Baha’i Houses of Worship: A Personal Reflection on the Work Ahead

The Baha'i House of Worship in Panama City, Panama (Photo: Baha'i Media Bank)

The Baha’i House of Worship in Panama City, Panama (Photo: Baha’i Media Bank)

My mother often comments that she feels as though the annual Ridvan letters of the beloved Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is of the world are written specifically to her – there is always one sentence or one paragraph that strikes her to her very core and that makes the whole letter very personal and relevant. I don’t always feel the lightning bolt that she does but over time, I find myself mulling over morsels and sentences like a squirrel with acorns in its cheeks.

I am still delighting in the Ridvan message of 2012. It stirringly portrays the current state of affairs, framed by a historical account of the Master’s travels to the West and a vision of the work to be done in the coming years. It joyously announces the seven new Houses of Worship to be built: two new national temples, one in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the other in Papua New Guinea, and five local temples in Battambang, Cambodia; Bihar Sharif, India; Matunda Soy, Kenya; Norte del Cauca, Colombia; and Tanna, Vanuatu. The House of Justice writes:

From these Dawning-Points of the Remembrance of God will shine the rays of His light and peal out the anthems of His praise.

While the groundwork is being laid for these temples, steady progress continues to be made on the Mother Temple of South America in Chile – progress which you can follow on its video newsreels.

When Abdu’l-Baha placed the cornerstone for the House of Worship in Wilmette on that windy spring day over 100 years ago, He said that the temple was already built. The Ridvan letter recounts this beautifully when it states,

It was as if the House of Worship, yet unbuilt, was fulfilling the wishes of the Master, expressed on the eve of the ceremony, for every such edifice: ‘that humanity might find a place of meeting’ and ‘that the proclamation of the oneness of mankind shall go forth from its open courts of holiness’.

We’ve already described Houses of Worship on Baha’i Blog here but I think another description can be found in that Ridvan letter:

The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, described by Abdu’l-Baha as ‘one of the most vital institutions of the world’, weds two essential, inseparable aspects of Baha’i life: worship and service. The union of these two is also reflected in the coherence that exists among the community-building features of the Plan, particularly the burgeoning of a devotional spirit that finds expression in gatherings for prayer and an educational process that builds capacity for service to humanity.

As I reflect on these words, I wonder what the new Houses of Worship — all in countries far from my doorstep — have to do with me and two tasks come to mind. For one, I know that I have the privilege and the unique historical opportunity to contribute sacrificially to the Fund for their construction.

I also know that the ripe conditions that exist in those advanced clusters where the Houses of Worship are to be erected lie dormant in my own community. It’s as though those communities have fertile and verdant gardens and the temple is a centerpiece flower that can now be planted and bloom. The services I render to my community are like tilling the soil in preparation for planting a rudimentary garden. Over time, it too, will be ready for a local House of Worship. I know this to be true because the letter states,

Akin to the hard earth struck by the Master a century ago, the prevailing theories of the age may, at first, seem impervious to alteration, but they will undoubtedly fade away, and through the ‘vernal showers of the bounty of God’, the ‘flowers of true understanding’ will spring up fresh and fair. We yield thanks to God that, through the potency of His Word, you—the community of His Greatest Name—are cultivating environments wherein true understanding can blossom.

This is also affirmed in the most recent Ridvan message where the Universal House of Justice writes,

What is especially promising is that so many of these distinctive and salient features which characterize the clusters furthest advanced are also evident in communities at much earlier points in their development.

This idea really hit home when I watched the Frontiers of Learning video released by the Baha’i World Centre because you can actually see the radiant faces of those who serve in advanced clusters, clusters like Bihar Sharif where a temple is to be built. Although the landscape, the climate and the culture of Bihar Sharif are very different from my Maritime Canadian hometown, the poignantly expressed spirit of that community is faintly present in the small but jubilant gatherings of my community.

