gone into the founding and growth of this Faith. The shrines and gardens are like physical symbols of what we are trying to build spiritually.
Q: What was one of your favorite parts of your pilgrimage?
A: I really enjoyed being able to connect with so many wonderful people from all over the world. Everyone is really open and vulnerable since it is spiritual journey. I saw how far-reaching this Faith is, and how it connects so many people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. It was striking to be able to bond and build genuine friendship with others who come from such different lives than my own.
Q: How has it impacted you after coming back home to Brooklyn?
A: While on pilgrimage I thought a lot about the potency of this time we are living in, and how I framed the way I live my life. It’s really allowed me to re-prioritize the role of service [to others] and the way it is integrated into my life. It is not just something that is an action but also a way of living. While I was [in the Holy Land] I was actively praying, reflecting, meditating, and seeking guidance. You get to hear so much about what is happening across the world in Baha’i [community] service efforts, so I was learning about different ways service can come to life when we put it at the center of our minds and hearts.
Q: Do you have a favorite prayer or quotation that you associate with your pilgrimage? Why does this one resonate with you?
A: I really connected to Baha’u’llah’s The Tablet of Ahmad when I was on pilgrimage.
O Ahmad! Forget not My bounties while I am absent. Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. And be thou so steadfast in My love that thy heart shall not waver, even if the swords of the enemies rain blows upon thee and all the heavens and the earth arise against thee. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers
While on pilgrimage you are reminded of the tests and the opposition that the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, and the early believers faced. You are also reminded of their steadfastness in the face of this opposition. It was, and continues to be, a reminder of the sacrifice that allowed me to come into contact with this Faith that has been so transformative for my own life.