Viv Bartlett in 2018
The death of my brother, Peter, smashed into our family like a comet hitting the earth. And the repercussions of that tragic event are still operating nearly sixty years later. That happened in 1960 and I was 15 years of age; my brother had just turned 14.
How did Peter die? Well, I had some part in it, although an innocent part. After leaving school at fifteen I started work as an apprentice engineer. The firm was situated in Bute Street, the docks area of Cardiff, more popularly known as ‘Tiger Bay’. One of the very first mosques in the UK was in the same street as the factory, but I didn’t know anything about diversity in those days, even though a cross-section of the world’s peoples had settled in ‘Tiger Bay’.
My wages at this time were £1 and 15 shillings a week, a huge increase over the money I earned as a paper-boy. I gave my mother all my wages out of which she gave me back the 15 shillings. I was anxious to spend this money, so I bought on hire-purchase a reel-to-reel tape recorder and happily spent hours recording songs from the radio. The start of the ‘sixties’ exploded with new music, new stars, new freedoms and I was excited to be part of it. Peter, like many younger brothers, wanted what his older brother had, so after school one day he took my tape recorder onto the lawn, fixed up his home-made extension lead and happily lay down to listen to the songs. Mother (Doreen) was talking to a neighbour while sitting on the garden wall. Then it happened; one of the two bare wires of the extension lead disconnected. How this happened is still the subject of speculation. Peter leaned over on the damp grass, caught hold of the live wire and instantly electrocuted himself. Massive internal brain damage, we were told; death by misadventure the coroner’s verdict. The most heart-rending aspect is that my mother saw this horrific scene – her son being electrocuted in front of her eyes, and she could do nothing to save him! Coincidentally, the song he was listening to on the recorder was ’Halfway to Paradise’ by Billy Fury.
Brother Peter top right, brother Barry top left. Viv centre, a friend bottom right
Apart from this upheaval, childhood for me was an enjoyable era. Born in Cardiff on 4 November 1945, I lived with my parents and grandparents in what were known as ‘rooms’. After me came my brothers Peter and Barry in quick succession. I must have been conceived shortly after my father’s demobilisation from the army after World War Two.
Life in my grandparents’ home was cramped but I only realised this later when we moved to our very first council house in Ely, Cardiff, in 1950. My two sisters, Wendy and Jill, came some years later. This house was luxury compared to living in rooms. We had plenty of space in the house, with an indoor toilet and bathroom; there was even a downstairs toilet by the coal shed. Better still was the area – playing fields in the front and woodlands a street away.
My father (George) was a hard worker all his life, a working-class man who prided himself on supporting his wife and family and five children. He was a long-distance lorry driver and an accomplished scaffolder. Later, he worked as a ‘rigger driver’ for the BBC, driving the huge, expensively equipped, Outside Broadcast lorries; work that entailed erecting safe scaffolding for the large TV cameras. He was part of the crew that covered the news of the Aberfan tragedy in October 1966 that killed 116 children and 28 adults. My father joined the men who dug out the bodies of the dead children.
Mother didn’t go out to work; how could she when she had five children to see to? Like all working-class mothers in those days she ‘worked her fingers to the bone’. Generally, life was drudgery, a constant effort to keep the house clean and warm and children clothed, well fed and healthy. We had our first television set when I was fourteen.
I loved school. Forty-eight of us were in the ‘A’ stream. I did reasonably well in primary school but not as well as my friends who were very ‘brainy’. Unfortunately, I did not pass the 11 plus examination, tests given to all 11-year-olds; the results determined your ability or not to cope with the rigours of grammar school education. Most of my friends passed this life determining exam, but secondary modern schooling was for me.
Viv aged about nine
It is impossible to recall all the wonderful times I had as a child, and all the encouragement and support in times of need. Mam and Dad were so different in their interests, with one exception – they both enjoyed smoking. Dad was the solid-as-a-rock family man. When he came home from work, he was usually exhausted and wanted to rest listening to the radio. Mam was a ‘party animal’; she loved to dance, drink and socialise in the various local clubs. She was vivacious and attractive. After a ‘sitter’ came to look after us kids, Mam would often drag Dad out of an evening to one of the clubs. Dad didn’t dance and only drank a little. By the end of the evening, he would still be sober, and she would be quite ‘merry’, wanting to party further. Sometimes we would wake to an almighty row between them when they returned from their merriment, which would carry over for a few tense days.
Doreen Bartlett (Mam) dancing
Religion, or more accurately Christianity, was not a big thing in our house. Yes, we were baptised but not attached to any particular church. My mother made intermittent efforts over the years, taking us children to a variety of different churches. Hymn singing was OK, but some phrases caused more confusion than dispelled it. ‘There is a green hill far away, ‘the hymn informed us, ‘without a city wall’… I could never work out why a hill, or a city for that matter, was deprived of such a wall. In fact, definitely none of the hills I saw had a city wall!
Although Dad never accompanied us on these excursions, he came from a generation that kept the Sabbath sacred. What this meant was that none of us could go out to play on a Sunday, so we would look longingly out of the window at our friends, released from this weekly captivity, playing in the street. Sometimes Mam and Dad had raging rows which, after angry shouting, slamming of doors and occasional breaking of things, resulted in Mam leaving. I was tall enough to look over the windowsill to see her disappear into the distance. ‘There you are’, dad would say to us energetic kids, ‘you’ve done it now – you’ve driven your mother away and she’s not coming back!’ She always did though, and things settled down until the next big upheaval. This was our introduction to religion, and these were some of our sacred, Sabbath Day moments!
At 15 I was lucky to secure an engineering apprenticeship in a factory in the docks area – ‘Tiger Bay’. At that time, people of more than forty different nationalities had settled in the area, helping to create its unique multicultural character. Long before I started work there, the area had suffered decades of dereliction, but I knew it as a friendly place with smiling black faces on doorsteps, and Yemenis with strong Cardiff accents.
The factory was owned by members of the Plymouth Brethren sect of Christianity with its fair share of Brethren just waiting to try and convert newcomers like me. Although they taught that Christ loved and sacrificed for us, their main emphasis was on ‘sin’, something as a young man I was just getting used to, so I used to argue with them a lot just to pass the time in an otherwise monotonous day. At this stage of growing into adulthood, my world view had become totally materialistic and atheistic, but these rather arrogant and ignorant conversations with sincere believers triggered in me deeper thoughts about God, religion and the purpose of life – if there was one. The most troublesome aspect of their beliefs was not that I should abstain from watching television, listening to rock music, drinking and chasing girls; it was their view of God.
After my parents bought me a guitar for a Christmas, I quickly learned a few chords and with some friends formed our first ‘rock-group’; we were useless but immensely enjoyed what we were doing. I progressed over the years and eventually joined a very accomplished group (The Chosen Few) as its youngest member; we were head-hunted by a prestigious agency to turn professional, but we never did.
