Carolyn Fox

My Bahá’í Journey

My parents were Londoners, and if it hadn’t been for the second world war, I, too would have been born and brought up in London.  Fate, however, decided otherwise, and when the family home and my father’s dental practice were destroyed during the London bombing raids, my parents had no option but to leave the city, eventually deciding to settle in Keswick, a beautiful town in the middle of the English Lake District.

I was born into a Christian family, and when I look back over my childhood I’m aware of a golden thread running through it, the basis of my spiritual life and of the journey ahead.  My parents taught my brother and myself that all religions come from the same God, and that we should respect people of other faiths. Their open opinions had been inspired by coming across Moral Re-armament early on in their marriage, and the fundamental truth of following God’s will, and of focusing on ‘what is right’ and not ‘who is right’, has remained with me all through my life.

As a child I was very much in love with Jesus; at the age of eight I enjoyed writing ‘sermons’ and psalms, and arranging services in my bedroom to which the members of my family, and any passing visitor, were invited. There were times when I thought that perhaps becoming a nun when I grew up would be very attractive, although with the bounty of hindsight I realise that I would have been a very unsuccessful nun!

My life was surrounded by music. Both my parents were amateur musicians, and before long I was on a journey which led me into the music profession as a viola player. Having studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London I launched myself into the profession, and was soon filling my diary extremely successfully.

My spiritual life began to take second place as I started questioning the values I had been brought up with, and I soon came to the conclusion that absolute standards and Christian ethics were outdated. It was the early nineteen seventies, and many of the people I found myself working with were enjoying the so-called freedom which the sixties had initiated, and as someone who was very easily led, I followed eagerly, grabbing the excitement of being free from the confines of rules and standards. The golden thread was rather tarnished by this time; it lay dormant somewhere in the back of my conscience.

My life as a professional musician was fulfilling and extremely demanding; it took me to various continents as I toured with orchestras and ensembles, and looking back I smile when I remember how many times I performed in venues which are associated with important Bahá’í events, including the Royal Albert Hall in London, as well as various venues in Edinburgh where ‘Abdul-Bahá spoke on His momentous visit —– I also have a photograph of the Shrine of the Báb which I took from the top of Mount Carmel on one of my concert tours;  I remember that on asking what the golden dome was, I was told that it was a Carmelite Monastery!  In retrospect, I do wonder if my visits to these spiritually filled places were instrumental in helping me to find Bahá’u’lláh.

Life was full, and I was so busy that most of the time I was hardly aware that deep down inside I was extremely unsatisfied; there were little glimpses of it when I found myself alone, but I quickly made myself busy in order to cover up a growing spiritual emptiness.

In the mid nineteen seventies I was invited to become principal viola with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, based in Edinburgh.  Life became a little less hectic, and I began to refocus on my spiritual needs, which had been virtually shut away for so long.  Having been raised as a Christian the most natural thing to do was to start going to church, although I spent some time trying to find one which fitted my needs.  I attended Quaker meetings for a few months, and then started going to the local Episcopalian Church, which reminded me of my childhood; it also reminded me that, as a child I had had questions which I felt weren’t ever answered, and as I began reconnecting with my Christian roots I was aware that these questions were still waiting to be answered.

The most pressing question I had involved the return of Christ; as a child I had often wondered when and how He would return, and how people would react if they met Him. I would then comfort myself with the thought that He wouldn’t return for thousands of years and tell myself not to worry about it.  I also wondered why there were so many different religions; much as I tried to make sense of it, I couldn’t, and it was something which became more pressing as time went on.

My reconnection with the Christian Faith really became important to me when I gave birth to my son, Robert.  I felt that from that moment the most important part of my life was to bring my child up with a spiritual education. Not long after he was born I moved to Durham with my first husband, and one of the first things I took care of was finding a church near our home.  Before long I had become a member of the Church of England, and my days were soon filled with church activities, including prayer meetings, coffee mornings, and the Mothers’Union; there were several other mothers with young children in the church community, and I valued the bond and the friendships which we shared.

