Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Bahá'í Temple: Revisiting Peace

A lot has been happening the past few weeks. Everywhere I turn, it seems there is more news of conflict and killing. In today’s newspaper, the front page alone featured follow-up stories to the Paris terror attacks, the shooting death of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee by gang members in Chicago, and the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer (and subsequent protests).

On our field trip, though, these sad events were the furthest thing from my mind.

This past Monday, Sister Mary, Fabienne and I took our ESL class to the Bahá’í House of worship in Evanston, which is only a ten minute drive from where we live. Built in the 1950’s, the Bahá’í Temple is the only one of its kind in North America. Its huge white, dome-shaped structure with nine entrances and vast, lush gardens and ponds reminded me of the Taj Mahal. The inside of the Temple is cavernously beautiful, radiating light and peace.

For the past few weeks, our students (who all happen to be stay-at-home moms from Michoacán, Mexico) have been practicing constructing indirect questions, like “Could you tell me where the bathroom is?” instead of “Where is the bathroom?” The idea behind the field trip was that it would give the students a chance to practice indirect questions with a tour guide or information desk person rather than just their usual teachers.

By a stroke of luck, we were some of the first people to arrive at the Temple, so we had a tour guide all to ourselves. The tour guide also happened to be a Bahá’í from the Chicago area who had spent five years teaching English in China. When he found out that we were an ESL group, he gave his presentation at an even, understandable pace and kept it free of unnecessarily confusing words and constructions.    

He explained the Bahá’í Faith, how Bahá’ís recognize the legitimacy of prophets from all major world religions, including Krishna, Moses, Mohmmed, Jesus, Buddha and Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í faith. He described the Bahá’í’s belief in the unity of all humankind, and how that is expressed in the beautiful architecture of the building.

A view of the Temple from the outside
Sister Angelica on the Temple steps

The Temple's intricate ceiling; the gold inscription in the center is Arabic script for "Greatest Name" or "Oh thou Glory of Glories"

The Temple windows, opening to a view of Lake Michigan

I know I’ve said this before, but my students continually amaze me. Our guide had hardly finished speaking before Olga jumped in with her first question, perfectly constructed. “Could you tell me,” she asked, “how long you have been here?” When he finished answering, Consuelo asked about which holidays the Bahá’í people celebrate. Everyone had notebooks or scraps of paper on which they had carefully prepared their questions.

I always expect the students to be shy and reserved about speaking English, because that’s the way I am about speaking other languages that I haven’t fully grasped yet. I’m always trying to form a construction in my head before saying it out loud, but by the time I have it perfect, the conversation has already moved on and I never get a chance to say my beautiful, perfect sentence.

Consuelo in particular bypasses this problem by making some kind of interjection into the conversation like “Oh!” or “Hmm” or “Well I think..” when she has an idea she wants to express. Then she takes her time getting the words in the right order while everyone waits politely to hear what she has to say. Sometimes it takes a couple minutes for her to search around for the right words, but she always succeeds in getting the idea across in the end.

I find this to be an incredibly bold thing to do. I think it’s the most terrifying thing in the world to start speaking without knowing exactly what you’re about to say, if you’re going to make mistakes, if people will even understand you. My worst fear is saying something that nobody understands and having to stare at each other awkwardly until somebody figures it out. And even then, they might laugh at you.

If Consuelo is afraid of this too, she does not show it. She has no qualms about bringing the conversation to a halt while she figures out how to say what she needs to say. I think it shows a huge amount of confidence in herself and the value of her own ideas. While language teaching is an important skill, I think language-learning is itself a skill, and one at which my students are experts. I hope to someday be as bold and as fearless in my Bengali / German / Spanish learning as they are in their English learning.

Everyone enjoyed the trip and learned a lot. After all the depressing things that have been happening lately, the Temple trip left me with a feeling of hope.  

All of us enjoying our guided tour

Fabienne listens to the tour guide with Georgina's daughter on her lap while the others take notes

Consuelo in the Temple

Olga taking a selfie with the live orange tree growing inside the Temple

Consuelo, Olga, and Fabienne watch the Temple's introductory film together

1 comment:

  1. Way cool! May your weeks continue to be fruitful!
    s. sharon