The Chosen Few
After Peter’s death my mother wanted answers to very serious questions: is there a God? Why did one so young as Peter have to die? If life is so precarious, so transient, what’s the purpose of being here?
Dad, on the other hand, longed to return to life prior to the tragedy and so he kept on working hard for us remaining four children, but lamenting and grieving over the death of his son took its toll. He was a broken man and never really recovered. His only consolation was to visit the cemetery every Sunday with a bunch of flowers and lay them on Peter’s grave. His response to Peter’s death was to switch off to enquiry, watch ’Bonanza’ and the like on TV and automatically assume there is no God, because if there was one, how could He let such a terrible thing happen to an innocent child?
At around this time (1963) my mother was joined in her search by a young girl about my own age (now seventeen), Rita Bridge, who was destined to become my wife years later. She came to my house in Heol Trelai, Ely, Cardiff to visit my mother, as they had met a while earlier to speak about ‘spiritual things’ and wanted to continue their conversation. When she came into the living room on first meeting, I was not really presentable. Wearing trousers and a string vest and with my feet on the mantlepiece I must have looked a sight as I had also had a few beers earlier. I asked her name, to which she replied, “Rita Bridge, and just because I’m a Bridge does not mean you can walk over me!” Rita’s passion for seeking truth matched my mother’s and although there was a large age difference, they teamed up to find answers to life’s existential questions.
Rita was the eldest of three girls who were all brought up by their mother to be devout Catholics. Her mother had come over from Dublin during the war and married a worker employed in a smelting and casting foundry in Cardiff where she obtained work. Surprisingly, he was an ardent communist, but he promised his wife that he would not interfere if she wanted to raise the children as Catholics. He kept his word. All three daughters, as well as attending Catholic schools, attended mass on Sunday, observed all the holy days and church requirements with a passion, prayed ardently and submitted to the authority of the priesthood. Rita told us that there were never any arguments in her home about religion as her mother and father respected each other’s stance. After entering adolescence, however, some of the teachings of the church began to weigh heavy on Rita, and she sought relief in asking many questions, perchance someone, anyone, could answer them.
Eventually she was told that her friend’s dad’s dancing partner at the club might be able to help. This dancing partner was my mother (Mam), which is how she and Rita met. Life was never the same after this for Rita. Not only did my mother answer her questions with efficiency, blunt directness and cutting logic, but this young girl eventually married me, thus becoming Mrs Rita Bartlett.
Now we were a team of three, Mam and Rita – ardent seekers – and me, developing an interest in esoteric and religious questions but maintaining a safe distance from any type of commitment. Alongside our foray into Spiritualism and after our excursions into the more established churches including the evangelical ones, we spread out, exploring and visiting such beliefs as the Quakers and Unitarians, Rosicrucians, Theosophists, Islam, Sufism, Buddhism, Hinduism and the works of individuals such as Swedenborg, Gurdjieff, Jung and others. All of these were interspersed with our great interest in astrology, Ouija boards – anything of the occult or the mystical we could get our hands on.
It is difficult to imagine the degree of intensity that went into these explorations. Rita used to visit my mother as often as she could, sometimes virtually every evening of the week. Dad would get frustrated, as the incessant talking interfered with his watching TV, so the ladies would voluntarily withdraw to the kitchen. I would join in their conversations, listen to what they were reading at the time and when possible try to find flaws in the beliefs under examination. Rita filled exercise books with passages from scriptures or teachings that particularly caught her eye. Mam would frequently read from the books she was currently studying and often left them lying around the house open at pages she wanted me to read – a cunning way of drawing me into her life’s passion.
One day, Mam drew Rita’s attention to an advert in the South Wales Echo announcing a public meeting on the Bahá’í Faith to be held in Cardiff. Mam, apparently, had come across it some sixteen years earlier in 1948, the year the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Wales was formed, when a similar advert in the South Wales Echo had caught her attention. The name intrigued her and was remembered all those years later. They agreed to go.
The speaker at the meeting was Zebbie Whitehead, a visiting Bahá’í travel teacher, who was a famous actor from America but had moved to Ireland to help the growth of the Faith there. The first Bahá’í Rita and Mam laid eyes on was Charles Dunning, a strange-looking, very small old man who opened the door for them. They did not know Charles was a ‘Knight of Bahá’u’lláh’, one of the heroes of the Faith.
My mother organised firesides in our home. My heart, however, was full of suspicion about this ‘new religion’! The name ‘Bahá’í’ was not so easily assimilated by me – I imagined it was a strange, oriental sect dominated by nomadic Arabs with curved swords. The only thing I was right about was that it was oriental. The Bahá’ís were keen to point out that all the major religions had started in the east and in a humorous way asked me ‘where do you think Christianity came from, Swansea?’ For some strange reason I had become attracted to all the Bahá’ís, some of whom were: David and Barbara Lewis and their daughter Erica (now Erica Leith), Carl and Joyce Card and their daughter Joy (now Joy Sabour), Eric and Beatrice Kent and their daughter Corrine (now Corrine Hainsworth) and Marie Chambers. We also attended firesides in Pontypridd in the home of Sally and Cyrus Rowshan, in Swansea at the homes of Jeremy and Denise Fox and Dee Dewar and in Borth in Nora and Derwent Maude’s home. Derwent was not a Bahá’í then but soon succumbed to the overwhelming knowledge, logic and spirit of international travel teacher Meherangiz Munsiff.
Although my main reason for attending the firesides was to challenge the Bahá’ís, I increasingly found that they would encourage me to speak, especially when others attended with their literal interpretations of sacred scriptures. I was surprised to find that some of what I was saying were actual beliefs of the Baha’is and, in fact, I was doing their teaching work for them. Instead of pushing against a closed door of ‘literalism’ I found that the door was just waiting to be opened with the slightest touch. Bahá’ís, I concluded, do not have an idiotic, unscientific, save/damnation religion. Up until meeting the Bahá’ís I was quite convinced that religion was not only a set of superstitious beliefs held by the masses, but that it had brought incalculable harm to humanity.
Firesides were proving to be exciting and thought-provoking, as were occasional Bahá’í day schools and weekend schools we attended but, for some unfathomable reason, the Bahá’ís were becoming an attraction in themselves. This was an unusual experience for me and Rita as most of them were of an older generation and nearly all were from the professional classes, with their degrees and high qualifications. Some even were Oxford or Cambridge graduates.
Difference of class, or, to be more accurate, educational background, did present a difficulty when I was first mixing with Bahá’í youth, who were mostly ‘A’ level students or at university. A youth weekend school in Chester in 1965, which Rita and I attended as non-Bahá’ís, although full of love and friendship, presented an intimidating challenge as I could not keep up with the clever wit of the Bahá’í youth. Luckily, two Bahá’í youngsters, Farhad and Shahram Firoozmand came to my rescue, befriended me, made me feel comfortable and accompanied me all weekend. May God bless them for the relief this gave me. It was here I met Barney Leith, soon to be my good friend, who, like myself was not a Bahá’í at the time. We both declared that the Bahá’ís were ‘not going to get us.’ Little did we know!
