Where's the God?

Once upon a time—about sixteen years ago—I read with intense longing the accounts in The American Baha’i of the amazing numbers of Baha’is in India. I had little desire to visit Haifa but much to experience the swarm of believers I envisioned from these reports. So when I was short-term pioneering in southeast Asia I took my opportunity to fly to Delhi.

After my months of service, a sludge of fatigue filled my limbs, and gravity seemed to have a special affinity for me. I had learned a lot, given a lot. And what was the state of my own heart? I didn’t know anymore. I wrote in my journal that I felt like I needed to sit and sit and sit and do nothing for a long time. When the driver dropped me off inside the front gate of the Baha’i house of worship in New Delhi, I paused a moment to look for the first time at this long-imagined place. Then I began the walk with mindfulness and happy anticipation.

On that ordinary, non-holiday day, there weren’t very great numbers of people, but certainly a steady flow. I checked my shoes before the temple steps, with the men whose heads just stuck up above ground from the room of shelves and shoes below the promenade. These days I don’t even take a shower without shoes on, I have such problems with my feet, and couldn’t walk that short pilgrimage and scale all those steps even with my feet clad. But at the time, this small ritual delighted me. We didn’t do this at the temple in Wilmette. I wasn’t in Wilmette.

{josquote}I didn’t expect all or even most of the people visiting the house of worship to be Baha’is, but to be the only one, that was an impossibility in my American Baha’i–fed visions.{/josquote}

Barefoot, I walked the rest of my short pilgrimage and scaled all those steps. Then the strangeness began. The temple guides greeted me like something they had never experienced before—what a novelty, a freak of nature, a never-imagined creature: an individual Baha’i coming to pray and meditate. I was only slightly less rare to the longer-term staff, and they quickly targeted me as possible labor.

I turned down, though, the director’s invitation to scrub the temple floor in the early morning hours with the staff and guides—certainly worthy work—and reiterated my need for rest and contemplation. How is it, I wondered, that prayer and meditation receive so little recognition, here of all places?

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