Every seat filled. A hush in the air.
That was the Auditorium of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, until the strains of “Ya Baha’u'l-Abha,” sung by the House of Worship Choir, opened the first of three devotional programs April 29.
Each commemorated ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s visit to North America and His laying of the Cornerstone for the Temple on May 1, 1912.
Attendees also were able to snake their way into the Temple’s lower Foundation Hall to view selected precious items associated with the Master.
And across Sheridan Road on the shore of a white-capped Lake Michigan, they could engage in a “tent and tea” social space.
A selection of titles related to the centenary also was made available to attendees in a bookstore set up a few blocks from the Temple.
A system of shuttles took visitors from parking lots and the public transit station to the sites.
At the House of Worship, the devotional program took attendees on a sacred journey.
It began with Baha’u'llah’s selection of His eldest son, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, as His successor. Readings were taken from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book; the Kitab-i-’Ahd, the Book of the Covenant; and the Suriy-i-Ghusn, the Tablet of the Branch.
“All Praise Be to Thee,” a setting of words of Baha’u'llah to a Mozart tune, punctuated the selections.
The journey proceeded with a poignant tablet of Baha’ullah, contained in The World Order of Baha’u'llah. It told of the sorrow that enveloped the prison city of Acre on an occasion ‘Abdu’l-Baha was away.
A reading from Baha’u'llah on His vision for the Houses of Worship to be erected across the globe led into the choir’s singing of “Blessed Is the Spot.” The prayer of Baha’u'llah was sung, in this case, to the less familiar but hauntingly beautiful tune penned by Charles Wolcott.
Prayers revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha for the four regions of the United States, as delineated in the Tablets of the Divine Plan, and for the Baha’is of the United States and Canada were read.
“O Thou Compassionate Lord,” with a solo by its composer, Van Gilmer, director of the choir, followed. The lyrics come from a prayer ‘Abdu’l-Baha revealed in Washington, DC.
Another prayer the Master revealed in this country, in Chicago, was recited, the well-known words proclaiming that God “hast created all humanity from the same stock.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha’s love of children was recalled in two prayers He revealed, the second repeated in several languages by children representing the breadth of the Faith’s reach.
The oneness of humanity was further proclaimed in a passage from Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u'llah. “This is the Day in which God’s most excellent favors have been poured out upon men,” recited a reader before the choir took up the refrain.
This nation’s role in the spiritualization of the planet was trumpeted in the reading of a prayer for America. It had been revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in Chicago at a public meeting that concluded the Convention of Baha’i Temple Unity, forerunner of the National Spiritual Assembly.
Another prayer revealed by Baha’u'llah in honor of His Son led into the song “Benediction,” written by Louise Waite, to whom ‘Abdu’l-Baha gave the name Shahnaz in reference to a style of Persian music. She also wrote He gave her the name Melody.
Closing the program was an audio recording of the Master chanting three prayers in Persian. The provisional English translation was supplied, but most attendees weren’t following along, instead closing their eyes to drink in the melodious strains.
Filing outside each of the nine doors of the Temple, attendees were treated to the panorama of gardens and fountains in every direction.
The archives exhibit awaited for many.
Items ranged from locks of the hair of Baha’u'llah to the original Tablet of Ahmad; a taj and prayer beads given to believers by ‘Abdu’l-Baha; a vial of soil from the hole dug for the Temple’s cornerstone; and postcards on which the Master communicated a Tablet of the Divine Plan to the Western States.
Others headed for the tent erected lakeside behind the Haziratu’l-Quds, meeting place of the National Assembly.
There, they sipped tea or water, ate cookies and roamed the enclosure.
In one area were renderings of what the Welcome Center, soon to be under construction, will look like inside and out and the vista of the Temple from within it.
Beyond were drawings of the original plans for the Temple gardens and the restoration just completed.
Nearly life-size photos of ‘Abdu’l-Baha laying the cornerstone were on the opposite side.
And in the middle, chairs were arranged so people could engage in conversation or listen to stories told by volunteers wearing period garb.
A report of the commemoration on local television news showed images of the Temple and mentioned it has been designated one of the Wonders of Illinois.