We all have our own paths of service but at the heart of all the core activities is the sacred and transforming Word of God. These texts are like spiritual cornerstones for our local temples. In The Promulgation of Universal Peace, ‘Abdul-Baha is recorded as saying:

The real temple is the very Word of God; for to it all humanity must turn, and it is the center of unity for all mankind. It is the collective center, the cause of accord and communion of hearts, the sign of the solidarity of the human race, the source of eternal life. Temples are the symbols of the divine uniting force so that when the people gather there in the House of God they may recall the fact that the law has been revealed for them and that the law is to unite them.

Lastly, the Universal House of Justice outlines our work ahead in its 2012 message:

Our fervent desire, bolstered by witnessing your consecrated efforts during the past year, is that you will intensify your sure-footed application of the knowledge you are acquiring through experience. Now is not the time to hold back; too many remain unaware of the new dawn. Who but you can convey the divine message? ‘By God,’ Baha’u’llah, referring to the Cause, affirms, ‘this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being.’

These are the thoughts I cradle in my heart and as I participate in the life of my community. I like to close my eyes and imagine I’m already there, sitting inside the nine-sided structure that is our very own Dawning-Point of the Remembrance of God.

About the Author

Sonjel

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

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Discussion 7 Comments

  1. Well, actually, there should be 500 Houses of worship in the world.
    You dont need 100,000 Bahais in an area before you build a house of worship there. there were only 4000 Bahais in the city of Ashkabad when they built the house of worship there.

    I can also tell you — in my case my Bahai education stopped when I was 18m the main reason being the lack of a Bahai center in the city I lived in. As a poor student I had no money, and as a young man other interests. It is now at age 42, and as a refugee that I have time and the maturity to investigate the more important things in life — need a Bahai center in a community.

    I can also tell you again — the countries whos state-administration and people are aware of the Bahai community as a distinct community are the ones with a Bahai house of worship. In Kiev they wont stop calling me a ‘moslem’. Indian police, police of the state of Illionois, Panama police know who the Bahais are, on the other hand.

  2. Baha’u’llah warns us against “vain imaginings”, but Sonjel’s evocation of the someday-Temple in her community strikes me as not only an inspiring vision but a practical, useful one. This is something that we *ought* to imagine, particularly when our devotional gatherings seem tiny or insignificant. Seeds are that way, after all. The connection between little neighbourhood prayer meetings and future reorganizations of municipal infrastructure is a visionary one, and what town/city/country do you know that doesn’t need vision?

    I love ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s quoted line “that humanity might find a place of meeting”. Now there’s a hope; there’s a necessity.

  3. The prayer meetings will be larger if there was a center.
    When the Bahais of Ashkabad built a house of worship there were 4000 Bahais in their city. You dont need 100,000 people before you build a (9 sided) church.

  4. Thank you again people for the very interesting and varied topics you cover. There was a lovely one about meditation which helped us to concentrate when saying prayers. Unfortunately we have lost it- can any one help by telling us where to find it?. Would be very appreciative of any suggestions.
    Much Bahai love to all reading this. Don and Margaret

    1. Hi Margaret and Dan,
      Thanks so much for your support and encouragement!
      I’m not sure which exact article you’re speaking of, but here are the links to a few of our articles and one of them may be the one you mentioned:

      1) 8 Creative Ideas for your Next Devotional Gathering: http://bahaiblog.net/site/2012/02/01/8-creative-ideas-for-your-next-devotional-gathering/

      2) 4 Ways to Achieve Prayefulness: http://bahaiblog.net/site/2011/10/06/4-ways-to-achieve-prayerfulness/

      3) Divine Transcendence: Closer than your Life-vein: http://bahaiblog.net/site/2013/04/11/divine-transcendence-closer-than-your-life-vein/

  5. Thanks Naysan, none of those links were the ones we remembered but the second link was very helpful and I’m sure we were meant to read that instead. Since Don had his head injury some 23 years ago and was left with an an inability to walk, talk read or write it is only the faith that has sustained him. We read from the writings daily but I often find my mind wandering onto the things I need to do so have taken note of some of the points raised in the link. Don had to go into a care home some 10 years ago as my physical state declined but he teaches in his own way by the incredible patience he shows also by having Bahai friends into sing with him(one thing he is still able to do and enjoy). Everyone reading this remember to be thankful for each day no matter what it brings. Thanks for answering . Don and Margaret

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