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As a small boy I vividly remember my father resting on his knees beside the bed in prayer before he went to sleep—that image sticks with a little person who worships his dad.
I worshipped my father, but that day I realized that he worshipped someone or something much greater than him.
Not surprisingly, my dad was my hero. He was a large man with a powerful athletic frame, big expressive hands, and a distinctive voice. Dad never went to church in all my childhood years, but that image of my dad knelling by the bed in prayer has stayed with me all my life.
I could not make out exactly what he was saying as he spoke in low tones. I had accidently peeked in on him out of sight from the hallway adjacent to the bedroom. As a little fellow, I had woken up and wandered up the stairs to catch this surprising scene.
I never asked my dad who exactly he was speaking to. It happened so long ago that I cannot remember if I even wanted to ask my father that question—whether it was God or Christ that he addressed. Somehow in my generation, you did not ask intimate spiritual questions like that. We believed that topic was something sacred left to each person to decide for themselves.
Very soon after that episode, my mother’s sister, auntie Ruthie, came visiting from the USA. She caused a big stir in the family because she brought a world of new ideas. Ruthie had become a Baha'i, and not long after more sisters in the family joined her in their new belief. Subsequently, mom gave me a Baha'i prayer book and some other story books that I remember well. God and His Messengers was a simple way of teaching about the different Faiths of our world. Its red cover with the pastoral scenes lingers with me still.
The idea in the book was simple—that one God had sent all the world’s religions to humanity—and I believed it from the beginning because it made perfect sense. However, the words in the prayer book struck my heart: “O my God, and my Master, the goal of my desire,” in an evening prayer, or in the morning prayer, “I have risen this morning by Thy grace, O my God, and left my home trusting wholly in Thee.” – Baha’u’llah, Baha'i Prayers, pp. 59; 117.
These words gave me roads to journey. The sacred words in the Baha'i prayers touched something very deep in me. This conversation I could have with the Creator lifted me up to a higher level. The stories of God’s messengers were fascinating, but talking personally beyond our tiny reality opened an exciting world. The flow of images embraced me with the chorus of:
I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God, and it becometh him that seeketh that shelter to abide within the Sanctuary of Thy protection and the Stronghold of Thy defense. Illumine my inner being, O my Lord, with the splendors of the Dayspring of Thy Revelation, even as Thou didst illumine my outer being with the morning light of Thy favor. – Ibid., p. 116.
Prayers from the Baha’i writings became a vivid personal experience. I took to learning those prayers and memorized them. No one asked me to, but I did. I loved the way they made me feel. Later I surprised my mom by reciting a number of prayers to her with the correct attitude – at least I thought it was the correct way, in my young mind.
Then I became an adolescent. Going through the teenage years meant rubbing shoulders with different ideas. During that turbulent stage of growth, my Baha’i ideals had to stand the test of time and weather periods of apathy or rebellion—and I had to find a way to reconcile them with my family’s and my country’s Christian belief.
We lived in a heavily Christian culture, and some of the teachings that showed up on suburban church message boards caught my attention: “He died for the sins of the world,” or the “Lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world.” I had to give that point of view some serious thought, and did.
I realized those messages didn’t exactly sound like that accepting, unifying main storyline in God and His Messengers. Instead, those ideas seemed pretty exclusive and dividing—either you’re with us or against us, saved or damned, in or out. So I asked myself: did anyone else die for the sins of the world? Was the Bab sacrificed as a lamb for ransom as his robes were saturated in his own blood, the victim of a government execution for teaching his new Faith? Did Baha’u’llah suffer imprisonment, face chains, beating and exile for 40 years, and thereby open the opportunity for people to gain a “heavenly nest?” Have all of the prophets suffered at the hands of an unbelieving populace? I sensed I had found a very good question to examine.
After searching the Baha'i writings, I found that Baha’u’llah had answered this question in a letter he wrote in response to a Christian bishop:
Know thou that when the Son of Man [Christ] yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. … We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things … He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 85.
So Baha’is totally agree with the message of the Bible—that Christ died for the world’s sins, and served as a ransom for the “whole creation.” He made new life available to all people, infusing a fresh capacity into all created things. Clearly Christ redeemed us: “Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified.” – Ibid., p. 86.
As I grew up and my own capacity for understanding grew, too, I thought I saw a way forward in the Baha'i teachings, a way that could unite the religions.