I’m practicing for a National Geo cover :p The eyes are everything in portraits. This is the beautiful May Telebi, thank you so much for everything May, and for making me feel so welcome! Flash, 1/40 sec, iso 1600, f/8, 35 mm

Happy birthday Mom!!! Thank you for being the most fantastic mom ever, and for always being there for me despite my obnoxiousness. Without you non of this would have been possible, thank you so much for your support. 

It is very challenging to write down the experience of pilgrimage. A lot of it involves visiting the historically and spiritually significant sites of the Faith, and taking time to imagine and strive to understand the challenges and suffering that happened in these places, and ultimately to gain a greater understanding.

The other aspect is that of prayer and reflection. A chance in one’s busy life to have silence is quite rare. I am always racing from one thing to the next, trying to cram as much into my day as possible, always doing something. As a result, time for reflection and prayer is cut down when I don’t make a conscious effort to set time aside for it. With that in mind, it is so very special to have a full 9 days devoted to this, and not just anywhere, in the Holy Land!

This is at the Garden of Ridvan again. I loved this fountain. 1/400 sec, f/5.6, iso 200, 300 mm

What a blessing to simply have quiet and peace to hear ones thoughts. The silence, tranquillity, and of course the beauty of everything is ever so refreshing. After praying and detaching myself from this physical world, slowing my pace and simply sitting or walking in silence with no deadlines or places to be, is quite remarkable. What is really remarkable is how clear ones thoughts become in this environment. House of Justice member Stephen Birkland mentioned this in his evening talk when he reminded of us of the words of Abdu’l-Baha: “Joy gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded.” This is precisely what happens when reflecting in the Shrines here.

Can’t get enough photos of the Shrine. 25.0 sec, f/11, iso 200, 75 mm

Breathing deeply before entering the Shrine of Baha’u’llah, I am each time delighted to be met by the wafting perfume of rose petals as I push open the heavy door and step inside. The birds are chirping; the tranquillity is heavenly.

It is such a powerful experience praying in the Shrines. Overwhelming and daunting at times when your whole soul is so enraptured in prayer. A fear of not maintaining this devotion when I return home grips me—a fear of losing myself in the dust of this world, within ego and pride, a fear of again becoming so busy with life and not making time to pray and reflect. I have to force myself to pull myself away it seems, I don’t want to leave but feel that I need to. Detachment is such a challenge. I so easily become so consumed with this world, and consumed with myself. It really requires systematic effort to overcome this.

I love this fountain, it is in the shape of an 8 pointed star (I think its 8) at sits at the very bottom of the lower terraces. 15.0 sec, f/13, iso 100, 24 mm

Well, it’s been a busy 2.5 days. Busy enough that from the time I get up in the early morning to the time I collapse into bed late at night, or more often early in the morning, I haven’t had an opportunity to write. I’ve found that I am the type of writer that really has to write when the experience is happening or just after while the emotions are still fresh. This allows me to capture the richness of the moment. It doesn’t take long unfortunately for my mind to move onto something else, and I lose to juicy details that bring the experience to life. The result is often dry documentation. Bear with me as I do my best.

Sunday evening we had a fabulous talk by House of Justice member Stephen Birkland. It was hilarious, and so down to earth. He spoke about challenges that every one of us could relate to, making countless jokes while at the same time such profound thoughts. I think two of the major highlights for me of this pilgrimage have been the talks by the House of Justice members—Kiser Barnes and Stephen Birkland. Both have been so full of joy, hilarious, inspiring and profound.

Sunday evening I went out for ice cream with a number of other pilgrims. It was great and I ended up spending most of the evening talking to a guy from San Francisco who had gone to film school and spent quite some time working in the industry. It’s always helpful to talk to people with experience and get their perspective.

Keng Soon decided to get an extra scoop since it was 15 for one scoop and 20 for 2, he later regretted that. 1/60 sec, f/5.6, iso 3200, 41 mm

The place we had ice cream is at the very top of the mountain, so I convinced May who is a staff member on pilgrimage to take me down the terraces so that I could take some pictures (the terraces close around sunset). What a magnificent view from the mountaintop at night! I hope my pictures turned out. It was a very enjoyable walk down the terraces conversing with May, taking pictures, and soaking in the awesome view. When we got to the bottom, I realized that I had left the cover for my tripod at the top, which was disappointing but not the end of the world. Then, I realized that more significantly I had also left my computer. May called security, and just in the nick of time as they were about to call the bomb squad. They don’t take unattended luggage lightly here. They brought it back down for me, which I was quite grateful for and a little embarrassed.

