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Outwardly, becoming a Baha’i is like joining a great big party. “Hey everyone,” the host calls out as you arrive, “So-and-So is here, and he’s brought lots of goodies!” Whoops and cheers of support greet you as you step inside, a big smile spreading across your face. You know that those “goodies” you’ve brought are your unique attributes, character traits and talents, and that this happy group of open-hearted people genuinely cherish the contribution you can make to this planet-wide celebration of spirit.
Inwardly, becoming a Baha’i involves recognizing Baha’u’llah, accepting the oneness of all religions, and turning to that source for guidance and inspiration.
The two blend seamlessly – collective joy and inner reflection, service to others and individual growth. The result: a tremendously liberating and energizing mix of optimism and faith.
That’s exactly how I felt when I became a Baha’i back in 1988, and I still feel it no less strongly today, 25 years later.
Shortly after declaring my faith, I visited the Baha’i Center in Atlanta, where I lived at the time. An elderly black woman from a Christian background approached me, a young white man from a Jewish background. She took my hand in hers and said, “Welcome to the family of man.” I still get goose bumps remembering that moment: I felt truly at peace, at one with all the world.
Baha’u’llah has drawn the circle of unity, He has made a design for the uniting of all the peoples, and for the gathering of them all under the shelter of the tent of universal unity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 54.
I began wondering what had motivated others to become Baha’is. “I saw myself as a single drop of water,” explained Ming Tai-Seale, a friend who had recently emigrated from China. “One drop on its own will eventually evaporate, but when it joins with all the others, it becomes part of a river that will never disappear.”
My wife, Irina, a Russian born and bred, said she became a Baha’i because she had “always felt that it is important to be part of something larger than myself. I used to be a member of the Young Pioneers, and later the Youth Komsomol (the rough Soviet equivalents of the Brownies and Scouts). But those organizations collapsed along with the Soviet Union. Then I met the Baha’is and I agreed with their principles. I didn’t deeply understand faith yet – that came later – but I wanted to contribute, and I felt I could do more to help if I was also a Baha’i.”
Millions of people from just about every geographic, ethnic and language group on the planet now call themselves Baha’is, and each could tell their own story of what prompted them to take that initial step of faith. At the same time, those investigating the Baha’i Faith also express doubts – for example, concerns that it will take too long to unite the whole world or even that they are not good enough in some way to be part of such a loving and dynamic community.
Yes, it does take time for unity to emerge – as does every lasting organic process of change – but as more of us work toward the goal, the faster we can accomplish it. And as for feelings of inadequacy, my wife once said to a friend that “becoming a Baha’i is like enrolling in university. You don’t go to college because you know everything already, but because you want to learn.”
I experience life as a Baha’i that way. We all learn and strive to improve – but we do it together, in a spirit of unity, in the light of the same divine teachings. And it becomes a lot more fun when a tremendously deep sense of oneness and goodwill motivates the whole effort. More importantly, Baha’is direct that positive energy not only toward each other, but toward all humanity:
It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 95.
It seems to me that the love permeating the global Baha’i community has the potential to overcome every obstacle life has to offer. As Baha’u’llah wrote:
So you’re invited to the party. Please join us. There is always room for one more.