U.S. visitors bring the Chilean Temple experience home
A number of U.S. Bahá’ís had the privilege of attending festivities surrounding the dedication of the Bahá’í House of Worship in greater Santiago, Chile. They were among about 5,000 from Latin America and other parts of the world who experienced the festivities, including the Oct. 13 dedication of that Mother Temple of South America in the Andes foothills and the Oct. 14–16 conference at Movistar Arena in central Santiago (click here for online articles covering the events).
Here are some reflections of the U.S. participants:
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull of Oregon, attending as one of two representatives of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States (alongside fellow member Valerie Dana), says she experienced the House of Worship as a “sanctified space illumined by light made holy because it came into the Temple. I saw such beauty in each face.”
In the conference, she says, “Joy that makes one shout and hug and sing and dance filled the four days as friends — many from years long past — appeared in continuous succession, as did the many hundreds of Indians, ‘the original inhabitants of the Americas,’ who were my companions in the dedication events.
“They sometimes wore indigenous cultural dress, and made beautiful, Plan-focused, joyous presentations on the program throughout one entire day. They came from all the American continents, with stories of their work. I got glimpses of the power of unity promised in Tablets sent by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.”
Van Gilmer of Illinois, music director for the Bahá’í House of Worship for North America, had the opportunity not only to sing in the choir at the Oct. 13 dedication ceremony, but also to organize and direct a Gospel choir that was well received as the U.S. Bahá’í community’s contribution to the conference later that week.
“I found a very special connection with having come from the Mother Temple of the West to the very last of the Continental Bahá’í Houses of Worship,” he says. “I couldn’t help but have flashbacks of the early believers here in America as they saw the Temple being constructed in Wilmette and the joy of its dedication here.
“It felt like I was experiencing all of that over again — the excitement, the awe, the spirit of that moment. I realized how special it is to have been in America through the years and experiencing our own growth as we have only begun to explore the real possibilities of having the Mother Temple in our midst.”
William Collins of Virginia said he took advantage of speaking Spanish “reasonably well” when Chile’s National Spiritual Assembly provided each attendee with 10 copies of a small prayer book, with the request “to have elevated conversations with local citizens” and give the books to those they talked with.
So when he and a friend used a ride-sharing service for transport, Collins made sure to sit up front with the driver. Every driver, he says, “expressed sincere interest in the Temple and the Faith, and gladly accepted the prayer book. At one point, while walking down Matta Avenue, a man walking in the opposite direction saw the dedication bag I was carrying and joyfully waved a copy of the prayer book to show that he had just received one from one of the other Bahá’ís. He appeared genuinely happy.”
A few days after the conference, Collins spent a few hours with visitors at the House of Worship. One woman in particular welcomed hearing that everyone was welcome and that Bahá’ís are carrying out core activities as “tools for individual and collective transformation.” Still, he added, though teaching the Faith is fairly easy in a situation like that, “we can be as creative and active in our teaching and having elevated conversations wherever we are, if we are alive to the possibilities.”
Lea and Vern Iverson of Minnesota shared several recollections with friends who were unable to attend the ceremonies.
Among them: “By chance we were at the Temple when we heard the small delegation from the Hawaiian Islands had brought dust from the gravesite of Martha Root, the first Bahá’í who answered the call of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Tablets of the Divine Plan and left alone in 1919 for South America. She is ever tied to the South American continent and today, dust from her gravesite will be commingled with this House of Worship. ‘Blessed is the spot’ was sung in Hawaiian, English and Spanish and a description of Martha Root’s travels was detailed. It was a beautiful ceremony.”
Puran Stevens of Illinois recalls two encounters that affirmed for her the path the Bahá’ís in South America have traveled the past half-century.
In one, she chanced to meet an old friend with whom she had served on the local Bahá’í youth committee in Isfahan, Iran, around 1960. Among the things they talked about as they caught up with each other was the service that the friend and her husband had rendered as pioneers for the Faith in remote areas of Colombia during crucial years in development of the Bahá’í community.
Another encounter harked back to a Bahá’í Social and Economic Development Conference in Florida more than a decade ago, when Counselor Eloy Anello tearfully asked for prayers for Bahá’ís in the village of Puka Puka, Bolivia, who had scraped together resources to operate a school.
“I have been wanting to get hold of them and contribute something to that village and the school, and I had no address to do so,” she says. But at the festivities in Santiago, “All of a sudden I saw four beautiful faces from Bolivia from the village of Puka Puka, and when I said who I am and [that she had wanted to contact them], we just became one, with crying and happiness and love shared among us.”
Noushin Ehsan of New York described the “enchanting” feeling of hearing the greeting “Alláh-u-Abhá” from so many diverse people, including indigenous Bahá’ís, impressing her with how the Faith has grown in South America. She also took opportunities to offer the gift prayer books to those she came in contact with, despite having little skill in Spanish.
“As an architect who lectures and writes about ‘the Spirit of Space,’ before seeing and being inside the Temple I had some reservation about its form and scale against the powerful surrounding Andes,” she shares.
“However, contrary to my preconceived thoughts, I felt delighted when I saw it in person. Its simple and yet complex form, which soars to the horizon, lifted my soul and its magnificent design infuses the feeling of ‘aura’ which to me is the ultimate feeling of joy.”
After returning from their visit, Nasser and Parivash Rohani of Maine shared a narrative with an online interfaith newsletter. Their story touched on Martha Root’s first visit to the continent, the unexpectedly chilly weather, and the warmth among a diverse mass of people that “was so overwhelming that any cold seemed insignificant.”
They recalled a talk by the director of the House of Worship in Santiago telling of the connection between the vision of worship and service connected with the Temple and the questions of social justice and progress that pervade many people’s consciousness.
In the end, they wrote, “The sweet memories of our short stay in Santiago are fresh in mind. The warm hospitality of Chilean people, the beautiful sceneries, the magnificent churches and buildings, the good food and of course, the beautiful edifice of the Bahá’í House of Worship are unforgettable.”