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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, pp. 194-195.

Raised a small-town Baptist, I mainly worshipped hockey’s Gordie Howe. I reverently oiled my baseball glove at least twice a year.

We also went to church every Sunday. My parents allowed us to ransack our stockings and open only one present before attending Christmas service. Sunday school attendance prizes were an annual treat, but I rarely read or discussed the Bible at home. The patron saints of our Protestant family were Rocket Richard of les Canadiens de Montreal, whom my older siblings met in 1965, and a skinny, bespectacled Canadian Football League hero named Garney Henley. Oh, and Rusty Staub, le grand orange of the brand-new Montreal Expos. As I became a teenager, though, love and spirit began to mean more than just sports.

One September morning, a new girl sat in the desk behind mine, a girl with long blonde hair. In a grade eight instant, I knew there might be a reason for females after all. Within two years, I had not only fallen for her brains over basketballs, but also became fascinated by the Faith lived by her mother.

Her mother’s Faith said the Creator keeps promises. It made me think that I didn’t have to turn off my own brain to believe. It said that religion was natural, sensible, renewable, universal.

One day, the girl with the long blonde hair showed me an old Sunday school project she had made, a sort of temple construction with many cardboard doors opening on the beauty of the Unseen. It offered a new gateway to devotion that brought fresh light to all the others. It made sense to me. I read of the dawn-breaking heroes of this new Faith, their deeds not dim and ancient, and I surged with feeling.

In the evening of another September, two sixteen-year-olds sat on the curb of a street corner near my house. That same girl and I read the Tablet of the Seeker, looked for reassurance from the great souls and from each other, and decided to declare our commitment. Joining hands, we walked through my front door, and asked my mother to sit down with us. Dad was out of the picture, as usual. It didn’t bother me; the whole discussion seemed easier. Later, when I learned how he had quietly supported my spiritual independence, I wished he’d been there.

“Mum, we have something important to tell you.”

My mother’s eyes brightened, and she nibbled her upper lip. It made me nervous, too, knowing how anxious she had been, when I was thirteen, to get me safely baptized and into the fold before our aging pastor retired.

Despite the nerves, I plunged in. “Maybe you’re going to find this hard, but we want to tell you this as soon as possible. Okay? Yeah, so, the thing is, we’re going to, we’re going to become Baha’is.” My mother’s tightly-held breath came out in a violent sigh.

“Oh! Is that all? I thought you were going to tell me you were pregnant!” We laughed and laughed.

And so it began. I studied, served our fledgling local community, told my best friend about the Baha’i Faith and tried to live it.

I married the girl with the long blonde hair, and as a tangible result, three sons have kept my heart warm, my mind racing and my refrigerator door open. I became a teacher, as two older sisters had done. Still crazy for sport, I played while my skills held up (and beyond!), and then coached others. I taught reading and writing and jumpshots at my old high school while my two biggest lads were there, and for much of my life lived within blocks of that fateful corner. I can show you right where we sat. So what became of all that seriousness?

Bahai House of Worship Chicago

Bahai House of Worship outside Chicago

Well, her hair’s not long any more, and, like too many others, we’re no longer married. On a dark night of the marital soul, I wondered if I could still walk this road without her. Mercifully, a calm and wonderful “Yes” dawned soon after. Years later came another lovely chance at marriage, and a fourth son, now nearly the same age I was when I first heard of “this Baha’i thing. He’s grown out of backyard hockey and Gordie Howe. Inner mutterings of muted urgency sometimes insist that I should’ve gone farther–geographically, professionally, and of course spiritually–after four decades of trying to live this commitment, but more often I’m refreshed and gladdened.

To the Baha’i Faith I owe peculiar inclinations toward Persian cuisine, nine-sided Houses of Worship that welcome everyone, and Haifa, Israel. I retain a fascination with youth and their capacities that has far outlasted my own green years. Striving to work in a spirit of service has enriched my career and my life.

The Baha’i worldview has helped me to understand the meaning underlying apparently random modern horrors and fixations. I treasure an abiding sense of hopefulness, the only antidote to restlessness and gloom. It turns out that the corner of Sutherland and Nairn was as good a place as any to start making a new way.

3 Comments

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  • Aug 24, 2014
    Very touching story. Most expats ignore the tones completely, I think. Greetings from Chengdu.
  • Aug 23, 2014
    Your story is similar to mine and you told it extremely well! Thank you. I think I'll share it with a seeker!