However, the questions I had still weren’t being answered, and after about eight months I decided to try another church, this time an evangelical one which held its services in a disused carpet factory; Robert, who must have been about five at the time, thought that all the members of the congregation were conducting as they waved their arms above their heads!  Although I wasn’t at all comfortable with the ‘born again’ concept of Christianity, I did make friends with a group of young mothers who were involved with the church, and we started meeting weekly for coffee and discussion.  Despite myself I was more and more attracted to what their approach to Christianity seemed to have given them as human beings; they were deeply spiritual, and I could see this in their faces.  During one of our meetings I told them that I wanted whatever it was that they had, and which I really believed was lacking in my own spiritual life. They told me that if I allowed them to lay hands on me, I too would find the same joy; my response was immediate, and it was “no”!  Absolutely “no”!  As far as I was concerned, my spiritual journey was a private affair, and I wasn’t interested in any intervention of that kind, however well meaning it might be.  One of my friends at the meeting lent me a booklet on the subject of being filled with the spirit, and as soon as I returned home I put it on the bookshelf and forgot all about it.

A couple of months later I was preparing to travel up to Scotland on the train; I like reading on the train, and as I looked through the bookshelves for something suitable for the journey, I came across the booklet.  I decided to take it partly because it was small enough to fit inside my handbag, and partly because I was keen to return it to my friend.  I don’t remember anything about the contents of the booklet [it had a blue cover], but I do remember coming across a prayer at the end, which I decided to say quietly to myself as I sat on the train. The prayer was directed at Jesus, and included words inviting Him into my life, the reader promising to give himself totally into God’s hands.  I had no expectations, no illusions, and no obvious spiritual need —- or so I thought. But something happened as a result of reading that prayer for which I was totally unprepared, particularly as I sat there on a train to Glasgow.  As I finished reading I became aware of an energy which felt as if it came from above me, and which forced itself down into my centre.  It poured over me and through me in waves, and I can really only describe the sensation as being totally ecstatic; I felt as if I was connected with God, and being filled with His essence.  I found myself speaking one word over and over again, despite myself, a word with which I wasn’t familiar; thankfully I was sitting alone in that part of the train, and so there was no one to witness what was happening, although when the experience passed I had to stop myself from getting up and finding someone to tell!

From that moment my concept of religious faith changed; Christ became a reality in a completely new way, and I began to read the Bible regularly, feeling it to be a necessity rather than a chore.  I felt alive, spiritually, as I never had done before, as if my inner life had changed overnight from black and white to colour.

I was very curious about the word which I had found myself repeating during my train experience; for some reason I hadn’t been able to find it in my dictionary, and so I assumed that it must simply have been a sound without meaning. A few weeks later I happened to be reading my new Bible —– a treat to myself after my spiritual renewal —– and there, in Romans Chapter 8, [v 14, 15] I read, “For as many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God.  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father —”.

And there was my word, Abba, and if I had needed confirmation of the significance of my train experience, there it undoubtedly was.  I already realised that something deeply significant had taken place, but seeing those words on paper helped me to put it all into an understandable form.

Being a Christian from that point was a joy, although it wasn’t connected in any clear sense to which church I wanted to join; in fact, having spent a few months in several different churches in Durham, I eventually found myself back in the church I had started with.  My new found faith was a deeply personal affair, and although I enjoyed the fellowship of the church community, my questions still went unanswered, particularly that concerning other religions. This became a pressing issue for me at a church coffee morning where one of my Christian friends gave a talk on Islam, which in her opinion had its source in the devil, all Muslims destined to descend into hell when they die.  I was shocked to discover that I was the only Christian present who believed that the God of Islam was our own Christian God, and that Mohammad was truly a messenger from God.  It simply reinforced my confusion regarding the apparent opinion amongst most Christians that Jesus alone is from God.  Around the same time I was at a Moral Re-Armament conference where I found myself sharing a dinner table with a Muslim lady; each of us was committed to the concept that all religions come from the same God, and each of us was firmly rooted in our own religious tradition.  As I sat there I realised that the big question I had had for decades, regarding the reason why there are so many different religions when their existence appears to cause so much war and pain, was beginning to dominate my thinking.  I really wanted an answer.

In 1991 I was invited to take up a position with the BBC orchestra in Glasgow, and so I moved back to Scotland with my family.  We joined the Church of Scotland, and initially I felt that I had found the essential Christianity; I enjoyed the church services and the large friendly congregation, and I was even tempted to believe that here I would find my answers.  However, it was short-lived and although I continued to attend for Robert’s sake, I began to despair of ever finding the answers I had been seeking for most of my life.

