The word devotion has taken on an entirely new meaning for Gabriela Denise Frank since the Seattle-based writer took part in a Baha’i gathering on the north side of Chicago.
Frank also visited the Baha’i House of Worship in suburban Wilmette and joined in an intercommunity Baha’i picnic on the shore of Lake Michigan before viewing Independence Day fireworks.
“She got a true understanding of just how diverse we are,” says Taica Shariee, a Chicago Baha’i. “Not to mention we can have fun without throwing alcohol in the mix.”
Fun is not a word Frank would associate with her spiritual life up to now.
“No matter how hard I tried to find meaning at church, I was left cold,” she wrote in a blog entry (http://hiddencitydiaries.com/2012/08/19/faith/) titled “Faith.”
She desperately wanted to “feel what my mother felt instead of what I felt,” the essay continued.
But to Frank, “Devotion meant knowing one thing deep down inside while pretending to believe another. Devotion meant not being able to question the world without fear of being punished or disappointing someone I loved. Devotion felt like being trapped.”
Surprisingly, then, when Shariee described a Baha’i devotional, “I felt interested rather than repelled,” Frank wrote. “Even with a religious studies minor in college, I had never heard of the Baha’i Faith; that alone intrigued me.”
As did the setting for the devotional – not in a house of worship or community hall but in an apartment on a leafy residential street not far from Wrigley Field.
“Adele and Brian’s home smelled of heavenly weekend brunch: fluffy pancakes, eggs, potatoes and fruit,” Frank wrote.
“Ten of us gathered around their living room table with plates of food perched on our knees, talking about travel and rugby, the concert we heard in Millennium Park and writing.”
Shariee had informed the hosts that her guest “was not attending the devotional as a seeker,” says Frank, and she was relieved that they did not bombard her with questions about her faith.
And the devotional itself:
“What surprised me was that, while they were clearly people who believed in something, their faith wasn’t about kneeling, robes or sins, but about spiritual discovery and community — not through prescriptive ceremony, but their relationships with each other and the freeness with which they shared their thoughts. …
“Listening to each of their voices gently break the silence was nothing short of tender. It was like being in the last pew of a small chapel, hearing private thoughts that were typically reserved for the ears of holy people. …
“Sitting in that silence, I considered how digital journals and physical notebooks have become my records of introspection and discovery, playgrounds for ruminating over events and relationships and examining my role in the world. Am I a kind person? A good niece or cousin? A loving friend? A thoughtful co-worker? How do I make the world better? Where do I fall short? What am I afraid of? What else do I have to learn?”
Leading Frank to realize that the exuberance she feels when writing and reading “is a mirror of my mother’s expression during mass and Jeanine’s smile during Emily’s song. It’s the sign of connection to a greater source.”
“Without knowing it, writing has brought me to a place of unmasked spiritual observance.”
It’s a feeling Frank’s readers have a chance to share in as her “Hidden City Diaries” multimedia project plays out. Her visits to 10 cities will inspire the essays and podcasts.