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My Baha’i community held a retreat over the past weekend at the magnificent Bosch Baha’i School. One of three permanent Baha’i centers of learning founded in the early 20th century in the United States, the Bosch Baha’i School nestles in the mountain forests sixteen miles north of Santa Cruz, California, at the north end of Monterey Bay.
I have visited this magical place many times over the last 20-some years. Across the 67 acres of this wild, beautiful property you’ll find large stands of redwood, fir, oak, and madrone, stretches of open rolling land, and a small lake. From several vantage points on the grounds, set at an altitude of approximately 2,000 feet, you can see the Pacific Ocean five miles away.
In response to a request for services during the retreat, I offered to organize a walking meditation on Saturday afternoon. The simple program consisted of three parts: (1) gathering under the towering redwood grove consecrated to the memory of a wonderful Baha’i named Leroy Ioas; (2) walking mindfully and silently towards a creek about half a mile away and sharing a prayer once there; and (3) returning to the Ioas Grove and share prayers and personal insights gained from the walk.
About 20 friends, age 14 months to 75 years, gathered to take part in the walking meditation. To allow for quiet contemplation and full presence of mind, we opted to walk in silence for the duration of the one-and-a-half hour allotted time, except when reading from the Baha’i writings.
As we stood in a circle in the grove of impossibly tall redwoods, a sense of connection with the earth beneath my feet emerged from the ground up. I had a feeling as if a part of me had soared from the ground to the canopy of the redwoods, treetops glistening brilliantly in the afternoon sun. A sense of sacred awe enveloped me, blessing me with an awareness of oneness, under the shadow of the giant redwoods.
Once we started our walk a hush fell upon us, even as we filed slowly from the grove towards the creek, roughly half a mile away. Our commitment to walking mindfully in silence had liberated us from the need to make small talk. Our senses felt keener. I saw clusters of wild Douglas Iris in full bloom as we walked by. Songs of the birds and the leaves under our feet accompanied our journey, until a delightful rushing brook greeted us at the end of the trail.
We found places to sit next to where the water cascaded through rocks and roots of trees. We shared this line from a prayer revealed by Baha’u’llah:
Make my prayer, O my Lord, a fountain of living waters whereby I may live as long as Thy sovereignty endureth, and may make mention of Thee in every world of Thy worlds. – Baha’i Prayers, p. 8.
After a few more moments of silent meditation, we headed back toward Ioas Grove.
In one stretch of the forest, the small, humbly-sized acorns of the giant redwoods covered the ground, prompting us to see the potential of new trees in the seeds. They reminded me of the twinkles in the late William Sears’ eyes years ago, when he mused about God’s wisdom of giving small acorns to big tall trees and big pumpkins to vines that grow close to the ground.
“Can you imagine if a pumpkin were to grow on a redwood tree?” he said. “Anyone passing under it would be badly hurt if a pumpkin were to ripen and drop on him! God’s wisdom is infinite.”
As we walked, memories of Mr. Sears and other Baha’is who have passed on from this physical world to the spiritual world, and deep gratitude to John and Louis Bosch for providing this heavenly spot, accompanied me back to the grove.
Friends slowly regrouped under the giant redwoods, again in a circle, and shared this passage by Baha’u’llah:
This is the Day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the world to reconcile their differences, and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness. – The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 119.
Baha’u’llah has another prayer that perfectly sums up our meditative walk:
Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified. – Baha’i Prayers, p. i.