What a view! 20.0 sec, f/14, iso 400, 18 mm

I walked the rest of the way down to the Port Inn, arriving at about 1:00 am. I was up 4.5 hours later to get ready and head off to the Garden of Ridvan.

The Garden of Ridvan was quite special. I wish we had had a little more time there. We had all the fresh oranges from the orange grove we could wish for to feast on. Unfortunately the pomegranates and avocados weren’t in season. I took some video, which will hopefully turn out; you’ll have to stay tuned for that.

This was our group for pilgrimage! This is at the Garden of Ridvan. I am so blessed to have been on this journey with each of these individuals. For any of you wondering I am going to send this picture out, I am going to try to photoshop in Richard first if I can find a suitable photo of him. 1/200 sec, f/8.0, iso 100, 21 mm

After that we visited another one of the houses in Akka, and I stayed behind after to have lunch and take some more video of the waves, before continuing on to Bahji.

This is at the Saturday market in Akka. 1/125 sec, f/7.1, iso 800, 18 mm

Last night I was once again dragged out for ice cream at the same place. It was nice again, lots of people. We walked down the upper terraces again, this time with Maryam. It took us some time as we stopped to talk to some of the youth serving in security. Got home around the same time.

Maryam has a thing for portraiture. My phone and camera are full of closeups of people, and too many of me. 1/60 sec, f/3.5, iso 400, 18 mm

I can’t believe that today is the last day. It’s all gone so so incredibly fast. I feel like it came in three main stages for me.

The first stage was that of detaching myself from this material world and becoming spiritually present. Then the next happened in the blink of an eye and was so clear—understanding as to how I need to tread my path of service became quite clear. Now, the third stage is praying for the strength and assistance to carry out that plan and to stay on that path, maintaining that focus.

I go back and forth on whether or not I like this shot. This is my first experimentation with zooming during the exposure to add texture. I did this with a 2.0 sec exposure by leaving it for a moment, then zooming in, and leaving it for another moment. The zoom gives it the soft streak sort of texture. I actually think its pretty cool, but I have to look at it by itself to appreciate it. 2.0 sec, f/32, iso 100, 75 – 300 mm lens, zoom in that range.

Our pilgrimage closed with circumambulating the Shine of the Bab once again as a full group. We did this just at sunset, and it was ever so beautiful. One thing about the gardens is that they never seem to look the same, each day the light falls on the slightly differently creating new and fulfilling experiences. In total silence we slowly and reverently completed the circumambulation.

This is the fountain at the bottom of the terraces. 1/10 sec, f/5.0, iso 200, 41 mm

It’s a camera fight! A photo duel. These two photos were taken somewhat simultaneously. I thought it was kinda fun with photoshop. Taken with my iPhone and t2i/550D

Once the sun set I took the opportunity to run to the bottom of the terraces to take pictures, and then run back up. I had a nice cool sweat working for me by the time I got back up. We went out for dinner around 10:00, our last evening together in Haifa.

Taking photos in Haifa and Akka. – iPhone

Maryam, Doris, and Jenny all took the train together to Ben Gurion. We had fun playing with our passports. Did you know American passports have a story on each page? Such patriotism.

Every page has a different picture and patriotic quote. – iPhone

This is Michael and Mahtab. Maryam took this and I edited it. The eyes make the photo!

I was thankful for their company, as we arrived around 7:30 pm, and I my flight wasn’t until 4:50 am. Mathab and Michael showed up a little later, and together the time went quite quick. I actually quite enjoyed it. At last it was time to part, and to fly far far away to a place called home.

Amsterdam from the air! I was pretty lucky to have a view out the window for at least half of the 15 hours of flight time. Lots of snow and ice. – iPhone

The aspiring filmmaker. I hope you’ve all enjoyed the photos! It’s taken a lot of learning and work to get to where I am with them, and so far more to go. Please leave comments! And stay tuned for video yet to come. – Maryam with my iPhone and the Luminance app