Finding my Baha’i

This article was written by Caelin Niehoff, a freshman at DePaul and active member of DePaul Interfaith. Caelin will serve next year as an Interfaith Scholar.

Unexpected: the term I found on the tip of my tongue, after departing the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, IL. The infrastructure, itself, stands amidst suburban surroundings; its white, geometrically inscribed dome rises into the sky. One of my favorite moments of the trip was a quiet, relaxing walk through the House of Worship’s gardens. With not a cloud to be seen and flowers in bloom, I began to convince myself that it might actually be May. The building’s interior had as much to appreciate as its gardens. It was simple, and unlike any place of worship I had ever entered. Natural light beamed in through the nine entrances. Elegant, white curtains hung, swaying in the afternoon’s breeze, from lofted windows.

Silence: Individuals sat scattered throughout the circular room in pink, velvet chairs in meditative silence. The first sound to enter the room was a choir selection; soft hymns rang, a cappella. The “Pray Devotions” commenced and words of the faith’s are most recent, acknowledged Messenger of God, Baha’u’llah, were read: readings that call for reflection and God’s praise. It is a quiet, internal praise and the room is at peace.  After thirty, short minutes, the devotional prayer has finished and there is a fresh feeling in the air. For me, it happened all too fast.

The Baha’i faith is the world’s youngest, independent religion. Its founder, Baha’u’llah’s, and his teachings, specifically, call for unity: humanity as a single, unified race. Quotes from Baha’u’llah, as well as other faith traditions, adorn the House of Worship. Take, for instance, this particular quote:

“All the divine Manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress. Now if this conception of religion be true, its essential principle is the oneness of humanity. The fundamental truth of the Manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice. The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another.”   -‘Abdu’l-Baha (eldest son of Baha’u’llah)

As a Roman Catholic, I found my Baha’i experience to be spiritually diverse from a weekly, Sunday, evening Mass at St. Vincent DePaul. I am accustomed to the ritual, participation, dialogue and, not to mention, the good hour and a half of time involved in celebrating the Catholic Mass. Thus, I found myself seeking a form of physical participation and communal connection, which, at first, appeared to be absent in the worship. Although I recognized surface level, physical differences between the Baha’i and Catholic forms of worship, I also found very strong connections in the purpose of our worship. As previous mentioned, the Sunday Baha’i worship is known as “Prayer Devotions”. Is that not what I dedicate myself to every Sunday, through the Catholic Mass? This devotion, at the Baha’i worship, channeled a more introspected energy. While reflection and meditation was central to the Prayer Devotions, I noticed that what I was internally reflecting upon was my relationships and interactions with others: how are we inevitably intertwined and how do our interactions impact our journeys?

Critics of the Baha’i faith tradition may ask: does extended inclusiveness “water down” or over simplify unified faith traditions? I say, anything but. As Catholic participating in Baha’i worship for the first time I felt both accepted and challenged, reflecting upon my spirituality in a new form of expression. So, are you looking for a new, challenging, and refreshing way to communicate and contemplate you faith? I highly encourage individuals of all faith backgrounds to give it a try: Baha’i.