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In the year 2000, I toured the Old City of Jerusalem with some Israeli friends. We walked the path Jesus walked with a crown of thorns while dragging the cross of his martyrdom to its destination — which is now the Church of the Sepulchre. Under its roof, you can put your hand into the post hole in the stone where the cross was raised — the site of Jesus’s ascension and arguably the holiest site in Christianity.
A few hundred yards from the Church is the Temple Mount, the location of the Al-Aqsa Mosque built on the ruins of Solomon’s Temple. This is the second most holy site in Islam — where the Prophet Muhammad proclaimed that his soul would come, and he would meet the souls of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other of God’s ancient Apostles and ascend into heaven. Attached to one end of the Temple Mount is a wall: the Western Wailing Wall, the last of the standing walls of Solomon’s Temple, and the holiest site of the Jewish faith.
I was raised loosely as a Protestant in the United States, but some questions I had when I was young left me as a bit of an agnostic and a wanderer in my spiritual life. I had this feeling that perhaps I could do one great thing for God later in life, and this would suffice to get me into that “heaven” place so many have referred to. But as I stood on a roof overlooking this cluster of God’s most holy sites, my mind filled with all of the historical and spiritual information I had received. I heard the call to prayer sound from the Mosque, and I felt a very good, warm feeling. It was like being home. I had had the opportunity to travel around the world, but I had never felt so at peace anywhere other than where I was born.
That night, I had an epiphany. I realized that the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an all told the same story. They were like new chapters in the same book. What the heck was everybody fighting about?
Later on that trip, we stopped by Haifa and the top of Mount Carmel — the Mountain of God. I looked down at the beautiful gardens that climbed the slope: 19 terraces from the base to the top and halfway was a wondrous golden-domed temple. I stood in awe at this sight, which mere words could not seem to adequately describe. I was told these were the Baha’i Gardens and that their prophet was supposedly related to King David.
I packed all this information away in my head and went on with my life. The feeling that I was missing something important began to slowly but surely invade my thoughts.
Six years later, I was living in China with my wife and one of my daughters. We were starting to see signs of the financial crisis that would lead my employer to recall me to the United States sooner than I expected. This was a huge strain on my family and me. In those days, I began to look towards God and some sort of spiritual help amid all the turmoil. This search led me to the internet and eventually to the official Baha’i website.
There, I found the writings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, and his words on the oneness of all religions: “The divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated.”
In the blink of an eye, I knew that this was the epiphany that I had had in Israel six years ago!
The Baha’i Writings explain that the core teachings of all major world religions are the same. It has only been the clergy through the ages that has slowly steered the teachings from the luminous path. This made so much sense to me: all of these religions are right. Every millennium or so, God sends another messenger or manifestation to update our laws and expand on God’s message, as we become more capable of understanding the prescription for today’s woes.
The message for today that Baha’u’llah brought proclaimed the equality of women and men, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the harmony of science and religion, universal education, and the unity of humanity. There were just a few of the teachings that I read. I began to read Baha’i prayers, and this one in particular, spoke to me:
O God, my God! Thy forgiveness hath emboldened me, and Thy mercy hath strengthened me, and Thy call hath awakened me, and Thy grace hath raised me up and led me unto Thee. Who, otherwise, am I that I should dare to stand at the gate of the city of Thy nearness, or set my face toward the lights that are shining from the heaven of Thy will? Thou seest, O my Lord, this wretched creature knocking at the door of Thy grace, and this evanescent soul seeking the river of everlasting life from the hands of Thy bounty.
I was astounded. Suddenly, my job and all of my turmoil did not hold so much sway over me. Once back in the United States, I left my employer and eventually found another job in Illinois — which turned out to be the home of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette. I had still not met any other Baha’is, but I was reading the writings daily. I also did my first Baha’i Fast that year and it just felt right — kind of like I had felt when visiting the Holy Land!
I found faith and hope in this quote from Baha’u’llah about seeking the truth for oneself: “It is therefore incumbent upon every one to seek enlightenment from the illumined in heart and from the Treasuries of divine mysteries regarding the intricacies of God’s Faith… Thus will these mysteries be unraveled, not by the aid of acquired learning, but solely through the assistance of God and the outpourings of His grace.”
That summer of 2007, I went to the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois — a place where people from all religions and backgrounds can come together and pray or meditate. I asked the Baha’is I found there — the first Baha’is I had ever met — “How do you become a Baha’i? I have been praying every day and I fasted this year, but I’m not sure how to actually become a Baha’i.”
I learned that I had been a Baha’i from the moment I had accepted Baha’u’llah and his teachings into my life, and signing a card simply enabled me to be put in touch with Baha’is in my community. I had been much closer to the Baha’i Faith than I thought, both spiritually and physically: it turns out that I grew up in Michigan around 15 miles from Louhelen Baha’i Center of Learning, a retreat and conference space that has offered programming focused on developing human potential and service to humanity since the 1930s. I had driven by countless times and never even glanced that way!
It took my Israeli friends taking me to the Baha’i Gardens and literally placing me at the gate to the Baha’i Gardens, and then a move to China, for it all to sink in — to show me the way. God does indeed work in mysterious ways.