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As a teenager during the years of the ’60’s—when old standards were being challenged and new pathways explored—I began to feel dissatisfied with the life I knew.
My voracious reading exposed my mind for the first time to a vast range of different beliefs and standards. A growing number of books on the market explained new and intriguing spiritual paths, and I wanted to explore them.
These paths differed dramatically from the one I had been raised in, and I felt a growing need to look beyond the age-old religious traditions of my family. Despite this hunger for new knowledge, I still longed for the sense of certitude and conviction that my parents and their forebears had enjoyed.
It was not easy to open myself to the unknown, and it was very challenging to examine beliefs contrary to my traditional parents, who held roles of leadership in the community. I did not want to hurt or oppose them, but my hunger for a greater understanding and my seeker’s heart would not be appeased:
Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker’s heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 196.
In my passionate sense of inquiry, I began attending meetings where the convinced and the converted so forcefully and graphically trumpeted dire warnings of hell and joyous assurances of deliverance that I had to cling to the pew in front to prevent myself from running up to the church pulpit and throwing my miserable life into their hands.
My new circle of relationships now included earnest young men wearing bicycle clips on their immaculate suits, who visited my home and showed me posters of panoramic scenes in which transformed and illumined souls floated up through pastel rays of light to join great throngs of golden angels arrayed in serried ranks across the clouds, whilst from deep in the dark bowels of the earth gruesome figures thrust up taloned fingers of long-dead hands, clutching desperately, despairingly for redemption.
Sincere and devout friends who knew of my search arrived on my doorstep with long-haired sandaled spiritual leaders in tow, to set forth their beliefs for my thoughtful examination, much like the travelling vendor of my childhood who would appear unheralded at our door toting trays of cleaners and polishes, gargles and salves, one sure to cure what ails you. However, every offering failed to be the salve to my heart. Still, I longed for a sense of arrival, of resolution, of finding my forever spiritual home. Little did I know that the path I was moving towards would open the gates to a lifelong exciting exploration:
Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind. He will contemplate the manifest signs of the universe, and will penetrate the hidden mysteries of the soul. Gazing with the eye of God, he will perceive within every atom a door that leadeth him to the stations of absolute certitude. He will discover in all things the mysteries of Divine Revelation, and the evidences of an everlasting Manifestation. – Ibid.
Time passed. With no satisfactory middle ground to be found between my own views on creation, the status of women, heaven and hell, etc., and those of my diverse range of soul advisors, I faced a choice between the comfort of quiet conformity or being true to my self and choosing another path. It would have been so much simpler to choose the easy comfort of the former, but
… O my brother! When a true seeker determineth to take the step of search in the path leading unto the knowledge of the Ancient of Days, he must, before all else, cleanse his heart, which is the seat of the revelation of the inner mysteries of God, from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge, and the allusions of the embodiments of satanic fancy. He must purge his breast, which is the sanctuary of the abiding love of the Beloved, of every defilement, and sanctify his soul from all that pertaineth to water and clay, from all shadowy and ephemeral attachments. He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth. – Ibid., pp. 192-193.
Consideration of my options made me realize that what I certainly did not want was for people to just assume that I was merely disinterested, like so many others of my age group who simply lost interest in religion once other concerns more aligned with the teenage years presented themselves. I wanted people to know that, despite those years of sincere study and reflection I did not—and would not—accept that there was a hell beneath my feet, any more than there was a heaven up above the clouds, or that the first female of my species was made from the rib of the first man.
After all those years of fruitless searching, one day I unexpectedly came across a new neighbor working in an unkempt vegetable garden. Keen to get to know my fellow residents, I invited this new friend into my flat and we introduced ourselves. As a well-known feminist, I was surprised when it was Suzi herself who began to talk enthusiastically about the equality of men and women. This wasn’t a dialogue I had been expecting.
Intrigued now, I listened with growing attention as she asked if I knew about such matters as the first women’s suffrage conference and the first women’s suffrage martyr. Humbly admitting my ignorance, I began to learn about a woman named Tahirih, such a greatly respected poet that the Shah of Iran himself, in his very male-dominated nation, held her in high esteem. Then Suzi asked if I’d like to read something about this unique woman. Intrigued and eager, I wanted to know more.
One book followed another, as I learned about the very subjects—the oneness and beautiful diversity of the human race, life after death, environmental issues, principles of education, and many more—that had been the focus of ardent inquiry for much of my life.
Over three days and nights I used every moment of whatever spare time could be snatched between the demands of teaching special class children and parenting to devour the many books Suzi shared with me. In the process of developing a firm and lifelong friendship, we also discovered so very much in common with two otherwise vastly different lives.
Although it may seem sudden now, after those three extraordinary days I felt like a new creation. I found, to my surprise, that I now recognized myself as a Baha’i. Equal only to the sheer joy and wonderment this realization brought was a sense of irritation. Why, I asked myself, after all those years of passionate search, had I never heard of this Faith before? How did Suzi, who herself admitted she was no great feminist or genius, know about it years before I did?
At that hour will the Mystic Herald, bearing the joyful tidings of the Spirit, shine forth from the City of God resplendent as the morn, and, through the trumpet-blast of knowledge, will awaken the heart, the soul, and the spirit from the slumber of heedlessness. Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind. – Ibid., p. 196.
Thanks to Suzi, and the considerable number of spiritual seekers whose company we have shared, the Baha’i Faith has become widely known and respected in my country, and increasingly around the world. I thank God that I acquired enough of that early quality of humility to learn from unexpected sources way back when I was a child. All this is the fruit of those great teachers—Abraham, Buddha, Christ, Baha’u’llah and that divine company of God’s messengers—who brought us to this pivotal time in the development of our mutual home, the Earth.