At the age of 20 in 1965, I was in the last year of my apprenticeship, and final City and Guilds engineering exams were looming large. Being a guitarist in a successful rock group, although very enjoyable, had increasingly occupied much of my spare time. Occasionally Rita used to come and watch us perform and remembered the sparkling blue suits we all wore as our group uniform. Regular drinking in clubs, dance halls and cabarets where we performed, had become a way of life. Rita would recall that I was often inebriated in those days or I was recovering from being hung over. Firesides had however maintained their interest for me, and when I could I would attend and take part in vibrant discussions on all manner of topics.
It was evident that I was living in two worlds and being pulled two different ways. On the one hand a materialistic lifestyle had evolved centred on hedonism, and on the other an emerging attraction to the Bahá’í Faith, its followers and a spiritual lifestyle. Tension between the two had to be resolved by a decision which, at that time, I was incapable of making – until, that is, I had a dream that changed everything!
I dreamt that I was a child of about 7 or 8 walking around a huge department store. At the floor-level I was on, many people could be seen interested in the furniture, light fittings, carpets and the like. I caught sight of a small booth in the corner of the room to which I was attracted. In it was a man with kindly eyes, snowy white hair and beard, who was very friendly. He welcomed me and asked whether I would be interested in his showing me something which was important. With a little child’s curiosity, I said, ’yes please’. Then he started manipulating various objects on the counter of the booth and had them floating around at his will. He said: ‘This is what you can do if you believe.’ I was very intrigued indeed. At this point the man asked whether I was interested in seeing more, to which I readily assented. Then he changed from one shape to another and very fast – as fast as the flicker in the old black and white movies. He went through many animal shapes and many human shapes but all the time his eyes stayed the same, very kind and focused on my response. Then he stopped changing, came back to his original form and stated: ‘This is what you can do if you love’, at which point I woke up. I was totally amazed, blown away! As we sometimes do upon being wakened by a significant dream, I started reflecting on it. ‘Why was nobody else interested in this very unusual man?’ I thought. ‘Why were they only interested in trivial things like furniture and carpets instead of being interested in a man who could do all these astounding things? Why was I a little boy in the dream? What did the dream mean, that is, if indeed it had a meaning?’
I shared the dream with Mam and Rita after which they gave some possible meanings. Mam suggested I visit Mary Fuller, an old, knowledgeable Bahá’í who lived on the estate, and put the dream to her. Mary listened with great interest. It meant ‘a lot’ she said. Although not dogmatic about her interpretation, she asked me to consider that perhaps the man in the booth was ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and that the condition of being a child in His presence was necessary, as Christ had said: ‘Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.’ 1She went on, “His ability to make objects float in the air at His will represents an ability for the spiritual side of a human being to control the material aspects of life and not be a slave to them”. This power, she suggested, had been offered to me on condition that my belief in Bahá’u’lláh and His Teachings was to become a real belief and not just a transient phase. It was more difficult for me to interpret the changing of shapes from one to another, although it has become clear, over time that it was an insight into the concept of ‘progressive revelation’. The changing shapes may be the different forms with which the Manifestations of God have clothed themselves throughout the ages, even assuming animal forms when mankind looked more like animals. Because the eyes never changed but were the same in each form, it may mean that although the outward forms of the Manifestations change, the power they bring, the power of the Holy Spirit, is one power and Their Message is one. Over the years I have come to realise that although we humans can never become ‘Manifestations of God’, nonetheless the Manifestations provide the power whereby we can go through many transformations on our eternal journey back to God, while all the time staying ‘ourselves’, so, I became aware that it is possible to transform if I ‘love’.
The dream certainly gave me lots to consider! However, concerns about change loomed very large. Would I continue with my hedonistic lifestyle or give it up and follow the Bahá’í Faith? After a lot of soul searching, I made a decision – I decided not to become a Bahá’í; for me it was too big a step to take in one go. After analysing the circumstances that would lead me away from Bahá’í laws I had become aware of, I realised I had to resign from being a member of the rock group. Performing in clubs and cabarets many nights a week brought me into constant contact with ’drink’, so by not putting myself in a testing predicament I felt it would be better to give up drinking. I continued going out with my friends but less frequently and resolved only to drink non-alcoholic beverages. This, I felt, would be a test for my friends as well as myself. I reasoned that if they objected to my not drinking and did not want my company because of it, then they were not the type of friends to have in the first place and to be rid of them would be a good thing. About three months following this plan I was quite proud of myself. Yes, I had a few relapses, which I wasn’t going to beat myself up about, but, on the whole, my efforts at giving up drinking were successful.
Even though I had had a wonderful dream and passed the test I set myself, I still did not become a member of the Faith. Then at a fireside at our home in Cardiff on 16th March 1966 things changed. Several youngsters from Glyn-Neath, a few others and various Bahá’ís participated in a very warm and inspiring discussion on the Faith, during the course of which I had apparently spoken as if I was a Bahá’í. I was sitting next to Sally Rowshan (later Sally Tempest). She elbowed me in the ribs and said, ‘It’s about time you became a Bahá’í then.’ Taken aback for a moment I replied, ‘Well how do you do that?’ Very quickly a card was brought for me to sign to register myself as a Bahá’í.
My declaration of faith and enrolment in the Bahá’í Community on that night triggered a number of other youths to follow suit, all of which was a source of great joy for the Bahá’ís. In a very mysterious way, now that I had entered the Faith, all my doubts and anxieties just melted away. I was filled with an indescribable sense of ecstasy and although it has matured through tests and trials over the years, the deep sense of joy has remained.
I had decided to try and live as a Bahá’í in every area of my life. However, I still had to get up at around 6am and go to the factory where I was now in the last year of my apprenticeship. Surprisingly, I never felt any misgivings meeting the men of the factory who, until now, had only experienced me as one of them, i.e., a drinking, smoking, swearing, have-a- good-time work mate. Even more surprisingly, I never felt that I would be categorised along with the ’Bible thumpers’ in the factory. Some strange power had encompassed me, as if a force-field/bubble protected me from any negative reactions from the workmen. In fact, I felt so invincible, so confident that I used to speak quite openly to the men about the Faith. Several times during breaks I would announce to five or six workmates at a time that I had something important to tell them and then proceeded to relate to them the Teachings. My assumption that they would only have to hear a little about it to kindle their interest, proved incorrect!