One day, I was sitting in the BBC canteen in Glasgow talking to one of my viola colleagues; she was a born-again Christian, and she began telling me very keenly about a very nice man she had met who worked in a different BBC department from us, and who was, unfortunately, a Bahá’í.  “A what?” I asked, with visions of some new medical condition or an unfortunate handicap.  When she explained that it was a religion, and I asked her what they believe, she told me that ‘they’ believe Christ had returned; I was quite cynical initially, because it sounded naive and impossible, but I was curious nevertheless, certainly curious enough to ask my friend to bring me a book about it. The next day she came in with Thief in the Night which I started to read that evening.  As soon as the chores were finished I sat down and started to read — and read — and READ!       I was spellbound; I couldn’t put it down, and as I read I had the sense of being in a long dark tunnel with a brilliant light just visible at the end; I knew that I was going to reach that light, but that reaching it would involve some deep questioning and investigation on my part.

When I had finished reading the book, I asked for another, and then another.  As I read and thought about the content I opened myself to what I was reading, in the process becoming more and more convinced that at last I had found what I had been seeking for so many years.  By this time I had briefly met the Bahá’í at the BBC, although we hardly exchanged more than a few words, usually a quick question from me and an equally quick answer from him. His name was James Gillies [no relation to my first husband Rob Gillies], and initially he was the only Bahá’í I talked to.  I was aware that there were Bahá’ís in Glasgow, but I wasn’t particularly interested in meeting them at that point, and James didn’t suggest it either.  I was alone on my journey, and it suited me well.

In June 1992, I decided to become a Bahá’í.  I was sure beyond doubt that I had finally discovered what I had been seeking for so many decades. However, it wasn’t all plain sailing initially, and I found myself troubled with feelings of guilt concerning my relationship with Jesus; it was something which I needed to work through, and in doing so I realised that in actual fact rather than diminishing my love for Him, the love had actually deepened. This new clarity was extremely exciting, and I felt as if I was looking at the whole question of life, faith and existence in a completely new light.

It was inevitable that life changed for me as a result of becoming Bahá’í. As a musician the world I worked in was fairly materialistic, and alcohol played a large part in it.  I had never over-indulged, but it was certainly present in my daily routine, a gin and tonic or sherry very welcome at the end of a hard day of rehearsing.  As a mother I had always been keen that my son Robert would never be exposed to alcohol, and yet I was faced with an obvious dilemma — how could I possibly expect him to abstain when I was a drinker myself?  I was greatly relieved, on becoming a Bahá’í, to discover a valid excuse for giving up my drinking, and I never looked back.

Becoming a Bahá’í opened up a new world not only for myself, but also my family.  My first husband, Rob, became a Bahá’í shortly after me, although sadly the marriage ended a few years later.  In 2000 I married Jeremy Fox, and a few months later decided to hand in my notice with the BBC orchestra in Glasgow.  Jeremy and I bought a guest house in Moffat, just north of Lockerbie, and over the next four years we hosted Ruhi training weeks as well as summer study programmes for Bahá’í youth.  We also launched ourselves into a string of travel teaching trips which took us to Corsica, Canada, England, France, the Faroe islands, the islands of Orkney and Shetland, Madagascar, and Mauritius —– the first time for six weeks, and the second for three.  We put together several programmes for Bahá’í communities to choose from, including devotionals, deepenings, concerts and talks, all available in either English or French.

I found that opening myself spiritually to the message of Bahá’u’lláh also opened in me the urge to express myself through other forms of art; although I made my living as a musician, I began devoting time to painting and writing, holding several art exhibitions and creating a play about Adventism which was performed in several venues.  Latterly I have also devoted eight years to serious musical composition, most of my work centered on Bahá’í history and themes.  I put together two programmes of a devotional nature, one focusing on The Hidden Words, and the other on The Seven Valleys, each of them a series of quotes interspersed with viola music written specifically with the Words in mind; Jeremy and I have used these on all our travel  teaching trips, and when it became clear that our hosts were keen to use them more often, we set aside time in order to produce a CD recording.  A few years later when I was commissioned to set four Burns poems for choir, the experience encouraged me to set part of a ‘Hidden Word’ for choir which has since been performed both in the UK and Europe.  Several Bahá’í – inspired compositions are awaiting premieres, including a viola concerto celebrating the life of Tahirih, and a work for twenty solo string players written in memory of the ten women martyred in Iran in 1981.

In 2009 Jeremy and I homefront pioneered to the beautiful city of Stirling, enjoying the bounty of working together in a Bahá’í community which is a part of the Forth-Clyde cluster.  Life is full and, at times, challenging, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.