A proud white dome gleams along Lake Michigan, surpassing the surrounding treetops and suburban manses. The magnificent structure feels out-of-place, calling to mind faraway lands…India, Narnia. Yet she stands on Chicago’s North Shore.
I don’t often venture to Chicago’s suburbs. I’m no Illinois native, so aside from the occasional IKEA spree, why would I leave the city to visit [insert adjective] Dale/Forest/Glen/Grove/Lake? Lest we forget, an open mind and ready eye are explorers’ keenest tools, as some of the world’s greatest beauty lies in the unexpected.
So I find myself in a downpour thirty minutes outside of the city, gripping the slick railing as I avoid slipping on the many steps approaching the opulent temple, my gaze distracted by its grandeur. The Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette is one of only seven Bahá’í temples in the world, and the only one in North America.
Unity of Humanity
The Bahá’í’s core beliefs promote the unity of humanity and of all world religions. Completed in 1953, the temple is open for all people to worship in song or quiet meditation. All existing Bahá’í temples feature a series of outdoor gardens and fountains in addition to a nine-sided shape, as the number nine symbolizes perfection in the Bahá’í faith. The Bahá’í House of Worship for North America’s design radiates a powerful presence. Stately, white, and trim, it is ornate without being overwrought – devoid of any design elements save the intertwining of religious symbols from many faiths that weave up lean columns 138 feet toward the dome’s center. The tracery of the dome is breathtaking; made of the same strong blended concrete as the rest of the temple, yet interwoven as delicate lace. The grand space never feels imposing, and the open, meditative auditorium offers a welcoming serenity.
An Illinois Wonder
My first visit to the Bahá’í temple is as a wedding guest. Since speaking is not permitted inside the auditorium, nor is photography, the couple grabs umbrellas and head outdoors despite the downpour. Rich voices are heard over the thunderous rain as first a man and then a woman sing a Bahá’í hymns. The simple ceremony’s only requirement is that the Bahá’í wedding vow be recited: “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.”
A visitor’s center beneath the auditorium offers a multi-media array of information on the building the Bahá’í House of Worship for North America and on the history of the Bahá’í faith. It’s incredible to learn that I am standing in the oldest surviving such temple, a place of pilgrimage from all over the world (not to mention one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois), and that place is in the suburbs. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to share in the warmth and receptivity of the members of the Bahá’í faith, and to visit the House of Worship. It is a refreshing reminder to embody the Bahá’í tenets of unity and openness in everyday interactions and to look beyond the everyday in explorations.
For Further Exploration:
360-degree views of the Bahá’í House of Worship