One of the great privileges that came to our home shortly after I declared was a visit from Hand of the Cause of God John Ferraby. Being completely ignorant of the lofty station of the Hands, I decided to ask him a question that was troubling me at the time. Even though I had accepted that all the Messengers of God are equal and that we should not think one is better than another I was having difficulty with Moses being One of Them so I questioned John Ferraby in my usual direct manner, ‘OK then, how can Moses be a Manifestation of God when He was a murderer?’ I did not know it at the time, but John Ferraby had been a Jew prior to becoming a Bahá’í and was also a Cambridge scholar. This was theperson to ask such a question. His answer was illuminating as he drew from Bahá’u’lláh’s answer in the Kitab-i-Iqán. This revolved around the insight that whenever a new Manifestation of God appears it is always accompanied by a significant test for the people. A grave test when Christ appeared, for instance, was that He was conceived without an earthly father, which gave rise to His mother, the essence of purity, being chided as ‘unchaste’ (God forbid). At the heart of this understanding is that God can choose Whoever He wants to represent Him – it is not for mere mortals to question the wisdom of this. Sometime later, Hand of the Cause, William Sears, visited our council estate in Ely, Cardiff. His effect on me was electrifying!
Immediately on reaching the age of 21 my apprenticeship finished. Just prior to this I had secured a position as a junior engineer officer on my first merchant navy ship. My early teenager’s wish to see the world was coming true. Trying to live a Bahá’í life on board ship was very testing but not impossible. As long as my fellow officers, steeped in a life of heavy drinking, realised I was a committed Bahá’í they respected my stance even though as a ‘greenhorn’ on board, I had to take an amount of ‘ribbing’. Being the only Bahá’í for hundreds or thousands of miles around in the middle of the ocean was an exhilarating thought which spurred me on to be firmer in the Covenant. I had become aware that the Covenant of God is a pact between God and humanity, whereby God promises to bless and assist any soul who tries to do His Will. This requires knowing what is the ‘will of God’, which is achieved by turning to Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God sent for this age. Firmness means ‘obedience’ and obedience is built upon ‘love’ for God and His Manifestation. An aspect of being obedient to the will of God meant that I am obliged to turn daily to the resting place of Bahá’u’lláh, known as the point of adoration (the Qiblih), and offer a prayer to God. Although the Qiblih is fixed for the Obligatory Prayer (Bahji in Israel), the ship was not, and I had to make frequent adjustments to make sure I was facing in the right direction. I made good friends on board and together we survived several near-death incidents such as a hurricane, engine room explosion, and a bandit attack in the Philippines.
Travelling the world in the merchant navy (1968)
At the end of 9 months voyaging on my first ship, working continuously without a single day’s holiday, I was entitled to 3 months’ paid leave. It felt like heaven returning home seeing Mam, Dad, the family and friends and attending Bahá’í meetings. One such meeting stands out at this time, one of the largest ever gatherings of Baha’is in the British Isles, some 500 of us, assembled on 30 September 1967 in the Royal Commonwealth Society in London,as a stimulus to engage in activities commemorating the 100thanniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s proclamation to the Kings and Rulers of the earth.
At that meeting, Hand of the Cause of God John Ferraby presented a sacred fragment of the actual handwriting of Bahá’u’lláh. We all filed past it trying to absorb its power, conscious that we were actually viewing the Word of God. We also knew that another Hand of the Cause of God, Mr. Samandari, was to attend this meeting but, unknown to us at the time, he had collapsed from exhaustion at the airport; this was not surprising, as he was over 90 years of age and had served the Faith all his life, living out of a suitcase, constantly travel teaching, inspiring and uplifting the friends all over the world. Those of us gathered at the meeting, however, were eagerly waiting to meet him, as he, as far as could be ascertained, was the only person alive at that time who had actually been in the presence of Bahá’u’lláh, which was when he was a 16-year-old youngster. I remember him arriving on the platform with his son, Mehdi, who would translate for him. He was very small and fragile-looking and evidently drawing down divine power to overcome his infirmities. Then he began to speak, not quietly or even tiredly, but in a strong, powerful voice, which reverberated throughout the hall and deep into our souls. We were experiencing what the power of the Holy Spirit can accomplish when working through a pure and sacrificial channel, even though the physical body is frail and weak. Mr Samandari once told a dear Bahá’í friend jokingly, that he “had made a covenant with every limb and organ of his body, requiring them not to become ill separately or go out of action individually”. He wanted them all to work together, so that he could serve the Cause effectively, and when the end came, all would go together. 2Mr Samandari’s presence uplifted us and reinvigorated our souls, yet this was not the end of the bounties that flowed from that meeting. In turn we were given the inestimable privilege of meeting personally with him, when he shook our hands and anointed them with attar of roses. We all knew the value of this experience. How many millions of Christians throughout the ages would have loved to have met one of the disciples of Christ and shaken hands with him? So wonderful an honour would have remained indelibly printed in their souls. Yet we had shaken hands with a ‘disciple’ who had been in the presence not of Christ, the’ Son of God’, but of Bahá’u’lláh, the ‘Father’. Just under a year later, on 2 September 1968, Mr. Samandari, Hand of the Cause of God, passed away at the age of 94 during the commemoration of the 100thanniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s arrival in Akka.
My leave from the merchant navy was at an end and I did not want to go back. I reasoned that being a lone Bahá’í in the middle of an ocean did not give me enough opportunity to teach and serve the Faith, but the thought troubled me. Luckily, a Bahá’í weekend school had been organised in Coleg y Fro, Rhoose in South Wales, where I met Betty Reed, who at the time was the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the British Isles. I put my concerns about my unease to Betty. She asked me if I had signed a contract with the shipping company. I said I had signed a 2-year contract, and she advised me that the correct Bahá’í thing to do would be to honour it and return, knowing that I was being faithful not just to the shipping company but to God. Bahá’u’lláh had exhorted His followers, among many things, to be a ‘preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge…’3
so reluctantly, I went back.
At Christmas 1967 I joined my next ship in New York. There, news reached me of the passing of Knight of Bahá’u’lláh Charles Dunning, back in Cardiff. His funeral was conducted under the auspices of Cardiff Spiritual Assembly, and he was buried right next to my brother Peter’s grave. My mother and father have since died and are buried in the same grave. After four years, suffering with ill health and from opposition in the Orkney Islands, Charles returned to Cardiff to recover. After a bad fall in 1967 from which he never fully recovered, he passed away quietly in his sleep on Christmas Day, 1967 in Cardiff. Before Rita and I were married and just after Rita met Charles, he proclaimed to her that: ‘You’ll go to Orkney one day, lass.’ This was indeed a prophetic statement as, not long after that, she did pioneer there and helped form its very first Spiritual Assembly.
In 1968, at the end of my time in the merchant navy, I was ‘champing at the bit’ to get home to teach and serve the Faith in a wider field. I had saved quite a lot of money to pioneer somewhere in the world to fulfil a goal set by the Universal House of Justice. The Line Islands (an atoll in Kiribati) were chosen for me and I set about trying to find work there. In the meantime, I ploughed myself into teaching work in the UK and attending uplifting meetings.
