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So this series of short essays is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, to discuss my relationship to faith and my love for Baha’u’llah. But for me, the past few years have been a remarkable series of firsts. And if you really look at it, that’s what life is — a series of firsts — with the strange twist that whatever happens from moment to moment is one first, after another first, after another first. The kind of nerve-wracking thing though, is that every one of those firsts is also simultaneously, a last.
Every first will live and pass away, never to return. Each first will hopefully be filled with as much life, as much kindness, as much faith and service as one can give it.
After ten years of writing fiction or so, I finished a book (many writers call the first ten years an apprenticeship to the craft.) A writer I admire once said this to me when I was just starting out, and I laughed. Ten years later, I’m still laughing, but in a different way.
My most valued writing teacher, Marilynne Robinson, the one with the giant brain (who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, Gilead, and who has most likely read the entire Library of Congress), says: “Most fiction is about a character who comes, over the course of the story, to understand his false relation to the truth.”
I feel that in my life, my relationship to faith was very much like that. For most of my life I believed that the truth of faith was defined and should be defined, if it was working properly, by the actions of people. And I saw people who declared themselves faithful do lots of horrible and questionable things in the name of faith — children led off into crusades, skyscrapers exploding, people being martyred and murdered.
In other words, I looked to people to set the examples and the parameters of what faith was. I would think, you know, if there’s a faith out there that works, the people within it will exemplify it. Fully. Totally. Without question.
And of course, I met wonderful, lovely spiritual people along the way, but people usually wound up disappointing me. Mostly having to do with how much in the end, I disappointed myself.
My father’s side of the family was Jewish, so I explored that for a while, but then the Rabbi at the synagogue embezzled all the community’s money and two factions of the congregation started warring over who the next rabbi would be; or the guru at my Zen Center would sleep with his students and the two he was sleeping with would have a fist fight after 5:30 am Zazen; or the television evangelist I used to watch on Sundays out of a sort of horrible fascination would ride a white donkey through his Christian theme park one day and then get arrested for tax evasion the next, and I would say, “you see, people are just not capable of faith. Most people are just not capable of acting responsibly and well in the name of faith. How can it possibly be helping us? What is religion for???$##@$&*!!!
I did always love the Quaker meetings though, because lots of times they were quiet, and blessedly so. And if all else failed there was always yoga three or four times a year. The union of opposing opposites – plus, good for your circulation. You couldn’t go wrong there. Then many, many years went by. Lots of water under the bridge. And I began attending a Ruhi course.
If you don’t know what this is, in a nutshell, it’s a group that meets weekly to study the Baha’i writings in further depth. So after thirteen years of marriage, my husband, that guy I mentioned, who is a very persuasive person when he wants to be, talked me into attending this Ruhi Course (just to give it a try) and I went there kicking and screaming. I was prepared to stay for one session I told him. ONE TIME.
Then I planned to beg off, and I sat there with my arms crossed and our group’s facilitator did this amazing thing. He read this quote by Baha’u’llah:
If any differences arise among you, behold Me standing before your face and overlook the faults of another for My name’s sake and as a token of your love for My manifest and resplendent Cause. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 315.
And the Baha’i Faith surprised me, refreshing me once again.
Here was one of those great first-time events in my life. At that moment I realized faith is not defined by the actions of people. God and his manifestations exemplify faith. The actions and spiritual qualities of God define faith – forgiveness, compassion, kindness. This was one of the many gifts that the writings of Baha’u’llah have given me — a change of my perspective, a re-focusing of my expectations.
Inspired by all this, I became a member of the Baha’i Faith, and I made my own pledge to serve the faith in whatever capacity I can, though, I’m still learning day to day (because I am fallible through and through) what this means.
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