My search started when I was very young. My mother was a Methodist and my father was a Roman Catholic and they agreed that religion should never be a cause of conflict between them. So I was always free to choose whichever one I wanted. With child-like innocence I can remember thinking that before I could choose, I would have to try them all and then pick the best.
So I went to services at Methodists, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Church of England, Unitarians. I debated with Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Pentecostals, the Moonies and Seventh Day Adventists. I worked with the Salvation Army and the Spiritualists. Everywhere I found a few people trying to live their lives according to their interpretation of their scriptures, many just showing up on a Sunday and some because it was the tradition in their families.
Then one morning I awoke with the thought that there were millions of Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims in the world and perhaps their religion was the best. This gave me a different problem because, at that time, you could not find a local temple or mosque. So I read their scriptures, or rather an English translation of them. I had already found out that the Bible had been translated many times and was not revealed in English as I believed as a child. Here I found the same problems. Different interpretations had split the religion into difference sects, some people tried to live up to the teachings, some came only for the services and ignored the religious laws for the rest of the week, and others came because their family came.
During this period of my life I became involved with many youth organisations, charities and cultural events as I tried to change things to make the world better. I was on my way home from a C of E youth club with a few friends and we loved to debate with the Pentecostals who were preaching at the bus station. We became experts at finding contradictions in the Bible. As far as I know, they are still praying for me; for which I am forever grateful as I need all the prayers I can get.
One of my friends asked me one day if I would like to go to a Bahá’í fireside with him on Friday night. “What’s that?” I exclaimed. He said that he was not sure but it would be good for an argument about this new religion! That was good enough for me and I attended two or three. I was impressed with their answers but left to continue my search into Zen Buddhism; the Theosophical Society; Christian Science; Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation; Guru Maharaj Ji, the Leader of the Divine Light Mission and other New Age religions.
I got more confused than ever, the scriptures taught similar things and yet denied the other Faiths saying only their way was correct. If there was a God then surely it must be the same God. It made no sense that there was a different God (or Gods) for different people. There was further confusion due to many sects and pseudo-religions. I delved into older beliefs that were more in tune with nature. I studied ancient civilisations and the effect that their religions had on their societies. Eventually it was so muddled that I decided that it was better to have no religion and I became an atheist.
I spent two happy years arguing that God did not exist as it was illogical, but throughout that time had nagging doubts at the back of my mind.
I was forced to think again about which religion was the best when my girlfriend at the time got baptised by being fully immersed in water. To her it was an important act of Faith and she invited me to attend the service in the hope that I might be moved to become more spiritual and accept God into my life.
I was under pressure to make my mind up as I had investigated the Baptists years ago and could not start the cycle again. I thought and prayed for an answer and suddenly the memory of those few Bahá’í firesides came into my mind. But had I remembered the right name? Was this the group from a few years ago? I had better check it out again! But how to start my investigation?
Luckily a friend of a friend was a Bahá’í and provided details of where the firesides were held. I went that Friday and was the only seeker there. After a few hours of very interesting discussion they gave me a Baha’i introductory book to read and invited me back the following week. The investigation had begun.
The following week I returned and the Bahá’ís asked, rather hopefully, “Have you read the book?” I said that I had. “Did you have any questions?” they optimistically queried. They nearly fell of their chairs when I reached inside my jacket and pulled out my A4 sheet of paper saying ” Yes, I have made a list of questions!” and the rest of the night was spent in wonderful discussion. I got two thicker books (Some Answered Questions and Gleanings) to take home that week and a prayer book!
The next week they said that they didn’t expect that I had read such spiritually deep books yet but if I had any questions so far then they would answer them. I took out two A4 sheets, one per book, and told them that I had read both. I said that I was very impressed with the scope and majesty of Bahá’u’lláh’s revelation and the depths of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s answers, which had proved so difficult for others I had asked in the past. I liked the way that He first expanded the question, then logically explained each part and finally completed any further points. By now I was reading the Writings until the early hours of each morning but seemed to manage with less sleep and spiritual happiness. I was like a sponge soaking up everything and wanting more. That week I left with the following books – (The Dawnbreakers – I wanted to know the history; Thief in the Night – I needed to check the prophecies; Baha’u’llah and the New Era – I wanted to know about the teachings for today; The Baha’i World Faith – so I could learn of the impact God’s guidance has had on the whole planet).
By Wednesday I had finished the books and needed something to read Thursday night. In desperation I found the house of two Bahá’ís that lived nearby. They said that I had read all the books they had and it was only one night to the next fireside, maybe I could wait until then. I begged for something, anything, as I could not face a night without the Writings. Finally I was given The Hidden Words and told that I could meditate on that until Friday.
I arrived at the fireside and they said that they expected that I found The Hidden Words a bit different. I said no, I had enjoyed reading it. “Reading it?” they queried. Yes, I said, you know, you start at page one and continue until the end. They told me that usually you would just find one and meditate on that. I said that I loved the way it was in small paragraphs and how you could meditate on each one in turn. I said that it was full of religious gems with deep spiritual meanings.
Anyhow, now having read all the books, I thought that I knew all about the Bahá’í Faith so asked if I could become a Bahá’í and declared that night.
I floated home living in a different world. My mother was waiting up for me and I told her that I had become a Bahá’í. Immediately she said “Oh Jim! Why must you always follow what the Beatles do? Can you not see that this yogi is an impostor?” I explained that she had got it wrong, and told her who Bahá’u’lláh was. She had an open mind and went on to read two Bahá’í books and saw the wisdom in them. She became a Bahá’í years later after my father died.
Meanwhile, I soon realised that in fact I knew nothing and after being a Bahá’í for 45 years still only know a drop from the ocean of Bahá’u’lláh‘s revelation. What I do know is that it was the best decision I have ever made in my life.
Jim Grimshaw, August 2012
[Jim passed away on 13 September 2012]