One such meeting at that time stands out as very special. It was a weekend for Bahá’í youth in October 1968, termed, ‘A Breakfast with Hand of the Cause of God, Bill Sears’, who had come to inspire us with a vision of teaching the Faith and memories of the Guardian, whom he had met and deeply loved. There were about forty youth in attendance coming from many parts of the UK. The privilege of being in Bill’s company for a whole weekend was life changing. My soul was set on fire by his wise, humorous, loving and enthralling eloquence. Those who have never had such a spiritual encounter would argue that listening to someone giving a talk for more than twenty or thirty minutes would be the most that people could take before they became bored or easily distracted. Not so when listening to Bill Sears. He spoke for hours over the weekend, filling our souls with a joyous rapture I had never experienced. It was as if the human spirit is made for such an ecstasy. In one moment, we were taken to the heights of spiritual humour that laughter could not sate, and at the next moment our souls were so deeply moved by a touching story that tears ran profusely down our faces. All the time we were challenged, not in an aggressive, manipulative way, but invitingly, lovingly, to arise and play our part as warriors in the ‘army of light’.
Another point I remembered from this meeting with Bill Sears was when someone asked, ‘Why are all the introductory books on the Bahá’í Faith mostly academic in style; why don’t we have books, easy to read and of interest, for the mass of ordinary people?’ Bill Sears’ reply was very clear and direct, the gist of which was: ‘This is a very important issue. Why don’t you write one?’ For nearly 20 years this reply kept going over and over in my mind. As a seed that grows, the idea came to fruition in my life when I tried to write such a book. It was published in 1988 under the title Finding the Real You.
Still in 1968, a handful of us Bahá’í youth in South Wales came together to teach the Faith. Mina Rowshan (later Beint) had recently pioneered to South Wales from Shiraz and joined her brother Cyrus in Pontypridd. Mina loved to chant Bahá’í prayers, through which I discovered her beautiful singing voice. It did not take us long to get together, me on the guitar and Mina singing, to work out some songs through which we could help teach the Faith. Later we grew into a musical group of eight, including Cyrous Rowshan, Denver Morgan, Kathryn Delpak, Margaret Metcalf, Isobel Walters (later Perry) and Roy Bown. We travelled extensively over a few years in Wales and England, playing together to help other communities in their teaching work, especially in those towns and cities selected to establish Local Spiritual Assemblies.
A further significant event that I attended in November 1968, shortly after leaving the merchant navy, was another school in Coleg-y-Fro, Rhoose. There was a wonderful spirit at this school where about 50 of us gathered, adults, youth and children. Two members of our National Spiritual Assembly, Betty Reed and Adib Taherzadeh, attended along with Pat Green, soon to be elected to the NSA, and Mrs Gloria Faizi, wife of Hand of the Cause of God Mr. A.Q. Faizi. Their talks and sessions were so inspiring, urging us all to teach the Faith to everyone, travel to other areas to do so and pioneer, if we could, to found new Bahá’í communities. In fact, much of the weekend was taken up with how we could meet the goal of establishing several more Local Spiritual Assemblies in Wales. LSAs current at the time were Cardiff Assembly (formed in 1948), Pontypridd (1961) and Swansea (1967). The remaining goal towns to achieve assembly status in Wales within the Nine-Year Plan were Aberystwyth, Llanelli, Newport and Bangor.
The school was significant to me in more ways than one. Indeed, meeting with the friends, hearing wonderful talks and singing our heads off left me with an increasing feeling that I was ‘home’, this was my environment in which the potential God had planted in my soul could grow. I wanted others to experience the love, unity and devotion to Bahá’u’lláh that permeated every part of that venue, I wanted to serve the Cause of God more. When I first became a Bahá’í I became conscious that to undertake an act of service for the Faith once a week was a good thing. Then I became aware that it was possible to serve the Faith once a day and felt happy trying to do that. It dawned on me that I could serve the Faith every minute of the day, particularly if I were in a pioneer post. Of course, I was still trying to pioneer overseas to the Line Islands in the Pacific, but that was just waiting to serve in this way. Then it dawned on me that I could, while still trying get a job in the Line Islands, pioneer into Newport.
It was not a huge sacrifice to make, as family and friends were still very close to Newport. Within a week of that school in 1968 I had found a place to live in Newport and secured a job. Bahá’u’lláh blessed my move shortly after with my new workmate and friend, Roy Bown, declaring his belief in Bahá’u’lláh.
At this time, I became aware that there were only a small number of Bahá’í youth scattered throughout Wales. My experience of weekend schools and special youth meetings had inspired me with a vision of how potent these events could be for encouraging firmness in the Covenant and inspiring us to proclaim and teach the Faith. I therefore conceived a plan of contacting all the Bahá’í youth in Wales for a weekend together to study some of the writings, pray, teach and socialise. The meeting was held in the home of Nora and Derwent Maude in Aberystwyth. About a dozen of us young Bahá’ís from different parts of Wales, North and South turned up. We realised that the meeting, held over the weekend of 7th, 8thDecember 1968, was the first all-Wales gathering of Bahá’í youth.
Looming on the horizon, a huge plan to proclaim the Faith in Newport had been suggested by the Welsh Teaching Committee. April 21st, 1970 was the deadline set to achieve the very first Spiritual Assembly of Newport. Early in 1969, Syrous and Mahnaz Firoozmand with their little daughter, Minou, pioneered into Newport and a little later Mina Rowshan also pioneered in. We could also rely on the support of other believers, from Cardiff, Pontypridd, Caerphilly and further afield, to work together on a plan which we called Bahá’í Week. A date was set in September 1969 for a week of intensive every-day and evening activities.
Learning to organise such an extensive period of interrelated activities was new to me. Many things had to be organised well ahead of time if the week was to be a success, and we few Bahá’ís in Newport threw ourselves into the work. The list of things to be done just seemed to be endless and with no experience of such a range of organisation I collapsed, exhausted, with abdominal pains and ended up in hospital with renal colic, just prior to the week starting. Although feeling I had let everyone down by not being part of the week of intensive activities, my stay in hospital was necessary as I had developed kidney stones. Still, even with no sign of the stones moving, my spirits were high, and I was honoured with a visit from Betty Reed, who had come to support Bahá’í Week. Other friends also visited, further lifting my spirits, and soon I was out of hospital but with no resolution of the renal colic.
Prior to Bahá’í Week, my friend, Roy Bown met a nursing student friend of Mina Rowshan’s, Margaret Ruae, who had become a Bahá’í and expanded the number of singers in our musical group. Not only were Roy and Margaret attracted to the Faith but also to each other. Margaret (preferring to be called Frances) and Roy were married in the October of 1969 and theirs was the very first Bahá’í wedding to take place in Newport.
