Sometimes the journey towards the recognition of the Manifestation of God for the age in which one lives, begins a long time before one has had any outward contact with the Faith which He brings into being. This was so in my own case for, despite having a largely atheist family on both my parents’ sides, with the exception of my maternal grandfather who was a devout believer (although he would not go to church because he said they did not preach the Gospel), I took myself off to Sunday school at the age of four. I continued attending church throughout my childhood, three times on Sunday, and bible classes on Tuesday evenings at the vicarage, until I was about thirteen; and how I loved it! Fortunately my parents, although unbelievers, never made any comment about my religious zeal.
During this time my grandfather was my guide and mentor, teaching me about the other Manifestations of God such as the Buddha (he had had little education, having left school at twelve to work beside his father at the watchmaker’s bench). He also taught me that men and women should have equal status and that, if anything, women should come first because they are the first teachers of the human race. He told me that he had been a seeker all his life but that sadly he had never found what he was looking for.
He eventually became rather senile and I turned to my R.I. school mistress, whom I greatly admired, for enlightenment on the many things that puzzled me. Alas, all she did was to give me answers that made no sense at all and I became so confused that I decided the whole thing was nonsense. I felt betrayed and angry, as if I had been the victim of a huge confidence trick.
Several years of a sort of militant atheism followed during which time I joined the youth group of a left wing political organisation. I eventually discarded this but still cherished the hope that I would find some way of helping to build a new world.
The war dragged on and I often found myself in hot water for declaring that I was prepared to hate Nazism, but German people – never! One night I lay in my bed listening to the Allied bombers circling around as they gathered up more and more planes before setting off for Germany. The thought of one thousand bombers intent on smashing a German city to smithereens filled me with horror. I pictured the old, the sick, the young children with their terrified mothers, and I could not bear it. I sent up an urgent prayer, `Please God do something. I don’t know what to ask for because this awful war will go on and on to the bitter end, but please, please save who you can.’ It was some time the next day before I realised I had been praying to a God in whom I said I did not believe.
All the old feelings came rushing back and I began to develop a deep spiritual hunger. The church services I heard on the radio seemed empty and to my deep disappointment said little to me, although I continued to listen eagerly to see if I could find something to which I could relate. Nothing. I investigated other Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, but they left me completely cold. I was filled with this ardent longing to find my way back and so fill this empty void in my life, so I searched and searched.
Then one night I dreamed I was standing in a small, cosy living room, seemingly lit by oil lamps. In front of me was a table, to the right of which an elderly woman was tidying up after a meal. Her grey hair was combed back into a bun and her dress and apron were floor length. To the left of the table sat an elderly man, whom I assumed was the lady’s husband. He was in his shirt-sleeves and was reading a newspaper. Behind them was an old-fashioned fireplace with a high mantelpiece and a cheery fire burning in the grate. I stood watching this quiet domestic scene for a few moments and then the lady turned her head to me and said: `The one you are waiting for won’t be long’. I was puzzled. I was not aware that I was waiting for anyone. She turned back to me moments later and nodding her head in the direction of the corner of the room behind me, and to my right, said: “He is there now”.
I turned, and standing in the shadowy corner of the room was a young man. He was of middle eastern appearance, with possibly a beard, and was wearing a long, loose garment. Before I could get a more detailed impression his eyes grabbed mine like a magnet. He looked deeply into me and then said, “The time has come for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth”. His eyes seemed to come closer and closer to mine until I was looking through them across a desolate landscape. Everything was covered with ice and snow, and was lit by a pale, watery sun. As I stood wondering where on earth I was, I suddenly awoke. I turned this experience over and over in my mind for days, wondering whether it was just a figment of my fevered imagination or something much more significant. In the end I had to face the fact that this was no ordinary dream, but having come to this conclusion, what then? If the time had indeed come for the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, did his words mean that I had to do something about it? Of course they did, I decided. I was momentarily filled with a kind of euphoria, only to come to earth with a bump when I asked myself: “What shall I do?”
I began my feverish search again but quickly ran out of things to investigate. Where should I go from here, I asked myself? After much thought I suddenly decided I must study the Gospels. Somehow I felt sure that within these pages I would find a clue. I had not gone very far when the thought just flashed into my mind: `This book is finished’ somewhere there is a new one’. Strangely enough I did not question this thought but immediately set out to try and find the new book. Euphoria was quickly dashed again as I realised I was no nearer discovering where to look.
By this time I was getting really desperate. I felt as if I was being urged and chivvied along but with nothing pointing me in the right direction. At that time the local paper had been full of letters to the editor from anxious correspondents who were worried that the cold war would ‘hot up’ and start all-out hostilities with Russia. I had written to the paper myself because I too was worried. Then suddenly the solution came to me. I must write to the paper, voicing some of my thoughts. That should find someone who could help, I told myself.
My letter was published during the last week of November 1950. About three days later I watched the postman coming along the street, and for some reason I became quite convinced he had something for me. I could hardly contain my impatience as he went in the gates and up and down the garden paths all along the street. Eventually I heard his feet crunching up my garden path and I hurried into the hall; I cupped my hands to catch the letter as it fell. As soon as it touched my fingers `pins and needles’ shot up my arms. I stood and looked at the letter and thought to myself “I have two choices; I can either open it and read it, in which case my life will never be the same again, or I can throw it away unopened and continue my life as before”. For heavens sake, I thought, how can I throw it away after all this struggle. I swiftly ripped open the envelope and prepared to devour the contents.
I had no idea who the correspondent was of course, except that his name was Bob Cheek, but he said he had read my letter in the paper and thought he knew of something that would interest me. He asked me to consider the following words:
“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. This can in no wise be achieved except through the power of a skilled, an all-powerful and inspired Physician.”
I threw my arms up in the air and yelled “I’ve found it, I’ve found it”, much to the amazement of my mother who could find nothing remarkable in the words when I showed them to her. I pondered on the source of the words and told my very puzzled mother that I felt sure they were Bahá’í, although I had no idea where I had seen this name. Following this quotation was an invitation to a meeting the following Sunday evening at 7.30 p.m. on the other side of town. How I contained my impatience I shall never know. I presented myself on the doorstep at 7 p.m. and no one was ready.
The meeting opened with a prayer of `Abdu’l-Bahá:
“O Thou kind Lord! … The sun of Thy mercy is shining upon all, and the clouds of Thy bounty shower upon all … Thy protection overshadows all … Confer a new spirit upon all people … Gather all people beneath the shadow of Thy bounty and cause them to unite in harmony, so that they may become as the rays of one sun, as the waves of one ocean, as the fruit of one tree. May they drink from the same fountain. May they obtain illumination from the same source of light. Thou art the Giver, the Merciful, the Omnipotent.”
I sat on the edge of my chair, almost unable to believe what my ears were hearing, as these words washed over me. I was filled with the utmost joy and rapture. I had found the object of my heart’s desire.
Norwich, October 1991