Fresno Baha'i Center
(Published Tuesday, August, 14, 2001)
A girl sits in the front row, swinging her legs to recorded music from a CD player: relaxing, soothing, contemplative sounds.
Margaret McLane de Joval recites a prayer in English: "Verily, Thy knowledge embraceth all the things Thou hast created or wilt create . . ." Marriam Shahnematullahi chants in Persian and Arabic. Then, Taraneh Prueitt sings in Spanish.
More taped music is played as sets of eyes begin to close at a recent devotional meeting at the Fresno Baha'i Center.
For the next half hour, 65 congregants sit back and relax, contemplating the readings of Baha'u'llah, the faith's founder, and more music, all from the 1992 World Congress, the 100th commemoration of Baha'u'llah's death.
There's no clergy. All readers are members.
A cell phone goes off as Keyan Laghaifar reads from "The Hidden Words," the selected readings of Baha'u'llah. It's no big deal.
Then, Grace Young reads from the tablets of Baha'u'llah after the Kitab-l-Aqdas.
By now, nearly all congregants have their eyes shut and the devotional meeting's goal, to provide a quiet place for contemplation, is accomplished
"I get spiritually uplifted," says congregant Zhaleh Naeni, adding she prays for a son and a daughter, both away at medical school.
Says Laghaifar: "By listening and applying these words, we can grow spiritually and build a world for all of us."
Here are a few notes from our visit:
Does a stranger feel welcomed? Only readers speak during devotional meetings, but there's time to socialize afterward over refreshments.
What's the first thing you notice from your chair? Decorating the center's walls are framed prints of the Shrine of the Bab, the Universal House of Justice, Abdu'l Baha, and Baji, which is the burial place of Baha'u'llah.
What might you see that you can't other places? No collection plate. No donations are accepted at devotional meetings.
Thriving, or dying? The center is considering a move to a larger facility. The Spiritual Assembly also is running 30- and 60-second public-service announcements on television.
What is everyone talking about? Members enthusiastically gathered June 2 to watch a tape of the May 22 opening ceremonies of the 19 terraces of the Shrine of the Bab at Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.
Who is the behind-the-scenes hero? Parvin Golestani faced religious persecution for her faith, spending 40 days in an Iranian jail in 1981, says her husband Fariporz Golestani.
Where on the premises should you spend a few minutes? The center's bookstore is open at most events, including family school, feast and holy day observances, public meetings and devotional gatherings.
Does this center reach out to the community? The public is invited to the faith's next holy day, July 9, when the center commemorates the Martyrdom of the Bab.
The reporter can be reached at email@example.com or 441-6304.
©Copyright 2001, Fresno Bee