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The road to becoming a Baha’i tested me more than any journey I’d ever made in my life, mostly because I felt unworthy of it. In Baha’u’llah’s long healing prayer, God is referred to as “The Unfastener”, “The Uprooter,” “The Ravager,” and “The Most Hidden”. For a long time, my concept of faith felt like that. Often, the only thing that kept me going was this simple promise from Abdu’l-Baha:
“Love is the secret and the most great law.”
As I said, I take an inordinate amount of time to make decisions and often they are questionable. I’m also a stubborn person and a person, who, throughout her life has defined herself in opposition to things. I’m not a joiner. I don’t like to be given advice. I buck up against authority and institutions. At one point or another I have been, not necessarily in this order, a radio reporter, an actor, a vet’s assistant, a journalist, a shoe painter, a hummus maker, a performance artist, a cater waiter and a thief.
I have a long past history with criminality, actually. Yes, this is true. I was a shoplifter from a very early age. Free food from grocery stores got me through college and free clothes from high end boutiques clothed me. I was a user and abuser of every drug, a diner and dasher, a crank caller, a forger of checks and permission slips, an embezzler of cash registers from summer jobs and a national merit scholar who dealt cocaine out of a hotdog stand. Mostly, I was an amazing liar. There was what I looked like on the outside, an innocent brown-haired girl, and then there was my secret life. A great deal of the time, I simply felt ashamed. Until I read these words:
The more difficulties one sees in the world, the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground, the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of the tree, the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire, the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding, the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrow one sees, the more perfect one becomes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribulations and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of the ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing, the greater his knowledge becomes. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p.41.
I feel I’ve definitely had my branches trimmed and my steel edges sharpened to some fine points a time or two, but still, to this day any rule or unspoken agenda makes me cringe. I like to do things my own way first, especially if it’s wrong and time consuming, just because I always started out with the assumption that the general rules of life don’t really apply to me. Somehow, I’m different.
I’m not going to get old.
I’m not going to die.
I’m not going to have a baby and move to the suburbs!!
So — how does someone who said they would never become a member of anything, even the human race itself, become a Baha’i?
It’s strange. I started looking back at faith in the history of my family and interestingly, like my own experience with spirituality, it is a series of rifts and disappointments.
Looking way back into history, the Scottish clan I’m from — Clan Morrison — were historically a clan of incredible ragtag misfits who got in a shipwreck off the coast of Scotland. Eventually this strident bunch ended up mightily irritating the MacCleods, their neighbors to the north and south and coincidentally, the most powerful clan in the country, and most all of them got beheaded one day. Seven hundred and fifty of them. So it didn’t end well.
In fact, my maternal Scottish relatives that escaped the MacCleods and came to New York and eventually to Oregon on the Oregon Trail were all ministers and they had been driven out of the country at gunpoint apparently for some indiscretion that has gone with them to the grave, so that is how we ended up in the states.
And then there was the other side of the family.
My paternal grandfather, a Romanian Jew, married my father’s mother who was Welsh Presbyterian and they both got kicked out of their families as a result. There’s sort of a romantic story about the two of them meeting actually, at the World’s Fair in New York.
My grandfather was the elevator operator in the Empire State Building and my grandmother sold Souvlaki sandwiches at the international foods booth, and every day my grandfather would go buy a Souvlaki for his lunch and the courting went on from there.
So here they were, sneaking around dating each other on the sly because of their religious differences, having a secret romance, and my grandfather was so desperately in love with her, that one day, he just couldn’t stand it. This also happened to be the day that Eleanor Roosevelt rode up to the top of the Empire State Building, and he turned to the First Lady and all of her entourage and he said “I’m in love with the wrong woman,” and Eleanor Roosevelt said to my grandfather, “Excellent. You should marry her.”
And so they borrowed a car, a pink Cadillac, and they ran away and eloped and drove to Hollywood. From that story I learned it is much more romantic, you see, NOT to be religious. But really, except for my maternal grandparents, John and Alice, who happened to be Methodists AND the most spiritual people I have ever known as I mentioned earlier, except for them, I did not come from a home that ascribed to any faith. As Abdu’l-Baha had claimed, the love did remain a secret.
“I won’t see you again for long, long time,” my grandmother said to me when I left her bedside in the assisted living home for the last time. “But when we meet again, you’ll understand.”