Flipping through the pages of Hasten Forth‘s first chapter, with its photos set in the northern Israel countryside of Bahjí, should feel like walking a slow circle around the Shrine and Mansion of Bahá’u'lláh. Likewise it should feel as if spending an entire day tracing the garden paths, with both inner and outer eyes wide open.
The sequence of photos begins with a long-shot of the Bahjí landscape taken from atop the gatehouse at the northern entrance into the grounds, which have been named to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Through the center of the photo there is a white pebble path leading to the gardens and Bahá’í Holy Places. The smooth, round rocks from the shores of the Galilee Sea crunch softly underfoot and cause visitors to slow down their normal rushed pace — a reminder to be reverent.
The series of photos carries readers to the perimeter of the section of gardens known as the Haram-i-Aqdas, which means “The Most Holy Court.” The images then proceed to encircle the Shrine and adjacent Mansion — the same path that pilgrims trace in solemn circumambulation.
According to merriam-webster.com, circumambulate means: “to circle on foot especially ritualistically.” Although the Bahá’í Faith is free from rigid rituals and ceremonies, encouraging instead moderation and simplicity, many Bahá’ís who visit Bahjí will reverently and prayerfully circumambulate the Shrine of Bahá’u'lláh.
`Abdu’l-Bahá describes the magnetism of the resting place of Bahá’u'lláh as, “the place around which circumambulate the Concourse on High.” Visitors to this consecrated Spot are eager to join such company in circumambulation.
Bahá’ís turn toward this Holy Place when saying their daily obligatory prayers. It is the outward expression of the inner act of turning toward God and His Manifestation. Likewise, physically circumambulating the Shrine is symbolic of an other-worldly orbit around the strongest Force of attraction there is to be found.
“Hasten forth and circumambulate the City of God that hath descended from heaven—the celestial Kaaba round which have circled in adoration the favored of God, the pure in heart and the company of the most exalted angels.” — Bahá’u'lláh, Tablet of Carmel.
Other Writings related to the concept of circumambulation include:
“Well is it with him that circleth around thee, that proclaimeth the revelation of thy glory, and recounteth that which the bounty of the Lord thy God hath showered upon thee.” – Tablet of Carmel, Bahá’u'lláh
“The glory of Sinai hath hastened to circle round the Day-Spring of this Revelation, while from the heights of the Kingdom the voice of the Son of God is heard proclaiming: ‘Bestir yourselves, ye proud ones of the earth, and hasten ye towards Him.’” – Bahá’u'lláh, The World Order of Bahá’u'lláh, Shoghi Effendi, p. 105.
“By the one true God, Elijah hath hastened unto My court and hath circumambulated in the day-time and in the night-season My throne of glory.” – Bahá’u'lláh, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, Shoghi Effendi, p. 105.
“The world passeth away, and that which is everlasting is the love of God. God willing, thou shalt circumambulate the True One in every world of His worlds and shalt be free from all else save Him….” – From a Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh in ‘A Compilation on Women’
It’s interesting that in three of these quotations we’re told both to ‘hasten forth’ and to ‘circumambulate.’ There seems to be a connection there. It’s instructive, then, that the pebble and rock paths (and other paths of broken red tiles) were put there to slow us down when we’re nearing our purpose. Very good life lesson.