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Letter to the Australian newsletter, summarizing of nine days in the Holy Land and talks with Shoghi Effendi.

Sacred Pilgrimage:
Visits with The Guardian

by Bill Washington

published in Herald of the South
Dear Friend —

As you will remember, on leaving for pilgrimage I promised to write you some short notes of that experience for the “Herald”. This brief letter, I'm afraid, is but an apology of what I promised, inasmuch as I have not the words to express, however inadequately, the majesty and depth of that experience of pilgrimage. I do not believe that words or human expression can exist to justly convey such an experience — I know for certain that it is far beyond the capacity of my words, to put such overwhelming impressions into words, or even to think of them coherently. While the heart struggles to grasp their magnitude and significance — and in some mysterious way, I believe, succeeds to a degree — the mind falls short in any attempt to convey in finite terms such an experience. At least I find it so.

To describe the events of the pilgrimage; the external facade of those Most Holy Shrines; the beautiful gardens, planned and nurtured with such loving care by our beloved Guardian — yes, this is easy enough, and most of our dear friends know of these, personally or through photos. But to convey in words the atmosphere of those sacred spots and the Holy Shrines; the overwhelming love that engulfs each pilgrim from the moment he enters the Pilgrim House and remains ever clearer and greater in each passing day after he leaves; the sense of peace and tranquility that surrounds those gardens on God's Holy Mount; and, above all, the spiritual impact of that greatest of all privileges, to meet and listen to our Beloved Guardian — that, dear friend, is far beyond the compass of my words.

I might try, as is my deepest wish, to be able to share this spiritual bounty, which so undeservedly has been showered on me, but any attempt must fall far short of what is really in my heart.

Each day — each moment of those nine precious days — leaves its own priceless memory and impression, but perhaps the greatest of these is of our beloved Guardian. I guess many pilgrims — at least those as young in the Faith as I — knowing with such limited comprehension of the station of the Guardianship, face that first moment of meeting with some anxiety. But when that moment comes, when you first walk into our beloved Guardian's presence, all such thoughts instantly vanish. Looking back it seems as though all thoughts of any other moment but this are gone — such is the atmosphere of pure love that reaches out to engulf you. That first night — as the beloved Guardian speaks (as he did to me) of Australia's achievements and goals; of its great station and destiny as spiritual co-leader, with Japan, of the vast Pacific area; of Mother Dunn, who is very dear and close to the hearts of all at the World Centre — seems at the time, almost unreal. And yet it leaves the impression, which grows with time to a certainty, that this and other such moments are the very essence of reality.

Our beloved Guardian spoke much during those nights of the rapid spread of the Faith during the past four years of the Ten-Year Plan — 4,000 centres, in 250 countries, territories and islands; 102 islands opened to the Faith, 40 of these being in the Pacific and 70 of the total number opened within the past four years; over a hundred of the 131 goals of the Ten-Year Plan conquered within the first year, and now the entire globe, with the exception of four islands and part of the Soviet Union, embraced within the Faith; the Faith established by a pioneer at Thule in Greenland at a latitude of 77 degrees north, and literature carried to remote McMurdo Island in the Antarctica; Bahá'í literature translated in 220 languages of the world, many of these in addition to the Plan's goals and including native languages throughout the Pacific, the African continent and the tongues of North American Indian races; 3,000 members of the black race, African negroes, and 2,000 of the brown race, Polynesians from Gilbert and Ellice, and Indonesians from Mentawai, now embraced by the Faith.

This last aspect — the mass acceptance of the Faith in some areas by the black and brown races — has greatly gladdened our Guardian's heart. As he says, the world's population is predominately coloured: so the Faith in its world-encompassing spread, must embrace a corresponding majority of these peoples.

The Faith's rapid growth over these past four years has indeed made our Guardian very happy, and this was obviously reflected in his cheerful and enthusiastic mood throughout the pilgrimage — a fact that all my fellow pilgrims were quick to note and appreciate with a happier heart. It is as though our Guardian looks at the world, not as we do, but as it has been envisaged by ‘Abdu'l-Bahá — his vision can already penetrate the gloom of world chaos and strife, and he can already see that new world and civilization, forming amidst the debris of today's world politics. Those on pilgrimage find themselves instantly and willingly caught up in his enthusiasm and optimism.

We have nearly finished the Ten-Year Plan in the first four years, was our Guardian's summing up. But, he adds, with a promise of new goals and tasks and greater achievements; this is only the first plan, not the last. These nuclei must now be firmly established and expanded.

It would be my greatest wish, my friend, to describe the atmosphere of those Most Holy Shrines of Haifa and Bahji. Their physical description is easy, but conveys nothing of their soul-pervading atmosphere — and that, I'm afraid, is beyond the scope of my words.

The Holy Shrine of the Báb is much visited by the local residents, and even these, unacquainted with the depth and significance of the Faith, are obviously affected by the potency of that sacred spot. At first frankly curious, as any sightseer, once they have entered the Shrine of the Báb their whole attitude is so obviously transformed; their questions come in hushed tones of reverence, and the attitude of many is one of wonderment and awe, so much are their hearts affected by the power of that holy atmosphere, which they cannot but feel even though they understand it little.

To me our holy shrines were vastly different in atmosphere. The Shrine of the Báb filled, as it seemed to be, with a feeling of deep sorrow and grief, with the atmosphere of the Heroic Age and the deeds and wondrous steadfastness of the martyrs so close. The Shrine of the Master, so close physically was yet so different — it seemed to hold an air of happiness, an almost brushing-away of tears and sorrows, as before your mind was continually those wonderful photos of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá's smiling face and his constant exhortation to those souls under his spiritual wing, to “be happy”.

But the Most Holy Shrine at Bahji is pervaded with the mightiest and indescribable atmosphere that overwhelms the pilgrim the moment he enters, dispels all thought of the outside world, and seems to fill the heart well beyond capacity. It can only be described — and then so very, very inadequately — as an air of deep joy beyond the confines of this world, and a very deep peace of the soul. Perhaps “peace” is the word; for was not this Bahá'u'lláh's constant longing for the world — that Most Great Peace. And it is in this shrine that the pilgrim realizes, with a certainty far too powerful for expression, that the triumph of Bahá'u'lláh's Cause is already here, though still as yet forming before our eyes, and the Most Great Peace will be the consummation of that triumph.

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