About a year ago, I become a Baha’i—but my pathway to God has been a narrow road of trials and tribulation ever since I was a small child.
I endured emergency foster care placements, lack of family, neglect, malnourishment, violence, all forms of abuse and drug houses, all before kindergarten. In later childhood and adolescence, in mental hospitals, group homes, children’s shelters, juvenile detention, I suffered more violent abuse and developmental trauma, along with some actual love and support. I encountered the Holy Spirit and the Evil Whisperer, all through my early life into adulthood. I went through tests upon tests—and realized that they revealed blessings upon blessings. I learned, through severe adversity, to turn toward the light and the boundless love God has continued to shed upon my life since I was born:
O Son of Man, If adversity befall thee not in My path, how canst thou walk in the ways of them that are content with My pleasure? If trials afflict thee not in thy longing to meet Me, how wilt thou attain the light in thy love for My beauty? – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 15.
I know that I was meant to become a Baha’i. I now see the dawn on the horizon where the Baha’i Faith began to rise in the 19th century. These early dawn breakers—the very first Baha’is, who gave their lives for their Faith—are now my relation as spiritual kin. Their passion for the Baha’i teachings provides a meaningful purpose, a solution and healing balm to the ills within my being and the sorrow in my heart. As a result, I am becoming a Baha’i, and I pray that when I transition from this world I will be a Baha’i.
For the longest time I didn’t know how to converse with the Creator, our “Grandfather.” I’ve been in and out of practice with meditation or listening to God for well over 12 years now. It was through the sacred ceremony of a Native American Sweat Lodge where I was able to first learn and practice the power of prayer—which eventually led me to the Baha’i Faith.
Here’s how it happened: during a trying time in my life I was invited to tend the sacred ceremonial fire that heats the Sweat Lodge. Many changes manifested from that kind invitation, which led me to hear the message of truth that I and so many of us have been severed from.
Through my prayers of seeking, both literally and figuratively, a home within the heart of creation, I was invited into a home in Cotati, California. I was homeless at the time, and I knew the invitation was rare, because the stigma of homelessness and mental health issues are so severe and negative. This possibility of a place for me to stay began temporarily. It was only for two weeks, but would gradually expand into a year. It was through the Sweat Lodge Ceremony that I would be able to transition and transform even more—it became a home where my heart is:
Blessed is the spot, and the house, and the place, and the city, and the heart, and the mountain, and the refuge, and the cave, and the valley, and the land, and the sea, and the island, and the meadow where mention of God hath been made, and His praise glorified. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. iii.
From my limited perspective as a white male with no known ancestry to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, their ways passed down from their oral traditions have had a huge impact on my life. The Sweat Lodge Ceremony in particular deepened my spirituality, my path of service in the cause of the Creator, and my recovery from a tumultuous, traumatic pathway to God.
The Sweat Lodge, from my perspective, allows participants to worship the Creator in an Earth church, a spiritual service that existed long before churches were built for worship. Every aspect of it requires a humble attitude of prayer in action. From gathering the wood and kindling, to constructing the lodge from willow tree cuttings, to lighting and tending the fire, so much of this simple yet very deep experience allowed me to access my spirit and its Creator.
Now I think of the family that accepted me and allowed me to heal while wandering the paths of delusion as my family from Spirit. Like indigenous peoples understand, family members are found, and I am grateful they consider me one of their own.
Anyway, at one point in my early life I had a foster brother who was a blood relative of a family that would go to sweat lodges and native ceremonies—but it wasn’t until I became an adult that my experience deepened. Before I knew the bounty of the Baha’i teachings, prayers, writings, and the ocean of Grandfather’s most recent revelation for the peoples of Earth, it was a Sweat Lodge Ceremony where I first sampled the humility, supplication, and attitude of prayer.
From the invocation of the Great Spirit before starting the Ceremonial Fire to the songs sung to Grandfather in each four rounds of Ceremony; prayer and service are the key actions involved. Witnessing my spiritual uncle and his father pray to the Creator, mimicking those actions, and finding my own voice opened the door so I could begin to converse with God.
My uncle is a strong warrior that walks in humility with great power. He would invoke the Great Spirit saying, “Hello Grandfather, it is me, just a pitiful two-legged creature doing the best I can …”
His father, a man I get to call Grandpa, would speak with supplication and sincerity. It was through him I first heard the mention of the Creator being called Grandfather, a term used by many indigenous peoples—who use the term Grandfather to remind us how close God is in our lives, closer than the blood coursing through our body:
O My servants! The one true God is My witness! This most great, this fathomless and surging ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 326.