Unfortunately my bouts of renal colic persisted. The pain was unbearable and necessitated my giving up, even though temporarily, my pioneer post in Newport, to be cared for by my parents back home in Cardiff. I was now out of work, absent from my pioneer post and living with my parents again. Although still recovering from the drastic effect of the colic, I was restless and wanted to use my gradually improving energy in some constructive way so I volunteered to help in a ‘half-way’ house in Cardiff, where recovering drug addicts and alcoholics could prepare for a new life after their downfall, which had landed many of them in prison. Working there was taking more of my time and attention. My health had improved a lot, I was free of the kidney stones, and thoughts of returning to my pioneer post in Newport weighed heavily on me, yet, I was conflicted. At the time it seemed I was doing important work with recovering addicts and alcoholics which was appreciated by the senior management of the ‘house’, who offered me the post of deputy warden. I reasoned that unless humanity were to walk the path of the spiritualisation of their lives, led by Bahá’u’lláh, there would be no immediate or lasting remedy for the ills that afflict it; in fact, without His guidance, we could expect an increase in the maladies experienced, which would include an increase in drug addiction and alcoholism. I therefore declined the job offer, as it was obvious to me that my return to Newport as a pioneer would be the best possible use of my time and energy.
It also became obvious that my plan to pioneer to the Line Islands was untenable. Job opportunities there were virtually non-existent, whereas pioneer work in Newport now occupied all my attention. An incoming flow of travel teachers which included my mother, Doreen Bartlett, and Joyce Card, supplemented the work of our small group. From further afield, Linda Marshall, a vivacious American TV star, began her tour of several goal towns of Wales at the beginning of February 1970 and stirred up very lively activity. Linda was a ‘force of nature’, a dynamic soul on fire with the Faith, who warmed the hearts of all who met her.
Just two days before Ridvan,1970, Newport had eight adult Bahá’ís and four youth. We realised it would take a miracle of Bahá’u’lláh to form the Local Assembly in time. What could we do? Where could we find just one more soul to accept Bahá’u’lláh and declare their Faith in Him? But everything was in hand, in God’s hand. Syrous Firoozmand and I had been visiting Marion Dunn, who was interested in the Faith. After another visit to Marion to chat with her about the ‘deadline’, we were stunned to find that she was on holiday. A note was left under her door to urgently phone me. She returned from her vacation the next day and phoned me at work. I put it to her that all we needed was just one more adult soul who believed in Bahá’u’lláh to the extent that they considered themself a Bahá’í, and then we could form the very first Spiritual Assembly of Newport. I added that the deadline was up in a few hours and, as yet, we had not found such a soul. Her reply nearly knocked me off my feet as she rather quietly asked ‘would I do?’ Well, I was moved to the core. Not only did we form the first Spiritual Assembly of Newport that evening but through the bounty of Bahá’u’lláh, we soon formed its first youth committee, as well as having enough children to start its first children’s class.
Now I need to take you back to early 1969 when I was appointed to the UK National Youth Committee (NYC).
I loved the meetings of the NYC, which taught me so much about consultation in a spirit of love and fellowship. We small band of youthful believers felt we could take on the world and conquer it for Bahá’u’lláh, and so all our plans were infused with a divine longing to do so. Although earnest and focused in our endeavours, there was also much laughter, much joy and lightheartedness. We felt, in the words of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘ablaze as the fire…and set aglow, through the quickening energies of the love of God…’ and we had a glimpse of what it meant to be ‘…light and untrammelled as the breeze, that ye may obtain admittance into the precincts of My court, My inviolable Sanctuary.’ 4 This entry into another world by the youth in the UK would eventually bring victories for the Cause that astounded all of us serving on the Committee. This was the time that nearly 1,000 souls entered the Faith in one year in the UK, mainly through the audacity of the youth on direct teaching projects in such places as Peterborough, St. Austell and Oakham.
Part of the NYC’s terms of reference was to organise various events for the youth of the UK to promote our solidarity, deepen our knowledge and love for the Faith and inspire us to teach the Faith. One such youth conference we organised stood out as different from the rest for me. It was that of the Spring Youth Conference in Norwich in 1970. It was not particularly better than other youth conference, but something happened there that changed my life once more.
The Youth Conference was well attended and was greatly enjoyed by all, which was a relief for me as a member of the NYC that had planned the Conference. Great, uplifting talks to arise and serve the Cause were given, mostly by Bahá’í youngsters. The Bahá’í youth also provided very enjoyable, sometimes hilarious entertainment as well. I must admit that I was somewhat distracted by the very beautiful Persian girls who seemed to be in abundance at the event. I made some advances to a few of these girls and felt very awkward indeed. In the world outside the Bahá’í community a certain approach had come to be recognised as normal for boys trying to date a member of the opposite sex – it was called ‘chatting up’. Many times, this would happen in a dance club or a public bar before which a young man would have had a few alcoholic drinks to summon up enough courage to engage in ‘chatting up’ a girl. Even if the result was unsuccessful and one was told to ‘get lost’, the inebriated state was enough to dull any sense of rejection. So, without any alcoholic support, I ‘chased’ a few Persian girls, at least with some smaller idea of ‘chatting them up’, and found, to my chagrin, that they were ‘fast runners’!
Back in my bedsit on Stow Hill in Newport after the conference, I retired for the night with thoughts of ‘what is love, will I ever experience it?’ and the like. At the age of 24, I was also thinking more about getting married soon, but I resolved with great determination that never again would I chase another girl. I declared to myself that God had created me not to chase girls but to teach His Cause, and that it would be demeaning for me to engage in such worldly activities. In fact, I felt quite ashamed about doing it, as being a member of the National Youth Committee I needed to be an example of uprightness to other youth; I concluded this meditation by thinking that if any girl were interested in me, sheshould do the chasing because I certainly would not!
After these kinds of thoughts followed by prayers, I fell asleep and dreamt of something that changed my life forever. In my dream ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was speaking to me and asking me whether I would like to see Rita as she could become – a developed, holy soul, in fact for me to see her high, spiritual nature. I was intrigued and answered ‘yes’. Then suddenly Rita appeared in front of me. I was astounded at her radiant beauty, so beautiful that I was left with the impression that this beauty is unique; I had certainly not come across it anywhere! I was stunned, so attracted to Rita, mesmerised by her virtuous qualities that she radiated from the depths of her being. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá interjected while I was caught up in this vision to ask me whether I would like to see Rita’s lower nature. Being curious I answered in the affirmative, whereupon Rita appeared again, but this time not as such a developed soul. However, the vision of her high, spiritual nature overwhelmed any negative feelings I had about her low nature. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá let me know He wanted us to marry. I awoke very early, tingling all over, knowing that something very special had happened which I could not ignore.
