WNC Baha’i Center
January 30, 2011
I have been curious about the Baha’i faith sense I first heard of it some 25 years ago in the early years of my spiritual search. That curiosity increased every time I passed the beautiful WNC Baha’i Center building on Ravenscroft Ave. downtown*.
Finally, last Sunday I gave myself the wonderful gift of attending a Baha’i service. This first visit will not be my last, Spirit willing.
Here’s how to know if you would enjoy a Baha’i service:
- If you have ever wished for a spiritual service that felt soothing and restorative.
- If you love the soaring, poetic language of inspired sacred writing.
- If you appreciate the essential wisdom found in all religious traditions.
- If you enjoy being in the company of sincere, warm-hearted, funny people.
As I paused at the door to turn off my cell phone before entering a gentlemen behind me asked graciously if he might hold the door for me. As we stepped inside I immediately noticed that the energy at the Baha’i Center feels peaceful and serene.
The gentleman introduced himself as Jim Turpin** and welcomed me warmly to the Sunday devotional, addressing me as Miss Smith until I invited him to call me Michelle if he liked. Dr. Turpin proceeded to direct me to a table with some literature about the Baha’i faith and to share with me some of the values held by its followers.
In a word, Baha’i believe in Unity – Unity of God and the Unity of Humanity as one Family. Our local Baha’i community reflects this belief in their open-hearted welcoming of a new comer. Dr. Turpin accompanied me up the stairs to the Baha’i Center’s suite of rooms on the upper floor and introduced me to some of the people assembled there.
I stopped to admire a number of large photographs of some of the seven Baha’i Houses of Worship around the world. There are only seven of these gorgeous temples, one on each continent. While they are all different in style, they all have nine sides and a central dome symbolizing the diversity of humanity and our Oneness.
The majestic Shrine of Bab, in Israel, holds the remains of the young man, known as the Bab, who announced the imminent appearance of Baha’u’llah, the divine Messenger of the Baha’i’ faith, in 1844 and was executed in the public square of Tabriz by the dominant Muslim clergy in 1850.
This Sunday an intimate group of a dozen or so gathered in the devotional room which is arranged very comfortably in the manner of a living room. The Baha’i do not have clergy so each week different members of the congregation take a turn preparing and delivering the service.
Baha’i service is informal and primarily devotional, centering on the readings taken from the Baha’i writings and sometimes also including the scriptures of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Zorastrianism and Buddhism. There are no rituals and yet I found the service profoundly moving.
A member of the congregation opened with words of welcome and a Baha’i' prayer inspired by the bright, warm days that had everyone smiling with gratitude. This was my first taste of the beautiful writings that form the core text of the Baha’i' faith, some 70 volumes by Baha’u’llah and his son, Abdu’l-Baha.
A lady named Jeanne chose the readings and music for this Sunday’s devotional. “A Message of Hope” was the theme, particularly fitting as the congregation remembered the people of Egypt this week. Several members of the congregation were enlisted to read in turn.
A smile rose up from my heart and settled on my face as I closed my eyes and let the words flow over me. Reading after reading my spirit was assured of God’s mercy, bounty and infinite love until I felt my being settle into a peaceful state of meditation. Here is a small sampling of these sacred writings.
“May you be given life!
May the rain of the Divine Mercy
and the warmth of the Sun of Truth
make your gardens fruitful, so that many
beautiful flowers of exquisite fragrance and love
may blossom in abundance”
Between the readings, Jeanne played recordings of exquisite voices singing prayers.
“Do not take into consideration
your own aptitudes and capacities,
but fix your gaze
on the consummate bounty,
the divine bestowal and the power
of the Holy Spirit –
the power that converteth
the drop into a sea
and the star into a sun”.
I’m told that devotional services vary somewhat depending upon the people leading them, sometimes including singing and other forms of devotion. The Baha’i’ calendar begins the New Year on Spring Equinox, March 21. As with any other Baha’i’ observances there are no rules for celebration on this day. Don, one of my new Baha’i’ friends, informed me that this is an especially nice time to visit a Baha’i’ community.
Members of the Baha’i’ faith represent what may well be the most culturally and ethnically diverse association of people in the world, an estimated five to six million members and growing rapidly. Dizzy Gillespie was Baha’i’. Rainn Wilson, most famous for his role as Dwight Schrute on The Office, is also Baha’i’.
The Baha’i faith emerged in the early 19th century. Followers of the faith are ”committed to helping humankind reach the long-promised age of global peace, justice and unity.” Baha’i' believe that there is only one God and that all religions are in essence different chapters of one religion divinely revealed to a series of Messengers whose teachings have provided the basis for human advancement toward an ever greater understanding of the Creator.
Baha’u’llah, the latest of these Messengers, brought new social and spiritual teachings for our time. His essential message is of unity — the oneness of God, the oneness of the human family, and the oneness of religion. Baha’i believe that men and women are equal and thatthat all prejudice is destructive.
Keep in mind, Baha’u’llah revealed this message in 19th century Persia, current day Iran. I’m sure you can imagine how well that went over with the dominant Muslim leadership of the day. (About as well as the dominant Jewish leadership received another young man’s message of peace a couple of thousand years before him). Sadly, in Iran and some other places in the world Baha’i’ are severely persecuted even today.
After the service we gathered for refreshments and fellowship. Baha’i services do not include an offertory. In fact, Baha’i Centers don’t accept offerings of money from people who are not members of the faith. Instead, I was gifted with two books:
Baha’u'llah and the New Era: an introduction to the Baha’i’ faith
Thief in the Night. This book, written in the form of a quest to uncover a mystery, examines the prophesies from the major world religions that foretell the arrival of Baha’u'llah, a divine Messenger for our time, whose name mean “The Glory of God”.
These books are available in the library of the Baha’i’ Center but don’t let them be your introduction to this faith if you can attend a service instead. You may find, as I did, a place to restore your spirit in loving community.
Sunday devotional services begin at 11:00am a the WNC Baha’i’ Center at 5 Ravenscroft in Asheville. You can also find out about other services in the surrounding counties at www.wncbahai.org.
*The building, I learned, was formerly the home of Asheville’s local chapter of the Independent Order of Oddfellows, which is fitting considering the Oddfellows were founded in the early 19th century as a means of “making the world a better place to live by aiding the community, the less fortunate, the youth, the elderly, the environment and the community at large in every way possible”.
The gentleman with the courtly manners turned out to be Dr. Jim Turpin, now 80 years old, a practicing MD, an ordained minister before discovering the Baha’i Faith, and the founder of Project Concern (www.projectconcern.org). That’s Jim 50 years ago in the photo on their home page.
If you’ve been curious about this religion and perhaps longed for a quieter alternative for worship, as I have, I encourage you to visit our WNC Baha’i community.