Jo in Greece - 2004

A Spiritual Journey

I was raised in a Christian family, the youngest of eight.  My parents had met and married in India where they were serving as missionaries, father an ordained clergyman and medical doctor, mother training Indian women to be teachers. My family later settled in the  small cathedral city of Ely in the fen country, and father was the local GP.  All of us attended the local parish church, and prayers were said each day before eating breakfast.  We seemed to be a conventional well-ordered family. But this bunch of youngsters growing up were developing a lot of independent perspectives. The world beyond the sleepy town was agog with changing values.  Suddenly there was war with Germany.

I studied art in blacked-out Oxford, and stopped going to church.  Two sisters became communists, and a brother was killed in the Burma campaign.  I got my first art teaching job and followed my sisters into politics.  I attended a communist Summer School and met a young Welsh coal miner.  A few months later we were married.  We both thought that the brotherhood of man would come about through the application of Marxism, and worked with enthusiasm – we were idealists, and wanted a new world order.

In 1956 Russian tanks rolled into Hungary, and suppressed a new wave of openness and flexibility.  We were deeply disappointed, and left politics alone after that, and concentrated on raising our four children. Our marriage was a truly happy one, Tom working in low paid labouring jobs as he had left school at 14.  I became the breadwinner for some years while he went to college on a mature state scholarship when he was 36.  He then worked as a lecturer in adult further education.  We were not believers, and had little contact with any religious people,  apart from one of my sisters who had converted to the Roman Catholic church. We had some deep and searching conversations about this.  I had begun to read books which described some spiritual experiences which fascinated and attracted me.  I would have also become a Catholic too, but felt that this would separate me from my husband, and so put it aside.

Suddenly, with no previous ill health, my husband died of a heart attack aged 44.  I was 42 and my daughter was 2, twin sons of 12, the eldest 14.

This vast and life changing event brought some new and overwhelming experience of a spiritual dimension only dimly felt before.  I was aware that my husband’s spirit was alive and well; my grief was vast, but this awareness remained like a steady light in the dark places of my soul.

I felt the need to explore and investigate this new dimension.  I renewed my interest in the Catholic religion, and joined it.   I learned many wonderful things at this time, and to some extend was helped through my vale of tears.  More important still, I learned to meditate and this deepened my awareness of soul and spirituality.  I felt the stress of my life dissolving, a new sense of direction – some inner peace as I emerged from a time of chaos and confusion.

Gradually though, I was aware that some Catholic teachings were for me incompatible with my wider sense of connection.  Other faiths were ‘outsiders’ – condemned.  I had friends who were Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and found them to be deeply spiritual and god-loving.

I felt uneasy.  I moved to a new city at this time, with my daughter now aged 10.  I took her to a Christmas party held at the Quaker meeting house in Canterbury, in January 1973.   Between party games I took a break and noticed in the foyer a young man sitting beside a table spread with books.  I was told they were about the Bahá’í Faith.  He told me about the unity of mankind, of religion;  the oneness of God, and ourselves.

All he said exactly confirmed what I was experiencing within myself.  I was invited to meet his family and talk some more. We had some wonderful, meaningful conversations, and three weeks later I signed a card to say that I accepted Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God for this day and age.  I am still in touch with my spiritual parents, Tony and Annie McCarthy.  This was in February 1973.   I soon met the Weinberg family  –  Rob was just four years old and recited prayers beautifully.

I knew nothing yet about laws or administration, but I did understand the concept of unity as the central theme and purpose for all of us to create a better world.  I felt I had come home.

I gradually discovered how Bahá’ís live their lives, and the way communities are built and grow.

My own children, raised without a faith perspective, accepted my choice and have always supported and respected my beliefs. Two of my three sisters had more difficulty with this – they were Catholics.  The eldest, who was an atheist/agnostic, strongly approved and supported me and often gave me opportunities to talk about my faith to her friends.  Many years later, the Catholic sisters also accepted and approved my choice of religion.

My journey had just begun.  I went to the International Bahá’í Conference in Paris in (1976) and learned there about pioneering. This inspiring event eventually led me to take a pioneer post in Greece.  When I retired from my work as a social worker I travelled around the world for 10 months to teach the faith, visiting many countries, serving in the newly built House of Worship in India, and especially visiting isolated Bahá’í families who rarely had a travel teacher come their way. My teaching tool was my little Welsh Celtic harp, with songs to share.  I played and sang in trains, in airports, everywhere where people gathered and then I could talk about the faith with them.  On my return, I wrote to the International Teaching Centre in Haifa and asked them where in the world I should go as a pioneer.  I had in mind to serve for a year or two in another country.  Greece was their suggestion and I arrived there with one suitcase on 21st April 1991, along with Ursula Muhlschlegel, and we shared a flat in Athens for the first 3 ½  years.  I continued to serve there for the next 20 years!

In 1992 I had the bounty of going to the Bahá’í World Centre for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the passing of Baha’u’llah , and later that year to have the blissful experience of singing in the choir for the Holy Year World Congress in New York  Then there were wonderful Summer Schools in Greece to attend each year, always involved with the children’s programme;  a nine day pilgrimage in 1997 and a 3 day visit in 2000.  And of course the day to day activities of a Bahá’í pioneer in this busy capital of Greece as we work to fulfil the amazing plans of the Universal House of Justice.

I am still learning this “divine art of living” !

I will return to my homeland in Wales as I approach my 90th year, and hope to serve there too, in what time remains, my spirit gladdened and refreshed by this wonderful Faith.