Reflecting on the dream I recalled the understanding in the Writings that we all have a dual nature, a nature that can be full of light and a nature that can be darkness itself. The dream offered me an insight into Rita’s potential, should she choose to make efforts to develop, through the grace of God, her ‘light’ nature, or, sink into her ‘dark’ nature. Although the dream focused on Rita, these understandings of human reality are applicable to every human being. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states: ‘Every child is potentially the light of the world – and at the same time its darkness…’ 5 I do believe, however, that Bahá’u’lláh had blessed me with this dream to make me aware that Rita, as well as myself by implication, had a life-time of choices ahead of us and that the glorious end condition was not at this stage ‘set in stone’. Over and above this realisation, the greatest impression the dream left me is of Rita’s uniquely beautiful, brilliantly radiant soul. This indelible impression has stayed with me even to this day, nearly five decades later. And, of course, I could not dismiss the directive of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to marry her. On the earliest possible occasion, I determined to let Rita know that my feelings for her had suddenly passed mere friendship and had flowered into a great attraction. Little did I know what was coming!
Fortunately, on the evening following the dream, I had organised a fireside to which several people were invited, a weekly event supported regularly by Rita at the time, who travelled from Cardiff to attend. Also, Mina Rowshan supported my firesides and was the first to arrive, quite early. I told Mina about the dream, which seemed to make a huge impression on her as she expressed delightful surprise at its every stage. Then Rita came early, as she usually did, when I would warmly and enthusiastically welcome her and offer a cup of tea and a sandwich. But this time my welcome was very low key indeed, you could say dour, with no offer of tea or sandwich. At this point Mina, knowing that I was going to tell Rita the dream, suddenly made an excuse to leave – I think she had to buy some milk! My serious demeanour worried Rita who asked if someone had died. ‘No’ I was quick to reply, followed by, ‘but I have something important to say to you.’ The suspense of impending ‘doom’ began to disturb Rita, so quickly, and courageously I may add, I told her, ‘I’m getting rather fond of you!’ Well, I had not thought beyond stating that, so what came next was a real shock to me. Rita, gasping for air and clasping her stomach, exclaimed, ‘O my God, I feel sick!’ I felt absolutely deflated, all my self-esteem just seemed to melt into the floor and disappear out of the room. I had, in old fashioned words ‘plighted my troth’ and the net result was to cause nausea. Although I didn’t know what to expect from my declaration of fondness, it certainly was not this. We both calmed down and began to talk about the implications of my declaration. We abandoned the fireside for a walk to carry on talking, oblivious of who would turn up (apologies to any who did) and made our way to the Handpost Pub just up the road from my bedsit. With fruit juice drinks we continued talking, during which I told Rita my dream of her. Then she asked me if I knew why she felt sick after my declaration. At this stage of my spiritual development, the feminine side of my nature had seriously been ignored (not that much has improved since then) so I owned up to total ignorance. Rita then explained that my declaration had put our seven years of close friendship, three as non-Bahá’ís and four as serving Bahá’ís, in serious jeopardy. It became clear to her immediately that so much depended on her response to my declaration so suddenly thrust upon her. At the heart of it, she did not want to lose our friendship through a mixed up, unclear response. That’s why we spent hours talking things over; looking back you could say we consulted our way to a closer relationship.
Then things really went into overdrive. Out of the blue Rita stated that if we are now more than friends and about to start a romantic relationship then we should get married soon. It was my turn now to be shocked and thrown into confusion. I had not intended going this far so quickly. My declaration of fondness was, I thought, measured, giving time for a deeper relationship to develop. Of course, I had in mind the directive of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to marry Rita, but I thought this could wait until after seeing if things could grow. But Rita was very confident about marrying and before long we were planning when this could be.
Rita’s instantaneous response to my ‘overture’ was admittedly very disarming. I did not know, however, that she had kept a secret ever since the first time of our meeting seven years earlier, which was that she felt that one day we would marry. As for me I was quite oblivious of her feelings, and although we were very close friends indeed, I remained well and truly oblivious. It could be true to say that for the first seven years of knowing Rita I had no interest in her other than friendship, which may have been the reason why I was unable to pick up any signs of how she felt about me, so quite sensibly, she gave up hope of developing a romantic relationship and moved on.
Another revelation surfaced after our engagement began, which led to Rita being so instantly responsive to my declaration of fondness. She explained that a previous relationship of hers with a young man had flowered to the point of asking the consent of parents to marry. Devastated by the fact that one of the parents had refused consent, they decided to end their relationship, remaining amicable friends, as it was felt that that parent would remain unyielding.
With no hope of marrying the young man, Rita’s life was thrown into utter confusion, her plans shattered into pieces. Thinking she had done something wrong but not knowing what, coupled with feelings of inadequacy, sorrow and grief consumed her. The only recourse open to her was ardent and heart-felt prayer. Remembering the stories of Hand of the Cause of God John Robarts about the power inherent in reciting five hundred times the ‘remover of difficulty’ prayer when in great distress or when overwhelmed by problems, she decided on that course of action. Sometime later she told me she had a dream not long after her ardent praying, that we were both travelling on a train in a very luxuriously decorated red carriage. Affectionately we had our arms around each other, both of us feeling warm and secure in each other’s embrace. Not long after the dream I had made my declaration of fondness. Now Rita and I were not only the best of friends but also romantically involved.
We quite quickly set a date for our marriage; it would be 19th September 1970. Then Rita dropped a bombshell on me when she told me after just a few wonderful weeks together as an engaged couple, she would be pioneering to Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides. Rita had promised to pioneer there to help form the first Spiritual Assembly in the Western Isles. She arrived in Stornoway on the 19th of April and became a member of that Assembly when it formed at Ridvan, 21st April 1970. I had very mixed feelings about her going to Stornoway just as our relationship had started, and besides there was much to plan for our wedding and honeymoon. On the other hand, however, I was so proud of her sacrificing our time together to make her contribution to the Outer Hebrides’ first Spiritual Assembly.
Rita returned some months later when we were completing plans for our wedding day. Since starting our lifelong journey together as an engaged couple, two more local assemblies, Stornoway and Newport, to which we had made a contribution, had formed. We were so thankful to God that we had been honoured to make such a contribution. Now we had more time for each other, frequently enjoying the walks we had together in the evenings, but one evening an experience stands out as not only memorable but astounding. We were walking hand in hand towards Rita’s home in Ely, Cardiff, down a long avenue. It was a balmy cloudless summer evening exposing the millions of stars above us. From nowhere the thought came to me, ‘I wonder how many couples in love had walked together throughout the ages of history along this same path?’ Then, mysteriously, everything changed around me.
Looking to my left I saw scores of couples, all bathed in a powerful silver light, walking along the same road. Every couple emitted a power of love, which I felt so deeply that it was close to overwhelming me. I struggled to breathe as the power of love was so great, tears just flowed down my face and I tried to reassure Rita, incoherently, that everything was ‘alright’. I was fully aware that she was frightened by what was happening and although I continued to try and comfort her, I just wanted to stay in that company and power of ‘love’. To some degree the experience was in my control. Do I carry on experiencing the force of love not of this world or do I break from it to relieve Rita’s state of anxiety?’ After a few minutes I decided that it would not be fair to Rita to carry on with the experience, nor, quite frankly, would it be good for my physical health. I have no doubt that, by the grace of God, I was being given an insight into, and was one with, the spiritual world of God, where souls who have passed on now live and have their being. Also, it was obvious to me that the vibration of that dimension is so great that the physical body could not survive within its domain and the heart would shatter. Although the start of the experience came out of nowhere, nonetheless I could control it to bring it to an end, so I did, and near to collapse I kept reciting to Rita, as I held on to her. ‘I saw it, I saw it,’ that is, I had seen holy and spiritually progressed couples in the next world and felt the power of an enveloping love that is just waiting for us when we take our leave of this mortal world of dust.
