Devoted faith travels the world
Special to The Desert Sun
July 27th, 2002
RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION: The Baha’i Faith Spiritual Assembly of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Baha'i Groups of La Quinta and Rancho Mirage, Desert JD in unincorporated areas.Local contact: (760) 779-4019 or online at www.bahai.net or www.us.bahai.org
HISTORY: The Baha’i Faith is the youngest world religion, dating back to 1844. The National Baha’i Center is in Wilmette, Ill., and the Baha’i World Center is in Haifa, Israel.
‘‘The Coachella Valley Baha’i groups have enjoyed an active faith community since the mid 1950s, using homes, community centers and establishing, for a short time in the 1970s, a Baha’i Center on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs,’’ said Patrice Henderson, a Baha’i member of the Palm Desert Spiritual Assembly.
‘‘Because ‘pioneering,’ or traveling to different countries or posts to teach the Baha'i Faith is highly valued, the local, as well as the national population, has always remained fluid. The faith is the second most widespread religion in the world, Henderson explained.
CONGREGATION: There are 80 Baha’i households in the Coachella Valley.
SERVICES: The Baha’i Faith teaches that every day is a Holy Day. This law, far from neutralizing the day of God and held in the highest esteem, uplifts the station of not only each day, but of each individual’s responsibility, Henderson said.
Feasts, held every 19 days, are the primary religious observance. Designed to uplift the hearts and to spiritually renew individuals, families and the community, these gatherings serve a three-fold function that is devotional, social and administrative.
At 7 p.m. each Thursday at the Portola Center in Palm Desert, members of the Baha’i faith present public meetings that address a number of spiritually related topics, including one Thursday a month devoted to community prayer and another to a potluck social. ‘‘These groups are intimate and provide an active learning experience,’’ said Henderson.
ONGOING/UPCOMING ACTIVITIES: In addition to Firesides (informal gatherings to learn about the Baha’i Faith) prayer groups, special programs and study groups are held around the valley. The Palm Desert community conducts regular children’s and youth classes, and periodic workshops.
On the last Sunday of each month, many members of the Coachella Valley’s Baha’i faith and their guests gather together for the ‘‘Treasures of Spirituality Public Speaker Series and Devotional Program,’’ presented at 2:30 p.m. at the Palm Desert Library Community Room. A fellowship dinner follows.
LEADERSHIP: Baha’u’llah is the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith and abolished the clergy in a renewed religious cycle. ‘‘He holds each person accountable for their knowledge and worship of God,’’ said Henderson. ‘‘He established the Independent Investigation of Truth, free from tradition, superstition and prejudice as the first principle of the Baha’i Faith and the primary obligation of the individual.’’
The Baha’i Faith does not lack structure. It’s organized in elected, consultative groups of nine that form national and local spiritual assemblies.
The local assemblies are under the umbrella of the National Spiritual Assemblies, which are all under another elected and consultative body of nine -- the Universal House of Justice, based at the Baha’i World Center atop Mt. Carmel in the Holy Land.
‘‘On the local level, this hierarchy reflects as individual Baha’is, each with the obligation to teach the faith, deepen daily in worship and scripture, serve, attend feasts and conduct firesides. And they honor and strive to fulfill the goals of the Spiritual Assembly,’’ described Henderson.
Community plans, guidance and support are generated through consultation with the Assemblies, though individual initiative is the heart and soul of the Baha’i culture.
BELIEF: Service is the highest station for humanity; the elimination of prejudices of all kind -- sexual, racial, cultural, socioeconomic; the equality of men and women; the elevation of work to the station of worship; a world tribunal to oversee global concerns and an auxiliary language spoken worldwide to eliminate estrangement among peoples.
The Baha’i faith also believes that there is only one race: human, and that the differences among us are to be celebrated as ‘‘different hues, fragrances and plants in the garden of humanity,’’ according to Henderson.
Furthermore, said Henderson, ‘‘The solution to economic woes is spiritual. The word of God, his teachings, and humanity are renewed in every religious cycle.’’
The feasts and holy day services are under the auspices of the Spiritual Assemblies and are most often hosted and designed by individual families to provide a rich and diverse expression of the Baha’i culture.
Matt Bamberg is a Coachella Valley-based freelance writer.
©Copyright 2002, The Desert Sun