Rita kept asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” She may even have thought I had developed some type of mental instability which, let’s face it, does not inspire confidence in a future together. I tried to explain what had happened to comfort her, but garbled words, mixed with strong emotions and tears just succeeded in causing greater confusion as we ‘stumbled’ along together. Then another strange and mysterious thing started. I remember looking up at the huge array of stars when, this time, I did not see anything but heard tremendously beautiful and soul-stirring music. It was as if the universe were alive with it, and again I felt one with it. I could hear singing on all sides, the most joyful singing one could ever imagine, and the refrain I heard, over and over again was ‘Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh!’ The whole experience was ineffable. Once again, I was immersed in another world of tremendous love and ecstasy. My whole body shook and tears once more streamed down my face. I just wanted to stay in that moment forever, but again I was aware that Rita was troubled. I couldn’t explain the intensity of my emotions, but just kept repeating, ‘I heard it, I heard it – the music of the universe!’ Gradually I pulled away from that world of ecstasy and tried to console Rita, insisting I was OK. In fact, I was far from OK, my whole being had been immersed in another realm that is as real as anything the senses experience. In reality it is more real, it is a reality destined for all human beings as the dense veils of this transient physical world are shed.
Rita recovered; she was a tremendous comfort to me. I apologised for scaring her and explained more rationally what had happened but how could I truly capture the ineffability of that experience in mere words? She could have reacted negatively to my experience, but she did not, and not for one moment, then or since, has she ever doubted that the experience was real. Some years later we discovered a statement in the Bible that for us confirmed the experience. We read: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.’ 6 I heard the ‘heavens declare the glory of God’, for Bahá’u’lláh means ‘the Glory of God’! Why God had favoured me with such a beautifully powerful experience of the spirit, I don’t know. What I do know is that I had done nothing to deserve such a gift. I surmised that He had bestowed it as an act of grace, for I certainly didn’t feel worthy to receive it, being aware that faults and shortcomings riddled my character. That experience is as alive and meaningful for me today, some 50 years later, as when it happened.
Our wedding day arrived. Because the civil laws of Wales and England do not, as yet, recognise a marriage according to Bahá’í law, we had to have a civil wedding in a registry office prior to the Bahá’í one. Rita had a way of showing her disapproval by wearing black at the civil ceremony! The Bahá’í wedding took place in the Library Room of the Temple of Peace and Health (The Centre for International Affairs) in Cathay’s Park, Cardiff. Kevin and Mina Beint were married there in August 1970, Rita and I a month later. The very first Baha’ís to be married at this venue were Joy and Fuad Sabour about a year earlier. That summer of 1970 also saw the Bahá’í wedding of our good friends Barney and Erica Leith.
Civil wedding – 1970
Bahá’í wedding – 1970
Before we were married, Rita and I discussed where we could go for our honeymoon. I remembered a beautiful place in Norway I visited when in the merchant navy and made a unilateral decision that if I got married, that was where my wife and I would spend our honeymoon. I spoke to Rita about it as a possible place for our honeymoon and she was quite willing to go along with the suggestion. However, our meager combined finances meant we had to set our sights on something much cheaper, so we decided on a caravan in Fontygary by the sea, near Rhoose, just about 8 miles from when we both lived in Cardiff. The weekend following our wedding day was also a special time. We had learnt that a weekend school had been organised in Coleg Y Fro, Rhoose, just a walk away from our caravan. We decided to visit the school and enjoy the company of the friends and the programme. Because we had been absorbed in planning our wedding and honeymoon, we had not realised that some very special guests would be amongst the friends at the school. Great indeed was our delighted surprise to find Hand of the Cause of God John Robarts and his wife Audrey in attendance. With all our heart we loved these blessed souls who further inflamed in us a love for the Cause and a special love for the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, whom they had met. We listened entranced by their stories of teaching the Faith. ‘Plan your work and work your plan,’ John would encourage, but this was no dry, lifeless encouragement. Here were souls who had consecrated their lives to spreading the life-giving Message of Bahá’u’lláh. Deep in their souls they knew that no reform of the present lamentably defective systems, whether political, religious, economic or educational would suffice to remove the deep-seated prejudices, the rampant materialism or the Godless theories of human salvation now shrouding the souls of the masses. Only the Divine Physician could bring such healing to a sore-tried and disillusioned humanity. But, interestingly, John and Audrey did not focus their talks upon the wonderful system of governance outlined in the Bahá’í Writings, but on subjects such as the power of prayer and overcoming tests and trials in one’s personal life, especially when trying to be a teacher of the Faith. ‘My calamity is My providence…’ 7declares Bahá’u’lláh, for if we could have afforded a honeymoon in Norway, we would not have spent that time with John and Audrey Robarts, two heavenly angels.
Much has happened in our lives, in the global Bahá’í community and in the world since our marriage in 1970; three wonderful children, Fleur, Leila and Kalim, and another child in the next world because of a miscarriage. Also, we have two sons-in-law, Ramin Missaghian and Bill Jenkins, dedicated servants of Bahá’u’lláh, and three grandchildren, Leo, Zia and Serene, blossoming plants in the Garden of Bahá’u’lláh. Tests and trials have been many as we have tried to remain faithful in the Covenant, but laughter and joy dominated as we set out on life together trying to serve the noble, soul-developing, world-changing Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, which we may be able to write about one day – who knows?
Travel teaching in Orkney with Bahá’í friends (1973) Top (L to R): Viv (with guitar), Rita holding Fleur, Ruth Smith (then a student), Terry Pickles (stayed in Orkney as a pioneer for some time); Bottom (L to R): Rhona (later Rhona Ross), Jackie Brown (student nurse from Philippines at the time, later married David Grant)
We called ourselves the ‘Keys’ while travel-teaching in Orkney, and did quite a few musical performances. A fairly big article in the local newspaper reported that we were Bahá’ís, and covered some of the Teachings.
Rita and Viv on pilgrimage in 2005
Readers might also find it helpful to read Rita Bartlett’s story in conjunction with Viv’s story since any gaps apparent in Viv’s story are adequately covered in Rita’s.
Abercarn, S Wales, July 2019
- Bible, Mark 10:15.
- Bahá’í Journal, October/November 1968, p6.
- Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 285.
- Ibid, p. 322.
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 130.
- King James Bible, Psalms 19:1.
- Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words, No 51.